Last year, in Fredericton Mall,
a mother lost her little girl.
They found her in the women’s washroom
where two old ladies were cutting off her hair
and dressing her in a young boy’s clothes.

Wanted in Winnipeg.
Vanished in Vancouver.
Cheap alliterations in tabloid headlines
disfigure each tragedy.

Sometimes we think we recognize their faces.
This young girl with an old woman’s body
standing at a Yorkville window.
That other girl on Yonge Street
selling her body for drugs.
That flash of underage flesh
mounted by strangers
and glimpsed in a pirate video.

Do you call for call girls when you travel?
That midnight knock on your hotel door
is someone’s missing daughter.
You saw her once before on an airport advert
or on the carton of milk you opened
for your family’s breakfast.

What traveling salesman would you trust
to take your only daughter’s body and treat it well
while she promised him the sexiest time
he would ever have?

But in Goya’s Spain
it’s the males who disappear
usually during the night.

Most times, their families never see them again.
Sometimes, as in this etching,
their bodies are found, nailed to a tree
or dumped in a side street with the garbage.





Go down to Queen Street
on a summer evening,
or walk to Odell Park
and look in the dark
beneath the trees:

you’ll find them
gathered round a fire,
drinking meths or after-shave.

Fly Karsh from Ottawa.
Lodge him in the Beaverbrook
then bribe these Bacchants with free
booze and bring them to him.

One day their photos will hang
with those of Hatfield or Robichaud
in the New Brunswick Hall of Fame.

That’s what Velásquez did
when he painted his dwarfs
and topers, and you can see them
in the Prado today,
as famous as
Spain’s King and Queen.

Court Dwarfs: Velásquez


Court Dwarfs

Calabacillas, the idot of Coria;
Francisco Lezano, the child of Vallecas;
don Diego de Acedo, the cousin;
and don Sebastián de Morra
in his red velvet coat:

a pride of lion-hearts,
these medieval jesters,
blown up
in some practical joke to
a full life size
that competes with their majesties
for our dialogue
with this time and place.

 Their captive souls
run the gauntlet
of their canvas jails.

Their eyes
recall those of Segismundo,
imprisoned in his tower,
drugged, then dragged
from darkness
to the palace’s brightness.

On his return to prison:
“Man’s greatest sin
is having been born,”
he cries.

Heir to a kingdom,
surviving in darkness,
rags and chains
binding his royal flesh:

 “Life is a dream,”
he sighs,
“and every dream,
a lie.”

Velásquez’s Secret


Velásquez’s Secret

Two large paintings
hang on the wall,
one in front of the other:
Las meninas.

I gaze at the serving maids,
the royal princess,
the court dwarf,
the sleeping dog.

The painter,
stranded behind his easel,
paintbrush waving,
stares back at me.

I turn around.
The second painting
is not a painting:
It’s a mirror.

There I am,
standing by the princess,
one of the family.
I move my hand
and wave at myself
across the centuries.

Like the four court dwarfs
staring out from their wooden
prisons on the walls in another room,
I emerge from obscurity
and join the élite:

the painter
waves his magic wand
paints me
as I stand beside
the king and queen.