Pedlar Press, 2007

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry 2007

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“[Nerve Language is] terrifying and beautiful. The language in this book is an incendiary crossing of wires. These poems are as likely to break you open as they are to explode.”

–Governor General’s Award jury.



Sample Poems from Nerve Language

Complete the Following

The thought of you there breaks
Beyond discipline is
Struck by
Is the sweep of petals against skin
Opening a tear in the
Inhalation of stars into my brain could
The terrible whispered smoke of
Might all the lost ones reside in
My manhood is
Why not
Live this body as
Memory wouldn’t
Think of the rays as
The basic language says
If there were some way to get there
I would


Sink. One tap. One bench with bedding. One
toilet. One coathanger on a single
horizontal pipe. One grate. One standing
for two and a half years
every night in the questioning place
and fingers like spiders
skittering up the fabriced walls.
Light? As if underground,
paralyzed, draped.
How? One stone floor.

One would hear whimpering, but the voices
wouldn’t let completion. Squirmed
with their tipped poison. One
is only the outline of their attack.

Shadow room. No one’s
room. One? No. Rays
pierce into an eye
creating an iris for themselves there,
and a looking.


Don’t try this at home,
look at the cinders,
the words you can’t listen to,
the moment you can’t decide,
the open question, the
who-you-are question, questioned,
the speech the tongue
in humility can’t recognize.
They burn up what they tell.
My nerves are trails of gunpowder,
rantings at the door.
They incinerated Europe
for a hundred years
and gouged a chimney
through the sky, still
visible today, the untold
souls fly up.
In the beginning was the emptiness of fire
calling out for things to devour.
And in the end, and
in the end,
I don’t know what you could say.

If I Told You

If I told you I am the scattered one
they are trying to drive crazy,
if I told you I am under water in a corner
of the garden (lung), in a drawer
in the kitchen beside the helpless
knives (spleen), on the face
of the cursed clock in the long hall
to the library (hand), on the curled
cloud over slate roofs (eye),
in the fireplace by the ash grate (heart),
in the armoire with ivory inlay
animals (stomach), the excoriating
pain when my organs are pulled apart,
when my life is pulled asunder,
and who I am is undone,
and the souls of the others plunge into me
like kingfishers into a river, their chatter,
the wasted echo of my own fear, fissured,
leaking, ravaged

No Such Thing

No such thing as speaking here, not a word
in that language, only the splashy noises
at the end of the pen, recalling the silences
of reading my father’s books: the Greek body,
the sandclock of obedience for children.

The stars are bigger than they were then,
frost apples
among which the doctor’s soul
flies, looking for its victim.

At the solstice of sanity
fear takes prisoners. There are no
words for it, how they
do it in their language,
dementia, madness, wretch, ruin,
understanding not one of their words,
not a word,
no such thing.

By the windows of keyholes

By the windows of keyholes
by the eyes of birds
by the bead of blood
by the dark drops of apple seed
and the mica gleam of salmon scale
the notes hung on gibbets of air
flung out like smashed sweat
the ember of heart
banked under the tear in the earth
by the sisters whose ears refused the drink of words
by the mother who polished the skies
by the spirit whisper of pine woods
the broken slash of mirror
in the wrist of the river
by the sieved pearl of the split second
by the water table of truth
in the asylum library
slipping through the you and the I
smooth, adamant, archaic, aflame
to lie down and find joy