By Allan Brown

“Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.”
                                        —Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation


October Fog, Victoria

Something like an old picture,
the heavy glaze, canvas splitting,
the colours held temporarily
together it seems by a chance
the known bulk and pressure
of these houses rather than street signs,
the automatic dip of my shoulders
(as a couple of shadows)
into a corner and across the grass;

and the bitter crackle
of chestnut skins over charcoal
echoes, patient, sifting
in and out of this repeating
          until the dimmed perspective
stops in how this bended tree
emerging from
the white syllables of the fog.

(parenthetical I

And I remember the body
of the colour red;
a dusty, whispering red
that I can’t quite hear
but still know that it is,
was the loose suede cover
of a “King of the Golden River”
that I owned—
oh maybe it was
40 years ago?

(parenthetical II

And is still this?
and turning again
to the fervid purple instant
of that pityless fountain
facing the harbour—night
would darken & fountain glisten,
aye yah! glitter and swerve—
& a trembling boy to observe
in how is one sunder of time;
and done, and done.

The Field (I)
        for Theodore Roethke

Each scurry’s a little different now.

Bits and these if —the ground still dry
with it, that dinned, proleptic echo
                    but which occasion this?
(he was much quieter after I killed
him); or if the wary encumbering of
bent vines, hungry in the clotted heat and
pacing a new discovery of here
that day’s known and racketing limit;

and softly the sense again,
as TR suggested, how
each image hints totally its here
and alien expansions
to that quickening
and dying, doubly known.

The Field (II)
        for Malcolm Lowry

Not yet.
          But once as I was walking by
some pale strawbits at the start of the field
and each word more slowly in a language
I didn’t understand or notice if
the field had ended.

                         I and my other?
perhaps, or both within /
without, a spiritual giddiness
or kind of prevenient fluttering
about the edges; living in all worlds,
occupying none, till I am become
in which new place of my own
               But thou, Lord, how long
before the wound that never quite closes;
and the consul watching repeatedly
as two or more shadows through the garden.

The Rocks

That any truism is at least true . . .

Late afternoon: the pool of Koi fish
collecting, distributing shadows, till
a water spider briskly and the merge
of cedar branches thicker and smelling
of something other—strawberries?

                                             We used
to call it The Rocks, but never went back
after that day—the almost seen who but
running again and running to clasps of
the short, grey moss, slipping, too clumsy
and still cannot and he was screaming and
“It was a signal,” he explained.

                         And this evening
the girl still sits decorously in her
very own corner of the restaurant.


She wasn’t led in, not exactly,
but the thin flutter of her white dress
brushed no nearer to the door frame
than to the careful hand
of her nurse, “Frances—”

She pauses for a moment
to wonder if there might perhaps
be someone else in the room
by that name; then turns,
as usual, to the waiting chair

silently, whose silence itself
of “Frances!” is thirteen years
of awkwardness, perhaps four years of life.
Retarded? schizophrenic? some angel’s turd?
Frances, fragile, almost unhearable
pale song.

(parenthetical III – obit.

(what?) the green stigma
of the picked sore that gleamed dully
at the left side of his nose.

He had touched it once or twice that evening, as if unaware of its significance. Like he was now casually performing from mere habit something that had once been a more important task; that had established a more significant relationship between himself, his face, and everything else out there, beyond him, in places where green scabs appeared on living branches and not just on dying bones. Most of the time he stood beside his desk, a flimsy thing with a high-shellacked surface, or sat in the creaking chair. I got there a little before seven and left a little after midnight.

We spoke of a lot of things that evening, though not everything. Six years is a long time. I looked at the wall and carefully observed the water stains. He wanted to hear of dreams, so I faked some dreams for him. (Brandy doesn’t bring many, I thought to myself with a reasonable amount of self pity. Yet, in spite of this lousy room, he seemed to have gotten along a bit better than I had.) I should have saved my breath, because he didn’t really want to hear. (I didn’t want to hear either.) But what he did want was a conveniently absorbing sounding board—“sugar,” as he put it, “is a dream thing.” So he started then, sane and not at the same time—I was still so nervous, I suppose, that I couldn’t tell which —and spoke a dozen twisting beasts beside his desk (and the hard green bud opened, almost, again).

It took about five hours, as I said, the whole visit. And when I finally escaped I left him standing, almost whole, almost weary, in a corner of the room. Which was the last time I saw him; because by next month the word had come out: two fishing boats had been taken on the west coast of the Island and there was nothing at any price. And that was it, not even a picture of him in the Colonist. They did say, however, that the body was found in a chilling heap of skin-bag (though that wasn’t the expression the journalist used) beside a cheap fir desk.


All sentences aspire to the condition of fragment.

The words are the same:

a garden here, a garden where
it all comes together
(a most of, any ol’ way)
until sought, the plot thickens.

And a talk of again, and how
I walked those once familiar streets
but did not see her swarmers,
the wormed core (is where it?)
until it happened and I yesss’d
such happen could, and did not know
the enter of that strangely wood
          say m’a song of sick pens,
puddle full of why. Puke me,
puke me, make the dilly cry.
          Say who? &
pray to, watch the dilly die.

One eye at a time, too close
to count altogether,

the skeleton clicks:

“Not in this sleepy old town.”

No-thing moving through
the throat of the storm, the evers
as (maybe at last?)
that quietly fractured eye
my sum body sees me
and again a sort of where it?

or who might say, “Oh my Gluggness! We
don’t mix guts and glottals here.”

The words are not the same.

I’m an idea whose time has gone.

when Judas kissed him, did he kiss back?

Poets are places where
other poets meet
                         (where the elite?)
a site for sore eyes, p’raps,
or kind of borrowing
the happen is:

the words are not the same.

That bridge it partly
in parts of their own description.

(If I do not happen, am I still possible?)

The words are the same.

The Yu Hexagram

The oracle consulted stays
ambiguous, irrelevant
perhaps—what thunder shaken from
the waiting earth? what harmony
or peril of the darkened mind?
the joy, immediate pleasure
these yes are comprehensible
as is the uncertain footwork
obscurely hinted at—but how
“with firm correctness” does the moon
begin her certain revolution?
with “memories of the past not
perishing” I am expected
to live on without dying; well
and good, and pretty on the page,
but hardly satisfactory
or even comprehensible
here, at this time, at this day’s place
when pleasure is the renewal
of absence; the new moon known still,
whose small hand in a gesture of
going preserves both wish and wonder
until this month of madness ends.

The Mask

The storage rooms are under
the museum proper, down
and to the left, less dusty
than you might expect, I suppose,
and very cool, even now
at the edge of another
               filaments extended
hesitatingly through the years
that don’t seem otherwise
to change much; the bloated
water-stained mask, sun-
split, red and greys thick
as a voice half-imagined,
half-heard, drawn hungry
and demanding through
the restless winds
of my own skull’s echo-
          suspended here
to guide the drying
leaves and small tokens
of my immediate dead;

as once again his ghosts move
dust and soft between
the indifferent echoes
of my habitated house,
framing the plot,
supplying a few more words,
keeping their own measure
and hint of each return
(up or down the stairs), in
a throw-away gesture
of “I didn’t really mean it,”
since of all possible truths
this is the—what?
most unexpected;
“Nothing ventured, nothing found,”
and my key still somewhere hidden
in his bloodless ground


As into again the stranger
evening now and quietly,
uncertain as each my edges;
luminous, the brittle bones
reflecting, and the places between
them wonder to this ending
half again completed;
yet once or where
a kind of soft forgetting; and
here my sorting voices claim
another trace for saying,
and how this here whose breath
unbinds one day or day.

The Langford House

It has its own kind of peace,
after the hot tar and
the rock face and scurry
of pebbles under my feet,
and a couple of alders
nearly within reach;
then the quick, silent slump
of evening, and a place to go,
to be in for a while.

Each human space is empty
as unused implements,
cane chair, cup, tackle
box, a broken screen;
there isn’t even any room
for darkness, certainly not
for this silly ghost like
a singly one moment
kelp of white legs in the water.

Some movement left,
ripples flirting at the lake shore,
loon echo, the low hills;
but that was a long time ago
and even memory drifts slower
than those olive-black tendrils,
warmly dying, unconscious
of the web of small flies
hanging between the moon.

And it looks much the same,
this lake as grey as lead,
the smudge of two islands
of different size,
and the still dark trees,
the calm, occupied inlets;
emptier than the river
that died long ago into
its bitter shrinking swamp.


The almost signs of how
this autumn, as the darker,
wearier motion of the sea front;
those days who changing each
into each without perceptible

                      The alder wind
softer than the trees it talks with,
and the rich over-ripe blur of warm air
that has waited a day too long
to remember.

and driftwood patiently lay out
another pattern, red stone on
charred fire fragments.
I have forgotten what it was
that shook for a moment
my lax bewilderment into
that one semblance of image
and understanding;
known and mind sensible,
congruent as the first
warm shadow of
this careful evening fills.

Sea Light
          for Alice Munro

The dream can be ordinary enough:
two cats prowling each their corner
of the garden, the slush of something
caught and holding in the eavestrough
while the rain.

                    It is necessary
that everything be included,
each word dividing at
the expected place,
looking before and after
a loose forgetting of streets
in that sea light contained,
and here the familiar walking.

Beacon Hill

The roadbed, the twisted surface
still tense with that thin spray,

repeatedly out of focus
even when I stood there before,
blinking passively into
the findings of another
Sunday perhaps,

making my way
beyond the familiar city,
over the gorse-roughened slopes
and down again to stop
between these slivered rocks

in the scourings of bent,
expected driftwood,
the usual articulation
of boxes, cellophanes,
fingers of smooth shells,
some buttons and the curl
of a snakeskin
creaking into the sand.

And the again seeing
fantasque et leger,
of —I’m not sure—
something persisting, where
the gulls loop casually
forward, back.

The edges are clearest,
are what can be recorded
however loosely; they
separate into words and

all of the other is,
well, where it was before;
gathering to a larynx
of this dividing sea.

The Border

Crossing the border was
a difference in the highway,
macadamed into that hard clean gray of American cement
(the wheels s s s s seemed barely
to touch it, whistling a soft,
high contact) rather
than Customs and Immigration,
though I could never remember
which was which; people talking,
making notes, walking around the cars,
buses, and always a stationary truck;
a cafe we never entered;
and those cigarette machines taking
Canadian change in the tavern;
the Peace Arch, comfortably vast.


But otherwise the view
in either direction (north
or south) is pretty much the same

          *          *

And the boundaries themselves,
limits providing their own
limitations with the chance
of each sight and renewal,
in-place un-place ?
skin-smooth, tight as
that (maybe cancerous) bulging
unseeable (balls & all)
who sees ‘m me
ill innerly outed but
otherwise undescribed except
as a here or a there
bump ptp tumping     but

No words left, of course. There’s no more space
(place?) for them. —Is this the same as an
empty/ing significance? or [a] signifier, e.g., the
“privileged logic” of the Other.

Or spaces are they? Others? No place to a
s s s s s


The interchange of sky and water,
poise to, becoming again
what curious memory stirs
in the lucent year;

or was it the hot breath of lilac
inwardly recognized,
or how this dream and seeing day
in which my body floats like lake froth,
and my stranger bones come
congruent images and repetitions
of what waked life;
the change of my selvings
acting here again some words smudged
beyond the silly loss
it whispering, to yet (is?)
my locus and vacant horizon.


Some of these poems have appeared in the following books and journals: Ad Libitum (Reference West, 1997); By Green Mountain (Penumbra Press, 1980); Indirections (Far Field Press, 2000); and in the journals “Hammered Out”, “Island Catholic News”, and “Nebula”.

Allan Brown and his wife Patricia live in Powell River, British Columbia. Allan’s poetry has been published in various Canadian and American forums since 1962. His collection Imagines (Leaf Press) was co-winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award for 2002. He is a member of the Federation of B.C. Writers, Haiku Canada, and the League of Canadian Poets. This is Allan Brown’s twentieth collection of poems.

          A personal note, from Allan Brown, on the poem “Sentences”: “I was born and raised in Victoria, leaving the city in 1951. I’ve revisited those once familiar streets from time to time, and spent a couple of days there in October of 1997 for the launch of one of my books. I couldn’t have anticipated the swarming and murder of Reena Virk, of course, but when I heard of it and reflected upon some of the street scenes I had observed, I was, unfortunately, not surprised. I started to write “Sentences” in August 2003, and finally established this version when I returned to the city four years later.”

Sentences © Allan Brown 2008