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Surcharges Sometimes Apply

Poems by b stephen harding

i seed black loam

i will know you by the scent of burnt cane
and the faint rustling of your new banana leaves
you magic me with gods of ifé

it is time to plant the winter wheat

i seed the furrows black loam
in beltane's fire's edge

the stag falls to the lioness

three days of you and ripening

breath tumbles
through shellacked lips
coloured kisses of stinging nettles

ripe currents of red fundy anger

carried you


savouring bourbon

a solicitous waiter proffers
a drink

bourbon seven fingers deep
jealously savoured

our sex was
an angry ocean   a rocky coast

stretching skyward
you gather

soft sighs
to hush the bed

your skirt of indian cotton
traps me as i reach to thank you

she smirks into her coffee

at the smokey oak poetry reading
everyone is trying to be something

pursuing this lyric-non-lyrical myth
my attitude and dress are serious fashion
and i'm known to many people here
though i speak with few
a better way to be noticed

but I've got soggy animalcookie in my lap
it was not just a quick dip
i did not just lift it to my lips

it lingers in the air
watching with great fascination
the last drop of coffee absorbed

there was no ceremony or fanfare
she was right there watching
a needle passed into a balloon
the bang only in her head and mine

where is the myth of the poet in this

six o'clock at the royal oak

friday nights are good here
office etiquette forgotten
alliances made quick

whiskey on the rocks

the first few smooth
and the curves looking
better all the time


you're my flower
with the fuel of your nectar
i've sipped adulterously

languidly i've lain
with the lily by the light of the moon
enjoyed too much their evening perfume
and though i've dallied in some ladies' slippers

you're the flower of my bumbling desire

5 star

inside the blue moon café
yuppie clichés

and our server (a david copperfield
wannabe) conjures our meal
with flourish

under the blue moon sign
eyes sidewalk grey   feet away

in pissed stained pants
joe street struggles
to raise palms

awaits on tosses of goodwill
from passersby who wrinkled noses
claim refuge of the curb's edge

i eat
my dream filled croissants

at the blue moon
food is more than body fuel
it's life raised   to 5 stars

when was the last time joe
had a butterfly made of carrots and tomatoes

it's the end of the month and rideau street is full

i weed my way between
spare a little change
thanks for nothin ya cheap fuck

whisper sorry in a closed mouth
irony is cheap laughter here

gold plated cufflinks are easier to adjust
than an uncomfortable skin

at the bank of montreal foyer
i'm stopped by three rideau regulars
at cocktails

joan thirty years past caring
wrapped in remnants of an afghan
wedged into a corner by young gilles'
drunken lust

paul's the bartender
eyes framed by
cauliflower ears   boxer nose   bloated cheeks
age lost to an avalanche of street-life

he mixes cocktails
lestoil from an aerosol can
with coke in hastily bought paper cups
from giant tiger

gilles walks a tight-rope
for this offering and their
conversation slides around
like the cocktail

i know who butters our bread
it's our bond
these bankers and i

i count
the days of rice left
they count the empties

brick thoughts

is always somebody else's

1994 is different
death is on my doorstep
an abandoned child
its cry desperate
grating on nerves
insinuating itself

between the brick of my thoughts

women on the ttc
for pamella and her mother inez edwards

you're on the ttc
who's getting on at supper
and off at breakfast

and eastern mothers
while the nation sleeps
they tend the sick
clean homes and offices
so that we

their children can have a better life

ten thousand things make
one moore* around my neck

safely perched on this bench
i've marked this day

by clouds that swarm the horizon
by heat snaking off
the long licorice road

today life's been a sculpture of no relief

so safely perched
on this bench i
mark this day

as i've done so many others

*british sculptor, henry spencer moore (1898-1986)

words for a tombstone
for sylvia plath and hart crane

there is something cool in drowning
when i drown in silence
drown in an empty room
drown in an empty house
drown in an empty world
drown     because there are no words of love left to say

poe and the raven

upon its
upper most branches
a cloud snagged

belly torn
its anger black and percolating

from this wound
                                  ravens tum

the raven
my shadow of good fortune

carcasses rained on the roots of my oak tree
their bodies carrion for brother crow
across the way a discarded strawman
lying against the milestone

homage to: whylah falls
for m. acorn, g. e. clark, s. mayne, a. nowlan, and d. thomas

empty before penning
unfulfilled before printing and
meaningless before enunciation

black letters read
have me giddy on indignation

could've i prepared
for words' weight
making of my chest a volcano
shouting laughter

a clever trap
the silence
of their blackness

are words dolls
to be dressed up
left on a cold floor

they eddy
in my shoals
and I'm again
in a fresh flush of red

what's next
a love sonnet
a lullaby

saint john river valley blues

forty-fives and hearts were trump
three guys brothers to be
here by chance
at royal road playground

i lost the kittie
and gained
four brothers
four sisters
mumma got another son

with pieces of
aretha     marvin     pigs' feet
and hotcombs

mavis and i learnt i could have rhythm too

now miles between you and i
this heart weeps
saint john river valley blues
for 13 years is     so

45 hawkins street
my chrysalis
from which i emerged
a paradox

in this new city
if i chat up this black man
that black woman
i am whiteness

i burn mumma
for that place
in your arms that has no eyes


an eagle     screams
wings snap-open     hard right
a brown flash among the sawgrass clumps
mouse mole vole
brown furred body     little radar ears
black marble eyes
slowly turning     resting on updrafts
twin telescopes follow spooked dartings
flexing     scaled iron-hard vices
torpedo body     wings laid back
splits air     screeching
accelerating bullet     snapping feathers
150 100 25     wings thrown wide
tendons on springs     knives slice air
pump pump straining for the clouds
its claws full of sawgrass.

on this bus i think of pussywillows

it's spring and billows of flakes
surge through the ottawa valley
in the byward market vendors
will be selling pussywillows

snow is still in the forest and
on the edges of country roads
where bouquets were gathered
now marketed 2 dollars a bunch

growing up in esteysbridge
i picked arms full for mother
and later wild roses and violets
part of a day's catch

but i still had to clean my own fish

i pitch soil at dusk...

i pitch soil at dusk searching for night-crawlers
soft bodies wet with mucus or dry caked in earth
preparations for a father and son journey
promise of a 5am breakfast
quiet driving from one village to the next
up tumbling roads following rivers
to secret fishing pools

turning at the covered bridge to Irving's red mud road
we park our van beside 2 cords of yellow birch
like long stacks of bread
walking down a game trail
plastic wicker basket bouncing at my hip
contemplating which flies to tempt
speckled monsters

disturbed only by slapping at flies and the clap of curses
conversation sparser than clouds
we hesitate
step gingerly into brown rushing water
it pours into the holes of my sneakers
rides my legs
its chill jolts my crotch

how many trips of silence does it take to know your hero

reading "claude orsir"

dear alden nowlan: reading claude orsir (1894-1968) was a free ticket home. i laid my hand upon page 56 and claude arose from the page in export "A" smoke, exhaled from a cigarette rolled by one hand. a feat, blink and you'd miss it's virtuosity. and about my table he left boot-prints of soil, freshly tilled, for seed potatoes.

when i pass, i will find claude living around the corner, by the stone bridge and i will take my broken toaster, the kind claude can fix. the a-frame with a herringbone cloth cord and you've to toast each side separately. and i will stay two hours with claude in his garage repair shop, drink red rose tea with carnation milk and talk of the river valley and our friends that live there.


i would like to thank the sandy hill gang: seymour mayne, christal steck, and robert craig, also george elliot clarke, patrick white, and james whittall for their comments, and james for the use of his layout and design [re: the printed version]... my son joseph who took time from his vacation with me to type corrections and my daughter katie, for her special Sunday morning breakfast. finally the rest of my family without whose help this book would not have been possible.

to my baby, fiancée and love. gemma. i sometimes wonder where you find the patience, but i'm sure glad you were made with that special ingredient.

Some of these poems have previously appeared in Bywords, Chasing Sundogs, Graffito (Friday Circle), Hook & Ladder, Ottawa Poets '95, Volume 1 (audiocassette), Paperplates, and Remembered Earth, Volume 1 (Bywords).

Copyright © 1996, 2003 by b stephen harding

Print edition, 1996. ISBN 1-896362-04-4
Electronic edition, 2003. ISBN 1-896362-20-6