It Grew Into Something We Could No Longer Contain – The Tragically Canadian Thing

“I didn’t want this.” ~ The Hip (Pigeon Camera)

This morning-today-we are all saying the same thing. We don’t want this. Canada has just awoken from a weekend dedicated to one of its unofficial poet laureates and his iconically Canadian band. And we are feeling Hip Hangover. And we do not want the party to end.

Defiant, Humourous, Courageous, Determined, Free – Gord Downie—Doing it his way.

Gord Downie sang his heart out Saturday evening in Kingston, Ontario, at the Tragically Hip’s last performance of their short whirlwind Man Machine Poem summer tour. But then, Gord always gives his all on stage. Perhaps for him, Saturday night in Canada was business as usual…maybe with a nudge and a wink to the huge elephant in the room that we all acknowledged in our tears and turned our backs on in our joy. The elephant being the Glioblastoma–an aggressive form of brain cancer that affects an estimated four to six in every 100,000 Canadians–that is slowly and inevitably taking our icon away from us. Acknowledge it or not, it is there. And Saturday was an opportunity for the nation to embrace our hero. And that is exactly what we did. We held our arms out high and proud and we hugged him like we would never let go.

With every song, we rocked, we sang, we wept, we felt its lastness, we applauded, we screamed, we sighed. And there were a lot of songs. The band treated the nation to 30 songs…and though it ended too soon for all of us, it also had an aura of neverending while we were in it.

Here’s the set-list for the August 20th concert:

“50 Mission Cap”


“Wheat Kings”

“At The Hundredth Meridian”

“In A World Possessed By The Human Mind”

“What Blue”

“Tired As Fuck”


“My Music At Work”

“Lake Fever”

“Toronto #4”

“Putting Down”

“Twist My Arm”

“Three Pistols”

“Fiddler’s Green”

“Little Bones”

“The Last Of The Unplucked Gems”

“Something On”




Encore 1

“New Orleans Is Sinking”

“Boots Or Hearts”

“Blow At High Dough”

Encore 2

“Nautical Disaster”


“Grace, Too”

Encore 3

“Locked In The Trunk Of A Car”

“Gift Shop”

“Ahead By A Century”

It is fitting that their last show took place in Kingston, where they began their rock and roll journey. Not only did it take place in Kingston, but it took place in a venue said to have been built so the Hip would have a place to play whenever they came home. Not fitting enough for you? The venue’s address is The Tragically Hip Way.

Wherever you were on Saturday, you probably contemplated mortality, life, music, The Hip, and Canada. For me, it was Canada that I kept coming back to. From the perspective of being a Hip fan, though. And I was filled with appreciation. We are a nation that knows nothing of civic pride. We think of it and feel awkward and ashamed and we shy away from it…pride, after all, goeth before the fall. Maybe no other nation heeds those words more than ours. We are apologetically proud whenever we work up the gumption to feel pride.

But Gord and his band opened the door of our nation a crack and beckoned us to enter…every time they wrote a song. Our Canadian Poet wrote songs that were stories…but not just any old stories. They were OUR stories. Our history. He said to all of us—LOOK! THIS IS YOU! THIS IS ME! THIS IS US! He drags our zeitgeist out into the open and screams, “BEHOLD!” By definition, Gord IS our current zeitgeist (the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time). And he does it always with a mischievous wink and a nod. This is us, but don’t take it too seriously. What I love most about the Tragically Hip lyrics–especially those that reek of Canadiana–is that they give us permission to embrace ourselves. That might in fact be Gord’s greatest gift to us all. Sure, the lyrics are beautifully poetic and the music is solid and soulful and lasting…but the feeling we are left with after partaking of the band’s offerings—That is the thing. That bright shining nugget of pride we get in hearing our history sung back to us? It’s golden. “We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger.”

I’m extremely sad that it has to end this way. I can’t imagine not eagerly anticipating the next Hip album. Gord’s lyrics are so…so…SO! I look forward to unwrapping them with every new song that comes along. It’s a Canadian thing…a thing we will miss more than we know.

Where did you watch the Hip concert? I joined my brother, sister-in-law, and dozens of others in their backyard party…complete with a large projector screen.

I’ll share my ode to Gord one more time here:

My previously published ode to Gord (Published in Raven Poetry Journal,©2006) :

An Open Letter of Adoration to Gordon Downie

Did you ever see a hypothetical sky, Gordo?
The kind that strips the greys away,
swallows clouds and shivers stars to focus?
Did you ever rest supine, dockside midnight hush,
or did you simply like the way
it fell from your iconic tongue,
beautiful, sublime and free,
filled with nostalgia and tears
of Bobcaygeon love?
Did you ever hypothetical, Gordo?
Twist your words to night
and black and white?
Or did you simply like the way
they fell, iconic from your tongue?
You fill your lungs with melancholy, Gordo,
and send it on its way,
bright the night with shivered sound,
delivering one star at a time.


A shot of Gord I took a few years ago at a previous concert I attended.

“It’s like we burned our boots with no contingency plan.” ~ The Hip (Pigeon Camera)

If I were Gord Downie, I’d be wondering right now if it was enough…if I had arrived close enough to the vision in my head of what I wanted creatively. Creative people are always slagging themselves…I didn’t quite get there, just one more brushstroke would have made it better, just one more pass with the red pen. We are always wondering what we could have done to make it better. Well, Mr. Downie, you did it. “YOU DID WHAT YOU SET OUT TO DO.”

Thank you, Gord Downie. And thank you Tragically Hip…for giving us music, words, laughter, tears, and a sense of who we are as a nation in this world filled with nations. You are Canadian. You are Canada.


Sending love and light to Gord, Gord, Paul, Rob, Johnny & Davis…and all of their families.

Because I Also Poetica…

Barefoot walking on the Camino. Spain, May, 2015.
Barefoot walking on the Camino. Spain, May, 2014.
A List of Reasons
When a poet makes a list,
death cannot be far behind.
He says, I will go here and there,
I will see this and I will touch that.
But that is all, that is all he will stay for,
he is a poet at the end of his life.
He has better things to do than live.
These are the things he has promised himself.
He makes a list of all the things.
And quietly checks them off, one at a time.
He hears the clock ticking down,
knows it’s time to slip into
that well worn funereal suit.
But he is reluctant to go,
he adds to his list.
I have not yet seen this,
I have not yet touched that,
Things will be different,
if only I touch that one last thing
And then he’s in the mountains one day
and he shouts and shouts,
and no man, no woman, no child
responds. He knows he is utterly alone,
but this time he remembers
that it has always been this way.
Alone is no longer lonely,
he steps in the puddle at his feet,
decides he does not need the list.
He sits and adds all the things
to a new list, this one of reasons
not to die just yet.

A found flower. Tai O, Hong Kong. April, 2015.
A found flower. Tai O, Hong Kong. April, 2015.
Joy’s Irony

Poetic silence is a three step process.

First step, you must relinquish
all tears. They help the words to flow.
While you break, words crystallize pretty and big.

Second step, you hold your breath,
this is the in-between phase
where nothing happens
but the passing of time.
Healing occurs, like an underwater lake
being made into mud as it steams away.

Third step, you have nothing left to say,
lost in your own fleeting happiness,
the poems run dry
as words left to rot
in a noonday sun.
You revel in the joy
that incidentally killed them.

Whispers of Sandburg from a Poet Now Silenced

(A poem I had published some 4 years ago. I like to remind myself that I used to be a poet. In hopes of being prodded back to that calling.)


In ‘22 I was Sandburg,
Swirling words into Susquehanna beauty,
but only for a single day,
just long enough to hear the bells
of money
as castanet clicks,
to declare the poets as workaday bankers.

I wore his august skin
to conjure lies,
wore that blond Warholian ‘do just to do it,
anything to chase the ennui,
‘fight against the bla bla
and lah de dah’.

There is, though,
a time to leave behind
the beautiful skulls of poets now gone,
to sift back down to loam
and resurrect the one who breathes
somewhere still
beneath his brittle tomb,
scribbling virgin paper
to something dirtier
than the words
he strives so hard to bleed.

My Book of Nods – Ode to Jim Carroll

I wrote this the day JIM CARROLL died – September 11, 2009. I think it was one of the last poems I wrote.

Jim Carroll: August 1, 1949 – September 11, 2009 — Punk Rocker, Poet, Seer and Soother

My Book of Nods

My book of nods will neither contain
New York nor California variations.
It will not be a celebration for the tipping
of a head bent by the drug induced utopia
in which I loved to live.
Though I do nod often
to those days of gentle nodding.
I do enjoy the rush of remembrance
they bring to me,
the cool skin and icy head
of falling into space uncharted.
My book of nods will contain only one
slow and sleek nod,
reaching longingly toward a single poet
lost in survival, the struggle
of living and dying.
One nod to denote the end of my obsession,
a new name etched in ink that soon will dry
into the solemn book of people who have died.


Try out Jim’s posthumous novel, THE PETTING ZOO. Not his poetry, but a treasure for true Carroll fans.

In Honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Thursday April 19, 2012 — Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The following poem was originally published in the print version of Swords for Plowshares, put out by the Phil Berrigan Institute for Nonviolence. It was written in June 2009, shortly after the tragic shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The poem was simultaneously published electronically on the Institute’s Swords for Plowshares website.

Gunfire at the Holocaust Museum

The tower of faces
still is not enough
to muffle disbelief
and silence
The world must know.
The whispered breath
of what is left of Anne
still is not enough
to stop the spokes
from turning round
and grinding to the ground.
The world must know.
The crematoria doors
kept open just a crack,
the ghetto bridge
spanning distance measured
in silent hollow misery,
these still are not enough.
A list of names rings out,
two on two on twenty-two,
and twenty-two and twenty-two
and on and on,
and still it’s not enough.
A shot rings out
to wipe away
the tortured

used to be
and bring it
slowly creepi
ng back
to live in here and now.


Fall & In Here – Poems for Poetry Month


I taught you the street,
fought you tongue in cheek
for the benefit of movement,
the latitude of kites.

We were a parade
in the cold, a place to go to
when 2am was all the world
could offer. A fight not real,
your twisted steel resolve
how it carried you forward,
made you more
than the street from which you lifted.

I raised you unequivocal,
meant for your feet to dance
onward into night unseen.

your trip was too contagious,
I contemplated melting
at your side,
into sugared winter streets–
The way you made it all romantic,
the dive, the swoon,
your lead balloon.

But I was more than tragic,
I was more than soaring loss
could ever be,
I taught you tongue and cheek,
but forgot to teach you sleek
and beauty,
the latitude you held inside,
of gentle winds and lifting kites,
the beauty of the night.



In Here

so hushed in here,
the echo of your laugh
will die in here,
even with your wide-eyed
cathedral stare
pumping blood
from my splintered limbs
to my mitted throb,
i cannot hear
your slinking tongue
in here.
enwrapped in your flesh,
a shroud of pink embers
stretched to smother
the cruel intent
of my animal ways,
even so entranced
by these layers inside me,
i cannot hear
your whispered song,
i think i’ll die in here.

Upcoming Poetry Publications

I will have a few poems published online in the near future. Look for them here:

HAZARD CAT will feature ‘Postcards from the Road‘.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE POETRY MAGAZINE will feature ‘Masai Adumu at Keekorok‘.

EVERYDAY POETS will feature ‘Whispers of Sandburg from a Poet Now Silenced‘.

BLUE SKIES POETRY will feature ‘Miramichi Remembered‘.

All should be posted either this month or next month.

Also, Newfoundland’s Memorial University’s PARAGON JOURNAL 3 is due to hit the shelves soon. I have 3 poems in the issue – ‘Newfoundland,’ ‘Queen Street Turnaround,’ and ‘You of Two Spirits‘.

Masai Adumu at Keekorok

Their voices lift
like gazelle in fright,
swell your insides
to heights that burst
and bleed in rivers red.

Their screeches
hit that place inside,
cracks it into pieces,
that place you did not know,
you did not dream you carried.

Their dance beckons,
screams your name
and you are left in tatters,
feeling loss of life,
your old life slips away,
you lift with every jump and neon yelp,
to stretch yourself complete.

Their red shúkàs sway,
entice ancient longing,
scream to all who are present,
we are, we are,
we are Masai.