In April of last year, the Canadian literary community suffered a profound loss at the passing of celebrated author and illustrator Teva Harrison after a lengthy battle with metastatic breast cancer. A unique and powerful talent, her writing appeared in numerous publications including The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, and many more. She may be best known, however, as the author and illustrator of the critically-lauded graphic novel In-Between Days (House of Anansi), a moving and inspirational memoir documenting her diagnosis and subsequent journey. In-Between Days garnered Harrison the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in 2017, and was a finalist for the 2016 Governor General's Award and the 2017 Joe Shuster Award.
This month marks the release of a new collection of Harrison's poetry, Not One of These Poems Is About You (House of Anansi), an intimate and profoundly moving examination of love, strength, and mortality that further showcases the touching humanity and unflinching courage of her work.
We're honoured to share a poem from Not One of These Poems Is About You on Open Book today.
Excerpt from 'Not One of These Poems Is About You':
When I Become You
I’d like to close the distance between us:
where you end, where I begin,
but your skin stops me,
I can’t find my way in.
If I could, I’d press every bit of me
until I’ve slipped inside,
your skin, our tent.
I want to breathe through your mouth.
If I could just slip beneath your skin,
become the better person
you have always been,
I would, in a heartbeat.
Skin to skin. Breath to breath.
I match you.
But it’s not enough.
I’m hungry to feel closer.
Closer than sex.
Closer than our past 18 years.
Closer than unborn twins.
I want to breathe myself into you,
curve my body around your heart.
If I could, I know I could keep you safe,
safe from the inevitable end of my body,
Always, I imagined us growing old
together: shuffling down a sidewalk,
helping each other over mounds of snow,
patches of ice. Falling ill together, lying down
one last time, side by side, to say goodbye
to our life, our long and beautiful life.
Then, the cancer,
the fucking cancer.
Everything I’ve pictured is unlikely.
Now, I expect to die first. By decades.
I’ll leave you alone with all this stuff.
The detritus of a life lived
in a global fervour of collection.
And I can’t stop thinking about where this leaves you.
No more big spoon. No more little spoon.
One object left, one object unable to nest.
I will curl myself inside your heart, and try
my hardest to leave you the best of me.
Will it be a balm for you
to be surrounded by my things — our things?
Or will it pang too much to look at them?
You have time to heal and fall in love again.
You have time to have the children we couldn’t.
With someone new and healthy.
But what of this place where we
nested together? What of the art
we so carefully hung on the walls,
a testament to our love and shared life?
Could this new love (I hate her already!) tolerate
the raw-salt-act of living among my things,
the museum to our marriage?
I count on you to keep our nest feathered.
To surround yourself with our precious, shiny objects.
Please keep me in your heart when I slip away from this body.
When there is no longer a me to love and be loved.
When I let go of everything. Even you.
Excerpted from Not One of These Poems is About You by Teva Harrison. Copyright © 2020 Teva Harrison. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press Inc., Toronto. All rights reserved. www.houseofanansi.com
Teva Harrison (1976–2019) was an author and visual artist. She wrote and illustrated the critically acclaimed graphic memoir In-Between Days, which was the winner of the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Joe Shuster Award for Cartoonist or Auteur, and was a Globe and Mail, National Post, Kobo, and Quill & Quire Book of the Year. Forty-five works from In-Between Days have been exhibited in a solo show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Teva was Principal Illustrator for the National Film Board/National Theatre production of playwright Jordan Tannahill’s Draw Me Close: A Memoir, a virtual reality theatrical experience blending live theatre and virtual reality technology.She was a finalist for the Canadian Magazine Award and the National Magazine Award, and her writing appeared in the Walrus, Granta, Quill & Quire, the Huffington Post, Carte Blanche, Reader’s Digest (Canada, U.S., and International editions), the Globe and Mail, and more. She was a regular commentator on CBC Radio, in the Toronto Star, and in the Globe and Mail, and she appeared on programs including Canada AM, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Space TV’s InnerSpace, The Morning Show, and in Maclean’s, Chatelaine, and Rabble.ca. She was also the illustrator of The Joyful Living Colouring Book.