Mennonite Poetry Home | Robert Martens



on the road (without kerouac)

"wherever i am, that is my home" - guatemalan refugee

1. my nation requires poets

my nation requires poets.
perhaps they would immigrate
with financial incentives.
we've been on the road. we
made good time, an argument
or two, but nothing
to write home about.
it's early morning, and the b&b
is immaculate. coffee's
brewing, perhaps a poem
in the caffeine. my nation
requires stimulants.
i'm writing this in the foyer,
alone, and the weather
looks good, although
the economy's in trouble. perhaps
the market would benefit
from a poet's insights.
perhaps not. this
poem is my defence.
an omelette is frying.
the sofa's a comfort.
the light from a high window,
i want to say, illuminates
this moment deeply.
suffuses my skin. i'm
grateful. my nation's
at peace, it requires
poets, and this is my
application form.

2. i don't write poems as therapy

i'm among friends. so what's
the haste in the heart, far
from home, i'll need to
fall in line, exchange plastic
for a gps, find my way
back. the financial
world, they say, is in a
panic. but the sun's
shining on a cool ontario
morning, breakfast is set,
i'm among friends. this earth
is old. we quarrel over
her arthritic bones. we
scuffle for the dime in her
antique purse. today we'll
drive away from here, we'll
keep moving, keep moving.
talk. forgive. what's the
tug in the belly? what's
the grief in the open
suitcase, the child's longing
in an unfamiliar
bed? i know
you don't have an
answer. i'll share a cup
of coffee, i'll smile, say
good morning. perhaps
repeat my misfortunes,
consider lithium to raise
the mood. i don't write
poems as therapy. ignore
this. tanks are rolling
in the middle east. i'm here
with you, friend. the
exact greeting, the infinite
pause, are laid out
with the napkins
on the breakfast table.

3. ritual on lake ontario

as the waves billowing white. as
the lake breeze in our lungs. as she
opens to the east, flash point of
dust and blood. as she opens
to the west, amnesiac glow in the hair.
as she opens to the north, bitter
split of ligament and bone. as she
opens to the south, close your tired
eyes, stranger. as she opens to
the above, flesh to ancestral ghosts. as
she opens to the below, cup of war
emptied in the heart. as she opens
to the centre, we on white blown sand,
children. as i write these words,
my spoken centuries, my skin, and
where's home, as we lift hands to the
beat, to the breath, as we remember
the first step, as we remember the last
touch. as the lie, as the gunfire. as
the orphan soldier. as we silent, we
few, we many. as we imagine
home. as salt, as clay, as tear.

4. ottawa crazy

the rush of traffic
above, the jingle of bicycles
here below, along the
coiling ottawa river
pathway, and neogothic
towers fondling the postcard
blue, the bridges between
ontario and quebec negotiating
peace, and i'm thinking
i could live in this
town, and a woman
waving a placard, alone,
on the riverbank, yelling
at security ghosts, what's
up i say, save my
son she says, i've
hired a firm she
says but they're keeping
him from me,         and
i pause, the autumn
sun is kinder than
this city but winter's
leaning over parliament
hill, is he on
the streets i ask, trying
not to be she says, this
is the crookedest place
on earth she says,
grey haired mother,
stocky, ordinary, loud,
lonely, who'd
pick her from the
paranoid crowd, who'd
end the crazy love,
good luck i say, no
she says good luck to
the bastards who're
keeping him from
me, and the rush
of the commute
homeward, the jingle
of young employees set
free, the revenge
rattle in her
throat, the maples
burning red with
winter's cradle song

hiphop intermezzo

... i am canadian. i
divorce, i
suicide, i
observe. my country
is a hotel.

jamming down the 401.
my parents
were refugees. and
what my inheritance,
wherever i am, i'm
on the road. toronto
is a big bang
gone cold.

i am canadian. i
declare peace for
all humankind. my life
is a television series ...

5. (dvorak's) going home

dear stranger: no,
dear colleague: no,
dear friend: wish
you were here. a texan has
dropped his laptop, soiled the
carpet with gigabytes. i must step
cautiously. the inn proprietor brings
a breakfast tray from conspiratorial
boardrooms. thank you, i say,
but the croissants were baked in
a politician's iron belly. i must diet
carefully, one can't eat too
carefully on the road. my neutralization
pills were stolen last night, swapped
for sleeping capsules. i must
nap during breaks in traffic,
between gusts of treasury
bills. i'm in the zone, in the world
city. it smoulders graffiti, yellow,
purple, words of warning, seek the end,
stranger. colleague. friend,
the river's burning, sweatshops
crashing into currents of
silicone. security's pounding on
the coded door. i must
shut my ears to the hourly
sirens, i must breathe the
half-life of filtered air.
friend, colleague, stranger:
this could be my last
will and testament, but dying's
disallowed, click on death
and get a video game. this
could be my final email, but
there's a virus in the lunar
breeze and language is considered
a risky investment. this could be
my ultimate bid for love, but
we'll never know, the next
line's been censored.

this could be a lie. yes,
friend, in fact a lie, tall
tale, legend to get the attention
of home. poets do nothing
but lie. so the facts: i'm situated
in the sedate city of ottawa.
in a historic bed & breakfast.
in a sunny nook. this is
the shocking, the boring truth. the
weather is fine. the proprietor
is kind. the coffee is good. a
poet can't live here, there's
nothing to say. except:
wish you were here.
sincerely. with affection. watch
for me in arrivals. tomorrow
i'm flying home, in a jetplane
sterilized with strangeness.

© Robert Martens




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