Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Solipsist by Troy Jollimore

What is it about the late Canadian artist Tom Thomson that keeps Canadian expatriate writer Troy Jollimore writing about him? Not to mention the unfinished novel by the late Roy K. Kiyooka as well, and whoever else has managed to write Thompson over the years, a member of the infamous Group of Seven. From Jollimore’s first poetry collection, Tom Thomson in Purgatory (published in Canada by Exile Editions, 2008) to the four poems that slip their way through his recent chapbook, The Solipsist (Cohasset CA: Bear Star Press, 2008).

Tom Thomson in Space

Some nights, when Tom retires, he pretty much
implodes: sucked back through nostril or an ear
into the starry void that lies behind
his sleep-blanked visage… Through his body crouch
corpse-still, sunk in suspended animation,
arid as freeze-dried food, his spirit finds
no rest—a cosmonaut, it treks where no man
(and even fewer women) have gone before:
Tom’s Inner Self. Its never-ending mission:
to seek out a new life—one not to bear,
but live… Out of range now of Ground Control,
and hurtling straight through Ursa Major, Tom
accelerates toward the inner wall
—the universe’s limit—of his skull…

Of the fifteen poems that make up The Solipsist, there are these four poems about Tom Thomson, who perhaps couldn’t be a more foreign entity to an American audience, an American publisher, scattered through like teasers, or reminders of what may even be a combination of play and even compulsion. What brings him back to this painter of northern Ontario trees?

The Solipsist

Don’t be misled:
that sea-song you hear
when the shell’s at your ear?
It’s all in your head.

That primordial tide—
the slurp and salt-slosh
of the brain’s briny wash—
is on the inside.

truth be told, the whole place,
everything that the eye
can take in, to the sky
and beyond into space,

lives inside of your skull.
When you set your sad head
down on Procrustes’ bed,
you lay down the whole

universe. You recline
on the pillow: the cosmos
grows dim. The soft ghost
in the squishy machine,

which the world is, retires.
Someday it will expire.
Then all will go silent
and dark. For the moment,

however, the black-
ness is just temporary.
the planet you carry
will shortly swing back

from the far nether regions.
and life will continue—
but only within you.
Which raises a question

that comes up again and again,
as to why
God would make ear and eye
to face outward, not in?

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