Sunday, September 30, 2007


In 2005 John B. Lee was inducted as Poet Laureate of Brantford in perpetuity. The same year he received the distinction of being named Honourary Life Member of The Canadian Poetry Association. In 2007 he was made a member of the Chancellor’s Circle of the President’s Club of McMaster University. A recipient of over sixty prestigious international awards for his writing he is winner of the $10,000 CBC Literary Award for Poetry, the only two time recipient of the People’s Poetry Award, and 2006 winner of the inaugural Souwesto Orison Writing Award (University of Windsor/Black Moss Press). In 2007 he was named winner of the Winston Collins Award for Best Canadian Poem. He has well-over forty-five books published to date and is the editor of six anthologies including two best-selling works: That Sign of Perfection: poems and stories on the game of hockey; and Smaller Than God: words of spiritual longing.

What am I doing in a bookstore, I don’t read...

“...See the mind of beastly man
That hath so soon forgot the excellence
O his creation...”
Edmund Spenser, from “The Faerie Queen,” Book II, canto 87

These early adolescents
two boys and a girl
were estopelled
by the poetry shelves
lingering on those volumes
their fingertips tracing the spines
and I, being a poet
was flattered to think
how the young might admire
the secret interiors of verse
for there was a copy of Byron
and three remaindered Croziers
whose open Eros might wake in them
some prurient giggles
from the never-quite innocent
esurience of youth
to feel something slight as a peeled grape
or a thumb bruised peach
but they simply went
flashing on to the dryer regions
of history, hackling those big textbook pages
like the excitable feather ruffs of show birds
and then, the girl who seemed
the leader of this pack said
“What am I doing in a book store
I don’t read books, I don’t even like books!”
and the three
went suddenly tumbling and laughing out the door
like blood hounds on fox scent
hoiks! hoiks! I might have shouted following
shanks mare cantering or cock broom brushing the floor...
And I thought back for a moment
to an otherwise good dog I once owned
who in my absence
chewed the binding from my copy of Spenser’s Faerie Queen
I came home from school
to find her on the kitchen tile
gnawing the text to the gutter
holding the book in her fore paws like a red soup bone
and I am strangely consoled
by the knowledge of ink in her gut
as her teeth went ‘pricking on the plain’
salivating the binding as she swallowed poetry
backside first
the dog-ruined rump of that book still on my shelf at home
an endless monument
to dog thought and what a stupid life might make
of mortal meaning
when the wise are dead.

The Shadow Thief

The Shadow Thief

my neighbour is
stealing the shade from his house
where he climbs through dark health
to hurry a ruinous wind
and he smiles a strange smile
as limbs fall
to the winge of his wife
with her rope to the sky under gloom

then he runs the swirl of his thumb
on the set of his saw
to feel the sharp prune
in the ghost
of a quivering leaf

huge autumn
arrives on Octobering earth
like the wreck of a ship
against stone

and so he descends
from a vacancy absently red
like fire aging in ash
and he walks
to the size of his work
where it measures
its death on the earth
and he grips it
like faggots of fuel
barely feeling the tremulous leaf
where close heaven
lies losing its hush in the grass
like the bones of a grave
heaved to ground

The Last Photograph of My Father

in the haunted bedroom
where Laura will not sleep
for fear of ghosts
the midnight windows were shining
like antique shop mirrors
and I was wide awake
and ruffling through photographs
fluttering like startled hens
when I came across
the last image of my father

I was holding his thin hand
and he was plaster pale, pillow white
in the bleach-blue ruck of his hospital gown
almost ancient
like the casts of a bust an artist might make
and then set on a shelf in the dust

such a failure of studies
we are
to never quite look like ourselves
the multiple approximations
of gesture and pose all wrong
my father's hand in mine like low fruit
is breaking the stem
the form of my grip let slip
and shaping itself
to fecklessly buoyant refusals of life
as it is with the weakness of sleep
and the strength of a smouldering sleeve.


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