The Buster Keaton Poems


There is only so much
one can really take.

I can take a fall in my sleep,
but gravity comes from another century.
In the beginning gas lamps still lit the stage.

The first Buster to ever take the name,
he was as old as cinema itself.
The light of the projectionist
at the end of the dark corridor.

Waiting on acres to
say with the eye,
to have text in them,
and be read as dark brown.

Here is the body
it does what you tell it.
My pratfalls fill entire libraries.

One, two, three and
a knock in the head,
never registered
not once at all.

The Saphead (1920)

He is lent out like a cup of sugar and thinks summer mornings are always grand for sleeping. Despite the slight perturbation of time, it is definitely Tuesday. We watch him slowly eat a breakfast of toast and soft-boiled egg, sips of coffee in between. The wildness begins in every little corner, how silhouette portraits say hello to each other and shake hands. Everyone goes one way but he stands still, a gravity to his presence and levity to his pratfalls, knocking off hats at the stock exchange. Busted top hat and uncomfortable chairs, threat of financial ruin and the practice of half-turns. He tries to mimic a fast life, but can't get over being good.

The house is ready but the roof is too shiny, we empty rooms one by one with tiny suitcases and a steamer trunk, and it takes a while to carry it all up, life in little cups, we continually grow into our core.

Waiting for someone who never arrives, bouquet in hand, nodding notions, everything happens in a room, the walls close


After Buster makes his first short
Schenck lets Metro borrow him to make
a movie version of a stage play.

Douglas Fairbanks recommends Buster
for the role, saying he would look good cleaned up
and polished, slap shoes and flat hat put away.

The movie is more melodrama than comedy,
but he manages to wedge a few pratfalls in the end.

What critics notice is his quiet work
the steady eye in the tornado
that he can fall in and come
through the other side, unscathed.

The Balloonatic (1923):

After this bare escape, a backwoods romance begins.

milktooth hands
accidental voyage

                               you arrive in a
                                                three part canoe

the river is always faster
                                            than you think

we forget about the air balloon
& exchange dreams about flying

so many languages for goodbye

Railrodder (1965)


There are few jobs he will say no to and this travelogue is chugging at his days past. He has always been fond of the locomotive, the clap clap of the train always an encore to his sleep.

This country is strange and empty, the land stretches out forever until it is interrupted by powerful squats of mountains, you travel for days and only the quality of tree changes, the sky is wide open, the seas are of a dark indiscernible colour. The land, the tracks, the engine, the camera.

They are away from cities now. People come out of their small towns, curious and sniffing the air like springtime animals. Canada is a world upside down. The way they see him is different from the way Hollywood views him, but perhaps it's his age that they treat him like a well loved memory.

In between voyages there are hotel rooms and bespectacled press men; they ask him about the old days always. No one ever asks him about the Beatles.

Eleanor by his side, always with opinions. She thinks he's tuned the ukulele too low. He jokes that he ‘oughta sell her’.

On his 69th birthday they bring him cake in the train car and give him a miniature steam engine as a present. He knows that they fear that he will get hurt in one of the gags, he senses it too, every time he has a coughing spell.

His eye is something more in the way of looking, like seeing a distance beyond distance, a gaze that spills into a kind of eternity, like the way a bird flies so far away that you can still imagine it after it's disappeared.

Eyes Upon the Glass


It seems sudden,
but I have become
an old man.

In the mirror are ragged
gulls calling out alphabets
to a deeply unsmiling face.

Seeing my old movies
is like looking at myself
as my own grandson.

Imagine. I have been
thrown around since
I was a baby.

The television
is always on.
I like it loud.

One day I will lie down
among my walnut trees
as green leaves
crisscross the sky.

              Just wait. I have
a perfect gift of timing.