A Plant is Not a Nation
By John Nyman
Unlike a nation, a plant
can stick with its shame and embarrassment long enough
to grow more slowly
than the benchmark of accelerating annually.
Maybe it even refuses
to go on entirely. A plant will know its dirt
lands first on the dead and the un-
deserving. Unlike a nation
enamoured by the language of nation, a plant
grows into the matter of history.
Look: you can cut open its leaves
and track the accident of its lifetime,
and a plant isn’t bothered, doesn’t mind.
A nation gives you nothing to cut into.
At best it’s a shuffle of archives; at worst
a blade with no knife. Unlike a plant,
a nation is strong and free, and stands up
and sits others down from the perch of a made-up hierarchy.
Thank God a plant is not
a nation, alive on the bookshelf here beside me.
Four Dreams About Justice
By John Nyman
First I dreamt I was frenziedly searching
for the tiny spiral notebook I keep with me
at all times, except when I’m sleeping.
When I woke up I’d forgotten how to write,
* * *
so I only spoke aloud the second dreaming:
that tiny student here in our apartment
without entering, her phone a shard of cardstock
with an app that pinged a pack of Millennials
to crash: they threw an apartment party,
chopped up our refrigerator’s veggies,
admired our balcony, clogged our bedroom
doorframe singing Disney karaoke,
and left—finally. But once we were alone,
the curl of time got stuck behind the stove clock
like a gum wad, and its spiral lost our heads.
I thought we’d never guess the hour again.
* * *
In the third dream, I’m in a man’s car
with three men, poets—four softspoken men
with hard emotions, knowing we’re poets the way
a dreamself knows a friend but not the person.
Opposite me in back, one’s drunk
and hopeless. Riding shotgun’s a backwards
stone face tablet flat, a man
my asking dies on. The last is panicked,
primed to drive to the moon—which is apt,
since none of us lets in a drink of the black
of night’s Toronto. We’re shut up as a womb,
and spaced out like in an airport waiting room.
We cruise through downtown blocks like basements
of the bungalows we all grew up in
before we learned to woo our brokenness
in cooler language, came into our own
as doughboys fudging half-baked histories
with the douchebag ease of the less guilty.
My friends’ white faces are turning red;
white flags are waving. In my head, I muse,
“I read folks like I read words lately.”
If we could have addressed each other, I might have said it.
* * *
But the fact is, I came here for another dreaming—
to talk, or type about it, and thus stretch it out.
since I’ve never really seen it or experienced it.
This fourth dream’s dangling from my mouth.
It’s a story I’ve boiled not down to, but free of its truth
in a kitchen as violently white as a tooth,
with no soft tissue to bite into.
In it, I manage a radical TAZ
with a quiet, white hand: some 12 blocks seceded
to a transparent image, to a good young man.
The cops are unwelcome. The rent has been cancelled.
We’re doggedly woke, ethical, and equitable.
National leaders get frisked at our borders
by volunteer warriors, and visitors acknowledge
Indigenous land. State power uprooted,
grassroots communities heal their own conflicts,
the workers control the means of production,
and so on. When Kanye shows up, he gets laughed at.
* * *
It’s too bad that wasn’t a real dream, but just
an idea I had, consciously—irony and all.
Forgive me: I can’t help but ironize Justice
when Justice lies, white as a root or a bone,
and I find its fruit hanging so low. Although
it’s also too bad I take Justice so seriously;
everyone knows I’d be better off dreaming.
I’ve never dreamt irony, really, just feeling,
and Justice has always been more of an idea
anyway, and never enough to wake me.
John Nyman is a poet, critic, and book artist from Toronto. Your Very Own, a chapbook of erasure poetry and art based on the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books, was recently published with JackPine Press, and a new full-length collection of verse is forthcoming with Palimpsest Press in spring 2023. Find John online at johnnyman.ca