Walk in the Woods


Walk in the Woods

Emerging from a grove of cloistered pine,

We stopped to catch our breath, and in your eye

I glimpsed joy heavy with too much wine.

Uncanny whispers led us in that morn,

Led us past the gilded ferns tame but shy,

Led us along the brook, showed us stones worn

By steady years of chaste time’s gentle touch.

Grouse huddled low, peregrine circled high,

And we passed between.  Near the path, a clutch

Of mottled eggs stilled our step, bent our gaze.

“Sylvan spirits, palpable to those who try

Each umbral air, to those who scorn man’s praise,

Speed us to a sober stream; fill us not too full.”

So said we then, but in the wild, tangled sky,

In that place of places, we felt the pull.

We Are Ghosts

bend_creepy_curve_dark_fog_foggy_forest_mysterious-980867 (1)

We are Ghosts

We are ghosts

Hovering paleness reclined

Shimmers of horror gliding serenely

Naked insoluble grumbles

That echo down the years

Frozen in space and time and purpose

Dormant as doom

We had that auspicious vision

Of life vicarious reaching out to those

Who live like fleas or pestilential slag

Upon the life of goodness

Fingers ethereal cannot grasp a living gift

We need some quickened phantom

Or vibrant shade humming

With the pulse of life in death

The Girl By the Lakeside


The Girl By the Lakeside

Your way in the water

The happy splashing

The waves of laughter

The bright liquid smile

And the lake returning that grace

Which you lavished upon it

In perturbations and gentle warm rivulets

You made them laugh

A chorus of chortling droplets

Leaping up to kiss your cheek

A princess attended

With decorous pomp

Along the sandy beach

On a scorching summer day

Where crustaceans bow their low heads

And tides lay jewels

Grains of carbuncle and jasmine

Intermingled with quartz and glass

At your feet


It is true: we live unsustainably.  Sustainability is a word with cache in
cultural discourse.  Cache, like cash, represents currency, in this case
not the sort that will allow you to purchase groceries or weed in
Ontario, but the kind that will grease the palms and ears of
your listeners.  Cultural discourse refers to ideas spoken
about with frequency, gravitas, and urgency across all
registers of a society: in courts, coffee shops,
carousels, and kitchens.  Kitchens are places
where we prepare meals.  A meal is a
combination of food and drink
consumed by ingestion
through the mouth in
order to please the
palate and give
the organism
Sustenance is
that which allows
for the reproduction,
promulgation, continuation,
and flourishing of some or other
being: that which sustains.  They say
our way of life is unsustainable for the
planet. The planet is, of course, this wonderful
sphere of matter swirling around a gigantic explosion
with a grey and white backpack. It is our mother, living
and breathing with all vibrancy and candour, swooning us
with the liquid laughter of ocean spray, or soothing us with
summer symphonies of insects. It is our home, warder against
that uncanny blanket of black night with its soul-sucking void of
the deep and frozen wastes of space.  It is our responsibility.  Responsible
for what?  To whom?  Ourselves to ourselves?  For it to us, and perhaps
to the us that follow?  Of course, I am making it too complicated. The
straight of it is: we pollute the planet by living in such a way that the
planet is gradually destroyed.  The such a way is: with artificial
things too muchly.  For this generation, artificial is one of
those words reserved for the lowest depths of hell or the
highest circles of heaven.  If intelligence, then it is
Gabriel or Michael: to be feared and honoured.
If a process by a machine for the mass-
production of something, ‘tis a
Beelzebub.  Artifice.  Art.
Sustainable now must
prop up these words
so as to rescue and
recycle them from
the junk-heap of
our language:
sustainable forestry;
sustainable roofing; sustainable
refrigeration; sustainable textiles;
sustainable energy; sustainable cosmetics;
sustainable vehicles; sustainable wars;
sustainable famine; sustainable
suffering; sustainable
abortion. It is true:
we live



There is an old story
about a guy on his way home from war, lost sailing with all his buddies.  You see, back then sailing was rather difficult: rough seas, poor technology, a million tiny islands with their various sandbars, no google maps, and the meddling of the gods.  These have a way of shipwrecking one more often than not.  Well this story tackles a number of bizarre themes, but at the heart it is about a very serious and simple idea: hospitality.  The collection of songs that preceded it in the other major saga were about honour, rights, and that special kind of props (fame) to be gotten from being the absolute best.  They didn’t have video games so this was a little more intense than a Call of Duty leaderboard.  Of course, the fame of war takes the cake in these songs, as it does in a digital way for millions of young eyes today.

But here in this tale, a thousand miles from those sandy beaches, the song turns to a minor key, and the singing takes on a strange twist.  How do we treat strangers?  How do we treat interlopers, wining and dining us with our own food: not merely for a couple of nights, but years and years on end, running up a tab larger than the groom’s family at an open bar reception.  This is the story about many many strangers.  Everyone is a stranger.  The hero and his buddies keep stumbling into awkward moments where complete strangers take them in.  At home his wife fights a war of attrition, and probably wears her fingers to the bone deploying her best weapon (knitting, it turns out).  In both cases the central problem for those listening to the song – the moral that beat on their minds like the drummer keeping rhythm for the chanter in those cloistered pavilions – was how they would treat each moment of hospitality?

There is this Ogre (a softy according to some, but I have to interject that there can be nothing sane about a wild shepherd singing at the sea, likely scaring away all the fish, as soothing as it was for his own heart; I’m sure he would have appreciated Aristotle dropping by to give him the basics on purifying those emotions, but I suppose he did the best with what he had…) who is a touch backwards, but essentially minding his own business when our Hero lands on his little island, invades his cave, and stabs him in the eye.  That’s one reading.  Of course we have spent a great number of years telling it the other way around – that this one-eyed idiot was a really really bad host.  And indeed, perhaps those first listeners settling in on a cool night by the olive orchards also came away laughing at the stupidity of this poor creature, reminding themselves “that “’tis always best to offer food and rest rather than to eat one’s guest.”

He loses all his war pals slowly – a subtle stripping away of all those elements from the older story, reminding us that there are other borders than the walls of cities: there are borders of the heart and mind, just as receptive or unyielding.  Some get eaten, some get polymorphed, some drown in a nasty whirlpool, some get hit by rocks: it’s a mess.  But the audience nods along: they know those idiots deserved it, because they were disobeying the sacred laws of hospitality just as much as the hosts.  He is, at one point, utterly alone.  That is the key.  How does one become a good guest when one has nothing?  Literally naked at one point, our Hero turns to his wits – which are sharper than the average bear – and in this new mode we find something interesting.  Manipulation, yes – the story is straight with us – but also compromise, friendship, love, purpose.

“Wait a minute” (I can hear you dear reader), you might interject.  The goons at the house are clearly not applying for citizenship through the right channels.  They just invaded and took all the jobs, kicked out the son, slept with all the women.  It’s a disaster!  Yes, true in part.  But notice, they are actually following the customs.  This is where it gets rather bizarre.  It’s the faithful wife clinging to hope (remember, buddy has been gone some 10 years) that becomes this shining example and shocking profligation.  But she is not really whoring herself, but hospitality.  She lets on that things will, “any moment boys”, finally go back to normal in the sleepy town, and the government will be sorted out and a new leader will be selected.  She is about to rubber stamp the winner of the election, but for some reason the ink is too dry, or the stamp is missing, or (O look!) it’s breakfast again, or the cows need to be milked.

I think she is rather heroic, but let’s not pretend that (as nasty as they are) the guys hanging out trying to steal the show have skipped a rule, or forgot to dot the “i” in their forms.  They are all following the last administration’s prescription.  And that is the trouble.  As the singer starts to hit high-C (when Dopey gets home and starts chewing through the loafers like a runaway meat-grinder), we are left with a sense of awkward justice.  ICE has finally arrived, but it is as a tornado out of a clear sky.  We have gone from 0 to 100 faster than the Rolls-Royce in Indiana Jones.  And the awkward justice is quickly subsumed by the awkward ending (maybe the first singer who started this tale was extra tired or had too many marshmallows around the campfire and wanted to go to bed), where our Hero, finally resolving the years-long absence and restoring hospitality to its rightful balance (through copious amounts of bloodshed btw), has to go plant a plank in some foreign country (hmm, wait a minute, his punishment is to seek out the hospitality of those who know nothing about him or his culture…)

The story shows us one other thing: the younger generation gets it.  You see, it is the son who gets to hang out with the good god and show proper hospitality along the way (though he doesn’t quite realize it).  Entertaining angels and all that.  This young chap sees the situation for what it is: his mom and dad are like two sides of a politically-defunct nation.  Half the time they are fine, and they love each other deep down; they even use similar wily tactics, which is probably why they got together in the first place.  Indeed they broke off from the larger pack across the pond to establish themselves and make dreams of free air and quiet piety a reality.  But things are jaded now: war, an absentee dad, and the economy is crashing (even though everyone says the island’s stock market is soaring).  The kid gets it – you see, he comes from good stock, but he doesn’t want to do things the way mom and dad did it (I mean clearly dad is nutty, grabbing mom’s iphone to see who she has been texting the moment he walks through the door).  Dad barely sticks around after solving the problem on the home front, but rushes off to Russia or some other place with only one oar.  Idiot.

There is a cost for sustaining this fabric of society – which these ancient folk seemed to prize highly enough to sing about for generations – and that is exposure.  It is not quite like the exposure to shame which the first song warns of: the fabric of personal honour woven into every bedtime story on every island to ever girl and boy is worth telling even if many are in danger of tearing the fabric and shaming the family.  It is worth holding onto the idea of shame; and it is equally worth holding onto the idea of strangers.  But not so that we can avoid them like the plague, but so we know that we cannot know when we might be inviting the gods, or angels, to dinner.

The Human – Mind

A piece I wrote contemplating those tender, grasping moments when we find ourselves torn and drawn to another; yet, at the same time we cannot know ourselves, and can’t express it clearly – when we, wandering on the heath of the mind, go a little mad.  What news, what trial or horror pushes us into these bifurcated spaces – the unresting awake-in-the-dark, the gloaming moors, the confusion of the self as a whole, as a unity or parts.

It is designed to be read in whatever direction grabs your fancy: across, down one side, then down the other, criss-crossing, bottom-up; one of the effects is that it is hard to stay consistent – the mind is erratic and wants to know what it is missing on the other side of the page; let it wander, or stick on a word.


The Human Mind

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For those interested in following along as I work through my PhD examination prep (reading 83+ items throughout the summer before an Oct/Nov test), or for those who want to see more video/stream content from me about literature, including interviews, discussions with friends, and readings, please see the below introductory video, or visit the Facebook page:

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Winter Wind

red brick wind snow

The hunching, hurled over

larger than life wind wailing

back busked on red brick

nose running faucets full open

But the wail of the credentials

unbelievable shock of air

roiling up slow like unfurled mast

lee side massing black anger

all in a huddle; then punch down

the tower wrapping brick

in a zone of elemental guile

Scarf tightening hat gone sailing clear

out into the expanse of frozen vortex

that black wind bent the light

I swear it bent my soul

when it passed through the body

The tree in the courtyard moaned

some horrible greasy blood-boiling

moan swung its arms out and died

blasted in one swift dark pass

What Lemonade Stands Mean

From time to time, my children (and many like them across the world) get the hankering to bake cookies, mix lemonade, and sell the results at the end of our driveway.  Of course, this rarely takes their fancy on a chilly January afternoon in Ontario.  Nevertheless, there is something significant about the process and effect of their impulse that may warm our hearts a little in these frigid months.

Essentially, lemonade stands are a means of exchange.  Of course, if I were to cart out the box, chair, register and goodies and sit by the side of the road, it is unlikely to be successful.  To the degree that an adult engages in this activity, it is also an exchange, but a binary, economic one: you give me cash, I give you (awkwardly because I am sitting on a child’s plastic chair and my knees are nearly touching my chin) some fairly bad baking (to be authentic, I had to do it myself, which is borderline poisonous).  However, something happens to the nature of the exchange when children are involved.  It turns almost magical.  It is transmuted.  Suddenly, instead of a simple exchange of goods quantifiable almost entirely on an economic spectrum, we have the exchange of a different sort transubstantiated alongside it: mood, spirit, communion, joy.

To be clear, the child is unaware of this type of exchange. Children up to a certain age have no mechanism for discerning the difference between their economic and (if we borrow from Bourdieu) their symbolic exchanges in social relations.  This is in part because they don’t know the value of money, but it is (I think) also because they don’t realize the value of the soul.  In this they have much in common with many adults, who find the valuation of “soul” to be such a fraught endeavour – full of knotty problems of identity, appropriation, correctness, and guilt/shame dynamics – that committing oneself to an examination of these kinds of exchanges amounts to an evaluation of one’s functional intellectual apparatus.  Put more simply, people don’t always want to look at their soul and see if it is sorted out; better to put the mild squealing of the serpentine belt on the “checklist” alongside an oil change.

Note however, that kids – though unaware of the classification of exchange – are fully cognizant of the effects of their efforts.  Lemonade stands reveal this.  They are attuned to the chortles, smiles, laughter, and engagement brought on by the most unlikely of operations.  And they efficiently transmute the cultural input of money + admiration/affection into cookies/lemonade + role.  They are amazing method actors.  We could get a very diluted experience that mirrors this pure incantation by driving through Tim Hortons, and hoping the individual on window is perky, sassy, or amiable.  It is precisely this symbolic exchange in the social sphere that compels us.  We will put up with hundreds of bad engagements of this sort, but (like golfing) the one time where a glint of golden mood streams through the window, the impulse is revivified.

At the lemonade stand, children offer a premium cut of this glorious dish.  I am certain others have anecdotes to relay what amounts to a supreme oddity in our internet age: people stopping their daily commute, job, responsibilities; people driving home to grab cash; police officers pulling over to say hello; delivery people halting their UPS trucks; all kinds of individuals determined to buy what?  Cookies and lemonade?  Yes, but something more I think.  They are determined to partake in an experience in which a simple economic transaction is elevated (if only for a moment) to a different sphere of experience.  It is odd because we have digital tools to invite this exchange at no cost.  Facebook, Instagram and other mediums of communication allow us to exchange endless moments rich with this kind of symbolic energy.  But for some reason it does not satisfy our hearts the way a simple lemonade stand might.  Why is this?

In part, it is because such enterprises are divorced from the lived experience – the interplay of transaction between the children and the buyer; I am not decrying the internet or our impulse to share such situations; rather, I am simply pointing out that such endeavors to share with others some moment of symbolic exchange of soul are more akin to a museum or graveyard; there is no way to maintain the vital power experienced in the original when it is set alongside a hundred other examples of the same impulse.  Yes, yes, some of it squeaks through.  But it is a memorializing impulse that causes us to try and “capture” such moments for others.  The lemonade stand is an unfiltered animation of the process of exchange whereby real – not feigned – economic activity (for the children are often very earnest and business-like in their efforts to make, set up, and sell such merchandise) becomes simultaneously a moral activity: it hits us in the heart at the same time as it hits us in the wallet.

it is


It Is

Hard to hide our being

In its becoming

Hard to hold back the left hand

From the right’s embrace

Hard to hear the tone of ink

Spilled on a digital page in a rage

Hard to touch

The glass eye unflinching

Hard to inhabit

A house of clear-blown sand


Hard to bear our being

In its becoming

Hard to harness

Wind from the cavernous lung

Hard to swim unscathed

In a hotspring of tears

Hard to beg

At a beggar’s door

Hard to bend a broken will

Into a broken frame


Hard to feel our being

In its becoming

Hard to smell truth

In a dish of lies

Hard to bask

At a funeral

Hard to grant

An unseen smile

Hard to turn a phrase

In two parts

Is It?