Sunday, January 19, 2020

Teva Harrison, Not One of These Poems Is About You

Ode to the Pacific Ocean

To stand at the edge of the sea
Waves lapping hungrily

To feel the sand shift beneath my feet
Called out to the wonder and the vast

To feel the salt drying on my ankles
Crusting over my porous skin

I am infinite. I am small. I am at peace.
The swirling, the raging – the disquiet
that usually rolls beneath my skin
It is gone, as if it never was

And the waves are crashing
And the waves are lapping
And the waves are creeping in

And my heart is pounding
And my heart is beating
And my heart is open – come in

As Toronto writer and visual artist Teva Harrison (1976-2019) was dealing with metastatic breast cancer, she was composing the poems that would become her posthumous Not One of These Poems Is About You (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2020), a heart-wrenching collection of straightforward lyric narratives around living, dying, and loving. There really is a radiance and a warmth that exude from these deeply intimate poems, and with an underpinning of optimism, even as she describes exhaustion, grief, and the preparations for when her long-time partner will be without her. As she writes near the end of the poem “Maybe I’m Just Tired”:

I want to examine each moment by itself,
and by myself. I’m sick of the charts they map
my body on, my progress on, my decline on.

Maybe I’m just tired,
but disassociation becomes entropy and
entropy becomes a solo lucidity.

Her poems, alongside accompanying small sketches, seem composed as short sketches combined with journal entries, seeking their way to articulate and comprehend her thoughts and feelings around terminal illness, and the beauty she has experienced, and that she would leave behind. This is a collection that works to remember moments, and indeed, a book entirely comprised of moments, and the importance of holding on to as many as one can for as long as might be possible.

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