Watch Your Head
Coach House Books, 2020
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.
Cover design by Ingrid Paulson
...Watch Your Head does not disappoint. It serves as a warning to heed, a reminder to be thought of often, and a well-thought-out piece of art. Throughout the anthology, readers encounter pieces that provoke and insist, demanding attention, consideration, action, and creativity. Essays and stories and images alike bring about questions and statements on Indigenous rights, white privilege, exploitation of land and people, colonial power structures, place, home, language, and imagination.
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.
A SONG CALLED EVENING
Enduring a life not lived she tried to sing a song one evening, but what came out
broke her heart and turned her into water. Loneliness filled her body. It so happens
that the more she moved into it the more she began to leak. Gasping for a remedy
she hugged her sleeping babies, but it didn’t work and in the gloom she become
a river, then a rapid, turning into a torrent. She could not contain himself, it was
past eleven, and there she was past the place of returning.
Coming our way the size of a mountain.
The polar caps are melting the water is here
Poor man and rich will taste their fear.
It was a simple song, maybe a country song, or a rock song, or a song for a drum.
What she did know is that it filled the core of her being. A song spilling out of her
heart, her eyes, her mouth, her ears. Swept away she flowed with such force that
to her astonishment she found herself knocking down things – finally! she thought
as she collided with churches and schools, apartment buildings and grocery stories,
corner stores and offices, malls and police stations, you name it.
The bible people gathered to pray
While others danced and sang, and they all had one thing to say
the end of the world is here, the end of the world is here.
Oh my babies, she thought, stretching out her arms in front of her as she had been
taught when she was a little girl. Oh my. But that old feeling of emptiness,
disempowerment, shame, was fleeting because in the moment she felt for
the first time who she was, and she liked it. Why hadn’t she been taught this?
She knew. She flowed with power, and she was going to use it. Hell yes.
Water is power. Water brings beginning. That much she knew.
I’ve seen it it’s true there is no denying.
From each single wave they’ll be no hiding.
It will strike with all the force of creation.
If only she could remember more of the words, but it was getting late and it was time
to return home to snuggle her babies, tidy the place, maybe watch some tv. It was time
to pull the curtains aside. Time to clean things up. Time to make her own way. Nobody
was going to do it for her. It felt good to stretch her entire being. She could do it,
she could make things sing as she plowed through them. This was living. This is what
would get her through another day. Oh, how she loved her two babies. She would
give them the world.
We turn on the tap
without a thought
and with a weary sigh
we greet the day
with things (to do)
while the water runs out
and we stare
like robots (as we fill our coffeepot).
of this and that
but never all the ways
we turn on the tap
without a thought.
Is it because
we think everything
can be sold
as a reward
for our hard work
with our hard-earned pay?
Content to fill
with things (to have)
while the water runs dry.
I can attest
it is true
I have seen the yachts.
The lakes go foul
while the speedboats play
And we continue
to turn on the tap
without a thought.
there comes a time
to connect the dots
because the power
presses to sway
with things (desired).
They make us dream
we’ve hit the jackpot
a continual onslaught
but those who see
know it is time
to take a stand
for we cannot continue
to turn on the tap
without a thought
And submit to a life
of things that are
Between land and water so glassy
not a ripple to disturb what you see,
a plume of green tendril sweeps
across your legs like an invitation,
an invocation that awakens your body,
numb swimmer of absolute beginnings and endings.
Into this morning you go naked
and clear to bedrock
propelled by a shard of beauty,
of what little is left after such a long drought. What is it
that cuts through you through the exhausted surface
to a fourth dimension where fish,
turtle, loon, serpent
mingle below a necklace of cottages,
and – lo and behold – sprout from your limbs,
your trepidation, disbelief, wonderment,
nothing less than a terrestrial gulp
the size of a lake as you continue
harder than ever
to swim on.
"Sentient" from Treaty #, Wolsak & Wynn, 2019.
Armand Garnet Ruffo was born and raised in northern Canada and is a member of the Chapleau Fox Lake Cree First Nation. He is recognized as a major contributor to both contemporary Indigenous literature an Indigenous literary scholarship in Canada. As an educator, he is currently the Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, On. As a poet, he was honoured in 2016 with a “Lifetime Membership Award” from the National Council of The League of Canadian Poets.
He is the author of numerous books including Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing Into Thunderbird, a finalist for a 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award, and Treaty #, a finalist for a 2019 Governor General’s Award. His latest film is a collaboration called “On The Day the World Begins Again,” a short video poem about Indigenous peoples’ incarceration, which premiered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in 2019. It can be accessed at https://vimeo.com/336947329. He most recently co-edited An Anthology of Indigenous Literature in Canada (Oxford U Press, 2020).
YOUNG BLACK MALE
Young black male, in panic in view of red and blue
On top of the roof, a dangerous crew, violent group
Gas lighting you, all lives matter, blue lives matter
My weary blues muted by America's white chatter
Institutional lies, now we're institutionalized
Thirteenth amendment, blacks used by the whites
Still locked up for grams, dope runners with no bodies
Thoughts that jog in my head is that I might be Arbery
How swift would cops make Maya Breonna Taylor?
Well suited for destruction, who's Uncle Sam's tailor?
Haunted by thoughts of dad lost, his poor boy
Might go George Foremen on killers of George Floyd
Say race don't matter? you made race matter
Once you started spilling African plasma
American heroes? NO, just protected villains sir
Making a killing, making all these killings occur
My name is Mandela Massina. I am a Canadian student of Congolese descent at Western University, in London, Ontario Canada where I study English Literature and Creative Writing. In response to the unjust murder of George Floyd, I wrote this poem as an attempt to express my thoughts. It is the most honest I have been in a piece of writing.
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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