Nothing more than abstract ornament,
explanations and discussions
keeping us to ourselves; we were
too petty for anything else. God
and Spirit, man and God again: no
insight into the common denominators.
Stupidity categorized the crews
taking over. In Canada, one was
reduced to waiting; at best,
you sent yourself notes (not poems)
hoping they would stay closed, or
fall open revealing all upon arrival.
You are lost either way. Death
enters your life: a troubadour
strolling through the provincial town.
Each gesture of government singing
the unwanted guest to bed, who is
finishing the last bite of food.
One brought no plans for conversation,
issuing invitations in the dark
he slips from his clothes. The livery
stark amusement, leaving only the arc
of a streetlamp which constellates:
the hard vistas of distant expectation.
available in DARK EARTH, 142 pages, $15.99
– title from my first book The Herald, poem first published in Jewish Dialog
Patrick Lane, a great Canadian poet. In the tradition of Al Purdy, and Charles Bukowski for those who are unfamiliar with great Poetry. The designation I use – the Canadian part, anyway – to specify country of origin.
Of course as to great and to a degree greatly unremarked poets except or even including within the country of their origins I would have to also mention Kenneth Patchen, whose book The Journal Of Albion Moonlight is not strictly poetry yet is poetry at the core. Something along the lines of Louis Ferdinand Celine‘s Journey To The End Of The Night, or his great Death On The Installment Plan. A few books, along with Djuna Barne‘s Nightwood and a few of Anais Nin‘s, with Blaise Cendrar’s ought to be de rigeur reading ( especially so his Moravagine).
Now of course these have nothing directly to do with Patrick Lane, but they are indicative of what greatness inspires in the fact of a joyful association and the discoveries made along the way.
One of his poems from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane
I’m smoking one of his cigars tonight
after this one
there’s only one left
a pack of cigars
swagger-stick from the First War
and nothing else
legacies from the old man.
Once in all his eighty years
I saw him – father of my father,
passing my father to me
in one sudden moment
of a prairie night
and I sit here and smoke his cigar tonight
while I clean his earthly hairs
from the razor
sit and smoked
sit and consume legacies
- and that is just the first page…
Aslo, you might take note of his memoir – What The Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered of which a few comments are:
“To read this book is to enter a state of enchantment.”—Alice Munro
“Patrick Lane has written a memoir of heartbreaking struggle that manages to be beautiful and encouraging, finding anchorage in what was once called Creation, the natural world and its unstinting promise of renewal.”—Thomas McGuane
“A tough, lovely book.”—Margaret Atwood
So do look for his work, and enjoy a great Canadian poet. Patrick Lane. Take note that there is even a book where 55 poets celebrate his work: https://www.amazon.com/Because-You-Loved-Being-Stranger/dp/1550171011
On June 6, my father would have been 100. He died 10 years ago. This is about that time.
Also, my latest book of poems, – here – The Lost Canadian, Poems Selected, Vol.2, dedicated to him, is published today.
I was taking care of my father, in a small way, helping him out because I’d promised I’d do so when he found out he had bladder cancer, went through a few operations, etc., and was on recovery road.
He’d been religious in doing so for my mother when she had cancer in 1978 – him, and my brother – hospital bed in the living room, as much comfort as possible.
One February day in 2003, he was standing in the bank, and his leg broke as he turned around. This was the beginning of a long, uneven road.
He was doing fairly well, but then slipped at home, which required a hospital stay for about a month.
That went ok as far as hospital stays go – and once back home there were exercises, then weekly treatments for the bladder cancer for a time, which tapered to once a month eventually.
I’d drive him back and forth since he’d have a tube inserted directly into the bladder for the chemo, and might or might not be sick afterwards – so simply sleep it off for a few hours.
That went not too badly until the morons at the hospital giving the treatment, after assuring me the procedure was sterile, next time told us it wasn’t – I was asking because he didn’t feel well, and why there was an infection from the procedure.
This led to more in and out hospital stays. The last cycle was from Sept.9 until February/March the next year when he went to a rehab hospital.
While in the hospital prior to the rehab the workers managed to give him a heart infection – who washes hands there anyway – place him in a room immediately after coming out of ICU with a wandering shithead of a patient with MRSA, attempt to give him multiple doses of the wrong medicine, meds contrary to his condition, etc etc etc. (More details later.)
One result was that I was there every day for months to the extent that my father would jokingly refer to ‘our stays in the hospital’ at 10 am until some time after midnight or 1 am being watchful; wheeling him around the hospital in a wheelchair, outside in warmer weather, getting any extras like newspapers, etc. This often resulted in overnight stays sleeping on a couch in the ICU waiting room. My brother was managing his business in another city but did manage to come in on weekends.
My diet then consisted of coffee, some donuts, toasted cheese sandwiches at night. Not good.
At one point while my father was out of the hospital over Christmas holidays, and into January, my brother got hit head-on by some traveling dingbat going the speed limit (she said) on a blustery, very cold day. I found out through a phone message from the police on my answering service when I got back from shopping for some stuff for the house that he’d be transferred when stable to a hospital in Toronto that night if he made it.
He survived – barely. Broken neck, broken collar bone, broken legs, destroyed kneecap, broken ankle, broken foot bones, etc. When he was transported from about a hundred miles out of the city that evening after being stabilized during the afternoon, I was at the doors as the attendants wheeled him in and up to a room where doctors were at work on other accident victims.
I left that night after they had to insert a tube into his side to drain excess fluids, cutting a hole as I stood nearby as he lay there grimacing, tubed out.
That began a series of visits to his hospital which weren’t that frequent, often only 3 times a week, sometimes 2 as he did have a girlfriend who would travel there to stay with him. But that became ‘special’ when my father had to go back into the hospital, and I was ping-ponging from one far end of the city to another those several times a week.
Eventually, 3-4 months later, my brother was getting out of the hospital, and I was going to drive him home that night, checking on my father by cellphone. At the first stop – not driving in the rain and talking – my father didn’t sound good, said he didn’t feel good (and being a realist rather than an alarmist was convincingly able to convey his real state to me), so I proceeded to call a friend of his and mine at the time, and she said she’d call 911, tell them she’d be there, so I called him and told him what was going on.
Firemen broke down the back door, she was there to comfort him against any increasing upset, while I wheeled my brother homeward bound, stayed maybe 5- 10 minutes, and left after he said to just go see to my father, especially since it would take at least an hour in that weather to get to my father’s hospital.
My Dad was stabilized, okay, relaxing, so I left after a few hours.
Over the next several months due to slack attending nurses, disregarding my requests different nights to be extra watchful since I kept a notebook and monitored my father’s blood levels and rhythms and eventually could tell there would be cause to add potassium or whatever else was necessary, they managed to give him several heart attacks, when he’d never had trouble with his heart before. (There are many other incidences or different occurrences which I’ll detail when I do the book)
Nothing like a call or two or three.. at 5 am, after I’d left at 1 am, made it to the bed by 2 am, informing you of those heart attacks; or some wrong-headed panic driven nurse saying ‘we think your father’s going, you’d better rush in’ and finding out that she was uninformed and just dumb.
Rehab came in went, my father only 20 minutes away instead of a half hour, so I’d take him lunch I’d make, get newspapers, we’d walk around the rehab hospital. All this time of course they were pushing, pushing, pushing to get him out.
I had several meetings with all the hospital staff present, doctors included where I argued successfully to maintain my father’s care there awhile longer as he was getting to the point where he’d be better able to manage outside.
He eventually came home, and once again fell, whereby the at-home services said they could no longer provide therapy because he was bruised and thus unable to complete their exercises. Assholes.
Until one day, one night. I said good night, rubbed his legs for the blood flow, got him a warming bag to lay at his feet – all per usual – said good night, gave him a good night kiss, he said he loved me and my brother. I said I’d be back in 15 minutes, as usual again, to check he was sleeping okay.
Had a bath. Went downstairs as my brother came in – he was visiting – turned on the hall light so as not to disturb him, and as I peeked around the corner into his room saw he was asleep on his back. Not usual, as he slept on his side, and I’d left him turned onto his left side.
My brother had just come back in, having been visiting my father earlier in the evening; shaved him, got him into bed. One great thing about my father, for our sakes, was that his mind was always there.
I spoke out to him, as I might usually do, where he’d glance over and smile, and fall back to sleep. This time, nothing.
His eyes were the half-open they are when people die – seeing that made me shiver and I felt as if my stomach had dropped to the floor.
Off to the hospital, riding in the ambulance.
They took him in, and I had to wait as usual before I could go in.. to round a corner and find a doctor with a class inside my father’s room, saying ‘This patient was brought in brain dead…”
Outraged, and hurting, and wanting to hurt, I said, “That’s my father. Not yet a subject for study. Now get the fuck out” loudly but calmly, as I moved into the room. A few of the students looked embarrassed, muttered ‘sorry’ and all filed out, with no word from the doctor.
Death followed next night.
“I keep walking, making calls which few recognize, eventually sure that one day when I have passed that way, suddenly a porch light will shine in the evening and another timelessness reign.”
– Dark Earth, Dean J. Baker
Been reading Dean J. Baker’s latest offering of poems of late, Dark Earth. Of course Dean is an author, composer, and performer who was born in Toronto, Canada, to a Ukrainian/Polish father and an Irish/Scottish mother. Attended the University of Guelph, and later won book awards from them, along with several unsolicited Ontario Arts Council awards, best poems published in a year in literary journals, and The T.S. Eliot Society of Miami’s Calendar Poet award. He has several other works out: Baker’s Bad Boys, Silence Louder Than A Train, The Mythologies Of Love, and The Lost Neighborhood each of which can also be found on his amazon.com page.
What struck me intensely about Dean’s poetry is this sense of earthiness and despair tinged with a dark humor that I so love. An ongoing walk through these dark times is an underlying expectation, an almost uncanny movement toward hope; yet, not hope itself, rather it’s a sort of orientation to the future or forward looking gaze that can almost see between barbed wired clouds on the darkest horizon something strange almost shining through only to be sealed off immediately by the Reality Police who trap us in this bleak corner of the universe. Now by this I don’t mean that Dean is some kind of blipping optimist, no he’s a pessimist or realist like most of us. No that would make things a little to easy and rosy, and Dean is more of a bleak and transgressive churning below the muddy waters. He lives down where the alligators and moccasins move in those black ponds, waiting, harboring nothing but deadly thoughts. Dean’s world is to poetry what David Goodis in Street of No Return is to noir. In that bleak book the main character loses the girl, kills the villain, returns to skid row with a bottle under his arm for the boys in the cold wet sunless streets, where life is nothing but this hollow gesture, a desperateness toward the last dark weave of things: where losers sit in some dark alley passing the bottle around, and nothing could touch them nothing at all.
But then again what does touch us is Dean’s poetry, and it touches us hard and quick like some dark message out of hell; but this is no metaphysical charade – it is our hell, our lives in this god forsaken universe where the thought of salvation isn’t some dream of transcendence, but is rather a movement toward another order of indifference, another and hopeful purgatory across some bleak landscape beyond the lies and deceit of this one.
Do you not see how
to meet the grinning, opened mouth.
In Dean’s Widows he challenges our sense of propriety, brings us two death’s: the death of child, and the death of something else. Even the use of the plural – Widows, as if one may suspect some murderous collusion amongst “black widows”; or, rather the natural order of some dip into Shakespeare’s widowed “witches” from Macbeth; or, more likely just three old mean women out of some southern gothic world who, as the interlocutor tells us – as if it were some dark and sinister story, to be hushed up in polite society – a memory of another child: “the unlovely child you always knew too much about”. And, the interlocutor continues with a double refrain, one that tells us these dark widows are “carrying themselves” and “carrying themselves / with taunts of Spring”. The interlocutor will not say what cannot be said, what it is that these widows have done, or what secrets they hold to their black hearts. But he knows, and for him there is a bittersweet revenge in knowing that what they are moving toward as “they drive” is a meeting with that “grinning, opened mouth” – a death at once comical and grotesque that will undo these murderous widows and their secrets in ways beyond telling.
This is the key to Dean’s art, the subtle narration of certain moments that are never revealed in the full natural disclosure of facts, but are rather revealed more subtly in the voicing of certain affective relations between memory and mind in this ongoing inquisition with the sordidness of our unlived lives. It’s as if in each poem we are seeing slices of a pain, a snapshot of horrors, a visitation of certain indelible blood-lettings that continue to keep the wound of life open to the world. For isn’t that truly all that remains? How many of your memories are of joy? Oh I don’t mean the picture memories you can snap out, I mean the affective memories that stick in the crawl of your thick mind like a bad taste in the mouth. How many?
Dean is a true comic poet as well, full of those sly interventions and evasions, slights of self, incriminations and elisions: “It is you, who have ruined / your life, / with the comparisons … elegies outworn: / embarrassing”. And, even the muse is a fickle mistress a tormentor “the muse still torments me every now and then”, and yet she’s a comical waif as well:
She thinks a psychiatrist / may do the trick: forgetting / she had a hand in the mess.
What I admire is Dean’s pulling out all the stops, no sublime romanticist here; no, instead he’s taken notes from the underbelly of those masters of the macabre and grotesque. All those little oddball peculiarities of the absurd, bizarre, macabre, depraved, degenerate, perverse that are the hallmark of the best of that dark haunting literature, both humorous and earthy, grotesque – can be found here. As Philip Thomson tells us of the grotesque in literature and visual culture: he calls it ‘the unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and response’ and, he continues, ‘it is significant that this clash is paralleled by the ambivalent nature of the abnormal as present in the grotesque’. I like to go back to Baudelaire who perfected this mode after his careful perusal and translations of that master, Edgar Allen Poe. For Baudelaire it was to know that one was dammed in this life from the beginning; but it wasn’t a religious knowledge, no it was a secular knowing that this world, not some future abode of despair already harbored enough hate and crime to fill ten thousands hells. Maybe this is why even Sartre would seek in Baudelaire a brother of that darker existential pain that is existence with others, and go on to see “hell is other people”.
One of my favorites of this mode from Dean’s work, and the last one I’ll quote (I want you to cherish a first reading of the rest for yourself) is “Queen St. East””
The jaw slacks, with the weight
of the body’s loss,
to an inexorable acknowledgement
The brain is unfettered
in its jug; spilling over
with the nostalgia of alcohol
Flat on their backs, near Moss
Park, curled fetus-like, the
inhabitants whirl in a static frenzy of
Enfeeblement, any amusement here
sublingual: the posthumous twitching
of cynics en masse
That, my friends, in one succinct movement is the Grotesque Sublime: “the posthumous twitching / of cynics en masse”. It is also the dark knowing of a grotesque humor named “Dean J. Baker”. Rabelais and Hieronymus Bosch look out of dark chinks in these poems… instead of Emerson’s “Whim” above Dean’s lintel we might assume “Melancholy” resides here… that dark brooding that laughs below, and rises through the bones to jerk you awake from your too lazy sleep of existence.
Please visit Dean J. Baker’s wordpress.com site: https://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/
and his poetry can be found: http://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM and https://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/awards/all-print-books-links/
1. Edwards, Justin; Graulund, Rune (2013-05-29). Grotesque (The New Critical Idiom) (p. 3). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
now posting here – https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/
Dark Earth, is available here –> https://www.createspace.com/4904836 and http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Earth-Dean-J-Baker/dp/150052591X
from review quotes of Dark Earth: “Dean is a true comic poet as well, full of those sly interventions and evasions, slights of self, incriminations and elisions.. He’s the kind of poet that gets under your skin and stays there like a song in some dark noir alley that sings to you of love and death suckled on good old home grown truth.”