Article Category Archives: Poetry

The Oriole

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Beyond lit panes, a flimsy fragile feathered thing
wavers on the highest bough, her scant weight teetering

above a paisley floor stippled with shadow and trembling
light. The bird trills as though her heart will fly

through gilded ribs of a gold chest, shatter
like a wave on a stony shore: wide open.

In here, the news stories flip by, tired cards thumbed
on an old Rolodex file. So quick, so awful I can hardly bear

view or listen. Now I’m watching the grizzled
trees in northern BC, scarecrow effigies ignited. Flames

scissor and smoke cuts a warning cloud in the tarnished
muslin sky. I imagine the elk frantic, the rabbits frenzied

and turn it off before the next reel can take hold. Through
the open window the ethereal lilting chords pour hymn

notes, rising to dusk’s flannel rafters. Don’t ask me why
I picture the listing Titanic: the brave orchestra playing, focused

and dogged. I see icy water breaching the deck, black
all-seeing portholes sobbing into a frozen sea. I watch it curling

back in a raging wave swollen with the last lost melodies. All that
remains is the waiting, the burst of flotsam on a distant dissolving shore.

Photograph by Sara Harley showing a building submerged in water and one bird flying overhead.

Rising by Sara Harley

All the Words for Blue and At the Tree Zoo

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All the Words for Blue

                                                                   One astronaut returned
   held
the moon   and   the unknown                                        wanting
      one small safe place in space
         Earth        perfect                                       oceans
                     conditions 
                   for human living

Earth will survive, the astronauts say. 
                                                                   to tell us
It’s us. We are
flimsy, fragile, perhaps too soon
                           gone                                   every word
                       from this                                 for
                                                                beauty         
                    our only home.
                                                             all  the    words   for   blue.
Textile art by Rachel Ryan showing trees surrounded by blue.

Morning Moon by Rachel Ryan (fabric collage)

At the Tree Zoo, Mesachie Lake, British Columbia

Big numbers                spray painted             eye level blue
                       across their horned bark
tall trees

I lean
all my weight        slight        close to earth
into

a vast living wall          long drips fall slow
                              in      my mouth        open      raised

green cloud of needle and branch

Grow feathers        spread wings           be eagle
             see mountains        snow in high reaches
                      these giant firs        numbered
                                   tree zoo 

It is late, I am tired, the motel bed will do. Under car wheels,
the road whines slick, nearly frozen. The radio, CBC.
“Can you use different words?” asks the host. Snow slides in clots
down the windshield, car fan on defrost set high, wiper blades
can’t do enough. 

The guest is a lawyer,  a woman,  Indigenous
                  even-voiced, firm, implacable         

in my ears, in the storm, she repeats

Apocalypse           Water              Hypoxia               Trees.

Leatherback Endangered

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Leatherback                                                                                       Endangered

Crack up and out, shake
fragments of egg off the face.
use the largest shells as backbone,
as home. creep across dank, damp sands
to undulating ebb of rip current and flow along
swift Atlantic gulf stream. reptile devouring sea
urchins and jellyfish, swim expertly, gain strength.
witness an unquenchable ocean swallowing endless
blood-orange days. after lost years at sea, answer
compulsion to procreate. propel swiftly, migrate
to natal shores. emerge a neophyte, scraping
flippers across sand. excavate holes. lay
mounds billiard-sized eggs, precious
hatchlings, a banquet of beginnings
or predator’s feast. assemble
survivors, rinse off death
splatter and repeat.

Poachers,
black market
collector of eggs
for aphrodisiac or
poached for musky
aftertaste. fisheries by-
catch, tangled in gear
and ropes. captured
by floating debris.
eat plastic bags.
lose habitat.

Painting by Su Rogers showing many fish, two cows, a bee and the ocean.

we have bitten the lips of the divine by Su Rogers

Polar Bear in the Grocery Store

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One night, at the height of winter,
a polar bear swam the widening ocean that
drowned her mother. She paddled, heavy with
grief and her wet white coat.
Overhead, the snowless sky was dark
and the air was hot.

When she found land,
she was still without bearings,
carrying hunger inside her
like an empty vessel. The ground
stretched south before her,
an alien green expanse.
Bugs buzzed and tugged at her skin
as she walked past the strewn flesh of
silver foxes, the scattered carcasses of
caribou, and the bedraggled nameless bones.

She arrived, at last, at the nest of scavengers and
hung in the shadows, watching two-legged animals
guarding a stolen hoard. They stared, and they ate,
and made pitiless noise.
The bear lurked by the building
where they kept their food, the place where
light became heat and wood was the only
memory of trees. She waited for them to sleep.

In darkness, she broke in,
and crept through aisles seeking answers.
It took her only minutes
to cross to the far side of the store,
where she found the missing fish
and all of the ice.

Artwork by Jane Whitten. "Pack Ice" shows plastic blister packs crocheted together with fishing line

Pack Ice by Jane Whitten. Crocheted fishing line and blister packs.

Theories of Nature

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Let me tell you this bright and
twisting thing. The natural world dictates

letters for its secretary
to transcribe, just as the squirrel

with the white ears takes pains to
pivot on its upstage leg, and a robin

turns sideways to imitate Alfred
Hitchcock in a cameo: I Confess.

Auteur theory is for the birds and as
curved and worn as driftwood.

Transcendence is as big as life and
twice as unnatural, if you’ll pardon

my saying, my gelid eye.
Backlash your I before you eyelash

your back. Once more with feeling:
your transcendence is none of my

beeswax. Uncertainty’s a gateway
drug; soon you’re mainlining

anodyne. If you doubt realness, try this.
Shimmy up a tree. Now fall out.

Concrete is the great leveller;
there’s no placebo like it. Tell me

what you ate for breakfast because eggs
are the central metaphors I can’t make

work, though I’ll concede
with the best birdwatchers

that boredom is the most
important meal of the day.

Painting by Ann-Marie Brown showing a tree partially submerged in water.

Arbutus Reaching by Ann-Marie Brown

The Sixth Extinction: a lament

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to the tiny ones
     Caribbean Monk Seal Nasal Mite
and the nameless ones
     a frog from Sri Lanka
to the sleek-skinned water dwellers
     Yangtze River Dolphin
and the dog-faced winged ones
     soaring in the dusk
     Small Samoan Flying Fox

to the feathered-toed snow-walkers
     Upland Moa
and the bushy-tailed nest-makers
     high up in the hollow eucalyptus
            White-footed Rabbit-rat

to the horrible ones
     Alvord Cutthroat Trout
and the homely ones
    with long nostrils
     Santa Cruz Tube-nosed Fruit-bat
    and teeth askew
     Twisted-toothed Mouse

to the travellers
     Ukrainian Migratory Lamprey
the weavers
     Cascade Funnelweb Spider
the sticky-tongued ant-eaters
     rusty Numbat

to the fantastical
     Ilin Island Cloudrunner
and the magical
     Florida Fairy Shrimp

to the pouched ones
     Tasmanian Wolf
     muzzles gaping wide with their last mournful cries
for all the ones lost
and all the ones to follow
Black and white photo by Sara Harley showing birds in a desolate field.

Desolation by Sara Harley

In Borneo

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After Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many palm trees.
The sky, overcrowded with clouds,
towers with thunderheads
every monsoon afternoon. Too much beach.
At dusk the tide slides in,
rubs its rippling silver skin on the rocks,
licks its tongue along the sand.
The sun, broken, spills its yolk
onto too many mountains, distant islands.

Night lights a candle—
the gas flare of an oil rig
out at sea.

Should we have stayed on the couch,
David Attenborough’s voice
guiding us through the jungle
to a solitary orangutan
savouring wild fruit in a tree?
Our usual waiter, Rajis, sleeps
under a beach palm
on his rare day off.
Am I in a Graham Greene novel?
Locals watch us watch them.
They wave as we walk along the beach.
They seem to love us for the Ringits
we spend. Their smiles are so friendly.
We scan the sky for Imperial Green pigeons
winging to a hidden roost.
We yearn for Elysium
no footprints but our own.
“What a silly wish!” We agree
over G & Ts at the Sunset Bar.

It would have been a shame
not to drive the mountain road at dawn
watch the highest peak tear off the mist.
And not a shame. Ah, Sunrise. An Oriole,
tail on fire, feasting on yellow berries.
Is it wrong to feel the alpine forest throb,
hear it sing at 6am?
I crumple my guilt like the package
of taro chips, greasy with palm oil.
Toss it into the bin at the park gate.
Yes, a shame
not to see the Bird’s Nest fern huddled
in the crotch of a muscular fig tree.
A shame at the end of another day
to fill the jeep’s tank with cheap local petrol.
A shame to burn the brakes in the rain
all the way down the mountain
past the rubber plantations
as our species burns the jungle.

A shame not to watch the fading sky
drape the sea with its sarong.

Painting by Anna Bald showing a tiger holding a woman in its mouth.

Tiger from Memory by Anna Bald

the end of the world (three poems)

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fault lines

i shake my fists at the imaginary monster living in the sky and i hurl a list of insults and complaints into his beady eyes i tell myself it’s his fault that the world is getting hotter and species are going extinct and there’s plastic in the ocean i write a letter and mark it urgent outlining every reason why he has ruined our chances of survival he rolls over on his side and i can see his scaly back and he is content to ignore my righteous manifesto and i tell myself it’s not my fault i don’t have blood on my hands and really this whole situation is beyond my control and the monster gets up he seems almost amused and i wait for him to reveal his grand schemy plan but his pad of paper is just filled with scribbles and i ask him why he has to be so cruel and he points to my bold circular lines and begs please get me out of this game

The Plant in the Disability Office

The plant that was sitting on the desk beside the woman who was sitting in the chair was starting to fall over. I entered the disability support office to hand in the piece of paper that says I have not worked in the last thirty days. The light in the office is like a giant refrigerator humming with claws. I ask the worker to make a copy of the sheet of paper and I stare at the plant which is falling over. Someone must have thought a little green would do the office good but the plant wasn’t so sure. There was no sunlight in the office and there was no rain. I wanted to ask the plant what it was like growing towards one side inside of a government building. But the plant and I—we pretended we did not know each other. And I stared at the faces of people who needed money just like me and wondered if they also noticed that the plant was dying. The woman behind the counter passed me my copies and I smiled at the plant. We nodded in agreement that this is what happens to life around here. I wanted to return the plant to an imaginary garden planted outside the government building but there was no garden. Only cement and steel. I wanted to say I am on the side of the plants. But this building was built to feed me. And I have concrete in my throat. And as I walked out of the building I felt my head tilt to one side and my eyes start to droop. But I’d been given food to eat. So I do not eat the plant.

the end of the world

when the end of the world comes and all of existence explodes into a ball of heat what will happen to me? i sense fear crawl up my spine and i wonder when the end of the world comes who will be the next elite? i try to be optimistic realistic and discount the language of experts call science the new religion but i’m still wondering when the end of the world comes what will happen to people like me who live on disability and depend on the system to function so that we can get our basic $1200 a month? i try not to be selfish because it breaks my heart the planet is dying and i often prefer trees to humans but i can’t help but wonder when the mountains collapse and the icicles rise to the sky and the forests become a giant circle of fire what will happen to me? i don’t need much just a little apartment with my cat and my computer but what will i have to offer if the world goes to war from scarcity and i can barely make it down the block without being torn apart? i try not to think of the end of the world try to be realistic optimistic tell myself i have family and try to focus on the present breathe in breathe out but the truth is i feel so small in the face of impending catastrophe i don’t want to be selfish as i rise to the microphone with my one final question for people in power but i have to ask if the end of the world comes what will happen to people like me?

Photo of felt suit by Marjolein Dallinga

Les Chaises by Marjolein Dallinga (felted wearable art)

Re-Wilding Under Those Conditions

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Stick this time – as in, half-formed century – with a pin
                       into the butterfly thorax, into embolism:
        there is not a word in every language for
                   extinction event
     but sometimes there are           a few words for burning
                  neiamgla'tijig,          they appear burning
nu'gwa'l'g,              I set it
                          on fire
                   gaqoqtegl,                  they are
                                 burned through
a cathedral into skeleton
      irritation into sensation
               ozone into nothing
       and it’s not just forests – nipugtl – that burn, that fall
and it’s not just the prisoners whose hands
                         hold this water
                                  hold this     this water they hold
                                                for no money, for nothing –
                            
Mu' nugu' pugweltnug       nipugt esgwiaq ula gm'tginug.
There isn't much forest left    here in our territory
           but there are          ashes, remnants,
                     golf courses    smoking in cinders
                    more beautiful                  than barbed wire
                             on any clear-skied day, by far –
                                  what is more beautiful than
                                      every       golf course burning
                                        and re-wilding with the
                                            things that grow
                                                 under those conditions
                                                     (wildflowers probably?
                                         mushrooms and moss and all of it –               
blooming      like seizing)
              after the fire was gone             after hands
                                    held water           and mansions
                                             became lanterns     
                     a snake        
                                    was found           jaws open and
                          hissing              having bitten
                                         the fire
                                                      as it burned
Painting by Tracey Metallic showing two Indigenous women kneeing in front of a small plant.

Offerings by Tracey Metallic

Turning: a climate grief poem

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It's grief,
alright.
the same burning arrow
through the heart's gills
the same stone weight
of emptiness
		— loss
	of words
	of what to do
	of a place
 
     that doesn't ache

the way the living room,
the bedroom and the kitchen
ache

we are accomplices
to our own undoing
everytime we flip
	a switch
 		we flinch
each cup of tea
	each text

a word burning in the air

	will we ever heal again?

our fly-covered hopes,
the dreams 
we stole from others, our dreams —

are kindling for the Great Disaster

we scratch at chimneys
the smoke that bleeds 
from them, our blood.

	words can't heal this
	they never could.

but if we turn, as one —
	a murmuration 
	or a school of herring

We might staunch the wound
And quench the burning 

the things that
creature bodies know
(we need each other)

the things that words,
 	together, know,

they cannot heal us
but they can turn us —

one mind in many bodies,
a wise mindlessness
or mindful bodyness

toward the cool 
places
where undying 
grace is.
Painting by Ildiko Nova showing a woman crying a river, a city, mountains, airplane

Broken Harmony by Ildiko Nova