~blood whimsy is testimony too~
The poems that follow were written in the days just before, and just after, I was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, in November 1977, diagnosed with acute schizophrenia. (When I re-entered psychiatric treatment in 1990, after more than a decade avoiding it, I was told that the initial diagnosis had been incorrect, that instead I had bipolar disorder.) After the last untitled poem, the Red Book—a thick hardbound book with unlined pages and a pebbly red cover, which I had been rapidly filling with writing and drawings—went blank white. It stayed that way. I was, I’m told, completely catatonic for a time and then intermittently so (I have relatively few, and very fragmented, memories of the eighteen months that followed). I didn’t resume writing until 1979, some weeks after my discharge. I used a new notebook. The poem “fruit bat,” appropriately in the middle of the sequence, was written while I rode the bus from Toronto to Hamilton to be admitted, after doctors at North York General had stitched up the deep lacerations I had made in my abdomen—my “self-Caesarean”—and elsewhere on my body. It is a wonder to me that I wrote the seven poems after it, given the regimen of heavy tranquilizers I was started on immediately. But ingrained habits die hard, and for a short time, drug uptake did battle with an artistic outpouring. It was after I’d showed these poems to staff, I’m also told, that hebephrenia—betokening radical incoherence, a childish beyond-reachness—became a stable entry on my chart. But these poems seem cogent to me, even now: in the sense (what other sense is there?) of giving expression to what I was experiencing at the time: of commenting meaningfully on my situation. If they did not push up against the bounds of what is communicative at least as often as they do, given their origins, I would have to disavow them. Rather than sheer nonsense, they seem like the best last flares of a mind going under. The last, the envoy-like “(untitled),” even reads like a memo from that departing self, hinting at a return—though a return not possible to believe in at the time, and delayed far beyond hoping.
What If a Man
what if a man should wake one morning
with white and trembling hands
his hair composed
(literally) of vanishing filaments
and his bones
of seeds in a gourd
and what if this same man
feeling as angry
but also as carefree and sequent
as an acorn
dropped from a branch
should see his wife
standing in the doorway
and think only
of poppy seeds, scattering
would not this man soon give signs
he had developed
unholy loves and fears
cast your prejudicial eye
into the sea. as it falls
mumble something bitterly
about an eyepiece that floats.
i had an aunt with a heart condition
who lived in Saint John’s.
so i took the bus to see her
but the driver talked so much about his daughter
living in sin
that we both decided to go there
and bring her back instead.
i had no clear idea how to get there
and he only knew it was a harrowing place
full of inversions.
so we asked a boy with a chestnut on a string
who was playing
but he cracked me on the head with the chestnut
and said nothing.
i asked the driver if this was rude
and he agreed to help me whip him.
afterwards he asked me if i was hungry
and i said yes.
so we flayed a cucumber in the striped sun
and ate it.
the coat in the hall;
of wine bottles: glass skins
slender meshing of friends.
pictures and windows: ancillary friends.
tide has gone out. i am alone:
a delicate saw of bone under a bone sky.
i gut the slim forms you pass
me in silence:
bleeding a red dawn
pike. pike last. slashes
around the gills, and the river boa
shivers. he vomits up a minnow
and the little corn-coloured whelp
lies curled, inside the
as the guts are wrenched free and flung away
the pike’s jaw sags.
scoots up a windstorm of scales.
falls into the grass.
you called me mad: when i hung upsidedown in a fruit
tree whistling for fruit
you called me mad: when winter came and i still
hung black and folded
you called me mad: when the wind shrieked and my
beat against my body for warmth
you called me mad: when springsummerfall
the black pendent hung
you called me mad: when i starved but couldn’t leave
and sharp teeth gnawed my own belly
the body sends its prickling missive
warning of the skin-web and the filth of the spider
sitting hairy-legged where the hair was
holding the head rigid preparing to suck
the mouth an incredible jelly-bag of filth
SHAKE IT SHAKE IT SHAKE IT smear it into the pillow
churn its boneless malevolence into pulp
and fall back gasping into sleep
WAKE what seems seconds later to a new battle
a struggling of planes of sheet skin and darkness
a horrible dance of angles
the greatest most noiseless intersections clanging
hairball life drops suddenly and runs scuttling
across the room holding his ears
in fear in anger he begins to eat
he eats the furniture the wall he eats bill
sleeping next to me he eats all
he eats the meat hunched down over darkness
right down to the bone of light
a handsome gleaming bone of rapidly accumulating
so exhausted i lay my head next
to this the day’s expanding muzzle
and am soon swallowed whole into sleep
A Paltry Wakefulness
i wake on a psychiatric ward
amazed to notice my bottom becoming
soft, less definitely globed
sloping as stately as a woman’s
violet cauliflowered exhalations of pipe smoke
there is a film in front of my eyes
coming from my eyes
as if a grasshopper had attached to those skeins
and hopped away erratically
randomly unravelling them
(these are deep soft wounds)
i feel like thin metal
twisted under Giacometti’s fingers
to a stalk of fibrous leaning in space
but the bitterest irony is the self
imitating itself at every level
until even emptiness fails to inhabit
fails to be more real
than shard of slivered light
thrown from the throat
to be caught by the eyes and cloned into space
the chair chaired the meeting
the pen penned the minutes
the ball balled the minutes into time
the pattern patterned itself
the colour coloured the pattern
the light lighted the colour
the colour coloured the light
the house housed secrets
the earth unearthed them
the space spaced the house from the earth
the fish fished in the river
the sand sanded down the rock
the rock rocked underneath
what does it do? i cried to the
chair pen ball pattern colour light
colour house earth space fish sand rock
but none of them could stop what they were doing to
and the I the I the I the I
eyed everything nervously
The 1st Order of Genius
the 1st order of genius can extract huge sums with a
the 2nd order wanders through a labyrinth in his
nightshirt carrying a candle
the 3rd order is a more servile courtier. he reads
at home to his kids while golden hooves flash in
the 4th order has a tiered trachea, able to swallow
anything. he is called cudbag, but he eats
the 5th order appears at the corner of your vision
and walks across it, a nimble and professional
the 6th order says cuntshitprick how i hate to get up
in the morning and falls dead
there are many more orders of genius. while still
a gambolling freeloader in my mother’s womb, i counted
millions of them. others have documented them more
thoroughly than i.
don’t call me honest. just flash the blade
that fetches an exact smear.
don’t set me up either as wise: my head is only my
neck looking in one direction.
paperglass scissorsstone, i love all sided things:
if i thought truth was round shit
i would sew up my asshole
and take to painting like a cubist.
i admit: what is clear
i encase in clear amber, hardening the illusion.
scissors stone, love is good. perhaps
because the cunt is warm and the cock is long
Fish Live in the Toilet
Fish live in the toilet,
They come up to see me.
Fish live in the toilet,
How they flash merrily!
a madman cut and blessed the air
and read each day from a book of prayer
when he reached the last page out he fled
“you must write another book” it said