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by Michael Ondaatje |

(Inner Tube)

 On the warm July river
head back

upside down river
for a roof

slowly paddling
towards an estuary between trees

there's a dog
learning to swim near me
friends on shore

my head
dips
back to the eyebrow
I'm the prow
on an ancient vessel,
this afternoon
I'm going down to Peru
soul between my teeth

a blue heron
with its awkward
broken backed flap
upside down

one of us is wrong

he
his blue grey thud
thinking he knows
the blue way
out of here

or me


by Michael Ondaatje |

Notes For The Legend Of Salad Woman

 Since my wife was born
she must have eaten
the equivalent of two-thirds
of the original garden of Eden.
Not the dripping lush fruit or the meat in the ribs of animals but the green salad gardens of that place.
The whole arena of green would have been eradicated as if the right filter had been removed leaving only the skeleton of coarse brightness.
All green ends up eventually churning in her left cheek.
Her mouth is a laundromat of spinning drowning herbs.
She is never in fields but is sucking the pith out of grass.
I have noticed the very leaves from flower decorations grow sparse in their week long performance in our house.
The garden is a dust bowl.
On our last day in Eden as we walked out she nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch.
But there's none to touch none to equal the Chlorophyll Kiss


by Michael Ondaatje |

Application For A Driving License

 Two birds loved
in a flurry of red feathers
like a burst cottonball,
continuing while I drove over them.
I am a good driver, nothing shocks me.


by Michael Ondaatje |

Elizabeth

 Catch, my Uncle Jack said
and oh I caught this huge apple
red as Mrs Kelly's bum.
It's red as Mrs Kelly's bum, I said and Daddy roared and swung me on his stomach with a heave.
Then I hid the apple in my room till it shrunk like a face growing eyes and teeth ribs.
Then Daddy took me to the zoo he knew the man there they put a snake around my neck and it crawled down the front of my dress I felt its flicking tongue dripping onto me like a shower.
Daddy laughed and said Smart Snake and Mrs Kelly with us scowled.
In the pond where they kept the goldfish Philip and I broke the ice with spades and tried to spear the fishes; we killed one and Philip ate it, then he kissed me with the raw saltless fish in his mouth.
My sister Mary's got bad teeth and said I was lucky, hen she said I had big teeth, but Philip said I was pretty.
He had big hands that smelled.
I would speak of Tom', soft laughing, who danced in the mornings round the sundial teaching me the steps of France, turning with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches, who'd hold my breast and watch it move like a snail leaving his quick urgent love in my palm.
And I kept his love in my palm till it blistered.
When they axed his shoulders and neck the blood moved like a branch into the crowd.
And he staggered with his hanging shoulder cursing their thrilled cry, wheeling, waltzing in the French style to his knees holding his head with the ground, blood settling on his clothes like a blush; this way when they aimed the thud into his back.
And I find cool entertainment now with white young Essex, and my nimble rhymes.


by Michael Ondaatje |

Bearhug

 Griffin calls to come and kiss him goodnight
I yell ok.
Finish something I'm doing, then something else, walk slowly round the corner to my son's room.
He is standing arms outstretched waiting for a bearhug.
Grinning.
Why do I give my emotion an animal's name, give it that dark squeeze of death? This is the hug which collects all his small bones and his warm neck against me.
The thin tough body under the pyjamas locks to me like a magnet of blood.
How long was he standing there like that, before I came?


by Michael Ondaatje |

The Time Around Scars

 A girl whom I've not spoken to
or shared coffee with for several years
writes of an old scar.
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white, the size of a leech.
I gave it to her brandishing a new Italian penknife.
Look, I said turning, and blood spat onto her shirt.
My wife has scars like spread raindrops on knees and ankles, she talks of broken greenhouse panes and yet, apart from imagining red feet, (a nymph out of Chagall) I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars, they freeze irrelevant emotions and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl's face, the widening rise of surprise.
And would she moving with lover or husband conceal or flaunt it, or keep it at her wrist a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember is a medallion of no emotion.
I would meet you now and I would wish this scar to have been given with all the love that never occurred between us.


by Michael Ondaatje |

The Cinnamon Peeler

 If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek You could never walk through markets without the profession of my fingers floating over you.
The blind would stumble certain of whom they approached though you might bathe under rain gutters, monsoon.
Here on the upper thigh at this smooth pasture neighbour to you hair or the crease that cuts your back.
This ankle.
You will be known among strangers as the cinnamon peeler's wife.
I could hardly glance at you before marriage never touch you --your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands in saffron, disguised them over smoking tar, helped the honey gatherers.
.
.
When we swam once I touched you in the water and our bodies remained free, you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said this is how you touch other women the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms for the missing perfume and knew what good is it to be the lime burner's daughter left with no trace as if not spoken to in the act of love as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
You touched your belly to my hands in the dry air and said I am the cinnamon Peeler's wife.
Smell me.


by Michael Ondaatje |

To A Sad Daughter

 All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded cuts and wounds --all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast reading the sports page over the Alpen as another player breaks his ankle or assaults the coach.
When I thought of daughters I wasn't expecting this but I like this more.
I like all your faults even your purple moods when you retreat from everyone to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say 'like' I mean of course 'love' but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies (coaxed for hours to see Casablanca) though you were moved by Creature from the Black Lagoon.
One day I'll come swimming beside your ship or someone will and if you hear the siren listen to it.
For if you close your ears only nothing happens.
You will never change.
I don't care if you risk your life to angry goalies creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles their glass laboratories.
Just don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.
This is the first lecture I've given you.
You're 'sweet sixteen' you said.
I'd rather be your closest friend than your father.
I'm not good at advice you know that, but ride the ceremonies until they grow dark.
Sometimes you are so busy discovering your friends I ache with loss --but that is greed.
And sometimes I've gone into my purple world and lost you.
One afternoon I stepped into your room.
You were sitting at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window and sun spilled over you like a thick yellow miracle as if another planet was coaxing you out of the house --all those possible worlds!-- and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.
I cannot look at forsythia now without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately into the wild world and your real prize will be the frantic search.
Want everything.
If you break break going out not in.
How you live your life I don't care but I'll sell my arms for you, hold your secrets forever.
If I speak of death which you fear now, greatly, it is without answers.
except that each one we know is in our blood.
Don't recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon's yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie in his frightening mask dreams perhaps of gentleness.


by Michael Ondaatje |

Speaking To You (From Rock Bottom)

 Speaking to you
this hour
these days when
I have lost the feather of poetry
and the rains
of separation 
surround us tock
tock like Go tablets

Everyone has learned 
to move carefully

'Dancing' 'laughing' 'bad taste'
is a memory
a tableau behind trees of law

In the midst of love for you
my wife's suffering
anger in every direction
and the children wise
as tough shrubs
but they are not tough
--so I fear
how anything can grow from this

all the wise blood
poured from little cuts
down into the sink

this hour it is not
your body I want
but your quiet company