Canada at 150

       We don’t need any kaiser.
       — Heinrich Heine, A Winter’s Tale

What courage, back in 1843,
for the bard to give voice
to what was still a faint stirring
somewhere in the forest depths
of a Germany still asleep
to the longing for a springtime of the people.
And we,
in this Dominion of the North,
who have been sleeping for a full 150 years,
putting up with regal flummery,
with all the trappings of Old World monarchy,
have yet to break the bonds of a mentality
that ties us to our colonial dregs.


Modernism came at a stroke
amidst the carnage and the cold
that swept muddy battlefields,
leaving the old order fractured in its wake.
Scales fell from a generation’s eyes,
becoming an atonal twelve,
bodies on canvases disengaged,
squares, cubes and asymmetric blobs
displacing classic harmony for good.
We were growing up,
or so it seemed,
learning to live with bold designs,
urban centrefolds that swelled until they reached the sky,
movement at a speed
foretelling the eclipse of linear time.
Some say the world has become a better place,
that the multitude has never thrived as it now does,
despite the lapses of major wars and minor ones,
and regimes no less repressive than those that came before.
Perhaps the data point to sunnier days,
but in our gut we kind of sense
the breakdown which the modernists sketched
has become the lethal norm.


Cementario del Norte – La Recoleta

July 26, 1991

Past chiselled tombs,
crypts of publishers, cardiologists and rectors
ministering to the soul or body,
along the alleyways of a deserted city,
no blade of grass to disturb the grey cement and marble,
you wander.
A cat or two has made a home
in amongst these necro-villas with their coffins,
guardians tending to the flowers and the dust,
sweeping the portals clean,
much as concierges might do in the world of the living.
Suddenly around the bend TV cameras whir,
a whole cortège of mourners
– wreaths of the finest roses, orchids, passion flowers at their feet –
has gathered around the Duarte tomb
to mark the 39th year since her passing.
A balding trumpeter, out of a’30s movie,
plays in her honour,
as a sea of hands, each with two fingers held aloft,
salutes to the cry “Viva Perón!” “Viva Eva Perón!” “Viva la patria!”
Many of the women are in furs,
a few in simpler cloth or woollens,
their eyes moistening to the power of a legend.
Which is the real Evita,
the stricken saint they mourn,
Madonna to the decamisados,
heroine of Broadway musicals?
Or the spider-lady behind a fickle venturer
who for decades kept a country in his thrall?