Sentinel Poetry (Online) #55 ISSN 1479-425X
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since December 2002
Editor-in-Chief: Amatoritsero Ede
Peter Van Toorn*
In a bad poem
you will hear a sound
but no silence,
only more sounds
full of noise.
In a good poem
you will here a sound
but no noise
only the silence
it is coming out of
in a great poem
you will hear only silence,
and the sound you will hear that coming out of
makes so little noise
you feel rightly afraid
and strangely full
of a lingering joy
For pritee renneth soone in gentil herte - Chaucer
As fit for swinging and full of good oak
as the day it was cut down for a walk;
and taken for granted on any hike
till out climbing up a bouldershot brook
one fall, up mountain; and stopping to shake
the stiffness out of my walk, and just make
some tea in the shade by the brook, I woke
to a moon; and like the world’s oldest book
I read my father’s spiral in the stick’s
bronze skin, with flowers here and there cut out,
a line no shoulderload, sweaty hands, nicks
or scratches from years of walking would flout:
a lifeline – one world, one heart, one motion –
swinging through darkness with the sun and moon.
There is a rumour that starts like a rune
in the earth, seeding the tunnels of bones;
then travels away like a tune –
commuting by wind through every season,
working its way into the blood:
a heresy even the rains applaud
most recklessly… From warbling grass a young
boy takes it – like a frog, a bird, a song
or a stone; takes it home, holds it like light
in butterfly fingers; keeps it close,
under a pillow. Dreams it. Never knows
(till he dreams it at the speed of light)
how it can crush the skull’s tiny glass,
change the balance of grass,
or float its blossoms on the rickety
evening surf… If it travels alone
like a song in a box, it’s an echo
muffled by mould; or runs like a clock
but keeps changing time, it’s a walk
in somebody’s bones. Even the blind can see
it opens and closes and lives on like snow.
Frogs croak it, birds fly it, and songs referee.
In a poem it boasts all colours of the sun.
Like a bronze Pope, it salutes no one.
A bird pushes a leaf on a red roof,
aiming for ground, so it falls – not the roof,
but the leaf a bird pushes; and the more
it pushes (crisp beak and twig toes), the more
it pushes a bronze leaf, all curled up
in a cone (showing a beak all curled up
in a cone too, aiming a bronze baked leaf)
for grounds that roll the curls out of a leaf,
grounds which, though rolling round a huger sound,
nevertheless snaps twigs in leaf’s own sound,
so that, round on round, the red roof, while not
waiting for a leaf to fall, is still not
tongue-tied either, but stands by, push for push,
ready for leafy bird’s stiff, crisp, bronze push.
In Guildenstein County
1. Wawa: slipped Beat
In guildenstein county
where there’s hardly any wind
to go by
you can smell the poem in a thing for miles
when wind wins.
handsdown, right out of nowhere: given
good grass out front
not counting wind in the pines,
wind in the brakeslams,
there’s hardly any
to go by. Go
by, put arms around, smoke on, ride off, bounce
on a blanket about. Just
miles and miles
and keep crashing through.
wind puts auk eyes all around you.
Call it: wawa.
A Bird keeps a bag of stones in its throat,
small stones, to do the grinding. Seeds are tough.
people always keep fire handy, for heat
and other things. They aren’t born with fur.
All animals are afraid of their fire.
There you have it. Bang! Civilization.
All of you who go to bed and get up
with the sun, Bless you! But wow to the lamp
which lights up on the morning of the world
*All poems except, “mountain lines”, which is never before published till now, are taken from Peter Van Toorn’s 1984 ground-breaking and Governor-General-Award nominated poetry collection, Mountain Tea, which was re-issued in 2003 by Montreal’s Vehicule Press.
Peter Van Toorn
Photo (C) Lois Siegel