[from] Excerpts from The Real World


You live an unsigned life. Like the ashtray I bought in Edinburgh
(the castle, the castle), you remind me of where I once was.
Kitschy-kitschy-coo, love. And I don’t even smoke. Do I?


Hammer Happy, the King of Babylon, sells used cars on the Pem-
bina strip, right there in Winnipeg. Even here, now, today, this
afternoon in the Yorkshire Dales, I locate my pain in the descend-
ing lines of a prairie coulee. Your heart breaks me.


Everything recurs (more or less). Consider, for instance, spring. Or
transmission problems.


And so she tracked you down. You, the Shyster King of Babble On,
she, with her friend Pontiac, the old chief disguised as a red coupe
with mags on the rear and a four-barreled carburetor. The three
of you making it, together. Kinky.


“Stay gentle passenger & reade A sentence sent thee from ye dead.”
This I found on a church wall, in York. It was composed in 1611,
anticipating, apparently, the invention of the horseless carriage. It
was signed only by the year of its composition.


I go through the secondhand bookstores of Amsterdam, looking for
a single remaining copy of my first book, the book I never wrote. It
was a study of the silence of cucumbers.


Trying to prove that Western Canada is inscribed in Hammer
Happy’s six-month warranty, I watch for magpies (dancing) in the
tulip fields. I try to snare gophers with a fishing line, here, below
sea level.


Rijksmuseum. “Wild man on a unicorn with a bird. Engraving, c.
1450. From the large deck of playing cards.” Self portrait with still
life. Consider, for instance, the stealth of the cucumber.


I want to explain why I mailed you that team of horses for your
birthday. I know you have nowhere to keep them. Except in your
mother’s garage.


There, outside the restaurant, near the tram stop, chalked on a
small blackboard: TOMAATEN EN KOMKOMMER. Every clue is, surely,
a clue. Broodje, I tell myself, clutching at straws, must be sandwich.
Bread, as a root word, bulbously.


Desire, like a prairie duck, its tail feathers in the air, feeds below
the surface. As Hammer Happy would have it: poet, consider shock
absorbers. They are not ashamed to repeat themselves. Relax, and
you’ll kitsch yourself laughing.


And yet I felt a certain twinge of disappointment when we were
told the plane was about to crash. I had intended to invest in


STASIS. Bus stop. The Greeks have a knack for starring. The un-
signed hole in the universe. Not to mention the street vendors, their
carts, at this time of year, heaped with strawberries. Passengers.


Here on Koukounaries Beach, Skiathos, I undress. The wind makes
of each of your nipples a cork, of my mouth a bottle that begs a


Tsougria (Thistle) Island is presently (since The War, I’m told)
uninhabited. I squat naked beside the stone slabs of the abandoned
olive-crushing floor. I grunt and then sigh. Ah, life, I think, watch-
ing the butterflies and the lizards. I tear in half the kleenex snitched
from your beach bag. These are the economies of islands.


Slices of fresh cucumber, with just a drop of vinegar, a drab of salt.
Pass me that ashtray. Let place do the signing for us. Close the
door and let me in.

This poem “[from] Excerpts from The Real World” originally appeared in Popular Culture. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 108 (Spring 1986): 36-36.

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