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.
GHAZAL NO. 7
for Rita Wong
The caterpillar mistook my palm marks for a leaf,
where the folded gorge had been.
I run a finger along the topography
of your maps, your poems sketched out on real land.
Each day, I walk down a deserted railway
to the next shore. Eat coconut buns by the water.
Stand in a different spot every time the sea ends,
and the land begins. You’ll go to places.
All my friends, new to the West Coast:
the first thing they do is land, then go to the water.
1. Sandcastle Bucket
This fable I grew up hearing that told of a time when the sea
swept to shore all of its fishes. From the blue-fin tuna off Scarborough
to the mackerels migrating off coast and what’s left of wild sturgeon
near Brescia, northern Italy. Where sinkholes had formed, where they
were met with obstructions, and where the tide had begun to retreat
the fish cannot get back. Along one shore, a child came
with a sandcastle bucket, grabbed the fish by the handfuls and carried
them back where they were released in to the waters.
This time, a bystander watched. They asked the child, Why bother?
There is so many of them. To this, the child replied,
At least I’m doing something. Hurry. The next time the sea turns again,
there will be no more fish left to pick up.
A plastic bag pirouettes on the road. Watch how it heaves
and falls in the air, clear as diatoms, like jellyfish in the water
formation driven by the motor of vehicles pumping 250 mph, the wind
blowing east and no one picks it up. 25 plastic cups, a nylon sack
and two flip flops are not enough for conservation researchers
to determine the cause of death, the sperm whale was too well decayed.
A carcass washed ashore Southeast Sulawesi provincial park: a signal,
as villagers read. An innuendo seemingly to invite the words, come,
butcher me. So they do.
60 million cigarette butts currently clogging our oceans but we don’t
think of the watershed as a massive ashtray. More than plastic water
bottles, more than straws, dislodged caps and unlike plastic, filters
can’t be picked up. What’s biodegradable disintegrate, what’s
disintegrated carries into rivers by rain, arsenic, nicotine, lead,
into oceans by waves. Our ecosystem into waterways, making a return
back to our bodies.
4. Spawning Grounds
A female salmon by intuition returns to her pre-natal stream carrying
the weight of up to 3,000 eggs. This, she will climb to deposit
in the hollows of gravel and sediment above falls, packed between
fresh-water river beds but to be met along the way by the dam
on Muskrat Falls off Labrador, the Keeyask dam on the Nelson River,
93 square kilometres of hydro across boreal lands, snow forests liquefied
where a common spawning ground resides for the wild fish being met
with the Site C Dam though BC— 128 kilometres of river flooded,
the Peace River a reservoir, an Indigenous burial ground and home
to 100 endangered species. On the south, 76 killer whales left on the brink
of extinction. We erect hydro dams and rear fish in hatcheries away
from their natural habitat, bring wildlife back into nature, nature back
into industrialization: this is what we call rewilding. The bare necessities
of hatcheries strengthened through genetic engineering, forced
interbreeding, but fish that rely on muscle memory year after year are the
ones we see failing to return.
* "Spawning Grounds" was previously published in CV2 and Geez Magazine. Parts 1, 2, and 3 were published in CV2, and part 4 appeared in Geez Magazine.
Isabella Wang’s debut poetry chapbook is On Forgetting a Language (Baseline Press 2019). At 19, she has been shortlisted twice for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest, and she holds a Pushcart Prize nomination for poetry. Her poetry and prose have appeared in over twenty literary journals including CV2, Minola Review, and carte blanche. Her work is forthcoming in three anthologies this year, including What You Need to Know Anthology (The Hawkins Project, co-founded by Dave Eggers), andThey Rise Like A Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets (Blue Oak Press 2020). She is working as an assistant editor at Room magazine, a Research Assistant for SpokenWeb, and pursuing a double major in English and World Literature at SFU.
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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