Thursday, April 12, 2018

Chasing Oblivion

Chasing Oblivion

To begin in the same place, but not the same time
          Thirty years ago, when out of the musty stacks
I pulled a book out and read Al Purdy’s poem
          Home-made Beer, then read Piling Blood
And A Country North of Belleville, discovering
          Words to conjure up the Gothic lakes
And swampy woods my childhood suffered,
          And played hide and seek in, place 
Names like Silent Lake which might have been
The title of any 70’s Horror film
but wasn’t, strangely, only a sad strip of beach
Haunted by black flies and teenagers wearing
ragged jeans. No one reads Purdy these days
          With anything more than nostalgia,
But they sit in his study, and swim in his pond,
          And the familiar spell of words
Is reborn for another generation, though
          I still imagine his ghost sitting in a rowboat
Telling the two young men who have come to
          Interview him to drink the beer he offered,
That his doctor has told him he can’t continue
To drink anything but the odd near-beer,
So boys, you better swig these cold ones while
You still can. Well, I can’t anymore
Either, and so must live a lifetime of sobriety,
Or so I’ve been told. Not like poor
Bob Shields, the town drunk, who wandered
          Up and down Main-street stinking
Of shit until the police would come along,
          Take him to the station, and hose him
Down in the garage. Poor Bob, whose
Indignities were always on public display,
And who lost himself in drink for thirty years
          Chasing oblivion. A circus of nightmares.
It’s funny what the mind chooses to unfetter
From time. I hope Bob comes back
As a chartered accountant, with seven kids,
          A small Marina business in his next life.
I rub my face to feel the sharp cheekbones
          Under my skin which makes me think
Of how pages of a book when held against
          The light reveal both words written there
And those on the other side of the paper.
Time is like that. Both a lightness and 
The dark underside of things recalled. Like
          How in 1978, my dad drove down
A country lane at night in his police cruiser
          And a bullet came through the windshield
striking his partner Wayne in the shoulder.
          The next morning, a World War I vet
Informed my father there were German troops
          On his road the night before, so he shot
At them to drive them away. Poetry is inside
Talking to inside. My father and Wayne
Talked about that night over a bottle of whiskey,
         Then it was over. Some men are like that.
Small miracles of contemplation. These days
          Talk is all I have, and is not nearly enough.
I still carry the keys to the throne-room of youth,
But so what, if the throne sits empty?

-By Chris Banks

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