Two Ways of Saying It

by Barry Dempster

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the GG Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010 and 2015, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts and in 2014 he was nominated for the Trillium Award for his novel, The Outside World.

“Don’t you know there ain’t no devil
there’s just God when he’s drunk.”
—Tom Waits


1/

It started in my right shoulder,
a corkscrew pang, running down
to the beached jellyfish of my wrist,
a loosey-goosey slam – flitty fingers
that dart at life like lizards’ tongues.

Soon and ruthless, I was balked,
tossed floppy, unable to write myself
a wall to lean on. Next thing I knew,
Kubler-Ross was whispering her list
of contradictions and I was humming
along. God, as usual, gone, perhaps
Beijing and its killer smog or a cave
somewhere in the Middle East.

And here I thought death’s last name
started with the big C. Mr. Parkinson
instead, a benign old gent, timid as
a tremor, voice like a goldfish
being poured from a bag.


2/

Have you heard the one about
the hand that wouldn’t listen to the brain—
just lay there stiff like a 16-year-old’s
erection? Forget typing, wiping, copping
feels. The football fumbles like a baby seal.
No more raking, writing thank you notes,
casting barnyard animals on the wall. Just
stiffness, knuckles having lost their punch.
All the things you can’t do, never knew
meant the world to you. Little cabbage whites
of prayer, middle fingers rising in the air.


Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the GG Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010 and 2015, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts and in 2014 he was nominated for the Trillium Award for his novel, The Outside World.

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