December 5, 2023

“Happy Birthday to Us,” Poetry by Bruce McRae

“Happy Birthday to Us,” Poetry by Bruce McRae
Happy Birthday To Us 

I arrived mid-century.

A flaw in the seamed dimensions. 

A stone dropped down a cistern. 

Already ancient, wonderstruck, 

fire in my gills and hair, life-naked. 


I was born all of a sudden. 

A shift in the given paradigm. 

A handheld globe of teeth and fur 

standing athwart of all of history. 


A faint itch, a rudimentary element, 

I appeared as if quite by accident. 

A figure blurred by the side of the road, 

an eleventh planet, a tiger's teardrop, 

a snowman in the parson's orchard. 


Heavy with dreams, I was awoken 

early for my rough appointment. 

A manic isotope in a fat-lit cavern. 

One of those molecular contrivances 

you hear so much about. 

A mighty atom. A coy abstraction. 



The rules of the game remain couched 

in esoteric phrases and half-dead languages. 

The game itself, which is older than cities, 

is being played everywhere, 

by everybody, all of the time. 

Most are unaware of the terrible consequences 

that losing the game might entail. 

Very few can even admit that they’re playing. 


The game, it’s been said, is playing the players. 

The soul is their marker. 

The world is the board we go around on. 

Destiny casts down its numberless die. 


So you’re not sure you’re losing 

until it’s more than apparent you’ve lost. 

You don’t even enjoy being involved, 

though it isn’t necessary 

that you actually like participating. 

The game isn’t there for you to comment on  

or judge; quite the opposite. 

The game serves itself, its own particular purposes. 


Another notable factor: nobody wins. 

That is, we assume so, as no one has ever won before.  

One just continues on until exhausted. 

There’s always another card to choose or wheel to spin. 

In truth, you wouldn’t even want to win. 

That would imply the game had actually finished. 

And the game never ends. 


Man Talking 

The man said he was falling. 

He praised Meister Eckhart 

and the Hindu mystics 

and explained very patiently 

how the imagination  

was like a free-range chicken. 

The blank page before him, 

he said, was part of the infinite. 

When he wrote the word ‘astronomy’ 

a galaxy would appear. 

So too the manticore and minotaur 

and metaphysical cricket. 


As he spoke the man rubbed 

up against a metaphor. 

The ballets of death performed 

on the back of his hand. 

Metamorphosis set in. 

Wonder stood at a threshold. 

He said ‘death is love’, 

dwelling upon the irrational, 

the paradoxical, the oxymoronic. 

In his voice the earth explained 

itself at the cellular level. 

He told us how he wrote 

in silence, about silence, 

and from silence. 

That his religion was his art. 

How all about our heads 

swam a slender sadness.    


Heady Stuff 

Beyond the bounds of physics 

and gravity’s bonds. 

Beside the laws nature provides, 

under a seventh moon, 

a blue sun, a neutron pebble, 

two light rays converging 

after a timeless journey, 

two atoms crossing paths, 

a fiery decimal tailed 

by numberless zeroes . . .  


To the house of the photon. 

In a chair of quantum packets, 

you and I starry fixings, 

miraculous sparks, awareness 

our incredible burden. 


So we chat about choices 

and the value of money. 

So we sleep late. 

Revel in childhood memories. 

Pine over love lost and love won. 

We go to the movies,  

attempting to lose ourselves 

beneath the cartwheeling galaxies. 


Children of the cosmos. 

Babes in a void of wordless black. 



Lateral thinking got me nowhere. 

I approached the matter from a number of angles, 

and still found little joy or satisfaction. 

And such needless consternation too; all because 

I’d written ‘argument’ in place of ‘agreement’.  


Finesse be damned, I employed blunt instruments 

(a bomb, for instance, will remove a bottle cap). 

Like a boxer, I circled my quarry.  

And then it happened — sweet bugger-all. 

As if I’d been talking to the bedroom wall 

or some other suitably inanimate object. 


It’s an art, getting what we want; 

even if it’s not what we wanted. 

Every hour is a hammer. Every minute is a nail. 


Black As A Sunday Hat 

Black is the colour of my true love’s eyes. 

Black, with blood in it. A black turned blue 

from holding a breath. The king of all the colours. 


Black seeks warmer temperatures  

and higher ground, taking itself very seriously. 


We accuse black of representing death, 

a task bestowed upon it by others, 

by those unaware of its true character. 


Black, of a mood or the nature of night-thunder. 

Loitering in caverns and at the bottom of the sea, 

its essence dominating gloom and winter’s gardens. 


As if in prayer, black is a poem we recite 

in mausoleums or when gone blind. Illustrated with magic, 

it’s that which is witnessed when shutting our minds. 


Now it’s midnight and black is in bed and dreaming 

of ashes, of purple, of the unexpected. 

Experiencing a nightmare of white light and lies. 


Black as a bad tooth or dilated retina. 

Representing what we've refused to acknowledge. 

Like a horse, say, or bull, or the ass of the moon. 


Happy Birthday to Us

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with poems published in hundreds of magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. The winner of the 2020 Libretto prize and author of four poetry collections and seven chapbooks, his poems have been performed and broadcast globally. 

Happy Birthday to Us
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