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.
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.
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).
SURVIVING THE CATASTROPHE 1
The rough beasts crash and lumber,
scales flashing, brilliant in the falling
sun. When they swing their great heads,
this way, and that,
scanning for danger,
we still ourselves.
We are but notions
beavering into shadows,
too small to merit
even their disdain.
They rise up fiercely tall and stupid,
then slouch off toward Washington,
Jerusalem, Beijing, Berlin, Moscow,
claiming for themselves,
this devastated paradise,
raging at the meteoric gods.
We flee from the Jurassic
chaos into tunnels
of anticipated spring.
their rotting leaves–
we sip our wine,
and craft a plan:
first we take New Mexico.
Then we take our time.
 The poem is based on the life of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, a small, herbivorous, beaver-like mammal that survived the event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Its fossil was found in what is today New Mexico.
A veterinary epidemiologist, David Waltner-Toews has published more than 20 books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. His most recent book (nonfiction) is On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases from Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus (Greystone, 2020). His poetry books have been published by McClelland and Stewart, Brick Books, and Turnstone Press. More information can be found on his website: https://davidwaltnertoews.wordpress.com/
PLACES TO INTERVENE IN A SYSTEM
No one kept watch, except
all of us.
We made human chains we
wrote operas we
conducted interviews and
released the data and started
smoking again, bought up everything
we could just to stop it, it didn’t
we found hope anyway
then lost the case, we
lay on our backs and
just floated. We saw 150 species a day
go extinct we
did not want to be people
we were tired of talking we
started singing we said maybe it’s
over, we delivered a formal apology to the salmon
did a controversial pregnant photoshoot
in front of a nuclear reactor, all those nice curves
we made page 15 of the New York Times, ok
and delighted in the letters to the editor that said
I was ‘going to give my baby cancer’ well exactly
then got scared and moved but it was everywhere
we went like my unstable worth rolling
oblongly on pink shadows of information
glamping among the facts. Friends came
and were astronomies. Self-deploying
flora volunteered. This morning the sun
of god shone on the chasmogamous violets
and the world continues in great detail.
What shall I do with my information
I’m an animal in an animal in an animal
I’m a poem of objects that live by magic*
I’m every idea I ever had, I’ll just stay here
as a person. I have a photographic mouth
* Anna Mendelssohn
Thinking is my fighting,
said Virginia Woolf, in the middle
Are we in the middle of war
A war with the sea
A war with the air
Who will wear what
the world wore
Lucid and wetly speaking
There’s no war you idiots
learn the language
hot pink sex
you don’t need money
Erin Robinsong is a poet and interdisciplinary artist working with ecological imagination. Her debut collection of poetry, Rag Cosmology (Book*hug), won the 2017 A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and her work has been published in Lemon Hound, Vallum, The Capilano Review, Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry, among others. Collaborative performance works with Hanna Sybille Müller and Andréa de Keijzer include This ritual is not an accident; Facing away from that which is coming; revolutions; and Polymorphic Microbe Bodies (forthcoming spring 2020, at Tangente). Originally from Cortes Island, Erin lives in Montréal.
I wanted to write a poem about a deer
but by the time I got around to it,
I think it was probably already dead.
I guess that makes this an elegy.
I watched it through the chain-link fence
with my fingers clawed around the diamond-outline of its metal-
etched body, darting through the crooks of electrical towers.
No, he was a stag, big, with antlers, and with ink-
deep eyes that I could look into and I would feel them
like he was looking into me and not bleating with his eyes shut.
He kept reeling around on his two back legs and his soft browns looked grey
like the grass and the pile of concrete cylinders to the right. His nose kept
spraying out these puffs of hot sleet and there was all this steam
coming off his back. I could see the meat
pulsing around his bones. I wanted to call someone to catch
him, help him, or—I wanted to grab someone’s
arms hard and tell them he needed help. I wanted to
press my palms flat on his wet, shaking body.
I wanted to help him. Instead, I watched him smack
his hooves off a path of broken asphalt slabs
and disappear down the drooping rows
of thick black cables.
Previously published in The Rusty Toque, Nov. 2013
Jessica Bebenek is a writer, bookmaker, & interdisciplinary artist living in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), unceded land of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. Her creative work can be found in PRISM, Prairie Fire, CV2, Arc, and Grain, among other places. Her third poetry chapbook, Fourth Walk, was published by Desert Pets Press in 2017, and her collection of knitting patterns for poems, k2tog, was released by Berlin’s Broken Dimanche Press in 2019. She works as a writer, teacher, and bookmaker, and is currently completing a full-length poetry collection, No One Knows Us There.
THESE ELEPHANTS IN CANADA
a trauma dream
a Zoroastrian declaiming upon
a dead star weeping on
a palimpsest of
all that remains land written upon
by rising seas
overwhelmed by rising
I spill my coffee
onto the once fecund table
as it pools disorder
into the shape
of an elephant’s ear
I gaze into the lifeless dream
to hear a scattering of
the hot ocean
of this elephant’s sneeze
a disorder of all senses
drip out into the void
of human space
Gregory Betts is the author of Sweet Forme (2020), a collection of visual renderings of the sound patterns in Shakespeare’s sonnets (published by Australia’s Apothecary Archive, available here: https://bit.ly/383XaTl). He is the digital curator of bpNichol.ca and a poet-professor at Brock University. His next book is Finding Nothing: Vancouver Avant-Garde Literature, 1959-1975, due out in February 2021 with University of Toronto Press.
FLAGPOLES AT THE OLD EXPO GROUNDS
jogger shoes flap flap flap
bike chains jingle
skateboards rush push
on and on words
surge to phone
faces to laces
no, I know, but it’s something
I’ve really noticed
a language I can’t understand
the bolt of weeds through planks
the mark of orange plastic cones
a couple on yellow steps
watch a play on a rotting stage
its clatter of empty flagpoles
its loom of concrete stadium
once the water’s edge
now Edgewater Casino
spinning Highway ’86
yachts, trucks, ATVs
giant Swiss-watch McBarge
world in motion
world in touch
press on, carry on, keep on
odds on asphalt
odds on helicopter
odds on geodesic
I don’t think the psychiatrist warned them
they thought they heard the deer
they felt they were similar
just look at the criteria
look at the architecture
the water’s push against land
they wanted to, they wanted very much
they rallied, they studied, they held summits
yet they knew they weren’t for plants
they weren’t for wildlife videos
they were for the stage
they were on track
for the house edge
Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking won a BC Book Award for Poetry, Nightmarker was a finalist for a Vancouver Book Award, and Recipes from the Red Planet was a finalist for a BC Book Award for fiction. You can also find her work in Best Canadian Poetry 2009 and 2018. Her fourth book of poetry, Lullabies in the Real World, was published in 2020 by NeWest Press. From 2014 to 2016, she was the Poetry Mentor at Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio Program.
FOXES IN MICHIGAN
hundreds of pelts
drip off a flatbed truck
spilling faces and paws
within our reach
flap in the backdraft
to the mouth of the mighty Route 66
their innards still pastel pink
like Johnson’s baby oil bottles
sticky from slaughter
dried musk-laden riverbeds
lead us to distant edges
splendid piles of matted fur
splayed voyageurs just
foraged in the woods
below hawks’ nests
not knowing their future
hides tanned, skins cured
suspended in a forever-sleep
of glass-bead eyes
dashed hopes and highway lines
Archana Sridhar is a poet and university administrator living in Toronto. Archana focuses on themes of meditation, race, motherhood, and diaspora in her poetry and flash writing. Her work has been featured in The Puritan, Barren Magazine, The /tƐmz/ Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook "Renderings" is available through 845 Press, and her writing can be found at www.archanasridhar.com.
LE TEMPS DES CERISES
Massacre in my kitchen, the counter
spatter incarnadine, my hands bloodied
with the juice of cherries splayed, gutted,
for dessert at a friend’s; my fingers dyed a red
that keeps in the fine creases, under the nails,
through the next day’s breakfast, lunch. I tremble
to sacrifice none of this, even though the cherries, local,
organic, spoke to me, insisting on their innocence, the plump,
burgundy wholeness of them. I didn’t think
to spare them, never do; not them, nor the shrimp
I clean for my son’s home-coming dinner,
each shrimp life given up, given over
to our celebration. Deeper into that same night
I hear, through my open window, close,
someone else’s baby cry – such grief,
and nothing will ease it, not the breast
or rest or warmth or darkness or light;
nothing will ease it forever and ever
or for the long moment till all is well
and silent. We can’t help ourselves: who wouldn’t trade
their own child’s comfort for another’s harm,
another child’s harm? We can’t help ourselves, knowing
it’s wrong, knowing there would be a remedy
if we wanted it. Now someone has written a book
I won’t be reading, about how the Earth would do without us,
rewriting not the past (airbrushing Trotsky
out of the Stalin snaps), but the future; a projection
sans project-er. It’s getting hotter,
we’re starting to agree we’ve fucked it up.
The review says the author has visited fresh
ruins, a city abandoned only decades, and it’s easy
to foretell: bougainvillea purpling rooftops,
the small fingers of roots diligently rubbing out
difference. No inside; no out. To some
perhaps it’s comforting to think of the Earth
scratching at its ear (good dog!) and us no more
than fleas in its coat: a good scrub,
a sprinkling of powder and all
is well again. None mourning our self-
massacre, not the cherries gone wild,
the gleeful shrimp gaining, all
we consumed. He imagines furthermore
humpbacks releasing their arias without contest,
butterflies sculpting air. I don’t want to. Useless
though my own life has seemed to me
at times (despite cherries, despite friends), I want
this curious project to continue, our certain hunger,
our subtleties, our complicated contradictions. The arias
less necessary to me than the way a mouth is held,
the look in an eye, that engenders them. Though
my own evaluation of the human
is that, as the song goes, you can’t
have one without the other.
Previously published in All Souls’ Véhicule Press, 2012
Rhea Tregebov’s seventh collection of poetry, All Souls’, was published in 2012. Her poetry has received the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize, Honorable Mention for the National Magazine Awards, and the Readers’ Choice Award for Poetry from Prairie Schooner. Tregebov is also the author of two novels, Rue des Rosiers and The Knife-Sharpener’s Bell, as well as five children’s picture books. Having retired from her position in the Creative Writing Program at University of British Columbia teaching in June 2017, she is now an Associate Professor Emerita.
in the water before the eye
barbed wire tree mine of bone
who flashed bland sea for bargain
can’t return a banished house or tiny mineral father
couldn’t lose a follow brother singing another wind tune
grows out of trench a trailing sea pried open grey city
smells like orphan and sweat a small muscle world
a kind of thick pouring chaining hush of voices circling up sky
"Jailed Tree" first published in R2: the Rice Review.
BREATH FOR GUAN YIN
1. brought to pond 10,000 steps a hum
each cascade of yellow tile supported by sturdy red
one metal figure waiting on water to quiet mind’s battle
metallic rain horde means fill your bathtub cook all food no water in grocery store gas
station line to empty crush of leftover white cardboard boxes floorlength we unpack lift
no bathing no showering do we have an axe? a tight set of drawers in lungs
slow a breath for ritual smoke
open late door and friend a shoe on busy rack
enter already-breathing room one hundred golden figures sitting in perch
each sewn seat in neat place
considering attic a man walks in front of watching window no shoes we could second
each foot slowly again again
floor it a message says to knock on airbnb door
2. man or woman? man or woman? no other options at check-in ladies or jocks?
no time for questions 11 size sneakers pair of grey shorts woman’s blouse children’s
shoes what size? line of eagers at distribution line all-day Rice University students writing
fill big blue bags sort through assembly walkers toothbrushes pillows blankets
a hot commodity special line form to right
‘don’t you Mister me!’ I see who wanted ladies’ shoes repeating request ‘I’m not a
Mister! I’m not a Mister!’ & no response before turning away from line toward a line of beds
volunteer supervisor no time for questions
I write on post-it note please no assumptions please respect please
no time for questions
3. friend said ‘all the aunties chanting’ brought me green
one sound four meanings I enter inflection meaning mother not horse
meaning guide sits sings lesson from diverging
chemical cloud ping pings a hot, rushing air all bodies in yard humming in mind
thick infection in head
can’t say I broke much trying not to ingest 10,000 hurricane microbes
let go spider tendrils
4. at the lost and found eyeglasses a credit card note left at desk because no cell
woman in wheelchair checks in again about no cell phone cold
white-haired unshaven’s waded through waters wants help calling FEMA
from Louisiana to Katrina lost bags maybe at last shelter lost daugher or son back in LA
we roll through shelter names and phone number I inhale smoke dial disembodied numbers to
how to attach sister in empty seat
how to cling worthy ache how to bring down rain
why chant dead grandmothers into room animal set loose in chest only one a
believer and other a cook preparing food for hungry repentants
5. when street drains is there pressure in street
all notes escaping injure to try not
exhume breath from body
walk away from dead night throw arms to air
hoping for birds to land
"Breath for Guan Yin" first published in Spiral.
Ching-In Chen is author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009) and recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017; winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry) as well as the chapbooks how to make black paper sing (speCt! Books, 2019) and Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2020 and a Finalist for the Leslie Scalapino Award). Chen is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 2011; AK Press 2016) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press, 2009). They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat and Imagining America and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. A community organizer, they have worked in Asian American communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Boston, Milwaukee and Houston. www.chinginchen.com
SEED CATALOGUE FOR THE END DAYS
Orange Sun Peppers – Drought tolerant.
Bitter Gourd – Heavily warted
green skin; excellent adaptation to
Eden White Corn – Requires isolation
from other corn. Good for home
garden or barter.
Serengeti Bush Bean – Resistant
to Bacterial Brown Spot, Common
Bean Mosaic Virus, Anthracnose,
Bulls Blood Beet – Holds up well
under long-term storage.
Atomic Red Carrot – Grows in ash.
First published in Grain Summer 2019.
Susan Haldane is a writer and editor in Northeastern Ontario. She and her husband run a grass-based livestock farm, and their farmhouse front porch looks south to Algonquin Park. Her poetry has been published in a number of Canadian journals, and her chapbook Picking Stones is with Gaspereau Press.
Tuesday: Rediscovering a mangled
manuscript, a first draft of who
we wanted to be. You skimmed
it like you remembered;
We have time now I wanted to say
We read what we could, slanted patterns of youthful
cursive: shopping malls swelling into seed libraries
bullet trains with bright red seats
workdays like hibernating hummingbirds
fucking for more than three minutes without falling asleep
When you spoke of home,
it was sliced whispers from an orca
who sang you to sleep
Who are we again? you asked, a drumfire
revolted twenty kilometres away
Remembering Spanish protesters imitating
our hearts, I want to be forgotten we read
You lay down and I did too
I read you every word until you
recognized us, Untitled melted dry on the first page
And the world spun into the unprecedented
as we constituted our antidote to the rising
Salma Saadi is a social worker and a writer. She has been published in Untethered Magazine, Sewer Lid, and Plenitude Magazine. In 2019, she participated in Writer’s Studio, a writing residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.
Nothing’s different. The things that were
here before are here now. The men
whose mouths move and make angry sounds -
they were here. They growled.
The sounds are loud and empty
spaces where words were excised. Words
lean on walls in the detention room. They
seem aimless, but they’re making plans.
They’ve been locked up before.
They snuck in scissors and cut shadow words to throw
through the bars, set free to assemble
and organize to take the horrors down.
These are bad times.
But they’re not so different
"Borders" appeared in the pamphlet from Happy Monks Press, “How the End Comes”, 2019
I used to care, but that was in the free
days, the ones between the named
days, the ones without numbers
and holidays. The way it went was:
a person walked across an invisible border,
through gullies, ditches, other dips in the land.
Weather was brutal, its length meant cold
took fingers. That guy in the news knew
the story went only to the end of care. Past that,
fingers fell, care rolled up the rim, and the charter
bus rolled back to the land of the free.
The wolves curled up under cold
trees and learned the sound of no-howl,
no-growl, their minds loud with the crackle
of celestial sheets of light. Their care
made sound go underground, into tunnels
of ears and animal minds. This is when
care went incognito to the hunters,
but the language in the wolves’ minds grew.
I used to care, but that was in the loud days.
I made it sound worse and better than it was,
and dug a hole under the tree, in the ditch and divot,
and this is where the unnamed held dormant
in the winter snow, pushing down
its seed for the longest, endless hope.
Alice Burdick is a poet, author of four collections, one selected, and many chapbooks and other micro-press publications. Her work, in the form of poems and essays, has appeared in many anthologies, and she also works as an editor and in the schools through Poetry in Voice/Les Voix de la Poesie. She co-owned the former Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
If water could be a gnawing thing. If, against you,
the knifeglint of a type of ship. If away is where our eyes point
certain bodies go. If policy, if gaze, what blooms. To demand
certain bodies die a little more. To: from where. How to slur them
with a glow other than blood muzzle. If yours, too,
is a language made for prayer. Make what type of bed
to tuck a country in. Heroicize,
in what order: tenderness, of, lack. Allow me the time
you take to dry yourself in ocean. Gnawing
at whose insides. As if a home.
"Dear Phosphorescence," first appears on 18MillionRising.org as part of the #NoMuslimBanEver Micropoem Series.
Hari Alluri (he/him/siya) is the author of The Flayed City (Kaya) and Carving Ashes (CiCAC/Thompson Rivers). A winner of the 2020 Leonard A. Slade, Jr. Poetry Fellowship for Poets of Color and an editor at Locked Horn Press, he has received grants from the BC Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts and fellowships from Las Dos Brujas, Port Townsend, and VONA/Voices writers workshops. His work appears in the Pandemic Solidarity (Pluto) and Poetry In Voice / Les voix de la poésie anthologies, as well as recently in Anomaly, The Capilano Review, Ovenbird, Prism International, The Puritan, and elsewhere.
Thermal camera images by Gary J. Hodges. Thanks to Dr. Stephen Cheung, Phillip Wallace, and Scott Steele for assisting with testing and analysis at the Environmental Ergonomics Laboratory at Brock University.
Adam Dickinson is the author of four books of poetry. His latest book, Anatomic (Coach House Books), involves the results of chemical and microbial testing on his body. His work has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and the Raymond Souster Award. He was also a finalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Poetry Prize and the K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Literature. He teaches Creative Writing at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
EXCERPT FROM OCEAN
The harbour didn’t like being held captive by the shadows
of our buildings. We treated it well but still its dorsal fins
weakened and flopped. The tide was nothing more than
a sleepy scratch of water up over rocks
and then a yawn back down. The balls we threw to it
sank. It stopped slurping, it stopped nibbling.
It hardly growled. Some days it looked like a carpet,
other days, a flooded campsite: disks of paper plates,
lipsticked cigarette butts, the wet embers
of our vacations. What was the fun of these skyscrapers
if the only view we had was a petulant body of water?
We bought fish from the market to feed it. The older women
crocheted the most tender dialogue skimmed from our dreams,
carrying afghans by the armload down to its shore.
In this way, they invented nets and managed to catch
the grit of starlight from previous nights. With the right amount
of sugar and boiled darkness, we soon had vats
of a nectar so potent it bubbled. It wasn’t that we got drunk
but forgetful and became so greedy for more, we over-fished
our dreams for their tenderness. When poverty arrived,
we were down to the bones of our talk. If we rubbed
two sticks together, briefly we’d be nourished by the smell
of their wood.
Our elders insisted the ocean was still there.
That we were born with a seed of it and when we spoke,
its waves pressed against our words for a further shore.
But we had let ourselves become sub-divided and suburban,
buckling our talk into seatbelts, mad always for safety.
When had our schedules become the new mountains?
We were doing our best to ignore how grey our memories
were becoming, how stooped and hard of hearing our laughter was.
The ocean, apparently, was right in front of us and we were dropping
like flies. We bought the dried flowertops of our politicians’
explanations. We tuned our radios to the sunsets and downloaded
whalesong overdubbed with protest songs. Our intent was good
but with airbags. The poets rigged antennas to the antique words
of gratitude with a cayenne of the unexpected but we were tired
of the poets, they were chesterfields or they were curtains.
We wanted pure ocean podcast into our veins but tethered
while we slept. We wanted death to be a stranger we’d never have to
give directions to. We consulted the beekeepers infamous
for not getting stung but they were in a meeting with the poets.
We consulted the gamblers but they wanted to see us only to raise us
ten. Our voices were rarely coming home covered in mud anymore.
Filmmakers had started making films of the ocean
in 3D. Scratch and sniff coastal cards were sold
at lottery booths. Material for dresses was cut with the froth
of tide in mind. We had wanted the ocean to be the new
flavour, the new sound. We’d drive for miles to get a glimpse
of it because, let’s face it, it revitalized the part of us
we kept rooting for, that apple seed of energy that defied
multiple choice career options. The ocean had egged the best part
of us on. And it scared us. We never knew what it was thinking
and spent thousands on specialists who could make predictions.
And the predictions always required hard hats and building permits,
furrowed eyebrows and downward trends. Why is it so hard
to trust something that leaps, disappears and then reappears
spouting more light? When had our hearts become badly behaved
dogs we had to keep the screen door closed to? Have you ever run
along its shore, the pant of it coming closer? And that feeling
that yipped inside of you, the Ginger Rogers of your feet, your ability
to not get caught then, yes, get soaked. Didn’t you feel like it was
part of your pack? When it whistled, whatever it is in you
that defies being named, didn’t that part of you perk up?
And didn’t you let it tousle you to the ground,
let it clean between your ears before it left you?
Wasn’t that all right? That it left you? That we all will?
"forty-nine,""fifty-five," and "fifty-six" published in Ocean (Gaspereau, 2013)
Sue Goyette lives in K'jipuktuk (Halifax), the unceded and unsurrendered land of the Mi’kmaq peoples. She has published six books of poems and a novel. Her latest collection is Penelope (Gaspereau Press, 2017). She has been nominated for the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Award and has won several awards including the 2015 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award for her collection, Ocean. Sue teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University.
conversations with mom
I think I am scared to have children.
what if I forget the kind of world we are living in?
what if I try to write and all that comes out is
a siren, a fire, some hot, angry thing, what if I am
a siren and a fire and a hot, angry thing?
the warning signs are not for you. they are
for you. ignore them anyway.
what if I forget how to hold you?
what if the world will not hold us and we are falling
and the fire alarm is ringing and I am the fire--
what if I leave and they think I am never coming back?
what if I don’t want to come back?
"conversations with mom" originally published in Room Magazine, Issue 42.4, 2020
Natalie Lim is a Chinese-Canadian writer based in Vancouver, B.C. and the winner of the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize, with work published in Room Magazine, Honey & Lime Lit, PRISM international and more. She is an unashamed nerd and a believer in good bones, and you can find her on Twitter @nataliemlim.
I WONDER IF I WILL EVER MANAGE TO WRITE A GOOD POEM ABOUT HEAT DEATH
This trajectory is all on us for inability
to fact check or read critically.
The sparring kangaroos were dancing
with rain-joy, we said.
That’s fighting, said the scientist,
old photo. Those kangaroos are ash by now.
Pictures of koalas in renal failure
foregoing their fear of us
to lap water from the road were deemed
“cute.” No, no, said the scientist, it’s not cute.
That creature is dying.
We’d moved on. Wombats shepherd
other critters into their burrows! Stewards of the underbush!
Not quite right, said the scientist, wombat burrows are enormous.
Most likely the wombat was hiding in another chamber.
Too busy anthropomorphizing, we’d already created a hashtag.
#WombatEmpathy will save us!
I asked ryan what comes next,
and he said,
either the complete transformation
of existing relationships
or the heat death of the
planet. One of those.
My heart’s on relationships, and kangaroos, and scientists.
No time for settler logic.
No atheists in burrows, friend.
No one is coming to save us.
I ❤️ ALBERTA’S ENERGY
take the elevator to my second-floor
apartment bust out the biodiesel
firmware use medical grade plastic
bottles for my saline nasal
rinse gotta keep those
mucus membranes clean for u
and the dust bowl, babe, gotta
run that old car all up and down
this city’s sprawl I try to keep warm
through frigid prairie winters feel appropriate
guilt at the plastic produce bags I bring home
from the grocery store / forget the mesh ones
every time / I’ve gone full enemy of the state assault vehicle
applied to be the next poet-in-residence for carbon capture
(mass species death, but make it fashion)
everything you see is development
gently falling leaves in the inner city: development
Enoch Sales heritage home fire: development
empty condo tower on empty condo tower:
the firing of 5,000 Albertan nurses in the year
2019 / 9 dead from fires in South Wales since Monday
now 24, meanwhile
we’re bursting out the seams over here:
Montana, Drake, East Village, Tuscany
new history razed for imported ideas
another thundering swing
from settler colonialism’s long neoliberal tail
clearing a path for the rule of the patch
by the patch for the patch
for the capitalist overlord bosses of our demise,
for the dinosaurs who never left us
Nikki Reimer (she/her) is a carbon-based life form of Ukrainian and Russian Mennonite descent who lives on the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. She may or may not be undead. She writes poetry, essays and criticism, yells on the internet, and makes digital art. Published books are My Heart is a Rose Manhattan, DOWNVERSE and [sic].
The boardwalks scuttled like diving reef schooners –
a walkable Galilee if anyone dared, but each jogger rears
to higher ground. I’ve lost my son a half-second here
or there before I pulled him up, his lips like planks,
in tubs and pools and once a mirror lake – the obsidian
endless kind that really ends abruptly in roots and husks
and carcasses and muck. This country’s full of them.
All summer we swim bellies up, avoid anoxic thoughts.
The joggers, any other day, linger at the point
just long enough to catch their breath and contemplate
an app, perhaps the sun. Yes, there it is, afloat. My son,
I need to know what you thought of water when it first,
again, surrounded you. Your eyes were wide. You didn’t
make a sound. Not one thing was born or died.
THE SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE OF THIS WORLD
The successful people of this world
are always busy. They work all day
then come home and need to do something
so they cook the dinner, wash the car, cut the grass.
It's because of the successful people
that we have water restrictions:
this side of the street on even days,
that side on odd.
They like that kind of thing: schedules,
they are usually big fans of schedules,
and when they have free time in theirs
they spend it composing new schedules.
When they take medication
they always put it in one of those plastic things
that divides the pills up by days.
the successful people of this world
are busy and efficient, their actions
are their own rewards, and a green lawn
during a heat wave is their poem.
"The Successful People of the World" previously appeared in The Other Side of Ourselves (Cormorant Books, 2011).
Rob Taylor is the author of three poetry collections, including The News (Gaspereau Press, 2016), which was a finalist for the 2017 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Rob is also the editor of What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation (Nightwood Editions, 2018) and guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry 2019 (Biblioasis, 2019). His fourth collection, Strangers, will be published by Biblioasis in Spring 2021.
it is how our footsteps alter the flurries
how we move through the breeze
in the boughs of our hope.
when time stops in the sideways glance
you will find me in the missed heartbeat
see me in the many moons of your longing
in the place where words fail us
with a sharp astute parlance and
war is upon us and the sun sets black
under the yoke of
a darkening century
we are going nowhere fast.
in storms and tornados
of prognosis and forecasts
over a horizon of planted crosses
the weather turns passive aggressive on us.
and there is no way we can say such things
about the weather
as we forget how to move through the elements
that we are.
it’s up to you and I what we’ll do
in this tortured oil-spilled winter.
where even in sleep
loneliness alters us re-interprets us
how I even begin to smile at people
in my dreams.
how a little bit of light brings nuance to the shutter
in the prolonged exposure photography of grief
where the struggling light shreds
the clouds of our sorrow
into the rags of tomorrow
you will also find me here waiting
This poem was inspired by the poem Angst by Alexander Block (1880-1921) and it was published in Ping Pong: An Art and Literary Journal of the Henry Miller Memorial Library (Big Sur, California, 2014).
Daniela Elza lived on three continents before immigrating to Canada in 1999. Her poetry collections are the weight of dew (2012), the book of It (2011), milk tooth bane bone (2013), and the broken boat (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2020). slow erosions (a chapbook written in collaboration with poet Arlene Ang) is coming out with Collusion Books (2020). Daniela also has essays forthcoming in The Queen’s Quarterly and Riddle Fence.
Watch Your Head is an online journal of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
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