Uncivil Elegy 1: Glassed In

Each line of this poem borrows a word from the corresponding line in Part 1 of Dennis Lee’s “Civil Elegies.”

Each line of this poem borrows a word from the corresponding line in Part 1 of Dennis Lee’s “Civil Elegies.”

Glassed in at the transit stop and brooding.

Phone gone dead or comatose. Fervid for the airborne

queries, plaints and hookup invites flung across

the city via towers jammed on roofs,

skeleton sentries on windswept parapets,

thrumming with the glut of words that clogs our hive.

Losing grasp on where I am. Canada, I guess.

Sky etched with universal clouds. Trees in view are stunted,

city-grown, but native to this native land,

or look at least familiar. Citizens of nowhere, of the air,

like I am. Of a great lake simmering with spectres,

with chatter I’m shut out from. The accusing icon

shows I’ve missed new calls, can’t inhabit the invisible

compounded lives I’m ravenous to live,

the wide candescent range of pixel, byte, and beam.

When my connection’s good again I’ll be serene.

Passionate intensities await attention yet

this gutted phone won’t let me access shit.

Dark apartments rise behind. The concrete plains,

lone and level, stretch some klicks away, a righteous

landing pad for all our latent furies.

Kitty corner, bodies twist reclining like a plaster Moore

I saw once during cheap night at the AGO. They’re in

a ground floor window blazoned Yoga and they glory

in their shine and suppleness. One doorway over, making

boldly out, a squeegee couple sprawls. Their bodies teem

with drab tattoos and Morse code scabs. Their space

is claimed with sleeping bags and plain raw presence

and on its concrete walls holds notches as if time

were marked there by an inmate, or the local gangs

gave up their tags and just scored lines. The crumpled

garments of the pair wear food and cum and blood

and guarding them a scooter, riderless, leans on its kickstand,

listing to their congress as if listening. And someone cried

aloud nearby, on cue, when I said listening. Be careful with a word.

Saying it gives it body, even if it’s galaxies from true.

It wasn’t true. A scooter cannot listen. And yet bullets

punctured windows in a bar nearby last night, the gunfire

sort of tearing ears into the walls. A camera bolted

to a pole, three miles north, to surveil our misdoings,

also gained spontaneous holes of late. So yeah, there’s ears in walls

and artificial perforated eyes raised up to watch Canadians.

Above me, wires,

the power-bearing, streetcar-tugging zigzag.

Pigeons too, in sweeping clouds, persist

despite the spikes up-thrust from building ledges.

Our hive is clogged not just with words but shit

in scattered splotches from the airborne hordes, but still

we do prefer our creatures live and shit. The dead

unshitting beaver wouldn’t symbolize our Canada.

This dying phone’s a major fucking drag.

I had a witty thing to tweet, but now the moment’s past,

the glow gone promptly sullen, as I guess

the tweet’s own aura would’ve, fleeting testament

from some dumb transit-stop-bound prophet;

sent, and liked or shared perhaps, then vanished as if flushed

in a john’s great yaw. What can you do.

Easy come, such easy go. Sandcastle versus tide. A penance

popes inflicted on the rootless: vanishment.

Forebears of course are vanished too, pure dust,

and what they did or spat did not make history,

not if they’re mine. I have no notion

who those fuckers might have been, back when, in these Americas

or other motherlands. They’re dissipated utterly. I never went

for digging roots. Why bother? All that shit’s a sad infliction,

pining to find out we’re here with purpose, not just accidentally.

The streetcar takes too long. Inside this glass I might

asphyxiate. Breathing is admitting air, and air

conveys the whoop and rankle of my friends’

and followers’ effusions. In my neighbourhood

the striving trees flank curveless concrete streets

and symmetry betrays the hand of planners.

But rebel weeds nose up through gaps in asphalt

and eke a crack life, sucking light and moisture, dried

to dead-worm brown come summer’s end. A lifetime

in a season in the city, admirably pure.

And in my friends’ and followers’ neighbourhoods

the same weeds lead cloned lives, pursuing emptiness,

a modicum of womb in the city’s brute skin,

in which to foster origins.

Tough grasses lodge at hydrants’ feet.

Windborne squibs stick roots in the expressways,

begin the sober task of growth.

They’re there, and therefore they belong.

Vagrant bodies claim a space

in which to nestle and indulge desires

that shape, define, disseminate more lives,

secrete the seed that is the end of root

until the shank of summer clubs them dead.

That simple arc is my inheritance.

But there are other weeds here in our midst

and seeds get zapped on winds and bridge the cities

and lives beam signals out to other lives

until a phone dies, leaves me exiled like my forebears.

No lit screen. No ring tone. Only the avatar of dread:

my face in harsh reflection on a lifeless pad of glass.

Some kid, I heard, knelt by a clean lake

and got stuck on the image there, believing that the black

dimension past the surface held the cherished

other, who of course was him. He died. A waste

of life, I guess. But people waste their lives;

it happens. Nothing worth being haunted by.

The wasted life extrudes no ghostly presence.

My ancestors do not emerge from smog

and moan about injustice. Their habitation

is the stifling earth. They’re humus now, not human.

No spectres, then. No matter—

something far more vibrant permeates

the air around me, heats up in the sun,

and I can’t access it: the brood of lives that probe and stroke

my life’s lacunae. Smart remarks and selfies.

Meme, emoticon. Euphoric boast, exalting dis.

My dearest countrymen, my friends and followers,

whose own phones live as mine declines,

they beat their fists against the shelter glass.

I may as well be dying here. I may as well be

dead as a darkened screen and sink into the lake

of ancestors, of non-existent spectres.

Queen Street is sweltering. The weeds are brown.

Outside the shelter, prodding phones, commuters queue.

The air congeals with words. The sun does not shine through.