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.
WALKING INTO THE OCEAN
I frequently think about walking into the ocean. My sense of obligation to the earth simply the flimsy contract of a collapsed toy ship factory. I wonder how long fish would live if no longer fugitive to keel, kellick, and angry boom chain. Giving Botox to the water, the workers of our county must have looked forward to the coolness of soil when they drowned. The last of their incense breaths fleeing from Pender Street, home between ashy pages of quiet night and negligent morning. That portion of motherland was christened Oriental Hawaii. Which part did you name me after? I watch as you twist together umbilical buoy with steaming red sausage. Squeeze blood from wet towel.
I get it all mixed up—the water from sausage oil, sun spots from badges of living. Tell me the difference between my bones and the bones of whale shark. Only, this nuclear explosion paints in tiny brushstrokes like iron filings. My ghost grips my neck until I can breathe again. My fear is that the ocean knows too much, would reject me too. The pomelo at the corner of our fridge untouched for months. Face torn up like sausage skin. Roof of my mouth softening, mistaken for glue. The ocean is a fable, seaweed stuck between front teeth. If we laid out our hides side by side, which of us would have more scales? And after all of it: I ride nekton back to before I walked. To find my baby-body fed. To find the coolness of soil in the ship yard’s false summer heat. Safe? A warmth I have betrayed has betrayed me.
Who can say if this daydream is more about walking than about water. More about the empty swing than about the drop. More about daring to steal a pillow from a sleeping giant. Unwound spool and a jar of kitchen grease, honeying frozen flies. Somehow the tea is still cold; it’s like you have forgotten who I am. What would you do if I could become a worm wedged between subduction zone boundary between us, waking up to everything, gone? The ocean is not a feeling, not a child, not a mother, not a worker, not a word. But she is still learning from contours of glass—just like we are.
jia you 
putin marches chinese soldiers across shanghai streets.
fear the Uighur terrorists, jiuma warns me,
and no sooner, street stands steaming with nan and kebab
fold into the hollow sprawls of massage parlours, german furniture stores,
french bakeries, italian pubs, American sex toy shops,
local shoe shops doubling as sunday school, real
massage parlours, a lego construction of western carpets
and han ornaments. disappeared.
students tell each other before gaokao: “jiayou.”
mothers tell their children before gaokao: “jiayou.”
thick wallets tell their diasporic offspring before AP economics: “jiayou.”
translation: build pipelines transporting oil between Skovorodino and Daqing
translation: build pipelines transporting greed and colonialism across Turtle Island
rupture water with oil.
drink oil-flavoured bbt with the thick straw of a gun barrel.
brush your teeth with bitumen paste, rinse
extract it from skin browner than ours.
take it, drink it. until the sun never dares set
on our civilized, meddling kingdom.
yellow powder amalgamated with sheens of white--
xiaojie the fairest in the land. a quick nod,
scorching back scratcher: got you covered.
advancing grades, following orders, guaihaizi marching westward
until we lose ourselves between the failure of 89%
and the success of swearing allegiance to the queen
(making the last payment on the mortgage). filial, determined,
loyal to the very end.
there would be no chinese faces protesting pipelines that day.
I wonder if we’d need to drink poison from these waters we
steal from to see the filth on our hands. but
you cannot bribe a river to love you, forgive you,
no. not today.
because the Yangtze remembers the poppies that poisoned,
the villages evacuated, the children sold, the maozedongs and
elizabeths laundered exchanged transported.
just so little xingxing could go to school.
just so little favourite grandchild could have a better life.
just so we never have to talk about 49, 66-76, 89 tucked between
the eights in our addresses and phone numbers,
the ones and zeros of our pockets. just so.
you tell me,
“jia you.” but how can you
when you do not know the name of this river. when
you do not know where your bones will be buried.
when you have crushed your veins between big data and the sea.
just so we never have to talk about
what we pretend not to know.
a bottle of cooking oil, crushed by a tank.
 jia you means “add oil,” another way to say “good luck”
 gaokao is the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, a prerequisite exam to get into higher education in the People’s Republic of China
"jia you" previously published in Tributaries: ACAM undergraduate student journal
Music for "jia you": "No More Trap" by Audiobinger (CC attribution non-commercial from free music archive).
Music for "Walking into the Ocean": "through the water and rain" by soft and furious (public domain from free music archive).
Jane Shi is a queer Chinese settler living on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Her writing has appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Canthius, The Malahat Review, PRISM, and Room, among others. She wants to live in a world where love is not a limited resource, land is not mined, hearts are not filched, and bodies are not violated. Find her online @pipagaopoetry.
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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