SINGLE MALT POEMS

VANCOUVER 1943

Im living in the Far East far from the Far North, the Old West and the Deep South. Ive spent six decades breaking the Ten Commandments, lying about my feelings and denying the Four Noble Truths. I havent learned how to get along with people or how to look after myself. Everything bores me after five minutes. Im amazed we havent killed each other and wrecked the whole goddamned planet. The only foreign culture Im interested in is my own. Im hanging out in the Orient and not studying meditation. Imaginary anticipations are much more interesting for me than present real events. Thats why Im always waiting for my next pay check, my next vacation or the coming Winter Bargain Sales. I dont want to be here now or expand my consciousness. I like to hang on to the past, running the same movies inside my head over and over. My favorite memories are when somebody who screwed me around later went mad, lost his wife to a bartender or survived a bad car wreck as a vegetable. I remember my parents joking how they first met in Vancouver. Charlie came from Capreol, an eyeblink railway junction in northern Ontario and was making munitions at Dominion Bridge. Rose, a nurse, was born and grew up on a farm outside Two Hills, a town in northeastern Alberta with more hills than people. It happened at a roller rink in 1942. She kept falling on her ass and he the gallant ladies man finally skated over to pick her up, or help her up, or whatever rakes did in those days. Charlie was a middle weight with solid biceps, jet black hair, a Clark Gable mustache and laughing dark eyes. Rose was tall, intelligent and very focused. She was kind of stiff, slow to warm to people but very caring once she got to know you. Shortly after, he disappeared for an appendix operation, and because he didnt call she thought the romance was over. He says she didnt come to visit and so the whole thing was her fault. Once back on his feet, things quickly came right. In those days Vancouver was wearing cold gray war paint. Warships and freighters filled English Bay and posters urging Canadians to work hard and keep their lips zipped decorated the city. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese community had been scraped up by Mackenzie Kings Liberals and shipped inland to sparse internment camps. Fear and anxiety hung over the city, a morose cloud combining Yellow paranoia from a Japanese invasion with many young people away at war. Im residing where the sun rises, the land of calm people and stone gardens. Its a mystery why these folks bombed Pearl Harbor, but the more I compare East and West the more Im amazed the West wasnt attacked much sooner. Some say theres a new consciousness developing around the globe, a quantum evolutionary leap, a collective recognition that everything is deeply connected. Growing up in Canada, I never experienced Universal Oneness, partly because Canadas right next to the United States and also because Canadians are habitually down and depressed, not the kind of people you want to get too close to. Im sitting quiet in Tokyo watching my Ps and Qs. An enlightening flash told me nothing anybody can do will ever make America happy. I have no team spirit because the year I was born J. Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists started the Manhattan Project. The only language I speak is English and I plan to keep it that way. The idiotic monologue constantly chattering inside our heads comes from an external mixture of technology media and corporate capitalism. Our dominant social order whether Marxist or Capitalist is boring unjust airless and terrifying. Our only chance is to use our consciousness to break through our own conditioning and discover who we really are. Im not sure how my parents ended up in Vancouver. Inland Canadas always been pretty much a psychic dead zone. At least since the White Eyes arrived. A place you either leave, drives you nuts or become a brighteyed mindless booster, the absolute center for the down to earth morally supreme Good Life. The West Coast has long sirened restless dissatisfied souls somehow aware theres more to Reality than threshing machines and mail order catalogues. Two young people hoping on the west side of the Rockys among the mist and moving waters to find where real life begins. Either that, or escape the six months of snot freezing winters killing everything green except pine trees and drive everyone indoors to moan and dream about Honolulu. Describing the seabed between the Mainland and Vancouver Island, Earl Birney observed rending glaciers alone have trenched this giant gorge, and nothing less than tilting continents have drenched and drowned its floor in quietness a hundred fathoms down. Al Purdy called Vancouver a state of mind, city of mountains and sea and the great trees where tormented ships voices moo through the fog and sometimes light is so luminescent the air glows internally. Here Occident and Orient meet along the waters edge, horizontal Angle Saxon logic tempered by the unobtrusive circularity of China and Japan. Marriage soon followed the B movie reunion. September, 1942. After a weeks honeymoon at the Empress in Victoria, I appeared June 3, the next spring. This was the same day Allen Ginsberg turned seventeen and about the time bop music appeared. Metaphysical problems arose immediately. My father was raised Roman Catholic and my mother Greek Orthodox. As part of the prenuptial negotiations, she had to convert to Rome, which meant I too came under the enlightened moral authority of Pope Pius XII. Throughout her long life, Rose complied with sacred doctrine, whereas after age 18, I spent many years as a recovering Roman Catholic. Already the Atlantic U boat campaign was being contained by Allied destroyers and long range bombers. Hitlers frozen legions were retreating from Stalingrad or heading for Siberia in airconditioned cattle cars. In New York Jackson Pollock still had some figuration in his work. Charles Mingus briefly joined Louis Armstrongs big band and Robert Crumb was joining me in this incarnation. Over in Poland Joseph Mengele became medical chief at Auschwitz Birkenau, just in time to murder 400,000 non Aryans. Later in the year Pollock joined a group exhibition at Peggy Guggenheims newly founded Art of this Century gallery. With Mackenzie Kings draft looming, Charlie decided it was a good time to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Poor eye sight and a short rib prevented him from volunteering for the army in 1940. Following a whirlwind training inland, he was posted to Goose Bay, Labrador as a payroll clerk, not a bad place or job in a red hot shooting war. Rose loaded me on a train in the fall of 1943 and we went to live on the family farm in northeast Alberta. Fats Waller also got on a train but he died in a Kansas City railway station. Arriving as landless peasants from Ukraine in 1903, my mothers parents escaped the landlord hell of Eastern Europe for the granite bush country that wore him out by the late 1930s and reduced Grandma Buk to her second childhood by the beginning of the war. In 1943 Max Roach made his recording debut with Coleman Hawkins. If there were ten places in the world you wouldnt want to homestead, northeast Alberta would definitely be one of them. Rain poured down from the black skys soaking the poplar covered hills. Gumbo years were often ended by killer frosts capable of destroying a years hard work in a single night. Louise Gluck was born in 1943. She wrote, the weeks go by. I shelve them like canned peas. Mosquitoes rose from rancid sloughs in dark waves and coyotes howled through the clear aurora borealis nights. I spent my days with kind gentle grandma. Rose kept house, as folks used to say, for us three plus Uncle Nick who had returned from the British Columbia Interior to help care for grandma. Nick had been educated as an electrical engineer but several years working in the copper smelters around Trail convinced him even farm life in Alberta was superior to the subhuman redneck subculture of rural British Columbia. Ukranian was our language, the only tongue grandma ever spoke; when she heard words coming from the radio, she was sure little English people lived inside. The farm house stood on a hill, warped and weathered, offering a commanding view across the rocky hills and along the many mosquito sloughs. Charlies parents died before I was born. His father was an orphan born in Spain and adopted by a family in Quebec. His mother came from Sheboygan, Michigan, of Irish American descent. My paternal grandfather hated farming. Instead he owned a little real estate in Capreol and sold Chevrolets in Sudbury. He also liked to gamble and eat steak for breakfast. Together they had six kids, so my grandmother had little time after she finished washing clothes and frying sirloins. Casablanca won the Academy Award in 1943. John Mason Brown published TO ALL HANDS, describing how to read Mathew Arnold and Shakespeare to men on their way to battle. No wire marred the view because there was no electricity or running water. Every three or four days Uncle Nick drove us to Two Hills for supplies at the Coop then a visit with Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill. Ukranian grandmothers in headscarves and skirts with big asses sat around the front of the Coop talking about the Old Country while their husbands sat around the beer parlour across the street talking about crops and pussy. Early on, Roses brother Bill realized there was no future in rock farming so he headed the seven miles to town where he eventually operated the Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators. If you wanted a cup of coffee and a greasy burger you went to the Java Shop. Bill dropped out of school after grade six because he said he wasnt smart enough to drop out after grade five. Im doing much better living in Japan than I ever did in Canada. Im living a niche existence in Tokyo not holding my breath until Canadian universities get rid of all the second rate Brits and Americans who clogged up the place in the last century. I enjoy living in a country where I cant understand the language and dont have to listen to the average numbskull polluting the common space. Im waiting for all the sleazy spineless backstabbing Canadian professors to retire from Canadian universities with their fat pensions and then for the economy to fail. I love not living in a society where every halfwit student with a visible minority axe to grind thinks shes smarter than the teacher. And I understand why Joni Mitchell and Neil Young moved to Los Angeles. And Im waiting for Canadians to recognize real talent without waiting for the Americans to do it for them. And I hope its not too long before the Japanese realize the same second rate Brits and Yanks who helped screw up Canada are trying to screw up Japan. From July 5 to July 12, 1943 German and Russian armies fought historys greatest tank battle around the small Ukranian city of Kursk. Aunt Mary made the best cabbage rolls and perogies in town. In October Italy switched to the Allied side, reaffirming the old stereotype concerning Italian battle prowess. Oklahoma came to Broadway. We know we belong to the land and the land is grand. I didnt know then but I realize now why I enjoyed being with them so much. People in Two Hills always experienced the fullness of life. Whether it was a wedding, funeral, Christmas or evening after work, somebody was ready with a story, laugh, drink or well cooked meal. Bill was loud and outgoing, known all over town for his amazing stories about other locals, travelling to the mountains and the coast, and his photographic recall of weather, crop conditions and absurd cockups from many years earlier. Aunt Mary was as close to a living Buddha as anyone Ive ever met. Always kind, smiling and compassionate, something happened to the food she cooked that was truly magical, an extra something seemingly from a higher dimension. In the summer no fish was safe from Bills lure and in the autumn every passing duck feared his pump action shotgun. Amazingly both Rose and Nick as well as another brother John were sent to university in Edmonton by my grandparents. Amazing because in those days most didnt finish high school let alone attending university. My grandparents really believed in education even though Grandma Buk couldnt read a word and Dmytro taught himself, puzzling over newspapers beside a coal oil lamp. Rose became a registered nurse, Nick an electrical engineer and John a school teacher, while Bill, Grandpa and the oldest son Andrew, hauled grain to town in the dead of winter behind steaming plodding horses. Kate, Roses oldest sister didnt go to university. She got married and had 16 children who all grew to adulthood. On a fine fall afternoon in 1946 my father returned from England where he was stationed after the war. My cousin Marshal picked him up from the Two Hills train station and brought him home to the farms. I was three years old and still remember running down the hill to my cousins black roadster where my mysterious father stood beside cardboard boxes loaded with presents. We tried to speak but couldnt understand each other. He spoke only English and I spoke only Ukranian. Yes. Im living a carefree life in Tokyo. Im no longer looking for the real Canada. Trying to discover, define, articulate once and for all, The Great Canadian Identity. Im opulent in the Orient, watching the world wondering how many should be in madhouses rather than running our governments and corporations, instructing our youth and voicing the media, while shouting from platforms and pulpits, I am the Light and the Truth and the Way. While speaking at a college in Missouri on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill coined the term Iron Curtain. The Nuremberg tribunal sentenced Herman Goering to death by hanging, but the founder of the Gestapo bit into a poison tooth two hours before his scheduled necktie party. I dont know why the Cold War happened but I recently read Stalin had eyes in the back of his head and knew if somebody was sneaking up behind him. Every day I ride the Japanese gravy train, working six months while getting paid for twelve, far from the Midwest where folks speak louder than pineapple shirts, everybody the total individual, incredibly interesting, infinitely fascinating eating supersized junk food inside overstretching spandex destined never to return to original face cream heavenly bliss. 1946 was the year Eckert and Mauchly built the first serious computer. Called ENIAC it had eighteen thousand vacuum tubes and could perform five thousand calculations per second. I have a personal computer but I cant type or use it so I write everything in long hand then my wife Sayoko types it in for me. My first wife Kathy knew how to type and my girlfriends between Kathy and Sayoko could also operate a key board. Im living high in a panoramic condo with heavily mortgaged views around downtown Tokyo, reading Chinese poetry up on Cold Mountain where Hanshan cuts through technical materialism below white clouds clinging to invisible heights. Every day I walk ten thousand steps across the dusty world, crows shrieking, dry cleaners crying chemical hallucinations, to ascend icy slopes clamboring past haircuts and mirrors reflecting face powdered selfbeaching whales determined to stick it out until the next play begins. When Charlie returned from England we returned to Vancouver leaving grandma in Uncle Nicks kind capable hands. Postwar Vancouver quickly threw off its depressed grays as men and women returned from overseas to work, drink and bemoan the traditionally slow West Coast economy. My father found work in a plumbing supplies wholesaler, Andrew Sheret, and on Sundays we toured in his tinny old Ford sedan until one afternoon descending Grouse Mountain we found ourselves brakeless and only his skilful white knuckle driving saved our bacon. After that we went to horizontal places like English Bay where we changed in the dank concrete beach house and above it the smells of fish & chips wrapped in newspapers stained by hot lard and vinegar. Other Sundays we crossed the US border to Blaine, Washington where the range of chocolate bars and candies far outstripped anything in Vancouver. Whenever I didnt finish eating a meal Rose would point out how unfortunate kids in Europe were starving. One day she and Charlie were invited to supper next door by Bill Findley who had served overseas and returned to Canada with an English war bride wife. Margaret served them a meal Rose talked about for years after. Pork and beans on toast. In 1947 President Truman appointed George Marshall as secretary of state and he organized the European Recovery Program. Branch Rickey brought up Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers where he calmly endured a torrent of racist taunts to become Rookie of the Year. In the autumn of 1948 my sister Teresa was born. Charlie and I put on our best clothes to go to the Vancouver General and pick up her and Rose. One day two turbaned Sikhs tried to sell Charlie a load of firework but when he went to the back alley to check it, he came back and said it was wet. Another time he buried tin cans beside the plumb tree in our back yard because Rose heard it would make the lazy tree produce more fruit. When I asked where babies came from Rose carefully explained they came from God. Accordings to Ricardos Iron Law of Wages, wages will tend to stabilize at or about subsistence levels. One summer Rose Teresa and I went to spend a week beside the ocean at a place called White Rock while Charlie stayed in the city shelving fawcets and packing toilet seats. Ricardo showed workers have no hope of better treatment because they are infinitely available, replaceable and interchangeable. An old well at the back was full of snakes. In 1949 Rose led me by the hand for my first day of school at Laura Secord. My teacher was a kind young lady who came from England after the war, but she was not the pork and bean on toast lady. Jenny, another of my mothers older sisters, and her husband Harry lived up north in Prince Rupert where Harry ran a railway section gang and Jenny cooked. One day we went to meet them at a Vancouver hotel. While waiting in the lobby for my aunt and uncle a man fell down on the carpet just as they arrived. When I asked why, Jenny carefully explained the man had too much coffee to drink. Im hanging out at the Ueno Zoo when I dont have to teach in the winter time and the summer crowds are home watching tv. I like watching the two polar bears also from Canada and the seals who swim round and round and round. If Ted Hughes were here hed be dismantling a big cats reality into disconnected fragments then reassembling them into a Picasso bits and pieces poem. I got tired of this poemy stuff several years ago. If you cant live with yourself nobody else is going to show you Reality. At sixty I cant prove whats true but I know our previously accepted views of Reality, conventional rational grammatical correctly spelled, are narrow and completely arbitrary. I never liked Shakespeare Chaucer or Lord Byron. I was bothered by this until I read Charles Bukowski. He didnt like them either. Plato was the greatest distorter of life until Jesus. People are afraid of Jesus because they think he told the truth. I dont like Jesus or Nietzsche. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is a better novel than War And Peace. I dont like Thomas Pynchon. Some of my best friends and all my worst enemies are Americans.