Issue 5

Norm Sibum
from Sub Divo



Where begin, the mind full of sound
Looking to words for traction?
As ever, no answer until
Some sleeper of a gambit presents
A winning countenance. “Try me,” it says,
And I, Norm Sibum do, and we’re off to the races,
And poetry, as I understand the business,
Has feet and reason. A beginning then
               if no discernible destination.

1: Eulogy

Raw April begins this book
Along with MacFarlane, wind and allergens.
The King of Sherbrooke Street is dead.
And of the women who attended his needs,
I hear the maid has it in for the nurse
Who has it in for the masseuse, so many maenads high
                                        on the sweepstakes of grief.
Lovelies at the Claremont ponder
Whither now his operatic cane,
That one he jabbed about in the air,
That one decked out with blossoms?
Will they honour a barstool’s drunk
Who rang up 83 god-like blooming years
                                      with a plaque?
The Greeks at Nikas are miffed.
They’ve seen no cut of the action, the unofficial wakes
That have kicked in up and down the street.
For instance, Flora at ‘bratwurst’, her eyes misted up,
Her Persian sensibilities front and centre,
Concludes there’ll be no more Big Boss on whom to wait
Who was a runt, if not a pain.
Labrosse, our lives, too, are altered:
How long before we notice
Some nagging absence when
We set about to milk the wine cow
And no thundering accosts our ears?
For MacFarlane’s gone and there’s none now to bark,
                                    to testify, to judge, to jury,
                                  let alone raise unholy ruckus
To the level of sacred art: “If they can’t decide, for all their laurels,
Whether literary acts are acts of conscience
Or the pursuit of pleasure by other means,
Then perhaps the giants of the word don’t rate
The soubriquets of ‘committed’ or ‘great’.
Count me as down for sin, however.”
         (I, for one, will miss this critic.)
Certainly, I will miss him for a while, at least,
Until nature plugs the vacuum with other clowns.
Until history shapes a rubber nose for my ideals.
And how very like a dull boy I am especially when
The grandly dead, supine in his casket, displays superior pique
At Collins Clarke MacGillivray, his nose rankled,
The most delicate of sneezes on the way.
                           (That obligatory spray
                               Of roses and mums
                                          Argues this:
                      Surviving family members
                  Put up with his shenanigans.)
Labrosse, at one of the clock, April 9th, 2010,
We’re due at the parlour for a body’s last rites.
What’s become of the soul is best left
Unsaid. But the trees are on the verge
Of verdancy, all those swelling buds
Such as hail and farewell an homunculus.
In the meantime, however, on the count of three
Let you and I make out like a semi-sober chorus:
Vale, MacFarlane. You almost made it, you effer,
To terrasse season.”

2: Roller Derby Girl

Shall we, Eric, rate the chances of the platypus and the cuttlefish
In their game of survival on this earth? How about those loopy aunts of yours,
The unconscious cruelties of their dottiness
Made concrete in moon-bathed cellars, you
The spiritual heir of Arsenic and Old Lace?
But perhaps you’ve wearied of ribaldry like this,
The kind that invites farce into the parlour
And parts the working man from his union
And elevates the thinking man with his Rilke
To the Board of Directors in their lair where terrible beauties are spewed.
Otherwise, I hardly know where to start, my attempts to write something fine
Sabotaged by lack of conviction, as if I, too, were born a stand-up comic,
Laugh-lines my pickax, shovel, excuse, and it’s not so much a ditch that’s born
But ruin. You, I suppose, see the poisons
As beautiful, as austere in their pristinities
As those gardens of marble, fig and moon
In which Caesar’s daughter showed thigh.
Your spell in purgatory will be prolonged,
You rhymester with classical baggage to unload.
In the meantime, your pension’s busted: you’re having to work past your prime,
The banks, the power brokers playing all ends against the middle,
Our old alma mater the U.S.A. in a squeeze,
Never mind you’re squirrelled away in London,
And life’s fuss and bother, and then you die.
Power’s a one-trick pony now: it corrupts,
Whatever the ends it once was a means to.
Still, much is permitted, and it’s go, go, go,
So that a suburban muse, right-wing diva-lass,
Be she empowered or plain old wife, wears a pale peignoir with such flair
That she’s a priestess, martini tumblers sacred to her, the swimming pools
Each an Avernus. And you wouldn’t mind a little rumble with this dish,
No more jaded liberal babes for whom poetry is just one
Career option among others, the birds flying over flying dead.
And all those Gatsbys bloated with ironies
(Those mobsters, senators, go-betweeners
Of the American way of literary greatness) waging turf wars on the internet,
Have done wonders for the market-place,
Robbing Peter to enable Paul, polishing the shine
Of golden toilets and golden parachutes.
Roller Derby Girl is a case in point, as she seems to play
Both sides of the fence, travels all roads, heaven and hell in her books
But regional offices for a vaster consortium. Even so,
She’d been a drinking companion to MacFarlane
Who once thrived in the area and now is gone.
And one can see that, if in her, there’s a contest
Between good and evil and the lesser rights
And wrongs, her considerable powers of analysis
Will always nudge her towards the highest bidder.
(For all she knew MacFarlane had been a prince
Among men, boon to women, the light of truth,
And maybe I was all that, too, that day we toasted a dead man
In a bar.) Just that, Eric, her smile would curl your toes,
All the world her oyster, so much so, she grants no quarter
To rhymesters, not even to Snorris, not even to one as consummate
As you. She’d just have a soldier stand down
And forget about it as, push come to shove,
What remains of grace, of the noble and true –
Let alone of such a magician of numinous logic
As MacFarlane was, he now stashed in a pail –
Is hardly worth the effort of praise hymns.
Moreover, we foul the nest we call an ethos
With cheaply bought principles, pro forma regrets,
And sense departs sense both grand and comic.
Nothing left with which to assail, let alone presume upon
The despair in a girl’s lovely eyes.

3: Those Indolent Mornings

Those indolent mornings when promise delivered
 Are gone from us
   And so are the younger men that we were once.
We could think it without blushing, we thought it divine,
 How she consecrated to love the energies aroused,
   She as mischievous as a kitten. Or don’t you remember?
If, for pleasure, a man will concoct, believe and say
 What first comes to mind, anything, anything at all,
But if, for the moment, she, muse-like, listens
 And happens to like what she hears,
   Then it’s to the good, even when trouble’s ahead.
                           (Otherwise, Eric, it’s complicated,
               The cosmos running to fatigue and chaos
                  That springs from a tumbling design.)
Even so lilacs appear and the first flies.
Even so a cat sparks the sparrows
 Into chattering alarm. But then hot rhetoric also obtains
On the airwaves to the south. “Nothing new,” you sigh,
 And how right you are, but what’s new are the cold eyes
                                                           in their myriads
   Of stonewall at any price, a constitution hostage
                              to the novelties of vengeance.
But what can I tell you? Why tell you anything?
You know as well as I do what’s shaping up
 Whether or not it shapes your fading interest
As you’ve had existence in those regions
 Where violence was always simmering
   And cotillions were an occasion for pride.
It’s to say we had to assume
 Old worlds would fall and better worlds rise,
When all along it was going to come to this:
 Bad goes to worse, given a chance.

                — The empire no longer the plaything of the Julio-Claudians, his eyes on the future health of the state and its finances, the unpopular Galba adopted Piso Licianus cetera and so forth.

Do you, Labrosse, think you can find a hole,
Climb in, and hide from my intensity? Galba was murdered, hacked to bits.
Piso was hauled out of sanctuary and finished off.
The empire proceeded on its merry way
By way of mayhem, the odd decent moment.
And men like us, civil, inoffensive sceptics,
Bottom’s up, and to your health, sport,
Over the course of a few corrosive centuries,
Drank our wine like it was so much sunset
Poetry, and one by one, faded from the picture.