Alexandra Oliver was born in Vancouver, Canada and currently lives in Toronto.
She received an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto in 1994 and is
currently an MFA candidate in the Stonecoast Program at the University of
Southern Maine. Her work has appeared in journals including The Raintown Review,
Atlanta Review, Nexus and Orbis Rhyme Inernational, as well as in her 2007 debut
Where the English Housewife Shines (Tin Press London.) Her poems have been
performed on both CBC Radio and NPR, as well as in the 1998 Paul Devlin
documentary Slam Nation. She was both a finalist in the 2009 CBC Literary Awards
and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She is currently co-editing (with Annie Finch) an
anthology of poems in non-iambic meters.
Under my window, they stood with their hands
Waving tickets to Carmen and keys to the Porsche.
They had cups full of sugar and cables to start
Up the car in the parking lot, matches and pens
And the right time of day, on the path in the park.
They were gentle with animals, children and plants,
And used words like forever and always and now.
When they vanished, their feet walked away with no sound.
In the past, in the dark, under wraps, underground,
Oh, the men before you. They were tow-haired and tall.
Oh, the men before you. They were square and morose.
They had bat wings for souls and racks of gray teeth,
And a family somewhere that I'd never meet.
They had hundreds of poker chips stacked by the bed
And, instead of declaring their love made them weak,
They would hiss their commands into suffering phones,
And they hated their fathers for casting a shade
On the plot of their lives and the eight o'clock game--
Oh, they did me a favor, the men before you,
As they dug themselves deep, in the past, underground.
The Hand of Scheveningen
The strangest thing on Scheveningen Beach,
The Netherlands' most popular resort,
Is not the shining mud-sheet of the sand
That never seems to end, the glut of bars,
The walrus girls on loungers, or the roar
Of gray Atlantic waters as they blow
A raspberry toward the English shore,
But rather, a perplexing ancient sign
Designed to warn the swimmers of the tides:
Pyramidal, its border painted red,
No words at all. No Hey! The sea is rough!
Or Currents may be strong, or Take a boat!
But just and image of a panicked hand
Emerging from the crudely rendered waves.
It proves itself effective, as it draws
A daily crowd of tourists and the like.
They turn away from stalls of souvenirs,
From tapas bars and lurching children's rides.
They wander to the ocean's ragged edge
To gather round the pole and take it in.
It generates in each a certain fear.
There are the ones who shudder at the thought
Of toddlers bumped from rowboats with an oar.
A great percentage travel back in time
To swimming tests in under-heated pools.
And there are those whose minds are etched with scenes
From horror films: the reborn killer's fist
Erupting from the honeymooner's lake.
I know there are, amongst them, even more
(The woman with the waist-encircling brute
She cannot turn her back on, or the man
Who, Saturn-like in appetite devoured
His weight in pizza when his children died,
The gambler on a quest to save the house,
The girl who can't surrender without porn)
Who tilt their faces up to see the sign,
The comfort of its never-changing sea,
To see themselves in Scheveningen's Hand
And think, Oh God, God, no, the sky, the sky.
The Test Cape
I've landed on a way to try you out
and gauge your mettle. Please put on this cape.
It's velvet, and it's in terrific shape.
I'd like you now to venture out without
your other clothes. The cape will have to do.
Go down to Omar's Maxi Milk and buy
a pack of Belmont Milds, and would you try
to see if they have raisin bread? Milk too.
When you reach across to get the change,
contrive a little conversation. Muse
about the way the Raiders always lose.
Say thank you. Take your time and rearrange
your stuff inside the bag. And please try not
to lose your cool. Just summon up the force
to pull it off. You are aware, of course,
it's August and it�s criminally hot,
and Omar has that huge electric fan
he borrowed from the film set just last week.
If you are not arrested as a freak,
I�ll know you are no ordinary man.
The Ghosts of the Space Dogs
Everyone is their friend in cosmic darkness:
Sweeping under the capsule, miles of oceans,
Dancing trees full of little mottled birds, and
Somewhere there is a meadow, huge and windy.
Waiting there are the patient, smiling People,
White coats billowing, waving giant sticks and
Shouting, Honeybee! Foxy! Laika! Get it!
That is, maybe, what all those Space Dogs thought of.
Lying flat under starlight, we know they're up there,
Circling: science's cheerful lost explorers,
Suited, pressurized, bully beef and biscuits
Ready; now, with the booster rockets silent.
Not the dizzying swell of rising heat and
Not the carbon dioxide building slowly,
Filling dog brains with thoughts of clouds and rabbits,
Words of gentleness, belly-scratching fingers;
Not the creeping parades with jeeps and banners,
Farm girls stirring the air with hoes and rifles,
Nor the rapturous sighs of stamp collectors,
Pausing thoughtfully over Laika's image,
Placed with tweezers on mats of royal velvet,
Green, unfurled, like the best of all intentions,
Like an arm with a stick cast forth to orbit,
Like a heavenly meadow flush with rabbits.
Watching. All of those dampish noses pressing
Porthole glass, as the moon emerges perfect,
Hanging there, like the face of someone loving
Passing over the water bowl's calm surface.
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