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The Holy Nothing

The Holy Nothing


Most of Jessica Hiemstra's newest poems were written over several winters. These were hard poems to write. They arrived both suddenly and slowly. To Hiemstra the poems of The Holy Nothing feel like the slake of a hard moment. Haiku poet, Claudia Radmore, says that Hiemstra's poems want to be haibuns. There's something so painfully unadorned and simple about them. Think of these poems as meditations. Includes 17 beautiful B&W illustrations by the poet.

"Hiemstra’s vulnerability and her resilience are palpable throughout this volume, and she addresses hard personal and universal truths with a relentlessly straightforward honesty. It is this honesty that makes her collection so compelling." - Canadian Literature

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When you buy this Jessica book from Jessica, it comes autographed, with a complimentary set of three mini prints featuring artwork from the book and the option to customize your order with a personalized note from the author! 



For Yima (1983 – 2013)

While our marriage ended
I miscarried, not justice
or language, though there was that too. 
There’s a moment when dead is absolute
but when does dying start?

There are many ways to know we’re
pregnant. I wanted green mangoes
and Yima winked at me. She sat with me
before the swelling Atlantic
with her blue Coleman cooler, her hair flat
where it had rested. She gave me

cold ginger water in a small clear plastic bag. 
She peeled mangoes for me.
We will fail to save the albatross
for lack of empathy. I mean our world, 
this one filled with barges
and poetics instead of mangoes
and ginger. By albatross
I also mean albatross. 

There was you. There was
green mango, slave holes
up the beach in York. 
There was Yima and
all kinds of love dying in me.

I carry two countries, this Lion
Mountain, the Rideau out the window now.
I have no home but water.

We all carry two countries: where
we’re born, where we die, here
and hereafter. Three, if we include
the place before we exist, that darkness
God breathes on. 

I try to write about Sierra Leone
but end up saying nothing
because I’m sad and sorry and angry.
It’s where I learned to walk, eat yabibi, pineapple. 
It’s where I returned to leave our marriage
while reading The Great Fires in a red Adirondack

in a place too honest for us. I think of Yima
biting off the edge of a plastic bag for me,
so I could suck ginger out of it.
The wind caught the bag
whisked it to sea. With bottle-caps
and other shining detritus, it ended up
in the belly of an albatross chick. 

That’s all there is, all there was, 
all there’ll ever be. Love and trash,
pity and longing.  Failure
is because we aspire. That’s good.

There are many ways to set the scales, 
words. We may weigh with hunger,
green mangoes, the belly of a starving albatross.
We can flog ourselves with history,
extend mercy to each other. Opa tells me

about his first job in Devon. A Chinese man
sat beside him sexing chicks, handing him females.
Opa packed small hens, tossed the bag of males
in the trash on his way home. 
We did it like that then, he says.

I don’t know that we’ve changed. 
Yima tells me about holes
in York, the Banana Islands,
people stacked on each other, 
too sick to be shipped to England
or Louisiana. The albatross
saw it all and did nothing. 
I’m still doing nothing
but eating and reading and wishing. 

I watched waves, sucked ginger
through holes in plastic. We can choose
what to do with history and each other.  
By each other and history I mean
me and you and slaves and sea birds
dying from what we throw away. Yima 

comforted me not with language or justice
but both: when we’re in the womb
we don’t want to come out, when we come out
we don’t want to die, when we die
we don’t want to come back. So it is
with love
, she said in Krio.

Our marriage doesn’t matter,
but failure to love
is the end of the world.
I want to feel it all, to come back
even if it kills me, raise the dead.
Plead on my knees.

Yima is washed and carried
to her grave in a white sheet.
The village wears white,
ashobi. Sorrow isn’t diminished
by its frequency.  Yima won’t come back.

I want to change history, resurrect her
and Jesus, turn the boats back,
forgive you, forgive us. 

Reprinted with the kind permission of Pedlar Press