Matt Rader

Freaks, Irregulars, Defects, Oddities

An ill-minted coin, a monocle
     Chained to a tuxedo,
The moon croons to strip-clubs,
     And late-night burrito

Shops, lovers on Pedi-cab tours
     Of the harbour. Placido
Domingo on the stereo with merlot
     And fetuccine alfredo.

A night for werewolves, hairy
     Men sporting speedos
And high-heels on the club stroll,
     “The Streets of Loredo”

On ukulele and pennywhistle
     Down at the lido
Where a shot-wrecked Aeneas
     Meets his new Dido. 

Virgil, installed in a corner stall
     Puts pen to graffito:
“Tally-ho! Damn the torpedoes!
     Bandita hearts Bandito!”(1)

Oh, tragic pyred Queen of Tyre, 
     It’s Fido not Dido
That translates as faithful,(2)
     The “Fido”-fido credo

On love Dante witnesses mid-canto
     When Aeneas snubs Dido
In the second circle where she’s been unjustly gaoled
     For her raging—(3)

Now Freaks, Irregulars, Defects, Oddities,
     People of the low, low albedo,
  Let this be your motto:
     “Love” the word not the weirdo.


(1) Virgil’s friend Dante’s best Fido,
      Was “A Lady Loves Me” Author Calvacanti, Guido

(2) “Testicle,” to the Roman tongue, sounded out “orchido.”

(3)  Spanish Guy Fawkes goes by Fawkes, Guido.





That August all along the Yellowhead Highway

As the shadow of our car rippled across

The roadside, and my father and me, at thirty,

Went looking for his past on the Skeena River,

All the tinctures of the north—copper, gold,

Moly blue—bubbled into a carnage of colours

Not even Caravaggio or his Flemish disciple

Could have captured completely: the white

Petals of oxeyes seeping from under the crust

Of the earth like the pustules of lead carbonate

Horrified London curators have uncovered

Pocking the flank of an old master’s horse

In the National Gallery; that purple shroud

Of pine trees on the mountainside the beetles

Feasted on and abandoned as those thieves

Of Judea whom the fifth procurator sentenced

To die were abandoned on crude desert trees.

My father loved to drive and he loved wild-

Flowers and when we came upon a hillside

Of complete destruction, obliterated by petals,

He’d stop the conversation but not the car

And we’d float by like time and river water,

Like the Allied shadows that rippled across

The German hayfield where my grandfather

Toiled in the last days of the war by mercy

And pen of an unknown Nazi administrator,

Where everyone, the farmer and prisoners,

Had gone hungry long enough to resemble

One another unmistakably, bare winter trees.

That summer all along the Highway of Tears,

As it’s known for the women who have gone

Missing from its shoulders, who have been

Surrendered to absence and in that absence

Become a presence felt by all travelers and me,

Among the paintbrush, buttercup, red clover,

Flared fireweed, also known as evening primrose,

A fine tea. In bomb-pocked London, near the end

Of the war, as my grandfather abandoned the field

He’d been tilling and began his long walk out

Of Germany into northern British Columbia,

There appeared, for the first time in generations,

Fireweed. The same fiery flower that burned

That summer in the ditches all along the highway

As my father and I burned by in search of his

Story which was mine too or so I told myself

As he told me about the fireweed and that other

Summer of his early life, nineteen-fifty-five,

When the Russian landlord took Aunt Allie’s door

In lieu of eviction, and that still other summer

When two boys who lived close to my father

Met at a front door a block from his own,

And one carried a rifle and with his finger

Tucked a wildflower in the heart of the other.

The wound of the first home will never close.

It’s valleys and terraces darken, it’s mills spin

Into silence but always a susurrus of wildflowers

Shoals inside us when we are quiet or when

The world is too loud. Hear it in the white

Pox of chemistry in a Rubens or Caravaggio,

In the cinque foil, figwort and Canada thistle

That simmer in northern ditches and gravel,

Effervesce in the footprints of young women.

On the banks of the Skeena, in a field of grass

And wildflowers where the summer heat lay

Close to the earth and the cold river went on

Without stopping, as it always had, oblivious

To cars and conversation, I abandoned my father

To his childhood, to the middle of the last

Century among daisies and pearly everlasting,

As if he’d never left it, as if the river were

More than historical, as if it could be stopped.


Once, in Firenze, on the Feast of Ferragosto,

When the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin,

The real physical elevation of her sinless soul

And incorrupt body to the Body of Heaven

And the wounded side of her son, is observed

By Holy Obligation, I awoke next to the woman

Who had nursed me as a child and nursed me

Again through that fever-thick August night

In the Old Country where every dark eyed man

Who made the sign of the cross, the father,

The son, and the holy ghost, at the threshold

Of the Duomo was her own father as he crept

Out of the burning-cold north Pacific Ocean

Into nineteen-forty-four, at the head of a swarm,

One hundred Canadian soldiers disgorged

From the ocean onto the abandoned Aleutian

Shore, frozen and hunched and petrified, sea-

Things, belly down, slithering out of the sea.

All over Italy, Italians were leaving the city

For the beach while I was sick in a third-floor

Pensione, half-delirious for the bottle blonde

At reception who spoke English in a Bronx

Accent as if she’d learned the language from

Martin Scorcese or Francis Ford Coppola,

As if she’d asked me to stay away from her

Simply by speaking words I could understand,

As if by some long forgotten myth or custom

We were doomed to awaken one night on

Either side of a severed horse head. Tell me,

How could I not want her? How could I not

Cover the shoal of welts across my body

With a white cotton sheet? Beyond the brick

Walls, across the old city, a doctor pedaled

Her bicycle over the River Arno towards me,

Past the Uffizi and the tortured gorgon head

Of Caravaggio, passed Museo dell Opera

Where the hooded face of Nicodemus is

Disguised behind Michelangelo’s own visage

Frozen by art in a moment of imagined history

When two men and an unfinished woman

Removed the body of Christ from the cross.

I was sick and I sank deeper into the hollow

In the rented bed. Even Christ, my mother

Said, lay for three days in the tomb of another

but she grew so young with every word

That when she finished I was no longer alive,

I had never been born and had never left her,

And everything that was happening to me

Had already happened to someone else who

Was me once before at a later stage of history

But who I would never know. The stranger

In me touched his fingers to my face and felt

The thrum of life beneath the hives. The doctor

Opened her black bag and the whole black

Universe exploded into place: my grandfather

Crawled out of the water and walked on two feet

Into the future, carrying my mother and me

In his shriveled testicles; Nicodemus returned

Christ to the Cross and the cross to the cedar

Of Lebanon that grew once in Golgotha dust;

And Mary put down the phone at reception

With Gabriel’s voice barking from the receiver.





Matt Rader is the author of two books of poetry, Miraculous Hours and Living Things. A third book of poems is forthcoming. His poems, stories, and critical prose have appeared in journals, magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world. He is an instructor of Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, British Columbia and currently teaches English at North Island College in the Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. If he could, he’d rub Graham Nunn’s back in the tiniest of circles.

2 responses to “Matt Rader

  1. Pingback: Stylus Poetry Journal #37 – Street/Life « Another Lost Shark

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