“Low Mountain Lake Song” – Lehua M. Taitano

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Image: Given to Fly, posted at Flickr by Ana Lignelli under a Creative Commons License.

Go wild. Not with plastic beads and endless spirits — though, sure, do that if you want to. But after, maybe, when you’re working off the high, wanting to get into another kind of transcendence, go wild. Ask Lehua M. Taitano’s “Low Mountain Lake Song”. It’ll tell you. Better, it’ll take you by the hand and lead you down to the water.

Taitano’s poem could fit on the back of a postcard. It’s built from the kind of brevity I find illuminating in its capacity. A toehold in this poem grants the kind of purchase that allows you to take in the scenery, to sing with the bullfrogs, to observe the terrapin’s easeful gambol towards the rushes. Who says the pastoral’s got to be idyllic? You could go verdant and chatter-quieted into the bush of this poem, but that’s only one of its routes, only one of its ways of shaping itself on the page.

Witness the intention, here: drink in the precise, rounded grafting of each word, each clustering of images, onto the great tree of the poem-world. “At night, this side of things is settled without the memory of ache. / Even the shallows are pregnant.” In this way, the poem showcases an understanding not only of peace, but of the swell before peace, the bruise after it. We receive a diorama here, of a human struggle we’ve been taking to nature for all our brief, capricious lives. The poem traces the long, mottled cloth of all our grappling in the deep waters, rinses us without liberating us from our misdeeds.

I am at more than peace in this lake, knee-deep and shivering with light, cracked open and bleeding my nastiness incrementally into the wound of the world. So do we all. So too does the world accept us, mercifully.

Read “Low Mountain Lake Song” here.
Lehua M. Taitano’s Inside Me an Island is forthcoming in 2018 from WorldTech Editions.

This is the twentieth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

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“Grace of Wonder” – Angelique V. Nixon

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Image: Grace Jones, posted at Flickr by Bruce under a Creative Commons License.

If I came to the end of all things, and found a Black Woman at the throne designated for God, no part of me would be surprised. Neither would the narrator of Angelique V. Nixon’s “Grace of Wonder”, in which a Roseland, NY performance by The Queen of Gay Discos prompts a reflection on black womanhood, ancestry and the dancing power of mothers.

I love that early on, this poem names the mother, makes her singular: Kim Grace Louise, “a cabaret dancer with starry dreams, / young single mother, growing up as she raised me / to be defiant like saltwater and strong like moon tides”. The poem’s speaker traces lineages, not of blood, but of audacious, battleborn ideology, between mother-Grace and diva-Grace. One of these women, she muses, saw in the other the need to be unfuckwithable, to declaim of love and lust and longing in the public square of the heart’s desires. No, this isn’t a paean to hero(ine) worship. Rather, “Grace of Wonder” maps our miraculous relationships to our icons: how they can propel us, or our mothers, to the uncharted heights of ourselves. How the sight of an undaunted black woman, elevated to dizzying zeniths in the world’s adorations, moves a mother to make a miracle of her own present, activated flesh.

What a tactile, fevered ode Nixon bestows on us: it is an alert, dancing thing, trading in language that’s incandescent and vaulting. In skin of dark vibrancies, in feminine divine fyah, in “hurricane force winds, escaping from restraints of mind body control”, the poet doesn’t give us a martial tune for parades, but an invitation to riotous dance.

The poem raises a brown, storm-licked fist to the heavens, or to the concert stages where a new pantheon of women emerges, their boots striking the celestial floors.

Read “Grace of Wonder” here.
Angelique V. Nixon’s art and poetry collection, Saltwater Healing – A Myth Memoir and Poems, was published in 2013 by Poinciana Paper Press.

This is the nineteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Museum of Anagapesis” – Nicholas Wong

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Image: Heart, posted at Flickr by Jo Christian Oterhals under a Creative Commons License.

We often cook the blood of other creatures, pronounce it a delicacy. What would we say about eating each others’? In Nicholas Wong’s “Museum of Anagapesis”, we come to a richer, more oxygenated understanding of the heart’s strength (and weakness), by considering it in animal terms.

The poem tells us,

“The Chinese eat animal viscera, shapes

supplementing shapes. Grilled duck hearts
on skewers, each a pendant, edible
confinement.”

From this, I untangle strings of cartilage, pillows of fatty tissue, to peer into the roasted heart’s recesses. From this, I can almost hear the satisfying tactile crunch of beast-heart between human-teeth. Look at it from several angles, and the action in Wong’s poem is one of devouring. What happens when we’ve consumed the richness, the culinary toxicity, of any heart? We create a void, an absence. Any good museum thrives on absence, on the curation not merely of the object that exists before a selfie-snapping tourist, but of all the countless other objects that once kept it company. You couldn’t think of one terracotta warrior without imagining the legion.

“Leave the heart to the past and the past / to a museum”, says the poem. In these corridors and cloisters of emotional transcription, all the savaged hearts can roam free, hearkening to each other in “systole”, the contraction of the vessel. These wounded organs, weighing 350g each, must take up residence somewhere: where better than a museum?

The earliest directive of the poem asks us to consider living without a heart, prompts us to further theorize that without it, the body might slough onwards, other vital organs picking up the slack. These are contemplations as ruthless as they are vulnerable, as feral as they are domesticated, each corresponding to either a frying pan, licked with oil, or a windowless display, archived forever.

Read “Museum of Anagapesis” here.
Nicholas Wong’s first collection of poems, Crevasse, was published by Kaya Press in 2015.

This is the eighteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“some call it a comeback” – SA Smythe

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Image: Day 288 – Kentville Clock Time Travel, posted at Flickr by Rodger Evans under a Creative Commons License.

Doctor Who isn’t going to save us. At least, that’s what “some call it a comeback” might tell you. The speaker in SA Smythe’s poem is less concerned with blue police boxes oo-wee–ooing through space, than they are with rewinding the timeline of their own personal history. Who would they reach out to, if they could? Would what they have to say prompt a rippling chain reaction, echoing back into the present?

Time, even at its most manicured, is a chaotic concept. I love that the poem charges into this head-on, spilling dates like scattered revelations, or minor bombs. Look at the way they float, seeming-rudderless, interacting with the blank space around them. Nowhere else is the poem this loosely arranged, and the choice connotes shapelessness, with fixed points of destination hurtling through the void. Don’t we all have dates like that in our personal and family calendar? Sites of mercy, ground zeros of no return?

“i will have gone, sweating panting racing
through throngs of dark young men
in wide-brimmed hats & too-long neckties
queued up along the kingston docks”

Like this, with desperate conviction, would the narrator have chased their yet-to-be-grandfather, urging him with the poem’s most arresting, stop-and-gape line: “the future
is always already here.” The poem doesn’t make any promises about whether or not this timeline jumping works, from father to mother to grandfather, pleading with each of them to stay, or else, to flee. The urgency that ripples in the spatial waves that move these lines: it’ll take your breath and send you rummaging for your own time traveller’s shoes. Better than that, it’ll race you out the door, barefoot and keen to save your ancestors, or at the very least, to provide them with better counsel than any that leaked from heaven during their youth.

Read “some call it a comeback” here.
SA Smythe‘s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in phren-Z, the nines, Johannesburg Salon, Strike!, Critical Contemporary Journal, okayafrica, and elsewhere.

This is the seventeenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Wet Nurse” – Mary Jean Chan

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Image: Day 288 – how many sweets in the baby bottle?, posted at Flickr by Steve.tothe.j under a Creative Commons License.

What feeds on us may redeem us, may cause us to go hungry. In Mary Jean Chan’s “Wet Nurse”, a woman nurses a baby who is not her own. Her child has been consigned to the indifferent metropolis, “ninety-seven days and eight hours since / the city swallowed my flesh and blood, / leaving behind a carcass of memories.” The poem makes it plain: the wet nurse has forsaken her own child. The poem leaves you to draw your own conclusions, doesn’t attempt to school you in notions of good, or bad motherhood. What’s more vital to the machinery of this poem, which is at once both subtle and brutal, is that every baby needs feeding.

There’s more than one child in this poem, of course. There is the child fed by the wet nurse, beloved and born into a large family. This baby doesn’t mind the difference between suckling mother, and mother who goes out into the streets to preach the gospel. As the poem declaims, quietly-wisely, the girl-child sees no difficulty in embracing two mothers. Then there’s the ghost baby, the abandoned one the wet nurse cannot outrun, the one whose breathless lips brush against her nipple, in tandem with a gum-and-spittle clasp. How this moves me, chills me to the sockets of my hair. Not because it’s a horror story, but because it’s true.

The density of pain is compacted, stirring like waking fish under the thawing ice of Chan’s poem. The language used here is economic but expressive, and everywhere there is liquid: wrists are cut to leak forgiveness; freed nipples spray tributaries down skin. Crack the surface of “Wet Nurse” and what flows forth is a breathless mirror of love and loss: the poem places it there so we might see ourselves in the brittle, reflective glass.

Read “Wet Nurse” here.
Mary Jean Chan‘s first full length collection is forthcoming in 2019 from Faber & Faber.

This is the sixteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“La Brea” – Andre Bagoo

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Image: Pitch Lake Trinidad and Tobago 35 cents Elizabeth II, posted at Flickr by Mark Morgan under a Creative Commons License.

You can live your entire life on an island, and never know the length and breadth of it. This is true, Andre Bagoo’s “La Brea” tells us, for many of the people in Trinidad who know the Pitch Lake, but have never seen it. Estimated to hold ten million tons of natural asphalt, the lake is reported to be two hundred and fifty feet deep, spanning a surface area of one hundred acres. Yet what do these figures mean, to the everyday curiosity of Trinidadians? How do you navigate the borders, the depths, of this lake you can’t swim, without ever having been?

La Brea, the home of the Pitch Lake, is like any other place on the map in T&T: if held under the microscope of scrutiny, it can become a contradiction in fascinating terms. Consider that the roads in La Brea are said to be terrible, though the primary use of asphalt is in road construction. Why, if you worried at that enough, you’d have the beginnings of a dark fairytale. This is what I love best about Bagoo’s poems: a seeming-innocuous thing has ridges, edges, subduction zones, the work of millennia of friction. “La Brea” gets under you, tectonically. It captures what happens in a place like Trinidad, in a place that is, precisely, Trinidad:

“Here, when it rains,
the difference between east and west, north
and south, between past and present, blurs, lost
objects once swallowed whole come
out again”

We arrive here through no seeming contrivance of language: Bagoo’s diction is smooth, simple, unfettered as freeflowing petroleum. We arrive to the surface of the lake, without ever having made the trip physically. We are warned that it might consume us, if we wade in, if we dare past the borders of what we can trust.

Read “La Brea” here.
Andre Bagoo’s third collection of poems, Pitch Lake, was published in 2017 by Peepal Tree Press.

This is the fifteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Operation Unicorn: Field Report” – Minal Hajratwala

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Image: Unicorn, posted at Flickr by Peter Liu under a Creative Commons License.

If you believe in unicorns, most people probably think you’re fey. Minal Hajratwala’s poem believes you’re a scientist ahead of the terrestrial curve.

In “Operation Unicorn: Field Report”, the poem’s unnamed speaker is a collective, a group of statistic enquirers who have taken their study of unicorning to the wild. Where better to find a unicorn in her natural habitat? What I love about this poem is its dogged — horned, if you prefer – refusal to treat the unicorn as an abstract fantasy. No, the creature is a tactile being, and better yet, the science we’ve so far invented has light years to go to catch up with those silvery hooves. Thus the poem is a longing for what it cannot quantify, except in the data of longing, of mystery, of the arcane:

“They say from time to time a virgin

finds a gemstone tooth, a hoof of sapphire.
Upon inquiry, however, no such objects could be produced.”

Who better to love a unicorn than a scientist, than someone who might comprehend her innate majesty – someone who seeks to qualify the base components of which awe is formed? If you were so desirous, you could read Hajratwala’s poem as an ode to queerness. For how swift and fleet are we pursued, and how nimbly do we evade an ultimate understanding. It makes sense that explorers, going in search of that elusive, glimmering possibility, find themselves stranded in the act of conquest. Charitable cartography, after all, is still an act of precision-mapping, is still a desire to say, a brook-a stream-a mountain is exactly here, at this fixed point. Well, the unicorn dances away from you, intrepid expeditionary posse. The unicorn says, I am a force to be reckoned with, and honey, you haven’t even got names for the tools to try.

Read “Operation Unicorn: Field Report” here.
Minal Hajratwala’s debut collection of poems, Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, was published in 2014 by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.

This is the fourteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Everyday, Feminism” – Kai Cheng Thom

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Image: Mirror, mirror, mirror, posted at Flickr by Timothy Neesam under a Creative Commons License.

“mirror, mirror, what do you see
make me a woman / but make me free”

What do you ask daily of your looking glass? For the central figure in Kai Cheng Thom’s “Everyday, Feminism”, the prayer is for powerful femininity, but also freedom. The two rarely come yoked. It’s not a lesson in which the poem’s protagonist needs much education. In most places they walk, the world casts daggers at them, like the man sneering “ni hao, faggot” on the metro: a reminder that the intersections of racism and queer hatred often combine to create multiply-bladed aggressions.

Here is what the poem encapsulates pitch-perfectly for me: the complex, gross nature of these hatreds, how portioned they are in disgust, repressed or poorly-concealed perversity, self-loathing, sanctimonious hypocrisy. What I also root for in “Everyday, Feminism” is its sense of how suffering meted out to the female-identified falls with cruelty, and unevenly-tiered injustice. Listen to the poem explain it, in clear, vodka-sharp language: “every / way you look at it, the body’s a battleground / for any woman, though / not every woman / is my girl-in-arms.”

How, then, do you map your womanhood onto your own body, when so much of the world is convinced you shouldn’t have it? Watch the poem turn to the mirror of its own intuition, as an answer. The subject cradles their lover in their arms, remembering the words of Audre Lorde. In the word of that Lorde, they muse again “on how for some, survival is a revolutionary act”. That the body has endured the mockery of metro men, of the world’s hegemony, bladed and blunted, against it, is its own fierce, unfuckwithable act of getting through. The mirror of your own indefatigable fire cannot lie, no matter how many people try to burn you at their own, lesser stakes.

Read “Everyday, Feminism” here.
Kai Cheng Thom’s debut collection of poems, a place called No Homeland, was published in 2017 by Arsenal Pulp Press.

This is the thirteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Ode to Northern Alberta” – Billy-Ray Belcourt

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Image: Canada Day, posted at Flickr by Kurt Bauschardt under a Creative Commons License.

Why do we return to the places that most want to grind our bones to nothing? “Ode to Northern Alberta” is an anti-hymnal for a psychogeography. It is a record one makes of the ruins. Like many of my favourite things, it ends at the beginning, with the account of the speaker’s mooshum running away from a Joussard residential school in the 1950s, returning “despite knowing / heaven is nowhere near here”. Belcourt leaves the poem unpunctuated in its ending, and nothing could be more fitting: I feel the void suggested by this maw. I feel the speaker’s mooshum tracing his steps back to the site of unfathomable dislocation, because nowhere else smells like the kind of survival he can understand. It isn’t only that we keep coming back because we can’t help ourselves in rational terms. We return because of blood dependency, too, because of the unwritten contract we make with a place when we’re given to it, without our say-so.

This spare, whittled poem burns its own fuel to keep itself going, and yet is laden with a richness of images, each of which could be the kindling for whole new poems. Witness:

“cree girls gather in the bush
and wait for the future.
in the meantime
they fall in love with the trees
and hear everything.”

We know then, how the poem ends. How does it begin? With an open-palmed declaration of pain, stamped on the features of the traveller returning home, like a passport: “here, no one is birthed / only pieced together.” Don’t look to this ode to sustain your belief in ultimate redemption from anything, for stories of local boys made good under arid conditions and desperate sufferances. There’s love here, but it costs. There’s love to live on, but is this love a worthy residence?

Read “Ode to Northern Alberta” here.
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s debut collection of poems, This Wound is a Worldis the winner of the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize.

This is the twelfth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.

“Telemachus” – Ocean Vuong

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Image: Shipwreck, posted at Flickr by bibliojojo under a Creative Commons License.

I keep returning to “Telemachus”. I’ve written about it for Novel Niche before, and normally that would be enough, only the poem keeps cresting over me. You know when you think you can anticipate a wave? Even as a strong swimmer, there are bound to be waves that will surmount you, other than the opposite. In this brief, lungful offering from Ocean Vuong, I never make it all the way back to shore.

We’ll never be free of our fathers. The poem, by its manifested actions, could be summarized in one line: a son drags his father from the sea. He scans him with love and with fear, for signs of life. The world around them has changed: “Because the city / beyond the shore is no longer / where we left it. Because the bombed / cathedral is now a cathedral / of trees.” The urgency of the poem is as ecological as it is anything else: with brevity and with pain, the poet maps the liquefied, shifting landscape surrounding these two men. How does the world around you look in, when you are cradling your might-be-dead father in your own waterlogged arms? What happens when you cannot save the man who, with more certainty than the face of God, is the creator of your image?

“Telemachus” does for me what, if one could swim, a cross-Atlantic foray in the wide sargasso might do for a diver from the future. It covers great distance at the speed of sound, untrenching intimacies, deep-mining for lustrous secrets, breathing with the gills of glowing discovery. And it ends how a drowning begins, with the son taking in the death, the sins, the life of the father. Ouroboratic and endless as wakes breaking on a beach where rescues are made, this poem is the language of resuscitation.

Read “Telemachus” here.
Ocean Vuong’s first collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, won the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize, and the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.

This is the eleventh installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.