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George Bowering

Three poems

His Friend Waiting

His friend waiting at the temple, bright
rabbits squash so easily underfoot, he
wore the wrong clothes all week, religion
not his strong suit, trees too dark

in his memory. At the temple, thought
entered his head because he was exhausted.
His friend was a beautiful woman
with black hair and no talent for yodelling.

No talent for the Alpine sort of yodelling
high in valleys you never heard of,
you in your favourite sweater and cap
listening to Lisa’s horribly loud earth machines

and promising to stop eating meat, meat
and small British automobiles, such
biography as we seldom see. His friend
grates out a sentence, this is all so

regular, who brought us here, what
animal do I catch faint odour of
among those Alpine trees, sorry little
bits of nature, no insult to the temple

nor even its door — that humans should have
the notion of egress, nothing further from
their minds than large birds, wings pointing
left and right. Your knee, he said, is

cute as can be, peeking from the rent
in your coveralls’ leg. I looked and found
a line twigged from Randall Jarrell,
in the land of spelling, far behind the comet’s

tail, in the daze of morning you were not
ready for.


Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Don’t bother looking around.
Either they have long melted into the air
that fish glide through,
or they are heaped behind your heart
where no one will ever see them.

Who killed Cock Robin?

I’d guess someone with snow
heaped behind his heart. Robin
offered love and wisdom, two things
people with a frozen chest cannot
abide. Forget yesteryear, remember
last night.

What is the meaning of life?

The condition or attribute of living
or being alive; animate existence.
Opposed to death. Whoever killed
Cock Robin holds the key to that
mystery. You do not, no more than
do those fish below the pier.

Why do we have to die?

That is not even a mystery,
we say at first, until someone
asks us to define all our terms, such as
heart-beat. Some people say we die
to make room for strangers, does that
answer your question, stranger?

Is it nothing to you?

Nothing, I agree, is sacred, zero
is to be worshiped, there is nothing
in the heart, next to nothing in the
imperfect life. Caring is another thing,
there is nothing behind true caring.

Are you kidding?

Our subject here is death. That and life.
Do you think I would kid you about that?
You who do not even know the whereabouts
of the snows of yesteryear? You innocent!
When I am kidding about death and life
you will be the first to know. Make that
the last.

What’s the difference?

When I took on the job of answerman,
I planned to reply:
Wouldn’t you like to know?
How should I know?
That’s for me to know and you to find out.
Search me.
If I told you, we’d both know.

What’s the score?

All I can tell you, little fish,
is that you are not winning. Your chance of winning
is zero. Follow your heart if you like­­
it’s not going anywhere. The game, if that’s
what it is, is as good as over. You don’t want
to know the score.

What’s for dinner?

It all depends. If a certain guest shows up,
you are for dinner. If not, we are serving heart.

Why me?

Do you believe in a Supreme Deity?
He hates you like the dickins.
He hates you so much that whenever you are around
he likes to kid about death and life.
If you weren’t so tied up with the meaning of life
you might have learned something. Where’s
your sense of humour?


Whoops, I asked a question there.
I’m not supposed to ask the questions around here.
I don’t give a shit where the snows of yesteryear
might be. Sorry, you were saying­­?
Whoops, that was a question mark, eh?

Are you finished?

Ask your heart. Look behind your heart
where the cold is, ask the dinner guest,
ask your Supreme Deity. You don’t even
know who I am. Why are you asking me
all these questions? Whoops, there I go again.

Where are you going?

If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, stranger.
Ask around, somebody ought to know,
don’t you think?

The Figure of outward

He was forever getting drunk and trying to punch out someone in a bar or at a party, especially his real friends.
    He hung out with the action painters, no wonder, and you can’t figure out why he didn’t die at age thirty in a car crash.
    At age thirty-seven he tried to punch me out during a party at Jamie Reid’s funky apartment, and I could have decked him.
    Then he went south and I went east, and I said during all my travels I’ll keep an eye out for you.
    He was awfully young to be a hero but he used to raise chickens with good blood lines.
    He was a New Englander and in his last letter to me he typed out eighteen lines of “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier.
    “And felt the strong pulse throbbing there/ Beat with low rhythm our inland air.”
    Everyone loves his words — curiously, apropos, more accurately, insistent proposal, literally, lovely, I hear, I hear.
    He didn’t exactly fall off that chair in Prince George, and he wasn’t pushed, and he didn’t jump, this was poetry.
    Poetry and drunkenness, haven’t you ever heard of that, where have you been the past three thousand years?
    In the courtyard at midnight he stopped and looked at the moon, and then he mounted the steps with happiness, he was there.

[for Robert Creeley]

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