poems, photographs, prose
This blog was maintained from 2005–2007. Here is a link to my current blog.
The posts below are a few of my favourites of the most recent entries.
halifax, canada day
these diaphanous continents, cumulus humilis,
are precisely the colour of canada according
to a national geographic map i once owned:
luncheon meat, an anonymous pink
frayed red around the edges,
from the back door of the lower deck
bluster a cover band's clumsy standards,
as sunburnt bystanders
sway canadian flags to the words
of sweet home alabama, hotel california,
clink bottles and thank
god the shadows are getting longer.
from the steps of the marriott
i watch the crowd accumulate:
bare shoulders wash past
like larval barnacles, attaching themselves
to banisters, lampposts, motorcycles, boats.
couples clamp hands; parents fasten
stroller seatbelts, folding chairs, four-year-olds;
tourists circle and reluctantly settle,
secreting calciferous shells
of shopping bags, t-shirts, saltwater taffy,
slippers and oven mitts
shaped like lobsters.
sails as sharp,
as cautious as scalpels
the harbour sky, which coldly fades
into an amputated blue
reminiscent of veins and
underwater mountain ranges
in the weakening light, in a restaurant window
candles glow on all the tables. a single waiter
replaces a tablecloth, folding the old one
like a flag, while outside
a woman folds her sunglasses
and puts them in her purse, as her companion
presses a paper cup against his cheek,
smudging a maple leaf
brings back the memories doesn't it
says someone behind me as the band breaks into
sweet caroline and a camera
can't help but flash
there is a flare of colour over dartmouth, too far off
to be the fireworks we are waiting for, but enough
to cause boats to slow, suture themselves
to a dock or a particular patch of water,
switch off deck lights
and for the next ten minutes
an anticipation is tangible
in the tightening of grips
on cigarettes, cups, stroller-handles, cameras,
as the crowd stands tight-lipped
heightening with the first brief puff
like an intake of breath
of a cannon in dartmouth
and daisy-chain vapours
and we cheer and stare,
entranced by the chance
to stand on guard for something
grander than ourselves,
we ogle and augur,
intend to remember.
a. m. bell & co. limited
on a pale blue wall with thirty-two windows,
in capitals faintly painted over, a contingent of characters
clings to brick: a. m. bell & co. limited.
long since sold to another co., the ancient concrete
accepts its title like an epitaph, though the handpainted name
retains a certain resilient charm - one abdominous ampersand
brandishes a cherished serif, pipe-shaped,
in its open mouth; a stands smartly at attention,
moustache thin and trim in its philtrum, and b's bilious ass
suggests it is still digesting breakfast. on one end
of where signpainters' scaffolding must once have been,
c and o carry on a conversation
with the little letters in limited, while the sistered ls in bell
sit still beneath a windowsill, ankles hanging stiffly
over hollis below. only m seems uneasy, leaning clumsily
on its one strong leg, an ailment unfelt by the rest of the font
except for an equally wonky w
in another word wedged in the wall's widest column:
in a similarly pale blue sky, awkwardly wallpapered
with altocumulus, a wanderlustrous sun has found
another w, a prong of weathervane, two blocks west.
shadowed below is the roof of the bell, with its single brick chimney
outnumbered long ago by a throng
of mushroomed ventilators, themselves numbered 39, 40, 41
in cracked black paint, in the kind of handwriting anyone would have
while shaking a spraycan on a slanted roof,
with only an eavestrough to underline
whatever would slip from your mouth if you slipped
or dropped the aerosol,
to plummet quiet as an exclamation point
past rows of windows like luminous tombstones, through the very same air
signpainters must have stood in, one imagines
on scaffolding, or ladders, there isn't really
any way to say.
field notes 2
in crumpled fistfuls
strewn across shorelines,
a scribbled calligraphy
filled with tongue-tied letters,
i amass a small pile,
ply a dry patch of grass
with stilted lowercase,
one letter at a time -
each gnarl snaps easily,
with the same brief pressure
as the tip of a pencil
or a camera's shutter,
to be accidental -
afterwards, forgetting the words
for the wind to find.
typography pop tarts
This poem is part of a series called queries where I collect search terms which have been used to find my website, and used those search terms as the titles of new poems.
windowblogs and livingroom libraries
I walk to downtown Halifax from my apartment on Summit Street nearly every day. On Cogswell just up from Gottingen, there is a window that catches my eye whenever I walk by - it's been curtained off from the inside of the house, and made into a kind of display case. Its contents have changed several times since I've lived here, and usually involve a kind of diorama assembled from various objects, sometimes with text. This week I noticed a new display: a faded globe and the words another world is possible spelled out with scrabble tiles. The idea that someone is regularly changing the window display intrigues me. I'm interested in self-publishing, particularly via the web, and this strikes me as a kind of real-world equivalent to blogging.
On another street I've often noticed a child's artwork taped up in a living-room window - crayon drawings on coloured paper, or awkwardly scissored snowflakes. Both window displays are arguably not very different than holiday decorations, lawn gnomes, garage-door murals, or other forms of domestic ornamentation. What makes the Cogswell window unusual is its serial content, and the intent behind the work - to project a message into a public space. I interpret the contents of the window as a personal response to the outside world. There is a similar intent behind graffiti, which often changes and can be decidedly political. But the Cogswell window is more subtle, quieter, less intrusive. If you don't know it's there, it's easy to walk by without noticing it. It seems less concerned with asserting possession of a space than with low-key broadcasting. Yet it is different than a promotional poster stapled to a telephone pole because its purpose is less obvious. It leaves itself open to interpretation.
There are also parallels with advertising, and this kind of temporary window display also reminds me of storefront windows with mannequins that change weekly, or soup-of-the-day chalkboards propped outside downtown cafes. There is a church near my apartment that maintains a billboard with motivational messages (my favourite so far has been "worry is a waste of the imagination"). But the Cogswell window inhabits a different space, somewhere between public and private. By closing it off from the room inside, the window's curators seem to distance themselves from the window display. Yet it remains intimately connected with whoever inhabits the house, and is essentially a vehicle for personal expression. The diorama is one-of-a-kind, and operates as an artwork in many ways.
In a culture where we are bombarded constantly by advertising - it can be difficult to find a public place without a blaring radio or television, or a manufactured object without a logo of some kind - the Cogswell window is a refreshing attempt to broadcast back. I appreciate its capriciousness, its assertion of hope against newspaper and television reports that usually insist otherwise. Despite its global avowal, it is inherently local in scope and character. I see this kind of personal publication as an extension of web culture, which is increasingly participatory and user-driven. At a time when it seems every second person has started a blog, why not use a bedroom window as a kind of broadcasting medium?
Elsewhere in Halifax's north end, cultural enthusiasts have taken this concept to a whole other level. Gallery Deluxe Gallery is a miniature art gallery run in the attic of two Willow St. residents; it's open to the public and has hosted almost twenty exhibitions in its two years of existence. A few blocks away, the Anchor Archive serves as a public library for self-published material such as zines, as well as the livingroom of a little red house on Roberts Street. The ambitious archivists have even started an artist-in-residence program in their backyard shed. Like the Cogswell window, these steadfastly grassroots operations inhabit a curious space between public and private, embracing self-sufficiency and DIY culture, and demonstrating a sense of whimsy, confidence, and optimism that flies in the face of mainstream media.
eighteen hundred hours
At Port aux Basques we are caught in bureaucracy. A man in an orange vest and matching moustache isn't sure he can let us board the ferry because one of our passengers doesn't have a reservation. He mumbles something about a waiting list. The parking lot is vast and vacant, and this seems ridiculous. Looking at the massive ferry looming in the windshield and thinking, waiting list. There is no one here and it must hold a thousand. The man in the safety vest goes to make a call and we watch the half-dozen vehicles ahead of us disappear into the gullet of the ship, incredulous. The next crossing is not for twelve hours.
Later I find out: The Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act stipulates the number of passengers that may be carried on restricted sailings based up on the type and quantity of the commodity to be transported on the vessel. Paint, turpentine, batteries, propane, toilet bowl cleaner, adhesives, fire extinguishers, oxygen for hospitals. "They're only taking fifty-nine passengers today." But they wave us on anyway.
MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood, along with her sister ship MV Caribou, is the largest icebreaking ferry in the world. Her capacity includes 1200 passengers and 370 automobiles or 77 tractor trailers. The vehicle deck is packed with eighteen-wheelers, but the passenger decks are empty. My travelling companions are napping and I have an entire section of empty seats to myself. On my right there are two model ships encased in plexiglass, on my left two vending machines. I have a notebook and a novel, Michael Crummey's The Wreckage.
This ship is a museum in many ways. Though commissioned in 1990 her decor is haunted by various decades, none of them later than the eighties. Overly-ornate carpets, a garish cafeteria, dimly-lit hallways lined with faded photos, outdated advertising. A black and white photo of Joey Smallwood lends a kind of saintly eccentricity to the man; a halo of smokestack hair, glasses as thick as ferry windows, spine leaning into sky. A small chalkboard near the steward's office announces our estimated time of arrival at North Sydney: 18:00. Eighteen hundred hours.
Travel is riddled with small delays, limbos, loopholes. The half-hour in the parking lot. Another half-hour or so after they let us board but before the ferry goes anywhere. And then there is the half-hour the ferry finds herself perpetually lost in, somewhere between Newfoundland and Atlantic Standard Time. She borrowed a half-hour when I crossed before Christmas and now on my way home to Halifax she is reluctant to give it back.
As I am writing the boat has started moving, so gradually I hadn't noticed, but rapidly now - I look up to find houses, streetlamps, long fences drifting past the windows, distorted eerily in the doubled glass. A few smaller outbuildings, a wiry guardrail, modestly mossy hills giving way to balding rock, then eventually a muted white which is just as much nothing as it is a sky. Cotton batting.
On the outside deck I watch the sun set behind clouds, as if from a window with the curtains closed. After dark the ferry's wide trail of wake slips quickly into oblivion, a darkness deeper than the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I want to photograph the ferry at night, the glow of light on the smokestacks. I haven't brought a tripod but laying my camera on a guardrail works almost as well. Somewhere below me in the gut of the ship I can feel a constant shaking, as if every nut and bolt is nervous. I can see my breath. I shiver, and step back inside.
mv joseph and clara smallwood, the gulf of saint lawrence.
the meteorologist keeps his promise
From a third floor on Hollis Street overlooking the harbour you don't so much notice the clouds at first, just the way everyone's eyes tend to wander out of windows. Then a quiet shift in the light, then the sound of wind turning corners - then Oh the horizon is gone, quick as a radio signal under a bridge, mid-sentence.
Suddenly it is pouring snow. In the hallways everyone is saying a storm, saying the roads are going bad. Out of Yarmouth, someone reckons. Fifteen centimetres, warns the forecast. Four o'clock and as it gets dark the windows flicker black and white, like unintelligible television sets. Snow is a static, a stasis, a kind of interference.
Trucks shudder the streets, flinging salt like confetti. Bodies in the bus shelters shoulder to shoulder, faces huddling into the glow of cellphones. Flashing lights and sirens in the distance, and suddenly distance could mean anywhere, could mean across the street. A closeness in the air you weren't aware of before. Strangers stand closer together, especially as a bus draws near. Thick slush and the vehicle fishtails slightly, its movements vaguely aquatic.
Sidewalks are slick with melting footprints. Asphalt almost erased except for tire tracks, blank lines like a musical staff badly-drawn. Snow dampens sound as it dampens everything - hair, mittens, the colours of things. Outside you either shout or you whisper, every sound refracted six times by snowflakes, then six times squared, until words are as faceted as diamonds, and as rare. Your breath a chaff on the wind.
In inclement weather luck becomes a tangible thing. Crossing the street, the hood of your coat fills up with luck. Luck is packed into fists and flung across schoolyards, luck smacks you wetly in the back of the head, luck trickles down your spine. It is a kind of overlooked luck, treasured mostly by schoolkids, but it is still luck. Cold as a nickel plucked out of a snowbank, and worth as much. But it is still luck.
Nine years old, dared to lick the signpost at the bus stop. Your tongue like the needle on a record player, stuck.
Snow falls like sleep, its onset impossible to remember. Waking up to find the power has gone out during the night, the electronic displays all blinking, your alarm clock stuttering in its sleep. Snow on the radio. Looking out the window to find the storm still there, impertinent. Like a hundred cats ransacking your front yard.
Snow is silence, snow is a standing ovation. Something inside me is as unforeseen, as furiously joyous as a snowstorm. My body so warm and desirous that it steams at the touch of snow, melting it instantly, like an electrical wire. A sip of coffee shortcircuits my tongue.
See the archives for older entries.