Photo of Eric Ormsby by Dan Ormsby. All rights reserved.
For more Poetry from Canada
Believe me, it isn't easy
even in a king-size bed
to sleep with the living dead.
You think I can enjoy
buttering his morning toast
when the butter's not so cold as his gray ghost?
And he's always so theatrical:
“Honey, what I've been through!”
I say, “Be a little stoical.
You could be lying in that sleazy
mausoleum. Instead, you're here. With me.”
And let me tell you straight,
it's no mean trick to stimulate
a man like that
fresh from a grimy grave:
he needs a paramedic just to shave.
At night his chilly skin
sweats like a ripening cheese
and little bits keep dropping off
till the poor guy's scared to sneeze.
And the pills, the specialists, the life supports!
There's even Streptomycin in his shorts.
I don't like the way he sits and squints
or tilts off to one side in his La-Z-Boy.
Wouldn't you think he'd have a few small hints
for the living? Instead he whimpers Ach! or Oy!
“Honey,” is all he says, “it wasn't Vegas!”
All night I smell his interrupted death.
It's my own individual hell.
All night I hug his contagious
carcass dripping with verminous breath.
I calm him as he dreams and squirms.
I who adore Chanel
now lie down with worms.
A Salt Marsh near Truro
The wind has rubbed the dead trees to a shine
and now it flattens all the grasses down
to cowering bundles, slick and serpentine,
that twist and curtsey by the muddy brown
brink of the salt marsh with its alkaline
tinctures that transfigure what they drown.
The trees form a writhy circle with their brine--
burnt branches hooked up like the six points on a crown.
Gnats and midges, the fumes of raw methane,
that oily sun going down along the Bay
veiled in bright pollutants, and the wind
eroding everything to its low plane,
convince you that this marsh of hot decay
leaves nothing newborn that has not been skinned.
Rowing into the Glades
I had pledged myself to rescue princesses
from the paws of ogres. I had held my sword
between my eyes and made a solemn vow,
like Galahad or Lancelot,
and Tommy, bold as me, had sworn the same.
Now, with sunburnt shoulders, in a seethe
of weeds, with griping oarlocks, we
angled our rowboat up the drainage creek.
We were following the levee engineers
had mounded high against the rivulets
Okeechobee brims before it spills
and sidles toward the Gulf in whispering
tributaries, lost to sight.
A kite mewed. We heard the plash
mud turtles made careening from a log.
A water beetle surfed the troughs we carved.
The creek was deep, the water dark as tar.
The sun, sadistic princeling on a counterpane
of plush thunderheads, squinted fierily down
and seared the lowly grasses of the shore.
Beyond a crook in the coiling stream we heard
what sounded like a woman's voice in pain.
Our princess? Tommy bent to his oar-stroke,
I redoubled mine and so
we fairly scooted ourselves around the bend.
Ahead of us in a flurry of beating wings
a marsh hen was shrieking as it fought to fly.
We oared the rowboat closer, gingerly.
“She's caught beneath,” said Tommy, then,
as I dragged the bird out, “Jesus H. Christ!” he yelled.
A snapping turtle hung from the broken leg
and was working its beak to drag the marsh hen down
with snake-like twitches of its hook-shaped head.
“He won't let go till it thunders,” Tommy said.
I opened my hand, the bird slid under,
In sudden stillness we could hear the creek
crawl along the bottom of our hull. We
listened for the water as it drew
twigs and leaves and weeds and feathers down.
We heard it suck at the muddy banks and lap
the roots of saw grass and of bayberry.
And in the water was another sky
with a lone sun and its companion clouds
in serpentine reflections by our prow.
The black creek had swallowed all it saw.
That was the way it was for both of us
before the world began.
Now we understood, with open eyes,
how the deeps are always dragging down what flies.
The protocol of orchids lies in subterfuge:
swanning petals form a curve's cortege
where slant diplomacies of lip engage
the winter-dociled bee. Such grace is made
of tasseled rhetoric, arced only to dissuade:
See how the orchid angles out of the white shade
that shrouds its calyx. Form can never lie,
we tell ourselves, although the pilgrim fly
find heaven in fragrance where it comes to die.
Is the orchid's flowering but stratagem,
mere disillusion of a diadem,
or our most intricate Elysium?