He is a scientist
What’s more
An engineer
And he can hear
The drum, the thrum,
The humming of the gears

And he can tell
(Like the top was popped)
What’s underneath
What’s buzzing in my ears

One time he told me
The line
Is not a line
It slips and slides
Like gears that grind
Until their teeth
Are powder fine
Until their teeth are gone

I know that song
My active head
I lie abed
I’m lost in time
Not powder fine
Not faded by
These years
These gears
My teeth, they grind
Until they’re flat
They make
A line
And all the points are gone

And now I ride a bus to school
A bus that takes me
Back in time
Past places that are not in line
Past buildings where I took up space
The place
They ground me down
The face that I have found
I’m bound
Lost in a sideways eight

I think on what he said
My bed
My teeth
My gears
My years
My head

I hope time is not linear

So she hears what I say to her
The girl trapped in the infinite
The halted time of being hit
I whisper to her not to quit

“You’ll be okay
You’ll be okay
You’ll be okay
I say

Until we pull away

by Heather Emme

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


Existing in the Disaster’s Wake

Content warning: Assault and abuse.

Yesterday I saw my assailant on the subway, for the second time in as many months. Previous to that, it had been years since I’d shared a space with him. I don’t believe in a higher power. I don’t believe in fate. Still, my mind is trying to make order out of the disorder that seeing him twice in so short a time has caused in my body.

Here is where I have landed:

He is real and he is out there, in my city and in my world. He goes home to what was my family. Every day they share a space with him, when, for me, those seconds were repugnant.

I think about this like a small, personal epicenter of a bigger reality: we, as a society, are okay with sexual assault. Our conviction rates are so low as to make the crime tacitly legal. Of the reported 460,000 Canadians assaulted every year, only around 7000 will see a conviction. When convictions do happen, people do more time for stealing a car than sexually assaulting a human. When someone is convicted, it’s often discovered that they had previous complaints that were dismissed by police. Most who speak to police report being unsatisfied with the process. The most common feeling selected by those surveyed? Devastated. It’s a word we use when a disaster destroys a city and leaves it rubble.

And after that devastation, comes the attempt to rebuild. In the case of a disaster, most can assume that the danger has passed. That the hurricane is over. That the wildfire has gone out. No one pities the disaster. No one brings the earthquake in to their home. We don’t fault the city for daring to exist in the disaster’s wake. My disaster walks around my city. He joins Ghomeshi and Cosby and Turner and all the other disasters that are given succor while we rebuild.

I wonder what it would mean if they turned the disaster away. I wonder what it would mean if I did not have to, in my casual daily travels, brace for the storm. I can’t know. I’ll never know. I can just rebuild again, stronger this time – like every time – and hope that what I’ve built survives.

Pen Strokes

Our nakedness is suspect
It is secret
It is sold
Our physical exposure is commoditized
And airbrushed clean
And slid from left to right
Pores abolished
Scars expunged
Our nature is covered in pen strokes
Until there is no naked left
But only the art of men

Our passions, they are suspect
They are secret
They are sold
Our conceptual exposure is commoditized
And edited clean
And slid from left to right
Forthrightness abolished
Hurt expunged
Our spirit is covered in pen strokes
Until there is no passion left
But only the words of men

by Heather Emme

I’m still in surgical recovery, so poems are keeping my blog alive. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Writing To You from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Fingerprints stamp urgency
Where postmarks can’t be found
A letter this important
Should not be here on the ground

by Heather Emme

Just a mini-verse as I recover from my surgery. 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)

Bathurst Street and Bloor (An Ode to Honest Ed’s)

(This #verseday poem is for my Toronto peeps. They will understand.)


Photo by Don Toye. Click to see the original.

I am Honest Ed
The captain said
And turned toward the shore
He slowed a clip
And moored his ship
At Bathurst Street and Bloor

As ship, a shop
A circus top
With flashing lights, a store
In wonderment
The patrons went
To Bathurst Street and Bloor

A pauper’s price
For tins of spice
A dime will get you four!
At half the cost
You still get lost
Exhausted, floor to floor
In rows and rows
Of bags and bows
At Bathurst Street and Bloor

Our Ed’s no goat
But he’ll eat his coat
Before he’ll charge you more
For an Elvis bust
A pizza crust
A custom fishing lure
A cup that says
From Taiwan or Singapore
For pleated skirts
Or neon shirts
From nineteen eighty four
For anything
That Ed can bring
To Bathurst Street and Bloor

So travel down
And through the spinning door
It matters
Not a spatter
If you’re rich or filthy poor
For he landed
Empty handed
Our most savvy raconteur
And built a shop
Which begs a stop
At Bathurst Street and Bloor

by Heather Emme

(Fun side note. I met Ed once. I was working at the Princess of Wales as a teenager. During the show run, I was at a booth, waiting to sell product when the intermission hit. Technically we were supposed to sit and do nothing, but my boredom was not easily assuaged. I was doing a crossword. I missed the call that went out over the walkies that “The eagle had landed.” That was code for “Ed’s in the building.” I was caught up in my crossword when an older gentleman leaned over, looked at my puzzle and offered an answer. It was Ed. He smiled and went in to the show. His guess was wrong, but he was still friendly. 😉 That’s my Ed moment. Feel free to tell me about yours below.)

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

ACE: In The Whole

I am fortunate to have a circle of friends that is full of teachers, both in the literal sense (they work in schools) and in the less-than-literal sense (they are smarter than me and know things they can teach me.) One of the benefits of being surrounded by smart humans who understand how we learn and develop throughout childhood, is that I am often abreast of changes to how we look at learning and growth.

A few months ago, my dear friend Laurie posted an NPR article about the Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACE.) Initially I skimmed it and found the whole thing intriguing. However I was working with a PTSD specialist, so I didn’t spend too long dwelling on new ideas.

When my work with my specialist went spectacularly south, I started to think on the ACE study again. I re-read the article. Finally, I took the quiz.

The quiz asks 10 questions, each relating to a childhood experience that has been demonstrably shown to increase chances of certain behaviours, illnesses and outcomes. The more of these questions to which you answer yes, the more likely you are to be suffering after-effects of your trauma. It should be noted that there are limitations to the questions. There are no questions that deal with witnessing acts of violence or war. There are no questions about peer bullying. There are no questions about peer rape. The focus is solely on family dynamic.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that my number was high. So high that half my score was the highest level they were noting. I wasn’t shocked. It was not news to me.

This graphic that accompanied it gave me pause:

ace_pyramid_wotext.127135420_std.gifThat’s a helluva pyramid.

Still, drastic graphics aside, the most useful moment of clarity  was not in the content. For once, it was in the comments.

Most people commenting fell into the lower numbers. A few, like my love, were zeros. A spattering were ones, twos, threes.

A very small number of commenters, like me, fell into the high numbers. Our stories, our tone, were different. There was a desperation, a falling down into ourselves, that seemed to mark us as just too far beyond what is well and normal. There was a lot of talk of addiction, job loss, prison time. We were the destroyed minority.

Still, I am a person with perpetual – I wouldn’t say hope – stubbornness? I haven’t been able to successfully stop trying. I don’t want to. I still believe I deserve to be happy.


But I’m done comparing my successes and challenges to the ones and twos. Of course I’m not where they are. I didn’t start where they did. Maybe my executive functioning is poor, but I keep going. I make lists and set reminders and plan days in advance and often fall apart at the last minute, but I keep doing it. I keep making lists. I keep making plans. I keep trying.

But I’m not a two. I’m not a zero. I’m me. I’m the kind of person that the non-existent fates decided should get pummelled with most of the hammers.

With that in mind, I think I’m doing pretty damn good, just being here.