Humanist Perspectives: issue 171: A Poet’s Voice

A Poet’s Voice
by Kim. Goldberg

Kim Goldberg is a poet, journalist and author of six books. Her articles on politics, social justice and environment have appeared in Macleans, Canadian Geographic, New Internationalist, The Progressive, Columbia Journalism Review and numerous other magazines. Her first poetry collection, Ride Backwards on Dragon, was short-listed for Canada’s Lampert Memorial Award for poetry. Her latest book, RED ZONE, is a photo-illustrated verse map of Nanaimo’s homeless population. It went into its second printing after just seven weeks and has been adopted as a literature course text at Vancouver Island University. Visit:

Author’s Statement: I have long harboured a fantasy about what the world would be like if the nightly news were a poemcast. Or if poetry were the language of the street corner, the bus stop, the coffee shop. I believe that poetry has, in its own covert way, already become the new journalism, supplanting the siftings of corporate media with a more authentic rendering of the modern world. However, I am suspicious of any poem that sets out on a pre-determined mission. The poet who tries to steer her poem toward a worthy cause or message betrays the essence of poetry and its potential for magic.
Delicate Dreams
crew finds bag of
delicate dreams
bones in canal
ottawa police
to the magical enchanted kingdom
investigate the
discovery of
a bag of human bones
are made of this

in the rideau canal
a tale of fantasy and enchantment
in the heart
of the little princess
of ottawa
and her prince
the crew found the remains
as they ride their magical ponies
during annual drainage
through the wonderful kingdom
and clean-up of the canal
of make-believe
in preparation for
the winter skating season
forensic tests revealed
small parts not suitable for
the bones belonged to
an adult woman
under 3 years old
(Assembled from news article and toy packaging. I am intrigued by found text, and by what new meanings or cultural insights can be gleaned from interlacing two seemingly unrelated texts. In this case, the meta-text arising from the two interlaced strands appears to be a comment on the perpetually childlike status ascribed to women in our society. Or perhaps it maps the trajectory from the idealized female role foisted on little girls to the brutal reality experienced by adult women.)
Fallow Deer on Sidney Spit
Their browse line tortures the island
like a Victorian corset, cinching
spill of green to trim waist
rising four feet from ground. Every
leaf and blade ripped clean
away, native plantscape stripped naked
from navel down. Neither their breeding
success nor the subsequent botanical
undressing were anticipated
when they were shipped from England
all the way to James Island in the early
nineteen hundreds to be hunted (if one
can call it that) by Canadians –
and I suppose Yanks too – craving a taste
of the old country, longing to blast away
at those spotted hides. So they swam
to Sidney Island (and who can blame them?)
where they have no predators
and are further protected by the island
now being a provincial park
(which was really quite a smart play
on their part if you think about
it). But when prey become aggressors,
what’s left for the rest of us?
Sunset Undone (ghazal*)
(* an ancient form of Arabic verse involving repetition and internal rhyme)
I tilt my way down melting streets, each slippery step undone
by icy wind and gutter slush. Winter’s snowy heft undone.
Numb fingers grump inside wool gloves, lamenting that
abandoned mug of steamy tea—by necessity left undone.
Yet these small miseries they shame me when laid beside the truth
of blistered moonscape and blockades, a city’s breath undone.
I hurry to the crossroads of colliding worlds, terminal avenue
cleaving commercial like a severed worm, soft flesh undone.
We hoist our placards high against wet gusts, chins tucked,
firm grip on simple message of life’s ravelling weft undone.
I grab an “O” as we form a curbside row of alphabet-teeth, an urgent
mouth pleading “CEASEFIRE NOW,” leave some shred undone.
People pass, barely glance, stretch to press the “Walk” button,
don’t even know Gaza is the topic or ragged tourniquets undone.
Cars and trucks shoot by, some honk, some shout “fucking faggots!”
(Is this war’s buckled root? A faulty proof of manhood best undone?)
A furtive man approaches, suggests we protest something huge
like government mind control via toaster ovens, our behest undone.
And whether it made a difference, raised awareness, sowed a seed
or two of restless thought, is anybody’s educated guess undone.
All you can do is your best and then post it to facebook. If I knew
how to drop poems not bombs on Gaza, I would know regret undone.
I will start with this poem, stuffed in some kind of bottle transformed
from its mini-mart origins and tossed toward a sunset undone.
Desoto Love
The summer I was seventeen, my boyfriend
(the first one I really loved) snuck me
into the drive-in in the trunk
of his 1960 Desoto that I helped him paint
the week before (abalone blue
like his eyes). And looking back, I’m not sure
why I’m the one who had to
go in the trunk, or why I said “yes,” or why
he couldn’t just pay the extra
buck seventy-five. But I only weighed
a hundred and ten pounds, and trunks
were really spacious in those days (even with
four dead batteries stuffed alongside me). Besides,
he was just back from Vietnam and I was
glad to see him still in one piece. Eighteen
years later he lost his right hand in a
sawmill blade. But at the drive-in, he was all there
and all mine (once I got out of the trunk, that is).
The flick was Easy Rider, but don’t ask me
for a recap since we were having sex
in the back seat till the credits, which didn’t
feel as good as I thought it would (the sex,
I mean) ‘cause there was a socket set or a
beer bottle or something grinding into my hip bone
the whole time. And some gear lube I must have
picked up in the trunk was smeared on my bangs,
which kept slapping my eyes like wet spaghetti.
Next week, when we were at a keg party
up the river, it started to rain and my bell-bottom
jeans that I’d spent about a hundred hours
sewing patches and leather-strapped beads onto
for the last half-year began to disintegrate
until they fell right off my legs, which everyone
thought was a gas (except me). And when
my boyfriend stopped laughing, he said it was the
battery acid from the trunk of the Desoto. But he
found me some coveralls, and we smoked
a big fattie. Love is like that.

from Ride Backwards on Dragon (Leaf Press, 2007)
Urban Planning
Train tracks scrape past the sun-hammered miners’
shacks left over from the last
century. The front side is tarted up
as the Historic Old Quarter. But the backside
holds the story. Just ask the crumbling sunflower
sentries guarding the ass-end
of the Women’s Center. Or the weather-stripped
shiplap on the Bride’s Closet next door
luffing like a beaten flag while some gunk
the color of old blood drips
from a rusty pipe. I know this stuff
because I am now at a sufficiently advanced
stage in my daily rail-walking to support
a head-up gaze at my surroundings without
tumbling into the thorns. Beyond the
bridal store the shaling Occidental
Hotel and Bar prevails like an asylum
for the criminally insane. While across the
tracks a torn quilt pocked with bodily
stains lies splayed on a weedy patch
behind the Thrift Shop – a cardboard box
nightstand totters beside. She will
sleep here again tonight
unless chance finds her at the copshop on
the corner or perhaps in the bed
of someone she meets in the Oxy. And if he’s
not too bad, maybe they’ll get hitched
and pay a visit to the Bride’s Closet (except
that’s likely where her problems started – it’s all so
cyclotronic). He’ll probably keep
spending his nights at the Oxy, coming home
mean, talking fist-speak, till she ducks
out, goes to the Women’s Center, which
will be closed due to funding cuts, so she’ll do
some dumpster diving in the donation box
outside the Thrift Shop till she finds another quilt
and a spot to lie.

from Red Zone (Pig Squash Press, 2009)
(* aa form which resembles another in general shape but not genetic makeup)
Yellow as the aspen leaf drifting to earth
Yellow as the cat-skidder lurching up hills
Perfect as the killdeer eggs hidden in plain sight
Perfect as the crankcase oil dribbled on white sand
Crumpled as the bracken unfurling each spring
Crumpled as the beer cans hurled from diesel-stinking cabs
Flat as the red-winged blackbird’s black eye
Flat as the real estate sign that went up last night
Still as the absent dawn chorus on forestless slopes
Still as the backhoe surveying broken morsels of the day

from Red Zone (Pig Squash Press, 2009)

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