Monday, October 27, 2008

Katia Grubisic


On stilts in the metro of a Friday
morning, he plays to no one but the station’s
dally: the piper draws us out.

We scatter asunder our cloaks, our half
hearted aubades, and give over our
mourning to play with the station’s

indoor birds, blurs of yellow and red
scattered asunder. He wields the half-cloaked
promise of foil balloons, their silver sides

winking light: the piper draws us on.
The tune he plays is not yet invented.
A heart’s murmur, it doesn’t offer

the name of this mountain,
nor does it pledge return in silver-sided balloons
drawn by birds of red, yellow.

We have chiselled ourselves,
with grief no one wanted,
like fingernails or glaciers over

this mountain we called nameless.
We gnashed our way across jealousy,
as if we could claim birds, claim red,

claim yellow. And the piper brings us out
from the mountain he scattered us under.
With his fingers of silver he cracks

the rock where the light gets in and we follow
on stilts from the metro the Friday
on the eve of return to Hamelin.

-- a poem I very much liked in Katia Grubisic’s What if red ran out. Part of the reason may be very personal: I, and many Montrealers, have seen this man who, dressed in rainbow colours and standing on tall stilts (and wearing extra-long flowing pants to cover those stilts, and maintain a wondrous illusion), played the flute in the Metro, silver balloons floating in the air beside him. What a beautiful evocation of this memory! (Why didn’t I write a poem about him???) Notice the pantoum-like repetition of "birds", “yellow and red”, “scattered asunder/under”, variations of "silver" and “silver-sided”, “stilts”, “metro”, "mountain", "draws us out" , all interlaced in a soothing musical fugue.

This is very much a Montreal poem – Montreal, like Hamelin, has its mountain (see here to read up on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the legend which, of course, very much informs this poem), and that man epitomizes a certain Montreal verve and style (one need only think also of Cirque du Soleil), shared perhaps only with Quebec City and Paris.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the writer dwells on the “we” too long. If I were to revise this poem, I would possibly strike out

We gnashed our way across jealousy, etc.

… and maybe work in the reiteration of colourful birds somehow else. The reasons? She already refers to "giving over our mourning" to the piper; I'm not sure the jealousy she speaks of applies; besides, I want to go back immediately to the flute man on stilts! Readers of this blog might know how allergic I am to this indefinite "we" – and here, too, as so often happens in that person, the writer pontificates just a bit too much.

Be that as it may, it’s still a remarkable poem.

I wonder where that man is now? I never see him anymore. I also don’t take the Metro nearly as much as I used to. In any case, here he is, in this poem.

NB, this is supplementary material to a review of Katia Grubisic’s What if red ran out and David O’Meara’s Noble Gas, Penny Black, soon to be posted in The Rover. My compliments to Katia Grubisic and to Goose Lane Editions.

Further link: "Root Cellar" by David O'Meara, a poem in Noble Gas, Penny Black.

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