Addis Abeba, 3 a.m.


“They are leaning out for love / they will lean that way forever” –Leonard Cohen

These precious, fragile petals
are drooping now.

All sustaining essence cut,
grown cloudy in the
steel cabin oven.

The threat of ejection,
at this hour,
triggers a slow, mournful
hemorrhage of tears.

We know — perhaps even
more viscerally — this
frustrated pulse, restraining
ourselves only with a
familiarity born of greater years.

And yet we yield the less resilience.

Moments later, quenched by
simple sleep and a gentle laying
on of hands, their six irises again
gaze petal-perfect, their

stems stand straighter still than beforehand,

lithely and literally
toward the growing sun.

[Bole International Airport, May 24, 2017]

Blood Pudding

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” –Kierkegaard.

And now,
after all that,
things threaten to begin again.

Blood pudding
boiling into solvent, quickening
rivers, feeding that
splintered muscle just now
remembering the responsibility
of pulse.

Bone and muscle and
gristle and sinew –

and grey matter too –

all almost too weary now,
facing the impending passage
of their long,
indolent choice.

And every inhalation a new old dream.

After all that,
why tremble at the good news?

Why so nervously consider
the artifacts of disappointment;
the latest appropriate behaviour;
the open, wounded memory that,

should it end tomorrow,
at least it will end free?

[for Roddy McManus]

Forget, for a moment


Teach me the whole Torah whilst standing on one foot.

“What is hateful unto you, do not do unto others.
The rest is commentary – now go and study.”


Forget, for a moment,
the pressure of loving
others as you do yourself.

No matter what an old friend says,
or what even the newest enemies persist
in pretending,

loving oneself is too often
too much to ask of anyone.

While I hate to say it,
hate even to think it,
perhaps we must begin with

what is hateful;
maybe we must first imagine
what it is those others

might suffer,
if only in advance to recognize,
and then resist,
even the correct commentary
that may whet that ache.

This study is not pointless.
This emotion is not wasted.
And this is no call for the wearying
gymnastics of regret.

Rather, this is the liturgy of concern:
the mother of sympathy,
and, of all things,

This is the oasis of your company.

And, I suspect,
this is how
you have always been
so very kind to me.

[for Kathrine Petric…and my brother, Ben]


Mo cuishle / My Pulse

Muscle and beat,
   adrenaline and sweat;
the urge for attachment
   within the yearn to forget

a life that you’re told to
   for one as you want to,
must do, and yet:

the callow confidence of a
bullet and the unleavened
cowardice of a machine
that sprays them out
like bloody tears.

A craven warrior and
the contortions of a god
who, for all his vaunted power,
cannot but be washed in shame.

What have you done?
The blood of our brothers
and sisters cries out
from the dancing floor
to the city’s asphalt.

Vanquished, for the moment,
are the loving many
by the fearful few,
and there are tears
and hushed voices,

but what then must we do?

[for the Pulse of Orlando]

Suns and Mothers


“He feels he is not valued so he will risk destroying himself to deprive her altogether.”
–D.H. Lawrence

“I am your mother,”
she insisted tearfully.
Of course
I love you!”

“There is no
of course!”
I countered.
“Love is nothing
if not an effort!”

Later, I confess —
like an ass,
and to prove
my deathly point —
it was my pointless intention,
my purpose,
to stop —

drinking distant, acid toasts to my
suppurating ego,

treating time and life
as a waiting room
for my caterwauling pride —

only to learn she
was right all along.


“if we love each (shyly) / other, what clouds do or Silently / Flowers resembles beauty / less than our breathing.”
–e.e. cummings

A zygote,
150 cells or less,
compared with the many thousands
that make up the brain
of an ant, and yet
such consternation.

Three months we waited,
enduring weekly ultrasounds,
truculent doctors proclaiming
thirty-four weeks the
goal for continuing to live.

Bedrest and vitamins,
television, and the earned
possibility of sleep,
all to make that
zygote Zach, three pounds of
greater love,

and possibility of greater violence than
I once thought possible.

Contemplating hard-won nothingness,
only to discover there would never
be nothing again.

And another,
two months in hospital this time,
punctuated by daily doctors
and the maybe of tomorrow
and home.

But then there is Lucas and a tunnel of light,
and the question of how in the world
this world will ever understand what
it has wrought and received.


“Ye do it to me.”


Against this world overwrought:
right, left,
and up above,

we discover other mothers,
grandmothers, seraphim-dreaming
of our health and happiness;
the frequency of phone calls and flowers,
the back-fence considerations of

marital imperfections and maternal expertise,

the nuptial invitations
of Christopher and Sarah,
made to laugh so all that may hear
may laugh with them.

And there are Rory and Rowan and Molly
to balm the loss of our so-small ones
made big by time and trial;

there is
Ivi reading off the deck, listening to
Lucas sing and loving Dylan;

Sunanda offering Lucinda Williams,
premium parking and the art of accounting;
Susan recounting travels to Scotland
and Baltimore and beyond,

all to value other
little big ones.

In a world that clearly doesn’t care,
there is caring and concern and consideration;
in the struggle to feel valuable,
there is value freely, blindly offered.

There is an intelligible world,
at least within this perimeter;
there is the never nothing in this
desert of deserving.


“come on sweetheart / let’s adore one another / before there is no more / of you and me.”

Now, we are Mum.
We are now Dad.

And in them,
through them,
we have always
been each other.

We are now the
children of our own,
and each
other’s, children,

and we are now
the only parents
sharing histories
we can neither
recapture or escape.

And it is of our course
that we
love each other.

There is no more time to pretend.
There is no possibility of any other outcome.

It is love, of course,

and it will breathe clean,
returning, jagged-joyful
gasps until long after there
is no more of you and me.

[for Ivi, Sunanda, Susan, and Julie, of course]


Montreal, 2015.

Eating Honey



  “I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed…”  Francisco Álvares, circa 1520


“None of this is possible,”
says Addisalem, attaching his
voice to a dozen centuries
of unfathomable sculpture,
“without the assistance of angels.”

As good an explanation
as any.

Surrounded, atop endless
cascading and precipitous
undulations reaching to and
once again receiving all the
beating blood of Earth,

Lalibela is the sweet sustaining
honey tasted, nourished
by those ancestors of us all.

Excised from the secret
single rock beneath this rusty soil:
Biete Gabriel-Rufael continues
to pay tribute and testament through green
Jordan waters, and a new-ancient,
stalwart road to Jerusalem.

Spelunking the strangely elegant caves
of Yimrehane Kristos exposes genuine
bones of bishops, impossible ministrations
of ornamenting chisel, a multitude of
contradictory meanings offered,
inflicted by this inevitably shared world.

There is Bietes Maryam and Meshel;
Medhame Alem and Golgotha Mikael;
Denagle Virgius and Saint Giyorges;
and the pleasing, familiar sound of Biete Lehame.

Absent explosives, patching concrete,
jackhammers and bills of sale, Lalibela
has no satisfactory explanation in dream
or logic, no complementary architecture
with which to gauge its forebears or
its progeny.

Like Michelangelo’s
muscled man, these are the ancient,
nascent forms within the function
of our surfaces. These are the reasons
of which our reason knows not.

Here, there is no milk necessary;
only honey, catching angels like
a multitude of passing flies.

[Lalibela, Ethiopia, May 16, 2017]

Something far off


“Du schnell vergehendes Daguerreotyp
in meiner langsemer vergehenden Händen.”
— Rilke

In my cold-burning
fingers so gradually becoming ash,
he smiles like a sated starveling,
regarding his youngest sister
and her lens;
this last
posed visage with eyes still
sparked with something far off;

with as yet no inkling
of the greedy orange
already behind his viewpoint,
even now borrowing from the branch
until the tree itself would rot.

Still, and always, spanning
the distance of adopted cities,
the provincial perimeters,
the added families by marriage
and by babies; the mortgages
of love and work; the supple rivalries
and chosen stories holding,
sooner-or- later, some
far off ending.

Something far off, surely:
those known yet distant endings already
elongated by partnership with
a loveable ever-late and a wearer of
bowties no less endearing
or enigmatic for coming undone;
stalwart unions to a still-young
bushel of no less than nine
and, eventually, a still-younger
crop of seventeen unseen,
by these adoring pictured eyes still

focusing on that never-inevitable bridge
over time and place;
over bloodline love
and feigned indifference.
A sooner end.
And now, a later one:
A different distance joining
generations now peering bleary
through the eyes of this photograph
and this photographer.

[for Roslyn and Fraser]
Montreal, 2016

The Butterfly Father


you are flint-edged,
Your feet scrape yielding carpet
before suddenly, continually
bearing full weight.

you are lighter, enduring,
but you still take the road
by force, challenge
the wind.

You might have torn
your way into life:
like roots
cracking concrete,
forcing doors.

But when you hold
snowflake daughters
your hands are
the gentle air of
fragile wings,

you slip
your covert chrysalis
and are once more
the butterfly father,
at home in this breath
of benevolence,

borrowing life from
their breathing.

[for Stuart MacLeod]



Single Malt Friend


Maybe the angels
gathered handfuls of grain
to chew
into liquid,
and whispered a
peaty secret into
mortal ears.

We never felt the angel’s whispers,
but we do the best we can:
shunning the blended
for this golden saliva
turning to air.

Down in the valley
of Sandy Hill,
(down by the riverside)
you’ll find my single malt friend:

already boasting
over latest acquisitions,
eyebrows arching
with forgotten whispers,

searching for secrets.

[for Seymour Mayne]