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by Gary Barwin


Jane kisses Roderick's piano
she particularly likes the lid
runs her red tongue languorously along
the sleek black wood
imagines the lid opening then closing above
black and white keys
a sleepy eye only just able to remain awake
and Roderick's thin fingers
caught between sleep and dream
crackling like leaves beneath
the smashed-down lid

Mrs. Black hears a ringing
another phone solicitation during dinner?
no that's right
she's dialed her daughter
lifts then smells a crispy music through the receiver
Roderick's fingers going up in smoke
the reds and umbers of Jane's memory
on slow burn
reheated frozen dinners in her mind's EZ-Bake

But what
at this very moment
is my grade nine teacher doing with her retirement?
is she wrestling the great themes:
Seventy-six Trombones
or the one from the second movement of
Schubert's Unfinished?
perhaps she's watching water circle the plughole
in the kitchen sink
braided flutes around a fallen bird?
she remembers what little Jimmy said after math class:
beware the ducks
they are like time careening along
a piano keyboard
without regard for obsolescence
or the key of G
ah little Jimmy
you are one of us
not Shakespeare or Jabez Dawes
your tongue is a rakeful of leaves
dragged along the ground as
the weather gets cold
I was born on a wagon
travelling west
and my daddy taught me
this song
he said was wrote
on the back of the moon

our wagon's pulled by an ox that is spangled
broken-hooved and deep blue
and is itself the universe
and the ox
fed on new stars and the road ahead
is expanding
as is
the wagon

and someone's got a banjo filled with
is playing
a song with their electro-magnetic
fingers and a voice with the gravity
of an ox
a million miles across

oh we have some idea
we're headed west
but we're not sure
since we've found new stars
in our drinking cup
and come to think of it
we haven't a clue
which is the front
of the ox
or where it keeps
its wheels

one night in the future
when the moon is out and the children sleeping
the banjo-player will put down his banjo
turn himself
inside out

we'll hear music coming from
the inside of stars
and a new ox will be born

without wheels
last time I saw you
it was some kind of

you'd just gone through
the drive thru
in a canoe
you try to paddle
and eat a cheeseburger
at the same time

I pull up in my car
you attempt to wave

ketchup dribbles down
your wrist

a couple in a convertible
drive over
a pickle
you'd dropped in a handicapped space

in heaven I'm an angel and
my wings begin to moult
now the veins of my wings
like the veins of my eyelids
are visible when
I stand before the sun

they're like the Mississippi Delta
only without the
when someone
on earth
puts the perfect
amount of mustard on
a hot dog
an angel puts away
his harp
makes himself
a hot dog
pulls bread from the clouds
the dog from a memory of flesh
the brilliant white of the celestial
just dazzling
white and clean

my child
my leather tongue
my watered-down heart
myopic fingers
little fuzzy briefcase with the brass locks

these are metaphors for
the mayonnaise of our times
the invincible dirigible
that is rigorous thought in these
the moments before
the mandible

when I slept last night
angels were licking a map
of Manhattan
from my thighs

the map was Heinz
and my heart
a solitary
bereft of crust

Ed McMahon call my name
telephone Kinsmen let me pledge
my child
my walking bones
my life that is a feather in a cheese dog

I am willing to die for this
xylophones have crept into my love life
that dapple-thonged thousand-eared headband
that shaved the thick-feathered whirlwind
and scanned the hopeful sandals of dawn
that gentle grief of the golden flower

my clothes are dust
my friends are skin

the noise of the thin moon
its soft oars
your tiny ears like the young sea
the dust of singing

now hear the the moon's footsteps
her supple unhappiness
she brandishes the dust of our hair
your blood
the dust of the gods
I am a man scared of his own ears
heart thick with the heartless mallets
of xylophones so cold and
at least by these feet

and like I says to Plato
I'm tired of living in a cave
clawing the walls
trying to get a sunburn from shadows
the black smile
irony has been making
my skin angry
it's a winged suit of feathers
I take off
and place on the back of a chair

I'm standing on the tip of
a mountain
my tongue
a tall building
time to jump --

I am falling
wish I hadn't shed my wings so soon
but whump
the bird of hummous or is that
baba ganoush
catches me on its back
takes me to
Dr Skin my dermatologist
who fans his splendid tail as he
rushes in from lunch
spilling coffee over
back issues of
Irony & Ecstasy magazine
I must speak frankly with you
he says
tears in his eyes
now take a seat in the waiting room
and wait
I find my destiny in
a quiet orange chair of uncertain age
but my angry skin leaps
off my body
surrounds Dr Skin with
its irritated and blotchy
its chaffed and peeling
its cracked and spotty
"tell me Dr Skin"
my skin inquires
"whose wings are more ironic
Icarus's or
Big Bird's
those of an emu or
Thomas Mann's?"
Dr Skin has a tube of cream and
through lubrication
he's managed to
elude my skin
but then he becomes backed into a corner
and must make a run for the door
now he's doubled back and
has jumped for the window
opalescent quills crown his arms in
a nimbus of shards
and he falls toward the laconic

my skin bounds out the window
attempts to form a trampoline between
Dr Skin and the ground
but it's become snagged in a flagpole
and surely Dr Skin is destined for
or at least
like recent upheavals at the College of Dermatologists
internal reorganization
but here's that bird again
huddling against the story
saving Dr Skin from doom
that's twice now its plush back has
served as a narrative Middle Eastern spread ex machina

but I feel the need for a radiant intervention
for splendid blue glistening in the arena of
for some affectionate meek animal
smaller than a brainbox
to be saved
true love to be shattered then
reignited like a velvet potato
and death confronted then
offered a seat near the front of the bus
and then finally
it will end
with irony
and my angry skin
on a humus night
sipping tulips on the porch
while the chlorinated stars sing
like distant teeth
the black smile of heaven

Gary Barwin is active as a writer, composer, and performer. In his latest book someone inverts an owl.

Barwin received a PhD in Music Composition from SUNY at Buffalo and currently directs Composers in Electronic Residence, teaching music to students around the globe, online. He also teaches creative writing at McMaster University. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his wife, three kids, his dog, and a fear of the family car.

It has recently come to light that for one crazy summer, long ago, Barwin and Allen Ginsberg shared a single shoe size.


Poetry & Fiction books:

Big Red Baby, short fiction. The Mercury Press, 1998 (ISBN 1-55128-064-7)
Outside the Hat, poetry. Coach House Books, 1998. (ISBN 1-55245-030-9)
Cruelty to Fabulous Animals, poetry/fiction. Moonstone Press 1995. (ISBN 0-920259-54-5)
The Mud Game, novel, collaboration with Stuart Ross. Mercury Press 1995. (ISBN 1-55128-027-2)
The Great Themes, poetry. serif of nottingham, 2000.

For Children:

Grandpa's Snowman, children's fiction. Annick Press, forthcoming Sept. 2000 (ISBN 1-55037-635-7)
The Magic Mustache, children's fiction. Annick Press, 1999.(ISBN 1-55037-606-3)
The Racing Worm Brothers, children's fiction. Annick Press, 1998.(1-55037-540-7)

All books can be ordered from the author's favourite bookstore at www.princebooks.net.


Outside the Hat (online book): www.chbooks.com/online/outside_the_hat

Some of Gary's music & writing online: www.maltedmedia.com/barwin

Email: barwin@interlynx.net

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