Leonard Cohen has always been there–at least during my lifetime. But I only really took notice of him when I stumbled across two short films, aired back to back on CBC. This must have been around 1985 or so. I was 25 and ready for Leonard.
The first was an old black and white documentary called Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen. It was a look at a young Cohen, trying to make himself a name as a poet. It hadn’t occurred to him yet that singing was much more lucrative. Even with his voice.
The second film was a sort of story told through songs and narrative videos called I am a Hotel. I was gobsmacked by “The Gypsy’s Wife”. Leonard entered my waking consciousness and I suspect there has not passed a day since then where his words or voice did not appear.
To A Teacher
[Dedicated to A. M. Klein (1909-1972)]
Hurt once and for all into silence.
A long pain ending without a song to prove it.
Who could stand beside you so close to Eden,
When you glinted in every eye the held-high
razor, shivering every ram and son?
And now the silent loony bin, where
The shadows live in the rafters like
Until the turning mind, a radar signal,
lures them to exaggerate
Mountain-size on the white stone wall
Your tiny limp.
How can I leave you in such a house?
Are there no more saints and wizards
to praise their ways with pupils,
No more evil to stun with the slap
of a wet red tongue?
Did you confuse the Messiah in a mirror
and rest because he had finally come?
Let me cry Help beside you, Teacher.
I have entered under this dark roof
As fearlessly as an honoured son
Enters his father’s house.
And I leave you with Leonard’s voice.