“Vancouver to Edmonton, 2017” – Erika Thorkelson

Chelsea Rushton_The Heart's Prayer

We’re driving back to the prairies for your niece’s wedding. Hottest day of the year and the truck’s AC is broken. The mountains are blue ghosts under a gauzy sky. On the radio, the news is bad. Riots in Venezuela, squabbling world leaders, white supremacists. Everyone wants more than they have, even if they already have everything. The air tastes like wildfires and cow manure.

My horoscope says to stay positive, but I don’t buy it. You say you have a headache and my brain sidles into worst-case scenarios—a stroke, a tumour, viral meningitis. To cheer you up, I sing show tunes, but I only know the chorus to “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.

I’m supposed to be navigating, but I never speak up in time and you never listen. I tell you to take the next exit, but you keep going straight. We have to cross a bridge and do a U-turn to get back on track. A couple hours later, after lukewarm sandwiches under anemic shade trees in Merritt, I ask you to pull over so I can get my bearings, but you’re already turning. Now we’re flying toward Peachland instead of Kamloops.

Peachland. Again!

I tell you to turn around the next chance we get, but the map says we’re locked on the wrong highway for at least 20 minutes. Voluptuous hills with sun-bleached grass rise and fall on either side, offering no shade. The air in the truck gets heavy. It’s pressing on my lungs, my jaw, my shoulders. We sweat in silence, waiting for the other to talk, waiting for the other to apologize.

My horoscope says to stay positive, but I’m with the stoics on this one. Our strength shows not in good times, but in bad. That’s when we learn our hearts are not petals in the wind.

Where we’re going, there will be a beautiful wedding for a young woman who’s already seen more than her fair share of grief. There will be a family who drinks a little too much but only argues over the rules for crokinole. Your dad will be doing okay since he came off chemo and got a better hearing aid. He will hear your voice for the first time in years. It will all be fine, but I don’t know that yet. I’d rather not take any chances.

I swallow and speak first, knowing it’s the best way past this. We’ve been on this road before, I realize; we’ll travel it again. We get better at it every time.


these words by Erika Thorkelson were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton

On Colonialism in Edmonton: “Here”


On First Life: “Here”

Look Here.  At the house in the sunlight

The light that is rising or falling on the house

The house that is the First Space

We imagine being in.  Look Here at the light that

Sets everything on fire in making and unmaking You

Visible.  Is it making You

Unforgettable or unimaginable?  Where is Here?


Here is a place

Of imagining pain, of forgetting pain

Of weapons that look like light

Light that conceals by throwing shadows on the snow

Light that lets Us pretend We don’t know

What Here is, where Here is, who was Here.


You were Here.  You are Here.

Here being Yours, We come always

Like light

Spreading silently.  Here being

Where We learn how to hear or not hear

The dying You.  Here being

In Our imaginations.  Our imaginations being

Where You are always drunk, always obscene, always

Too much and too many to be seen.  Here being

Where Your space and voice and people sink into shadows.  


Look Here.  The house.  The First Space.  The Vastness.  

What are We if We are Here

Where You continue to make noise

Where We cannot hear You without knowing

That We have been murderous

That We continue to be murderous

That We are infected with murderous light

Light that hates to see

Light that divides the First Space, the First Life

Light that is diseased with difference and destroys


Light that runs knives along the earth’s splayed bodies

Light that makes and unmakes Here.  


Where is Here? Here is

Where My light continues to rise and fall on

You.  Here is

Where the edges of the living

Find the edges of the dying.  

these words by Charles Gonsalves were inspired by the colour of Sarah Williams

From the author: “I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta.  One thing life in Edmonton exposes is the still-very-much-alive hatred and violence enacted upon First Peoples in Canada.  The degree to which this behaviour is normalized in the everyday gazes, thoughts, and speech of Edmontonians is disturbing—and something that I, as a youth and young adult, have been implicated in.

Unlearning—unmaking the weapons with which we so easily, so automatically harm people—is part of our responsibility as settlers and a process that is necessarily uncomfortable, difficult, and destructive.  This poem reflects on the sustained presence of systemic colonial hatred and violence in Canada and takes a few premises about place and pain for granted.*  

-To have pain is to have certainty.  To witness pain is to have doubt.  To doubt or ignore someone’s pain amplifies their suffering.

-To inflict pain on a body is to destroy that body’s world, voice, and self.  To inflict pain on many bodies (a people) is to destroy that people.  

-The distance between the person(s) in pain and the person(s) observing or inflicting the pain is impossibly vast, and can only be occupied by the imagination.

-Home is the First Space.  Home is where we learn to imagine.

-The First Space is sacred.  

-We are destroying everything that is sacred.  Our homes occupy the imaginary space between the bodies in pain and the weapons.

* I owe these ideas to Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain and Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.