from The Last Temptation of Bond (UAP, 2013)

Bond Dreams a Marquis
[P O RT R A I T D U MAR Q U I S D AF F L I T T O , TA M A R A D E L E M P I C K A , 1925 ]

Bond emerges from the dark lake, pulls off the wet suit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo underneath. picks a carnation from a rogue bush in the garden above the beach.
inserts it into his lapel. lights a cigarette. brushes off his shoulders and enters the salon, not a hair out of place. a skinny waitress anticipates his arrival and offers him a freshly-shaken vodka Martini from a silver tray.

in the other room, the Marquis reclines in front of a garish brown- green mural. the studio nearly too small for its representations. an odd assortment of trees, some tamar. the sky is steel. a mature elm reaches, motionless, behind the man’s left shoulder.

in the cocktail lounge behind the painted forest, Garbage’s “The World is Not Enough” seethes through the open doorway. through the late night bourbon and cigarillo haze, champagne swirls in flutes of crystal. tassels on drop-waist ball gowns flit left then right. James Bond mingles, uncharacteristically chatty. Art Deco laughter reaches the painter’s studio in muffled tinkles of caviar and chrome.

in the studio, a strong hand holds the calf of a meaty right leg, holds the legs open, the thumb crooked above. the knee is bent at ninety degrees. an unseen foot in — no doubt — a patent leather shoe rests at the end of the grey settee. the left leg is extended along the length of the cushions.

meticulously buffed nails of the left hand hang in repose from the cuff of the deep midnight dinner jacket. the white shirt extends an inch from inside its sleeve. the room’s overhead lights sheen the lapels to blue-black and silver. one pale blue vein drops and splits just below the left wrist. fingers long and thin. delicately jointed. his unseen heart is as black as night. the jacket is buttoned at the groin, falls open slightly at the midriff. reveals a spotless starched white shirt, a tapered waist, a subtle twisting of the torso toward the painter. the enticing pose the subject’s gift to the portrait maker.

wide shoulders sit astride the man’s casual arms, the collar of the shirt, a burgundy-black bow tie. its knot partially hidden by the man’s chin. above the chin a mouth with the sharp edge of cruelty despite its red, moist openness. no trace of a smile. the slightest of wrinkles, suggestion of a scar near the edge of the lower lip.

cropped black hair perfectly shaved around small, aristocratic ears. shadowed eyes half closed look out at the viewer. blackness and depth. feral, intoxicating. an invitation to coupling, to power, low lidded. deep V creased into the forehead. the facial skin otherwise smooth and young.

a single button holds the subject’s dinner jacket closed. the sharply tailored hem flows over thighs and warm suede, draping open as it frames the groin. it rises to prominence, the focal point at the end of the eye’s journey from the face. full and rounded, trousers taut against its heft. the portrait maker blends ultramarine and zinc white. builds the organ’s shape and life.

Bond stands on the terrace, a chilled Martini glass in his hand. subtle. his cover unbroken until he answers this woman. her gin- soaked, lazy-lipped question. “and you are...?” she’ll recall his first name, but not his last. she’ll be screaming “James, JAMES!” into her pillow later tonight, but his face will not penetrate her
mind. he’s safe with this one. soon she’ll be out of her skull on the orgasms he’ll give. he plans to toss her in the morning.

you know what they say today’s newspapers wrap tomorrow’s fish.

the Marquis’s hands have not killed, have not pointed the way to murder, to espionage. but these hands have gripped delicate champagne flutes. have surely stroked the inner thighs of diplomats’ wives on secluded balconies while their husbands deliver stilted keynote addresses to rooms filled with stiff businessmen.

the portrait maker’s work is finished for the evening. the Marquis swings his legs over the side of the settee, stands, smoothes the jacket, lingering as he strokes the front of his trousers. he fastens a second button. approaches the painter.

places a slow kiss against the hollow of her throat, leaves the scent of himself under her chin. swings the black velvet cloak across his shoulders. leaves the studio without a backward glance. he returns to the cocktail party while the painter replaces metal caps on tubes of rose madder and yellow ochre. in the other room a skinny waitress brings the Marquis a Martini on a silver tray. two olives swim in the viscous, backlit liquor.

a darkened balcony overlooks the teeming nightcity. his hands both full now. a double vodka Martini in one, a middle-aged breast in the other. someone’s wife. holding the pose has caused a soreness in the left shoulder. he rotates the cramped socket. eager, ringed fingers massage its stiffness. in the shadows, a spy watches.

she inserts her tongue into the cleft between the jut of his chin and his lower lip. his groin at rest now. languid. eyes bored. elsewhere.

a painter slips into the night, unseen, her paints in a stained wooden box in her right hand.

Brioni Dinner Jacket
[ C A S IN O R O Y A L E , 2 0 0 6]

the first time you appear in your black Brioni dinner jacket, you’re a reflection. you adjust your collars and cuffs, do up the top button of the tailored white shirt. the bathroom mirror of your suite at the Hotel Splendide admires your lithe profile. the camera over your left shoulder. large round lights pick up the
strawberry in the short blond hair on this incarnation of you. rough hands straighten the bow tie.

the cinema is full. when you enter the shot, three hundred women utter little cries, gasps, whimpers. the sight of you adjusting cufflinks, stroking the jacket over your belly and groin, gazing into your own steel blue eyes. three hundred male heads turn toward the sounds, arms encircle sighing shoulders of women they’ve brought along (some against their will: those who tend to fall asleep during Bond films so they won’t die of boredom. some more than willing to be here: those who don’t mind watching
you blow everything up as long as you wear a tux, sweat a little at your upper lip, raise a wry eyebrow while you’re doing it. those who know the first sight of you in that tuxedo — timeless, never out of style — will start the Slow James Bond Burn they’ve loved to feel ever since Dr. No, or A View To A Kill or whenever they were tempted into your world of lust, intrigue, guns, cars, and impeccable dinner jackets over chest and thighs).

the theatre full now of men reaching for kisses, whispering, calling attention to themselves, anything to distract the women from the screen, from the lips and cufflinks of this Bond.

real men are no competition. we preen and dress up before we go to the cinema, put on extra mascara, tolerate the arms around us, the futile attempts at suave conversation afterward, the clumsy ordering of Martinis in dull pubs. because we know that you’re aware of us, that we watch you dress. and you like it.

Heart is as Black as Night

ONE and James Bond sit in the darkened Parisian nightclub. the lights dim. cigarette smoke blues up into the ceiling fans, whirlwinds around the tight space. polite applause and tinkling champagne goblets.

stinking red velvet curtains struggle open to reveal a four-piece combo. drums, a stand-up bass, a lead guitar
a svelte, forty-something blonde in a low-cut
mauve Jenny Packham gown. tilting on heels and three too many Martinis.

Bond snaps his fingers for a waiter More champagne. Please.
and two Rusty Nails. the singer fake blonde hair sticking in her teeth — screws the microphone with her lips, her manicured crimson nails raking its tip and stroking out the pain.
slithery lips in wet shades of quivery orange ricochet
lights above her. wrists obscured by a dozen clinky bracelets of gold and borrowed love. a cigarette threatens to burn
the tender space between the first and second fingers of her right hand.

her eyes closed, her false lashes brush her drunken cheeks, hips in a quiet dance in time with the lead guitar’s licks. ash drops, smoulders at her right shoe.

Your Heart is as Black as Night. ain’t that the truth, ONE thinks. she watches Bond through the crystal pattern
in her goblet, the multi-faceted diamonds, his sweet lips lapping his alcohol
dizzies her through bubbles and brushes on a snare drum.

on stage, the singer goes into the expected routine. simulated orgasm, exaggerated “oh”-ing and lip-licking.

at the end of the number, it would be a lie to say that the crowd goes wild. the crowd — such as it is — gives its drunken approval as well as it can. the heavy, soiled velvet squeaks shut, catching the lead singer’s left wrist reaching through the opening. a kiss spiraling its way
through the haze to J ames Bond .

ONE grabs him by his tie and hauls him to his unsteady feet. she drags him to the exit, a goon of a man opening
the sticky metal door for them.

his heart is as black as night. this night. stumble him into the cab at the curb.

at the stage door, ash drops from a red velvet nail to the greasy pavement below.



[for Birk Sproxton]

you and I would talk about this kind of seeing. this distinctive scan/sweep that true prairie people do on winter highways. the yellow Deer Crossing signs so much a part of our travel we almost don’t see them any more.

we’d make jokes on this long drive Medicine Hat to Swift Current.
careful! silhouettes of deer leaping against a bright yellow background for the next ten K!

in summer, our eyes spending more time on wheat and on red-winged blackbirds swaying on tall bulrushes in ditches than on the asphalt ahead. low, curved letters and vibrant gang tags on trains shunting alongside. in winter, watching for the prick of ear, the flicking tail of sudden motion. snow tossed up behind hooves. feet hovering over brake pedals.

they’re east and a hundred yards from the highway. or were a few seconds ago. what draws them so quickly to this March ditch, white rumps lifted? to the thick drifts, the buried vegetation. the black and blue roaring beasts that encase us on the long strips of gray they insist on crossing.

(does he know he cannot outrun me? that bobbing and weaving will get him killed even faster?)

you’d have said,
see what you see, Beach. it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand you. you understand you and so do I. they’ll try to pigeon-hole you. you’re a poet. or you’re a fiction writer. god forbid you try to do both in the same book. CanLit might explode on the spot if anyone tried that shit.

the antelope now at the six-at-night highway’s edge near the Maple Creek turnoff. skittish, both of us. I slow, eyes up and backwards on the semi growling up behind me at one-twenty. I need more eyes. the animal steps into the road and I’m able to swing to the fast lane seconds before it paws the hard surface full with snowblind light and sprays of slush.

(what does he think I am?)

ditches thick with ears and hooves. dirty with the twist of metal and spray of windshields from last night’s crashings. a blue Charger on its roof, its guts splashed, yellow police tape and dust of snow.
you’d have called me.
meet me at the bar. we need to talk. “the bar”: our table in JB’s Lounge at the Black Knight Inn. you’d have poured me more wine. you’d have said, don’t write poetry. don’t write fiction. write Books. just write everything and toss what doesn’t work. don’t forget it takes a heap of shit to grow a single rose.
in the slow lane, I watch backwards, powerless. the antelope crosses the path of the swerving semi. I want the driver to stay on the highway safe, more than I want the animal to live.
my note to you:
but what if they rip me to shreds? what if they don’t see what I’m doing and they kill me?
your note back: always a gentle admonition. why aren’t you writing, Beach? our way of each crossing over into the solitude of the other, a prod, a shove forward into danger, you shoving me more often than the other way round. because at the moment, I’m answering your note, “Doctor Sproxton”.
our eyes in continuous motion across medians, into ditches, scanning the fields of hay bales. our eyes the long green wand that sweeps the radar screen, the
blips the deer and pronghorn antelope we squint at in dusk.
(they see me. they only need me not to run them down.)

you’d have said,
it’s not “what if” they rip you to shreds. it’s “when.” toughen up, girl. have you got what this takes?

I didn’t know then. I don’t know now that you’re gone. what I know is that I can’t see ahead. the road is wilting with snow and ice. the antelope tries to outrun the weaving semi. a desperate back and forth in the fast lane, hooves and tufts blurring against white. the grill’s teeth slash at the buck’s hindquarters, legs thrashing in air as the animal spins through the sideways snow once, twice, three times, four. horns to the sky briefly, then clattering on pavement. I turn back to the road ahead, narrow my eyes to see something. anything but what I’ve just seen.
you know I dream of you often. you come to me just as you were. clean cotton and love. you give me writing advice that vanishes as I open my eyes. you hug me. I wake up crying, my shoulders still warm. your small kiss of beard tickly on my cheek.
forty-eight years of country living and highway driving, stuck to blacktop and plunging into dusk, backroads and four-lanes and never, not once have I seen the collision. as a girl, I asked my mom why the deer like to lie down in the ditch. don’t they have a bed to sleep in somewhere with their sister and brother? my own sister and brother leaning either side of me in the back seat, road-bounced into sleep and drooling. lolling heads and blue mittens on the floor.

no bullshit from mom.
they’re not sleeping. they’re dead. a car hit them. I began my scan/sweep seeing a decade before I could drive.

ahead of me the warp-speed stabbings of snow in the dusk of headlights. behind me is death. behind me is fur and blood and more animals waiting in the ditch.

(do they grieve? do they see the dead one in the ditch on the other side? do they cross to be near him, their whiskers thick with frost nudging the flesh of the buck?)

the truck’s hindquarters swerve on the oil of ice and salt. it rights itself, pulls over.

I can do nothing. but how to unsee this.

a few kilometres ahead, the white rump of a semi sticks itself into the roadway, its nose buried in ditch snow, lights still on. I swerve around its ass end, exhaust in plumes from two rattling pipes.

you’d have said,
they’re going to cream you, no matter what. so just write what you need to write. you’d have said, you don’t need me any more. you know what to do. you’d have clinked your glass to mine. you’d have handed me your new poem. you’d have hugged me to you, your white whiskers at my throat.

I only know to keep driving. keep going forward. into what, I can’t see.

* This poem first appeared in
Prairie Fire, 34:3 (The Birk Sproxton Tribute Issue)