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 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
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.
Innovate and engineer. We form
New models, rejuvenate the fields.
The sectors interface. In
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
I would like my cemetery to be shaped
like the one at
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.
The Pacific is ultramarine,
pelicans stamped on
the envelope of air,
mailing themselves over
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
My Panama hat high on Bolívar,
I am ready – sin nombre –
to set sail for San Fran, or
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
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
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.