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.
Cate Sandilands is a professor of Environmental Arts and Justice in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. In addition to her academic writing in the environmental humanities, she recently published an edited volume of small stories and poems, Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times (Caitlin Press, 2019), and is working on a collection of her own stories. Her other work can be found at
THE LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Good intentions aside,
Nations’ names mispronounced
plough depth patronization
Indigenous and foreign students
invited into their halls
of subtle intellectual
and academic racism
These are the rules of
for the administrative
of tenured procurers
feeding student wood fibre
into their Colonizing breakdown mill
sawn, baked and kiln dried
to be sorted into
graded, degreed and certified
suited up in priestly robes
to satisfy today’s
(To the memory of the Kamloops 215 little ones)
THE MUSH HOLE RUBRIC
Having been administered
a psychological caning
and made to feel among
in our own homeland.
Citations not quite in order
Not fitting into the paint
Regurgitating the same old
This is how you will
surely lose marks
Such are the metrics
"Mush Hole Rubric" previously published in Mad Canada
Dave Monture, Bear Clan Mohawk, is a retired part-time student who grew up on the Six Nations Reserve. He is a fourth year student in Honours Creative Writing, his second degree at Western. He has participated in readings with Writers-in-residence Margaret Christakos and Alicia Elliot. He has opened for a guest reading of Poetry London. He has contributed to recordings of the Indigenous Writers’ Circle for Radio Western. In 2019 he was a recipient of the Dr. Valio Markkanen Undergraduate Student Award of Excellence and a Head and Heart Fellowship. Most recently, he has contributed to Mad in Canada, Science, Psychiatry and Social Justice.
He is a member of the Indigenous Writers’ Circle, an independent Indigenous creative voice, at Western. He is working on a novel, poetry and flash fiction. He recently returned to painting.
A CITY STREET
I swim thru the tunnel
of stately maples
on old Barclay Street
where smart cars fart
beneath protective leaves.
A luminous green sky
that forms a canopy
over the grey green river
of a shape shifting street.
Even here their instinct
is to protect.
To give and give and give.
Born in England Yvonne has spent the majority of her life being an actor coast to coast in Canada. She now lives in Vancouver B.C . A passionate activist since her days on the front lines of protest against logging in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island in the eighties, one of the first of such successes , she believes that climate change is the most urgent issue on the planet and mourns the loss of every tree .
she takes me deep
into her people’s land
this stranger turned neighbour turned friend
points out antelope brush and grey sage
unwavering in summer heat
spear grass clings to our skin
as we wade through Lamb’s Quarter
pulsing the want of seeds
through Tufted Vetch and Shepherd’s Purse
capped with rounded clusters
while red-tailed hawks scratch the clouds above
into the valley marked by bloodlines
where dreams were swallowed whole
we skirt ponds that give life
to horned grebes, wigeons, and buffleheads
spot a lone merganser and a common loon
too early for blue heron to break
the glazed surface
we revel in the silent miracle of Water
si'ulq, her mother would say
pāṇī, my mother would say
up the notched hills
to watch wild horses roam free
careless and cared for from a distance
I learn palomino, bay, pinto, appaloosa
they twitch not for us, but for the Sun
xai'ałax, her mother would pray
sūraj, my mother would cry
and for the Moon
sokemm, her mother would ebb
chand, my mother would flow
she takes me deep
onto forest floors I’ve not known
a cathedral of soft light
we count the birds
naks, usil, kałis, her mother would sing
ik, dō, theen, my mother would recite
walk beneath the watchful gaze
of red-winged blackbirds and evening grosbeak
there are no willows weeping nearby
just the sound of a black-capped chickadee
making its way home.
Originally published in Prairie Fire Literary Magazine, vol. 42, no. 1, April 2021.
UNDER THE BANYAN
Nani-ji told us stories,
long stories and made up stories,
and maybe true stories
of everything she knew
of everything she’s gathered and named
squatting under the banyan tree
great-grandfather planted by the pond
where the water buffalo bathed.
She was shrivelled as an overripe mango,
but once smooth as a clay pot.
Her hands were caked with stories,
her body brimming with stories upon stories
seeded from the women
and women-shaped absences before her.
She told stories of a mouse who was mocked
for hoarding rice in a hole,
a wise mouse who knew the floods were coming,
the rupture and decay looming.
I wonder if she was that mouse.
Nani-ji: maternal grandmother in the Punjabi family
Originally published in Marias at Sampaguita Magazine, May 2021.
Born in rural India, Moni Brar now divides her time between the unsurrendered territories of the Treaty 7 Region and the Syilx Okanagan Nation. Her writing explores the immigrant experience, diasporic guilt, and the legacy of trauma resulting from colonization. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and she is the winner of the 2021 SAAG Art’s Writing Prize, runner-up in PRISM international’s 2021 Grouse Grind Prize, shortlisted for Arc’s 2021 Poem of the Year, and a finalist in the 2021 Alberta Magazine Awards. Her writing can be found in The Literary Review of Canada, Prairie Fire, Passages North, and Hobart, among others.
Based in Quebec, Ann Cavlovic’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in Canadian Architect, Event, The Fiddlehead, The Globe and Mail, PRISM international, Room, SubTerrain, the anthology This Place a Stranger (Caitlin Press), Today’s Parent, and elsewhere. "Stan's House" won the 2017 Little Bird Writing Contest judged by Esi Edugyan. Her stage play Emissions: A Climate Comedy was the most attended show of the 2013 Ottawa Fringe theatre festival. Please visit her website: www.anncavlovic.com
FOUR POEMS FOR TREES
Across this formal pleasure,
horizon contours mountain range:
sawmill, birdsong, lodgepole. Spilled
into my voice. Declarations of heartfelt territory
lost among these splintered branches.
Frank O’Hara’s subway,
and his blade of grass.
Transplanting monkey puzzle. Prolonged,
a coastline errant. Ponderosa. Sechelt, breeze.
This sentence of foliage
reflects our complexities: such clear
and exposed. Abstraction, stripped excess
of tree-stubble. What season
of nouns. Audre Lorde: There is
no separate survival.
Where my limbs meet yours, a poem
as a brick.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent poetry titles include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), with a further poetry title, the book of smaller, forthcoming from University of Calgary Press. An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics (periodicityjournal.blogspot.com) and Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com). He is editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com
THIS TITLE DOES WORK
inspiration is like being fucked
by the Gods and if that’s so
then I suppose
it makes sense
that you’d try to decant
what they’ve filled you with,
to bottle its
the sediment settles.
Ceded ground I guess
but what about getting
free? Form feels like
useful, but to whom?
formed— a complex
structure— a vessel
to keep things in,
worlds which want to be
let out. Birds
can be observed in order
to be observed
to be caged
to be kept or consumed.
the point ceases to be
witnessing the wild,
turns toward capture,
moves our attention
away from subject
to frame— how it was
gilded, by whom
it was hung,
what the work is
worth— at which
point the bird’s flown,
the coop empty,
a wheel untrue, thrown off
Apollo’s chariot— dawn’s horses
on fire, now flaming
out towards dusk.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1 KJV
everything is narrative
nature is a myth.
the ancients knew that
humans were last to the party
and quick to call the cops
when things felt out of hand
(what’s it like to be
bounced from the club
by a flaming sword a
pair of angels?)
who’s to say
that the flip wasn’t switched
I mean the swish wasn’t phished
I mean the fish wasn’t dished
I mean the witch wasn’t hitched
I mean the switch
this morning when I woke up
the fog-laden dawn carried on
till midday. I walked the dog
and wrote this poem on my phone
listening to Ethiopiques on my phone
drinking a blend of Kenyan coffee
paid for with my phone
which is powered by cobalt
mined by Congolese children
and this is how poetry has everything
to do with the deep
violence of colonialism
is complicit innit?
as I was saying
who’s to say
that all of this
isn’t due to a toggle tripped
by a demi-god— a light
being, libidinous for pain,
or just bored?
Caleb Nichols (he/they) is a queer writer from California, occupying Tilhini, the Place of the Full Moon, the unceded territory of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribe. His poetry has been featured in Hoax, Redivider, perhappened mag, DEAR Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. His poem “Ken” won an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and their chapbook “Teems///\\\Recedes” is forthcoming from Kelp Books. He tweets @seanickels.
ah, sure when
I / it
The ill litter it
and garb age.
I utter a light
the road, on
the road and in
to ash, rash,
Penn Kemp. Published online.
Water abounds here, with this river
five times normal width for winter,
flooding roads and parks. The swell
carries whole trees along stampeding
currents. Yellow willows drop fifty-year
-old boughs in high winds. Standing
waves cover our usual walking path.
Climate change is certainly upon us,
from eleven below to eleven above in
hours, sinking back below freezing.
Green begins to bury the remnants
of flood, the wall of last fall’s leaves
packed level against the link fence.
Weird how all reverts, reverberates in
spring clarity as old detritus is dredged.
Penn Kemp has participated in Canadian cultural life for over 50 years, writing, editing, and publishing poetry and plays. She has published 30 books of poetry, prose and drama and 10 CDs of spoken word/Sound Opera. Penn is the League of Canadian Poets’ 40th Life Member and Spoken Word Artist (2015). Penn’s latest collection, A Near Memoir: new poems (Beliveau Books), launched on Earth Day. Her lively web presence includes Wordpress, Weebly, Facebook, and SoundCloud.
Only the Sun, 2021
Music by Patrick Murray
Text by Emily Schultz
Used with permission.
Performed by: Juliana Krajcovic Renee Fajardo Sharang Sharma Graham Robinson Patrick Murray
ONLY THE SUN
by Emily Schultz
Who will notice when this leaf is gone?
It is only a leaf,
tiny, trembling, green; tomorrow’s auburn.
No one will know. Only the bird will know.
Who will notice when this love is gone?
It is only a love,
a ghost thing with no edges or shape.
No one will know. Only I will know.
Who will notice when this song is gone?
It is only a song,
one sound set beside another like a pair of shoes.
No one will know. Only we will know.
Who will notice when the sun is gone?
It is only a sun,
a hole of gold burned in an endless sky.
No one will know. Only the dark will know.
"Only the Sun" appeared in the anthology Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2021)
Canadian choral conductor and composer Patrick Murray is Sessional Assistant Professor in Choral Music at Western University (London, Ontario) and director of the University of Toronto Scarborough Concert Choir. As a composer, Murray has been commissioned by ensembles including New York Polyphony, Carmel Bach Festival, and the Grand Philharmonic Choir, recorded by the DaCapo Chamber Choir, and published by Cypress Choral Music. Murray’s research focuses on inter-community collaboration in contemporary choral composition. His work is available at www.patrickmurraymusic.net.
Emily Schultz published her newest novel, Little Threats, with GP Putnam’s Sons. It was named an Apple Books Best of November 2020 pick. Her novel, The Blondes, was released in the U.S. with Picador, in France with Editions Alto and Editions Asphalte, and in Canada with Doubleday. Named a Best Book of 2015 by NPR and Kirkus, it recently became a scripted podcast starring Madeline Zima. Her poems have appeared in Minola Review, rust + moth, Humber Literary Review, and Taddle Creek. Find out more at https://www.emilyschultz.com/
Mary of the Tower (she/they) is a settler-born member of the Filipinx diaspora, with roots to the Bicol Region and Nueva Ecija province of Luzon. She is currently living and working on the traditional homelands of the Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) and Niitsitapi Peoples, also known as Calgary, Alberta/Treaty 7 territory. She is the owner and creator of Studio Kanlungan, a web-based community incubator for intergenerational healing through creativity. She also works as an intuitive, developing her gifts in mediumship, astrology, and Tarot card interpretation. She acknowledges her kinship ties to Treaty 6 territory (Saskatoon and Edmonton), Snuneymuxw and Quw’utsun/Tsawwassen/Hul’qumi'num territories, and Kwantlen/Katzie territory, where she has planted roots in the past and will continue to plant more, once this pandemic is over. Website studiokanlungan.co
Polished cameo a distilled mirror
steam skimmed skin
of water in the oval cue
The ocean has no perceptible bottom
The detritus of cargo ships strewn,
No one dives
no strolls to retrieve
Don’t rise too quickly back up to the sky
Animal exhalations hold the wreckage
of your heart poured into
a white porcelain sink,
A paint spattered canvas
Still, breathing – oxygenated
There is not enough fresh air.
near, a view, a window
further, distant, the port.
(a churning inland sea,
painted surface of nothingness)
what emerges four-legged
from the shore a figure-ground
illusion of an ancient-creature
still living, distilled
breath, “Dressed Landscape for
Dry Ice Studies.”
The perspective of a band practice
The tarry instruments, tinny, far away
of amplifiers affixed to stilts
Someday the body will remember
A generation of flailing limbs
A Flirtation with Rapture
The Skin of Victorian buildings
floating in the after-birth of
The painting hand thinking
in a network of gestures
of the linked orbital of satellite
layers of the ascension
the numbing epidermal of embodiment
cold metal needle
in the simulacra the metronome
of a shaking hand
the surgeon, hirsute
At the bottom of the painting, hand-written,
The cut ice letters
Here where Holy ghost prophecy carries more weight than science
Freedom senses all the tears
of a thousand windowsills
The rainbow of men and women
shoulder to shoulder
entering hotels and shelters
Rowboat sailors with buttoned oars
rough coughing from lungs
of a sulfur sheen
Of black coal in lieu of flowers
holding the skirt of the lake.
A thousand monarchs
rose up, lifted
both sides of the sky
exposed exploited roe
Inlaid into monoculture rows
A cascade of waterfalls and memories
accompanied the rain all night
Rattling on about the cusp
as it danced
though never unattended
The flood waters rang out
May the lake take you
under to dream
May the sky rise to meet you
when you awaken.
Robert Frede Kenter is a writer and visual artist, who lives with ME/FM, is widely published and exhibited and is a 2020 Pushcart nominee. Work recently in Black Bough, Burning House Press, Cypress, Talking about Strawberries, Floodlight Ed., Anthropocene, Cough. Robert is publisher of Toronto-based Ice Floe Press www.icefloepress.net & author of a recent hybrid collection, Audacity of Form (Ice Floe Press). A chapbook of VISPO, "EDEN", is forthcoming later in 2021. Robert was a feature reader in 2020 at Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Twitter: @frede_kenter
A FEW BEARS
I know of a few bears
bears who seem thinner than normal
they’ll slap your hands
the bears are getting hungry
Bears who seem thinner than normal
these are facts:
the bears are getting hungry
I'm here to show you reality
These are facts:
The bears have been starving
I'm here to show you reality
along the shorelines where grizzlies have been
The bears have been starving
I'm not here to point fingers
along the shorelines where grizzlies have been
winners and losers in climate change
I’m not here to point fingers
without a necropsy
winners and losers in climate change
if you prefer looking at life from the end
Without a necropsy
we’re able to observe an emaciated mother
if you prefer looking at life from the end
in search of berries
We’re able to observe an emaciated mother
they’ll slap your hands
in search of berries
I know of a few bears.
(Assembled from recent news articles.)
(after Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “Ship of Fools”)
It always comes down to what has been lost –
a cat, a mind, a god, a compass. Sometimes
a silver sack of virtue spins away.
Who has not shinnied up the spar pole to carve
a fat drumstick from a roast goose? Or lusted for a
pancake on a string? Or raised a flask to
brain a pickled sinner in a ship as oval as a duck egg
or an office for a head of state? We long for guidance
from the owl above, our avatar of insight
or scandal (depending on the century). We pluck
the cherries, stir the winey sea, let the jester
with an ass’s ears keep watch as we buck and
sway into a melting glacier, its teal horizon
a last reminder of the butterflies and jays.
Kim Goldberg is the author of eight books of poetry and nonfiction. Her latest book is Devolution (Caitlin Press, 2020), surreal poems and fables of ecopocalypse. It was described as a "ferocious collection" in the Vancouver Sun. Kim's poetry has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America and abroad including The Capilano Review, Literary Review of Canada, Dark Mountain, subTerrain and Riddle Fence. She chaired the Women's Eco-Poetry panel at the inaugural Cascadia Poetry Festival in Seattle. Kim holds a degree in biology and is an avid birdwatcher in Nanaimo BC. Twitter: @KimPigSquash. https://pigsquash.wordpress.com/
“What we are engaged in when we do poetry is error,
the wilful creation of error.”
when we call error what we gain by
does error become idol
we give our last idle guilt
a question overwhelmed by
what error half billion animals
in the bushfires and by
quick overwhelm correction
conservative estimate a billion
Condors trace California highways
for coastal roadkill, enough to replace
the megafauna. Our errors of transit
replace an ancient diet. Our error
is nature. Round goby in the middle
of the Great Lakes food web,
like strangers where your family was.
Like a cormorant, you make a life of it.
the answer you arrive at impasse
something new constant whiplash
Days rain in January,
hardly got my big coat out.
Days rain in January,
ten-foot snowfall, were it cold.
Days rain in January,
sirens chasing, didn’t hold.
Days rain in January,
standing still is a route.
The leaves of some mass produced flowering plant
look alive in all the gardens on my block. They are flat
against the half-frozen earth, failing to wilt.
A child calls her mom back to see a wet pile
protected in a hedge’s shadow. “I found snow! Snow!”
She is pointing at it, hopping. In my opinion, it is ugly.
It melts as if rotting, greying from within. Soaked dry
with soot. The child is better at hope than me.
E Martin Nolan is a poet, essayist, editor and teacher. His first book of poems, Still Point, was published with Invisible Publishing in Fall, 2017. He teaches in the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Toronto and is a PhD Candidate in Applied Linguistics at York University. More at emartinnolan.com
Child, what world is this?
A bee thunders past
your ear, velvet. Above,
geese flounder long-necked
against the guillotine of sun.
Emerald beetles burrow out
of ash, flash effulgent.
The beached arm of Ontario
algae rippling a radiant
siren song. Soft as down,
the nape of your neck
nests into my palm.
Perhaps the end
of the beginning. A gossamer
thread hanging precarious
across the path. Where to walk
with you, somewhere that stays.
The water taps its hammer hands
Into the land and blooms a sinister
cyano crescendo.The bees pull
a magic trick, disappearing
in the span of a hand’s sleight.
The ash, spun in larvae, grow
weak-shadowed, and the geese
have forgotten where to go.
See: we made you
a myth, light
as a feather.
SPECIAL REPORT ON GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5°C
The day you asked me what I wanted
to be when I grew up and I told you
a dog, did you know then
the world would turn
Did you picture me
graduating at thirty-two, childless
in a pilling polyester gown
with years already chewing at my hair,
a cricket in my knee, the world
whipping at catastrophe?
Sweating inside this spectacle,
I tap the years left
on my thigh:
one two three
four five six
seven eight nine
ten eleven twelve
years to save ourselves
Somebody’s grandfather sobs
as his heart marches across
the stage. Pride quivers
in the jowls of apocalyptic
deadlines. Love can be,
love can be unbearable.
When you asked me,
did you know?
Jenny Berkel is a poet and singer-songwriter from rural Ontario. Her interests include investigating how a poem is a song and a song is a poem. She has released two albums (Here on a Wire and Pale Moon Kid) and has another one forthcoming. Her debut chapbook, Grease Dogs, was published in June 2021 with Baseline Press.
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.
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