Plough Monday (Mummers’ Dance)

She doesn’t understand their language,
so they dance
in naked feet and leather boots,
hooded and robed, in cotton shirts
or bare-chested, with fire sticks
and petals on their faces.

Alone, in packs of five or six,
walking widdershins,
fluttering hands
like the wings of rock doves,
dancing poetry in the world of acts.

And it may be that once she did understand.
Eons past, our guttural sounds had sense:
she formed our throats, whittled bone,
the small muscles of our voices /
but time passed.
She lost interest.

So now they jig-step like jesters
at the heart and edges of power,
on the all-consuming
blind and toothless crone.
Throats dry,
with a finger,
they inscribe on her broad, flat palm
the word for water.

I have good days and bad days

On the bad days the beleaguered moon,
the full hunter’s moon, splinters in the sky;
footstep pieces rain into the atmosphere.
I am swimming in the Great Lakes
among the decomposing bodies of pigs,
flip-flops, and plastic wallets.
Our neighbor has caught fire
walking to the mailbox
and flakes of his kindling skin
drift up the hill like paper.
The black pine off the deck aches
for the touch of finches and flickers —
its twin is already gone
heart broken, heart broken,
and the streambed of the ephemeral stream
has given up trying to remember
the feel of water.
The tv plays its only scene:
the thin-boned dad rocking on the curb,
his eyes like socket wrenches, saying
we lost everything.

On the good days it is like
this late November snow / so still
you can hear across Well Gulch
the rustle of that unselfconscious thrush
regular as the earth contracting in the sun.
He has fallen asleep now,
tired in his abundance.

I wear my old wool hat to get the mail.
Melinda, the post girl, is still down the block,
trembling in her cappuccino-colored Jeep,
clapping her hands for blood,
and so I wait,
boots squeaking in the drift
below the cottonwood.

Siwash Rock

Barely out as far as the length of an oar
a dwarf fir floats on its grey rock,
ridged and worried by the weather.
A plaque set into the granite tells us this:
that Qu’as the Transformer turned Skalsh into a rock
for his unselfishness.

I don’t know much about the first people,
and what I know about the sea I know
because it stung my eyes.
My feet know stone a lot better than me.
But selfishness I know.

We think of the names of places:
places boiled in black tar,
cracked and splintered well before Christ,
smoothed by the pleasant green, pine green,
pale grass, pale as Peace River honey.
Names laid on the topsoil,
laid on the cracked and splintered rock,
worried, rubbed away in places like bone.

A fish hawk hung his head next to mine
in a dream, and the mouldering chinook
of his breath whispered the names of places.
They begin where the discontinuous
polar front begins — in the west,
in the setting day, past Malaspina Strait,
Powell River, past the shores of Alert Bay,
where they took some blankets
from the Kwakwaka’wakw there.

What will you give me?
say the black winds of Moresby,
slapped against that livid rock,
cracking splinters of red cedar,
shivering lodgepoles,
howling the sweet, salt
three minute death by water.

What will you give me?
say the winds of Port Alberni,
slapping the sides of the residential school,
so it shakes with memory,
shaking the abusing priests,
the abusing kindness.

I think of the names of places:
Peerless Lake, where the kids
drank methyl hydrate, The Pas, Manitoba,
Davis Inlet’s freezing shack,
and the sibyl hanging in a bottle at Cumae.

The ravens on the seawall sort their shells /
the walk is littered with mussels
broken by their beaks.
They shuttle back from the base of Siwash Rock,
and the wheeling gulls, cawing, calling
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock for me?