When my mother died,
one of her honey cakes remained in the freezer.
I couldn’t bear to see it vanish,
so it waited, pardoned,
in its ice cave behind the metal trays
for two more years.
On my forty-first birthday
I chipped it out,
a rectangular resurrection,
hefted the dead weight in my palm....
Stranger, who can measure the distance between us?
Distance is the rumor of a never-before-seen sea.
Distance the width of a layer of dust.
Maybe we need only strike a match
for my world to flicker in your sky,
Visible finally, and eye-to-eye.
Breachable, finally, the border between us.
What if we touched? What then?
God the Tea Master
All the weapons we marshal to confront the day
You ask to be left by the door before entering.
The sword in its sheath must lie on the grass,
the quiver and bow hung off a branch.
Daily mind, that dons the armour of thought,
does not shed the weaponry easily; too many are the tasks
that require its particularity – its thrust-and-jab...
My father threw his language overboard,
a bag of kittens, waterlogged mewling:
small hard bodies.
My mother hung on to hers —
Wove the words like lace, an open web
over the window, light caught on the edges.
My daughter is starting to pick at language,
names at dawn – dog, star, mumma –...
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride...
My sister cries the sea
My sister is crying and crying
her tears grow to salt stormy showers
to rain and to rapids and rivers
they run to the sea to the sea.
My sister sobs softly she knows
she listens at shells and the shoals
she hears from fish sleeping at nightfall
she gathers from mushrooms and moulds.
From One and Half of You
Price depends on how the cheongsam
was made, the fabric used.
Gasp. Lift breasts with one hand.
Stuff your body inside.
If you wear this print of peonies
people may call them cabbages.
Hand-sewn, it’s vulnerable to tears.
A machine can fix that.
Needles pinned will...
Nouf is proof God does not want me to die a horse-girl with horse-hair who loves even the flies will not swat them carries them outside with a glass-and-paper trap she brims with glee high praise for bicycle lanes pie steeples the colour of sea foam seedless tangerines she collects fallen leaves celebrates precipitation by running outside because raised in a...
After Betty Goodwin's The Memory of the Body (1993)
As Whitman sang the body electric
Goodwin sings the body forested:
dense stand of dark-trunked saplings
illumined by a blood-streaked sky,
ominous forest where
abandoned children wander
vulnerable to the spell of wolves,
stepmothers and jealous queens—
omnivorous forest, perilous to enter.
I mean the...
April 30, 2014
Weeds are flattened beneath last year’s tire tracks
others lay burden by the winter’s heavy snow.
The crocuses labor through this thick blanket.
I am sun drained from the bleakness
of the weeks before. Now a tick
I've carried in my hair runs up my neck,
festers on my chin.
I show it no mercy.
The lake-ice is...
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
An Online Friend Dies Somewhere Outside the Internet
Freezes, goes blue screen, shuts down. Dead pixel, dark.
Ghost echoes, lossy in the source code. Time zones away,
people who have actually shaken hands with my online friend
stand around a box of his remains. I'm left to click through data,
two-dimensional and without decay, in multiple windows.
Close all until I'm left by the one that...
You sit in the forgotten bone-dry hills
surrounded by sand and sagebrush
above Buffalo Pound Lake.
A day and a night, and then
three more days and nights.
Do not mark the hours. Just sit
until the prickly pear raises its bloom.
A pale thing, translucent moon, sea anemone,
the first thin veil of a...
My father liked them separate, one there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware
that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part
to what he was—his memory, his name
(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim.
“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”
he said, “...
Departing from Kingston, Jamaica, the British ship Empire Windrush
brought one of the first large groups of postwar Caribbean immigrants to
London in 1948
Dem did sey she pregnance
Cum a sea full a mi
Weighing har down eena har shoe dem
Dresses, coco, mangoes an baggy an arl
Dear Diaspora Child
it's okay if you only learned about your culture from Google
it's okay if you only read your language at the public library
it's okay if you need books to know your ancestral recipes
it's okay if you've never even set foot on the soil of your people
it's okay if your...
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness;
and the hands keep on moving,
smoothing the holy surfaces.
‘In Praise of Ironing’, Pablo Neruda
It has to be loved the way a laundress loves her linens,
the way she moves her hands...
Women Do This Every Day
At the park I look for Levita,
because our work is the same—
swaying wide-legged over foraging toddlers,
we avert bruises, discourage the consumption
of found objects, interpret primordial languages,
serve fruit from hastily filled containers,
and trade a few stories and questions, so I know
I saw a perfect tree today
I saw a perfect tree today
From my cabin bed on a Via Rail train
Through the North of Ontario
I saw a perfect tree today
It was tall and thin and scraggly and prim
Then I saw another just as perfect
Short and sturdy with branches and brambles
And then another with a rugged fat trunk
Older than the rest, but just as...
from Cross River . Pick Lotus
How to describe sea
To someone who’s never seen it?
He lives to ninety-nine, he wants it, to see it
To walk on its glass surface, to blow the seven trumpets.
At this joyous moment gigantic angel wings
Write prophecy all over the sky. How can I tell him
About sea storms, the chocking...
Praying Herd: For Safe Journey
Draw a line through our scattered bodies. The pattern of fallen calves in this meadow will mirror
the constellation above. Look up. We whip our tails to a silent song:
We sing to the moon, ask for wings to lift our flock to heaven;
We plead to the moon, since she will take pity;
We beg of the moon since she changes, as our circumstance must also...
Your wedding day was a hurricane; your bride in red was like a kiss on
on the dry prairie dirt. You actually never told me the story of how it went.
The wedding, I mean. In fact, you never told me about how you chose
a DJ, or if the flowers glistened in the sunlight. I don't think you've ever
told me about the places you would love to see, either, or the...
When I Become You
I'd like to close the distance between us:
where you end, where I begin,
but your skin stops me,
I can't find my way in.
If I could, I'd press every bit of me
until I've slipped inside,
your skin, our tent.
I want to breathe through your mouth.
If I could just slip...
If you want to travel run
around the neighbourhood with an empty
suitcase in hand. At least once, full circle.
Wear yellow underwear
for the 31st, lest fortune oversee your cup
as she pours. Yes, thank you. I too wish you excitement
& wealth in the New Year.
Mostly, I hope you get
through tomorrow, and then the day...
My Poem Without Me in It
My poem without me in it—would it be like
my room when I had returned to it
after my mother was done with me.
Under my bed, only the outer
space balls, of dust, only
the asteroids of hair, no bent-legs
spider drawstring purse, no fly, no
I. My poem without me in it, would it
be like her house before I was granted...
The Ringing Bell
I used to liken a poem to praying. Is that right?
Not the woo and gratitude praying served by queer witches.
Childhood praying. As a girl I genuflected to the tabernacle
and insisted on sitting next to the stained glass window.
On the right kind of Sunday sun would send a slice of pink
light through the glass and down to the porcelain tile...
A Story from Easter: He Has Risen
There is a mouse under the sink
Little mouse turds around in the kitchen drawers
It is raining, storming
has gone to the dump
has brought him to bed for several months
He can't move
The war is skidding to an 'end'
Who wants to kill anything.
Buy two mousetraps...
I've Dreamt of You So Often
I've dreamt of you so often that you become unreal.
Is there still time to reach this living body and to kiss on its mouth the birth of
the voice so dear to me?
I've dreamt of you so often that my arms used to embracing your shadow and
only crossing on my own chest might no longer meet your body's...
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
Unless you believe in the eye of the needle
this kind of poverty will never be about material
it won't be about ragged clothing
or mud huts with broken walls
or river blindness
or murram roads
or bad-humoured fields that hoard curses
& promises that there won't be a harvest
this year or next year or ever...
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.
Turtle Island Poem Number Fourteen
once i left turtle island and i
rejoined la and doubleU and see
to savai‘i on a hunting trip
on the fairy from upolu
la picked up a day trick
blew him during lunch
on the beach under a tree
in front of some australian girls
and an old couple from germany
who politely ignored us
while doubleU and see and...
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
the ghosts of women once girls
somewhere a little girl is reading aloud
in the middle of a dirt road. she smiles
at the sound of her own voice escaping
the spine of a book. she feeds on her hunger
to know herself. she has not yet been taught
to dim, she sits with the stars beneath her feet,
a constellation of things to come.
as if a swallowed moon, she...
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...
Parable of the Eagle
An eagle egg fell into a farmer’s chicken shed
and when it hatched the farmer gave it chicken feed
even though he was the king of birds. The farmer
clipped the eaglet’s princely beak and raised him
as a chicken. When he grew large, wildlife control
called on the farm. “It has the heart of an eagle,”
said the public...
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...
Happy Birthday Moon
Dad reads aloud. I follow his finger across the page.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
He makes the Moon say something new every night
to his deaf son who slurs his speech.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it,
his deaf son...
You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s
nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?
If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.
Walking with Walt Whitman Through Calgary's Eastside on a Winter Day
Blue-white afternoon. The Bow river churns and smokes
as the city rumbles, economy chokes and bundled homeless
build cardboard homes in the snow. Yes, Walt, this is the new
world, and how often has your huge, burled form lengthened
beside me as we strode through parking lots, the filth and ice
of streets? Great seer, I listen for your relentless...
But I’m No One
for M. Maylor
Dear Anne Carson:
My friend read me the poem where your mom
said that the dead walk backwards.
You thought this myth arose from poor translation.
I can attest to your misapprehension.
My social studies teacher in grade 8, Ms. Rogers,
believed it was customary for the Chinese
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...
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...
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...
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...
Invitation to Love
Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.
You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,...
My Black heroes don’t drop names like Fendi Gucchi Prada
My Black sheroes rock afros like Angela Davis and Assata
But my sheroes are more than a trend and they’re bigger than a hairstyle
For their people they risk death, imprisonment, and exile
They’ll give you an education in gender, race, and class
So for real knowledge you need to honour...
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...
Please read all the instructions carefully before proceeding.
Use only permanent blue or black ink.
If you have special needs that require accommodation,
The information you provide should not be limited
by the space allowed.
If you require more space, append another sheet of paper.
In the blanks below please...
Unspeakable Acts in Cars
It’s the first day of summer and we’re so happy
To see the sun and the satchel of colours it schleps
All those dark kilometres. The sky is so blue
And the sea is blue and the small islands in the sea
Are blue also. How our sun must love blue.
We have beachgrass and bull kelp and lion’s mane
And we love them all because we love the sea...
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
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...
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...
Would I have seen her?
The tide tugging her gently past
the Comfort Inn; houses, tall and gabled,
the bridge and its passersby.
This is not a hidden place.
The graze and drag of her,
clumsy, obstructive in the divided
caress of eelgrass.
No search. Eight days.
This is our welfare half
a duplex with mint green
siding shrugged between
rail yard and main street
logging trucks and trains
shake the foundation so
much I mistake them for god
forever it is winter mom
dissolves into mentholated
smoke and Coffee-Mate at
the kitchen table painting
orcas and nor...
K was supposed to come with the key, I was
K was supposed to come with the key, I was
to wait outside the gate. I arrived on time,
the time we had agreed on and waited, as agreed,
outside the gate. I waited a long time, waited
and waited, waited a very long time. I stood
next to the security guard from Securitas, who also
stood outside the gate. I waited, the security guard...
Praise the Rain
Praise the rain, the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
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 have a picture of us when we are seven
but we aren’t in it. At the time it was taken
we thought we were. We posed with our wide
grins and best-friends-forever certainty. I angled
the camera to capture us in front of a Christmas tree.
All the sparkling tinsel and dangling silver balls aren’t there.
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,
Good Day Villanelle
You ran naked out the door.
The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.
I hardly see you anymore.
I know you’re busy.
Did I tell you when you were little how
you ran naked out the door?
You got halfway down the street
before I caught you in my arms.
I hardly see you anymore.
You Are Not Going to Come Trillium
But I do come to Trillium. To the Cardiac
Short Stay Unit where you’ve been sent for the second stent,
where free sanitizer prevents the spread of panic.
We laugh. Everyone is half-naked in I-See-U.
Behind a grey curtain, a thump and quiet invoke
Code Blue. We uncover your bottom line, the Left Main
of a black-and-white heart, hand-drawn...
Kay in Summer
Someone waiting in the lobby of a Hotel Imperial amid
the spaciousness tourists and peeling gold leaf
might see it all as too hesitant for truth
Might think for a moment about the art in scattering
too solidly carved tables crowding too many dreams
before dim Victorian...
We were combatants from the start. Our dad
Bought us boxing gloves when we were ten —
Champions like Euryalus, say, or Epeius
Of wooden-horse fame: ‘I am the greatest!’
‘Nobody’s going to knock me down!’ Listen,
Peter, to the commentary — gruesome teeth-
Grinding, sweat splattering their arms and legs,
Huge fists in ox-hide...
At Thomas Merton’s Grave
We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing atop the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone.
The horizon’s flashing fastens tight,
sealing the blue hills with vermillion....
The rain this morning pours from the gutters and
everywhere else it is lost in the trees. You need your
glasses to single out what you know is there because
doubt is inexorable; you put on your glasses. The trees,
their bark, their leaves, even the dead ones, are more
vibrant wet. Yes, and it’s raining. Each moment is like
this — before...
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,
Portrait of Alice with Elvis
Queen and King, they rule side by side
in golden thrones above the clouds.
Her giggle and wide eyes remind him
of his first young wife, and his twang
never ceases to thrill her, so different
from the prim accents of men she’s known.
She sings for him, “Hound Dog”
and “Heartbreak Hotel,” and he turns
My bands of silk and miniver
Momently grew heavier;
The black gauze was beggarly thin;
The ermine muffled mouth and chin;
I could not suck the moonlight in.
Harlequin in lozenges
Of love and hate, I walked in these
Striped and ragged rigmaroles;
Along the pavement my footsoles
So, we’ll go no more a roving
So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,