When I touched down in Vancouver, with my notebook, a small mountain of poetry collections, and little else in hand, I had in sharp view my task for the following month — I was to finish the poems of my manuscript that I had been avoiding for one reason or another. Some of them felt ambitious in scope, others tackled difficult subject matter, but regardless of reason, I knew there was no better opportunity than the space and time afforded to me by this residency to lean into what felt too hard in other settings.
As I journeyed to the house from the airport, I looked out over the river named the Sto:lo in Halqemeylem, the Lhtakoh in Dakelh, and the ʔElhdaqox in the Tsilqot’in language, or what is called the Fraser River in English. Having been conditioned by my last two years living in T’karonto, or Toronto, my first thought was to what freshwater lake this might feed into.
I was first ashamed then elated to remember that this river meets with the Pacific Ocean, the body of water I was no more than a few miles from for the first 23 years of my life.
Over the next four weeks, my time was marked by walks to this river and trips to close by beaches, where I was met with memories and questions I had been pushing out of my head since moving away from California in 2019. My grandfather’s scrawling font on the back of an old photograph reading: “That sweet, salt air.” My grandmother’s brother still living on the other side of this enormous, roaring lake.
My writing during September ended up inundated with brine and tides, rockfish and ships. I did finish the poems I came with the intention of writing, but they ended up going in directions I never could have imagined from my inland home. My manuscript will be all the more fulsome and interrogative for it, and I will hold on tightly to this reawakening spurred by my reunion with the ocean and all the spirits she contains.
Em Dial is a queer, triracial, chronically ill poet and educator born and raised in the Bay Area of California. A 2022 Kundiman Fellow and recipient of the 2020 PEN Canada New Voices Award and the 2019 Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award, their work also appears in or is forthcoming from Literary Review of Canada, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Sonora Review, and elsewhere.
Em Dial was writer-in-residence at Historic Joy Kogawa House in September 2021.
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