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JUAN O'NEILL - POEMS

 

Included below is a small sampling of Juan's work. Heather Ferguson, his Literary Excecutor now has the task of sorting out Juan’s various writing projects, related letters, and his publishing history.

 

The photo below shows L to R: Sarah Jane Jordan, instrumental in bringing café style poetry readings to Ottawa in the 1970s; Heather Ferguson, at times very active in the local literary scene, a good friend and advisor to Sasquatch, also responsible for redesigning our website. Finally, Juan O'Neill, sporting his bald look, sometime in May or June 2003. Photo courtesy and © Klaus J. Gerken.

 

Please note: this page is best viewed with screen set to 1152 x 864 pixels.

 

 

 
RED ORCHID
 
Nature's wheel of fortune, turn tonight to red;
turn to red orchid: flesh-red, blood-red,
dripping-red, in which I'll bury my past,
my present, my future, my never, my always;
wanting as I have never wanted; such wanting
that drives away all the etceteras
that pave the way to death.
Terrible wheel!
Terrible fortune!
Terrible orchid!
 
                          Juan O'Neill (1933-2006)
 
from Open Set, A Tree Anthology, Agawa Press, 
edited by Heather Ferguson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

                        The Long Grey Street

                    (In Memory of Maggie McMunn)

 

                   There are moments of our lives

                        to which we return, again and again,

                        as archaeologists of our own pasts,

                        sifting them from the rubble of memory,

                        like shards in the ruins of ancient cities.

                        Today, a day without meaning,

                        my favourite shard

                        is the memory of a street:

 

                        Istanbul that first summer...
                        a long grey street, curving past St. Sophia,

                        with the lowdown cafes of Sultanahmet

                        across the park...

                        and I, with the dry knowledge

                        of lost loves, lost hopes, lost causes,

                        surrendering to distance...time...motion...

                        alone on the long grey street..

 

 

 

 

 

                       Bureaucratic Poem


                        “Silences of myrtle trees and white-plastered walls...”
                        I meditate on those words of Federico,
                        the sad Andalusian poet,
                        with their image of walled-in loneliness,
                        and I wait for an idea, or something.
                        But my silences are not
                        myrtle trees and white plaster.
                        They are asphalt and office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening News
 
  

   (For Phil Mader)

 

The evening news is crisp and cool:
The days’ WMD talks were humane.
We are shown film clips of rockets,

                       that with coiled tails of flame,

                       lie in silos and oceans, waiting;

                       and we are told how good we all are

to think of limiting them.

They never say how many it takes,

at the ends of their perfect arcs,
to burn the face of one child.

 

 

 

 

                                            

                                                   Fall Journeys

                                    (For Jacqueline Zena)

 

            Fall's magic brush transforms two half-naked yellow trees

            against a red brick wall in my plain North American city

            into a landscape so hauntingly Chinese that I can almost hear

            the boom of temple gongs, the strum of lutes on pleasure barges,

            and smell the acrid aroma from mounds of damp rice-straw,

            neatly stacked by the sides of paddy-fields after the harvest.

 

            But before I can get to a restaurant and take up a bowl and chopsticks,

            fall leaps at me from a late-blooming garden, in colours so rich

            I can hardly believe them, and I am no longer in China, but India,

            dazzled by purple and saffron silks sheathing the sinuous bodies

            of beautiful women in canopies on the backs of bejewelled elephants,

            who offer me blossoms: Perfumed love-poems from the earth.

 

            Tme to resume my journeys. I bid a reluctant farewell to India.

            Night falls. I look up, and I am in the Caribbean, in pirate times.

            The moon is a full-rigged galleon, out of Portobello or Havana,

            amid wind-buffeted clouds (or is it surf?), so towering and vast,

            that I cannot tell where sky ends and sea begins, or whether

            I am a marauding buccaneer, or a proud conquistador.

 

            Dawn. I enter a park. A mysterious fog shrouds

            dark pine and spruce, branches thickly grown with needles,

            and I am transported to the Black Forest, half-expecting

            a party of elves to leap from cover and cast a merry spell,

            perhaps turning me into a gnarled forest patriarch.

            Charmed, but uneasy, I flee before the fog dissolves.

 

            Later, as I walk along streets lined with deciduous trees,

            the sun, as it rises, ignites the fiery reds and warm golds

            of the leaves, and the tiny world of each leaf becomes

            a Sahara, an Atacama, a Gobi, which I see as an astronaut

            sees the deserts on the surface of our beloved blue marble

            from the window of a space ship, coming…going...

 

 

 

 

             

                        Haiku I

 

                        My work table:

                        Made by my grandfather

                        from a red tree, long ago.


 

 

            Haiku II

 

                        Woman cyclist:

                        It's been a long time.

                        In my heart, empty tire tracks.


 

 

                Haiku III

 

                        September night:

                        The moon, a silver galleon

                        on a storm-tossed sea.

 

 

                Haiku IV

 

                        Paprika is red.

                        Soon the leaves will turn.

                        Rain falls. Small cafes are warm.


 

 

                Haiku V

 

                        In the fall, birds go

                        to Tuscay, Tallahassee, Tashkent.

                        That suits them to a “T”.

 

       

                Haiku VI

 

                        Winds cut, feet slide on ice:

                        Winter exacts the price

                        of spring’s ecstasy.


 

 

                Haiku VII

                        Where do I dwell?

                        Not in Heaven, not in Hell,

                        But a place called Heck.

 

 

                Haiku VIII

 

                        Standing in the snow

                        with my beard and touque:

                        Bonhomme Carnavale!

 

 

 

 

               Fish Woman

 

                        You seem so delicate...

I want to handle you with care,
not bruise you, but feel you shiver

                        as I trace your contours.

 

                        Small, firm breasts,   a girl’s nipples,

                        yearning to swell and harden...

                        shapely buttocks, smiling,

                        grinning, as you glide by                 

                        in clothes that are casual,

                        jeans and T-shirt…

                        yet belligerently chic,

tightly clinging, cupping,
showing your long, strong legs,

                        slim ankles, supple waist,

                        straight back, head high

                        under a cascade of  curls...

                        long, sensuous neck

                        on which earrings dangle...

                        inviting fingertips...lips....tongue...

 

                        And how I like it that your name

                        rhymes with moan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  Prisoner

                (For everyone trapped in an addiction)

 

The bars of my prison window

have grown velvet coats,

soft to the touch.

 

The floor of my prison cell

has grown a rich carpet,

My feet sink into it.

 

The door of my prison

has grown a mural.

Sometimes it looks like clouds,

sometimes it looks like the map of China.

 

The loneliness of my prison

has become peopled.

 

They tell me:

“Strip away the velvet coats.

Feel the cold bars.”

 

They tell me:

“Tear up the rich carpet.

Feel the hard floor.”

 

They tell me:

“Scrape off the mural

that sometimes looks like clouds,

sometimes looks like China.

See the locked door.”

 

I say:

“But what would I be

without velvet coats,

a rich carpet,

clouds, China?

 

They say:

“Find out.”

 

                                                                                    

 

Abandoned Railway Station, Ontario

 

There is rust on the tracks,

there are weeds in the gravel.

The little red station stands solitary,

like an old man waiting.

But the passenger trains

do not stop here anymore.

The long hoots of the steam locomotives

That roused the dreams of children in the night,

and brought people down to meet the trains

(crisp linen and real silver in the dining car,

ice tinkling in drinks at the bar,

hellos and goodbyes on the platform,

gruff “All Aboard!”)

are no more.

Only the occasional rumble

of a freight train passing through

disturbs the quiet.

An engineer in a towering diesel

waves at my little girl as we watch.

She is only three.

A tenuous link has been established

with the past

It hasn’t.

Years later I ask her

If she remembers.

She doesn’t.

 

We walk past the station.

I used to get on an off here,

on weekend trips

from boarding school in Toronto.

I shook the hand of a prime minister here once,

grandfatherly Louis St. Laurent,

on campaign in ’48,

wishing him “The best of luck, Sir.”

I remember a Protestant funeral,

a minister, I think,

his coffin put aboard

by a group of cheerful-sad people,

singing, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”;

I, on the train,

with adolescent Catholic queasiness,

listening.

 

Time has stopped a story in mid-sentence here,

like ashes on Pompeii;

except that these actors are not preserved

as hollows in an ash mantle.

They are gone:

To Toronto, to Vancouver, to Miami,

to the cemeteries at the edge of town,

leaving the name of the place

on a flaking sign,

looking out on silence.

 

 

 

                        Four Ladies

 

 

                        Twentieth century glass strawberries.

 

                        Naked blue peaches.

 

                        A pearl on black silk.

 

                        Bananas, blackberries, and a cherry sunset.


 

 

 

               Mid-Winter Fantasy

                    (For Ronnie R. Brown)

 

 

                       Peaches!

                       Streets laden with peaches!

                       Ripe, rotten, runny peaches!

                       Stepped on, slipped on, trodden under

                       mushed about in,

                       passeth bus and sloppeth us,

                       sun-ripe puree of peaches!

                       Covering the whole downtown of Canada!

 

 

 

 Junkie’s Prayer

       (For the Consumer Society)

 

                                    Hit me

                                    o junk god

giganticus.

 

Hit me

in the vein

consumeris.

 

                                    Hit me

                                    With hoit dogs

                                    hot buttered Rolls Royces

                                    kleenex

                                    warheads

pizza pies.

 

Hit me and hit me and hit me

and I’ll pay you and pay you and pay you

with the fruits of my nine to fiveibus

and together we’ll build us

a higher and higher GNPibus

and keep the floating crap game going

on and on and onibus

until the whole thing goes atomicus

or terminalibus pollutibus

or bye-bye ozone layeribus

 

Forevermus…

 

And evermus…

 

Hit me.

 

 

 

 

The Thin Green Coat

 

 

The future is unknown:

Beyond the bark,

Beyond the outermost leaf and twig.

The past is memory:

Sun, wind, rain,

Plenitude of summer,

Lashing of winter;

All turned into wood spiraling inward

To the sapling, the shoot, the seed,

The dark night of the earth,

The fall, the fruit of another tree.

 

Only the present is alive:

The thin green coat

Between wood and bark;

The brief moment

When future becomes present

And action possible,

Before spiraling away

Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Vision, Ottawa

 

The black dancers came at me

Down a long white ribbon,

Moving to a rhythm that I could not hear;

Weaving, swaying,

Touching a little,

Closer, bigger,

Then under me and past:

Skaters on the canal,

As I stood on the Bank Street bridge.


 

 

 

Firesong

 

To know you is to want you,

To want you is to call you:

    Angel of light

    Salamander

    Woman.

You give birth to fire,

And I have felt its claws.

I am silent, I stand aside,

But I do not forget

The sweet blaze of your eyes,

The stormy dawn of your cascading hair,

Your body: Half rose petals, half alabaster.

And though you might tell me

That loving you is not my lot,

The fire says, fierce and commanding:

“I am your land, your sea, your destiny;

Your law of steel, flesh and sun.”

And I look at the fire,

I smile at the fire,

I enter the fire:

            Man

            Poet

            Discoverer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caribbean Luna à la Mode

 

Caribbean Luna à la Mode satellite

Again broadcasting

In loving language to you, Lady;

Because I am more and more in love

With your smile and flashing eyes,

And your body is whiter and lovelier

Than anything I can think about,

Unless you want to talk clouds.

But they are far away,

And you are deliciously near,

Receiving my broadcasts

Every second of the day.

 

 

 

 

Marigolds in the Sun

 

The Maker of Worlds

The Lover of Peoples

The Giver

The Taker:

 

I heard his voice from afar,

On the crest of a high wave off Cuba;

And I heard it again, beyond my youthful mockery,

In the drunken wreck of a car;

And I heard it in the land

Where his son lived and died,

So that we might live.

And I heard it in an empty church,

Stripped for the day on which

That human death is remembered;

And I heard it in the Mosque of Suleiman,

At Judaism’s Western Wall,

In a Hindu book;

And I hear it whenever and wherever

There is a fatal, life-giving stab of love and awe:

In the flight of a gull,

The caw of a raven,

The eyes of an innocent,

And marigolds in the sun,

Against a white wall.

 

 

all poems © Juan O'Neill