What The Badger Saw. Tom Cull. Baseline Press. London, Ontario. 2013.
Karen Schindler is a small press Goddess and don't you forget it. Baseline Press continues to produce not only books of unsurpassed beauty — Schindler keeps finding voices worth listening to, vibrant, articulate voices with unbridled potential.
Tom Cull isn't the first Baseline Press author to wow this reader and I hope he won't be the last. What The Badger Saw is Cull's first book but these are seasoned poems.
The cowbirds and grackles are back.
Iridescent blue in the sun,
their calls blat the belligerent optimism
of a throttled reed instrument.
There is something I quite like
about these birds.
My dad thought them ugly
They bullied smaller birds
at the feeders—gentle wrens,
jaunty finches, charming tits.
The Brown-headed Cowbird gave
"Brood parasitic," it lays
its eggs in other birds' nests—
abandoning its charge
to unsuspecting foster parents
who incubate an impostor chick
that hatches early, grows quickly,
then murders its half-starved siblings
with mandible hook.
A proponent of unnatural selection
my dad could, at times, be found
wandering our property—eyes trained
on the trees, stepladder in one hand,
twelve gauge shot-gun in the other.
Finding a grackle nest, he'd climb
his ladder and perch precariously
on the last "not a step."
Placing the barrel of the gun directly
under the grassy basket, he'd fire.
I snapped a photo once.
The point-blank range and bird-shot shells
ensured there was nothing
to clean up—not a baby beak,
not a glassy eye.
The next simply ceased.
I imagined the split second the cloud
of BB shots tore the nest into cubist
confusion, before all was pulverized
I complained once, "You can't
decide which birds live and which
Pushing his red cap up on his forehead
Dad paused, reloading,
"Yes, I can."
Above me now, three male cardinals
triangulate in a tree. Unmoved
by the beaky grackles mudding about below,
they watch a female in the bush—
catholic in their intentions.
It is too early for the orioles but they too
will soon appear and build
their pendulous houses in the maple
branches. Easy to love, these birds.
They flit like paintbrushes, pose
for photos, quicken spring's spring.
How must it have been for the baby
cowbirds growing up in such happy families?
I can't imagine.
I sometimes think of turning my dad's twelve gauge
on a nest of novice robins, fledgling
tanagers, baby buntings.
I think, "I will strike balance
I will make things right."
Of course I don't;
I might, after all,
need a place
Tom Cull has the Mark Twang story-teller in him. These all too few narrative poems are page turning marvels. You really can't wait to hear what Cull is going to say next.
Choosing The Animal Laureate
The Manatee is smug.
Standing at the lectern, book in flipper,
"Is it hot in here or is just me?" he asks,
turning nonchalantly to hang his suit jacket on the chair,
revealing as he does the propeller-shaped scar that runs
the length of his back. Please.
Panda refuses. She cannot bear it—
reading to a room of jaw-clenched heavy petters
snapping photos for Facebook updates,
voices in their cute-addled brains screaming,
"Widdle furry buddy is weading a poem. Yes she is.
YES. she. IS!"
The Blue Whales sent a wire. "All is lost" stop.
"In translation" stop. "Including this" stop.
The Donkeys renewed with Babstock.
Foxes? Signed with Hughes.
The Fish are mired in modernism.
House Cats are busy with the internet.
The Squirrel—too anecdotal.
Rabbit claims he is "post rabbit."
The Hummingbird is a drunk.
Corporate Cattle are doping,
Organic Cattle are dying of happiness.
Apes can't get funding.
I won't tell you what the Badger said.
(He said, "Go fuck yourself.")
My good people,
it is the West African Lion we want—
the one from the Zanesville Zoo
who, along with
seventeen fellow lions,
two Grey Wolves,
six Black Bears,
two Grizzly Bears,
three Mountain Lions,
and eighteen Bengal Tigers,
was hunted down and killed
by the Ohio state police after the zoo-keep
freed his animals from their cages, this
just moments before he choose a gun
from his other prized collection
and shot himself dead.
Flown in from the Columbus Zoo,
Jack Hanna reported,
"It's like Noah's ark wrecking right here
in Zanesville, Ohio."
Our Lion laureate was the only animal
they tried to tranquilize.
He faltered momentarily as the drugs
hit home, but rallied and charged the vet
as bullets cut through his pelt.
Imagine him now, where I stand,
wearing Ray-Ban aviators,
picking his teeth with a sheriff's badge.
"Call me Mustafa," he says with a straight face.
He reads a villanelle, a few quiet haikus.
Taking questions about his poetic influences,
he quotes Breton— "The purest surrealist act
is walking into a crowd with a loaded gun
and firing into it randomly."
And Artaud—"Without an element of cruelty
at the root of every spectacle,
the theater is not possible.
In our present state of degeneration,
it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made
to re-enter our minds."
He cites the Dada Manifesto—
"I let the vowels fool around, I let the vowels
quite simply occur, as a cat meows..."
"I'm afraid our time is almost up," he says,
his r's beginning to roll, soft and deep.
"Before you go I'll share a sound
poem I've been working on."
He treads quietly to the back of the room.
"It's called, Feeding Time at the Zoo.
A collaborative poem," he says
as he bolts the door,
Last year I was privileged to read Suzannah Showler's most excellent chapbook, Sucks To Be You, from Bardia Sinee's Odourless Press. This year ECW published her first trade book, Failure to Thrive. Fully realized, completely lovely book. I expect no less from Tom Cull in the near future.
Tom Cull - London Poetry Open Mic Night - June 4, 2014
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Cull lives in London, Ontario, where he teaches, writes, and roams the Thames River. He has Ph.D. in English Literature and has taught at Western University and Fanshawe College. Tom is a workshop facilitator for the Poetry London Reading Series and has served as a judge for Poetry in Voice, the Poynt Award in Poetry, and Western University's USC Poetry Slam. His poems has appeared on LTC buses and in newspapers, but are more regularly found in the inboxes of patient and gracious friends. This is his first published collection of poems.