3am

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Why is it that the world’s on fire at 3am?

On the cusp between night and dawn,

When all the sounds on earth seem miniscule,

All the traversing that could have been bought by dreams

Had I but gone to sleep.

The bent-out-of-shape that was, then wasn’t,

The letters we wrote each other but never dared to mail.

What is it about the air at 3am?

The scent that lies in the hour when ox and tiger meet,

Minutes beleaguered, blighted by insomnia.

If I stand outside and look at the pale horizon,

I’m convinced—if briefly, that I can glimpse both past and future,

Allow me the grace that I might beseech the gods for a reprise.

But only the silence of slumber could slay my dragons.

2165 Hillside

My new novel, 2165 Hillside, is coming out on June 24th. Here are a few review quotes:

Maxwell (The Month After September) stuns and surprises in this psychological thriller centered at the house that stands at 2165 Hillside in New Rochelle, New York … Readers will be gripped by the novel’s fast pace once the groundwork is laid.

Booklife – June 2022

The narrative is a tribute to masterful storytelling and Maxwell does an admirable job weaving together a network of extremely complex elements into a well-written, well-structured tale … The manner in which the scenes are organized, the change in POV with multiple narrators, and the pacing work well together to make a complicated story straightforward—a skill in which Tobias Maxwell excels.

IndieReader – June 2022

Annunciation

We never swallowed each other’s cum you and I, did we?
Why that was is not too hard to fathom.
For two boys so lost in irrevocable lust,
We were squeamish as much as we were young.

What was it about us that made us drown?
Did we lack in mindful parenting?
Why did our schooling not include all of the warning signs?
Deep, deep love corrodes before collapsing. Beware.

All those novels, those errant songs and turgid movies,
All those insights on life lived, love lost,
It never occurred to us that we were the protagonists,
That story, by its very nature, entangled.

Electric Vehicle Subsidies

Watching the recent three-part PBS Frontline documentary, The Power of Big Oil vis-à-vis climate change, I was reminded that as culpable as we all are in this imminent climate fiasco we’re trying to avert, that we’ve also been duped by powers large and small. Governments as well as corporations that have benefited from scrutable profits that we now know are unsustainable.

When we think of the global burden that wars in Syria and Ukraine have wrought so far, the millions of refugees that have destabilized not only European countries but world economies, a will to act must be born from this. Our government needs to think more globally as the influx of Earth’s populations begin to migrate due to the heating up of our planet and the destruction of arable land. Economies, like the air we breathe, are too interconnected.

Though electric car subsidies aren’t the most fiscally sound approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions (see J. Gessaroli’s March 28 Op-ed in the Toronto Star), and though electric vehicles are still cars and that, that alone will not fully solve our current climate crisis, I don’t think we can wait to take more aggressive action. Imagine if the Canadian government made it possible for 95% of all Canadian drivers to exchange their gas vehicles for all-electric cars in the space of only a few short years. Surely we would feel the benefit of the diminished GHG from tailpipe emissions. All that foul exhaust removed from our air would shift the needle in a formidable direction. That kind of government intervention would be a beacon for other nations to follow suit.

We need a more urgent response from our federal and provincial governments than the meager rebates being offered towards the purchase of expensive electric vehicles. Rebates are for people with money, if not loads of money at the very least access to borrow some. Rather than use the word rebate let’s use the word replace. Change the mindset Today. Let the Canadian government become the largest manufacturer of cleaner air through the mass production of zero-exhaust vehicles using the Defence Production Act. Use whatever power, be it expropriation or persuasion, to acquire design/technologies to reinvent how we do things. The recent announcement of a billion-dollar investment in electric car manufacturing plants is a step in the right direction, but we need to think bigger than that. Have the courage to actually lead. The cost is prohibitive? No, it isn’t. The alternative is what is prohibitive. The costs to cover climate weather disasters are already astronomical all around the world and no one is doing the real math. At a minimum, our government is not presenting those numbers in concrete fashion so that every Canadian citizen can see that what we are doing presently does not add up. That inaction will actually be what destroys us in the end.

As for Big Oil companies, well they need to be brought to the table. Their days are numbered just like ours will be if nothing is done. And done soon. Big Oil companies need to spend down their decades-long profits to make this societal shift happen. No more obfuscating. We heard it all before with Big Tobacco, Big Pharma. Those two industries affected only some people in society. Not so with Big Oil. The time has come. Reparations need to be made. Let Canada collect from them and lead the world. We’ll all breathe better for it.

Reparations, Part II

I’m forever surprised whenever I encounter blowback in a conversation on reparations. I can never quite grasp why it is that an intelligent, well-educated and seemingly non-racist individual cannot see the logic in having to make reparations for the historic harm that was done to one race by another. Surely they can’t deny that righting a wrong is the only way to move forward?

It happened recently. After California’s task force on reparations voted this past March to limit eligibility to those who can trace their lineage to an ancestor who was a slave, I found myself discussing the topic with a childhood friend and was faced with this familiar roadblock, almost a trope now. “Why,” he said, “should today’s society pay for something from so long ago?” To which I replied, “Because. It’s the only way to make amends. Compensate African Americans for egregious historical wrongs done to them and to their long-lost ancestors.”

Our discussion got mired in the minutia of politics and I walked away wondering how it was that we could exist on the same planet.  It all came down to the word, reparations. I thought about it afterwards and came to the conclusion that we should call reparations something else. A more basic word that any person who has worked for their living could appreciate:  Backpay.

If you’ve ever had a dispute over wages and been short-changed or cheated from what was rightfully yours—your hard-won reward for your labor, then you can understand the word backpay.

Backpay is owed to the tune of millions and millions of dollars to the descendants of anyone who was enslaved in the United States. Backpay for 246 years of legalized slavery. Backpay for the 99 years between the promises of Reconstruction and the hard-fought struggles that brought us the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Backpay for every penny that was stolen from African-Americans (with accrued interest) which is now in the hands of all the beneficiaries of those historic injustices. Us! Society. This entire country of ours.

I remember when I first visited a plantation not that many years ago. The wealth that I saw in the houses, the acres and acres of land, the way the docents never mentioned the present-day fortunes of all those families who had profited off the backs of slaves, nor how the founding wealth of the United States was made. I felt much more uncomfortable than I could have imagined as a tourist on that soaked-blood land. It’s that uncomfortableness that redoubled my belief in the righteousness of reparations. It’s why I hope California will lead the way, provide the necessary roadmap that will inspire a movement for a national solution to an injustice that was framed in the Constitution. That trapped too many victims to indentured penury for centuries.

We should start wearing buttons that state it simply: BACKPAY. Now.

Spring Stroll

The mental hibernation lifts like layered veils.
First, the sun changes angles, stays longer,
The smell of the snow shifts
From a hard crispness to a tenuous melancholy,
The kind you would find if looking to reminisce.

The paleness of the days start paying more attention
As below ground the deep sleep awakens.
There is no roaring … as yet.
The slumber we’ve noted down as winter,
Turns slightly now. Soon, the cascading changes
Will erupt. The caterwauling and the roar,
The payday of spring as it goes out for a stroll.

In Search of Spring

The angle of the February sun,
Conspicuously higher in the western sky,
Suggests more vigor,
Hints at an earlier recovery.

The ground, molested by snow,
Smeared with gravel and footprints,
Littered with the doodles of perched pigeons
All lined up along the street cables.
Huddled up there as if to say—
“You think you’ve got it rough!”

The sprites that come with spring,
Are still a few months away,
So I’m left to idle, bide my time,
Waiting for the opposition to grow.

For my Aborted Child

It isn’t that I don’t think of you.
I do so every day.
It is not that I do not have regrets
Because I do. How could I not?

How to make amends with an act
That seemed so right at the time?
At the time! That is what abortion is.
Yours was a time that could not come.

Would I have been a good father
Had we acted differently, taken a chance?
I do not know. I doubt it.
Some people are meant for parenthood; others not.

I know I would have tried. Gallantly, possibly.
But trying and succeeding are often miles apart.
The gamble did not seem wise,
To make misery from something so unplanned.

So, I own my responsibility in your demise,
But there is no guilt. Only chagrin
At what might have been had we dared…
Taken your gestation in our stride.

Winter Landscape

There’s a smell to winter,
An entanglement with a long ago childhood.
I cannot pinpoint this unprovable fear,
That sense of danger attached to cold.

The sharpness that strikes at my nostrils,
The loneliness that seems endless
When the nights arrive too soon,
Without enough sunlight to the days.

I lost myself in one of those angry winters,
When the sky was stark, the threat of calamity real.
The message as clear as the nights were long:
Only one side wins in this recessive landscape.

In the Nude

The last art modeling I did,
1987 — a university sketching class,
The academic year was coming to an end
And I was moving forward—new town, new goals.

I vaguely remember thinking …
Will this be it? After twelve years?
The last time I’ll stand naked for all to see,
The last time I’ll be totally free?

The uneventfulness of the unplanned,
Like solitude on a busy Friday night –
I was dressing. My jeans were still unbuttoned,
A young man and his girlfriend came up to me.

“You smashed it up there.”
“Thank you?” I said.
“Do you model elsewhere?”
“This is my last class.”

Their silence made me ponder whether to explain.
I tied the buttons on my solid-colored shirt.
I hadn’t really decided until right then …
They were the last artists to draw me in the nude.

After the Pandemic

The degradation of the autumn leaves—
This carpet of fallen soldiers,
The blood-brown quilt that stains like
A haberdashery of abstracted colors.

The annual symbol of passing time
Reminds me of my father’s features,
When I look into the mirror of late,
The elongation of generations that stares back at me,
Come to roost? In search of a contemplative pause?

Life seems to be saying more this year.
More loss. More change. Where rhapsody once was,
Now lies the calibrated soul on the mend.