Gotta Go

This week I spoke at a housing insecurity panel that was part of OPIRG‘s Poverty Injustice Week. I spoke about my my experiences with housing insecurity and homelessness. In honour of that, I’m sharing this poem, unedited, despite its age. I wrote this when I was that homeless teenager, over 20 years ago.

800px-Finch-Fleischer_House_(Monterey,_CA)Gotta Go

Your shutters, like your doors
Match the chairs on your porch
And the trim on your Lincoln Town Car
Your lawn buzz cut
Because grass too long
Like hair too long

Gotta go

House grinning from ear to ear
And down its nose at me

Gotta go

Somewhere I can breathe
Cause a buck
Or two
Or three
Separates you from me

The holes in my boots
Like the ones in my sleeves
Match the ones in the ass of my jeans

And I grin ear to ear
And whisper you near

Follow me

Somewhere you can see
Cause a block
Or two
Or three

Separates you
From me
From my reality.

by (a much younger) Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Heroes

This is not an opinion piece. I am telling you this right now. If you would like an opinion piece, kindly go elsewhere.

This is a feeling piece. I should say: feelings are also susceptible to criticism, I understand this.

David Bowie.

Let’s have this conversation.

To begin with, I don’t really do heroes. In school, when the teacher would pass around the getting-to-know-you sheet, the one with first pets and interests and favourite movies, I’d always pause at Heroes. Jesus was my first go-to. Perhaps it was my thundering disappointment when he turned out to be more or less fictional that ruined heroes for me. Perhaps it was the fact that I wasn’t allowed to access popular culture like most kids, so when they wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Madonna, I was stuck choosing between Eve, Ruth and Esther (Esther was clearly the winning choice.)

Later, I wrote in my big sister, which is still true.

Sometimes I’d find artists I’d stumble over who clicked in a moment where I needed someone, anyone to know what I was going through. Still, even these folks failed to fill a spot in my life that I’d call heroes. I think of Maya Angelou, whose books I stole from the school library. I think of Steven Page who sang about mental illness and heartbreak using words I wanted to line up, like pots on a windowsill, and watch all day. No matter what, though, I was on the hunt for ways any potential hero may disappoint me. I did not become attached. I stood back and borrowed what I needed and always found it wanting.

When heroes die, we grieve en masse. We share our sadness and pool our comfort. We shine the best light on them. It’s how, in the span of a week, we went from Wacko Jacko to Saint Michael.

So we post. We post old stories of heroics and villainy and we rail at each other for not seeing eye to eye on a human we’ve never met.

I engaged for a bit, then backed away. I engaged because I know the cultural fragility of any bodily rights granted to women and, even moreso, any right to construct our own experience. I also understand my friend’s need to grieve. I respect them.

So I shut up. I saved it up. I did not talk about how our conversations about permission and agency and eras and heroes left me saddened. My feelings were not important in that moment.

Now, with some time, here they are. I am not here to argue the minutia of consent, though I know that needs to happen. I am not here to talk about one man and one girl and their choices or mistakes.

What I have to say is that I am sad that I see no end to the imbalance between all genders. I am sad that my first thought when it occurred was, “we cannot have pretty things.” The whole situation leaves me hollow. I want to step back from all of the fights about whether she was 13 or 15, whether he was high or not, whether it was loving and beautiful or abusive and just say, “Fuck, let’s be good to each other. Let’s bend over fucking backward to make sure that each other are safe and loved and having an amazing time. Let’s be aware of our own safety and power and share it rather than hoard it.”

That’s it. That’s all I got.

So instead of diving into the conversation, I made myself a mix full of songs by problematic, complicated, probably broken and weird people that make me feel good things. And I promised myself that I would work even harder to be aware of the needs of those around me. What else can I do?

I Can Not Write Tetrameter

WB_Yeats_nd.jpgI can not write tetrameter
Despite three days of dogged tries
Its limiting parameter
Leaves little room to improvise

Where I would add a syllable
Perhaps a rhythmic interplay
It would not be traditional
The count is king and I obey

Iambically I roll along
A heavy step after a light
As found in most religious song
And briefly in Midsummer’s Night

So take it back, your fours and eights
Your dirges dusty poets jot
I am no William Butler Yeats
He liked to count, but I do not

by Heather Emme


To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Dinosaur Bones

The Dolichorhynchops
(It says on the sign)

She’s scorned by the children
Who laugh at her spine
Who smirk at her fins
And who count out her ribs

But who dream of her teeth
All alone in their cribs.

by Heather Emme (written at the Royal Ontario Museum)

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

 

Save Al Purdy’s A-Frame. Please.

I am sending this letter today.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith
Kathleen Wynne
Justin Trudeau

Dear M. Erskine-Smith, Wynne and Trudeau,
I am one of the people you represent. Admittedly, I am one of 107,084, 13.6 million and 35.16 million, respectively, but I am one. I am writing to you to remind you that in Prince Edward County there is a building that needs tending. It once belonged to one of Canada’s dearest poets, Al Purdy.

I wouldn’t write you just to tell you a poet’s home needs care. I understand there are seemingly bigger issues you are faced with every day. I am writing to tell you that Canada’s artists need care and taking care of Al Purdy’s home is taking care of us.

I grew up without much money and, if I am honest, without much poetry. I lived in neighbourhoods where we were more likely to have police visit our schools to warn us of the dangers of gangs, than authors to surprise us with the versatile beauty of words. I think we’d have done better with the latter.

Despite that, I am a poet. I am a poet with another job because most blue-collar poets don’t expect that we’ll ever exist solely off our writing. We think that because we live in Canada and our artists are split in to three categories: Those who struggle, those who struggle and find some modicum of success and those who leave us for the US.

People leave because, if you’re some combination of lucky, engaging, salacious and talented, you can become famous there. They have money and fame, but we have community. To keep artists here, that is what we need to nurture. While I would love to have artist’s retreats like Al Purdy’s A-frame all over Canada, I understand that’s not going to happen. But if we keep a few, we’re telling artists they matter. Not with a star on a sidewalk, but with a real place they can go to and create.

I’m writing this in my own tiny home in East York, a one bedroom bungalow that I am lovingly fixing up. My plan is to take my money I have been saving to add a bathtub (we have a shower, but being rained upon is not the same as soaking, I’m sure you agree) and donate it to the A-frame project. Please consider finding ways to help this project. Please give artists something to work toward. We need it and we appreciate it.

Heather Emme
Minimum-wage museum employee, childcare worker and Poet
(go to alpurdy.ca for more information)

Audition

Seeking Actor

Prominent role in “Own Life”, a Not Depressed Production
Female, mid-to-late thirties

This role can be accomplished predominantly with wardrobe and make-up.

Wardrobe tips: Do not wear the same clothes for three days. If you must, certainly do not be seen. Bright colours will distract from a sour expression. Clothes should be comfortable, but sophisticated. Wear a bra.

Make-up tips: Shower. Wash hair. Moisturize. Foundation and lip-gloss are considered the minimum. Hair products show initiative.

Your performance will consist of smiling and feigning interest. Getting out of bed will be required and is non-negotiable. Making lists is an asset. Planning for the future is preferred, but not expected.

Those chosen will be expected to work 40 hours and attend at least one social function a week.

No fatties.

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

If I Could Sleep, I Would

If I could sleep, I would. I can’t right now. That has to do with my brain and my sore back and my general inability to rest.

Today I felt uncomfortable in my own emotion. In an effort to be more connected (disconnection is common with PTSD) I have started coaxing myself to be in my body when hard things happen. My hope is that by showing my mind that I am safe, even when I leave the confines of my internal traps and even when things are hard, that I will be more…

Here.

Of course, I spent a good hunk of the last month in the ER with a virus, so it was a solid test of the new operating system.

The down side is that I haven’t quite learned how to time share between my body and my brain. It’s time for bed. My body should take over and my brain should shut up, but that’s clearly not going to happen. Not with the latest episode of Thoughts too Vague to be Useful but too Important to Ignore! playing in re-runs.

So here they are.

Thoughts too Vague to be Useful but too Important to Ignore!
(aka The Things that Keep Me Up at Night)

Why is it that we can get people to buy in to the weirdest shit, but not the important stuff? Like, how can we all agree that pieces of paper, plastic and metal have an agreed upon value, but we can’t get people to agree that no one should starve?

We are weird.

Why are we so weird?

Oh, and also, I’m afraid and angry a good deal of the time. I’m afraid that we’re so dumb that we don’t realize that we’re messing up the place we live. I mean, not a little. A whole bucket-full. A large, large bucket-full. Then, like everyone else, I brush it off because who can live their life fighting the tide of billions of humans just doing their daily shit, drinking from the same damn magic well until there’s no more. Or too much. Or something. There’s a weather metaphor in there.

I also have no idea how cell phones work and it wigs me out. When I try to figure it out, and I read up on it, I have to look up what everything means. Then in each explanation, there are more things I have to look up. I realize it’s not that I don’t know how cell phones work, it’s that I don’t know how anything works, which is why I talk about people so much, I guess.

I also shake my fist, in retrospect, at my family for spending days/years/months teaching me about a dead fictional man who was obsessed with fish when they could have been explaining what electricity was and how the stars aren’t all really close to each other, they just look that way from here.

Also, my central heating is very loud, a dragon who can circular breathe like Frank Sinatra. (In that he could circular breathe. We have no proof he was a dragon.)

Things you should not watch if you want to go to sleep: Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル (Batoru Rowaiaru)

Nihilism and short pants and Monty Python levels of blood explosions.

The only other thing keeping me up is the people I miss and the reasons I miss them and the reasons I know missing is better than having.

So now, I hope, on to dreams that are literal to a fault in their heavy handed symbolism and not so distressing that they wake the boy.

Happy new year.

Heather