Our boy, having dismounted from the train
after a long day of pulp & newsprint shadows,
walked to the paddock, his empty belly
a drum, his extra papers a suit of armour,
a sensational buffer between his small bed
& the long shelves & heavy
afternoons in the Detroit Public Library.
Michael Oates, footsore, dirty, swayed behind him
on the horse as it ambled through the ink-pot night
its hooves setting clip-clop type,
its gait as smooth
& predictable as a page turn.
They’d pass the lit & bustling fort
& nearly every night a relay
from man to man would sound through
the cooling night:
Corporal of the Guard,
And Edison would stop the horse & startle
Michael & watch until the man himself
appeared, wrapped in his war
like a cloak. A big battle
meant papers flew out of our boy’s hands,
bad news a homing pigeon
that always returned to him.
But the war wasn’t chemistry,
it wasn’t intermediate or even basic telegraphy:
his family had no slaves. His family
had no slaves & nothing would change
if the north won.
Our boy wasn’t officer material,
but, one night, when the call didn’t go out,
Edison piped up:
of the Guard,
Oh, it was relief to shout
after the quiet of the library
and the chuchotement of the train
on the track, all those miles
covered, all those muffled metal
miles behind and in front of him.
And the words were picked up & passed
to the next man & the next. And the Corporal
appeared, his brows creased
& his horse pawing the dirt, nickering
at the soft nag he could smell
out there. Three nights running,
our boy shouted into the blissful
dark. But the third night, the dark exploded
with men, teeth and eyes
gleaming as ordnance gleams
when it lands at your feet
and you stand there,
curiously unharmed. Michael Oates smiled
awkwardly as a soldier caught up
but our boy slid down
in the hubbub
and lit out for home.
The soliders followed. The soldiers
followed, determined to shake the boy
like a fist full
of dice. Edison stammered
the cellar stairs,
making for that almost-empty barrel
(having carried up a eye-full
arm-full of soft tubers
and reproduced his mother's soft sigh
at things undone the night
He crouched, pulled the empty
cask over his head
and sat in the stinking resinous
dark, rotten rot up
his nose while feet tromped through
the cellar, voices calling
out to his father, who’d been eager
of the war, until half an armed regiment
stood in his sitting room,
You’d think he was the enslaving
enemy, those soldiers
Do I need to say that Samuel
aped an overlord
with a switch
the next morning, having found our boy
laid out in his bed, stinking,
* * *
This was my last May Day Poetry Project contribution. I wrote thirteen poems this go-round, which is middling but better than 2006 (when I was heavily knocked up) or 2007 (when I had an infant on hand and underfoot) or even 2008 (um, when I was tired?).
I'm looking forward to putting all the new Edison poems into my ms. binder. I'm not usually one to keep a printed version of work on hand ("look! proof! I'm writing!") but I'm sort of enjoying watching the ms. grow, so...into the binder they'll go.
One of the reasons I only got 13 poems up was because over the last week of May Day my focus shifted to the launch of the two new books I have on hand, namely Guidelines: Malaysia & Indonesia, 1999 (Edmonton, Rubicon Press) and Rutting Season: poetry + conversation (Montreal, Buffalo Runs Press).
The invites are all out, the cake & tea has been ordered, and the launch frock selected. Now I just have to pick what poems I'm going to read. And then practice reading them.
(It sounds so simple, doesn't it...)
In other news, I got an acceptance from Descant magazine while in St. Georges, which is sort of fun. And the issue of Carousel I'm in should hit the stands in June sometime, which makes my inclusion in Mark Laliberte-helmed magazines 2-0 (me/mags).