We have seen from space how small our home,
how like a bubble of almost nothing,
and some have said it made them lonely
to see our little spot from far,
but then there’s this: how together we are down here.
In time’s flight it doesn’t matter where you sit,
as once when I flew home from the coast
and a thunderstorm hid Macdonald-Cartier.
The pilot brought us below the clouds
but finding no runway pulled up and circled,
announced he would try once more to land
and failing that fly on to Dorval
and leave us a bus ride home after midnight.
No one spoke of the danger while the pilot
held our lives in the balance between reflex and fatigue,
and two hundred believers drew breath together,
thoughts mingling in the stale air over our heads.
We would be a collective noun forever
if the plane went down, our body parts
so intermingled we would have a common grave.
Our families would meet at memorials,
trade e-mail addresses and therapists’ names,
hold reunions where friendships would form,
eventually marriages, conspiracies, startups
that one day might change the world.
Then a bump of tires on pavement threw us
back into real life, safe on the ground
in the midst of the most spontaneous ovation
any of us ever was part of (although
the Fasten Seatbelt sign kept us from standing)
and I knew the moment was already passing
as we wrestled our luggage down the aisle to the threshold
and into our waiting families’ arms.
from Dance, Misery
Ask anyone ever saved by a prayer
or truce or pardon or charter or bond,
ask those who leave endowment funds,
whose names are found on buildings or mountains
why in the beginning they picked themselves up
from the waves and heaved skyward.
Was it for a name they spent themselves in the dark
rather than bask in the waves, singing daylong
minimalist odes to joy with the whales?
No, they’ll say, I did it all
to feed my family. That and to be known
where decisions are made, able to do favours
and call in favours when they’re due.
They would rather the building be named for their mother.
It is her death they fear even more than their own
(for that, they have provided well).
You don’t want to see her go under the ground
of a smallish planet near a smallish star,
some far-flung cinder in a cosmic roman candle
- for she listened to your bedtime prayers
and too much of yourself would go under with her.
You would place your faith in anything, would even
drink blood to be free of a fear like that.
And who says the bull whale who grazes
lazily through a sea of krill
is wasting his gigantic brain
on thoughts too deep for words?
The perfect solitude inside the battle of the bands
when you know there’s only you and the music
and nothing else exists.
scheming in front of his TV
how to make them all disappear,
those satisfied faces in the crowd.
The dictator bored by the common deaths
and sufferings of his people
who finds his pleasure devising new.
The flown-in movie star, properly moved
by the plight of orphans and amputees,
totally off the wall about
a broken air conditioner.
The candidate become a straight man for a thousand votes.
The internet flamer just before hitting Send.
That feeling of après moi behind the wheel
historians call, in Hitler, madness
and the living recognize, momentarily,
sometimes just before sleep.
Colin Morton is an Ottawa poet who has twice received the Archibald Lampman Award. He has published ten books of poetry, most recently The Local Cluster (Pecan Grove Press, 2008), The Hundred Cuts: Sitting Bull and the Major (BuschekBooks, 2009), and Winds and Strings (BuschekBooks, 2013). He has collaborated with poets, musicians and artists in the performance poetry group First Draft, and with filmmaker Ed Ackerman in the animated film PrimitiToo Taa. He is a co-director of the Tree Reading Series and maintains the Poetry Views blog of reviews by members of the League of Canadian Poets. The excerpts above are from his book Dance, Misery (Seraphim, 2003).