From the Editors: a scribbled note in a water-damaged notebook

The call for submissions for Reckoning 5’s poetry started as a scribbled note in a water-damaged notebook I lost years ago. It was Toronto labour rights activist and scholar Dr. Winnie Ng’s answer to a 2013 panel question on what she’d tell young organizers: that we can organize from rage, but where it was possible, you could go the long haul if you organized from joy. I lost the notebook, so I’m not going to get that quote right.

Living in a busy urban downtown sharpens your vision for the natural world living alongside and around you. You start relationships: with the raccoon that topples over your compost bin to eat tomato scraps; with the ash tree whose lowest leaves are low enough to, on the days you wear high heels to work, brush the top of your head like a benediction. You learn to truly value that ecosystem threaded through the cracks, and realize that busy spaces are full of half-visible mitzvot. You can think nobody is and then your vision sharpens to those little signs, and you realize: somebody is. That public native species garden didn’t grow itself, and those squirrels aren’t fat and happy on their own account. Someone planted chestnut trees. Someone is, just outside your frame of reference, doing the work.

Our call for poetry was about those intimacies: the seed waiting in your pocket, cupped handfuls of gorgeous things in motion, little gods. What work you were doing, and why you did it. Maybe we could all sharpen our vision, together.

We had no idea what was coming.

In Toronto, I have spent this pandemic year uneasily hibernating as part of a high-risk household. I stepped outside in May and the trees were leafing outward; the next time, in mid-June, the flowers were already going to fruit. It has been hard to know whose precautions to trust, where the future was leading.

Meanwhile, submissions poured in from every continent except Antarctica, and built a paper spine to keep my head up as the case counts fluctuated. Every week this year, I’ve spent a few hours reading poetry and essays about those little flecks of possibility: vivid, loving descriptions of the ground as wrinkled wise skin; laughing lines about coral; how far you can travel on patched-up sails; “we breathe and breathe and / breathe”. Ambivalent, pragmatic, realistic, joyous, fierce, those carefully nurtured loves started to feel like sonar, describing the shape of a world latticed with somebody is. Everything was most-beautiful. Webbed between chat servers, databases, and international video calls scheduled delicately to link three time zones—systems that felt like they should be so tenuous—what’s emerged is so solidly real.

Doing this project in a disrupted, unsettled year meant no matter what I could find to fear, somebody is. The process of putting this volume together gave us the proof. I can close my eyes and see a constellation: hundreds of people who believe in the limitless potential of being for something fiercely enough to write about it during a global pandemic.

That’s what I hope this offers you: a volume that holds the proof, that shakes with the force of that jotted-down note seven years ago, organize from joy. Even though the notebook got soaked until it was unreadable, was lost in a move, and I had to dig through old websites and event listings to find the conference and rediscover Dr. Ng’s name to properly credit her for the impact, I remembered the important part all the way through: If I love things and work from that love, my strength will not fail me.

So, here we are—not all of us, and not in equal circumstances: on our balconies, in wide-open spaces, in overcrowded housing with a half-dozen people we love, doing the work with our hands, doing the work with our mouths, holding ourselves or other people together, failing for today to do it, following instinct, following best practice, fumbling, planting, advocating, pushing back, pushing forward. Tending tiny miracles until they split the pavement.

Reckoning 5 Submission Call – Poetry

For Reckoning 5, I’m looking for poems which move in concert with fiction editor Cécile Cristofari’s call for work that spotlights the moments of environmental beauty we’re living in right now, holding close to our hearts, or carefully cultivating in the back corner lot twice a day, on the way to and from the streetcar.

The little seed you’re carrying around, waiting to replant. The spaces cupped full of joy in motion. Something holy in your pocket; a little-god reminder of why we do the work and what’s worth working for. That which is coming. That which has been quietly growing all along. That which is beautiful amidst the noise—all seen through the lens of environmental justice.

I have a soft spot for formal poetry done in a way where your voice slips free, but would love to see your free verse, translations, little epics, concrete poetry, speculative poetry, all the things I couldn’t even think up right now to list, and most importantly, the unique texture of your own voice.

If you’re working in a form or tradition you aren’t sure I’ll culturally grasp: please, tell me about it in your cover letter. I’ll ask the followup questions necessary to meet you halfway.

I will consider exceptional work that falls slightly outside of the theme or spins it in unexpected ways as long as it stays firmly centred on the topic of environmental justice.

Up to five poems per submission welcomed, and thank you in advance for your work.

Read the full guidelines and submit here. And Cécile Cristofari’s call for fiction and nonfiction is here.

The Dream of the Wood

the night of the windstorm

the city swayed

 

steel branches wrapped in old concrete

 

the leaves fall in strict equations:

material tolerance plus environmental

pressure plus the work of builders’ hands.

 

in the morning, we count cracks:

birch lines in the drywall laid bare

for the deer. the corner panhandler lost

his hat in the night. spare change, a nickel

a quarter a dollar? I put palms to the sidewalk

and feel for roots, crouched, bent small,

parting rush-hour rivers of feet.

 

in the valley, the river wound round the birch, half in,

half out of water. the squirrels crept back to their nests

lean and loud, whistling as they gathered new twigs.

the muskrats drained burrows below, mirroring:

one crown wide, and one buried.

 

there are cracks in the city. we all feel it:

the thin drafts blowing through. in the wind,

I spread hands rootlike through the soil

and dream of changing: from our rusted degradation

point to tough green wood, flexed, bowed, unbreaking.

 

I can feel it coming, love, like the first

of spring: smoother, softer, here I go,

stretching hands-first into something

that bends, and then stands.