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.
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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.
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...
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..
(For Phil Mader)
evening news is crisp and cool:
that with coiled tails of flame,
lie in silos and oceans, waiting;
and we are told how good we all are
think of limiting them.
the ends of their perfect arcs,
(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...
My work table:
Made by my grandfather
from a red tree, long ago.
It's been a long time.
In my heart, empty tire tracks.
The moon, a silver galleon
on a storm-tossed sea.
Paprika is red.
Soon the leaves will turn.
Rain falls. Small cafes are warm.
In the fall, birds go
to Tuscay, Tallahassee, Tashkent.
That suits them to a “T”.
Winds cut, feet slide on ice:
Winter exacts the price
of spring’s ecstasy.
Where do I dwell?
Not in Heaven, not in Hell,
But a place called Heck.
Standing in the snow
with my beard and touque:
You seem so delicate...
I want to
handle you with care,
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,
slim ankles, supple waist,
straight back, head high
under a cascade of curls...
long, sensuous neck
on which earrings dangle...
And how I like it that your name
rhymes with moan!
(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.”
“But what would I be
without velvet coats,
a rich carpet,
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
Years later I ask her
If she remembers.
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,
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.
Twentieth century glass strawberries.
Naked blue peaches.
A pearl on black silk.
Bananas, blackberries, and a cherry sunset.
(For Ronnie R. Brown)
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!
(For the Consumer Society)
o junk god
in the vein
With hoit dogs
hot buttered Rolls Royces
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
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
Night Vision, Ottawa
The black dancers came at me
Down a long white ribbon,
Moving to a rhythm that I could not hear;
Touching a little,
Then under me and past:
Skaters on the canal,
As I stood on the Bank Street bridge.
To know you is to want you,
To want you is to call you:
Angel of light
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:
Caribbean Luna à la Mode
Caribbean Luna à la Mode satellite
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
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