Jan 062016

George Fetherling



Back there our cheeks were
gouged by tears that rinsed our face of knowing.
Eyes weak from pleading, ears grown deaf to sirens,
earth overrun with data while here
the sky is full of context and clouds
provide perspective.

We had to go when things got skewed.
Gin was all we had for washing.
We cleaned our teeth with ashes
but the ashes being yours were sweet.

This is not departure but refusal to remain
not a leaving but an uncoming.

Best keep unread what was printed.
What the recto said to the verso is no one else’s business.
Write it down and salt it well.
The proverbs lack the verbs they chaperone.

We’re heading for that line beyond which
there is no more statute only case law
whenever events break one way and not another.

Ours is a haphazard journey to places
more random than I’m making them sound.

We’ll travel till the country runs out of space
and all the witnesses have died.

This sensation of movement gives me
a dangerous confidence that stretches
noon all the way to midnight and unsolves old crimes.

History neatly tucked away, the splatter patterns
and the long trail of debris.

Stage fright? don’t be silly. The audience
is afraid of me.

J’ai grandi en pleine cambrousse but no more
defiant acts of belonging.

I know a man who deals in second-hand names
and works both sides of the river.

The morgue is decorated for halloween.

Give me a number where I can reach you.


Reply to Closing Arguments

Your dreams were far more grotesque than mine and they came true.

You took the world by subterfuge thinking your insults would
protect you from the vulnerabilities you lack.
All the while you professed a new approach to nightmare abatement.
But don’t some problems heal themselves if we refrain from taunting?
This is a yes or no question Your Honour.
I hope the court will instruct the plaintiff to choose one or the other.

Was progress a requirement when you stepped onstage,
perpetuating stereotypes of those old twin lusts: to live the
embassy life but also despair of it?

My sorrow in this matter runs the risk of infection.

You can’t address this as you did those partnerships annulled
in flashes of ceremony in distant jurisdictions
where the streets are forever leafy and the sun luminous
once springtime returns to the Liberated Zone.


The File Clerk

You update the files with facts you forget
have already been inserted.

The less life remaining, the less patience too
yet the greater your urgency to classify
and betray.

To claim the reward is not reward enough.

It’s all about time, isn’t it?
Another block of days crossed off the calendar
as the user fees nickel-and-dime us to death.



This morning I met a one-armed priest who spread his motto selflessly
and lost an argument with the security cameras down by
the meditation pond.

That first sunrise scarred me for life with its fake urges
and level-one secrets and claims that can’t be verified
even now.

I’ve never forgotten the promise of relief implicit in the dusk
though the trees looked a bit uncertain.
What I mistook for thunder was simply the transit
of day to night that left confusion in the space between.

I can sense when one phase is ending, but who knows what happens next?
Events have numbed us. Ambiguity everywhere.
We, all of us, depart the centre for our separate corners.-
Hijinks, mild explosives, blacked-out trains feeling their way
cross-country in the dark.

—George Fetherling


George Fetherling is a poet, novelist and cultural commentator. He has published 50 books of poetry, fiction, criticism, history and biography. Some of the more recent are The Sylvia Hotel Poems, the novel Walt Whitman’s Secret and a revised 20th anniversary edition of the memoir Travels by Night. He lives in Toronto and Vancouver. Xtra described him as “something of a national literary treasure” and the Toronto Star called him a “legendary” figure in Canadian writing.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.