The last house, p.1

The Last House, page 1

 

The Last House
 

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The Last House


  TheLAST

  HOUSE

  Also by Michael Kenyon

  Fiction

  Kleinberg (Oolichan Books)

  Pinocchio’s Wife (Oberon)

  Durable Tumblers (Oolichan Books)

  The Biggest Animals (Thistledown Press)

  The Beautiful Children (Thistledown Press)

  Poetry

  Rack of Lamb (Brick Books)

  The Sutler (Brick Books)

  The LAST

  HOUSE

  MICHAEL

  KENYON

  Brick Books

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Kenyon, Michael, 1953-

  The last house / Michael Kenyon.

  Poems.

  ISBN 978-1-894078-74-0

  I. Title.

  PS8571.E67L37 2009 C811’.54 C2009-902316-4

  Copyright © Michael Kenyon, 2009

  We acknowledge the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), and the Ontario Arts Council for their support of our publishing program.

  The cover painting is a detail from “Stream” by Lorraine Thomson. Acrylic and mixed media, 2003.

  The author photograph was taken by Lorraine Thomson.

  The book is set in Frutiger and Sabon.

  Design and layout by Alan Siu.

  Printed and bound by Sunville Printco Inc.

  Brick Books

  431 Boler Road, Box 20081

  London, Ontario N6K 4G6

  www.brickbooks.ca

  For Lorraine and Ashlan

  Contents

  I

  Broke

  Splinter

  Feast

  Exposure

  II

  Trace

  Light Blinds the Helm

  This Is True

  III

  Lost Countryside

  Chimney

  Manchester

  Cheshire

  When Hawks Stop Hunting

  Vernacular

  Lost Countryside

  Dumpster

  Subdivision

  Direct Totem

  Broken Roof

  Tenement

  Mobile Home

  Cellar

  Tenement

  Basement Suite

  Hotel Garden

  James Bond Above the Palace Gate

  Townhouse

  The Ruined Cottage

  IV

  Quit This Ground

  Picker’s Sons

  Hand

  The Last House

  Papa Chaos

  Wren

  V

  Courtyard

  Middle Region

  Courtyard

  Leap

  This Perfect

  Hit Brightness with Brightness

  Georgia Strait

  Sorcerer

  The Axe of Change

  Ancestors

  Invention of Flight

  The Stars

  Utter

  VI

  Chorale

  Géza

  Acknowledgements

  Biography

  Who has twisted us around like this, so that

  no matter what we do, we are in the posture

  of someone going away?

  – Rainer Maria Rilke

  I

  Broke

  Once I built a tower, up to the sun,

  brick, and rivet, and lime.

  Once I built a tower, now it’s done.

  Brother, can you spare a dime?

  – Yip Harburg

  Dad planned the old stone pile from the top

  down with a fine view of rolling hills

  and woods in the distance, the village

  spire fixed in clouds, and provided me

  every day of phlogistic childhood

  with nothing but the hedge path to run

  fast to school and slow home each winter

  night. Weekends were blue tropical fish

  by steam train for my aquarium.

  Once I built a tower to the sun

  that lit England the same way the bulb

  lit the fish. After school kids tunnelled

  under Bluebell Woods till October

  submerged the cricket field in fog and

  houses sprang up like mushrooms over

  the hills. School and home and work and home

  all mesh, as do fish, tunnel, train, each

  stolen plank and nail, candle for our

  cave, even flattened earth and green slime,

  brick, and rivet, and lime.

  Granddad did time by the fire. Fixed

  clocks with glue. Corine Davis’ knickers

  caught a nail, and I saw a man in

  shirtsleeves dance on the windy street and

  promised myself to burn like him, burn,

  buddy-boy, attenuate, starve. Come,

  full-blood guttersnipe, desert foal, this

  day between school and home will flip and

  all will pass, and all you set out from.

  Once I built a tower, now it’s done.

  Now sparks coruscate this half-new world,

  its low roofs like bottle caps under

  which we huddle, bright drunk folk, to work

  small and gigantic – fieldstone, hill end,

  clear-cut, pasture, dairy, army – lies,

  enough to pay the bills and not mind

  how much we owe the black earth and sky,

  east and west. How we night-sail, sail top-

  heavy, waiting for the nick of time.

  Brother, can you spare a dime?

  Splinter

  You were inside my hand.

  I kept reaching around for something.

  I was inside your hand, but I kept asking questions

  Of those who knew very little.

  – Rumi

  I was small and well away from the world

  when mistletoe on the left of the path

  fell from its host so the gate lay open.

  The ocean between what I had left and

  what I had rippled with significance

  and all night I flew above the dark planed

  surface till I got to the mainland coast,

  blacktop, mall, the line of shops where shoppers

  blindly shopped, and stepped through the broken land.

  You were inside my hand,

  tame as a heart I didn’t want,

  and small and well away from the

  world, a knot, nest, fraction, puzzle,

  quite safe, I thought, from human loss

  and struggle, and safe enough from

  harm because poor enough to bring

  neither envy nor attention.

  You were sweet with time, complex as

  a hooded hawk. You were one thing

  I kept reaching around for, something

  to hang onto, something to buy, a box

  of shells or jar of jam. I was going

  to make up my own world on the left of

  the path behind the mall in the small woods

  where the living tree had split from lightning

  and split the rock it grew on. The best guns

  were my best friends who all had new rifles

  and shot at birds in the dead branches. Our

  fort collapsed. Our school burned. We were best sons.

  I was inside your hand, but I kept asking questions

  of the spark inside my hand; now

  both of us are hooded. Friends fade.

  Business fails. Only wind stirs the

  ocean between what we have and

  what we have lost. Only hunger

  stirs the pot. Flag ropes tap
brittle

  poles, and the open-mouthed crowd turns

  into motes. Your wings opened and

  I flew above the dark metal

  of those who knew very little.

  Feast

  Now come, the last that I can recognize,

  pain, utter pain, fierce in the body’s texture.

  As once in the mind I burned, so now I burn

  in you; the wood resisted, long denied…

  – Rilke

  A child in winter under the sickle

  moon one moment is bright with play, in love

  with candy, lips and fingers Smartie red

  (she likes red best), cartwheels on black branches,

  oak branches written by wind and street lamp

  on the hardwood floor, next moment’s surprised

  by a cloud that mixes moon with sweetness,

  cartwheel with voices from the kitchen, Mum

  and Auntie, who discuss olives and lies.

  Now come, the last that I can recognize,

  old mountain beacon that holds fast sun’s light,

  tell us a story, tell us a tale, bring

  news of wealth, gold, the latest adventures

  of heros adrift far from shore, no wind,

  oarless, trying to get home by dreams of

  red cows full of milk in such green pasture

  focaccia, arugula, lettuce,

  balsamic vinegar and oil, white plates,

  rectory table, subtract from pleasure

  pain, utter pain, fierce in the body’s texture.

  That moon, that child, divide heaven’s promise

  between them; the good food turns grey when day’s

  hue is absorbed, and streets, hedges, palings,

  all turn grey. Then mortal families gather,

  women’s lies no stronger than lies of men,

  too flushed to sit down, while the children learn

  there’s slippage, a hole in the sky, the skin,

  some wrong thing among us that burns and burns

  the way wine, dark red, dries the throat and burns.

  As once in the mind I burned, so now I burn

  to heal this hurt child, light new white candles,

  start the feast. She tells us she’s dizzy, can’t

  stand the noise. All lies cease, laughter bows out.

  When a child sickens in January, spring

  breaches. A branch taps the window. She runs

  in circles. With no one sober we hide

  our fear and call a cab. Again the rush

  of sudden fog: I’m in my first forest,

  mouth zeroed. O trees, I want to confide

  in you; the wood resisted, long denied…

  Exposure

  He posed us near our tent’s propped flap,

  my parents shy against its wing, my toddler sister

  tucked below, then waved us to a sudden freeze –

  – Linda Bierds

  Fifty-three years of struggle since

  our family blew west and off

  the sea to the dust of this hill.

  One day my uncle took me down-

  river to the big cave to shoot

  morning swallows and listen hard

  for frog, bird, water, cloud. Human

  footprints, a large set and a small,

  led beneath the cliff to a boat

  painted red. He rowed out of green

  currents into the foaming black

  waves. We sat face to face all day,

  and when we returned to the cave

  he posed us near our tent’s propped flap.

  The foot, first with claws, then roots. A herd

  of planted feet, too many to count,

  so far and small that the pattern flies

  at me like my mother’s blue dress when

  I was young, a flock of birds, seabirds,

  sweeping the sky, the blue cave walls chock

  full of feet marching to where the stone

  ceiling crushes the cold red clay floor.

  Before others arrive my uncle

  gives me crayons, and I draw a gold

  creature with vast wings and a splinter

  of light between its eyes. To hold time

  still he plants a tripod in the sand.

  My parents shy against its wing, my toddler sister

  snug between its thighs. Years later

  Dad’s grin is strained and Mum’s eyes glass –

  their lives tangled in the frame. Caught.

  In me they see faint reflection,

  Dad of his own childhood, and Mum

  of what’s to come. The heat of one,

  the chill of the other. Mother’s

  dress against her body. Dad’s glance

  at the red boat outside the cave.

  My sister’s mouth wide. At my desk

  I watch night wind blow smoke through trees.

  The frame arbitrary, rough edge

  snagging threads that Uncle quickly

  tucked below, then waved us to a sudden freeze –

  II

  Trace

  The Mall

  In the fierce barbaric stage of our dis-

  integration Trace turns slim-blonde and ends

  the rich age of ram’s horn curls with gold lights

  and from behind is a different woman,

  no longer mine. In tight jeans her ass cheeks

  crowd every quick step away while I rub

  my hands together like Grandfather did

  when he’d forgotten who we were, his hands

  squeezing his fingers, then hiding themselves

  like small feral creatures, half-asked questions,

  beneath the sheets before we had a chance

  to respond. I observe her waist, thickened

  slightly by years, suddenly narrow and

  her neck go slender, hostile. Her hair is

  a snow curtain, her shoulder blades ice picks

  under the T-shirt. Tough nipples stencil

  a crease in the sky-blue cotton. Something

  is up in her life. Every single man

  stares as she shops. Every man’s gaze shocked

  at how clear the lips of her cunt are through

  the old denim, the fabric so threadbare

  both thighs hint at pale skin, the edges of

  what I’m allowed to recall, that my great-

  great-great-great-grandfather, cockstunned, strained to

  see his niece’s arse as she bent over

  the second floor railing. Knickers made him

  lose where and who he was, negotiate

  where and who he might be, sharp ferocious

  nib part way down the page, all the way down,

  loosing an avalanche, till I stand gob-

  smacked at Tracy’s feet watching a stream surge

  along a tiled trough. When she stops to check

  herself at the window of a sporting

  goods store, boys gather round the reflection

  with a magnifying glass to study

  the path light takes through cloth and how it treats

  the weave and skin, each bump a planet, each

  strand a rupture in time, each blue sheath, brown

  indent. Before shopping, such cathedrals

  inspired Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather,

  hurt boy and murderer with most crimes un-

  seen, to drop many in the village pond

  to be nibbled by snakes and frogs whose stirred

  world transformed to welcome each stage of life,

  species, generation. Meanwhile, she’s smug.

  She knows she looks good. Grins at her image

  in the window, soft lips parted for when

  she’ll drop to her knees, invite the boys to

  rivers that overflow old boundary stones

  she’s swallowed and swallowed, till they are in

  ruins. We all want surprise. A quick chi
ll.

  A giggle. But not tears, not this crying.

  I’m wet as a fish clothed in air, strangely

  well and unafraid. Her safety is up

  to mall security cops who step in,

  three furies, Defeat, Revenge, Victory.

  I know this official version and know

  the sequence by heart and wash my hands of

  the slow drama, my greyest ancestor,

  the guards who lead her to the nearest wall.

  She says to stop and wind sighs through the mall.

  First guard arrests the boys. Second guard leans

  into her. The third uncaps his ballpoint.

  And again the years fill with sperm and spleen.

  The first stage our eyes. The second our ears.

  Third our heart. How easy she is to peel!

  I push through the crowd and the guards and get

  ready to tell the truth for once and hold

  forth loud, for now she’s a girl I once loved,

  too young to know what’s real, just like me, both

  of us too young to squeeze meaning out of

  our years, much less out of parents long dead.

  Ghosts collapse like plastic bags while uncles

  in uniform take the glossy floor and

  shoppers’ voices almost drown the slap of

  oars, the flop of landed trout. Death’s close. Lungs

  fill with earth, my own breath close to drowning.

  Glass

  Outside the neighbour’s greenhouse brews a storm

  lopsided with rain. I tell him about

  Tracy and watch him pick a cucumber

  and toss it in a swampy raised bed where

  there’s thrashing and a plosive gasp, supple

  slide of a long thick black body; he laughs.

  “The eel is hungry.” Then silence, complete.

  Humid. Intimate. We’re not who we were.

 
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