Article Category Archives: Poetry & Prose


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Can a woman be a serious poet if laughter keeps invading her lines? I write poems about death, fear, and madness, as serious poets do. And I also write the humour of the human condition:

The Pie

Illustration by Sarah Christie showing many kinds of pie

Mile High Pie by Sarah Christie

A lemon pie calls its tart appeal
across the dining hall,
a glowing meringue with toasted tips
spotlit on the buffet table.
The best of the dessert parade, uncut as yet,
it tests a dieter’s resolve.

A pie you can almost taste,
sliced into now by a stick of a woman.
Her thin arm lifts a perfect wedge
and sets it on her plate.
Oh god, she takes a second piece.
You will get her later.

She lifts a forkful, swallows shamelessly.
You know why she smiles.
She could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Good thing she had the pie tonight then.

You could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Unlikely – two pie-lovers flattened in a day – but possible,
You could die, pieless.

Here, then, is the dilemma in a pie-shell:
have another coffee, or go get some pie?


I write poems about my time in Rwanda, the women and children, their lives of struggle and joy. I write about genocide memorials, prisoners in pink jumpsuits, and murderers who now sell tomatoes in the market.

But I also wrote a spoken word poem about emotional support animals in air travel:

Rarefied Air

Attention passengers for Rarefied Air flight 2019.
Those of you with emotional support animals please line up to the left of the check-in desk.
Yes, madame. You with the peacock.
End of the line, please, behind the little old lady with the pit bull.

Welcome to Rarefied Air flight 2019.
Sir, man in the green jacket, your goat is eating your boarding pass.
Welcome to Rarefied Air, we hope your journey today will …
Madame, could you quiet your gibbon while I read the flight protocols?

I will now read the No-Fly list, some of your critters will not be boarding the plane:

Tasmanian devil.
Vampire bat, good-bye sir.
South American condor,
any snake from Australia.
Porcupines, hippos, crocs, and gators, of course.
Big cats, really big cats: cougars, tigers, lions, cheetahs.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this.
In fact, ALL African animals, you’re out of luck. Migrate now. Serengeti out of here.
Oh, OK , madame, meerkats can come, they’re cute.

Mollusks, invertebrates, bugs and slugs must travel in a solid container.
Sold here starting at $200 US. Twin scorpions will cost you, sir.

No skunks, honey badgers, boa constrictors or tarantulas.

If your emotional support animal is on the no-fly list you have a decision to make:
stay home, or – if you choose to fly – release it in a designated area, (now called The Pit).
In that event you may rent an emotional support puppy or kitten if you simply cannot fly alone. $200 US per flight.

Pet poop bags are located in the seat pocket next to the in-flight menu. Please be quick enough to use them. Read the bag for a list of fines, if you are not.

Consider your fellow travelers. Is your pet disturbing a seatmate, growling at a defenseless old man, lapping from a stranger’s wine glass, or crotch diving a young woman in a mini skirt?
Be aware fellow passengers may not see the need for an emotional support ferret, and may strike it with their book or tablet.

Please sign the waiver absolving Rarefied Air from all liability.
Note the option to tranquilize your emotional support animal during the flight.
Still a comfort, even if comatose.

Any questions? Lady with the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
Yes, certainly Madame, pigs can fly.


Some now expect a humorous piece from me; are they disappointed when I read a serious poem? Lyricism and depth of thought elicit mellow hums, nods of understanding, while humour evokes laughter, whistles, and hugs. So I like to lighten an evening of dead spouses, sexual abuse, and cancer poems with an off-the-wall funny-peculiar poem. I write about creatures and wilderness, nature and natural disasters. I have a manuscript of poems on bodies of water where I learned how to live and think. But I also wrote “Dildos of the Sea”:

Dildos of the Sea

O erotic ocean
O seductive seas
More than just the tide goes in and out, in and out
under the waves in the sea bed.
Pyrosomes drift and bob in the current,
a bioluminescent multitude of sea dildos
glowing pale blue-green,
tubular immigrants to the north Pacific.

O pelagic sea squirt
O colonial zooid
Sea pickles are human penis-sized and bumpy,
but some, twelve metres long, are the stallion phalluses of the open sea.
Held in a gelatinous tunic they stick together,
flush seawater through their lubricant sheath,
suck and blow themselves forward.

O constant filter feeders
O asexual reproducers
Leave your California coastlines for Canadian waters.
Come north, migrant creatures.
Let warmer currents of the Pacific be your new route
to an off-shore home-away-from-tropical home.
Let beachcombers and fishermen smile at your form,
your abundance.


I love to see an audience of poets chuckling and hooting. I love to see the look on newcomers’ faces: “Poetry has sure changed since high school.” But humorous poems need just as many revisions as sonnets, sestinas, or free verse. Humour, like insight, has to be cultivated through observation, through artistry with words and images. When polished into a form that works well, humour illuminates our universal human foibles:

To the Ends of the Earth

—a dramatic monologue, (apologies to the entire Hillary family)

Welcome to the Gertrude and Edmund Hillary Museum, Auckland, New Zealand.
It is my pleasure to present these photographs that show the close, close mother and son bond between Edmund and myself. Follow me.

Let us enter the first room: Gertrude, and Edmund as a child.
Oh he was a lovely baby, his nurse said so many times,
and an energetic boy, oh-ho-oh, always in motion,
always climbing things.
I think he wore out four or five nannies in the hills around the ranch.

Here is a photo of us kissing goodnight.
In the few moments I saw Edmund each day we formed a close mother and son bond.
You can tell by the way he teases me: pulling away,
making a comical face as if smelling a pungent odor.

And this room contains the photographs of Edmund’s time at boarding school.
Although separated by two oceans,
we remained close through correspondence.
Here is Edmund’s letter telling of his broken arm from falling off a cliff.
He only wrote one letter, but it is treasured.
And this series of photos is me, his loving mother, writing to Edmund.
See how the seasons change in the window behind my desk.
Notice my hairstyle altered over the six years he was away.
I have never felt closer to Edmund than when writing to him long distance.

The War Room is next.
At first Edmund was a conscientious objector.
Yes, unwilling to kill.
Oh dear.
But, after many long and arduous talks with me
he ran from the house straight to the enlistment office.
Here is Edmund in his air force uniform.
That’s my finger covering half the lens.
Even war could not sever our close mother and son bond.

This next is a small room, containing photos of Edmund’s married life
and the birth of his children. Moving on!

Here we arrive at the main salon: Gertrude and Edmund in Nepal and Everest.
As Edmund packed to leave New Zealand, he begged me to remain at home in comfort, (such a loving son) but of course I could not.
I followed him to Nepal, I followed him to Everest.
I am awfully proud he made it all the way up and down the mountain.
And a man does need his mother when he’s been on top of the world, doesn’t he?
Even fame could not diminish our close mother and son bond.

This final room shows Edmund at the north and south poles,
the barren ice stretching for miles in all directions.
Look at the lovely smile on his face.
He did say he would go to the ends of the earth because of me.


Choices, choices: read a funny poem and lift everyone’s spirits, or read a serious poem with an insightful message? Women take risks every day and I’ll take mine on the page. But this is a predicament I can’t resolve. Instead I’ll enjoy the challenge of writing both funny and insightful poems—and often in a single verse—then I’ll laugh at myself for being such a ninny. Ninny—great word—but not for a serious poet.

Field Notes on Desire Paths

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Co-written Poem:

Ghazal 1

If we could trace the paths of airplanes,
carbon emissions etching the blue.

What surfaces in the body: PCBs, exhaust.
Glyphosate wilting the bellows of our lungs.

We move through it all: 18th-century smog,
21st-century extinction. We walk the path, a benediction.

Walking and the way it heals. Camino,
the body coming home to the land.

And what the land wants? Sweet rain.
Moonlight. Pull of gravity on core, on seed.


I Come Home to Another Season (Barrhead, Alberta)

Jenna Butler

We went overseas in the generous light of July—solstice just barely past, days in my northern Alberta home lingering long and rich through to midnight. The darkness never truly darkness, but an ombré of sorts, black shot through with peacock or plum, the satsuma curve of sun. Now, home again but with the old rose stone of Assisi behind my eyes, I find everything changed.

How fast the daylight slips when it’s made up its mind to go.

Incremental thefts: balsam poplar headed with gold at the start of August, the willows running ragged and wild. Crowberries picked over by bears, and in the morning, the pond a black mirror under a thicket of mist. Late summer has given us the slip, has passed us over, along with the sandhill cranes creaking their way south like the slow unfolding of windmills.

They say the boreal will not survive the coming years, the warmth of the south marching its way northward. Already, I see the needles of the muskeg spruce gone burnt with too much water, these endless summer rains. When I cut willow for tea, for the bitter painkiller in its white inner bark, I can’t help but notice how much of the tree has given itself up to rust, its leaves an unkempt spackle. I am not from this place, but the boreal has been my home almost all of my life. This great sweep of forest, so generous with its gifts, is drowning, its roots submerged in the peat. And it’s burning, overburden of brush easy prey for a careless cigarette. Everything is out of balance, tipping wildly.

In the never-come summer
In the rising marsh
In the floodwater river
In the winters harsh
In the sunless months
In the still-green grain
In the hay-bloated cattle
In the endless rain
In the land-keepers robbed of
The place of their birth
In the boreal flooding
A dirge for the Earth.

The forest teaches me again and again that I don’t know much. It’s a lesson that makes me want to learn more, to try to fill the gaps, but one that also stresses humility: as much as I can learn, there will be more and more that I still don’t know. The boreal teaches on a daily basis about letting go of pride and staying open. It inspires a fierce love for these great green lungs.

I don’t know if this deep connection to land is one reserved for women; in fact, that’s something I fight with, the idea that women have to be innately nurturing, to have some inborn connection to the land. Many of the male farmers around me are devoted stewards of the places they’ve grown up in, and even as they know them by heart, they are aware that these places are being reconfigured by climate change. So perhaps the humility isn’t uniquely female, but the concept of being a land custodian, or, let’s face it, in North America, a land “owner” (as a coloured woman, no less!) is fraught. It’s very, very complicated. I care for this land with all I have in me and make the best decisions I can to keep it safe … but at the end of the day, this continent is rightfully the home territories of the Indigenous peoples, and my name is there alongside my husband’s on the deed to this quarter. Ownership is deeply problematic for me. That’s what I was getting at earlier, in the reference above to being a coloured woman. Fifty, a hundred years ago, I and others like me would have been considered property. We wouldn’t have been able to hold title to land, much less our own agency. And here I am, running this much-loved farm and holding a piece of land that is part of someone else’s history.

Here I am, having travelled home at a time when the boreal I love cannot stand much more by way of temperature change caused by emissions.

Coming home is always welcome, but it’s so tangled, too.


Art by Jackie Partidge showing a tree patched with a paper map.

Patched by Jackie Partridge

Spiders and Rain (Vancouver Island, B.C.)

Yvonne Blomer

The season here begins to shift as cool damp inhabits the late summer night. Some might say Victoria always carries that rainforest touch, but summers are getting hotter and drier, and even in the winter last year, I barely recall wet days.

Tonight, cool air shivers through the house, setting the spider’s webs, newly formed in every corner, quivering. Thieves steal into the garden, creep across vegetable beds and dewy lawn, overripe fruit and trees made bare. Bandits’ clawed feet leave evidence in loose soil. Later, sentinels return what has been taken—nibbled fig on the lawn, web across the laundry line, and a siren’s wail echoing across the city. Sheltered here, I am under Garry Oak, under cloud and damp, I am waiting for the sun, catching it the way beach glass does in a green glimmer. In a way, I welcome these furred bandits. Why take more rights than I’ve already taken to ground and trees and what grows despite my watering or my neglect.

What scientists say of the Boreal, they say of the Ocean. Great Pacific with its dying fish and dying orcas, starving nursing mothers and death up and down the oceanic food chain. Heat and acidity. And the vanishing sea birds.

My footprints follow my own earlier footprints through tidal dunes. If only this were our mark on the land: a footprint that vanishes, washes away, with the coming tide. Out and out, the water still only up to my shins. Long-leafed seaweed rushes in, forms islands my son swims through, his hands walking the sand: laughing human-crab hybrid.

Small fish. Blue,
blue as sorrow too and
iridescent-winged, slate-
blue August sky, clear blue.
Blue with the edges
cut away for a mountain.
Mountain cut away for a
thinning glacier. Blue
blue as a river, blue
as doubt which is also
a river. Blue. Evening’s
slow sigh of blue and
night’s clear night of it.

Recently, a long flight from Venice to London to Calgary and a drive home. Jenna north to the boreal and me west to the coast. After Italy’s protracted human footprint where change occurs on already changed land, I find the widening of the highway through the Rockies an offence.

We have been contemplating Desire Paths in Italy, and what is path but someone’s footprint creating a route through. I am no longer sure I can keep putting my feet down. But how often women have hidden their path-making from the world, all we know of some is the signature “Anon.”

And so, I hold two beliefs, as we all do here in the Anthropocene: I have a child, though I believe the population of humans should go down. I travel, have travelled, though I fear this travel is one of the worst things we can do. I buy toilet paper and take the offered toothbrush from the dentist. I try to make a name for myself and know this too is a way to mark a path. Perhaps this path is “preferential,” the way rainwater creates paths in limestone, or I set footprints in sand. Perhaps I should desire an interior path only, or move toward a more quiet, un-re-mark-able way.


Co-written Poems:

Ghazal 2

Sky scoured by heat haze,
fields seared August gold.

Wind silences cicadas. Rain
tamps yellow down. Grey fast coming green.

The scent of jasmine like longing or memory.
Pilgrimage, too, a desire path.

Desire—Italian couples reach toward each other;
paths lead in and out. What is desire but a long road,

the path that took us here—that circles us back,
changed … all we hold and let fall.


Ghazal 3

Italy rattling its desiccated lungs.
At home, the boreal exhales flame.

Here, no news of B.C. fires. Wonder
and bright days. Only rain clouds fast coming in.

The planes outnumber the clouds.
To Paris, New York—the sky a bronze band.

Lone drone stalls flight. What if—
I wonder. How travel these fraught paths?

How to travel these fraught paths? A poem
on our lips. A kind of prayer.