Jan 102017
 

mary-di-michele

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Black Dog

I had yet to use the selfie stick I got for Christmas
so I took this photo when I could not find the words
for even my empty coffee cup Chez Fred. The tattooed

barista, all piercings, and black torn stockings, fills it up;
always americano lungo, s’il vous plait. What makes
a Parisian lawyer open a bakery in Montréal?

The run off in gutters is icing over again and
that’s what they call le printemps in this city, n’est-ce pas?
After 25 years of planning, the Egyptian themed

theatre up the street has yet to reopen. Anubis
presides over its grave, not its rebirth. Anubis is
a god with the head of a black dog. Beware of the god.

I sort through stacks of newspapers left behind, the read and
the unread. I like that it’s quiet; and the aromas
of espresso and madeleine, the loudest things. I open

the door to a medley of crows calling, no, it’s seagulls,
and a dog, tied outside BBP orthopedics, barking.
Nobody likes to be left alone. It’s Saint Patrick’s day, or

it was not too long ago, shamrock stickers still plaster
the windows of Liquid Lounge. There’s a family picture
taken in Belgium, my brother swaddled in a carriage;

when my mother started to lose her memory she kept
this photo in her pocket; it’s folded into quarters
and badly creased. Some might say it was ruined. Red mail truck, red

mailbox, it’s a cheerful colour on a dull day in No
Damned Good. How did I get here? I grow old, I grow old, I
will wear the bottoms of my blue jeans rolled. Clouds are pinking

in a cerulean sky; I wax poetic. I am not
home yet where another era’s technologies: the Sony
cassette player, the Olivetti typewriter and my

65 year old brain ne marchent pas bien. What of the bowl
on the desk, filled with pine cones? No trees will grow from them.
I’ve set up a little shrine around the folded family

photo I flattened out and then framed. After death there is
an aura, a palpable halo around the faces
in photos of the departed; their silence says this once was.

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Like Kafka’s Ape
xxxx(after Giorgio Caproni)

…your life as apes, gentlemen, in so far as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me.

No, it’s not mine
this country I was shipped to,
not born in. Now
even among the crowds
I’m at a loss and lonesome,
I’m an outlier, an anomaly like
a stained-glass angel in the church
of There’s No God. Like
a human on exhibit in the zoo.

In my heart there’s another country
I long for. It’s somewhere al di là
in the idea of a memory, a hometown,
a city, gloomy by day, but by night
all aglimmer with lights, trembling like
yahrzeit candles lit for the living.
When the moon rises, resplendent
over the cemetery, the young go
there to boogie among the tombs. O city,

O country, where none, not death, not
the devil can ever take me back.

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De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette

I can no longer get past that scene
where Maria pawns her matrimonial linen,
a poor woman’s dowry, and so precious
to her, while in the background there are
piles of such bedsheets at the shop.
They have no money and her husband
Antonio needs a bicycle to get a job
putting up posters around the city.
It pays good money every week, they can
even buy an egg for their first born
daughter– no, that’s not in the movie,
that was my family in post war Italy. I remember

the first egg. My mother punctured the top
with a needle and I drank it down raw.

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Robert Lowell Reads at Scarborough College, circa 1970

An audience of one came to hear the renown
poet read, if you do not count the coterie of three
accompanying him, so they left the lecture room
for an open lounge in the hall. The building
– a titanic monolith – was itself of interest
and worth the move to view walls rising in slabs
of concrete. Even the windows were bulwarks
of glass through which light leaked, snow filtered light
falling from the firmament and about to flatten

the world. They sat, the three, along with one student
come to see a real poet, a living one, with a sense
that she was about to partake of a sacrament,
a mystery. To prepare herself she had read him,
standing in the library stacks. The poet
was about to manifest. The word, so fragile, so

friable, made flesh. He stood – nor did he seem aggrieved
to speak to so few – his book holding him up.
A bit of preamble on the Cuban missile
crisis and what it means, what it meant, to live
in the shadow of nuclear annihilation,
a sky about to fall on us all, and end
life as we know it. He was right to be depressed,
it was far more than brain chemistry at work.
His poetry was not political, but he had been
a fire-breathing Catholic C.O. – or so he confessed

in Memories of West Street and Lepke. Head angled
in Modilgiani melancholy or as if a violin
were propped between shoulder and chin,
Lowell read as if he were listening
to someone else, some invisible other reading.

More than forty years later now does she still
imagine him, eyes fixed on the printed lines of his page,
and literally seeing the blue threads as thin as pen-writing
on his father’s bedspread? Did he scry there his last
moments: New York City, in a taxi, on the way back
to Elizabeth, the critic spouse? There were three wives,
one always lovelier than the last, three times
the whoop, the wail, the woe that is in marriage. Until

he looked back and saw what he could not see then,
what cannot be seen head on with looking.

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A Poem About Absolutely Nothing

“I have done absolutely nothing
for six weeks,” in a letter to Woolf,
Eliot admonishes himself, “I have been
boiled in a hell broth.” He was referring
to his mother’s visit. All day I too
have done nothing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWho begins a letter
that way? or, for that matter a poem?
The aspen admonishes, the spruce censures
me. I have been advised, sagely, as a woman
to wear pink, it will disarm my enemies.

—Mary di Michele

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Mary di Michele is a poet, novelist, and member of the collaborative writing group, Yoko’s Dogs. Her books include the selected poems Stranger in You (Oxford University Press 1995) and the novel Tenor of Love (Viking Canada, Simon & Schuster USA 2005). A tenth collection of poetry, Bicycle Thieves, is forthcoming from ECW Press in April 2017. Her awards include first prize for poetry in the CBC literary competition, the Air Canada Writing Award, and the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize. She lives in Montreal where she teaches at Concordia University.

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  7 Responses to “Like Kafka’s Ape | Poems — Mary di Michele”

  1. Wonderful poetry! Robert Lowell would be thrilled to discover himself so beautifully encased in another’s language. Mary di Michele exudes an air both exquisite & tough.

  2. Oh my! These are wonderful. I had not known the poet before, but be sure I will henceforth. She moves me ahead in my occasional surmise that the most exciting stuff in North America is now being generated one tier up from us.

    • Syd, We have two poetry editors now plus out other scouts (those Strojan poems are coming out in a day or two). We’re starting to be an essential site for poets.

  3. What a pleasure to read your poems again, Mary. These are terrific.

  4. Oh, Mary, So glorious. And hard to believe that Lowell read to such a small (but memorable!) audience.

  5. Just wonderful. Restores my faith in these days’ poetry. I have sat in the same place near the Liquid Lounge
    (now closed after gunfire). I wear the bottom of my jeans rolled because Wrangler won’t make a 29 leg for a 38 waist. Good to hear of T.S.

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