A warning, a movement, a collection borne of protest.
In Watch Your Head, poems, stories, essays, and artwork sound the alarm on the present and future consequences of the climate emergency. Ice caps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species extinction is accelerating. Dire predictions about the climate emergency from scientists, Indigenous land and water defenders, and striking school children have mostly been ignored by the very institutions – government, education, industry, and media – with the power to do something about it.
Writers and artists confront colonization, racism, and the social inequalities that are endemic to the climate crisis. Here the imagination amplifies and humanizes the science. These works are impassioned, desperate, hopeful, healing, transformative, and radical.
This is a call to climate-justice action.
This anthology is not to be missed. The pandemic may have defined our year, but the climate crisis defines our time in geological history. See how this roster of talented writers and artists advance the conversation, put the crisis in context and call for climate justice.
The following quotes were paraphrased from these sources:
Mona'a Malik’s stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, Joyland, Event, The Puritan, and Ricepaper, among other venues. She received an Arts and Letters NL award for poetry, and placed first in Carve Magazine’s 2020 Prose & Poetry Contest. Her play Sania The Destroyer was produced for Theatre New Brunswick's 50th anniversary season (2018-2019), and was a finalist for the QWF Playwriting Prize. She lives in Tiohtiá:ke/Montréal on the unceded land of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation.
Liz Harmer is the award-winning author of The Amateurs, a speculative novel of technological rapture, which was released in 2018 and a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. Her essays, stories, and poems are published widely, and her second novel, Strange Loops, is forthcoming with Knopf Canada in 2022.
(from a Sixth Floor Apartment
Earth is not easy
to get down to
civilization is all
up in the air
a matter of building
on top of another
of this poem
forms in the air
as though space
were a convenience to slide on
as though the mind
were as liquid as this
down to the earth
In the cities of the damned
the air is so thick
the veins stand red against the eyes
Grey forms of the living
walk about in the fog
dead dreams of investors
hang like a haze in the air
The rest is forced
as though the mind
did not follow it
to the sea
We have entered a time we cannot believe in
it has come upon us so late and yet so fast
In any other time
we might have called this
the age of the soul
where business is no longer
a matter of property
but of what
Noli me tangere
is a necklace the earth wears
O civilized man
take your cold hand
of the earth
of the sea
breath of wind
Is it a fish or psyche
flops upon this beach
thinking to drink the air
"Presages" first published in Standing Back. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1971
Robert Hogg was born in Edmonton, Alberta, grew up in the Cariboo and Fraser Valley in British Columbia, and attended UBC during the early Sixties where he was associated with the Vancouver TISH poets and graduated with a BA in English and Creative Writing. In 1964 he hitchhiked east to Toronto, then visited Buffalo NY where Charles Olson was teaching. After spending a few months in NYC, Bob entered the graduate program at the State University of NY at Buffalo, completed a PhD and took a job teaching American and Canadian Poetry at Carleton University in Ottawa for the next 38 years. He currently resides at his farm fifty miles south of Ottawa and is working on four collections: Lamentations; The Cariboo Poems; Postcards, from America; and The Vancouver Work. His publications include: The Connexions, Berkeley: Oyez, 1966; Standing Back, Toronto: Coach House, 1972; Of Light, Toronto: Coach House, 1978; Heat Lightning, Windsor: Black Moss, 1986; There Is No Falling, Toronto: ECW, 1993; and as editor, An English Canadian Poetics, The Confederation Poets – Vol. 1, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009; and from Lamentations, Ottawa: above/ground, 2016. Two Cariboo poems, Ranch Days – The McIntosh from hawk/weed press in Kemptville, Ontario, and Ranch Days—for Ed Dorn from battleaxe press in Ottawa have recently been published (2019). He recently edited the April 2019 Canadian poetry issue of the Portland Maine Café Review.
WATERY HIGHWAYS HOME
Roll down the car window –
of the winter wren.
The world’s sorrow
is fathoms deep,
is undertow –
it shapes the darkness
that contains us.
What kind of broken are we?
releases into light
above the trees.
Is it wind
What is sound
air guns detonating
shock waves of noise –
a babbling calf
trailing its mother’s
code, the audio glue
of pods on the move,
on watery highways
home. A wonder
can hear another.
Where are you?
Where are you?
Cornelia Hoogland’s forthcoming chapbook, titled Dressed in Only a Cardigan, She Picks Up Her Tracks in the Snow, is forthcoming with Baseline Press (2021). Her latest book is Cosmic Bowling (Guernica, 2020), a collaboration with the visual artist Ted Goodden. Trailer Park Elegy and Woods Wolf Girl were finalists for national awards. Hoogland was the 2019 writer-in-residence for the Al Purdy A-Frame and the Whistler Festival. http://www.corneliahoogland.com/
OFF THE GRID
The hamsters in Burnaby were assholes. One was on this gluten-free, low-carb diet and even if you bought the right brand of gluten-free, low-carb diet pellets, he’d still crap in your hand if you weren’t cradling him the way he liked to be cradled. Meanwhile, because of the special treatment, the other guy, whom the ad described as “beleaguered but friendly,” squealed and thrashed in the cage. Twice a day with this. All winter. But it was a rent-free place out west. It was a start.
Mom called every day, usually when she was at the nursing home, visiting Dad.
“Any chance we’ll see you for Christmas?” she said.
“These gigs don’t come with vacation time.”
“Well, that’s not very nice.”
“Snowbirds don’t fly home until spring, Mom.”
“Snowbirds? It hasn’t even snowed yet.”
“That’s climate change for you.”
She put Dad on the phone, and I told him about my hamsters: the high-maintenance one and the angry one.
“Rodents?” he said. “I’m on my deathbed and this is what you’re doing with your time?”
Dad had been on his “deathbed” for nine years. The stroke paralyzed his whole left side and while the doctors said—with hope, hard work, and time—there was a chance of recovery, Dad was a pessimist, so hope and hard work were out. Which left only time.
The high-maintenance hamster crapped in the angry one’s bed and I told Dad I had to go.
“You remember when you were a kid?” Dad said. “When you’d ask me what I wanted for Christmas? And I could never think of anything?”
“I just thought of something.”
“A pillow over my face.”
The angry hamster took note of the crap in his bed, looked at me, and started into some lunges and shoulder stretches. Prepping for another squealing/thrashing episode.
In Surrey it was low-chirp budgies. These were normal budgies, genetically modified to chirp a little less. For rich folks. These particular rich folks were the Smuggs, 30-something department store catalogue models who spent half the year in Montreal, modeling.
The guy next door, Steve, lived in an eco-home. Solar, geothermal, rainwater harvesting, the works. A net-zero footprint. Which was great except that it reminded me of what I left behind in Toronto. I gave up my construction job for a non-profit that traded eco-homes for inefficient detached houses. Curbing wastefulness, promoting green lifestyles—luring sheep from the flock essentially. The pay was garbage and even if the dream of being self-sufficient, owning an eco-home myself, seemed impossibly out of reach, I was doing my part to save the planet, building these places for other people. Steady, noble work. Turning 40 though, living at home, earning less than one’s mother, there are existential questions one begins asking oneself.
Steve smoked weed, so I was over there quite a bit. We lounged in his backyard amongst the stray stalks and shoots of the overgrown vegetable garden. I brought over the budgies in their cage. Steve didn’t know the Smuggs even had them.
“They’re low-chirp,” I said, taking a drag.
“So they don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers,” Steve said, throwing his head back, laughing at his own cleverness.
Steve always had his Green Day playlist going, which I thought was maybe a little too on-the-nose given his eco-lifestyle.
“These guys are probably average environmentalists at best,” I said. “They’re more anti-establishment.”
“What do you think environmentalism is?” Steve took the joint from me. He pointed to the Smuggs’s house next door. “You know these pricks have a second monstrosity in Montreal? How’s that for a footprint?”
My high was coming on strong now. The Smuggs: younger than me, set for life with money, and I was taking care of their stupid birds. How did everyone get so far ahead of me?
“It’s all temporary,” Steve said. “Time is borrowed. You give everything back to the Earth when you check out. A house here, a house there—what’s the point? People gotta feel important.”
I closed my eyes, felt myself drifting.
“You know, those budgies really are pretty quiet,” Steve said. “It’s nice.”
The pygmy goat in Coquitlam was a hush-hush job—the municipality frowned upon keeping them as pets—so Mr. Jenkins and I usually stayed home. But his owners had a leash for him and said he liked walks along the mountainside. Which was perfect: after the ocean, the Rockies were the main draw for me out west.
It was surreal, the humbling perspective of seeing the endless range of wave-like peaks up close. Mr. Jenkins led the way, his little bum wiggling along a mountainside trail. He was 15—I read online that these guys live 8 to 18 years. He was just happy to be outside, looking for adventure, oblivious that the clock was ticking.
Mom called. She was at the nursing home visiting Dad.
“Your friend Derek phoned,” she said. “Apparently you cancelled all your social medias? He said you went AWOL. You didn’t give him your cell number out west?”
“Not really looking to be reached.”
“Apparently they’re planning some boys trip to Vegas.”
“Ah, the mid-life crisis tour.”
Mr. Jenkins went off road, bounding through tall grass, westbound toward the setting sun, which somehow, within minutes, turned the sky from blistering orange to an almost artificial pastel pink. I imagined Mom, had she been here, shitting on the moment, warning about the imminent threat of ticks. You’ll get Lyme, she’d have said. That’s what you get for straying from the trail.
“Dad’s going downhill,” Mom said. “I try to keep his spirits up, but he checks out, isolates himself.”
“He’s got stuff to process,” I said. “Things to come to terms with.”
“He shouldn’t be doing it alone.”
“We come into this world alone…”
“Ugh. Please come home,” she said, her voice breaking. “I can’t keep this up by myself.”
I could have moved away from home before 40. Living with one’s parents until one was nearly middle-aged wasn’t exactly the path most travelled, but somehow it was always easier to stay. Comfort, fear, whatever it was, I just went with the flow, let life happen to me.
“I’ve got my own stuff going on now.” It was weird hearing myself speak up, risking ruffled feathers. “I have my own things to process, to come to terms with.”
Mom cried. “Is it selfish that sometimes I wish the stroke killed him?”
It was a Sunday morning. Mom was at the butcher’s for her monthly haul of resource-intensive animal flesh. She came home and found Dad slumped over the living room ottoman. Doctors said he was 20 minutes from being a goner. So close, Dad said.
“You’re allowed to put yourself first,” I said.
She gave Dad the phone. He told me about bingo night at the nursing home.
“Won six dollars in change,” he said. “You know the difference between me and this handful of coins?”
Here we go.
“They’ll still be in circulation next year.”
Mr. Jenkins veered back to the trail and stopped to pee under an enormous tree, a lone Douglas-fir, set apart from a dense patch of other Douglas-firs higher up the mountain. Probably a hundred feet tall, this tree. Been around forever. Pissed on by generation after generation of domesticated animal to walk this trail. Resilient though: growing despite urine-soaked roots.
I was supposed to be a veterinarian. Couldn’t get the squeamishness under control though. I failed Grade 11 Biology because I passed out when they set the scalpel and frog corpse on my desk. This was a disappointment for Dad. He worked at an oil and gas company with the dads of my classmates: he heard about it at work; I heard about it at home. I was the “bleeding heart.” Every family had one, a sheep of a different colour.
In Vancouver, I walked Jericho Beach. The ragdoll at the duplex near the university was a social guy, ran with a gang of neighbourhood cats. Self-sufficient.
This was it: the ocean. I guess not technically. An inlet of the pacific? A connected waterway? A manageable sampling of ocean: to ease sheltered people into the experience, to curb the stupefying awe.
Guys in camping chairs fished off a pier. A lapdog—a Shih-Poo or otherwise genetically-modified animal—curled up in one guy’s lap.
My bare feet sunk into the sand, granules filtering up through my toes. The sands of time. Time slipping. Slipping between the cracks. All those nice clichés we use to process such things. And then of course the surf rolling in, erasing every footprint along the beach, smoothing over all traces. Like no one was ever there. Profound stuff.
One of the camping chair guys reeled in a fish, a huge thing. Out came the camera. Photos of the impressive catch. Then the clever idea for a photo of the thrashing fish next to the Shih-Poo—for scale. The fish, hanging from the line, hook still through its face, and the dog, pink bow on her head, locked eyes. Then posed for the camera. And the guys, they were just happy to be outside, excursioning, oblivious that the fish wasn’t having a good time. Which was fine. Because maybe they’d have strokes one day and forget about happiness altogether.
The entire flight to Toronto I was trying to calculate my share of the emissions, reconciling necessity with hypocrisy. What would Dad have said? Old Bleeding Heart’s polluting the skies.
It was probably selfish to give up the non-profit job, to stop fighting the good fight so I could “find myself” out west. But saving the planet was never about saving the planet anyway. Try self-preservation. Animal instinct. Convincing myself I had a say in avoiding carbon suffocation, heat wave incineration, etc. Because a lone wolf stands a chance against the pack, right? Because creatures of habit are eager to change?
It was shoulder-to-shoulder through the terminal. At the baggage carrousel, I stood amongst fellow cattle. Outside, I waited in line for a taxi. I was back. Back in that pack.
Was it selfish to wish an end to your fear? Or maybe the fearful just weren’t supposed to survive.
Dad died yesterday. Mom was there. She was always there. For everyone. I used to feel guilty for letting her take care of me so long. I thought leaving would unburden her. It never occurred to me that taking care of people wasn’t a burden. It was instinct.
A cab idled at the curb. Spewing exhaust. I could have taken public transit, but I was done wasting time. The sun was going down. There were arrangements to arrange.
Mom would ask me to stay. I had a return ticket. She’d offer to take care of it though—everything.
Adam Giles’ short fiction has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, The Feathertale Review, The Humber Literary Review, Riddle Fence, The Dalhousie Review, and other journals. His story “Corduroy” won the University of Toronto Magazine Short Story Contest in 2013. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario with his family. Find him on the web at www.adamgiles.ca.
Samantha Jones lives and writes in Calgary, Alberta on Treaty 7 territory, and is mixed Black Canadian and white settler. Her poetry appears in Blanket Sea, CV2, Grain, MixedMag, New Forum, Room, and elsewhere. She is currently a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Calgary where she studies carbon dioxide cycling in rivers and the coastal Arctic Ocean. Find her on Twitter: @jones_yyc.
A DISCUSSION WITH OLD MAN WHO LIVES IN THE FOREST
Old Javanese: urang [person] utan [forest], or “person of the forest”
In the treetops, I once saw my grandfather wrap a cigarette filled
with cloves and cardamom. Watched him take a pull and felt
the marrow thin inside my bones. The aroma, a reminder of
places I intended to go, though they had receded into a room called
extinction. It was odd to see him there. His beaded eyes a reminder
that culture and the wild-man were not incongruent like
the translations may say. Arms languid and longer than recalling.
There is no need to split apart my body to search for
the similarities. His flapping cheeks
are shaped in apocalyptic medallions like my brothers. Ache
unfurls at the vision of smiling red hairs, while I remain at
the precipice of the street below. He starts a puff,
did you ever stop to consider that Enkidu represents
the start of the Anthropocene?
“I no longer have the four arms essential to semi-terrestrial living.
If we spent eighty percent of our lives in trees, we’d ache less.”
He sees irony, a corn of transcendental hypocrisy,
to this fir-framed house liver, but it’s his blood. In the middle
of the night, she wears solitude in the plenty of her veins and
he sews the bones. Clotted with wars and grafts,
cultivations serving a new purpose: pushing nutrition further into
fissures too deep that only plantations exist there. Impenetrable
flat cacophony incurs scarcity and violence upon
the next generation of everything. She wants to fix forever, but the paws
and fungi that used to cross paths for tea have already been replaced.
He watches her quivering aftereffects of stitching,
don’t let the palms take root like the Asphodel Fields,
they make you forget of the habitats that once were.
It’s an odd sight, to see him on a mechanical contraption,
peddles elucidating the enormity of his legs. Large V’s
jutting out like wings of a collapsing aircraft, a spectacle
not meant to be observed. A saffron-cloak and rollup in his jaw
frees his arms for travel. This time, he has come to visit her. Axles and
wheels a vortex to further phenomenological
discussions. She wants to dream of a good place, barren from
complications, but the body is hectic with museums trips and forecasts.
He enters her cerebrum the way one enters a show,
popcorn and candies in stuffed purses. She’s read up on Heidegger
and Euripides, but the discourse isn’t enough to stop a cynical
critic of a family member. In low coos he throws the mantle,
every person in your time is Melinoë birthed from inherited madness,
birthed from a river in the underworld. so swim through it in victory.
As a Canadian, Maryam Gowralli draws inspiration from her Trinidadian-Indian and Indonesian heritage. She is an MA student in English Literature at the University of Calgary and is the Creative Nonfiction Editor for filling Station magazine. Her debut poetry collection, Citizenship in Water is forthcoming with That Painted Horse Press in 2021. You can find her works at PRISM International, The Carribean Journal and untethered magazine among others.
LIKE AN ICEBERG
“What harm could it do?” Sam says into the frozen waterfall. He holds an ice axe in each hand, a tangle of straps and carabiners jingling on his orange harness. Sam huffs mist into the air. Above us, a hundred metre wall of ice.
Ice climbing was Sam’s idea. The doctors cleared the trip to Banff, but told him not to overdo sports. He’s already weaker than he was, and he doesn’t need undue stress on his immune system. Mum went cross-country skiing on her own and Sam said he was going to the grocery store, came back to the time-share condo with his arms full of rented equipment.
“We can walk there,” he said. Lately his face has started to thin out. He was already going gaunt. But in that moment he was gleaming.
“Sam. It’s not a good idea.”
“Come on you lanky sapling!” He was smiling like a champion, the way he smiled when he talked about his art. “You were born to climb.”
I couldn’t say no.
Now he tightens his crampons and steps into the ice. “Here we go, Long John Silver,” he says over his shoulder. He climbs briskly. Lately, he’s been subtly weakening. But now his face seems to glow, and he moves quickly, even with the heavy gear.
“Like this, right?” He grins down at me, kicking his toe into the ice.
“Toe in the crampons, put the screws in every ten metres, I think.”
“What?” Sam smiles down, pounds his ice axe into the waterfall. He’s only two metres up, so the fat five-foot icicle he releases is relatively harmless. I’m just glad I searched “ice climbing basics” on the walk over, and that we’re staggered.
I wait for him to put the ice screws in and set the anchors. Then I climb up behind him, driving my axe in. On this side, it seems, the freeze is a little more consistent.
The desk clerk at the neighbouring hotel said this is a popular moderate-expert spot, but that it was still a little early and the ice was temperamental this time of year. I guess no one else decided to test a frozen waterfall for the first time on Christmas Eve.
Before long we’ve found a rhythm, grinding the ice axes in, huffing into the cold, blood flowing. The axes are light and powerful. The waterfall could be a little more frozen—the odd large chunk sloughs off when the axe hits. But it feels just solid enough.
We hit a hump in the waterfall and walk flat-footed across a ridge. Who would have thought simply walking on crampons would be the craziest part of all this?
The next bit is the last tongue, a sheer climb of thirty metres. Dig, toe, tug, breathe. After the last screw, Sam climbs impossibly fast. He’s a little crazed, hard to keep up with.
“Is it too late to say this is stupid and crazy?”
Sam grins down at me. “Two choices,” he calls. “Up or down.” I haven’t seen him so happy in weeks, maybe months, maybe ever.
I dig deep. Toe-in, axe, smash, pant. I’m sweaty, tired, hungry, cold. But I’m almost there. Another chop, some ice chunks off. Then I get the axe in, the last one, and I see my brother’s hand reaching out.
“See,” he says, pulling me up the top. “It wasn’t that hard.”
He’s flushed and beaming. I’m thirsty and sweaty.
Sitting on the top, we look out on the snow-cloaked vista, unpacking our sandwiches and cold trail mix. The pines droop with yesterday’s snow. Sam starts talking about water, about ice. “Staring into the ice all the way up,” he says. “It was so intimate. Wasn’t it?” I shrug like “yeah” and he goes typical Sam, saying how crazy it is, how we take it for granted that an entire river can freeze and thaw, liquid becoming solid, then changing back.
“We don’t see it,” he says. “The world’s all around us. All this surging wonder and we don’t see it. We just walk through it like ghosts.”
He pauses, swallows a bite of sandwich. All around us the mountains towering, hunching like great still gods.
“Sometimes,” Sam says. “I think it takes a sickness like this to really live.”
I don’t argue that. I just let the words hang, breathe, dangle. I let my brother feel what he needs to feel.
“Sorry,” he says eventually. “I’m being morbid again.”
In the distance there’s a road cutting through the mountains, sun glinting off the hoods of SUVs. Sam points to a distant peak and we watch an eagle drift down, then rise again, riding a thermal. A wind passes through the mountains, shaking snow off the branches of the smaller trees.
Fishing through the trail mix for an M&M, I gesture around at the vista. “It is beautiful up here. Satisfied?”
“Yeah,” he says, standing up. There’s a strange glint in his face. “Absolutely.”
Carefully, he brushes the snow from his legs. Then he smiles at me, the look in his eyes gone manic. He says, “I love you brother,” and starts to run. Races full speed in his crampons, tearing for the edge, the hundred-metre drop.
I stand up and take a step but it’s useless. He’s already at the brink. Already leaping, spreading his arms like wings. Over the lip of the frozen river my brother hangs, for a moment, and falls.
A friend once told me that grief is like an iceberg: most people only see the tip of the pain while the bulk broods in the hidden depths. I’d like to go see one someday. They don’t come up the bay, wouldn’t make it past the peninsula, especially these days. There are more and more of them now that the glaciers are calving. Some are as big as Jamaica. Ice islands floating in the open sea. I would have liked to go see one with Sam, if he was still here. Maybe one day I’ll go out to sea, and I’ll think of him as I watch one bob and melt, float out to the great Pacific garbage patch.
“And then,” Sam says to the people gathered in the living room. “I jumped. I flew.”
It’s February now, and Sam’s confined to a bed in the kitchen. The palliative care nurse Cass’ mother helped to arrange is more or less living with us. As he waves them, excited, his arms are strangely thin. Around his mouth he has the wrinkles of a forty-year-old smoker. So wrong beside his youthful eyes.
There’s a room full of people—Mum, Cass, Jeremy, even Roger—gathered for my birthday. We’re eating my favourite: grilled cheese with singles and peanut butter ice cream cake. Sam is being as charming as possible, telling the ice-climbing story like this great exploit. Like it’s funny. Which, maybe it could be, in another place and time.
“And then he asks, ‘You satisfied?’” Sam chuckles, takes the plate of cake Cass is handing him. “We’re up there on the side of a mountain looking out over all the pines, the winding frozen river below.”
He starts fumbling for the plate. He’s clearly having trouble, getting frustrated with his fork. He’s getting some weird looks. Everyone’s waiting for him to tell the story or take a bite. He reaches his fork forward and misses, sighs, circles back.
When Sam jumped off the edge of the frozen cliff, I didn’t realize he was still strapped in. Even still it was stupid. He broke two ribs crashing into ice and sprained his hip from the drop. When I walked to the edge and saw him dangling there. “I needed to do it,” was all he’d said. “I needed to feel it. I needed to feel.”
He knocks the cake onto the ground. Everyone is tense, trying not to grasp. No one says anything. Mum watches, stunned. She stands up but can’t seem to move. “Um,” she says.
Sam is glaring at her, then the window. His jaw is set, his face thin, frail, his arms shaking.
Cass stands up. “Okay,” she says to the room. “It’s probably time to go.”
People stand up nervously, gather their things.
Sam grins morosely, perversely. “Happy birthday,” he sings with an awful off-tune melody. “And many more.”
When we were little, maybe eight and ten, Sam and I went swimming alone. There’s this beach at the edge of Sych Harbour, if you follow Hill Street all the way up and back down again. It’s a day’s bike ride there and back. Mum was working the day shift and Sam had just started looking after me on his own and he took me there. We brought sandwiches and a thermos of red juice and biked all day but when we got to the beach we didn’t stop. We biked past the hillocks and the tall grass to a place where a river led out to the sea. “You have to go hard and fast,” he said. “Straight across. There’s an undertow.” I heard “under-toe,” pictured a wire-haired gnarl of a toe that grew up from the floor of the river and tried to grab small children. We waded in and found it strangely cold in the full of summer. It wasn’t wide but it flowed fast. “Come on,” Sam said, and I waded in behind him. He leapt and started swimming and I watched the water twist him. Watched it turn his body and push him diagonal to the sea, the current taking my brother away. Stood there wanting to follow him but shocked still. The rush was taking him, torqueing him, though he was working hard, wailing his arms up and over, pushing and pushing with all his power until finally he reached the other side, crawled wheezing to shore. As soon as he had his breath he turned back to me. He’d gone far, far, down the river, halfway to the open mouth of the sea. But when he cupped his hands and called out, I could still hear him, barely. And I could hear the grin in his voice. “Come on,” he shouted, shivering with cold and joy. “It’s amazing! The river—it’s alive!”
The thing about icebergs is that they melt, and there’s something beautiful in that: ice leaking into water. Because when you zoom out, you see that ice was water all along. Water changes from solid to liquid, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.
I didn’t follow him that day. I waited and watched as he swam back across to safety, through the living river. I knew, then, that I would never be as alive as he was. I knew that life was both in time and beyond it. And I knew that my brother was a tossed stone rippling the river of me.
David Huebert’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. In 2020, David published his second book of poetry, Humanimus. A new story collection, Chemical Valley, will appear in fall 2021. David teaches at The University of King’s College in K’jipuktuk/Halifax, where he lives with his partner and their two children.
WE SHIT PLASTIC
Stooling myself to death one pellet at a time,
filling my pants with bakelite scurf and microbeads of phenol-formaldehyde
We shit plastic!
Polymeric slime from my thermoplastic gastric sac
synthesized into my cosmoplastic casket
the morning sky behind my office building
was a fading orange:
an old painting before restoration,
it was the type of orange
I could almost taste:
the cloudy memory of my Nonna’s knotted knuckles
in the golden hour glow of
the type of orange
I could almost hear:
the distant creak of my Nonna’s
I walked through the
into the office,
where there were no orange tastes or orange sounds
too white to hold
anything at all
when I left,
the sun was long set,
its morning colour, already a memory
THE OTHER SIDE
we fell in love
out of tree branches
whispering wonderings about the ancient history of its bark,
about the long-lit office building windows on the
of the river
that carried ducks and swans and geese
and tissues and
plastic bags and
empty vodka bottles and
fast food trash
our first date
we snuck onto the city
one side overlooking the
sunlight-adorned stream, the
autumn leaves falling like slow tears the
a parking lot
we walked through
a forest with no path
with our discovery
chattering about how more people should
fall in love
we came upon
eyes wild with panic,
limbs entangled in
plastic Halloween decorations
Cassandra is a Strategist at a marketing agency in Toronto, having graduated with an Honors Specialization in Creative Writing and a Master of Media from the University of Western Ontario. She has been published with eMpower Magazine, The Feminine Collective, Beautiful Losers Magazine, Pip Magazine, The Impressment Gang and Synaerisis Press. While studying at Western, she published a literary and arts zine to raise money to support the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She currently serves on the editorial board for Room Magazine and is always looking for new ways to connect with and serve her community through the arts. Twitter and Instagram: @cassandracervi
I saw the icons of my generation trashed, pounded, run over.
Sunlight, Madge, we were soaking in it. That box that held our Kisses
was flat. Lifestyle came undone so that life was hanging on by the grate
and style underfoot. What happened is everywhere.
"The future is in plastics," said the man in The Graduate, and it is.
One night last century, I dreamt I sat on a high wall, an open book
on the ground and the sea rose. Be careful the book! I called.
The water came anyway. What is precious and who cares and how much?
To each her own footwear in the apocalypse. It’s not just the litter, it’s the latter.
But some people notice. Someone took these pictures.
In Australia, fire eats the houses.
In Venice, someone's couch was swept into high water.
Tourists looted the Vuitton store and swam away with the goods.
Since Tom Waits isn't dead I call out. What am I seeing?
Misery’s the river of the soul, he says. Everybody row.
The young are out mopping, because there's no school when
there's no school. And the old, well, it doesn’t matter how tired and dazed you are
when you’re up to your knees. All you can do is wait. The tide will turn.
Sunlight. The real thing. Until the next siren. Fire and water and fire and so on.
Sisyphus that old trooper. Sisyphus is us.
I SAID TO THE SUN,
"Good morning, I love you. But please can you also go to Venice?"
They are drowned from exhaustion, mopping up.
'We are down on our knees', their mayor said. And as if too much
feeling added 'but only when praying.'
The sun was not political. She said, "I’ve been here
since the beginning but I’m not alone.
The sky is my company and the ocean is riled
and there is unholy steam from the ground.
I should stop my breathing in California,
Australia, across the Amazon they don’t want me.
The earth is my mirror. Cracked and dark. Or soaked.
Wherever I go, I am too much, and not enough."
And the sun shone weakly. Which was not enough.
Didn’t know if she was coming or going
and she was both.
A voice said, "remember, when your Republic really gets into trouble
there is only one way out: SAY YOU'RE SORRY
THEN BUILD A SPECTACULAR CHURCH, GRAND
ENOUGH TO CATCH THE EYE OF THE MADONNA! It works!"
I looked at the watercolor of Salute Cathedral built by plague survivors
in 1631. That floor I'd stood on with its mesmeric tiles.
Today, locals stream in for Festa della Madonna,
If I were down to my last pennies of hope, would I fling one into a flood
and make a wish? Throw a coin and see which side faces up? Look there?
My eyes are open and on the sky. What we love cannot save us.
The sun is down now and searing the other side.
And I am writing from the present to say,
"Goodnight, dear friend. I hope you find some
peace tonight, though you turn and turn."
THE NIGHT THE RHINOS CAME
The night the rhinos came we had nowhere else to look.
They were not accusatory, but trotted towards us like big dogs.
One turned her face left to show us her profile,
batted one eye at ours and fluttered there. To watch
a three-thousand-pound animal flutter makes a great gape of awe.
The children shrieked: He's looking at me!
For size is often male,
and scares or flatters us with its attention.
But she has nothing to do with that.
And trots away.
If this were a dance, a dream meeting,
we might bow and leave her.
But someone among us here is dreaming
power, will buy a rifle,
run out and begin the killing,
is already having nightmares, planning
an illustrious future.
It's still possible to love
how small we are
in the face of her face
and our fragility.
"The Future” was published in “The Litter I See Project” in February 2020.
The voice quoted in stanza 5 of “I Said to the Sun” is Cat Bauer’s from her blog "Venetian Cat, The Venice Blog: Venice, The Veneto and Beyond”
November 23, 2013
“The Night the Rhinos Came” was commissioned for the symposium “Rhinoceros: Luxury’s Fragile Frontier” which was held in Venice, Italy in 2018 and published in the exhibition catalogue. It was also published in Canthius in 2019. In 2021, it will be included in a special issue of Luxury: History, Culture, and Consumption focused on the Venice symposium and edited by Catherine Kovesi.
Ronna Bloom is a teacher, writing coach, and the author of six books of poetry. Her most recent book, The More, was published by Pedlar Press in 2017 and long listed for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her poems have been recorded by the CNIB and translated into Spanish, Bangla, and Chinese. She is currently Poet in Community at the University of Toronto and developed the first poet in residence program at Sinai Health which ran from 2012-2019. Ronna runs workshops and gives talks on poetry, spontaneity, and awareness through writing.
Pollok Free State, 1995 (i.m. Colin Macleod)
New car smell rammed into the roadbed until it stinks
of the earth’s gut: muddy leaves, wet dog, plum-cake.
Lichen-rust tectonic under bonnets, engines furred.
Headlight bulbs are goldfish bowls, tenantless. Doors pucker
with each slam and the boot flaps like a gull-wing.
Twin-exhausts are organ pipes, emptying. Everything natural,
every thing resourced: we make the things that make us,
moulded or vulcanised. Blacked tyres made up with stibnite.
When we fire them, rubber drips from the wheel-arches like hot sugar,
sweet petroarticles of faith on the tongue. We circle
each instant monument, generous heretics, knowing
these are ugly gods – bitter in the stomach, black in the lung.
ANIMAL TRIALS: STATEMENT FROM THE TRIAL OF THE WEEVILS OF SAINT JULIEN
In the spring of 1587…some weevils were arraigned before the ecclesiastical court
in St Jean-de-Maurienne for despoiling the vineyards of St Julien.
John Harwood, ‘Deliver Us from Weevils’, Literary Review, August 2013
If I may speak
on behalf of my sisters
who, of late, have sprung
bright from the soil and turned
these vineyards into frail
stock and failed wines;
at no time did we act
contrary to our creation;
and, indeed, as you will know
Reverend Father, your wormy
books spell out in calfskin
and ink, that we precede
your own ape-like standing
in the Great Chain of Being.
God created animals first,
– each creeping thing –
and gave us every green herb for food.
If I may be so bold: the holy vine-leaf
sweetens in our grubbing mouths;
the grape swells for us, juicy globes
without sin. You might damn
us to desist but you would do well
to remember this: this trial
will not bring the control you crave.
Insects are on the side of the angels
and we shall turn you out, even unto the grave.
"Carhenge" first published in The Scores, then Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020)
"Containerization" first published in Gutter, then Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018)
"Animal Trials: Statement from the Trial of the Weevils of Saint Julien" published in Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020)
Samuel Tongue's first collection is Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020) and he has published two pamphlets: Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018) and Hauling-Out (Eyewear, 2016). Poems have appeared in Magma, The Compass, Finished Creatures, Gutter, The Interpreter's House, Envoi and elsewhere. Samuel is Project Coordinator at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and he lives in Glasgow. www.samueltongue.com; Twitter: @SamuelTongue
IF SATURDAY, AN EMPTY PARKING LOT
If the horse fence was split-rail
and I had an apple in my hand.
If mom and pop grocery stores still had
their ‘and.’ If I could lift out of biography
into sand and compost, hand-mixed
and laid in low spots in the yard.
If the knock at the door was a parcel
instead of a politician, if we built each day
the way a spider shuttles a web,
warp of anchor threads,
weft of hours to hammock in.
If woodstoves, whiskey, and new friends.
If barefooted, weeding garden beds.
If cold frames greened fall plates.
If boards that shudder in gale winds
held another eighty years, if Canada
warms at twice the rate of other countries.
If we stopped taking airplanes
we’d never see our families again.
If we could ride air currents with crows
fingers feathered, if the small stones
of deer tracks foretold the future.
If we weren’t afraid.
If babies were born healthy.
If this body was a bubble wand
held open to wind.
Bren Simmers’ first book of non-fiction, Pivot Point (Gaspereau Press, 2019), is a lyrical account of a nine-day wilderness canoe journey. She is also the author of three books of poetry: If, When (Gaspereau Press, 2021), Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and Night Gears (Wolsak & Wynn, 2010). A lifelong west coaster, she now lives on PEI.
Medium: performance documentation
change is a 10-minute performance comprised of a single-channel video projected over a lone singer. The singer’s voice first delivers a rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come through a vocoder, then moves into spoken poetry. By manipulating archived, found footage and combining it with its interactions between the body and voice, this performance confronts decolonization through an Asian-Canadian lens, notably putting the singer/speaker/artist directly into the environment being challenged. Created and performed at the wake of the pandemic, change’s main function is to respond directly to the xenophobia, Sinophobia, and unabashed racism that the current COVID-19 pandemic and biased mainstream media encourage.
James Legaspi is an emerging Filipino-Canadian multimedia artist currently completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, living and working in Brampton, Ontario. Recent activity includes work exhibited at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and Gallery 44, curatorial work at the Blackwood Gallery, professional experience as a teaching assistant at Sheridan College, and participation in the most recent rendition of Visual Arts Mississauga’s Creative Residency.
If you missed our Word on the Street Toronto event, you can watch it here.
In Watch Your Head, poems, stories, essays, and artwork sound the alarm on the present and future consequences of the climate emergency. Ice caps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species extinction is accelerating. Dire predictions about the climate emergency from scientists, Indigenous land and water defenders, and striking school children have mostly been ignored by the very institutions – government, education, industry, and media – with the power to do something about it.
Join us for a conversation with editor Kathryn Mockler and anthology contributors Carleigh Baker, Simone Dalton, Christine Leclerc, and Carrianne Leung on their calls to action for the climate crisis facing us all.
The City Imagines series is presented by The Word On The Street, a national celebration of storytelling, ideas, and imagination.
About the Panelists
Carleigh Baker is a Cree-Métis/Icelandic writer. She was born and raised on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Stó:lō people. Her first collection of stories, Bad Endings, won the City of Vancouver Book Award.
Simone Dalton is a Trinidadian-Canadian writer, arts educator, and recipient of the 2020 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction. Her work is anthologized in Watch Your Head, Black Writers Matter, and The Unpublished City: Volume I. Her play VOWS was produced in 2019. As a memoirist, she explores themes of grief, inherited histories, race, class, and identity.
Christine Leclerc lives, works and studies in Coast Salish Homelands / Burnaby, B.C. She is an award-winning author and Physical Geography major at Simon Fraser University. Leclerc serves on the non-profit boards of Embark Sustainability and Climatch. She has also served on the board of Sierra Club BC.
Carrianne Leung is a Canadian writer, who won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2019 for her short story collection That Time I Loved You. Originally from Hong Kong, Leung moved to Canada in childhood, and grew up in the Scarborough district of Toronto, Ontario.
Kathryn Mockler edited the print anthology Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2020) and is the publisher of the Watch Your Head website. Her debut collection of stories is forthcoming from Book*hug in 2023, and she is an Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at the University of Victoria.
One frigid midwinter afternoon, early
for the symphony, I look out on the frozen lake.
Unseasonable cold, I worry. Climate change.
That moment a huge bird glides by, slow
motion, long neck outstretched, black bill,
wings extended, body a downy white.
I’ve never seen a trumpeter swan, mythical
creature, surely dreamed to life.
Inside the concert hall beautiful music
swirls, like the thrill of the swan, elevating
me, a wild reminder I’m part of the living
world, an animal too.
Trumpeter swans were nearly extinct.
We think we protected them.
But they protect us, from the impoverishment
of a world without trumpeter swans.
The music ends and I rush out, hoping
to glimpse the swan, what it offers us --
a rare, precious encounter with what
is real, the given world.
Kirsteen MacLeod’s poetry and prose has appeared in many literary journals, and she was a finalist for Arc Poetry’s Poem of the Year in 2020. Her nonfiction book, In Praise of Retreat, is forthcoming in March 2021 from ECW Press. Her debut collection of short fiction, The Animal Game, was published in 2016.
My creative leaning is expressionistic, towards exposing the battle-lines of people vs place; the examination of the edges & intersects of nature/ construct, culture/ chaos, order/ anarchy, failure/ success; what emerges from people, collectively, and what happens when we’ve disappeared.
Decades ago, autodidact/ bloody-minded optimist kerry rawlinson gravitated from sunny Zambian skies to solid Canadian soil. Now she stalks Literature & Art’s Muses around the Okanagan Valley, still barefoot, forgetting to eat. Some contest achievements: Winner, Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award; Hon. Mention, Fish Poetry Prize; CAGO Online Gallery. Newer pieces in Foreign Literature, Synchronized Chaos, Across The Margin, Painted Bride, Tupelo Quarterly, Connecticut River Review, Pedestal, Boned, Arc Poetry, amongst others. Visit tumblr; Tweet @kerryrawli
note: this video was made in may 2017 by 2017-emilie, four months before emilie got sick.
video transcription: the video is in portrait mode. finger-dragged words read bottom-to-top in grey sand that gets darker/wetter to the right. they say: “TIME IS RUNNING SHORT WITH MOST THINGS I FEEL LIKE THE TIDE RISES TOO FAST.” after six seconds, a wave takes most of them. the words left: “SHORT THINGS FEEL LIKE THE FAST,” or, almost, “SHORT THINGS FEEL LIKE THE PAST.”
em/ilie kneifel is a poet/critic, editor at The Puritan/Theta Wave, creator of CATCH/PLAYD8s, and also a list. find 'em at emiliekneifel.com, @emiliekneifel, and in Tiohtiá:ke, hopping and hoping.
Stephen Barrett is a writer, teacher, dad and husband. He composes poetry, writes songs and loves playing his guitar and blues harp. Winters are spent scouring used bookstores in Toronto for old volumes of poetry and summers walking the shores of Lake Huron looking for unique stones and detritus on the beach.
FAREWELL, MY SEA
— poem for the Salish Sea
The morning the quake hit the city
I swore I’d ride full gallop into that sea
never look back. I listened to Jay-Z, shoved
tiny nectarines into my satchel,
and fled West past the Prime Minister
who stood at the corner of 4th and Trutch
disguised as a Dutch milkmaid with rosy cheeks.
Kits beach was furious.
But I found my pony di Esperia
standing in my dory and so put myself
upon her and we rowed –
At Howe Sound a gang of dinghies
shepherded by muscular oilers slicked up around us.
In their faces the coast was a Shrinky Dink.
Dogs and cats galore were chucked and dunked
into the floatsam. The masked activists who had lain
their bodies down beneath bulldozers at Burnaby Mountain
flung themselves straight as arrows off the Sea-to-Sky cliffs.
Pony and I, in those first days, small in our boat,
shared our raisins and stale Triscuits with pirates
from Fort McMurray who stabbed each other up for their last rails.
All of the city’s private property was now public, but useless,
floating as it was, in shit. None of it, not the iPhones or Jaguars,
the Hunter boots or toy giraffes imported
from France, now bobbing maniacally in the water,
mattered. We shared stories and whatever raisins were left.
Alanis Obomsawin, sitting around our campfire beside Pauline Johnson,
asked what colour the sky was. St. Kateri Tekakwitha,
Ike and Tina, Joan of Arc, Marco Polo, Snuffaluffagus— they all came
galumphing back. Buffy St. Marie. Neil Young. Louis Riel.
We all sat around roasting raisins –
all of us intermittently
marooned on an unidentifiable Arctic island at Great Bear Lake. The sky?
We hadn’t looked at it.
Babies cried. Laura Secord handed out milkshakes.
Georgia O’Keefe stood as still as a petroglyph, entranced
by the horizon. We’d come too seldom
to the ocean. We were too busy with the 21st century.
But eternal return isn’t infinite. Not everyone comes back,
nothing lasts. My pony refused to do the dirty work
and her brackish eyes were glassy. On her way to the slaughterhouse,
years ago, standing in a dark box car, despondent, she felt the sudden
hospitality of a man’s arms around her neck.
Turns out those arms were Nietzsche’s, crash-test dummy,
beloved by thousands of boy students of philosophy
the world over, lover of blood and birds and horses. When, after more
Arctic transit, we moved from ice cap to ice cap and watched off
the coast of Greenland the final outburst of the tide
flower up and die, we stopped
so that Pony could peer into the oily face of the sea.
*This poem was published at New Poetry (ed. George Murray) in 2018.
Previously published at New Poetry (ed. George Murray) in 2018.
Gillian Jerome is the author of a book of poems, Red Nest, which was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and won the ReLit Award. She co-edited an oral history project, Hope in Shadows: Stories and Photographs from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which won the 2008 City of Vancouver Book Award. Her poems have recently appeared in GEIST, Hunger Mountain and New Poetry. She teaches literatures and writing at the University of British Columbia where she has taught full-time since 2004. She serves a teacher-mentor in the Poetry in Voice program and teaches sexual health to teenagers. Born in Ottawa and raised in Orléans, Ontario, she lives in Vancouver with her daughters, Rory and Micah Sophia, and their silver-eyed unicorn Geneviève Hugo.
WHAT ABOUT THE WEATHER?
July 2, 2012, Vancouver,
just after 7 pm. In 32
out of 49 United States
temperatures are higher than ever recorded,
a hundred and five, a hundred and seven,
a hundred and nine or more....
In some TV places the air is un-
conditioned, no longer homes there,
where fires have demolished neighbour-
hoods in Colorado Springs.
Everything here is lush, soaked,
just a little out of season.
I can sleep — if I’ve walked, worked
at my desk, felt loved by someone,
but these days even love won’t
assuage anxiety. It’s not just
a globe that’s warming, it’s
something else –
a rise in obfuscation,
a lilt of lies? Oil
oozing over the map
will be no surprise and
even the rain won’t stop
it now, (such small hands and all
that talk is over) — citizens
gloved and scared.
The summer of 2015, Vancouver,
the rain did stop,
at least for too long,
April to October there
was never enough.
The shock of turning
off the tap, just brush
with a cup, do not wash
your car, your bike, the
shoes you wear, stand
with the hose and let
a little dribble quench
the roses, that old hellebore
still blooming, let moss
die on stones, my steps
stay dirty, neighbourhood
vigilantes take their
high road turns.
The day of my party,
a turning point in life,
in weather, rain flooded
the patio, the pool,
the fancied guests.
But we were only midway
and our thirst was bigger
than the rain—a modest
spatter, enough for a rainbow,
not enough to turn
the clock back
to that glory life,
the one we thought
we had forever.
After starting out as a poet, short story writer, journalist (The Fiddlehead, Best Canadian Stories, The Observer Magazine (UK), CBC, NFB), and co-author of several non-fiction books, Judith Penner spent a long time preoccupied with family, travel, teaching yoga and related workshops throughout India and North America, and her work as an editor. In recent years her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in catalogues (readymades, Smith Foundation), anthologies (Sustenance, Anvil Press), The Poetry Foundation, and in literary magazines, including Geist, Prism International, The Capilano Review online, and SubTerrain. Nomados published A Bed of Half Full: a landscape in 2018. She lives in Vancouver.
She hopes no one sees her superstition
built on years of evidence.
Two fingers to her lips, a kiss
blown in quiet embarrassment,
Inherited from buck,
long gone buck,
bye bye buck.
The rivers break and the banks crumble,
Marney Isaac is a Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto. Her research program investigates plant-soil interactions and ecological principles that govern the structure and function of diversified agroecosystems. Dr. Isaac serves on the editorial board of applied ecology and agronomy journals and has published widely in the field of environmental science. She has also contributed to numerous non-scientific writing projects, including the uTOpia series GreenTOpia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto (Coach House Books).
LOVELETTERS TO THE DEEP
My eyes & conscience are clear.
I filled my backpack with rocks
& loveletters to the deep & swung
it into the lake. I grew up with hardened
shoreline instead of sand between my toes.
Myths become less plausible every day. Mermaids
pulling twist ties from their gills & kraken choking
on plastic bags mistaken for squid, limbs shredded
Oil slicked wings hold no air, no matter
the skies they fold into themselves.
Rivers choked with plastic like my father’s arteries,
dredged from the bones of sleeping giants, cling wraps
the voice to my throat
for a species that worships gods of convenience.
I sunk a knife into a tree trunk &
it bled. I tore open my calf on a
rusted nail & tried to stop the
sap leaking through my fingers.
I raised a rifle to my shoulder,
shot the expectant moon & felt the
spray on my cheek. Felt the
I set fire to the sea & built
palaces of salt.
Our futures have gone from picket fences
to picket lines. Youth is its own burden.
I explain to an old white man why having
children would feel immoral, & he suggests
I trust that they will fix this, as if that was not
what his generation already did. Blind faith in
false gods, hope an offering left at their shrines.
Myths become less plausible every day.
My eyes & conscience are clear.
Qurat Dar (she/they) is a spoken word performer, poet, multi-genre writer, and environmental engineering student. She has had work in Augur Magazine, The Temz Review, and Anathema Magazine, among others. Qurat was a 2019 recipient of the Ron Lenyk Inspiring Youth Arts Award and is a Best of the Net finalist. She was also recently crowned the 2020 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam (CIPS) National Champion. Their debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming with Coven Editions.
Find them on Instagram: @itsnotquart and Twitter: @itsnotquart
NOTES TOWARDS AN ANTHROPOCENE FABLE AT A RUSSIAN SAUNA IN MISSISSAUGA
Rumpelstiltskin’s first wife, I enter and exit
the steam room in a eucalyptus cloud.
My rumpled robe scratches. Silt rises
to skin surface. I scrub my pores with sea salt.
I pull a rusted chain and a wooden bucket
tips cool torrent on my head.
No one in these microclimates has a name
big enough for forests, for air.
I am trying to outrun my recurring
daymare, the one with the turret.
This olive string bikini, once sinuous,
is now only fit for sweating myself alive.
I beg a sauna man in a wool cap
to wave his parched birch wand.
My inner bitch wakes up, whining.
I haven’t fed her in too long.
My cells realign themselves, spread
around. I eavesdrop on the heat,
practice different pronunciations. He ate,
she ate, we ate all the sun’s treats,
licked black seeds from slit vanilla beans,
plucked gold croaks from toad throats.
I am trying to escape the king’s wealth,
the kind that slashes and slinks through holes.
I get to stay here longer than all the white rhinos,
the bees. Will I hand a firstborn to the burn?
Infused with cedar scent, buzzing, I lower
myself into a barrel of glacial water.
I imagine a cryogenic prince charming
carrying me, limp, into the next ice age.
Soothed, I shower. Calmer and slower, I sit
in the tea room afterward, drinking
vodka and kombucha, replenishing
my salt sea with pickle brine.
A television screens our ever after, a nature
documentary about bleached coral reefs,
all those fabulous bows and rainbows
frozen white in the sunshine.
Originally published in PRISM International (Issue 57.4: Spring 2019)
Catriona Wright is the author of the poetry collection Table Manners (Véhicule Press, 2017) and the short story collection Difficult People (Nightwood Editions, 2018). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Walrus, Fiddlehead, and Lemon Hound, and they have been anthologized in The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry and in The Best Canadian Poetry 2015 & 2018.
cars pass through the tainted streetlights of suburbia
while racoons ravage through yesterday’s trash
and crickets talk to the trees
“where did all those bees go?”
and leaves lazily linger on branches
and sparrows speak of
when the racoons retire from trashcan diving
and the crickets cry
and the trees try
to bring back the bees
because cars passed through
and homes were built brick after brick
on top of nests and nestles
one after the other
until one day
home was as hollow as a bird bone
Lauren Lee is a graduate from Western University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. She writes creative non-fiction and poetry; her work has been published in Iconoclast (2020) Occasus Literary Journal (2018).
Watch Your Head is an online journal of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
New work is published monthly!
Check out our latest project: a print anthology published by Coach House Books!
Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis
Coach House Books
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