Dear Leader

Dear Leader

by Damian Rogers


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I'm ill-equipped
  for this. I sit
    by a fake fireplace

that frames a real flame.
  I've been crossed
    by two crows today.

‘Multi-vectored, Rogers's poems hum with life and tension, their speaker poised as mother, seer, reporter and daughter. They speak of loss and cold realities (misplaced charms of luck, a tour of an assisted-living facility, coins thrown into Niagara Falls). They also interweave dreams and visions: "O Lion, I am / an old handmaiden; I will not lay the pretty baby in the lap / of the imposter." Simple but evocative, at once strange and plain, Rogers's poems of address ricochet off the familiar "Dear Reader" or Dickinson's "Dear Master" ... Rogers's poems provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight. They act as selvage between the vast mother-ocean — the mem of memory — and the fabric we make of the uncertain in-between.’
— Hoa Nguyen,  The Boston Review

‘How can we live with the kind of pain that worsens each day? Dear Leader  explains through bold endurance, enumerated blessings and the artistic imagination. By pasting stark truths over, or under, images of strange, compelling beauty, Rogers creates a collage, a simulation of the human heart under assault, bleeding but unbroken. Part Orpheus, part pop-heroine who can “paint the daytime black,” all, an original act of aesthetic violence and pure, dauntless, love.’
— Lynn Crosbie

’In Dear Leader , Damian Rogers re-invents the same-old poetic lyric to offers us one-of-a-kind insights on childbirth and party bars, rolling blackouts and old rock standards. Here, what looks at first like familiar language always reveals itself to be a rare mineral. And that’s the magic: this is a poetry that refuses to be staged or to succumb to cliché or mannerism, insisting on celebration and condemnation, caution and cosmic vibrations. “Say you’re a poet,” Rogers advises us, tongue-in-cheek, “Maybe you mean / Hi, I have a lot of feelings .” Striking that balance between one-liners and mourning is no small feat.‘
—Trillium Award Jury Citation

Praise for Paper Radio :
Paper Radio jumped out at me and I can’t say why, but that’s what you want poetry to do, and I never want to say why. Because it’s real and talking to me. Because it’s bloody and horrifying beauty. It’s the Clash and Buckminster Fuller, Auden and Bowie.
— Bob Holman

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of House of Anansi Press and as the creative director of Poetry in Voice. Her first book, Paper Radio , was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781552453087
Publisher: Coach House Books
Publication date: 05/12/2015
Pages: 88
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of House of Anansi Press and as the creative director of Poetry in Voice. Her first book, Paper Radio , was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

Read an Excerpt

Dear Leader

By Damian Rogers


Copyright © 2015 Damian Rogers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55245-308-7



    Some days
    I'm not on.
    I hide inside
    the city.
    Someday I'll say
    thank you
    for your invitation
    to come see
    the pilot whales
    skim the coast
    of Cape Breton.
    Don't tempt me.
    I'm working
    this summer
    on inventing
    the life I am
    already living.
    It takes practice
    to see myself
    without a mirror.
    The ivy leaps over
    the fence.
    Next year
    will be different.


    I was born with the head of an owl and the eyes of a cat.

    The ninth abandoned palace of the marquise was like a velvet-lined
      meth lab.

    I learned later she wasn't real royalty, just an out-of-work actress.

    I'm not used to living with so little sleep.

    Sleep is what keeps me from seeing things straight.

    I don't want to go on forever, exactly like this, always a Damian.

    Where is the better party you are going to now?

    Maybe there will be no grandchildren playing in the long grass.

    If you insist on standing up there, at least remove that marble hat.


    When he was 38 years old, he found himself
    in a stranger's basement confronted by a calendar
    that stopped dead on the day he was born.

    When he was full grown, he bought snow
    tires, was tender to houseplants, sang
    to his son about apples all afternoon.

    Many years ago, he climbed to the top
    of an important Mexican pyramid
    that is now closed to tourists.

    He had almost no interest in gods, thinking
    their existence beside the point. Though he loved
    the desert, he had no real plans to live there.

    Let's keep wasting our lives and burn
    our trash as we go. Some say you don't miss
    your water until your well runs dry, but I bet

    there's always something else to drink,
    even if it's dust. All this chatter about how to be
    a man, as if there were some alternative.

    Everything we've done is for the best.
    Consider the cosmology of Cracker Jack.
    The corn was here before you.


    Fill the clawfoot with too much hot water.

    Unscrew the light bulbs they say will kill us.

    Open the refrigerator and empty its contents into the stove.

    Slice eye slits into a quince and hang her head up to dry.

    Wallpaper the bedroom with the funny pages.

    Lock your hair up in pink plastic curlers and learn to swing a
      rolling pin.

    Invite the poorly dressed representatives of boring religions in for a
      game of darts.

    Blow out your speakers playing various versions of 'Whiskey in the Jar.'

    Buy a condemned movie theatre in Benton Harbor with your credit card.

    Rename your pets after the neighbours and call them in for dinner
      from the porch.

    Replace your curtains with tinfoil to trap the light inside.


    I walked to the corner vegetable store
    with its glorious bounty and bottled tea.
    I walked past the post office twice forgetting to send
    that package on my desk to a new friend.
    I haven't listened to a record in weeks.
    I'm worried I've made too many mistakes.
    I wish I'd bought that book of Li Po poems I didn't buy.
    Tomorrow I will have croissants and coffee
    and learn the names of the lucky winners.
    Have you talked to the doctor? The paperwork
    is unfinished. You didn't fill the forms out right.
    When I interviewed André, he was painting a mask
    from memory. When he finished, his face was green
    and he wore a ceremonial cape with an elfin hood.
    People are partying down the street in defiance of spring snow.
    Everything you're afraid will happen already has.


    Teachers in Oklahoma seek to stop students
    from discovering the gateway of digital drugs.

    We're all having a hard time, but some problems
    are preferable to others: the problems of the very rich,

    for example. Some swear the pile is the only known
    enemy of the hole. O pretty girls tripping on night,

    enjoy this next round, as your pupils pour out
    past last call. One of you will soon stop caring

    for your hair and your delicates will start to sour.
    You will pick your teeth clean with your coke nail.

    Now you crackle like a coal, lips slick with petroleum.
    Little pots of hot pink clink like crystal as you travel

    down the black tube toward morning. Did you kiss
    the devil's ass in the alley? Please, no more questions.


    The lake
    with clouds
    low as light
    sockets and
    I was radiant
    with rage
    stuck be-
    tween stages:
    an electric web
    in my head.
    From a back
    seat I beamed
    the streetcar
    through traffic
    as rain fell like
    power cables.
    Sparks splashed
    off the sidewalk;
    a bright strobe
    flashed be-
    hind my eyes.
    The road rose
    in the sky
    with no end
    in sight.
    We live in
    the arteries
    of a large
    ugly animal
    and I saw
    it move.


    I'm taking a serious five
    in an office break room,
    admiring my blue willow teacup,

    listening to opera
    on my pocket phone.
    The Brazilian soprano's voice

    climbs like a vine to the higher
    chambers of her father's mansion,
    where ladies in white gloves, pussies

    muzzled under petticoats,
    smooth their skirts. I wonder how she
    wore her hair at home

    in the morning, when no one was
    watching. I heard Chuck Berry say
    he sang about school, cars and little

    girls so the American babies would buy it.
    He saw a coffee-coloured Cadillac.
    I eye a cobalt carp.

    Every day I pass by life's great dramas,
    the kind you'd love to hear about,
    as if they have nothing to do with me.


    I don't like to count all my young loves,
    pet names buzzing into the ether. I fly
    in my dreams, a skill I've hid despite
    the light feeling it gives me. I bear this blank
    face around town like a dare. Okay, truth:
    I burned an early memory on my desk at home.
    Okay, that might be a lie, like the one
    about how I kissed you goodbye years ago.
    In my greenest life, I was a child with a parrot
    on my head. Little Pearl lost in the wood.
    Little Pearl lost. My eye will go crone in a blink.
    Listen to that bee singing of assisted living;
    he spirits me safely down a long golden hall.
    And you, dear, sent a silver chain for my neck
    to help me hit the notes in the grass's secret song
    of hush. Hum that tune on your tongue,
    haunt me all summer without saying a word.
    It's my right to wrap my heart in a riddle.
    There is nothing between us that is not love.


    I baked a celebrated all-bleached bread ring.

    I was trapped in a plane bathroom and we were going down.

    I broke into a wealthy woman's house to steal her soap dish.

    I kept running late. I kept missing flights to Europe.

    I married a man with a moustache and wanted out.

    I felt unbeautiful in a fixable way.

    I discovered my name sewn into a stranger's sweater.

    A man at the food court pressed his thumb into my abdomen.

    A woman who felt insufficiently admired cut off her hair.

    I sat on a patio with failed approximates of old friends.

    My cats loitered outside the Horseshoe Tavern.

    Someone said, 'Your mother's house has white mice.'

    Then a giant black beetle crawled onto the street flexing its wings.


    How many times must I learn the lesson of compression?
    Let go of everything you know and start from scratch.
    One friend performing backbends on a beach while another
    snaps his tibia on an icy patch of Saskatchewan. I don't think
    I'm suffering, my days a series of unexpected gifts punctuated
    by a blast of the family rage shot deep into my soft plexus.
    It occurs to me I don't have to be so many people. If you're staying
    alive spinning stories, it's suddenly a skill that you talk too much.
    I'm not sure it's smart to unlock the portal. The reformed raver
    claimed he saw my inner wheels spin. Red Cloud, are there wars
    where you are? Your great-great-grandson appeared on Democracy
with a plan. Will my generation be remembered for anything
    I haven't forgotten? They mine the hills for gold, they mine the hills
    for uranium, and all around the world, columns are cracking.
    I've watched you soar all day. Please teach me how you do that.


    I skipped through cities where poets leaned into microphones
    as their scarves braided together into a trailing batik creek
    banked by patchouli-bearing trees. Blackbirds trailed me
    down the 401 forming the five Platonic solids over the power lines
    as I talked non-stop from Montreal to a farm in Kendal.
    We ate scraps from the dinner Kate cooked for a CanCon
    icon: maple-dressed salmon, potato mash, watercress salad.
    Smoke hopped mouth to mouth in a room with more guitars
    than hands to play them. We sang ballads from when denim men
    were kings. The radio reported footsteps in the costume room,
    unknown bones below the floor, but I believed we were safe inside.
    The grand man fused into the easy chair, became one with wind.
    We were warm, the walls lined with barnboard, the windows
    cloaked in quilts. Later, I gazed upon Orion's Belt and gave
    each star a name: Ecclesiastical, Podcast and Anathema.
    I was alone with the hunter, out there in the air.


    I've been thinking that montage is a mental technique
    for accepting unity as a convulsive illusion. I feel sick.
    I hate it when my stories have holes, though I suspect
    there's where the truth leaks out. So go back to bed.
    Maybe it's laziness, maybe the delivery system is flawed.
    If the gods are making a movie, I've spent years sneaking out
    for smoke breaks between takes. I do violence to myself.
    I imagine the ones I love dead in their favourite chairs,
    dead in distant car crashes. Who are those girls who wear
    lipstick to watch TV? The women I know go shut-in,
    sleep in their clothes for days in a row. A self-help author
    revealed to me with great confidence that life is swinging
    from branch to branch in a fog. And I thought, of course
    he's right, of course, he's wrong. Let's say we are always
    at Point A. From space, the ocean is only a mirror.


Excerpted from Dear Leader by Damian Rogers. Copyright © 2015 Damian Rogers. Excerpted by permission of COACH HOUSE BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


From the Windows the Alley, 12,
The New Monuments, 13,
The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness, 14,
Turn Your Windows On, 15,
Minor Regional Novel, 16,
Ode to a Rolling Blackout, 17,
Storm, 18,
A Shocking Number of Local Poets Work for the Infinity Network, 20,
You Cannot Shed the Difficult, Most Stubborn Aspects of Your Nature with One Dose, 21,
Red in Tooth and Claw, 22,
The Trouble with Wormholes, 23,
Private Road Meets Major Intersection, 24,
There's No Such Thing as Blue Water, 25,
Her Lost Lucky Charms, 28,
The 76 Wisdom, 29,
Sacbe, 30,
The Black Album on Acid, 32,
As if I Were Anything Before, 33,
The Chameleon Was Black in the Long Winter Night, 34,
Graves's White Lady Needs 52 Characters, 35,
Good Day Villanelle, 36,
Bad Day Villanelle, 37,
Curse, 38,
La Belle Indifference, 40,
Conditional, 41,
Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright's Black Lambswool Coat, 42,
Poets in the Public Domain, 44,
Poem for Robin Blaser, 45,
The Performer Speaks to Her Perfect Apprentice Beneath the Arches, 46,
June 20, 2012, 47,
Poem for Love, 48,
Poem for Death, 50,
The Warlock's Forelock, 51,
Meet Me at the Famous Kiwanis Peach Festival, 54,
The Dodo and Every Herb in the Field Circa 1611, 55,
52 Notes for the Products of Conception, 56,
Explaining Ecology to My Two-Year-Old, 62,
It's After the End of the World, 63,
The Crossroads, 64,
Dear Leader, 68,
The Pain of Childbirth is Nothing Compared to the Pain I Felt When You Poisoned Me, 69,
Dear Leader, 70,
The Heart of the Leader: An Index, 71,
Yes, I'm a Witch, 72,
Solar Eclipse, 74,
Dear Leader, 75,
Dear Daughter, 76,
Report of the Night Nurse, 78,
Dear Leader, 79,
The Book of Going Forth in Glitter, 80,
Dear Leader, 81,
Dear Leader, 82,
Acknowledgements, 85,
About the Author, 87,

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