(June 15,1942 / Aravayal, karaikudi, Tamil Nadu, South India)

Miners' Canaries

Do you believe in fairies?
I do not, but I believe
that miners have canaries
that may help to relieve
the stress of digging deep
into the ground, where air
is rare, and men may sleep
because the air that’s there
is toxic. How I wish
that I possessed a bird
like a canary. Fish
do not need any word
to keep them where they can
breathe through their gills, but I
would benefit, a man
who can’t land from sky,
luftmensch, with pulmonary
problems of the mind.
If only a canary
would let me walk behind
it, acting as a coxswain,
I’d navigate my mind
To air that has no toxin.

Inspired by a poem in Kay Ryan’s collection of poems, “Flamingo Walking”:


It isn’t arbitrary;
it isn’t curious;
miners’ canaries
serve ordinary purposes
with just a fillip of
extra irony.
Something is always
testing the edges
of the breathable ––
not so sweet, not so yellow,
but something is always
living at the wrong edge
of the arable; something
is always excused first
from the water table,
chalking the boundary
of the possible
from the far side;
even in the individual.


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