Jack Mitchell




 

Into a Dream

This lyric was inspired by Sappho 58, in its theme of the tragedy of mortal-immortal love. You can listen to the Roberto Rosenman Quartet song! It appeared on their 2014 album Upstream.
She said, “Now I look at you differently:
I see you’re no more what you seem
You used to be real, but the ecstasy I feel
Is turning you into a dream.”

He said, “You’re a nymph, a divinity
A girl whom I dread to blaspheme
I burn in your eyes in a ceaseless sacrifice
That’s turning me into a dream.”

When the gods take up with human beings
Tears will fall like rain
     Sweet as sin
     That’s how it’ll always begin:
Pleasure’s never given without pain.

Short is the path of mortality
That falls for the powers supreme
At the end of the day, they are laughing far away
And turning us into a dream.



 

Leaving Me to Be Blue

A poem about an afternoon, evening, and night of post-romantic introspection, sung by Barbra Lica for the Roberto Rosenman Quartet on their 2014 album Upstream.
Afternoon at the cafe
Just like every day
     Here I sit thinking of you
People finish up their tea
Leaving me to be
                    blue

Now it’s evening in the street
Following my feet
     Here’s the drunk ten o'clock crew
Having fun officially
And leaving me to be
                    so blue

So you said my love’s a bonfire
Burning up what might have been
I'm a martyr on a tall pyre
This is the end, and it’s here I begin

Morning in the sky
Time to say goodbye
     Au revoir, maybe adieu
To the memory
That was leaving me to be
                    so blue



 

Dance Again

Another poem for the Roberto Rosenman Quartet, again inspired by Sappho 58: in this case by the first half of it in which the speaker laments that she can no longer dance with the young, but here in a more optimistic style. Also featured on Upstream.
You're here, it's you!
Been wishing since I don't know when
To see you do
That fancy little dance again.

I like your style
And this is now and that was then;
A secret smile
Enchants me to the dance again.

And if you want me to love you forever
Sorry but that's not me
These days good girls display
A certain agility

Before you drown
Your sorrows with the other men
Cheer up, sit down,
Romance me 'til we dance again.



 

First Poem for LVG (22 April 2009)

This poem was set to music by a Toronto composer commissioned by my aunt, on the occasion of my wedding; LVG is now my wife.
It's nothing but coincidence
For winter usually relents
In April, when the birds begin
To chatter, girls to show some skin,
Skateboards to clatter until dusk,
And shopkeepers to be a bit less brusque;

I know that patient nature's art
Has no such answer for my heart,
No prophecies for me alone;
One omen yet I won't disown
That chants the gods' benevolence:
Her eyes of grey, that mock coincidence.



 

Birthday Ode for Alasdair Penz

This baby, now a vigorous young man, was born a month prematurely.
Born before the summer evenings fade,
On your tired mother's lap new-laid,
Son of Priya, Nihal Alasdair,
Heir of Erik, nothing could deter
Your resolve so softly to embrace
Parents who have longed to see your face.



 

Epithalamium of 2008

Not two, but one;
Not halves, a whole
And perfect unison
Was sung today:
Where Humber's hillsides roll
I heard them say
Beneath the chuppah's flowers
That all life's hours
That fill the mortal day

They'd spend entwined,
Nor sink nor yield,
Nor cease to seek and find
In th' other's eyes
What glorious love revealed:
The heart defies
The flesh and mends all wrong,
As gentle song
Makes laughter of our sighs.



 

Casey in the Dock


The immediate background to this poem is that
Bill Casey, the MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley (a riding in Nova Scotia) and a long-time Conservative politician, was expelled from the Conservative caucus in 2007 for voting against the budget, which he claimed broke the Atlantic Accord (an agreement between the federal government, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland). He was subsequently targeted with below-the-belt electoral tactics but triumphantly reelected. This poem was composed quickly (in about half an hour), immediately after Casey himself made public the below-the-belt electoral tactics he had been targeted with. It is of course a parody of the famous baseball poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer.

The very happy ending of the whole saga is that Mr. Casey, a distinguished patriot, not only won reëlection as an Independent but is still an MP in the House of Commons, having been elected as a Liberal in 2015.
The budget wasn’t gentle to the Maritimes that year;
Th’ Accord then lay in tatters: precious little thus to cheer;
“Atlantic Tories can’t accept it,” journalists did say:
But turns out they were cowards; only Casey voted Nay.

For Casey was a Member of our honest Parliament
The like of whom this glorious nation has but seldom kennt:
He never fobbed his riding off with speeches learned by rote,
And what’s more, when he gave his word, he backed it with his vote.

They chucked him from the caucus and behind him locked the door
They left his party card in little pieces on the floor
They said, “Get out! And nevermore disgrace the Tory brand
With talk of how MP’s can take an independent stand.”

He piled his stuff in boxes: pictures, letters, notes of thanks,
The bric-à-brac of twenty years of service in the ranks
And drove the dismal highway at the closing of the year:
Then Casey, even Casey, at the wheel could shed a tear.

He parked the car in Cumberland and walked to Musquodobit,
His heart was heavy as he passed a dwarf and dusky hobbit,
But just as Casey reached the crest and gazed upon the scene
His heart rejoiced and sobs of joy replaced his sometime spleen.

For all around the Valley, through the streets of every town,
His proud constituents had come to add to his renown:
The lawns, the poles, the chimneys all were decked with banners bright,
And each and every one of them said “Casey, you done right!”

They clustered round him, sang their songs, and lifted him on high,
The men looked on with envy and the women breathed a sigh;
But there among them, ‘mid the mirth, were some the Devil sired,
The Tory organisers who ‘gainst Casey now conspired.

They hated his staunch virtue, and they hated his new fame:
The hated him the more because the people praised his name.
And PMO had sent them out from Ottawa’s dark caves
To muddy Casey’s reputation — scoundrels, villains, knaves!

They donned their balaclavas and they clubbed some baby seals,
They fabricated accusations of dishonest deals
And with a silent cackle slipped them in the Mounties’ mail,
And scurried back to Ottawa to hit the campaign trail.

You know the rest, dear reader, how the carpetbagger came
And got his ass kicked back to where the Tories have no shame;
The people stood by Casey, rich and poor and young and old:
The Casey vote outclassed the Tory’s numbers by tenfold.

But now we wait to see if evil scheming in the dark,
The balaclava politics, the ethics of a shark,
Shall muddy yet the name of one would not hurt a mouse,
Of Casey, mighty Casey, pride and honour of the House.



 

Die Schreiberballade

The poem below was composed to illustrate the difficult position of a former prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, in November 2007 and for quite a while thereafter, after a corrupt German businessman, Karlheinz Schreiber, alleged that he had given Mulroney huge sums of cash in order to buy his influence; he later testified that West German sources had partially funded Mulroney's takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1983. At various points in the saga of scandal and recrimination, Mulroney affirmed his concern for "his father's name," a reference I found so comical that I composed Die Schreiberballade, mainly as a parody of gothically Romantic morality ballads like Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The wind was in the Southern alps,
   Ocktoberfest was past,
And there upon the mountain heath
   I met a man aghast.

He sat beside an empty sack,
   In Schreiberhosen clad;
“My father’s name, my father’s name!”
   His voice was passing sad.

“Oh, stranger, who art thou?” I called
   And hastened to his side.
“Why dost thou on the mountain heath
   Thus mortify thy pride?”

“I was a prince,” he weeping said,
   ”Across the western sea,
My brother was a mighty king,
   More powerful than me.

“I sensed it was my fate to reign,
   I coveted his throne;
My treachery was kept in check
   By lack of funds alone.

“By chance, one woeful winter morn,
   (Forget, I never shall!)
My steps sought out the magic vale
   They call the Schreibertal:

“Like silver shine that valley’s fields,
   A gilded pleasure-park;
The blooms upon the trees appear
   As dollar, franc, and mark.

“And as I wandered, now I heard
   The piping of a flute,
And to my ears the song described
   The joy of German loot.

“Beneath a tree the piper sat,
   The music reached an end;
Now up he leapt and shook my hand
   And smiled just like a friend.

“No more than four feet tall he stood,
   All ruddy was his hide;
But as he danced about I felt
   A twinge of Schreiberleid.

““Now thou art come,” the wight declared,
   “We’ve long awaited thee
In Schreibertal we understand
   No throne is bought for free.

““Thou wouldst ascend? Then I shall help!
   Thou art a Schreiberfreund.
This money and thy kingly dream
   My piping hath conjoined.”

“Just so the Schreiberhobbit spoke
   And ope’d a sack of gold;
And countless glistening coins were there,
   A wonder to behold;

““But first there is a price,” he said,
   “A footnote to thy fame:
Not now, not now, but yet someday
   Shalt owe thy father’s name.”

“The gold was fair, and in my mind
   I pictured my renown;
The gold was fair, and on my head
   I felt my brother’s crown.”

“Stop there, poor prince!” I cried, appalled –
   My teeth began to gnash –
“Or tell me, for G-d’s sake, that thou
   Didst spurn th’ enchanted cash!”

“Alas!” he wailed, with staring eyes,
   “As though by hell impelled,
As helpless as in evil dreams,
   I took the Schreibergeld.

“Then back I went, and with my haul
   I gave my brother grief:
My thanes flew to my banner bright,
   Securing me the fief.

“For nine sweet years I reigned in bliss,
   In battle triumphed twice,
But in the glory of myself
   Forgot the Schreiberpreis.

“One night, between the royal sheets,
   Just as the midnight neared,
I woke and heard a raven squawk:
   The elfin sprite appeared.

“I would not pay — I would not go –
   The cash was all but spent –
I bade him flee to Schreibertal;
   He vowed I would repent.

“No dungeon guards could hold him back,
   But from the walls he spoke:
My father’s name he soon destroyed
   Before the frightened folk.

“My castle burnt, my sceptre snapped,
   With empty sack I roam:
Behold me now, my friend, and dread
   The vengeance of a gnome!”

So spoke the broken prince, and wept,
   And could not be appeased;
I fled across the mountain heath
   By haunting horror seized;

But in my ears his words ring still
   Like echoes from a tomb;
To all the world I propagate
   The lesson of his doom:

Oh, do not swear a Schreiberschwur
   To be a Schreiberheld!
Go never into Schreibertal
   To seek the Schreibergeld!



 

Stephen Harper, Piano Man

Mainly known as a policy wonk and ruthless master of political chess, our former prime minister, Stephen Harper, astonished the world with a public performance of The Beatles' "A Little Help from my Friends" on 3 October 2009 at the National Arts Centre.

Needless to say, this
tour de force set off a ceaseless string of jokes about the PM as a pianist / singer / entertainer, especially at the Maclean's blogs; but I owe the immediate inspiration for this parody of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" to my good friend danby, who was the first I saw to use the phrase "piano man." It recounts an afternoon in the House of Commons during Question Period, just as the original recounts an evening at a bar.

Notes:
  • "a weasley Nova Scotian" = Peter MacKay, then Minister of Defence;
  • "I'll demand that we honour the dead" refers to a Harper Government habit of accusing assailants of disrespecting the army;
  • "Jack with the 'stache" = Jack Layton, then Leader of the NDP;
  • "if I hadn't got myself duped" refers to Layton's response to various CPC bribes to prevent an election in the Fall of 2009;
  • "that francophone crystal-eyed maniac" = Gilles Duceppe, then Leader of the Bloc Québécois.

You can try singing along with these lyrics using the karaoke audio file below. The singer would start in at the 33-second mark.
It's two o'clock on a Wednesday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's a weasley Nova Scotian sittin' next to me
Gettin' psyched for some serious spin.

He says, Steve, should I take this one for you?
I'm not really sure what she said;
But I think it began with our stimulus plan:
I'll demand that we honour the dead.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree

Now Jack with the 'stache is a friend of mine
He keeps my side firmly in power
But he's quick with a squeal or to turn on his heel
Or to stuff your gun muzzle with flowers

He says, "Steve, I believe this is killing me"
-- As the hearty moustachios drooped --
"Well I'm sure that I could be in Cabinet
"If I hadn't got myself duped."

Oh, la la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Now Iggy's is a Russian aristocrat
Who never had time to live here,
And he's lecturing Rae, who's gone Bob Barker grey,
About how to expand his career.

And that francophone crystal-eyed maniac
Is rising to plead with the Speaker:
Yes, they're sharing a dream they call Parliamentary government,
And I secretly wish for a streaker

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree

It's a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday
And that creep Van Loan gives me a smile
'Cause he knows he'd be dead at a nod of my head:
That's just what they call "leadership style."

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the backbenchers caper like seals
And they laugh at my jokes and join hands in the hoax
Of defending our long-dead ideals.

Oh, la la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree