Thursday, November 6, 2008


I am listening

I am listening to Al Purdy at the Rebecca Cohn

in underground sunlight

and you can tell that I am a sensitive man

And I notice that Purdy is a sensitive man too

as he reads a poem that says so

However jokily, I see it’s true

And he reads other poems as well

poems about beer and fights with his wife

and other things I understand

such as the Arctic

for I have been there

and I am a sensitive man

I have been to Pangnirtung

where I saw the ground willow

rooted stubbornly in its rocky bed

I have seen the delicate things

carved from serpentine by toothless old men

and I have seen noisy flowers

which I would bottle and press

as “small yellow shouts”

Okay, so those were poppies and saxifrage

and not “Arctic rhododendrons”

but the point is that I am a sensitive man

and what Al is saying, I dig

and I dig the big resonant voice

improbably emanating from that long lanky frame

topped by a mop of straight white hair

and I think to myself

Jeez, maybe I should write flower poems

But the North I know is not the same

as the place Purdy briefly toured in ‘65

There are more white people for instance

and more machines

and I am both of them

there is cable TV, cellphones

mansions on the hill over Frobisher Bay

Stone carvings get shipped by the planeload

from Cape Dorset to Montreal

on jets that thunder down Iqaluit’s 9000 paved feet

and those carvings are shaped

not by handmade tools

but with Dremels and sanders and drills

and when I go up to Al

at the end of the night

so he can sign the copy of his book I just bought

I see that he is a very tired old man

and I am sad

for at least one ivory thought

is about to grow cold


Anonymous said...

Impersonating Al Purdy at Weddings

What do we learn when we are young? What lasts?
There was the matter of a girl, and poetry;
and no mere romance, there was the necropsy of love,
and the semblance of motion. I was moving;
you would say, Brownian motion. She is gone now,
and the lesson is not what lasts, but what stays.
It is love. And I am a fool to look on passion as dated,
of its era; all poems pick their moments, you seem to say.
I would have her back, as I would have you back;
cloister me in attics, with thousands of pressed rhododendrons.
Sentence me to a life of pursuits and appetites;
let me bookend at least one woman’s desire,
let me be the doxology of one poor soul.
I am the curiosity at wedding receptions,
reciting Al Purdy to impatient glass-clinkers and soloists,
to men who rock their thighs in anticipation of the open bar.
There is an audience for poetry; people shock-clap,
the couple kisses, and I take my seat as a pining emissary.

Brenda Schmidt said...

That's a Purdy fine poem, Zach.