Humanist Perspectives: issue 184: A Poet’s Voice

A Poet’s Voice
by Steve McOrmond

Steve McOrmond is the author of three books of poetry – Lean Days (2004), which was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award; Primer on the Hereafter (2006), which was awarded the Atlantic Poetry Prize; and The Good News about Armageddon (2010), which appeared on a number of book critics’ “best of 2010” lists and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award. His work is included in the anthology Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets. He lives in Toronto.

Author’s Statement: We live in a world in which language is used for a whole host of dubious ends – from TV commercials that try to sell us one more thing we don’t need to the dumbed-down rhetoric speechwriters put into the mouths of politicians. Perhaps poetry is, or could be, the conscience of language. By calling attention to the way in which words are used and misused, every poem might be a small victory against the callous use of language. Thus poetry could occupy language, critique it from the inside out, and hold it to account.
Uncanny Valley

Mornings, I like to be the first in, swipe
my card, punch a PIN to disengage the alarm.
Then I can take my time. Sip chai,
have a scroll through the junk bin: Hold

Your Willy Super Stiff. Celebrities Use Açaí Elite.
No emoticon for how I’m feeling. Nothing is quote

unquote real anymore. My jeans are too tight.
I’m fastidious about clearing my history.
What to believe? Ants work too hard, their caste
system needs reform. Please sign the petition.

Deep in an offshore data centre, my vagaries
are tracked, time-stamped, mined

for meaningful adjacencies. Hard drives spin up,
ripping a near bit-perfect bootleg of my brain.
When I crush my deadlines, my boss says
I am a machine. He means it as praise,
and I accept it as such, with the requisite degree
of aw shucks and freshly whitened teeth,

but what is this new sensation? I horripilate.
One of us doesn’t quite register as human.

The italicized line “Nothing is quote / unquote real anymore” is taken from the blog post “The Future of CGI Is Using Motion Capture to Recreate Inanimate Objects” by Casey Chan,, January 22, 2012.
* * *

The Policyholder and His Dependents
Long after they’ve gone to bed,
the wife, the child who cries,
he sits up with a bottle, reading
the insurance company’s little handbook.
The great works of literature
consulted, found lacking, he looks
to the underwriters, the nameless
whose job it is to catalogue
the debasements of flesh and spirit.
It isn’t solace he seeks but plainness.
In the ledger, every loss is assigned
an amount payable: for breast prostheses,
surgical brassieres and certain drugs
listed in the compendium. For wigs.
This information is important and should be
kept in a safe place. A safe place?
His glass empties and refills itself.
On the boulevard, teenagers burn
up and down in borrowed family cars,
blowing their allowance of fuck-you’s.
Here’s to the young buggers without a clue,
to screeching tires and sleeping till noon.
He hoists his tumbler, swallows fire.
If he had a curfew, he’d break it.
* * *

The Good News about Armageddon
As seen on TV, the president’s limousine
moves only as fast as a man can walk.

My room is small, stale
with cigarettes. Yes, I’ve started again.

Death by cancer seems remote,
like worrying over a paper cut.

Behind the barricades, patriots
waving their stumps and hooks.

Old man, telling anyone who will listen
how you found Jesus, haven’t

touched a drink in years, what makes you think
I’d want to be born again? Forgive me, Father,

I’ve watched too many wars, surfing between
car bombs and the canned laughter of a sitcom.

Who will man-up and take responsibility
for this moment, its casualties? Anyone? Anyone?

It’s not the live footage but what’s left,
the darkness outside the frame.

Let the record show the accused can’t recall
the last time he did a good deed. Duly noted.

Viagra, megaton, karoshi – how marvellous
the words my century has made.

My bad. I should learn to chill out
with a mochaccino, rightsize my rage.

Careful, the beverage you’re about
to enjoy is extremely hot.

Love, I’ve given up on nearly everything –
black villages, 24-7, Taliban, TTYL.

Stay until the lights go out. Not if but when.

Why this Iraqi, this smart-bombed home?
A mind ill-equipped for multitudes.

River of fire pouring from a crack
in the sidewalk. Red ants swarming.

Any similarity to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely statistical.

Hippocrates said, “If you want
to be a surgeon, follow an army.”

Online, I am no closer
to the blessed interconnectedness.
Deaf woman mauled by mountain lion.
Are Paris Hilton’s 15 minutes over yet?

Outside, a cold wind scatters
the last of the fallen leaves.

Human disinterest story.
Corpse lay next to TV for 3 years.

This just in from Hubble: a pair of black holes
locked in death dance. Make it your screensaver.

Are we winning the war on terror?
I think it might snow.

In the seedy washroom of the public house,
I stood wringing my hands.

G.H. Wood.
Sanitation for the Nation.

Wait a sec. Weren’t we en route
to some kind of personal epiphany?

Bartender, don’t
be a stranger: hit me again.

And now a word
from our sponsor… Kills bugs dead.

We are an argument
for unintelligent design.

Even the cartoon cockroach
up there on the plasma must pity us:

How soft and fragile,
their bones on the inside.

Out past the chevrons, the car radio
has only one thing on its mind.

Potsherd, flint arrowhead, green circuit board.
A funny thing happened on the way to the landfill.

Don’t worry about the compass,
I wouldn’t know how to read it anyway.

The sky’s misbehaving, hailstones pocking
the hood, little stars in the windshield.

Leave a trail of crumbs. I’ll be along soon.
A half hour later in Newfoundland.
* * *

Once upon a Time and Country of Origin are the first two of fourteen sections of Coming to Terms with a Child, published in 2011 by Black Moss Press.

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