Otter

Otter

by Ben Ladouceur

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781552453100
Publisher: Coach House Books
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ben Ladouceur is a writer originally from Ottawa, now based in Toronto. His work has been featured in Arc, The Malahat Review, PRISM international and The Walrus , and in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology. He was awarded the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2013.

Read an Excerpt

Otter


By Ben Ladouceur

COACH HOUSE BOOKS

Copyright © 2015 Ben Ladouceur
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55245-310-0



CHAPTER 1

    ARMADILLO

    My lover spent his summer in the south,
    carving armadillos from their husks. It was, to hear him
    say it, an experience – the term people save

    for the places they hate. He spent June in the sunroom
    with a pitcher of sweet tea and a picture of me.
    By August, just the tea, watching hicks

    suck cigarettes through long, aristocratic
    sticks, papaya seeds stuck between their burnt
    sienna teeth. Everything was burnt there. My lover

    carved years off his life with the very same knife
    the armadillos learned to fear. Where are they
    now,
I asked him as snowfall took care

    of the candles I'd lit. The not-quite-rodents, not-quite-reptiles,
    not-quite-right gatecrashers of the ark?
    How does their nudity suit them? Do they sigh

    all cool, how we sighed last year, when we threw our anoraks
    off and found we had that chalet to ourselves?
    If we were ever blameless, it was then. I held your locks

    in a Chinese bun as you went south indeed,
    throwing, upon my balls, your tongue, how sea urchins
    throw their stomachs upon the coral reefs they eat.


    At which point my lover raised his knife
    to my hairline, scalped me masterfully and poured,
    into my open brain, a tea so cold and sweet.


    AT THE MOVIES

    Made of Xs holding hands, squares
    distinguished by squares, the west side
    of the multiplex is an appreciation

    of algebra. Annik
    always hoped to make out
    with a nameless stranger

    as a box-office bomb blared
    to an otherwise-empty
    auditorium, as the score of violins

    swept in to mute the audible
    saliva. Now Annik is married.
    She wrote me a letter

    cinematic in its exposition:
    You faggot, I loved you. Of all the men
    you could have been, you went only halfway.


    The measures and metres to which our lives
    accord, the math that shows
    on the sides of our buildings. Annik,

    I still don't have the heart to tell you
    we don't have any say. Our lives
    are thrown over our bodies

    like tides whose proximities
    we underestimated.
    I was halfway to loving

    how you held yourself up
    as if there were cameras
    in all the rooms,

    how your Eastern European comeliness
    got so luminous, we
    expected moths to round

    the corners, carry you away
    and drop you from such a height
    the body would bounce upright.


    OX

    That was our last unripe year, rib cages bald, bright
    and evermore palpable. The county's only queer bar
    had just swapped its signage from hand-painted
    to Helvetica. We drank as though new policies had
    activated and we would not be grandfathered.

    The men inside covered in slobber and glitter, I felt
    unreflective, so filthy, a pauper. Did someone
    say poppers?,
Alexander would blurt, and his asshole
    would begin to open wide. Outside, the rain arrived
    as if under curfew. We had curfews too.

    If I ever got a tattoo – I confessed, walking through
    the dirty water, through the lightnings penmanship –
    across my ribs, a zebra mussel, inching imperceptibly
    away. Something clever written in the slime of its meander.
    Maybe 'epilogue' Maybe occident'


    Alexander protested, because everything I did
    was on purpose. It filled my heart with helium. Occident,
    I emphasized. Not Accident. Ox. His insufficient
    moustache hairs caught small drops of rain.
    Crickets scraped songs off their bodies with their legs.


    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, THOMAS DEAMLEY-DAVISON!

    Happy birthday, Thomas Deamley-Davison!
    Sorry to arrive empty-handed. The plan
    was to give you some tallboys, a carton

    of Viceroys and a quality handjob, but I couldn't
    find an unmarked paper bag in which to keep
    the first two gifts, then to throw over your ugly

    mug as I perform the third. Besides, its time
    to get to work! Just talk our ears off
    about the nearest chip stand and you'll have

    your writing den to yourself before the city owls
    hit the hay. Then you can tend to a woman named
    Marcie, a woman named Deb – and others too –

    while they experiment with colour palettes, fondly
    recall their ex-husbands and get to the bottoms
    of their mothers' enigmatic dying

    words. (Why do you write so much about women?
    You aren't one of them. You don't even make
    love to them.) Soon you'll be voting

    conservative, snorting royalties off the back
    of your own bestseller, telling some young
    thing to make himself at home in the clutter

    while you share with him your parliament of stories.
    Until that morose night arrives, I hope you don't mind
    if I keep calling you Brother, as if I never stood

    in your doorway after a damp stroll back
    from the moon district, wondering which beverage
    you would nonchalantly offer me, ouzo or tea.


    DERWENTATER

    Your taste must once have been
    unwelcome, but now, like mucus
    of the nose, it is a sugary testament

    to ubiquity. How things do not change
    but do dim.
    In a dory, I paddled

    into the lake called Derwentwater.
    I was in its epicentre. I could go
    no further in. Any movement on my part

    would have been escape.
    A lake is a body of water
    plus the bodies of hundreds of birds.

    I was a winged collective
    eschewing you, a watery cavity, toward
    a definition. The birds I was

    forgot that names
    are just ephemeral devices.
    Your syllables – er, wat, went, der – had a taste

    their gullets were welcoming to.
    Nobody goes to that lake today.
    The hostel beside it was sold.

    We moved away, to dry, flat lands,
    but I kept moving, all the way to Canada.
    We wrote letters, until we didn't.


    LIBRARY BOOK

    Please write notes in pencil and erase before returning.

    – Written on the first page of a library copy of
    The Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel


    Peter, dear friend, I write you from Ontario.
    Often I feel that anywhere I go
    there you shall have been. Certain boulders in the sea
    follow whales obediently, such power
    in the contrails of the beast. I hoped to be,

    if anything, the whale, eroded, indifferent.
    No matter. In the book, you marked with a star
    every instance of a pregnant woman being
    kicked from within. During a bath. During a bad
    thought. To lift the reader out from a shift

    in perspective. In worn red ink, your question:
    How must that feel? I feel uneasy, Peter.
    Inside me is a cavalry
    whose conception, though so warm, wasn't
    worth it. You are in Korea. The narrators husband,

    for sixty pages now, remains in Kathmandu.
    Before you left, before you left more
    sentences unfinished than you thought, you walked me
    to the porch, told me which professors
    to detest, which books to read, how love

    toward women works. Opened your arms
    like a bear finding balance with some difficulty.
    I already know who shall die, who shall leave,
    who shall learn what lessons. Still, I race
    to the last page; soon, the book wont be mine.


    CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

    You pour your change
    jar into his change jar and stare
    into nothing for half of an hour.
    House centipedes alarm you
    with their conviction, their agility: they will go
    where they please. You manage
    to trap one in the hollow foot
    of a candlestick.

    If you spare his life, toss him
    into the wild outside your window, thinking perhaps
    hes got a small wife who'd have him
    back, skip to the seventh stanza.

    If you decide that he is an it, that its awful
    and odd-numbered legs should dance in the water
    you boiled, originally, for fiddleheads, procure
    a Bible. Read, in one sitting, the Book of Isaiah.

    * * *

    There aren't many faces
    in your repertoire of faces. The green-eyed
    grocer might be seen on Wednesdays,
    his garbage cascading to dumpsters
    below: potatoes with eyefuls of poisonous
    growths, heartless artichokes.
    Dawn after dawn, the body beside you
    wheezes and brays and brings rotten
    produce to mind, its nipples slowly softening
    like radishes all autumn long.
    That strange animalian
    sound you can hear is the phone.

    If you let it ring, fearing
    your wife's baritone – husky and low
    from a colicky infancy – begin
    this poem again.

    If you bring the receiver to your ear
    and forget your son's age,
    head to the nearest reservoir.
    Remove your filthy clothes.

    * * *

    You ought to yearn
    more often – for a lucky
    break, for a better mood, for an abode further
    from the surface of the earth.
    They're building Goliaths by the lakeside. The term
    skyscraper has stuck.
    You have been known
    to pray before them. You're a conversation topic
    in that neighbourhood – you bring garden
    parties to life. The man who's got it all
    wrong, whose knees bleed and not, some
    say, entirely due to prayer.
    Upon hearing your silhouette described,
    perhaps your wife
    has thrown a tantrum, or a flute of champagne
    across a long room, then excused herself.
    The afternoon you left her, she cried, Go on and choose
    your own adventure.
Its dawn now
    and the man you love is in a mood.

    If you think it best not to
    touch him, then let his peril dissipate
    into the ether upon which done things rest
    and put this poem down.

    If you cannot hold back, if you rush
    under his torso as if its an adequate awning, go out
    back, dig a hole the size of a holy
    book and await further instruction.


    SALUTATIONS FROM ABITIBI

    Alone clouds refused to cohere.
    They darkened the city in blotches.
    They rendered the city dalmatian.

    I forgot my lover on the bus.
    The brakes woke him up
    at Abitibi and he found work there.

    All year mosquitoes bit his fumbling frame.
    The bites were like Grecian constellations
    seen on a clear taupe day.

    My Zippo was on his person.
    I was planning to quit with the smoking
    but how shall I now singe the frays

    of my only warm coat? When winter arrives
    the mosquitoes will expire
    and material will cover the bodies of men.

    At least I received a blank postcard
    on the birthday of my lover, its message
    white on white: I am alive I am alone

    I am not willing to speak.
Some men
    are darkened, in the long run, by sun.
    Others, more quickly, by clouds.


    THE REFORMED PUNK ADDRESSES THE ANGRY MOB

    Hear me out, children of ink and strange ash. That lifestyle
    is all about regret! Haven't you heard
    how microchips are cleaned? With water so virgin, so free
    of expletives, that it must spread the cleanliness. It craves

    demise and detritus, would char the imperfections off
    your rough, unleavened skin. I do spend time
    being sorry, but who could forget the dark evenings
    I somehow withstood, the long intact cocks in my mouth,
v     and I thought – I am the water too dirty to harm him.
    And him. And him. Think of that
    the next time you hold a mirror before a mirror
    to form a funny tunnel infinity gallops through.

    These days my sister taps on my front door,
    wondering if I could babysit. I can even smoke her dope
    if I light the incense too. That, my angry mob, is not
    an offer a good man would refuse.


    GIBRALTAR POINT

    We've all mistaken laughter for permission,
    but Iliya, just give yourself a look.
    Of all the half-employed, unshaven boys that could've
    swung my howling body through the air just to exert
    some power, who'd have thought it'd be the one

    a woman has agreed to wed? This will end
    how all the golden ages end – with a thud
    and a bruised tailbone. Patiently, Stephanie
    helps me off the ground. The two of you shared
    a pied-à-terre, as young significant others,

    wherein the inflatable mattress
    slowly lost its breath to the weight
    of guest after guest. One day,
    there were none of those left. Their visas expired,
    their internships paid off, their sweethearts

    took them back. You suddenly had the place
    to yourselves, and now, a new place;
    some new selves. Illya, this violent little outburst
    was probably just your attempt to make another
    cardigan as filthy as your own. Its nothing

    a half-decent drycleaner can't tend to, and you
    can pay me back by bumming fewer cigarettes
    until Stephanie dons the dress she'll only
    feel the weight of once. All the most beautiful things
    are things we rarely feel the weight of.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Otter by Ben Ladouceur. Copyright © 2015 Ben Ladouceur. 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

Contents

I. THE HONEYMAN FESTIVAL,
Armadillo, 7,
At the Movies, 8,
Ox, 10,
Happy Birthday, Thomas Dearnley-Davison, 11,
Derwentwater, 12,
Library Book, 13,
Choose Your Own Adventure, 14,
Salutations from Abitibi, 17,
The Reformed Punk Addresses the Angry Mob, 18,
Gibraltar Point, 19,
Song of the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, 20,
Notes to Self, 21,
I Am in Love with Your Brother, 22,
Gran Vals, 23,
And I've Been Thinking Dangerously, 24,
The Circle Game, 25,
Hospice, 26,
II. RITES OF SPRING,
Gulag, 29,
Fête, 30,
Pollen, 31,
Telegram from the Seventeenth Arrondissement, 32,
Glass, 33,
Dog Years, 34,
All Men Are Equal, 36,
Goddaughter, 37,
Nuncle, 39,
Somdomite, 40,
Apologia, 41,
Masters of the Impossible, 42,
Bijou, 44,
An Ideal Inmate, 45,
Printout Found in Bottle Found in the River Aare, 46,
Fossil, 48,
Butler's Hymnal, 49,
III. DEAD DREAMS OF MONOCHROME MEN,
Barkentine, 53,
Eiderdown, 54,
Marigold, 55,
Host, 56,
222 The Esplanade, 57,
Tractatus, 58,
Brown Study, 59,
Triptych, 60,
Pseudipigrapha, 61,
The Masturbating Flowers, 62,
Misery Index, 64,
Edict, 65,
East End, 66,
Poem with Long Title, 67,
Transaction, 68,
Rubric, 69,
590 Lisgar St., 70,
Intramurals, 71,
Byzantium, 72,
Remarks on Colour, 73,
Tough Luck, 74,
Cadenza, 76,
Goodbye, Cruel World, 77,
Acknowledgements, 78,
About the Author, 79,

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