Resting Places

Let’s speak of life, he says,
of breath and heartbeats.
But I can only think of dying—
no, not dying, but after the dying,
after the great questions
have all been posed,
after the immense darkness—
that some call light—
has been not only faced
but swum through,
and what is left is only biology,
the weight of the organic matter
that presses to the earth when dreams
and air no longer inflate it.
To dust you shall return
the holy texts warn or promise,
and so, determined, we strain
muscles and touch real soil to prove
at least this one sermon true.
To dust, and worms,
and compost and tough roots
tugging at clumps
of mud, you shall return,
we return you now. We tuck you into
that cold earth and cover you with
heavy humus blankets,
and now the day is over.
Now, the day is done.

My brother’s young body,
skinny already
from too much chemo,
too little appetite,
was buried in the cold earth
of a Canadian prairie.
It was May, the ground
still barely thawed
from the long winter,
the grass still brown,
those few dark branches
still bare.
I don’t remember
watching the box
that held his bones,
his translucent eyelids,
his narrow fingers,
being lowered into that dark hole,
but I imagine the scene now
as unbearably stark,
the square lines of the
white church surrounded by fields,
those small grave stones
lined up in rows,
German hymns sung
by faltering voices.
This is the anthem of brokenness:
Farmers and housewives
sending words of stubborn religion
up to a silent sky,
while they watch the land they cleared
for wheat and canola
swallow their fiercest love.

The Rainmakers

There are those who tell their thirsty children
that lightening is a bird, those whose language
makes no distinction between the fish eagle
with its neck flashing white
and the electric lines that shatter the night sky,
cracks for water to finally seep through.
There are those who throw the ground hornbill,
that unsettling feathered creature with its human eyelashes,
into a pool of water to bring the rainy season
when the wait has gone on too long.
There is a man who hides in a windowless hut
for three days before the skies open
and the deluge begins. He spends those days
finding his way back into the tao, and once there,
the separation between him and the cloud particles,
the currents of air, disappear, and rain making
is no longer a magic art but a generous thought.

I don’t know if it’s possible
to appreciate the ancient rituals
of calling the rain if you live
in a place that has never known dry.
But when the grass is brown
and the beautiful ferns have
long given up their instinct for greening,
when cows are dying and the children
are next and there is no tap
you can run to, no money you can spend
for one more litre of life,
then the stories you hear of rain dances,
sacrificial birds, tales of clever children
and wizened crones who somehow
break open the skies,
please the right gods, wring water
from the clouds, these stories
become more urgent than the morning news,
your prayers turn to the mythmakers.