Volume 21, Number 3, Autumn 2004

Carl Leggo

In the Beginning






Alphabet Blocks

Editors' Note: Each stanza of this poem begins with a letter of the Greek alphabet, but the letters did not survive the cut-and-paste into Dreamweaver. So please read this poem imagining that the question marks are each a different Greek letter.

I write a lot of words,
speak a lot of words,
think a lot of words,
live a lot of words,
and really there is no reason why
I should shape the words into poems.
Surely the poet’s job is
to choose, assess, grade,
like a trustworthy butcher.
I must be ruthless with wordy proliferation.
I can write a lot of words in 3 minutes,
once timed myself, at least 223 words. So,
just imagine how many words I could write
in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year.
I must be parsimonious! So, I just scratched out the words in my journal,
and there will be no poem made with those words, unless, of course, you count
this poem about scratching out words and not writing a poem, a dog chasing
its tail, the self-reflexive circularity that gets postmodernists in trouble,
especially with Terry Eagleton, circling overhead, counting every word.

Because words seek places beyond the alphabet,
I write in anticipation I will find the words
I need, or the words will find me.

My first memory is dark:
early morning, Lucy
in a purple dress swung
me between her legs.
I remember a blank black
page I cannot write on
with India ink. I need
light like rescue ropes
in the maelstrom, vertiginous
with verbs, including be.

I want to know the names of plants, trees, flowers, birds, clouds,
but of course I don’t and I won’t, no end to the knowledge I need
to write my poems, except if I waited till I had the knowledge,
I would never write a poem, too busy surfing the Internet without end.
So, I need to write about what I know and continue to learn more as I go.
Nobody knows everything. Agnosticism is part of the humility needed
for writing poetry. This summer I learned about rosehips. Why didn’t I
learn about rosehips when I was growing up. Did the people around me
know about rosehips? Did I care to know? Probably not, especially when
I needed to learn the names of English kings and queens. Perhaps I live
in chaos beyond naming. Perhaps I place too much faith in naming. Is there
any need to describe the sky if I am not able to describe it in an unfamiliar
way that will help us see its familiarity? Is the sky waiting for me to name
it, like another Adam, compelled to acknowledge the ends of language?

A poem is like a butterfly.
Often unwieldy, without
grace, it works hard
to navigate the sturdy wind,
appears suddenly, startles me.

The difference between a poem and a painting
is that the painting hangs on a wall where it can
be seen and enjoyed every day, some days many
times. A poem gives pleasure in the making and
again in the reading, but how many people will
read a poem? A painting can give pleasure at least
365 times a year. A poem is glad to give pleasure
occasionally, like a cat penurious with affection.

What good
is a poem
in an affluent age,
an effluent age,
like ours?

I have lost writing a number of times,
especially because of computer meltdown
and car theft. On one occasion, the loss
of the writing paralysed me for weeks,
but on another occasion, the loss opened up
a new path for writing. I don't think our
writing is ever really lost. There is a law
of thermodynamics which claims energy is never
lost, only transformed. While my high school
physics is decades old, I am thinking a lot
these days about energy and ecology
and interconnections in the heart's course.

In my poetry I seek the way,
the wisdom for living well
in the longing of language
to name ourselves where
we know our long belonging,
and I just told Lana
I could spend a whole lifetime
working on a single poem
because the poem is never
finished, only suspended till
the return, when, where ever.

In August, I helped George
build a work shed. Day after
day we sawed and hammered,
put the pieces together, with care,
like a big Ikea project. George
knew what he was doing.
I didn’t. I followed him.
Like a poet, George was
conjuring out of imagination
and plans with frequent trips
to Stan Dawe’s for more supplies.
And like building a poem,
the process could not
be hurried, needed time.

The really sad part of infidelity is that
it has nothing to do with the quotidian,
with everyday living. Infidelity is born
out of a mesmerized, confused, hypnotic
state of lostness, of not-being-present.
Infidelity is conjured out of the imagination
that has lost its roots, its mooring in the earth.
It is easy to spell stories with no connection
to others, to the earth, to past and future.
Poetry is the way of fidelity.?
Like the countless beachstones
I can’t tell you the stories I have lived in this place,
even though I mostly only came here
in the summers and for many years did not come at all,
still clutching the wild chaotic world in my words.

I no longer write, at least not much,
like I am scared of writing, frightened
of remembering, eager to live in the present moment,
perhaps unable to live well in forgiveness, accept
that the past is always present, always a part of living,
not only a part that holds in the beginning,
that comprises the first sequence of chapters.
Instead, the past is still present. It is still being lived,
is still alive, is still living, and I want to proclaim
the future does not count, has not yet been lived,
and therefore does not enter into my storied universe.
But I believe in the eschaton, the future, the hope.
The future is then like the past, also present.
Perhaps the future is telling the stories that are
possible when we attend to the art and heart
of story-telling. The future is the panoply
of versions of stories that can be told to reveal
the world, not in myths of linear progress, but
as growth to freedom by artful attending to
the momentous moment that is never monotonous.

Love cannot be defined,
and so poets, craving a challenge,
compose love’s meaning,
by seeking ways into the labyrinth
of nonsense where Cupid shoots
errant arrows, random like
randy rabbits, and laughs
at the limits of law, litters
with reckless abandon
more letters than we can
use in a lifetime.

In language I calculate the world.
I build intricate equations
with unknowns of x and y,
but the answer is not in the back
of the book, so I never know
if I see anything right.

The ecology (and economy) of words:
where do the words go?
So many words spelled out without a spell.
When do words lose their spell?
Imagine yourself wild with words.

Where poets are eager to understand
the ineffability of wonder, joy, love,
grace, spirit, and the whole host
of abstract nouns, I write about
the quotidian experiences of backyards,
always with a sense of the extraordinary
at work in the ordinary, and seek wonder
by attending to the inexorable,
inevitable experiences of every day,
always effing the ineffable.

I fear the truth
in some stories
like a blast furnace
that at first singes
the eyebrows
and then quickly
incinerates bone.

Solutions for heart-burn include:
Pepto-Bismal and poetry.
In the tangled midst of memories,
the heart is resilient and calls out
for a poet's language with the breath
of dark moist rum-soaked fruit cake
like Lana just made for Christmas.

Today while I revised this poem,
the oil furnace stopped blowing,
and Sam the Irving’s repairman is
on his way, hopefully soon, since
on this winter’s day in York Harbour,
I feel like Bob Cratchit scratching
figures in Ebenezer Scrooge’s accounts,
and as I wait, I don’t want to whine,
but this poem is failing to keep us warm.

Textual affairs include: the desire to write,
and the desire to be written, in words composing,
always coming, always posing, promised pleasure
of textuality, unconsummated relations,
textual intercourse without climax or end.

I grow angry with word waste, so much
breath for so little wisdom. What happens
to words that prattle and rattle with desiccated,
disheartened, disembodied whispers
like basement dust in a beam of light
or ubiquitous flotsam in the world’s oceans
or discarded satellites in erratic orbit around the earth?
I am my words;
my words are me.
You are your words;
your words are you.
I am your words;
your words are me.
You are my words;
my words are you.

The language of poetry pushes at edges,
sometimes even extending beyond the edges,
even to the places where language refuses
comprehensibility, clarity, coherence, composition
(I love lists, not for the way they organize but for their infinite, endless possibilities).
Some texts refuse consumption, easy access,
even a comfortable reading location.
The reader must struggle to locate
their positions for responding.
Some texts involve an intricate and complex
textualizing that refuses to be still.
Some texts invite me to let the words flow around me,
as well as in and through me.
I must relinquish the desire to hold the text in place,
for then I carry the memory of mystery,
even the mystery of my story, to other places, places
like e.e. cummings where “I have never travelled.”

In this place the sun rises in the harbour,
and light and shadow are the alphabet
that calls and composes my senses,
and I make poems, and find sustaining
places of stillness and stability.

How many dreams do I need to record on paper?
I have many dreams that I do not wish to record.
It takes wise courage to know when to be silent.
In the end Marcel Marceau alone speaks a word.

In the Beginning

As I shape language, alchemically language shapes me,
my poems writing themselves in autobiographical urgency.

Beginnings and endings and all the countless moments between
the beginnings and endings that are more beginnings and endings.

Compelling words cannot be commanded,
will find their way when they wish, organic chorus.

Do different alphabets divide the world differently,
full of desire for divining concealed secrets?

Emphatically, empathetically, energetically evoke
experience in language like echolocation.

Fat, flat, flatulent words fill the air in this board room
where I am bored with chewing words like myrrh from a fir tree.

Grammar slips through the stipulations of handbooks when
nouns and verbs scramble to find their rhythms in gramarye.

How does poetry know? What does poetry know?
How do I know poetry? What do I know?

Incarnate word, the Word in flesh, embodied presence,
poems born in the imagined present.

Journeys begin somewhere, but navigating the landscape
requires a map, compass, GPS, memory, heart.

Knowing even how my words often lie, slant lines with scant
truth, I still seek words like dew in the desert to quench thirst.

Language—so much always remains unsaid. The holes allow us
to recognize the world. Learn to lean on light in the darkness.

Moonshone stones like words rise up to the surface
in a farmer’s field, tugged by lunatic gravity, responding to the call.

Narrating my experience taxes the limits of language,
leaves me in liminal spaces I will likely never traverse.

Order has an odour, even sometimes like ordure. The logic
line is only one way. Try the ludic. For fun.

Phonse pronounced phonetic phrases with a parrot’s panache
and pissed poetic polyvalent possibilities outside the pot.

Question everything. What if? The world is transformed,
even in the asking. What questions need to be asked?

Rhythmically, poems breathe, long heart’s breaths full
of the flowing, neverending geography, everywhere, always.

Sense runs both ways like the two strands of a reef knot,
like shadows complement light in a counterpoint.

Today I saw a bumper sticker: Ban Leg Hold Traps, and I read:
Ban Leggo Traps. My world sharply focused in my image alone.

Unlike undulating curves of oil in water, wind in snow banks,
waves on a sandy beach, my handwriting does not flow and swirl.

Vases on window sills hold the poems I gathered for you
in early autumn light.

Winnie the Pooh searches for the hole in order to find home.
I search for the whole, too. Longing for the hole and home.

Xerographically language reproduces living, like chiaroscuro,
in new conjunctions of light and dark.

Yarns yammer, yowl, yak, yelp, yawp, yell, full of yearning
for you.

Zigzagging with the mark of Zorro, the poet begins with the end
and ends in the beginning.

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with a sticky tongue the aardvark burrows in the earth
for ants and termites like letters of the alphabet

a bat uses echolocation to navigate dark, dense texts,
interprets the lyricism of regnant resonant rippling lines

a coyote composes its own lines in the cacti and sage, knows
a language different from mine, insufficient for writing this poem

in long walks near the slough, I hear ducks laughing, but I do not
know their language, still content to ask, Why are the ducks laughing?

with a phobia of worms and snakes, I especially screech when I see
an eel draw its line in the brook, one more story I don’t want

with a fierce, feral resolve, I hunt truth with ferrets, hope to
ferret truth out of its hiding places into the noon studded sun

according to Gary Larson the world offers daily both
good gnus and bad gnus; of course, the alphabet is flexible

the hen pecks at the hard scrabble backyard, finds pebbles and
seeds like dry words that can sustain at least a lean narrative

the still ibis is mostly a sculptor’s image, but sometimes stumbles
across the river and soars over the lettered landscape

always a voyeur, the jealous jaguar watches from the parking lot
of Tim Horton’s, eats another donut, waits, prays for one more revelation

a kangaroo jumps the endless expanse of the outback, and I too bounce
too boisterously to know the steady place at the beginning of the alphabet

just like no poet ever tames the wildness of language erupting with endless possibilities, nobody really tames a lion, its heart always hidden

like most expository prose, the moose is big and slow, but occasionally startles
with an explosive burst out of the alders on the side of the highway as we pass

the new-born newt knew no new news, but near a new moon ate fig newtons
and dreamed a new-fangled newsreel about the New Age New Left in a New Deal

with an ocelet’s stealth we can walk in the spaces
of the alphabet and leave no trace of our circuit on the catwalk

it isn’t true that I fear words, but I have learned to sneak up on them
like porcupines before I steal their quills for more writing

like Dolly Parton the quetzal doesn’t seem real, looks like a graphic
designer’s confection, challenges the alphabet to concoct new vocabulary

my muddled imagination runs hypertextually in all directions,
unlike the rhinoceros who always sees the sturdy singular point

like a poet, the sloth has the good sense to linger in the spaces
of the alphabet, refuses to hurry, knows the words will come

Howard the Turtle’s jokes didn’t dazzle Al Hamel (unlike thigh master
Suzanne Somers), groans only, but I always admired Howard’s perseverance

the unicorn is a creature that lives only in the untamed alphabet
that can’t stop with naming just the earth’s millions of creatures

I circle high overhead searching for the carrion left by others,
a vicious avaricious vulture with claws too weak to chase vital verbs

like a whale in the ocean, scribing its shape in the ocean, while pressed
on all sides by the ocean, I shape language, I am shaped by language

the xerus stays close to the ground and plays its part in the Scrabble
dictionary, assisting the player with the rich but notoriously difficult letter X

the yak stands in a circle in the Arctic long night, silent, sure, knows
enough letters huddled together will ward off the icicles of danger

the zebra exhibits sartorial splendor, black and white,
like the alphabet, suitable for all occasions

Carl Leggo


A Plague on Both Your Houses

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