Lee, John B.

Canada, (b. 1951)

Rondeau of a Swineherd

  1. Pigs sniffling then snorting in dust of their chop
  2. Rooting and sneezing like snuff takers in straw
  3. They’d run, leap in circles, and then they would stop
  4. To stare at whatever it was that they saw.
  5.  
  6. My father in workpants with twine for a draw
  7. Banged the boards with his hands that made the chaff drop
  8. Midst, froze for a moment before they would thaw,
  9. Pigs sniffling then snorting in dust of their chop.
  10.  
  11. In dry corners sleeping so warmly they’d flop
  12. And I’d bring them all humped, dragged down with a claw
  13. Their bedding shook free where they’d wake and then hop
  14. Or rooting and sneezing like snuff takers in straw.
  15.  
  16. And I’d give too-close ones a kick in the jaw
  17. So they’d race the pen while their trotters clip clop
  18. On cement churned up for a game in the flaw
  19. They’d run,leap in circles, and then they would stop.
  20.  
  21. But Tom, the man hired to muck out their slop,
  22. Hated mostly those pigs, which stuck in his craw.
  23. He’d slap out his fork with a soft side-tined fop
  24. If they dared stare at what it was that they saw.

© John B. Lee. The Pig Dance Dreams. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press (1991).

Red Barns

  1. Last century
  2. there was blood in the paint
  3. on the boards of these barns.
  4. Ontario, I have seen
  5. the bleeding of a slaughtered sky
  6. in the western hemorrhage
  7. at the death of day
  8. in the morbid menses
  9. of a moon-timed afternoon
  10. and thought of beauty dying
  11. where it rubs the world away
  12. in that the last of light
  13. while somewhere else along the waking curve
  14. young hours
  15. warm the latches
  16. on a dreaming door
  17. and though a distant window sulks with rain
  18. and pond mist
  19. drifts like something burning slow
  20. among the singing fogs
  21. the blackbird’s flashing wing
  22. wags off the weed in flame
  23. and dove flutes
  24. mourn their flight
  25. ah, moralizing angels, pass above these mortal barns
  26. they bear the proof of lambs
  27. gone silent on our knives
  28. they have the memory of hog’s lament
  29. the sorrowing away
  30. of market sows
  31. the knackered beast
  32. who proves his barrow’s heart
  33. is emptied as a well-squeezed rag
  34. and all the sweeter crimson drums
  35. have dripped dark zeroes full to the flux
  36. that’s quivered to final stillness in the ox
  37. as thirsty cedar waits
  38. to the very mow-boards
  39. of these family farms
  40. we’ve ghosts enough
  41. to last us into unborn dust
  42. make ashy berms from all romance
  43. the fertile strangers yet to meet
  44. and couple and decline
  45. and this an awful art
  46. behold the pigment of each generation’s fate
  47. red barns have much to expiate.

Following the Plough: Recovering the Rural — Poems and Stories on the Land, edited by John B. Lee. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press (2000).

The Corpselessness of Memory

  1. Pigs can’t sweat and
  2. it was 5 days at the CNE show barn
  3. upstairs
  4. 5 days with the thermometer reading 100 plus
  5. then bursting
  6. like an aneurism all red die
  7. and throbbing apoplectic glass.
  8.  
  9. Piglets panting like lap dogs
  10. sows lying importantly in clean straw
  11. and shoats sluggishly checking their pens
  12. then flopping
  13. with their eyes open
  14. desperate with torpor.
  15. One ignorant swineherd
  16. poured a pail of cold water
  17. over a prize boar’s back to cool him
  18. but his heart exploded in his chest
  19. and he lay dying like Jim Morrison
  20. in an ice-cube bath in Paris,
  21. but not half so romantic …
  22.  
  23. This hog
  24. lay finally with all the symptoms of death
  25. heavy as a small planet
  26. his body a noiseless crowd of soft still organs
  27. till he stiffened
  28. like a Victorian church warden
  29. and the heat wave broke
  30. in the empty barn
  31. 5 days later
  32. in the corpselessness of memory.

© John B. Lee. The Pig Dance Dreams. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press (1991).

Those Damned Confederation Poets

  1. The pigs glide
  2. in the slickened floor
  3. roulette
  4. the hopper
  5. like bullets
  6. thumbed one by one from a spun cold chamber.
  7.  
  8. I’ve seen them there
  9. playing at the chase
  10. with the flimsy to and fro
  11. of Tom the hired man
  12. busy with their stringy leavings
  13. rushing so his boot tops
  14. wibble-wobble their orange hoops
  15. loose noosing his calves
  16. till they wear a reddish welt
  17. in the flesh
  18. like a tea-kettle burn.
  19.  
  20. I’ve seen pigs slide
  21. like ball players stealing a base
  22. then bunch, then run again,
  23. then jump, hover, then slide
  24. like field beans in a swivelled sieve
  25. gather into small gruntings
  26. bump nose, or snout lift a belly
  27. so it wiffles hock to ham
  28. like a watery wine skin
  29. or sneeze in the quick-limed floor
  30. so their truffling nostrils vomit
  31. dampish breathy decisions
  32. in the new straw.
  33. Then when they settle clean nested
  34. their ears flip to shake away
  35. the nursing flies
  36. and they turn their intelligence to sleep.
  37.  
  38. Then Tom could sit in his chair
  39. smoke and curse their hide
  40. while his rolled trouser cuffs
  41. stiffened like stretching cats
  42. and every muscle
  43. pumped its black-hearted ache
  44. with his brain
  45. policing the hurt of boot movement
  46. in each blistered toe.
  47.  
  48. In his simple dream
  49. he garottes pigs one by one
  50. with binder twine
  51. or plunges his four manure tines
  52. till the pink skin
  53. is pimpled with wounds.
  54.  
  55. So much for the romance of work.
  56. So much for those damned Confederation poets
  57. who would have made
  58. farmers of us all.

© John B. Lee. The Pig Dance Dreams. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press (1991).

About the Poet:

John Busteed Lee (b.1951), Canadian poet, fiction and non-fiction author and editor. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the City of Brantford in perpetuity in 2005 and was Poet Laureate of Norfolk County, 2010–2014.

Lee is a member of the Chancellor’s Circle of the President’s Club of McMaster University And a recipient of over seventy prestigious international awards for his writing. He is winner of the $10,000 CBC Literary Award for Poetry, the only two time recipient of the People’s Poetry Award, and 2006 winner of the inaugural Souwesto Writing Award (University of Windsor/Black Moss Press) .

Lee has well-over sixty books published to date and is the editor of seven anthologies. He lives in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada where he works as a full time author. [DES-06/14]

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