lost ironies

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Month: January, 2015

the balloon

now flowers get their colours from cue cards
and poems drive foreign cars
and my footsteps have left me for another city
where’s there’s snow and
they can leave a record

and Tuesday is like a balloon in a drawer
way at the back with the paper clips
and the nails I bought
to hang Le Moulin de la Galette
above the couch with
the cigarette burn in the cushion

and I find it all a little depressing

it makes me feel like Rick in Casablanca
dashing but grim
and just a little too ugly, after all
for Ilsa Lund Laszlo
with her studio light eyes and
needy forbearance

but of all the drawers in all the towns in all the world
that balloon had to be in mine
flaccid and red

where the hell is Sydney Greenstreet
when you really need him?

Railway Journal part 3

read part  two here

read the rewrite of the entire story here

Sechelt, BC 1888

This he had noticed when he first arrived, the strange way that sound travelled in the dense rain forest. The way a raven’s crackle would echo for miles. The way a woodpecker’s intermittent hammering would as well.

He was convinced now that that was the case with the blunt and increasingly emphatic hammering on the door of his cabin. Then there was the hollering of the priest from Sechelt. The confused and pointless shouting of a Christian extremist, misplaced in the northern wilds of North America. Those combined sounds must also be travelling through the rain soaked jungle of ancient pine, fir and cedar.

“Open up,” Father Breckenridge roared, in his thick Belfast accent. “Brunel, you debauched heathen bastard. Let that young girl go. It’s Sunday. She should be in church.”

Leopold Liberty Brunel looked over at the woman sharing his bed. Nancy Pete was reading a book of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley, ignoring the priest’s tantrum. She was sitting up with her lovely, firm breasts revealed, and her long black hair falling over her shoulders. The hot stove was nearby. She was seventeen, and their lovemaking the night before had been a wondrous rolling brawl that she had ultimately won. He wondered if the priest knew a single damn thing about women. Of course he didn’t. What a thought! All Breckenridge knew about was seminary buggery and sweaty confessional pedophilia.

“Go away, priest,” Leopold shouted. “This is a happy home. Your dogma is an anathema here.”

Nancy Pete smiled and turned a page.

“That ought to get him, eh?” Leopold whispered, then leaned over and kissed her ear.

“I’ve been sent here by Christ, Brunel,” Father Breckenridge shouted back through the locked door, “to protect this savage race of people from sin.”

“Then have the government stop feeding them whisky,” Leopold yelled.  “Reinstate the Potlatch. Hell, go off to Ottawa and have them stop giving the Indians blankets infected with smallpox. It’s not the Indians that need protection from sin. It’s the goddam politicians. Besides, mister priest, there’s a fine tradition of good Englishmen taking savage lovers throughout the colonies. I am purely doing my duty, and carrying on that tradition.”

“Am I your savage lover?” said Nancy Pete, looking at him over the top of her book. She was unapologetically Shishalh.

“When you really get going, you are,” Leopold said.

“We shall meet in town, Leopold Brunel,” Father Breckenridge said. He’d become calm now, in his own savage Catholic way. “You cannot avoid me.”

“This is amply obvious,” Leopold said. He threw off the covers and put his feet onto the cold cabin floor.

There was quiet now, no more cacophonic Christianity. The priest had gone, leaving behind just the sound of the forest shedding the most recent rain, in the form of drip-drops, the sound of Nancy Pete turning pages, and the most mysterious sound of all, the barely perceptible hiss of the rolling mist that almost always enveloped the cabin.

Leopold pulled on his long johns, put on his boots and walked over to the table where the surveyor’s map lay open. He drew out a wooden chair and sat down to study it once more. His design – his dream – was beginning to look like a railroad.

From Gibsons to Doriston. Along the coast and east from Garden Bay. Sixty miles over tough territory. To carry timber and passengers. Not bad for a beginner. It would modernise the region. Business would flow in. The people’s poverty would be eliminated. He’d be a hero.

A direct route over the peninsula was impossible. There were small forest company lines, moving logs to rivers and tidewater. But a direct and continuous line was out of the question. The surveyors and cartographers had said as much. The mountains, trees and deep valleys were the obstacles. Those and the land’s refusal to accommodate a straight line. The prairies would have been a better choice, but those had been sacrificed to the CPR. The GED, the Gibson Doriston Railway, was his alone. There were already depots built, twenty-three miles of track along the coast and an army of navvies camping along the way. He’d stun the world when it was done. He’d stun them even sooner if he could get the news out. Attract more investors. Every penny of his Honeycutt inheritance was gone, and his debts were enormous.

He said it out loud, “More investors.”

He took a treasured gold penknife off of the table and began to peel an apple.

“Investors?” said Nancy Pete. She was dressing now. “Who, for example?”

“The lumber companies. The government. Surely they see the value in it.”

“They don’t surely see nothin’.”

“Am I a fool, then?” It was his self-doubting voice. She’d heard it before.

“No one knows that yet,” Nancy Pete said. She came and hugged him from behind, and kissed the top of his head. “It’s too early to say. Crazy men always secretly doubt themselves more than anyone else, until they do something magnificent. They thought your father was a fool. In the end, maybe he was.”

She meant the SS Great Eastern. Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s last great dream. It had been meant to sail from London to Australia, nonstop. It never did, and ended up laying telegraph cable. But before that there were the Great Western Railway, bridges, tunnels and a prefabricated hospital for the Crimean War.

The Great Eastern had given Isambard a stroke. But he’d worked right up to the end. Leopold would too, if it came to that.

“I need to get water for tea,” Nancy Pete said. She put on her coat. There was a well in the small yard.

“Yes, yes,” Leopold said, with a dismissive wave, looking at the map again.

“And I’m pregnant.”

He looked up from the map.

“How do you know?”

“I haven’t had a flow for two months.”

“But it’s impossible.”

“It happens every day,” she said. “It’s how we get little Indians. Though this one’ll be half a crazy Englishman.”

She opened the door and took a pail into the yard.

“Hey, babies,” he heard her say to the chickens as she exited.

This was the wrong time for a child.

Ha! A child! Imelda said, the voice of the ghost that had followed him since he was a young man. And shadowed his every move.

Leopold tried to ignore her.

A child will ruin everything. We didn’t begin this to be held back by a woman.

“It is becoming of a man to have children,” he said calmly, placing the illustration of the Fairbanks Morse twenty-three wheeled Mountain Master over the map.

It would be Locomotive 1022. The locomotive. The only truly tangible emblem of his success, so far — that anybody cared about, that is. In the eye of the investors, it was more important than the miles of track laid. The colossus had already been manufactured to his specifications, and was on its way from Kingston. That and the custom passenger coach and caboose. He had agreements to lease the lumber cars and other rolling stock locally.

It’s fun to have a little Pocahontas, isn’t it – Imelda said.

“Please leave. You have no relevance to today’s undertakings.”

You’re already in hock for your toys, all that land you purchased.

“That’s business,” he said. “Debt is a reality of it. That’s how it works.”

There was a consortium of mill and logging company owners putting up money, but not enough. They expected results. And then there were the banks, one in Victoria and one in Vancouver. The faces of the banker haunting his dreams.

A child will be another expense – Imelda said – I can make her not pregnant.

“You can’t,” he said. “You won’t.”

It would be easy.

“Leave her.” He needed to eat something and harness the horse to the trap, for the ride to the railhead.

You’ll have to marry her now. – Imelda continued – Don’t think she’ll accept anything less, her or her relations. And don’t forget how things are changing on the railroad. The first twenty-three miles of track were easy. But there’s a steep grade ahead, then the turn inland and your first deep gorge. The white navvies don’t like the Chinese, and the Chinese hate the whites. It’ll be hard to keep them separated when things get narrow.

It was true, he’d rather not have the Chinese in camp. But only the Chinese would set the black powder charges. Some had already died doing so. They were essential, but their presence was a complicating factor.

He went to the barn to harness the horse.

* * * * *

From the railhead, he rode the small steam mule that hauled rails and ties up the line. Now it was hauling telegraph poles and wire, as well. The telegraph would be a valuable source of income.

The first twenty-three miles was like a dream. Gibsons to Halfmoon Bay. The Gibsons, Roberts Creek and Sechelt depots were already built. The Halfmoon Bay depot was under construction.

There was an ocean on one side, most of the way, and steep cliffs and overhangs on the other. It was smooth and picturesque, a postcard of sound planning and investment.

But further up the line lay the first great challenge, where it would turn inland. A 3.4% grade with compensation for curvature. A spiral tunnel was an alternative, but there weren’t the funds. His Mountain Master would have to work hard, even with another engine to assist in the ascent. Then its brakes would work overtime on the descent.

Approaching Halfmoon Bay, he saw the navvies standing around and smoking. Something was wrong. When the mule finally stopped, his Foreman, Basil Duffy, greeted him. Duffy was a massive Scotsman with a razor sharp Scottish brogue.

“I thought we agreed the men would work Sundays,” Leopold said, as he stepped off the mule, “to speed things up. Why aren’t they working?”

“It’s the new rails,” said Duffy, walking up to Leopold. “They’re cracking when we hammer the spikes into the ties — at least some are. Too much carbon in the alloy, I’d estimate.”

“How many?” said Leopold. His belly sank.

“Five of the last ten we laid. I’m afraid to lay anymore. They certainly won’t take the weight of a train.”

“Then what?” Leopold said.

“It’s you railroad,” Duffy said. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. But if a rail broke here and a train derailed, it could end up in the bay with all its passengers and freight.”

Leopold thought for a moment. Isambard would have a solution. Another shipment of rails was essential. But it would arrive only after a long, time consuming series of telegrams between him and the steel mill in Hamilton, ordering and making sure the next load was properly manufactured. Then there was the matter of a refund, and what to do with the current stockpile of defective rail. It could be a month or more of delay. He did the arithmetic in his head. It could mean ruin.

“Lay off the navvies,” he finally said. “I’ll arrange for them to receive a week’s pay. They can leave if they like, but I’ll feed the ones that remain in the camp until we’re back laying track.”

“There’ll be a riot, Mr Brunel,” Duffy said. “You know there will. Some of ‘em will leave the coast. But most’ll make it back to Sechelt and tear the place apart, after they’re done with Halfmoon Bay.”

“They must understand the situation,” said Brunel. “We can’t lay inferior track.”

“They understand a hard day’s work, grub and payday,” Duffy said. “And some whiskey, thrown in. That and the fact that they were guaranteed two to three year’s steady employment. After that there ain’t much they understand, at all. They’ll use that week’s pay to get terrible drunk. There’s no local constabulary. It’s beyond the locals citizens to handle what will happen. I’d call in the RCMP, if I was you.”

Beyond them…. Duffy had said it with unqualified Macbethian gravity in his voice, as was his ethnic right. He knew his navvies better than Leopold, better than anyone. It sent a shiver through Brunel. But there was nothing for it.

“Just do it,” he said. “The locals will benefit from the railroad in the end. For now, they must suffer the inconvenience.”

For a moment, Duffy seemed to hold his ground. As though he might refuse the order. After all, what was he if not a high-rate navvy himself? Then he sighed deeply and kicked the gravel at his feet.

“I’ll announce it, but I won’t try and hold ‘em back. And after that, I’ll be leaving for Vancouver. You’ll have to finish this alone. There won’t be one goddam Foreman in the country or the continent that’ll work for you now. It’s a shame, though. This railroad was a dandy idea.”

Duffy grabbed an empty dynamite crate and stood up on it. Then he made the announcement.

“It’s bad news boys. And I guess some of you figured as much.”

His voice boomed but was slow, giving the English speaking Chinese Foreman time to translate.

“There ain’t no track for the time being. You all seen how it busted driving spikes. It could take more than a month….”

“More than a month?” came a voice from the crowd. “Wadda we do in the mean time?”

“You wait here. You’ll be fed and taken care of. You’ll get a week’s pay on top of what you’re already owed.”

“That means no pay after that until we get more track,” came another voice. “More than a month, you say. Probably longer, I say.”

“You won’t need no money. There’ll be grub, coffee and shelter for you here.”

“My children need money, though,” said a young man. His was the loudest voice yet. “I didn’t come to Canada to sit around waitin’ while they go hungry.”

“Then there’s work in Vancouver,” Duffy said. He had no stomach for this.

“Vancouver?” It was a shout, an accusation. “But we were promised work here.”

A man hollered, “I want my money now.”

The crowd yelled and shook their fists in agreement.

Now Leopold stepped forward and waved his hands for the men to be quiet. They went silent. Even the birdsong had disappeared.

“The money’s in the bank,” he said. “In Sechelt. It’s Sunday. I’ll have it for each and every one of you tomorrow.”

“You mean you get on the mule, steam back to town and catch next boat to Vancouver.” This time it was the Chinese Foreman with his broken English who spoke. He was hated by the whites. But he’d incited them, all the same. The crowd was becoming violent. A rock shot past Leopold’s head.

“It’s not like that.” He couldn’t shout louder than the navvies.

“Says you,” a man shouted, followed by another rock. This one grazed Leopold’s forehead.

Meanwhile, Duffy had signaled the mule driver, using sign language to tell him to get ready for a quick escape. Then he grabbed Leopold, put him over his shoulder and began running. The engine was already moving backward, away from the uproar. Duffy sprinted as fast as a man his size could, and was helped up onto the mule’s platform by the fireman. He dropped Leopold onto the floor, as the locomotive gained speed, and began kicking navvies off on one side as the driver and fireman did the same on the other.

Soon they were moving too fast for the navvies to catch up.

“I think I just sold my soul to a wicked Englishman,” said the driver. “Ain’t no place on this coast for me now.”

Duffy pulled Leopold to his feet by the lapels of his coat.

“There’re foot paths,” he shouted over the steam engine. “They can follow the track. Them boys’ll be in town by tomorrow for sure. And they’ll be looking for you.”

“I can pay them then,” said Leopold.

“Pay or no, that’ll be just the start of your troubles.”

Al Capone

waddaya wanna know ‘bout Al Capone
he was a fucking lunatic
displaying manifestations of earlier life events
which is kinda poetic
like this flower by some other name would still smell like a goddam flower

so anyways
he’s out with the boys one night in a Chi-Town bar
and there’s gonna be trouble, you bet
he was just waitin’ for someone to flip his switch
when all of a sudden
this angel floats down from outta the ceiling
white robe wings and a golden harp, the works
she takes a stool at the bar and orders a Manhattan
then she has another and another and
she’s getting pixelated
then she sees Al and the boys at their table and says
hey Capone you scarface sonofabitch
my boss says you’re a pussy

and that does it
Al Capone’s up on his feet
he draws his .45 and blasts that bar-fly holy roller
right about where her heart should’ve been
but the bullet goes right through her like she ain’t there
and takes out a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey

now the angel’s grinnin’ like a Brooklyn undertaker
Capone looks at his gun
sees the smoke comin’ outta the barrel and says, what the hell?
the catechism didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout no angels mouthin’ off in a Chi-Town speakeasy
Gabriel weren’t no boozer

so this is the angel sent to me by God!
Capone says all tragic
like it’s some Rossini opera

then the angel sorta flapped her wings and rose back through the ceiling
and as she does
she tells the bartender that Al Capone’ll pay her tab
just like a Coney Island floozy
just like a goddam miracle of absolute flooziness
I’m tellinya

cryptozoology

hey all you animals convinced you’re extinct
now hoodwinkingly nocturnal or parallel to the highway
near the interchange where only hitchhikers are witness
but no one believes them because they’re hitchhikers

jump up and make Darwin a chump
dance on the lip of my aunty’s teacup
and make her go, Gracious!

but don’t be swallowed with the butter tarts
don’t be a riot in the old girl’s belly
or they’ll posit yet another theory
and we’ll have to do
the whole damn thing over again

junk

to the man at the urinal
talking on his smartphone
you should know that smartphone
is a compound word but
obnoxious bastard is not (link now dead)

which may be irrelevant
to your pissing conversation
since I’m sure it will change the world

but is there a breach of etiquette here?
does one or does one not
inform the person at the other end of the line
out of fairness
that one is holding one’s junk
while discussing business?

I ask because
though I know we are a failed species
I personally would prefer to exit the stage
with dignity and deserved applause

1954

it rained straight for 78 days
in the winter of ‘54 —
a day for each rpm
of Chet Baker’s My Funny Valentine

and they all wore hats
even the beatniks
iambically kicking
the broken cigarette machine in
Van Gogh’s night café

it was easy to be a postmodernist
when there was still so much to say

by the 79th day, the rain had ended
and when the city turned off its wipers
a diva could be heard down an alley
standing on her amnesia stage
singing the dinner crowd ridiculous

there were ghosts in hotels
standing next to windows
in the neon blue of Os
beneath the aitches and above the tees
who’d disappeared
into their own dreams
and’d had their luggage
sent home

horoscope of the apocalypse — the haiku edition

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius),
take a self-care day
bedbugs are in your future
microwave your socks

For Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn),
ideas flood your head
psychiatrist prescribes meds
you sell them on street

For Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius),
you think you’re so smart
with your fancy little car
city has you towed

For Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces),
more problems at home
avoid eye contact with them
put sand in their food

on turning 54

perhaps I’ll find an unfound synonym for the past

a word the Mayans never chiseled into stone
or placed in a pyramid they abandoned
a word you have to take a number to see
a word without syllables that
cannot be calligraphised or
rest on the tip of your tongue

one you will say is not the word you’ve been looking for

a name for those who have arrived without forgetting
their ear against a flimsy wall
that keeps their occult absolute
and their secrets from spilling onto the floor

Ezra Pond

it’s never the right time for poetry
there’s always a shopping list or tsunami
someone calling about physics and
using words like tangentially

and where is your pencil
when the moment is right?

it’s treachery
the muse in the next room
bitter with grudge
she’s having over friends
and doesn’t want to speak to you
something about impacted couplets
and rancorous odes
and that thing from ‘96
that happened in Nevada
involving Ezra Pound and the
IBM Selectric

you want to apologise
but now she’s going out
with an unpublished novelist
and his wooden leg

1s and 0s

I used to know their names
them on the bus
with the blitzkrieg voices
and napalm fingers
the atoms of their Stratocasters
hard as Intifada stone
their onboard 8-tracks
a history of lucky busking
the next town’s festival seating
still sticky from the bus before

I used to know their names
before it wilted into code
and vinyl was sucked
into a fetish desert,
when the solidity of existence
was brick and
immune to 1s and 0s