Self-Portrait in a Display Window

The late sky is home to proofs of other worlds—
contrails fading south-south-west, Venus hung
near a thin infant moon, crows drifting back
to rookeries in the suburbs—though heaven for him
was never there, outlying or ethereal, and hell
endures unreal, like these circling johns, these curbside
come-ons, cash prized for its consolations.
The fault’s his own, he knows, crudely sutured
by tax-deductibles, spare change, the reading of novels,
AI communiqués, dead sages, menus dressed with local fare.
Warning, says a text on the passenger side, objects
in this mirror are larger than they seem. A look
back confirms the truth—how easy the engineers
have made this object-world, whether or not,
and can you blame them?
Such gestures are rhetorical,
left behind when he leaves the car
for the sidewalk. Day done, the street concedes
to borrowed light, concedes as easily as valleys
rise to lakes where dams squat, as easily words
emerge to rhythm’s charms like scarves
from a magic gap, then light as flocking rock doves
on the page, mocking about most mournfully,
as starlings too. Day done, and a fat spattering rain
has glossed the set with greasy colours. This
could be anywhere traffic happens, where
someone’s statues stand shitstreaked and verdigrised—
and is, and isn’t either. Treed ten thousand years
since the Vachon ice drew back, this
was bush while Wordsworth made adjustments
in the ledger of his mind, balanced
verse dedicate to Nature’s self,
and things that teach as Nature teaches,
recreational myth some keep in play, some only
as nature knows its place, standing
reserve. More—this here was home
to other peoples’ other worlds, done
down by paper powers (Douglas, Trutch, & Co.)
for a time, maybe longer. Monuments
are made largely for oblivion, company
to trash, sperm, our sloppy opulence and
excrements, as though this ceaselessly unearthly world
were half in love with tempered entropy, the graph’s
providential arrow raised for a futured fall
into pensions, Paradise, or slate-blanking bankruptcy.
Downsized, canned, packed off, didn’t make
the cut for subsidy or instauration
like this curbside crate of op-ed dailies. No shoes
but shambling’s made them lighter, no shirt
but what a dumpster offers up, no service
needed—this appropriated shopping cart will serve
to carry curried favours—no shit
but the shit that happens so shareholders hold
their own, properly. Disjected stuff cleaves
to your feet everywhere—so turn and scrape,
scrape and turn, dance, fiddle?
He turned
and caught himself dispersed in a glass
divide, spreadeagled Shadbolt surface with a bursting
fetish face, smeared, flayed, as though only now
remembering—then vanished as a light came on.
A room occurred, and through the door a window
dresser, bare dummy underarm—they have long
necks now and nipples, like mannerist madonnas,
uncreased angel crotches. He had always thought
such vacant creatures stood themselves, but saw there
that they must be mounted from behind, then
for a change brought down again like that famed
old corpse.

This poem “Self-Portrait in a Display Window” originally appeared in Archives and History. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 178 (Autumn 2003): 89-90.

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