/ when i was small my mother used to perch up on the chesterfield in the living room /
mirror asleep along the top of the cushion / the sun's blood caressing her face / bleeding
through the panes while she plucks her eyebrows / she still does it sure /
YOU DO YERS D'ERE NOW
\ this is the first time i've been in lawn in fourteen months \ didn't realize that much time
has gone by \
MY JESUS YOU GOT TO COME HOME!
IT'S CHRISTMAS B'Y, YER FADDER & GRANDMUDDER
HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN OVER A YEAR
/ i didn't bother trying to explain / how i was in a depressive state /
\ 3 and a half hours scrunched up in the van over the trans canada highway \ 2 masks
glued to our face so we don't bring corona back to the bay \ 1 piss on the side of the road
between marystown and st. lawrence \
/ on our way back / to the house / where i had the cops called on me / when i was 16 / for
being overwhelmingly out of control / can't say i completely disagree /
\ i was somethin' fuckin' else \ besides what my crowd knew how to make a home with \
same spot where i sat at the table with my very first social worker \ doing anger
management i thought i didn't need \
/ it's a mystery to me / how CYFS can force kids between mandatory therapy and juvy /
while the parents are free to quit after one session / how surprising /
\ when i got through the door \ by the christ the whole house was spattered in red green
silver and gold \ ornaments all over the place streeled across every ledge my dear \
snowmen stickers sprinkled along the windows \
/ i have nothing at my apartment / nar decoration nor tree except a whirlwind of ADHD /
how fitting /
\ not a speck of snow on the ground outside \ neither leave on the trees either \
/ i wonder how many christmases will look like this / now that the island has heat records
in august / while the sea level rises /
\ i remembers when judy foote first built the new school \ sure it was closed half winter
long \ couldn't even run a truck through the lot of snow we got \ swallowed the whole
fuckin' guard rail \ and don't even go there about the roads from here to st. lawrence \
/ god love the b'ys who drove the flyers / they were the only thing / that kept us alive
back then / not that i knew the difference anyways / i was only a youngster / glad i had a
week or so off school to spend on the sled / how shrewd /
\ i spent the last year buried in bed or in front of my tv \ trying to find some semblance of
peace \ nearly let myself rot sat criss cross month after month \ something i later found
out you're not supposed to do \ if you plan to walk anywhere anytime soon \
WHEN YOU FEELS BETTER
/ you'll have to make up for it / at the spasmodique clinique / somewhere i didn't know
existed til i pushed my body far too far / bonsoir mr. pm&r / one more white coat to join
the team just for me / not in crisis but clean up from where i used to be /
\ the nesting place for two giant mats of depression hair \ a recent species of suffering to
me \ beginning with a half hour bent over the tub starting to solve a puzzle i had no idea i
started \ til it was far too gone for me or mom to do anything about \ besides cover my
whole head in conditioner and hope for the best \
/ shampoo'd 3 times prior cause neither of us knows how to read a fuckin' bottle /
LARD JESUS ITS NOT MY FAULT
\ screams to laughter \ our new normal \
/ and she's still there / holding the shower head / and mine /
WELL IT NEEDS TO BE DONE
\ it's the first time she's washed my hair \ like this since i was a child \ tugs and all \
I'M SORRY B'Y
I DON'T MEAN TO HURT YOU
/ long overdue /
\ wash \ rinse \ repeat \
Tonight I write to you from inside winter, its dark stillness, from fire in the grate
made by my love who understands the appetite of fire. On the hearth, seed catalogues
spill green incantations: Whorled Milkweed, Wild Bergamot, Many Flowered Aster.
Have you seen the little love letter to the world sandblasted on the High Level Bridge
walkway? dear unknown, bring it on! It was written by a pregnant teenager, part of
a community art project to keep people from jumping. How well has the spell worked?
Do you remember when she would have been called an unmarried mother?
Don’t ask a fish to describe water—the way I always begin my class on metaphor.
Today, a sudden small jarring, realizing front line workers and deployed are war words.
A weasel has moved into the old farmhouse. We saw it peeking from behind the boots—
luminously winter white, bold, deadly cute. No more mice. Weasels have
strong magic. In Japan, they are yōkai, who cause strange disturbances.
I’ve seen its tracks in the clearings you’ve made in the caragana. Delicate calligraphy:
a backbone of two dots repeated along the dragmark of tail. Was it the
weasel your motion sensor camera captured that I said looked like the prince of ghosts?
Make=Believe we’ve called this project, and it was you who put the sign for equals
between those two words. Think of all that’s balanced on that small bridge.
Work, creating, beginner’s mind, faith. dear unknown, bring it on!
Winter Caragana by Sydney Lancaster
Listen to Jannie Edwards read “Letter from Inside Winter.”
Sydney to Jannie
The Medicine in the land is beyond this moment of writing, beyond settlement,
beyond me, in my lack of understanding
the visceral nature of being-in-the-place and the healing it brings.
The trees tell me things
About using the body to grow beyond
About using my damaged hands and back to heal
About time, and how it passes
Of seed pods of
Loam rich with mushroom spores of
Coyote call in an otherwise silent evening of
Looming, rolling in
On themselves traversing
Erased by a wall of cloud electric
The body electric with
Of hands in soil, of rain, of thunder
I read that the bark of caragana makes good rope.
This is one of its medicines.
As a legume, it fixes nitrogen in the soil.
Also, the lightning spark seeds it throws everywhere are edible.
Yet another Medicine.
This is the contra-diction of the place, the home place, the not-home place.
That it is bounded in part by a plant so invasive,
So bound to the movement of people from
Elsewhere to the home
Planting feet in soil seeds in ground to make a
Belt of trees a hedge
Hedging Bets on this place.
Caragana Pods by Sydney Lancaster
Listen to Sydney Lancaster read “More Medicine.”
About Learning Their Names
written by Jannie Edwards
Eighteen years ago, through great good fortune, my husband Mark and I came to be title holders of an off-grid five-acre settler homestead northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, near the historic Victoria Trail that hugs the North Saskatchewan River. In 2011, multi-disciplinary artist Sydney Lancaster approached us about the potential of creating art at the homestead, using whatever organic material she might find there. What she found in abundance was caragana (Siberian pea shrub), a fast-growing, invasive shelter belt brought here by Ukrainian settlers. Sydney began weaving living caragana trees to form enclosed spaces and tunnels. Within those spaces, she also created sculptures from cleared and woven deadfall, and installed motion sensor cameras to record animals and birds passing through the installation.
The “Slow Art” development of the project over the last decade has led to deeper conversations about settler colonialism, our responsibilities and complicity in this system, and how we respond to these forces through the stewardship of a small bit of the planet we love deeply. The project has been an opportunity to listen to and learn from the other-than-human presences of the place and to explore the connections between place, history, ownership, stewardship, and displacement. Through this process, we have come to see the caragana as a metaphor for both human resilience and the lasting impacts of settler-colonialism here. These connections continue to fuel our archival and geological research, and our exploration of the potential for art and writing to express these relationships. We have called the project Make=Believe, the equal sign evoking belief, hope, imagination, and effort in equal measure—a symbol to acknowledge the belief and sheer physical labour required of Indigenous people, Métis, and settlers alike in making a living on this land.
Over the last ten years, this project has been enriched by our collaborative exploration of the history of place, informed by archival and community-based research of how the land was surveyed and how the presence and history of Indigenous peoples were largely erased in the process. The art that has emerged includes an ongoing exchange of poetic letters, Learning Their Names: Letters from the Home Place, between the two of us. We have discussed plans for Sydney to create an art book of this work and the creation of a videotaped performance enriched by images of the installation.
In the summer of 2021, Sydney created and documented an endurance performance in which she ceremonially dug up a caragana tree, formed its trunk and branches into a spike, then planted the spike in earth: an evocation of a “Witness Mound” used by the Dominion Land Survey to indicate homestead borders. She then “unmade” the spike and transformed the site into a garden bed, to be planted in the future with traditional Indigenous medicinal plants local to the area—a ritual of community-building Reconciliation to be shared with, and informed by, the wisdom of Indigenous artists and knowledge keepers.
About Jannie Edwards & Sydney Lancaster
An immigrant to Canada, Jannie Edwards writes from her chosen city of Edmonton, Alberta, amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). She has published three collections of poetry: Falling Blues (2010), Blood Opera: The Raven Tango Poems (2006), and The Possibilities of Thirst (1997). She has collaborated on many mentorships and multidisciplinary artistic projects that include videopoems (“Engrams” and “adrift”), theatrical adaptations of her Blood Opera: The Raven Tango Poems, and a community art project that realized poems sandblasted into sidewalks on the High Level Bridge and city neighbourhoods.
Sydney Lancaster is a Prairie-born multidisciplinary artist and writer of settler stock, an uninvited guest on the traditional Indigenous territories encompassed by Treaty 6 and Métis Nation Region 4. Her work has been presented in Alberta, BC, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, and the US. Her practice considers the relationships between place, objects, memory, knowledge, and time through site-specific installation & sculpture, video and audio works, printmaking, and photography. Sydney is currently completing a Masters of Fine Art at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Someone posts crocuses
on Facebook and we are out
the door and across the pasture
wind be damned, sleeping
deer too who boing boing
from slough to hilltop and turn
stunned. Are we real
or some kind of nightmare?
Both I suppose. Just look
at our rubber boots. Dry
most of the way. Finally
we find a single crocus. One.
Last year. Ejected from the house
like we were seeds to be dispersed, explosive,
we drove to a park, whose
blown-in litter distracted
from the hairy flowers on hairy stems
of lilac-throated prairie crocuses. (I nearly cried.)
The far side of the park was all flooded
trails & booters but also bare
branches festooned with bittersweet
vines, the empty seed pods
a vivid orange. I felt collected, until someone
asked: “Is that the invasive kind?”
Crocus by Ariel Gordon
The place seemed fine
the last I looked, the snow
in the yard sinking fast
bare patches of grass showing
a tinge of green. I spend
an hour planting sweet peas
in the mud where the drift
has shrunk away. At some point
this afternoon the earth sank
a foot into a trench dug from
road to house three years ago.
Then filled. What now?
Last year, I choked on other people’s crocuses,
my shoulders up around my ears
as case counts climbed like
kudzu vines. Last spring, bedroom
communities along the Red River Valley
ring-diked as they waited for the water
to crest. This year, it’s drought,
the river’s gumbo shoulders bare
& shivery. Grassfires & variants of concern.
And crocuses? I find myself harvesting
other people’s pictures
like they were seed packets.
I strike the earth again
and again with the rake
and again until I think
my arms will break
right off and fall
in the mess of dead
borage stems. I must
pause to remove fistfuls
of clay from the tines. Plant
as soon as the ground can
be worked, the packet says.
Cover lightly with dirt.
Tomorrow, I will drag out the hose
and sit on my front steps
while it gushes
rusty water from Shoal Lake 40
all over the roots of my old elm.
I will be tempted
to drink from the cold metal hose.
I will notice that the stairs need
painting, my boots
dusty. But! Downy fiddleheads
in the garden. Merlins shrieking
About Ariel Gordon and Brenda Schmidt
Ariel Gordon (she/her) is a Winnipeg/Treaty 1-based writer, editor, and enthusiast. Her latest books are Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forests (Wolsak & Wynn, 2019) and TreeTalk (At Bay Press, 2020), nominated for three Manitoba Book Awards.
Brenda Schmidt (she/her) is the author of five books of poetry and one of essays. Her work is included in The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English, Tenth Anniversary Edition. She now xeriscapes in extreme drought conditions in rural Saskatchewan.
Half-naked above me in autumn
the flowering crab is laden with hard little apples
the bite that I take leaves a bitter taste
in my throat, the birds will ignore them
all winter long until repeated frosts
soften them and
all else is gone
from far away
the not quite sound of her voice
ghosts my ears, colours fade, a familiar scent rises
worn soft with years, wind-dried cotton, the red quilt
she made for my bed, crabapple shades patchworked
red, pink, green, soft brown, off-white
thinned comfort for my questing
my chilled fingers plunge
bare garden hands deep in fresh shards
bright newcut wood chips piled at the roots
of the crabapple tree, touch warmth
unexpected, feel smoulder, find smoke
stinging the air, burning tears
in my eyes
Water, air, matter. Flesh, bone, breath, blood.
How they can ignite. Every conversation with my mother
has fire in its heart.
Anvil Quilt by Leijsa Squires
Listen to Susan Wismer read “Spontaneous Combustion.”