The Hill of Kayumba: Innocent’s Lament 

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, six thousand people hid on the hill
of Kayumba in its eucalyptus forest. When the killing stopped after
five weeks, Innocent was one of only twenty to survive. He stayed alive
by running from the killers for six hours every day.
To tell you what the sun fears
to see inside roots: the moments in the forest
when machetes bit another behind me,
beside me, and screams blossomed
into night flowers my ears had no vase for;

to tell you what a footfall is, desperate,
one after another, chased by machetes –
gray snakes – their hiss,
the sound eucalyptus hears in its skin, 
peeling and torn;

to tell you what a tree might say cuts
and flays bark like that
until the skin sheds and the ground must bear
the wound, then roots, then sap and leaves
so a tree always remembers
what I wish I could forget;

to tell you how a man, his fear, his hunger,
licks sap from a banana tree; 
how a man, on hands and knees
as he sucks water from a puddle, scrabbles
for manioc under the thorns,
might praise the snout of a pig,
the mouth of a goat;

to tell you why, still, I run, 
my words would need to stand
on straight legs, instead they 
stand on one leg with crutches.

My left leg, ripped apart, 
after the killing stopped.
A footstep on a landmine
in Kigali.

I’d been a teacher.
I’m a teacher again. 
Nothing had taught me 
how to keep running on Kayumba. 
Even after I imagined suicide.

But how a body refuses:
says no,
to the shelter under the wingspan –
ten-machetes wide –
of the maribou stork.
How a body won’t wait
for the gray crane to strike.

And still I run.

Words: their infidelities. What they would tell you?
About Rose, my wife, and our son, 
in a church in Nyamata. Where I left them.

Better to be cut down each to his own
out of sight of the other, we agreed. Better
to remember our best memories together –
that is, if any of us survived.

My new wife is Epiphanie
and I’m the father of four. 

No one left the church alive.

Richard Osler from Hyaena Season, Quattro Books, 2016



I have never prayed in Kyoto
or slept on a bed of cherry blossoms.
On my wooden altar, white petals
have fallen. Beautiful losses.

Plausible Grace

The hurry loves pauses for. Rain
stays longer in the Spring. What falls
will fall in love again. Green
stirred into constancy slurs
each syllable into one tree.
Ineffable, inevitable, finally
the thorn-apple hides its thorns.

After Winter

Alders, bowed dow, obedient.
Whatever made them bend
is gone. But still they pray,
the buds coming in.

Published in Where the Water Lives, by Richard Osler, Leaf Press, Nanaimo, 2012


After Seventy Years

Her kisses are missing. Call 911. My mother,
her eyes, are missing, their colour, blue,
Precambrian-lake blue, that old, that used
to a world, in its spin, its rounds around
a necessary brightness. The sun is missing.
The purple flowers of the Agapanthus lily
are missing. Gone seventy years. My mother
is lost. Call 911. She wanders from room to room,
passes through my father, leaves parts of herself,
like smoke from her Buckingham’s. It gathers
inside him, holds a blackness from buried years,
layer by layer – pressure and heat. My mother
is listening in a chair, in a room, to an agapanthus
that she wanted after my grandmother cared for it
for seventy years without a bloom. My mother
is missing. Call 911. She’s lost in a dream,
a lily asleep in the arms of the first purple bloom.


Going to Church In Nyamata, Rwanda

Let the tin roof creak and groan.
There are no sounds but this.
Small sounds.
The sound the sun becomes
on a hot tin roof.

These corrugations perfectly straight
high above the tiled crypt,
catacomb and skulls, thousands,
mirthless, having a last laugh.

Dust combs through cavities for secrets written in invisible ink.
I want distance, measurements.
By the foot, by the inch.
By the inch, a world

moves closer.

Clutch a rosary. No bridge
between here
and a puzzled god.

first published in Minarets Journal, New Zealand, Spring Issue, November 2012



I think of beauty. How it can step like a young boy from a shower,
the knee cap holding steady to motion, elbows asleep as arms dream,
hang down at his side. Each foot has eyes where a blink wonders
if a step can focus on time and drop sure-footed onto a slippery floor.
Hairless, the boy’s sex, already knows how to pay attention. For now
listens, a hand cocked at the ear; appears lifeless, something strung
from a beam to season and ripen in a dark room. This holds a beauty
but beauty too can set a world ablaze, then darken it: the fireworks
in London in 1940 andBagdad in 1991; beauty can change in a boy
who turns into a certain kind of man, one hidden, watching a woman,
her good looks obvious, her mind elsewhere, oblivious to the shapes
and shadows the street lamps leave on the sidewalk and the sound
her feet make on the crumpled leaves. I watch, thoughts of beauty
taking me back to forty years ago. I see bare trees, black screams
that cut stars out of the sky. I see houses, dark owls hunched over.
I see my friend and the man sprawled on top, her books scattered,
pale pages open like square moons, mute, her face turned up, the cut
forehead, her clothes like ripped skin, hanging. It’s her eyes
that draw me in. The way they look, on fire. I tasted water once
from an ice field that burned that clear in the mouth. Her eyes
focus on something past violence and talk to the man and his eyes,
dark pools where she might imagine a shape of something beautiful
just out of reach, and how in that speech, arrested, he talks back
and touches, gingerly, the blood under her eye, lifts his weight off,
kneels, then from his knees, straightens, stands and bends over,
reaches down to pull her up, hold her, as she stumbles, and they talk,
walk slowly to safety. Look, from a distance, like a couple on a date.

First published in The Malahat Review  Autumn 2011


A Month Before She Left

At the pool’s bottom, past
any reflection
including her wavering face
she sees the newt, smaller
than her baby finger
“wrong coloured”
as Bowering says
about his snake.
Belly up – prettier word
than death. It
is never small.
She finds the long handled pool basket
and fishes it out.
The yellow corpse
looks smaller still
as she holds the still,
cold body on her palm,
arranges the tiny feet, curls,
the long tail, lays
the body down on the warm top plate
of the pool-side light and waits.
What can it matter he wants to say.
Just a tiny newt. Then a tiny shudder
makes a quake in her throat.
Speaks of hope. That small.
She lays it in the grass
where it moves again
then lies still.
They look away.
When they look back
it’s gone.

First published in Prairie Fire – A Canadian Magazine Of New Writing in January 2011



She writes, ” please burden me with everything,
every last shadow. We never know what time we have left.”

Language is a spoon
he dips in a cup to find
words to pour on a page.

It is to be cooked, he thinks,
this loving. It is to be served
up, offered to hunger,
this world, each other.

This is how he avoids
her words, he thinks.
A poem.
She is far away.

So much shadow
falls on a life, a page.
A spoon. A cup.
This table in a far place.

He looks out on a garden.
The grass sings
the burden of its earth.

First published in CV2 Winter 2011



The storm forms slowly past the horizon.
The air listens. No wind. It will come.
Its million machetes will rip
and tear at new tin roofs and send
everyone fleeing back inside, their fear
as fierce as the wind’s taut blows.
Now the palm fronds droop, could be
men after a day in the fields. Waiting,
listening, for what will start as a whisper,
seem harmless, nothing to worry about
here with friends sharing stories and beer.
Then voices of children rise up, swarm
the man who steps from the car.
Smiles and laughter, open mouths
like moons rising from dark skin and history
Hands grab at his, rough against soft palms.
Something – red dirt, exuberant dust,
swirl of legs and arms, cries of Muzungo –
turns him into echoes that sing and dance
back and forth until he seems like them –
free from history and catastrophe.
Overhead a Chanting Goshawk circles
a blue-roofed pavilion, its turquoise pillars,
its altar, bright mosaics, and the word
twibukelet us remember.  The dead
throw no shadows. Walls so day bright
each breath catches fire, light the way
downstairs, to the bone room, coffins
racked on each side, packed with bones –
skull, femur, rib, vertebrae, tibia, fibula –
long rhizomes outside their season. Bone
quiet. No echo of village voices. Nothing.
He walks back outside, different, as if
walking with a stranger’s bones, his face,
another’s he hasn’t seen. Feels it heavy
like a mask he can’t rip off, his breath
all he hears, the quiet of the bone room
following him as he walks alone to the lake
and looks up to see clouds piled up
like dark bodies and under them blazing
white in the last of the sun, Cattle Egrets, more
than he can count, flying low, ghostly
as day darkens, all their wings moving
like hands waving steady goodbyes.

A different version titled A Visit – Rwanda was first published in CV2 Winter 2011


The Thing Is

He touches
her silver jug.
Utters jug.
Tastes what he can’t lose.
Imagines Rilke’s.
Like this,
beaten silver, dints
and tarnish, hands
to hold it, pour out
the water or wine.
It sits empty
beside the vase,
its blue-green ache,
no flowers to hold,
living or dead.
What he holds on to,
the stories lost
when no one else
remembers. The jug,
the vase, the spool
he found in a drawer,
the one wound
with red thread,
a needle attached;
the one used
for quick repairs:
the hanging hem,
lost button,
small tear.

First published in CV2 Winter 2011


Almost Blind

Once, in the twilight woods,
he bent to pass beneath
a fallen tree and didn’t see
the branch, pointed like a beak.

Today he watches a heron feed
at the shore. It waits, patiently.
Like loss. Stands still. So still
he loses it, disguised by dusk.

Then it strikes, blinding quick,
cracks water’s glass top. Comes up
with its reflection. Nothing more.
It waits. It will strike again.

First published in CV2 Winter 2011


The Trouble A Poet Is

At a centre for recovering addicts,
a hollowed out place with echoes inside,
I come prepared with some twenty-sixers,
empty ones I want them to fill back up
with words; but with this proscription:
no mention of bottle or booze
of any description – Old Crow, Jim Beam,
Johnny Walker Red, or Maker’s 46.
At first, blind stares: the look of fish
too long in the net or, up from the depths,
spelunkers too long in a crawlway.
Then some words: my wife; a prison.
And this: A wrecking ball made of glass,
from the boy/man  with his big-sass smile
and his tattooed swagger before he wrote.
I expected trouble but not this trouble:
the trouble a poet is. Their lies, the way
they upset the ordinary, the everyday;
describe a world farther away and nearer
than the one we think we know. Rilke
called poets Bees of the invisible. I am
thief and liar too, and call poets, their poems,
wrecking balls made of words. I drink
from these bottles all day, all night, long.

An earlier version was published in CV2 Winter 2011 Issue


In A Poem

His friend waxes on about a luminous moon.
He hates it—her moon. It glares at him
like a lamp the Gestapo or the CIA might use
to trick a confession out of him. To blind
the words coming out of his mouth so they blunder
and fall in the blazed dark and say more
than they mean to. Say what they will
until the moon slips off its silver skirt and heels,
puts on dark pants and black boots
kicks out his teeth, little luminous moons,
and then ties him down on a plank –
waterboards him –
until the light drowns in his throat
and his screams shine from a blacked-out moon.

First Published In island.writer MAGAZINE, Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2010



Waves gather up and fall.
Sun pours in from the east.
Tethered boats zig-zag
out on the bay. The wind brailles
my face. The brown dog belongs
to its stick, my throwing, the water
that holds them both up
and her insistence when I stop.
I have faith in this breathing
and writing and the crow’s black caw.
The geese left with three goslings
from April’s twelve. The smaller stick
chewed and now in pieces by my feet.
The small black rocks
lost in the volcano’s last breath.
The driftwood logs left on the beach.
My own life, coming apart
into the smallest things.

First published in Ruminate Magazine, September 2010


What I Want

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

Galway Kinnell

I want the copper lake, blue-green, the one
where the cinnamon brown bear lopes up the scree
stopping once to look back before its final bound
into the trees. I want the trees and what they say
back to wind, to rain and thunder. I want thunder
and lightning’s crooked light. And I want the morning,
sloe-eyed, and night stuffed back inside its purse.
I want the boat, the storm and the man in the stern
who calms it, the water before it turns to wine.
I want the late-day light, the way it streams
across the bridge suspended across the narrows
and the look of the sun-struck girl crossing over.
I want the brown eyes looking into her lover’s blue.
I want to say what is is not enough
when what is is war or famine, the bruised child
or the one who turns from her husband, all desire gone.
I don’t want that. Especially that.



Cedar Bog Baptism

Tell me. What did you see?
I saw
the summer pond eye-lashed
with its willows, the swallows
that dipped and broke
the calm
of  the blind eye’s sleep. I saw
three boys. They did not hear
me call. They approached
the pond’s
shadowed side, the dark border
with the cedar swamp.
They were not listening.
listening. They vanished.
Swallowed up. Later
I saw them come out,
pale- faced,
with blackened hands and arms,
the stench of  cedar bog rot,
and a large animal’s black-
stained bones.
I warned them. I warned them.

First published in Antigonish Review Issue 158, Fall 2009


The Dead of the Day

Incantations of the afternoon.
Hushed condolences of the wicker creel.
A green punt irons the back of the pond’s dark shirt.
Water so still a thought might break it.
Willows bend down and listen.
The day dries out on a log and sleeps.
Mayflies make a vow of silence, of hunger,
reach for sunlight like a rope.
The heart bells out into ripples
from fish that rise from the dead of the day.

First published in Ruminate Magazine, Issue 13, 2009



The yellow cut-flowers
in their cut-glass coffin
coruscate, all over the place.
All that finery blazing,
brilliant in late morning’s sun.
How is it, this display
splayed out, after record days
of rain reminds me of you?
Your combed brown hair,
blue dress, and your ghastly,
white embalmed face?
But it does. Now,
it comes back to me
like the bulbs you placed
so carefully – this memory
of your yellow daffodils.

First published in Ruminate Magazine, Issue 11, 2008


Moon Night

I climb up the dark driveway
and out into the open
where for the first time
since the last full moon
I can see my dog
nosing into and out
of the underbrush.

I can be stranger than any
stranger I will meet. Much
may walk abroad and be
kin to my strangeness.

This half-night – half-black,
half-white –  wants to take us
with it to the ocean where
it all began, too deep
for words. I call my dog,
throw her yellow rope and

throw, again. This way
I stay in this world.

First published in CV2, Spring 2007



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