In the Midst of Things

By Bob MacKenzie

in empty streets of locked doors
shuttered windows and the dead
bodies on flatbeds to be buried
visions of saved souls raised up
fears of the armies of armageddon
in our time where is the poetry

there are wolves on the streets
foxes roam the shores of the lake
and the man who attacked a woman
in a racially motivated incident
became ill and died a week later
in this dream where are the poets

a man says let us go then you and I
along half-deserted streets at dusk
alive with lies and metaphors
where fog becomes terrifying cats
and I can’t follow a line through it
past singers busking in the shadows

a woodworker plays jazz on the porch
a deep black pool opens under me
and I dive in face down on the road
broken by the impact of this dream
among the falling darker shadows
from which I hear the angels sing

don’t detective me with your smiles
in this time of sad souls and eyes
tellers of tales and erstwhile legends
the new normal conspiracy theory
sirens sing to us day and night
in this time of pandemic dreams

from my perch high above the city
I hear more sirens sing every day
echo of death walking the streets
hear waves smash on ancient rocks
smell the stench of the river styx
cower safely alone in this tower

red lights break the dark like rubies
blood perhaps not gemstones but fluid
life bleeds out everywhere imaginable
still the sirens sing night and day
come join us here on the waiting rocks
come swim with us in the river styx

I have seen no three-headed dog
no sensual young ladies singing
have not tied myself to the mast
don’t believe in myths of sirens
watch fire trucks and ambulances
blurs of the real below my tower

birds still sing in my garden
flowers bloom and plants prosper
eden at the top of the world
squalor below distant as hell
you by me singing in the garden
sharing wine is paradise enough

oasis of the gods in the clouds
mine is the only rooftop garden
others have the haven of balconies
dropping in a line to the street
smells of fire and smoke rise to me
barbeque or brimstone I wonder

where are the poets
the truthspeakers
the folk singers
authors and artists
the new prophets
recording our era

where is the poetry
where the legends
where the heroes
where the ballads
where the memory
the future needs

a postcard from south america
mentions the tree of many lives
speaks of bringing in the sheaves
but there is no rejoicing
lives cut short as harvest wheat
young fruit picked before time

this is not caution but fear
danger hides around each corner
walks with the wind behind you
isn’t seen until you are caught
and death comes in small doses
where can we walk that is safe

there’s little talk of the light
always the dark fills our days
a shadow over all our thoughts
without passion or hope then what
the light fades with the future
where can we go that is safe

this is the time of prophesy
fire and water and wind storms rage
plague ravages every nation
there are wars and rumours of war
murder is the greatest sacrilege
relentless death stalks the earth

seek hope where you can find it
practice black arts if you wish
trust magic to carry us through
invite a friend over for wine
wear a mask like a harem girl
in all things be safe and well

oppenheimer feared the worst
the end of the world with a bang
the poet got it right of course
this is the way the world ends
cowers in the falling dark
with a never-ending whimper

in my perch high above the city
I hear the soft sigh of fear
mist climbs the tower like a cat
the silence of grey streets rises
in my garden a cold wind blows
whispers warnings of end times

this is the cruelest death
the silence of sunday morning
alone in this private eden
what god has brought this on
the streets below are dead
in my heart I have died too

am I real here in this garden
what is dream and what is not
birdsong has left the garden
apples are no longer tempting
the woman may have been a dream
a serpent has fled into darkness

music floats up from mists below
frail songs of sirens that wake me
fogbound buskers perhaps after all
saxophone softened by concrete walls
hollow echoes of a distant piper
a woman casting her spell in song

where are the poets
the truthspeakers
the folk singers
authors and artists
the new prophets
recording our era

where is the poetry
where the legends
where the heroes
where the ballads
where the memory
the future needs

my home and garden float on the mist
the tower fades away in dawn’s glow
I expect arthur’s knights may appear
ghosts out of the mist around me
the woman sings a song from below
life is but a dream sh-boom sh-boom

mist sets damp on the flowers
on me in my garden alone
still her song pulls me away
her voice soft as morning mist
join me here on the waiting rocks
swim with me in the river styx

it’s different inside the house
woken from a never-ending dream
world without end beyond this door
indoor echoes of a past life
home has become a fragile thing
I cling for fear of falling off

matryoshka worlds within worlds
this dollhouse at the centre
each room just like the others
each room empty even when full
empty worlds fade as night falls
a vision seen through the mist

how long since the stream dried up
windows on the world gone blank
watchful eyes closed or blinded
the system is down and out
radio silence and dead air
even indoors I taste the death

I am the master of the mists
sitting on top of the world
a small oasis in the clouds
unlike the statue in the desert
I am not yet crumbled and gone
my world vanished in the mist

there are rabbits on the lawns
coons roam the streets night and day
bats and rats and alley cats
wild things are taking the city
I see them whenever the mist clears
in all this where’s the poetry

the sun shines down the tower
one vacant balcony to the next
ladder to the streets far below
my domain a world without life
wild things and the dead on flatbeds
in this dream where are the poets

going to hell is a practical thing
the elevator no longer works
our electric went down long ago
there’s rubble in the stairways
this tower is a wretched wasteland
the only way down is to jump

through this mist I don’t see the sun
yet the light seeps through the net
sunlight is trapped in rooftop panels
the tower has gone dark without power
rising above the dark streets below
home a shining beacon in the sky

where are the poets
the truthspeakers
the folk singers
authors and artists
the new prophets
recording our era

where is the poetry
where the legends
where the heroes
where the ballads
where the memory
the future needs

looking at the dark streets below
I am god up here in my small heaven
above I see only black nothing
am a speck waiting some rough beast
slouching down this infinite well
across my garden as shadows fall

what shall be left for me I wonder
when the gatherer comes to my door
shall he carry cross or sickle
shall he come in black or white
will he take me down the elevator
will I rise in passion skyward

we dig and find ancient cultures
famed for their beauty and wisdom
what will the future find of us
death perhaps and erased peoples
even pompeii’s streets bore life
in the end what will we have left

my worst fears are imagined
a movement not seen but sensed
a footfall or a creaking door
threatening voices on the wind
danger hiding in the shadows
mine has become a shadow world

I walk through my garden alone
an uneasy wind whispers threats
shadows follow along the walls
who walks with me in the garden
the elevator no longer works
the only way out is down

I stand just at the edge of light
night’s ink fills the city streets
stars are set in a dark blue sky
so long now since I’ve seen stars
hid always by never-ending mist
behind me the shadows remain

dawn comes over me slow and soft
mist curtains the sky once again
shades of night skulk in corners
there is a sense of butterflies
thoughts of birdsong left unheard
a life lived and lost so long ago

the song says life is but a dream
if this is a dream shall I wake
will the world be as before
will there be butterflies and birds
will there be no shadows following
it comes down to what is real

I loved a girl a long time ago
in fields of summer glory
walked hand in hand side by side
shared dreams through starlit nights
‘til the shadows brought her death
end of our dream end of my life

long forgotten in the mist
precious memories come to me
woman I loved too long ago
home and children in the city
a peaceful cabin in the woods
I hear myself say fade to black

praise to the poets
the truthspeakers
the folk singers
authors and artists
the new prophets
recording our era

this is the poetry
these the legends
these the ballads
these the stories
this is the memory
the future needs

a canoe along the lakeshore
she waves from the cabin dock
boy and girl wade in the water
feels good to be coming home
memory fades into the mist
in my hand I feel the paddle

there’s floods in the streets below
on sidewalks otters play games
in deep waters large carp swim
beavers gather debris for lodges
somewhere I hear a woman singing
on this tower there’s only rain

the siren song calls me home
falling rain deepens the mist
even my garden is growing dark
shadows patrol garden paths
images from a past fade away
will this dark rain never stop

the man says let us go then
along half-deserted streets
alive with lies and metaphors
where fog becomes terrifying
and I can’t find my way through it
though I hear the sirens singing

how I long for all this to end
to follow a song into the mist
the welcoming arms of the dark
a home outside this nightmare
world of fears and shadows
to sleep perhaps forever

sleep comes to me like drowning
drawn into deeper waters
the song of the woman calling
meet me where the ferry waits
come swim with me in the river
she draws me under and I drown

a current soothes and carries me
beyond dark waters of nightmare
into the river lethe and sleep
adrift between time and memory
the song again raising me up
from the dark into the light

the soft scent of warm earth
a chorus of birds singing
morning and the sun shining
warmth on my eyes waking me
where I slept under a tree
not a dark cloud overhead

a field of summer glory
wildflowers in the sunshine
prairie grasses and blue sky
a girl I love from long ago
walking slowly toward me
and I walk then run to her

they say life is like a dream
we meet in slow motion like that
she holds me close and I hold her
without talk we share our thoughts
of home and life with each other
walk hand in hand into the mist

praise to the poets
the truthspeakers
the folk singers
authors and artists
the new prophets
recording our era

this is the poetry
these the legends
these the ballads
these the stories
this is the memory
the future needs

Bob MacKenzie’s poetry’s appeared in more than 400 journals and in many anthologies.  He’s published seven poetry books.  Awards include Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council, and Summer Literary Seminars (Georgia).

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Shirley Young
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Shirley Young
9 days ago

This is a wonderful poem for present time. It is written by my wonderful, talented big brother and I am happy to seen this published

Pat Connors
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Pat Connors
13 days ago

Thank you for sharing this, Bob. This inspired me to submit a long poem to this project. “Where are the poets”. indeed?

Dia Bigelow
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Dia Bigelow
16 days ago

Thank you…it became heart felt at a time of loss and sadness **

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