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.
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.
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.
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.
(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/
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.
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.
Pollok Free State, 1995 (i.m. Colin Macleod)
New car smell rammed into the roadbed until it stinks
of the earth’s gut: muddy leaves, wet dog, plum-cake.
Lichen-rust tectonic under bonnets, engines furred.
Headlight bulbs are goldfish bowls, tenantless. Doors pucker
with each slam and the boot flaps like a gull-wing.
Twin-exhausts are organ pipes, emptying. Everything natural,
every thing resourced: we make the things that make us,
moulded or vulcanised. Blacked tyres made up with stibnite.
When we fire them, rubber drips from the wheel-arches like hot sugar,
sweet petroarticles of faith on the tongue. We circle
each instant monument, generous heretics, knowing
these are ugly gods – bitter in the stomach, black in the lung.
ANIMAL TRIALS: STATEMENT FROM THE TRIAL OF THE WEEVILS OF SAINT JULIEN
In the spring of 1587…some weevils were arraigned before the ecclesiastical court
in St Jean-de-Maurienne for despoiling the vineyards of St Julien.
John Harwood, ‘Deliver Us from Weevils’, Literary Review, August 2013
If I may speak
on behalf of my sisters
who, of late, have sprung
bright from the soil and turned
these vineyards into frail
stock and failed wines;
at no time did we act
contrary to our creation;
and, indeed, as you will know
Reverend Father, your wormy
books spell out in calfskin
and ink, that we precede
your own ape-like standing
in the Great Chain of Being.
God created animals first,
– each creeping thing –
and gave us every green herb for food.
If I may be so bold: the holy vine-leaf
sweetens in our grubbing mouths;
the grape swells for us, juicy globes
without sin. You might damn
us to desist but you would do well
to remember this: this trial
will not bring the control you crave.
Insects are on the side of the angels
and we shall turn you out, even unto the grave.
"Carhenge" first published in The Scores, then Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020)
"Containerization" first published in Gutter, then Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018)
"Animal Trials: Statement from the Trial of the Weevils of Saint Julien" published in Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020)
Samuel Tongue's first collection is Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel, 2020) and he has published two pamphlets: Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018) and Hauling-Out (Eyewear, 2016). Poems have appeared in Magma, The Compass, Finished Creatures, Gutter, The Interpreter's House, Envoi and elsewhere. Samuel is Project Coordinator at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and he lives in Glasgow. www.samueltongue.com; Twitter: @SamuelTongue
IF SATURDAY, AN EMPTY PARKING LOT
If the horse fence was split-rail
and I had an apple in my hand.
If mom and pop grocery stores still had
their ‘and.’ If I could lift out of biography
into sand and compost, hand-mixed
and laid in low spots in the yard.
If the knock at the door was a parcel
instead of a politician, if we built each day
the way a spider shuttles a web,
warp of anchor threads,
weft of hours to hammock in.
If woodstoves, whiskey, and new friends.
If barefooted, weeding garden beds.
If cold frames greened fall plates.
If boards that shudder in gale winds
held another eighty years, if Canada
warms at twice the rate of other countries.
If we stopped taking airplanes
we’d never see our families again.
If we could ride air currents with crows
fingers feathered, if the small stones
of deer tracks foretold the future.
If we weren’t afraid.
If babies were born healthy.
If this body was a bubble wand
held open to wind.
Bren Simmers’ first book of non-fiction, Pivot Point (Gaspereau Press, 2019), is a lyrical account of a nine-day wilderness canoe journey. She is also the author of three books of poetry: If, When (Gaspereau Press, 2021), Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and Night Gears (Wolsak & Wynn, 2010). A lifelong west coaster, she now lives on PEI.
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.
Stephen Barrett is a writer, teacher, dad and husband. He composes poetry, writes songs and loves playing his guitar and blues harp. Winters are spent scouring used bookstores in Toronto for old volumes of poetry and summers walking the shores of Lake Huron looking for unique stones and detritus on the beach.
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).
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