Today's book of poetry: Water Damage. Peter Norman. A Stuart Ross Book. Mansfield Press. Toronto. Ontario. 2013
Peter Norman's second Mansfield Press title Water Damage fulfills all of the promise of his first book, At the Gates of the Theme Park, which was a finalist for the Trillium Poetry Book Award in 2010. No Sophomore slump here.
Dried My Eyes
Dried my eyes
and slunk out of the tower where I worked
and found the smokers clustered by the door,
coughing, shooting shit, recounting
how one day the big red bell
struck itself, repeatedly,
because of smoke.
Having dried my eyes, I spotted
all the paper blowing down the street.
The articles and photographs and letters to an editor
who never answered. All the adult classifieds.
My eyes would not stay dry.
In bars I couldn't see the TV sets.
Could not make out the score.
Could not discern the urgent headline
scrolling underneath a shot of coifs
and mouths ajar to let opinions out.
I couldn't see the latest, and I wept.
I'm in good company. Don't mock.
Da Vinci wept. The Bronte sisters wept.
Marcel Marceau evinced that he was weeping.
Every major prophet must have wept--
the things they would have seen!
And monsters wept. Yes, Himmler wept
and Torquemada in his toils wept.
Surgeons worked my moistened eye,
stripped out the blots
that hovered everywhere I peered.
Efficient as a dagger's tip
they went too far, too deep,
and scoured my sight.
Printed words have blurred into a cipher.
Cloudy symbols and their high romance
are hieroglyphic now. My fingers itch
for Braille prowess, but that's a long way off--
the classes don't resume until next year.
Somewhere beyond the old screen door
that's meant to keep mosquitoes out
but fails because it's gashed,
figures lurch and stumble from the marsh.
I cannot see them come.
You listening, Doc?
Yeah, you who wrecked my eyes?
You hear the slurp as legs work free
from gripping muck? You hear the bulrush break?
Mistakes don't disappear. Their discharge festers.
It's not hard to see why astute editor Stuart Ross choose this title for his series of imprints from Mansfield. Norman's poetry is all serious stuff and yet his sense of humour is always present, almost always showing.
Even the last crushed can
fetched from the deeps of the fat blue bin
in which we keep the empty things
lives in hope as the old man's hand
drops it in a reeking plastic
hamper filled with other cans
that there in the stench of the depot
to which it knows it's headed
where it will be flung on appropriate heaps
and carted away and reduced
into a single useful element
a moment might occur
where some grand shudder
ripples through the depot's
mounds and bundles,
makes them shift in unison
and so impels them to believe
that when the whole procedure is complete
and all of them are mere, pure
plastic, metal, glass or pulp,
their differences will burn away,
the categories will dissolve
and all this motley mess of outcast crap
will thus emerge the other end
clean and buffed
don't think that much
and are not metaphysically inclined
and being crushed might dampen
daydreams of such scope--
the can's got plenty else to fret about)
(and yet, old friend,
who drank with me
the contents of that can,
who slurred your words recounting
criminal adventures of our youth,
will you deny there's comfort
in pretending this aluminum
accordion can hope, 'cause after all,
if it can do so, even now,
what excuse is there for us,
for you and me,
to wallow in a marsh of anecdote
and count our missing hairs and swear
the future is the candle brimmed and gagging
on a pool of its own body
processed into something new
Norman writes about the world in quiet moments, opens them up to us like a wise elder, giving meaning to lore.
The tenure of Norman's Water Damage is so consistent, the reader effortlessly moves through this collection, delighted at each step, poem, along the way. Norman is a highly inventive poet but there is nothing experimental here. These are precise, smart, narrative poems and a pure pleasure to read.
The Perfect Octopus
The butcher had a waist-high fridge
heaped with seafood bound up tight
in plastic -- severed bits or creatures
whole. Crab shells plucked of claws
with meat still cleaving. Shrimp,
legs primly tucked. And octopi
bundles into vacuum-sealed husks--
greenish-grey unwieldy clumps,
hideous but edible, I guess, and worth the price
jotted in Sharpie pen on cardboard squares.
Yet one was perfect, like a star
(more truly like a starfish), all its arms
curled out in symmetry, the suckers
evenly arrayed. What hand
or eye framed such exactitude?
I wouldn't know. But I know this:
precisely where the ink's discharged
or food pulled in or out or sex
asserts itself -- a centered hole
nestled in the roots of arms--
the gap, I thought, resembled to the lash
a human eye by Botticelli.
It saw me watch. I almost heard it murmur:
Nothing evades perfection's gaze.
But really, in that rimy fridge,
huddled with others hauled from the sea,
crammed into plastic slathered with data
listing all its nutrients, awash
in self-preserving slime, this bundled beast
was tarted up to speak a cruder tongue.
The cephalopod said nothing noble.
Only Eat me.
Water Damage ends with the lone long poem in the volume, The Flood. Considering recent events in Calgary and Toronto -- I would hard pressed to recommend a more prescient poem. The entire collection reads like a glass of water on a hot day, totally refreshing.