Tuesday, August 25, 2020

I USED TO BE THE COULD YOU THEN I COULDN’T, by Stephen Collis




we laid them all off in writing
one at a time the stars formed
from the cloud of dust rent by trucks
crossing the Libyan desert / you see
we didn’t have to bomb every country
some bombed themselves
we just gave them grants / debt
and time to think
but this is a poem you said
and I fail to see the social relevance /
I need the funds to buy sheep
herd them to liquor barrels
calm the nerves a little / get back
to the computer / write my master
peace could have ensued but
like we said it was bombs and you
couldn’t even get a little nutrition from
licking the spent casings though my
sheep will certainly try to do this
battery-like and really it’s a memoir
of my time herding the unherdable /
I’m not sure there’s a keyword we can count on here
we want one demonizes some group
we’ve determined to be expendable
some bordered space we can keep closed /
didn’t I say the sheep were woven
into the very fabric of my art?
they are mobile and will not stop
until you are in deep sleep of lavender fields
pull the covers of the book closer
you will be warm enough in the coming
nuclear winter to spy the rugged outline
of a new ideology of lost hope
its lanceolate foliage my sheep have already eaten
which is of course my main contribution to society


2

Weren’t this supposed to be a research grant?
told myself this weeping
or maybe was laughing / hard to tell
leaky night boat to nowhere
catching a good wind
oh thanks friendly weather!
cool those jets and stop that heat
so to get back to the work
of this danse macabre
list subject matter to be covered
methodology employed etc. /
time runs through our fingers
no that’s water I said
maybe grains of sand
cool to the touch / hard to tell
differences / shabby aftershocks
the way you sometimes see lightning
in the ash plume rising
over a volcano erupting and think
really? Lightening too?
not trying to be bleak really
method is not trying to be anything really
and certainly not bleak or
just need funds to hole up in and be forgotten
but maybe / is just darker like sometimes
there just is lightning in an ash plume rising
reminding you the task is to become
minor / refuse standard measure
herd sheep and write poems to stars at night
there’s bigger fish to fry anyway so
that’s my methodology / any questions?





Stephen Collis is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Commons (Talonbooks 2008), the BC Book Prize winning On the Material (Talonbooks 2010), Once in Blockadia (Talonbooks 2016) and Almost Islands: Phyllis Webb and the Pursuit of the Unwritten (Talonbooks 2018). In 2019 he was awarded the Latner Writers’ Trust of Canada Poetry Prize in recognition of his body of work. He lives near Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and teaches poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University.

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