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Mercenary English

Mercenary English

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The Dowager Empress

The Dowager Empress

Poems of Adele Wiseman
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Playing it SmartWinter of grade one.Boys built a snow hut.It's for guy stuff, not for girruls.But two girls got invited in,whispered their story in the coatroom after recess.That night, I rememberedmy secret deal with the smart boy. Tippy-toedto the front porch from the kitchen carryingthe old brown stacking stool, carefulnot to clunk when I set it down.Grabbed my pink show'n'tell bag frommy hook and climbed up. My armjust reaching the red rolled-upgirly calendar Daddy tucked up therewhen he came home from the service stationone day before Christmas.I slipped the naughty into my sack,put the stool back, and snuckto my room. With my treasure under my bed,I was one step closer to the hand of the boywho'd walk me into the fort. At leastI wouldn't have to kisssome dumb boy or standin the cold and lift my snow white undershirt.

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“Avoid the Flourish” — Leonard Cohen, “How to Speak Poetry”


it was meant to be simple

we loved it and it was simple

a plain pine box as

hearts broke to cries of hallelujah


it was meant to be


it was meant

to be

it was



it had meaning

the people agree

as they post versions of Hallelujahs

as others post telling them

they are posting the wrong



a fight broke out

about who Famous Blue Raincoat

meant more to

nostalgia for a lost love

or whisper singing in bed

as a sign of contemporary intimacy

who soothes your insomnia at ‘4 in the morning/end of December’?


it was a gravel voice, a gravelly voice

it was profound and it sang out to the hills

it was always a hymn, it was always an anthem

it went ‘a thousand kisses deep’ or it broke open

‘the crack to let the light in’


it was many things

to many people

it was always a dance, always a poem

always thinly veiled fiction

it was beautiful and it was loser-ish

it was mine more than yours

yours more than mine


it was trouble for a troubled time

it was humility in the crease of greatness

it was always an epic, an ode

it made you cry every time

it unleashed you, untethered

it made you freer, it let you off

your flight, light, bright

it was always surrender

it was always trying to figure you out

it was always helping you, giving you courage

it was fragments and pieces, it was notions

it was always deep understanding

it was eventually


it was soft and you loved it

it was always from a distance

it was always ‘you look good when you’re tired’

always ‘you look like you could go on forever.’

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DIVINATION IBegin bawling bring forth phlegm in string- a-lings toilet hoverer thigh-blossoms of flimsy cotton making fugues breaking cocaine peeling couches strung with cat eyes chatoyant sternum jostles heart homeward skyward cloud forms your windows full of sycamore weeds run to the sky ledges of tidy journals suck air skin particles magical thinking. Clock ticks begin meaningful positions shivering cellulite dust bunnies drywall disintegrating right in front of you pre-phoenix queen of bitches broken arrows cuss me out right at the corner why don't you you guilt-ridden you know what tape fifty dollar bills to my door on days of crisis hang soft Portuguese bread and deli meats on my doorknob. Crucify me later

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A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl

LOOK HOW THE BIRDS ARE GATHERINGLook how the birds are gathering--the leaves have not yet turned.I had wanted to gather summer upand hold it, cherished, in my arms--but the winds are blowing,the winds are blowing.I want to go off with the gathering birds--along the grassy corridors:scrub forest, fields, and glimmering ponds--the lakes of the lunar ocular,the pastures of night,the stars--The winds are blowing, are blowing--I want to fly with the birds, the winds--as if there were no corners to the earth,no garbage sways,a huge Sargasso, in our seas--if nothing was lost, forgotten,failed--The birds are gathering on the wires--I want, I want to go off with them.

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Sotto Voce

Into the Humber River


Someone tore the hands off a big round clock, familiar
as a classroom compass & abandoned it
to the weeds. It took the time right out of us, poured
it through the small black circle in the clock's
centre & underground into the river.
It was a blessing to watch the hours & minutes
drain away. We didn't miss it the way we'd miss
our own hands. That sudden calm when time
disappears, the atmosphere soupy with fish & bug
& bird busy-ness, the glare of springtime green.
If you spoke into that empty hole, it would hold
your words & breathe them back to you
in the sensible prose of granite & bridge,
in bird vowels, cloud song, river.

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