the poetry that matters

Chris Hutchinson

Chris Hutchinson’s poems have been translated into Chinese and have appeared in numerous Canadian and U.S. publications. He is the author of the poetry collection Unfamiliar Weather (Muses' Company, 2005). Other People's Lives (Brick Books, 2009) is his most recent book.

Born in Montreal, he has also lived in Victoria, Edmonton, Nelson, Vancouver, and Phoenix, Arizona. Who knows why, but he’s back in Vancouver again.


So significance, bare-limbed but for a broken wristwatch
peels away its skin where fractals of analysis
and breath unfold. So instead of listening, you cross-talk
as logic weeps and syntax bleeds into ellipsis,
an uncertain trailing off, reaching like phantom limbs
of thought, meaning: the sentence as object can be
opened like a multi-purpose tool—just as whim
can twist into an array of conscious deeds.
So watch your fish tank like TV, so train the cat
to drape itself around your shoulders like a stole.
Is it a game, this semantic shuffle, or that
which gets you to the breakfast table—the goal
not the centre, but life’s ironic fringes—
obsessed not with words, but with their hinges? 

            I’d rather reflect the sleep
of twenty castle-shaped clouds—
quiet as an unplanted garden,
a belief saddening
            in the saddest of times,
clutching the wine cup without
letting a single telltale drop
            insinuate itself like
a crystal of aluminum oxide
slipping down the peacock’s
            effulgent throat.
In my worst moments alone:
eucalyptus diving in-
            to the green lake of itself,
cricket at night cheeping beneath
the floorboards, or me placing a foot
            in the valley
in which I was discovered
so tears of blood
            might brighten
the medieval statue’s cheekbones—
what makes the experience
exquisite? Mineral-hard
proof or simply rocks in the beguiled
jeweller’s head—meaning
            crushed like light through a chandelier.
Though I’d rather masquerade
as something easier to conceive,
a designer brooch
amongst the high-stepping set,
sparkling wit of the vehement
intelligentsia—who these days
can afford not to invest in their
            pageantry of feelings?
Or an alcove
where the wind shakes its fists
at the remnants of sleep, as I who
was murdered
            spitting seeds of red worth—


Another Claims Examiner with fever-
shakes and a surgeon’s scalpel
this town doesn’t need.
Not another knuckle on a sporting fist
bled white with first-place obsessions,
cruel as an Old Testament stone.
But rather a clock with fingers
splayed like slithering filaments suggesting
a tactile and sexual nature.
Or a forest of cigarettes for the deinstitutionalized
and, at the centre, for their spiritually malnourished pets,
a mandala of bones. Why?
Because the body both receives and transmits,
an elegant agent for assessment and action
or, in today’s case in point, physiognomic revolt—
That is—
if it weren’t for this soupy suspension
made from the broth of platitudes and slogans.
If it weren’t for this slime-mould bureaucracy.
Then everywhere: palm trees! Green shimmering
pompoms that rejoice in victorious ascent above
trunks wed to the vertical plane of the crucifix.
Now imagine: pain without victimhood
as a commercial by-product, and the streets freckled
with patterns of actual blood, as living.

Being intelligent yet sick the precision of our insights is honed
to a silver point that enters the mind in a self-inflicted pleasure
of pain akin to a syringe piercing the cheerless libertine’s vein. Above,

altocumulus undulatus
striate slowly west while across the street reflected
white ripples reach like fingers of plague towards the city’s east side.
I’m talking about talking endlessly with you about sickness and the mind
stuck in a groove of disbelief, about synapses and lips friable
as scorched aluminum on stinking hot mornings of reciprocal need and
tumid eloquence. It’s this friendship based on a love of flamboyant natter,
each phrase itself a mouth full of teeth; anecdotes passed on like
sparkling talismans, precious as the small, intricate, unworkable objects
bequeathed to us in dreams. So sing, my friend, your long complaint,
and I’ll grind my organ of ironies or, like a semantic explorer, with a wink,
circumnavigate whole continents of meaning. How we must appear, words
falling from our lips like coins from a bumbling magician’s sleeve! But who
can say whether this grackle beetling through the scrub makes the same noise
as a pencil held by a quick-sketch artist whose hand freezes each detail
into its ideal Platonic expression? Suddenly I cannot argue but nevertheless
it occurs to me—as religiously as wind skims the worldly surface
of appearances—that it's only ourselves we can’t explain; and this city,
a circus tent of echoing applause and shrieks, each of us desiring a place
at centre stage. Then again, maybe it's the way grief celebrates and grins,
our funhouse visages reduced to shards of laughter; and the fragments
of our love, our strident and tremulous attempts at concealment—



Feathers of milk, or fingers of the elderly;
in the institutional dark, eyes blind as seeds.
Soon the suburbs will overgrow the banks
of these sludge grey rivers, in uniform ranks
trees bow down to the holy, ascendant,
insufferable heat. Now history slants,
breezes across the urban grid, the name
“freedom” anchored like a kite. Locals bathe
where the wound opens, conceivable as light
without an image. A stranger, I alight
on a horizon so indefinable it defines me:
skeletal trees, rows of houses, uneven teeth.
If description belongs to the surfaces of things—
how the mind swerves, disbelieving. 

According to aerodynamics there are
horizontally stacked sheets of glass—
moments, not monuments
the machinating troposphere
at whim deforms. Once we begin,
taxiing at ground zero, each integer
a toehold quickly pixelated
into innumerable Space Shuttle scraps,
we are embraced again,
but by the wrong technology, developed
to help transport people, cargo,
military personnel, and poetics.

Almightily alone, I unplug the world,
place the plastic globe on an empty vase
and proclaim the wellspring dry.
My own irony chews me up, spews me out.
Face of a famished war machine! Oily lips
writhing in figure eights.
It’s as if someone else
were here, rudely pointing with his eyes,
signalling with his chin, silently asking.
“These drowsy hands,” I answer.
Each fingernail, a mouth yawning
in perpetual fatigue. But I will endure,
patient as the enchanted flame that sleeps
inside the match head. I will note each swing
and twist of consciousness, though only to equate,
much later over drinks with persons I have
yet to meet, the fluency of running water
with the vertebrae of coral snakes. Until then,
my only friend on the phone, boastful
as a parade, marches his opinions, all
spit and polish, into my right ear.
The phone is a device which opens me up,
coldly shuts me down. If I could cradle myself
I’d doze to its cosmic tones,
dream in tongues I might one day transcribe.
Instead I gather in what remains of the fabric
of my private life, draw it up around my head,
not a monk’s hood, but a tunnel of attention.

It’s too bad I can’t plug the monitor into the grease trap,
my plumber having discovered another word
for victims of botched electrolysis.
Perhaps I’ll just bolt the gate and feed the atomizer
its usual baseball fetishes, that is, until there are tap shoes
to incinerate as if having never read The Pumpkin of Dusk.
Or if I reorganize these sleeping pills
so that they resemble a skyline boiling with birds
then no one will call about that dairy farmer’s polemic.
Though it’s likely the spider plant will think it’s a spider
the way it’s likely the accordion of the future
will resemble an air conditioner.
Regardless, this cat, thinking in binary terms,
thinking, Cryptozoology versus philately,
has again leeched my shag carpet of nutrients.
Tonight, will I wonder how to choose between the comedy
of a pinhole-burnt eiderdown and the anecdote
of a laundry hamper overflowing with Thanatos?
Or will my landlord realize it’s high time
to honeycomb my interior again, seeing that
the thermostat is mixing liquid nitrogen
with lemon gin, off carousing with nymphs
and gryphons, regardless of gravity,
despite my New Age sang-froid—

Serving spoon or
funhouse mirror—
so enamoured with the tool
you sometimes forget
its function: gramophone or
satellite dish, anything
machined, moulded, made:
whatever lasts, not
the object but its task:
what you see, not always exactly
what you get: slide trombone or
shotgun barrel, this place
where uncertainty breeds
potential, where appearances
lay their traps: polyamorous
as a flower, polymorphous
as a glance fraught
with innuendo and subtext:
the way, in 1913, Duchamp schemed
with stool and bicycle wheel:
the way desire defines itself
in the moment before
the application of your will:
weightless as a hammer
at its zenith, then
downswing, decisive act:
that which exists in the hand,
less phenomenological proof
of your own cleverness
than reminder of what

you’re striving for: timepiece or
wedding band, or the abstract
work of words themselves: breath
harnessed to sound, sound
fashioned to whatever
meaning suits your need, serves
your fleeting purpose: every
invention, a jerry-built attempt
to nullify the distance
between your reach and what's
forever beyond your grasp:
telescope or microscope, or
even the weapons you turn
upon yourself.

excerpts from Other People's Lives


Other People's Lives

by Chris Hutchinson


available from Brick Books


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