At first there's no lake in the city, at first there are only
elevators, at first there are only constricting office desks;
there are small apartments and hamburger joints and
unpaid telephone bills. Then a few nightclubs appear and
eventually the lake disinters. At times there's a highway
and a car and friends in a snowstorm heading nowhere but...
We’re all aware that human hair is dead
Yet we spend thousands taking care of it.
It’s like an endless funeral.
The moment your hair hits air, it’s toast.
It only lives inside the follicle.
That we twist and burn and fry it,
Straighten it and dye it, does not surprise.
What’s it gonna do, spit out your cheap...
The thing that death gave you —
your face leaks
your face overflows
Your face is the grave of your nose
your face is the grave of your ears
your face is the grave of your face
once again your face overflows uncontrollably
The subzero temperature grows on your face then...
Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris
When Daniel Harris stepped out of his car
the policeman was waiting. Gun raised.
I use the past tense though this is irrelevant
in Daniel's language, which is sign.
Sign has no future or past; it is a present language.
You are never more present than when a gun
is pointed at you. What language says this...
There was busy air there, air
seething through the leaves so,
from farther up, the tree-line shone
like a single scintillating polyhedron.
Still, though ravens and wrens flaked off the top,
the woods held, solid as a mall
or a rally or a lake — really anything
at all when seen from a ways. But
The Young Sun's Greeting
The young sun’s greeting
On my bed, your letter’s glow
All the sounds that burst from morning
Blackbirds’ brassy calls, jingle of gonoleks
Your smile on the grass, on the radiant dew.
In the innocent light, thousands of dragonflies
Quivering, like large black-winged golden bees
And like helicopters turning with gentle...
The sun gave our shoulder blades ulu-shaped burns, and the sun gives nothing to our sort
I sleep now, and furiously
Clouds excreted shadows on the shoreline, and there were no clouds
His body a train ride away, and nearby
There are organs I have never used before, and they are pale from overuse
The sand had turned to pearls in our folds, and that...
On TV it looked like a high-speed photo of a milk drop
the dying leader of the Pana Wave laboratory cult smack in the
Acres of white cloth streamered his followers, who
circled him like crown jewels.
More and more I'm responding to stark white on black,
letting the morning frost finish for me.
Here's how you make pemmican
Here's how you make pemmican
2. meat that's been sliced for drying
3. dried meat
4. pounded dried meat
5. mix with pimiy and mînisa to make pemmican
big ghosts contra
band my diction war
korea's north sees red as
america flags china's chopped limb
british crowns hong kong
cut for duplicity more capitalist than capitalist
trades commie goods
door slam hello hunger
remember japan's occupation
desperate flee inland...
Ella Josephine Campbell
Slim, slight. Sinew and bird bones.
Cords of her hands like spruce roots.
Came from Ship Cove to Crow Gulch
with little more than the child inside her,
landed in a small shack flanked by
an outhouse, train tracks. Made it work,
had to. No surviving a place like this
without some acceptance, some yield
When the stranger bumps his shoulder into me, hard, without an ounce of concern, I can feel the fire bubbling inside of me. The heat from the concrete rising up, through my feet, reverberating like electricity about to erupt magma through every orifice of my body. Lava that will oxidize every atom and molecule of his body on contact. The city as embodied trauma. The trauma of settlement. I...
He wakes up naked and drunk as a bear
on sun-fermented garbage.
Hungover and queasy and riled up by
Nothing going well today, he moans,
life being short and the craft, ah, long.
Still, might as well take a stab at it,
lording it over misrule and tending the
that transforms a garden into...
Out of their torments men carved a flower
which they perched on the high plateaus of their faces
hunger makes a canopy for them
an image dissolves in their last tear
they drank foam rhythmed monsters
to the point of ferocious horror
In those days
there was an
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking...
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close...
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody's dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was...
Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
January 1, Dawn
After the celebrations,
people, TV channels, telephones,
the year’s recently-corrected digit
finally falls asleep.
Between the final night and the first dawn
a jagged piece of sky
as if viewed from the open mouth of a whale.
Inside her belly and inside the belly of time,
there’s no point worrying.
That feeling of my soul getting yanked
That feeling of my soul getting yanked
I wonder where my soul hides when I’m sick
My heart feels as if it’s getting beat up
Is it because the restless ocean is clumping up?
My heart beats regardless of the pain
It beats spewing out red thread like a red spider
A sinkful of red thread gets submerged in water
My heart beats like a...
How to Triumph Like a Girl
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house —
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month...
The Young Poets of Winnipeg
scurried around a classroom papered with poems.
Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase...
they introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage
to read their work, blessed their teacher who
encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents
attend the reading because parents might criticize,
believed in the third and fourth...
I was a kid other kids’
parents gossiped about.
They told their children
what I was: too negative.
I get it. Fair to fear
contagion of bad attitudes,
to think naming a thing
can be an inoculation.
Of course my friends
filled me in. Of course
On Seeing a Photograph of My Mother at St. Joseph Residential School for Girls
A black and white picture
The sun is shining through a window behind you
Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk
Some of the girls in the picture are smiling You are not Your eyes staring into the camera Seem a million miles away
That stare I will see seldom and one day...
Wow! You've Changed
You used to be so
and now you’re all
like, you’ve transformed
I don’t know how to describe
you don’t like canasta anymore
you text IN ALL CAPS
your selfies are so
like, are you out to prove something
you’re a lion
you’re a bear
from “Road Shoulders”
power lines held by birds
of prey the hostile expanse above
ditches teeming floral invasive
late summer the shoulder sang
holds breeze by
the course of the drive
ravelling winds furl sparse treetops
semi-trailers startle traffic to attention
The Little Car
The 31st day of August 1914
I left Deauville a little before midnight
In Rouveyre’s little car
Counting his driver there were three of us
We said good-bye to an entire epoch
I come from the land of
Where You From?
My people dispossessed of their stories
and who have died again and again
in a minstrelsy of afterlives, wakes,
the dead who walk, waiting and
furrowed, like ivy crawling up
All those museums and mausoleums,
lifting languages from rivers.
But I cannot leave them...
My Brother at 3 A.M.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
O God, he said. O God.
He wants to kill me, Mom.
When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
He wants to kill me, he...
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last
inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice
for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be
no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China...
River of Milk
bear with me it wasn’t long ago I was brainless
lazily pulling fireflies into my teeth chewing them
into pure light so much of me then was nothing
I could have fit into a sugar cube my body burned
like a barnful of feathers nothing was on fire
but fire was on everything the wild mustard
the second time
i ask mama
about residential school
she says no
i ask her again
she says no
the third time
i stop listen
to her silence
ask about her diabetes
her hip achy back
her sore knees
did she get her hearing aid fixed
the animal in me
sleep is uncertain,
in the night,
I hear footsteps.
all signs say death.
still I crave
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a...
With the Dying of the Light
I recited to him,
Now as I was young and easy,
and in the cough-afflicted wheeze that was left of my father’s voice,
he answered, under the apple boughs,
and so it went between us
in the days I waited for him to...
One Perfect Rose
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet —
One perfect rose.
I knew the language...
Trust Fund Witches
Tape hiss, Value Village, vibraphones. On fixed-gears scrubbed with salt and lemon, like the secret at the centre of a Magic Eye the witches, genderless as light, breathe green and lavender, appear and disappear, chanting your passwords in a round. Voices like dimes dropped in a bowl, blush ultraviolet, glittering auras. Skin so soft they move through walls they press against your window,...
somewhere i have never travelled
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring...
For My Best Friend
We are losing the intensive care unit waiting room war
We were doing so well
So well we got sleepy
So sleepy the institution returned
In the 8th adjoined room sleeping on the 8th adjoined chair
The last five minutes just like the first
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of...
Should Lanterns Shine
Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, and any boy of love
Look twice before he fell from grace.
The features in their private dark
Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
And from her lips the added pigments fall,
The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast....
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the...
Whereas my eyes land on the shoreline of “the arrival of Europeans in North America
opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.” Because in others, I hate the act
of laughing when hurt injured or in cases of danger. That bitter hiding. My daughter picks up
new habits from friends. She’d been running, tripped, slid on knees and palms onto...
anyone lived in a pretty how town
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few...
Love is a Moontime Teaching
love is a moontime teaching
is your kookum’s crooked smile when you pick up the phone
is another word for body
body is another word for campfire smoke
campfire smoke is the smell he leaves behind in your bed sheets
after the breakup
the word for hate sex is forest
forest sometimes means hope or lonely (depends...
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my...
Sonnets from the Portuguese 24
Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife,
Shut in upon itself and do no harm
In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
And let us hear no sound of human strife
After the click of the shutting. Life to life —
I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
Against the stab of worldlings,...
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d...
Sons of Orion
for Alton Sterling, Andrew Loku, Philando Castile, et al.
I wanna live, son. But which son are you?
There where the rivers are made
of moonshine and the lights still wait,
move by the music of the dealer’s bootleg CDs.
Have you left the street-side, the Rigel stage
for another watery home?
i twist and gasp
open and close my mouth
searching for air
whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
the feel of strange hands touching my body
to be free
to go where i want to go
the impact of stick or rock on bone
the splash of colour...
I Have Something to Tell You
I’ve come to talk to you about shaving cuts
I was waiting across the road
right over there
for the light to turn
and you were on the other side
fumbling with change at the newspaper box
don’t buy this one buy this one
pointing to identical newspapers
I cut myself shaving
Under the Answering Sky
I can manage being alone,
can pace out convivial hope
across my managing ground.
Someone might call, later.
What do the dead make of us
that we’d flay ourselves trying
to hear them though they may
sigh at such close loneliness.
I would catch, not my echo,
but their guarantee that this...
Two Hours on the Train
During two hours on the train
I rerun the film of my life
Two minutes per year on average
Half an hour for childhood
Another half-hour for prison
Love, books, wandering
take up the rest
the hand of my companion
gradually melts into mine
and her head on my shoulder
is as light as a dove
he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean
dumb beasts who could cut fire
out of the whitest sand
he played english across the trail
where girls turned plum wild
garlic and strained words
through the window of night
A Short Story of Falling
It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again
it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower
and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary
is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller...
Now I set out across a minefield,
space having taken all I owned, I’m starting over
from a point where every pebble may explode
beneath my shoe and the flowers blaze up
behind my body as I gasp for air,
although in this world I’ve never known
either flames or dragons or the fury of war
in these lands where the sky was always calm...
I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets —
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
The dates. The phrases.
The things you said. Forfeited.
Crushed. Melted. Dissolved....
howlin at the moon
take the moon
nd take a star
when you don’t
know who you are
paint the picture in your hand
nd roll on home
take my fear
nd take the hunger
take my body
when i’m younger
paint the picture in your hand
nd roll on home
take my ghost
nd make the...
Illegalese: Floodgate Dub
(for the Chinese maroons, British Columbia, 1999–2001)
if you arrive in the belly of a rusting imagination, there are grounds to
outlaw you. but Canada is a remix B-side chorus in the globalization
loop: a sampled track of “back home”-desiring, “old days”-admiring,
democracy-dreaming, racism-reaping homesickness that even
The limpness of a bird's legs in flight.
The place, the question, the question.
The place, the interest, the question.
There is the place.
There is what you do in the place.
There is your belief.
There is the faith in a knowing.
There is your instruction
by the gods.
There is your instruction as you are told.
There is your relief...
There’s a joke that ends with — huh?
It’s the bomb saying here is your father.
Now here is your father inside
your lungs. Look how lighter
the earth is — afterward.
To even write father
is to carve a portion of the day
out of a bomb-bright page.
Say the Names
— say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
say them like your soul
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
and you were a river
— not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names...
Both guitars run trebly. One noodles
Over a groove. The other slushes chords.
Then they switch. It’s quite an earnest affair.
They close my eyes. I close their eyes. A horn
Blares its inner air to brass. A girl shakes
Her ass. Some dude does the same. The music’s
Gone moot. Who doesn’t love it when the bass
Doesn’t hide? When...
At the heart there is a hollow sun
by which we are constructed and undone
Behind the mirror. Favourite place to hide.
I didn't breathe. They looked so long I died.
The Novel As Manuscript
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping...
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished...
I’ll Teach You Cree
with the tip of my spring tongue, ayîki frog
your mouth will be the web
catching apihkêsis words, spider
a crawling-out ceremony
that cannot be translated.
hâw, pîkiskwê! Now, speak!
I’ll teach you Cree, nêhiyawêwin...
Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.
As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.
Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
St John’s Burns Down for the Umpteenth Time
Let’s say the fix was in. Let’s say history,
Being human and thus short on ideas,
Made change from an old bag of tricks. Say this
Was something reported as news
On a day when your life came to no good.
The new homeless drifting from row houses
Along streets tamped down by the heedless
And paved in afterthought. Out of hollows...
What Is Poetry
(a twelve-tone poem)
trite yap show
rosy twit heap
a wept history
it’s yawp rot, eh
a wisher potty
a power shitty
a whitey sport
poetry is what
whips yo tater
pets it awry, oh
oh, twisty pear
two hearts yip
it’s paw theory...
Poem For Duncan Campbell Scott
(Canadian poet who “had a long and distinguished career
in the Department of lndian Affairs, retiring in 1932.”
The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse)
Who is this black coat and tie?
Christian severity etched in the lines
he draws from his mouth. Clearly a noble man
who believes in work and mission. See
how he rises from...
Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border
It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Separating my left and right foot
I feel like an illegitimate child
Forsaken by my parents
At least I can claim innocence
Since I did not ask to come
Into this world
I Feel the Sun
Down a long, long corridor
I keep walking…
—A window straight ahead so bright it hurts the eyes,
reflective walls on both sides.
I stand with the sunlight.
—The sunlight is so intense!
So warm people stop in their tracks,
so bright people hold their breath.
All the light in...
The books sit on the shelf, a row of coma patients
in a ward, a series of selves no longer able to learn
and trapped at the point of injury: the last page.
At the donor clinic I offer my arm to the spigot
of the needle and think, as I see the bag fill
with blood, there goes some of me. But that’s a lie:
Your best friend falls in love
and her brain turns to water.
You can watch her lips move,
making the customary sounds
but you can see they’re merely
words, flimsy as bubbles rising
from some golden sea where she
swims sleek and exotic as a mermaid.
It’s always like that.
You stop for lunch in a...
Chemo Side Effects: Memory
Where is the word I want?
in the thicket,
about to pinch the
berry, my fingerpads
I can hear it
scrabbling like a squirrel
on the oak’s far side.
Word, please send over this black stretch of ocean
your singular flare,...
I've Tasted My Blood
If this brain’s over-tempered
consider that the fire was want
and the hammers were fists.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to love what I was born to.
But my mother’s look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged...
We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James, who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
I was there, in the first of the long-term care centres, when he finished the story,
And we all shared the narrator’s sadness about giving up his donkey,
Coin Exhibit, British Museum.
Their misshapenness strikes the table in tiny splashes,
like still-cooling splatters of silver. Stater and shekel,
mina and obol. Persia’s bullion had a lion and bull.
Athens an owl, Messana a hare, a jar for Terone, Melos
a pomegranate. Call it museum money, written...
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,...