ditch,

the poetry that matters

Todd Swift 

Todd Swift is one of the leading Canadian poet-editors of his generation (those under 45). He is the author of four critically-acclaimed collections of poetry: Budavox, Cafe Alibi, Rue du Regard and Winter Tennis. He is the editor of seven international poetry anthologies, including Poetry Nation, 100 Poets Against The War, and Future Welcome. In 2005 he edited a special section, "The New Canadian Poetry", for New American Writing. He is poetry editor of Nthposition. His poems and reviews have appeared widely in journals including Agenda, Books in Canada, The Cimarron Review, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, Jacket, and Poetry Review. He is Core Tutor with The Poetry School. He has been Oxfam Great Britain's Poet-in-residence since 2004. Al Alvarez has written of his latest collection that it is "sophisticated, ingenious, often moving and always blessedly, unashamedly elitist."

 

 

 

 

 

I Go To A Game With My Vigorous Father

 

I carry my father in hospital sleep,

Wake to light that devours things,

Each night a new drowning.

 

New summer air recalls old summers

When hand-in-hand, younger

The live baseball stadium was there,

 

With its Expos players, and mustard.

Delected air, that food, now seem

As good as if pure Jesus came again.

 

Oh, that he would visit here to cure

Cankered layers that make bread out

Of any modest body.  A body

 

Cannot keep up with all the jilt-jolt pace:

Science, that trying, changes in us –

Won’t often be weighed down by

 

Too much mid-July-wheeling faith.

I feel levelling opaque bodies fold

One on one, as I have grown a son

 

From my father’s negative-active cells;

And take that rapid son of his from

My smashed-open head – and hells

 

Gush down like Niagara, Victoria

And all geographic falls –

Those rich, long places.  Vindictive nouns

 

Cultivate far inside my lovely Tom

Like fast bees that build white honey

From their nameless industry.

 

Comb my father’s white hair

Where it was not aggressively shaved

For the scarring.  But a game is saved

 

For his pitted memory.  He sees

A white-dirted ball fly in blue air, a boy,

His own it may be, moving by his tall side.

 


The Oil And Gas University

 

Innovate and engineer.  We form

New models, rejuvenate the fields.

The sectors interface.  In Novosibirsk

 

She wears a hooded parka.  She

Challenges outmoded ideas.  She

Transforms the education-research

 

Manifold and provides new incentives.

Her name is a complex amalgam.

She pulls her hood back to reveal

 

A white face restructured by bone

So that beauty achieves real excellence

In a real-world setting.  Her lips

 

Hit each of the seven key targets

Set by the national institute last year.

Record her and itemize the frozen rain

 

Which begins to fall on her impressive

Face.  Ownership and exploitation

Have no place in this exciting dynamic.

 

Opportunity, however, is vital here

In this oil and gas region near the pole.

She walks past the infrastructure.

 

The gas flares in the fields, the tundra

Reciprocates under the white solar

Glare – then continuous darkness

 

Of course will eventually supplant this

Brilliant feat.  High technology

Must provide a nexus and intensive

 

Inventories.  She is beautiful and I

Wish to introduce myself to her

At the Oil and Gas University.

 


Envoi

 

Send out the loveless children,

those faceless ones, pansies,

droops, suckers and ragamuffin

losers, tooth-low, bedraggled,

 

gaggled geeks, off-strumpets

and low-levels, send them out!

Let them prowl devil-streets, selling

pock-skin, pencil shavings, eye-

 

lashes and TB-dolls.  Fix them;

prop their drip-feed with Benzedrine.

Keep the comfort-zones clean.

Send these poppets, these tinsel-

 

Hansels and sappy-sonnets, these

Gretel-stanzas fetching nopes, into

the hands of craving-warts, stucco

borders, palsy-gangs and semi-dopes.

 

The nasty-edit, the dopamine cabal,

zoot-impaired, pleasure-pained, unused

to pretty things, flowers, a kind note.

Send my soul to the print-alley fiends.

 


Homage To Charlotte Rampling

 

Not to be just a “skinny sado-masochist”

twisted past all recognition, suspenders

over fishbone torso and tweenie nipples

singing in the death camp to your lover:

 

that was, Charlotte, a wise career move.

So was the departure to alter ego Paris.

Marriage suited you better than nakedness

set in the most perverse circumstances

 

imaginable.  Older, in Under The Sand,

Ozon’s film, your eyes identify the body

of your drowned husband, no longer human

but swollen by the sea, putrid and sexless.

 

Your gaze lies over the available absence

we all tend to as volatile organic creatures.

The loss and horror and the contamination

under the white dry sheets in the mortuary,

 

pulled aside like the skin from a surgical

wound.  Your eyes hover, they stay open.

We see you struggle, there, in that moment with

what we all have to face.  Your face dies for us.

 


Monsieur Pigeon’s Best Machine

 

I would like my cemetery to be shaped

like the one at Montparnasse, bordered

by Rue Froidevaux, Boulevard

Edgar-Quinet, Raspail, and

on the fourth side, lit apartments

whose small square windows look out

on the graves of Aron, Bainville,

Belmondo, and Cortazar.

Autumn makes sorrow smell good,

gives one an appetite to go after tombs.

They fill me with comfort, because, after

so long, they are still here: the names

kept (Sartre, Man Ray), and the low, flat

trays left out, to put small gifts on, as if

thanking the dead for their hospitality.

Speaking of which, my favourite tombstone

belongs not to an industrialist or chess

champion (though they are here in numbers),

not even to the Mexican President Porfirio

Díaz, but instead to a homely inventor:

Charles Pigeon.  His grave is topped

with the most grotesque figure of sentiment.

We come to his last resting place

beside his wife.  It is a large, green bed

(the air did that) and in it, there they both are:

he doodling new mechanisms in a notebook,

completely dressed, down to the detail of

a pocket watch and vest; she, more relaxed,

is turned slightly aside, one hand put out

to his thigh, as if to say: Charles, let’s make

whoopee.  This scene of married life

is Monsieur Pigeon’s best machine:

one which carries all who pass by it,

immediately, from our poor century

back to his, when such contentment,

between man and wife was a basic right.

At any rate, he thought so, and put it up

(in the path of revolution and economies)

to cap their night with a fixed ornament,

reinventing tenderness as a monument.

 


My Name Is Panama

 

The Pacific is ultramarine,

pelicans stamped on

the envelope of air,

 

mailing themselves over

the Canal Zone, narrow

girdle of a toucan-mad isthmus.

 

I enter The Hotel Central.

The rooms have a stained-sheet

feel, rented at a desk longer

 

than some lives, low,

holding seven drained bottles

of Canada Dry.

 

My Panama hat high on Bolívar,

I am ready – sin nombre –

to set sail for San Fran, or Shanghai.

 

 

Panama City, 1999

 


Gun Crazy

 

Against the world, just us.

Behind, a trail of gas stations,

small banks, the meat packing plant,

knocked over.  FBI Telexes

clatter like town gossips across America:

Barton Tare and Laurie Starr, dangerous

and armed.  How did it begin?

Neon wakes me, I peel back blinds

to jackhammer rain, shake a Lucky

from the pack, and light.

Behind, on the tangled bed, you are mine,

every inch of your easy hunger, your fear

cold and material in the night.

 

Where are we two going?  When we get

there, how will we know we’ve finally

arrived?  Mexico, possibly, but the bills

are marked and the Feds hot on our tails.

The first time we met, I shot six matches

off the crown on your head, at a carnival,

won five hundred bucks.  The moment

the matches flared, I knew my bullets

would always be true, direct.  You kill

out of a necessity verging on need, I

cannot squint the eye down to that degree,

my hand trembles at the sight of flesh targets.

Still, I’ll end up putting a bullet in your heart

up in the Lorenzo mountains, in the mist.

 

That first night I aimed and squeezed

I should not have missed.

You wake and call me over to the bed.

Then I’m down in your arms and kissed.

Your mouth sets off all four alarms.

How can a man be so made

from moments of early loss?

I was always gun crazy,

so good at one clear thing:

hitting what I could barely see.

I see nothing in the darkness now, only

one part moving on the bed, my body

pressed like a pistol

into the small of your cries.

 

 

 

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