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A Riddle Fence Selection





Patrick WarnerPatrick Warner was born in Claremorris, Co. Mayo in 1963. He immigrated to Canada in 1980 and since then has lived mostly in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He has written three collections of poetry: All Manner of Misunderstanding (Killick Press, 2001). There, there (Signal Editions, 2005) and Mole (House of Anansi Press, 2009). He is twice winner of the E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize. In 2011 he published a novel, Double Talk (Breakwater Books). He currently makes his living as the Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian for Memorial University Libraries.





Photo © Dave Howells






Tortoise at the Toronto Zoo

The Children of Critics

The Turn








I cling to old ideas disguised as new,

ideas rooted in the prehistoric second when

the gazelle, craning her graceful neck for grass,

was speared with a chunk of chipped volcanic glass.


Ideas that can build a civilization: the plough

the fallow field, the family farm, the well.

But such a deep well—looking all the way

down gives vertigo. Stick your head in,


it is dark and full of whispers, echoes.

What light there is comes from behind,

is packed down by the pummel of eyes

until you see at the end a glimmer,


and the question, then, is what you see:

a mirror in which appears a wild, unknown


maybe-original-self you recognize.


Or whether this watery waver is really

water—a far-down ledge where boats dock

quietly late at night, and dark faces,

wearing bandanas, disembark.


Back to Top.






Packed in pick-up trucks they arrive at dawn,

these small, overalled, dark-skinned men,

from countries south of the Rio Grande,

who tend to the trees and bushes and lawns


in this mature suburban neighbourhood

where month-by-month nothing changes

except the flags, I mean the flags that flap

from slender dowels, that are set alongside


the tasseled poles that fly Old Glory,

silk flags set to mark a holiday or season,

pumpkins, shamrocks, hearts, and bunnies

signal the year-long consumer obsession,


in this neighbourhood where nobody walks,

where in places there are no sidewalks,

where no one seems to notice what I notice

when I walk, and there’s no one to ask


about these inch-square zip-lock baggies

I find every morning, dew-fogged and stuck

to the pavement—what are these exactly,

sandwich bags for wee folk, for fairies?


Such folk myths belongs to the old countries,

to the Irish pubs down by the harbour,

to Germanytowns, Dutchlands, Little Italies.

New World folklore is of a different order.


Myths here are a poor man’s collateral,

so new they don’t seem like myths at all,

but swap stocks and bonds for gold and silver

and the city skyline for the magic kingdom,


and you’ll understand why these lawns

are tended each day by Guatemalans,

Mexicans, El Salvadorians, Peruvians,

and you’ll know why yesterday when I found


a sanitary napkin perched on the gutter

my first thought was of a magic slipper,

followed by thoughts of the ugly sisters,

and girls who will cut off their toes to fit in,


because that’s the way it is in this place,

where the bloated frog is always the prince,

where there is blind belief in tomorrow

and in the wealth tomorrow will bring.


Today it brought a pair of black underwear,

women’s black Moschino underwear,

dropped in the middle of an intersection

where I barely had time to examine them.


I thought, naturally, of Puss’n Boots,

and maybe because I knew the ogre’s fate

something a bit more sinister crept in,

and, as well, I was getting these looks


from a pair of Mexicans or Guatemalans,

both of whose faces barely topped

the four-foot hedge they were trimming,

faces right off a frieze in Tenochtitlán.


What’s next, I wondered, a severed finger,

an arm, a ripped-out human heart,

a dead co-ed like Snow White on a lawn

surrounded by seven diminutive men?


Not that I’m saying it’s all going to happen,

(as cases go it’s not open and shut),

there are reasons the future is hidden,

but clues, too, if you know how to look.



Back to Top.



Tortoise at the Toronto Zoo



I saw a tortoise at Toronto Zoo

so massive its patterned shell removed,

upturned and filled with sparkling water

might have made a bath for infant twins.


I watched it heave its weight against its pen,

heave hard and hard again against the gate

whose post once split was now braced

by a metal belt that tightened on a screw.


The door, too, had buckled at its base,

blond wood splinters sprayed the earth floor

where the steel finger of the latch

had torn though the pit-prop post.


The bare earth floor beneath its legs

was not so much scooped out as flattened

into a depression from its pushing,

pestled down to a compact powder.


Its head with eyes closed was another leg,

though with eyes opened it resembled

Mother Theresa without her tea-towel veil,

Sir Alec Guinness and a Moray eel.


It had the look of one who had been doing

this a long time: it might have pushed

a block of stone from flat Nile boats

over logs toward the distance pyramids.


It heaved and heaved. Patient beyond my

comprehension, with something

of the mountain and the ocean in its shell,

something that immense, that unknowable.




Warner, Patrick. “Crib,” “Gumshoe,” “Tortoise at Toronto Zoo.” There, there. Montreal: Signal Editions/ Véhicule Press, 2005.




Back to Top.



The Children of Critics





The children of critics exist as a hunger.

On stick-like legs with bulbous joints they tap

Morse code on pressure-treated lumber,


usually at dusk, in that time between

a quarter to eight and eight-fifteen,

in September, when the wind smells of tea,


when the moon’s a CD, when with a quiver

it pulls the inside out and the outside in

until neck hairs parse an authentic shiver.




The children of critics delight in connection.

In the future, the father’s once sickly son

will hunger for all things Southeast Asian,


his imagination long since inflected

by a photo that smelled of pepper wood

that was planted inside the cover of a book


entitled Lost Flora of Indonesia

an invitation from his shadow brother

whose ambrosial presence posits amnesia.




Back to Top.



The Turn



On a steep hill, in a house for one

with a crooked cat and an antique bell,

in the middle of life.   This is the place

where you made the turn, having crossed

the line where you could not tell

real from unreal, the climb from years,

wood from your flesh, fur from desire,

that silver bell from your tongue,

which tells the tale of that lonely time

when you thought you were ill,

thought you could not tell unreal

from real, your years from a hill,

self from a house, lust from a cat,

your talk from the sound of a bell.





“The Children Of Critics” and “The Turn” Poems from Mole copyright 2009 Patrick Warner. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Torontowww.houseofanansi.com




Author Links


Riddle Fence literary magazine

Warner at Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage

Audio of Warner poems at House of Anansi






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