Ondaatje, Michael

Canada, (b. 1943)

The Sows

  1. Only few survive the day—pink.
  2. The dust’s too luscious and cool
  3. to even compete with beauty.
  4. Lunch clangs
  5. and scuffs to a halt.
  6. They gyrate a hole,
  7. overcome gargantuan sighs
  8. and close albino eyes to sleep
  9. —an eyelid trembling in the air.
  11. And there are ways of sleeping too:
  12. dust collects on your wet snout
  13. if you face wind,
  14. and there’s the sun
  15. streaming through barbed wire
  16. to worry about.
  17. But it’s cool in the dust
  18. and flies don’t like your pine hard hair.
  20. So chinless duchesses
  21. sniff out the day,
  22. gauging their loves with a seasoned eye.
  23. On spread thighs, and immobile,
  24. they categorize the flux around them,
  25. watching the rain melting the dust,
  26. or the sun
  27. fingersnapping out the dying summer.

© Michael Ondaatje. The Dainty Monsters. Toronto: Coach House Press (1967).

Sows, one more time

  1. Sunlight on pigs,
  2. a herd of slow pale wounds.
  4. Warm saints milling round the cross,
  5. waiting for weather to break,
  6. speaking gently
  7. appreciating the day.
  9. Wearied intellectuals in the sun.
  10. Shelley and others on the Poet’s Coast
  11. taking in the view or lack of grass.
  12. Caustic laughs,
  13. dry about their sensitivity.
  14. Poets
  15. in a poet’s world.

© Michael Ondaatje. The Dainty Monsters. Toronto: Coach House Press (1967).

Pig Glass

  1. Bonjour.   This is pig glass
  2. a piece of cloudy sea
  4. nosed out of the earth by swine
  5. and smoothed into pebble
  6. run it across your cheek
  7. it will not cut you
  9. and this is my hand a language
  10. which was buried for years       touch it
  11. against your stomach
  13. The pig glass
  14. I thought
  15. was the buried eye of Portland Township
  16. slow faded history
  17. waiting to be grunted up
  18. There is no past until you breathe
  19. on such green glass
  21. rub it
  22. over your stomach and cheek
  24. The Meeks family used this section
  25. years ago to bury tin
  26. crockery forks dog tags
  27. and each morning
  28. pigs ease up that ocean
  29. redeeming it again
  30. into the possibilities of rust
  31. one morning I found a whole axle
  32. another day a hand crank
  33. but this is pig glass
  34. tested with narrow teeth
  35. and let lie. The morning’s green present.
  36. Portland Township jewellery.
  38. There is the band from the ankle of a pigeon
  39. a weathered bill from the Bellrock Cheese Factory
  40. letters in 1925 to a dead mother I
  41. disturbed in the room above the tractor shed.
  42. Journals of family love
  43. servitude to farm weather
  44. a work glove in a cardboard box
  45. creased flat and hard like a flower.
  47. A bottle thrown
  48. by loggers out of a wagon
  49. past midnight
  50. explodes against rock.
  51. This green fragment has behind it
  52. the booomm when glass
  53. tears free of its smoothness
  55. now once more smooth as knuckle
  56. a tooth on my tongue.
  57. Comfort that bites through skin
  58. hides in the dark afternoon of my pocket.
  59. Snake shade.
  60. Determined histories of glass.

© Michael Ondaatje. The Cinnamon Peeler. New York: Knopf (1991).


  1. 2 a.m. The moonlight
  2. in the kitchen
  4. Will this be
  5. testamentum porcelli?
  6. Unblemished art and truth
  7. whole hog     the pig’s testament
  8. what I know of passion
  9. having written of it
  10. seen my dog shiver
  11. with love and disappear
  12. crazy into trees
  14. I want
  16. the woman whose face
  17. I could not believe in the moonlight
  18. her mouth forever as horizon
  20. and both of us
  21. grim with situation
  23. now
  24. suddenly
  25. we reside
  26. near the delicate
  27. heart
  28. of Billie Holiday

© Michael Ondaatje. Secular love: poems. New York: W.W. Norton (1984).

About the Poet:

Philip Michael Ondaatje, (b. 1943) is a Canadian poet, novelist, filmmaker and editor. Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1943, moved to England in 1954 then relocated to Canada in 1962 and became a Canadian citizen.

Ondaatje received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. He then began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London. In 1970, he settled in Toronto and, from 1971 to 1990, taught English literature at York University and Glendon College.

In 1988, Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) and two years later a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ondaatje serves on the board of trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry.

He is the author of four collections of poetry including The Cinnamon Peeler and most recently, Handwriting. The author of numerous novels, poems, plays and pieces of literary criticism, Ondaatje’s transcendent novel The English Patient, explored the stories of people that history fails to reveal by intersecting four diverse lives at the end of World War II. This bestselling novel was later made into an Academy Award-winning film. [DES-07/14]

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