Ralph O. Cunningham
Ralph O. Cunningham has published three books: Lovesongs and Others by
Fiddlehead Poetry Books, and No Continuing City and Mirrors of Memory
Multicultural Books. The books published by Multicultural Books can be
ordered by clicking the hyperlink above.
"Cunningham is a poet’s poet whose language is always alive, always tempting the
reader into new areas. He can describe the mundane as when he calls up “the
drugstore’s scream of fever’s colours” in ways that make it seem super-mundane.
But his main goal is to heal the wound of existence caused by time . . . " —
Ronald B. Hatch Ph.D., Director, Ronsdale Press
When the sky was battleships,
My mother came and took me from the school.
The clouds were hulls of warring fleets,
Full of looming rain their magazines.
Downhill, the menaced houses frowned
As darkening flotillas drowned
The ocean of the sky.
And as I held it fast, I felt
No war or storm within my mother's hand.
At home, throughout that night of afternoon,
I stole into the sorceries
Of playthings' gnostic vaudeville,
Was comforted by broadsides of the rain.
Then the warships steamed away,
And left insipid insolence of sun
—A wearisome futurity of bright
Without nuance of sorrow or delight.
And almost for eternity,
Blandest sky and lessons ruled my days
Until the schoolrooms were dismissed,
And 'childhood's termless play'
Ran no more—night or matinee.
And as an old and waning man,
I sometimes long to be in class again,
And see the sky all battleships
On their stations, massing for the fight,
And touch again within my mother's hand,
No war or storm, just dark delivering bright.
'We used to wait for midnight at the rink'
My mother said. 'A moon with hands devoured
The final hour on the firehall tower;
The fence was broken, so we got in free.'
A band bulged and wheezed at waltzes
For the skaters who would skate the clock away . . .
Would skate the year to death while flakes
Began to fly from woodstove sky
Above Gerrard Street long ago.
'Was it "The Skaters' Waltz" we soared upon
Or something else? . . .' she used to ask.
Their laughter was a flowing scarf of smoke,
And time was upside down, and pleasure
Rouged their cheeks
That when their time had ebbed,
Would sink and whiten into wrinkles
Swifts of laughter skimmed no more
In heads so grey and tired of any joy
But that of sleep would turn to sleep
So soon forevermore.
The time in which she spoke of this,
Is now so long ago I scarce recall.
Gone the tower's glow of hours
Above the place where horses stood
And waited for the firebell, and blinked
At music of the players by the rink.
As buried as Pompeii was once,
The site of firehall and rink,
Lies beneath the lava of the storeys
Where none breathes now who did when she was young.
And on that now forgotten night,
Mother, just a lass, soared and laughed
And soared and laughed—and did she ever
Laugh like that again?
"Where are my kinsmen and the patriarch race?"
A priory ruin's rubble
On the sky—only clouds above
A land of flint and feather monk-untrod.
Betrayed farmhouse of his birth,
Lonely as Tintagel—soon to die.
Here, his first and brightest days
Where now the maples' pyres of fall expire
Above a broken binder's skeletal frame.
In yonder slope, relax its driver's bones
As long forgotten as my father's name.
Around the crater of his one room school
(Weed-infected wound beyond despair)
His childhood ghost refuses
Dissolution or repair.
He watched the rails sunstreaming from the sky;
They were the future fleeing as it came,
For time does not begin until it's slain.
A marvelling child like fire in the stove,
Is soon deposed; his ashes tint the wind
That pleads around the eaves and window frames,
And begs to see the mother of the house
Long called away . . . then slips beneath the door,
And drifts through rooms where phantoms at their tea
Converse suspended in a time one cannot hear.
One sees the moon the old dog bayed one night,
But not an eye was silver with its light.
When Scottish soldiers got their patent for the land,
They saw the river where it then began,
And still should flow . . .
But descendants have bequeathed
Each thwarted May just pebbles of its bones
As caravans of fumes advance from cities,
And agents greet new subdivision tribes.
Old times we saw as darkness, were they light
Beside our glare that seems to bode
Oncoming endless night?
This unsung plundered township ebbs away.
Its dreams were all betrothed to 'What's to come'
The unrequited love of speed and change,
And so the woods steal back where houses stood;
And boom towns saw the forests into history.
Were all who crossed the meadow never there
. . . Or have they never left?
Although our sight is too
Unmorning'd now to see their light.
What colour is eternity . . .
What utterance can still our disbelief.
And let us sup with the Master of the fields,
Who'll let us taste again His deathless wheat?
The love we failed to love is love
Beyond the love and price of things
—Deliverance as brave as sacrifice,
And better than all titles at one's birth.
A priory ruin's rubble on the sky
—Only clouds above a land
Of flint and feather monk-untrod.
Betrayed farmhouse of his birth
Once lonely as Tintagel
. . . Gone to earth.