Joan Crate


Joan Crate taught literature courses and Creative Writing at Red Deer College, Alberta for over twenty years. She writes both poetry and fiction, with a smattering of academic work thrown in. Her last poetry book, SubUrban Legends was awarded “Book of the Year” by the Writers Guild of Alberta. In 2008, her poem “I am a Prophet” was nominated for the Most Memorable Canadian poem by the Literary Review of Canada. Foreign Homes (poetry) was short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award in 2002 and listed as a “Book of the Year” by Vue Magazine in the same year. Her first poetry book, Pale as Real Ladies: Poems for Pauline Johnson is in its sixth printing and has been used in several university courses. Her novel Breathing Water was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Award (Canada) 1989 and the Books in Canada First Novel Award, 1989. Over the years, she has won or placed in several writing competitions, and in 1988 she was the recipient of the Bliss Carmen Award for Poetry. She is presently working on a novel, to be published in 2016.

Year of the Raven

Don’t sit by the window.
A raven will perch on the edge
of your mind and take off— dragging thoughts
from carrion to cloud to the highest tree
with a sweeping view of the valley. Glorious

gouts of death spilling darkness,
ravens fly right through you, feathers
splaying on bone, wings snapping up
and down— a storm or great passion
catching in joints, lungs, the throat.

Full and suffocating, you’ll try
to sing gorged pleasure, spew bursting pain,
but you’re suddenly
guts spilled on the side of the road.

Super nova explodes through space
helium to oxygen
to iron lead carbon
eyes watch from the corner of fecundity.

Light conjugates heat in a language
of detritus and possibility.
Multiply. Divide.
Raven has arrived.

An avoidance of light, a void, dance
of non-existence waiting to rub out reality.
Never say nevar at midnight or one appears
a backward demon
cackling while tearing your flesh
or making love— you’re not sure which—
trickster laughing at the world, making you
believe he can take you beyond it.
You open arms, legs, mind.
Flies buzz by.
You yearn.

Ravens drop knowledge of absence in a child.
Winging over tousled heads, they snatch
the moon from sky, replace it crumb by crumb
in a month of nightmares and hunger.

Watch their watchfulness—
graveyard guards transported by changing
wind, water, feather, flesh, shadow

At breakfast, Raven’s hooked beak
rips the corners of my mouth, barbs words,
bleeds me.
At the supermarket, rings
on shoppers’ fingers flash and beckon.
I yank one off, make a break for the fire exit

and escape to decorate insomnia
with constellations— a navigation system
to diamonds in snow banks, laughter frozen

in the face, a miracle of migration
when black holes open the sky
to forever and never—

Sometimes I see the world from far above.
I am superlative— Raven— from the most
northerly tree line, highest mountain peak,
the wettest rain forest of the world.
My body is an air current, my limbs shooting stars.
I have overview, insight, and a beak full
of rotting mortality.

The door of a root cellar creaks open
on a pit of preserved fruits and organs,
Raven pecks.

Ubiquitous, on prairie roads, mountain trails,
wet, high, and low lands, sailing over lakes
and ice fields, perched in the tree outside my city house,
ravens taunt in a voice of shattered eggs.
I cry out to them — thieves, ghosts, relations—
break me away.

Under morning’s laser, nature strips off
its clichés, moves through awakening minds.
Wings open, a heart contracts, expands
the sky: primordial past, omni-
present, future tense.

You, I, and the others are nothing
more than distance and dust, lost
destinations, a flock of question marks
hunting an answer

  • A new poem from Joan Crate