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Roger Nash



Roger Nash is a former President of the League of Canadian Poets and has won a number of literary awards, including the Canadian Jewish Book Award. His recent fiction appears in PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 (Random House), and his seventh and most recent poetry collection is Something Blue and Flying Upwards: New and Selected Poems (Your Scrivener Press, 2006). In 2004, he published a collection of essays on the psalms, The Poetry of Prayer (Edgeways Books). He has recently retired from teaching Philosophy at Laurentian University in Sudbury, where he was Director of the Humanities M.A. in Interpretation and Values.

My Father's Laugh

He laughed with a bared hurricane of teeth.
Fallen angels were suddenly covered
with scales, and leaping fish with feathers,
in a world where everything, for the child I was,
now dovetailed, surprisingly but comfortingly, 
with everything else—like crabs that overlap in their bucket.
Outside, woodpeckers plucked harps
in the trees, and tar in the street began to smell
of fresh strawberries.  Swallows flew
far higher, even, than their disappearing
reflections down the bottom of our well.
Afterwards, with tears in his ankle-deep eyes,
his smile was as happy as flooded rice-fields.
 

Turning the Tables

I: Spring

Jellyfish surface
inside the moon's reflection.
Skies can sting to death.


II: Summer

Bullfrogs puff their cheeks.
Thunder croaks.  Lightening flickers
its white tongue at flies.


III: Fall

On a cloudy night,
potatoes boil in the pan:
full moons for supper.


IV: Winter

Snow falls.  By mid-day,
a single snowman has built
dozens of children.


Constants

After a man rose from the dead, toppling
laws of biology, vigorous Crusades
in his name upheld the unchanging laws
of butchery.

                  After the six million were reduced
to dust, their prayers to particles pilgrimaging
through air and earth, the mass of the planet
remained completely unchanged.  Light
still travelled at just the speed of light,
whether puddles it bounced off were water or blood.

After each new generation of mothers
gives birth, in Chicago, Baghdad or Jerusalem,
fresh dreams presenting between their thighs,
and the night-sky glittering with innumerable eels
like the salty stars of an inland sea,
the gravitational pull of the moon and its unceasing
tides remain just the same.
Water still boils at one hundred degrees centigrade,
whether the kettles are blackened and dented, or not.

Whether steam from our kettles keens or sings.

 
Language Learning

At the School for Foreign Languages, tongues 
practise with the lips of Maria from next door,
stuttering her awkwardly down the corridor, 
all elbows, dropped lipsticks and notepaper.

Bisexuals flock to unilingual programs.
Heterosexuals pack the bilingual programs.
In Modern Languages, they wear diamonds
in their tongues, golden studs in their scrotums.

In the audio lab, it sounds like the murmur
of waves on a tourists' beach.  After an hour,
we're tongue-tied and thong-tied
in the endless loop of the booming sun.

At the Institute for Forgotten Languages, the drapes
are pulled shut.  Students dance through
the night, and refuse to fall down.
Esperanto gets tired in its creased uniform.

I try to teach my sexual parts
your name.  Just that exact name
among a whole dance-floor of swirling
dresses.  Under your blouse, you wear

a leopard-skin leotard.  Under my tongue,
I wear polka-dots of longing.  Under
your leotard, you wear a pink bikini.
Under my longing, I wear worshipful

                       silence.

 
Indiscretions in the Garden

Roses
try
not to blush.

Jasmine 
flirts 
with both sexes.

Bamboo 
whispers 
all the gossip.

Rakes' 
shadows 
grow longer erections.

Sunshine
cross-dresses
in orange nasturtiums.

Raspberries 
blow 
children at us.

Holly-hocks 
give 
bees the finger.

Gardens
lack
all double standards.
 

Three Transformations My Wife Can Make

Your body can assume the naiveté of a girl's
at Convent School.  She jumps through a window,
nibbling a plum or broken finger-nail.

Your body is chant in a Benedictine monastery,
rising from fluted throats of pillars
with a medley of medieval bees.
They hum honey for very uncorked mead.

Yet in bed, it's an octopus erupting from the greatest
of depths, waving its tentacles with indecipherable
but always urgent messages from the stars
embroidered brightly on the rippling counterpane.



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