Chantal Gibson Writer-Artist-Educator

@ chantalgibsonartist Vancouver BC

Where Visual and literary art meet


Educational Resources

The 4 poems in this section are provided free of charge for secondary and post secondary educators, art and social activism workshop facilitators, students and researchers for the purpose of cultural analysis and literary criticism.   Please cite the poems and give credit to Caitlin Press. 

This section is inspired by Ross Creek Arts Centre (Canning, NS) for using How She Read to develop their Black History Month curriculum in 2019, and by Teddy K who read "The Mountain Pine Beetle Suite" last year and got an A+ on her grade 9 poetry presentation. 


Copyright © 2019 Chantal Gibson

Selected Poems


subordinate clause

Introduction to Cultural Studies

The Mountain Pine Beetle Suite

Buy the Book

Poem 1




1: a race with skin 

pigmentation differ-

ent from the white 

race (esp. Blacks);

                                                     You preferred coloured back then, stung less than

                                                     negro. Mulatto is dated. I’m mixed race now.


2: complexion tint, 

a characteristic of 

good health; 

                                                     No one noticed the colour in your cheeks. 

                                                     The Christmas dinner one-liner, ‘Must’ve been dirty, 

                                                     it even made you blush!’ At least, you taught me how 

                                                     to take a joke. 


3: of interest, variety 

and intensity; 

                                                     Remember Cabbagetown? Our coloured beginnings,

                                                     the dress shop lady, the front door, my broken pointy

                                                     finger, you in your secretary dress chasing her in the 

                                                     street. Girl, where you learn to fight like that?


4: to give a deceptive
explanation or excuse 


                                                     The lawyer argued you were coloured by your emo-

                                                     tions. Quite naturally, of course. What other reason

                                                     would you have to beat a white bitch down?


5: to modify or bias; 

                                                     My world, coloured. Never has a child felt more loved,

                                                     more protected, more ashamed. 


6: an outward or token

appearance or form that is

deliberately misleading; 

                                                     You coloured your apology with the single mother 

                                                     story of my one good eye. The white lady dropped 

                                                     the charges.


7: of character, nature; 

                                                     You said, wait long enough, you’ll see their true colours. 

                                                     I never told you she smiled at me as she turned away, 

                                                     or that I stuck my finger in the hinge just to see what

                                                    would happen.

pg. 24

How She Read

Section 1: the grammar of loss

Poem 2

subordinate clause

because you were my first book

because yours was my first face

because your first look was sorrow

because your second was love

because I charted your scalp like an atlas, 

sectioned your hair to the roots with the pointy tip 

of a tail comb, discovered your pink secret

at the crown, and released the ancestral sighs 

of fingertips and VO5

because I studied the slight coffee stain 

on your side teeth right next to the fake one 

in the front and the soft constellation of tiny 

black moles on the rise of your right cheek 

every time you smile

because I memorized the monthly swell of your

breasts and the water bloat of your ring 

fingers, because I feared the dark potholed alleys 

of your palms and the black slap of Jesus sandal 

against my thigh 

because she was your first book

because hers was your first face

because your first look was sorrow

because her first look was shame

because they called you ugly

because I am your spitting image

(because there are no honest poems 

about dead women)

because I wrote every line twisted 

in the furrow of your brow

pg. 31    

How She Read

Section 1: grammar of loss

Note: In "subordinate clause" the quote “there are no honest poems/ about   dead women” is from Audre Lorde’s poem of the same name, in Our Dead Behind Us. (New York: W.W. Norton,1986), 61.

Poem 3

Introduction to Cultural Studies (for EJ)

You used to sit with me while I’d take a bath, til

you were about eleven, chat and count the Avon 

bath beads you gave me for Christmas. I doubt

it ever occurred to you that a woman with three 

kids might want a little time alone. For a while,

you’d always bring some book or magazine, 

Judy Bloom, Nancy Drew, some Teen Beat

Tiger Beat foolishness with white boys on it,

the Toronto Star, the Sears catalogue, a World 

Book Encyclopedia—but, you wouldn’t read 

them to me, you’d just tell me about what you’d

learned, if you liked them or not—always white 

pieces of blue-lined three ring binder paper torn 

and placed between the pages you prepared to 

discuss. When you preferred that Sean Cassidy 

over his brother David, I asked what coloured 

boys did you like, but you couldn’t think of any, 

except for Michael Jackson. But you didn’t like 

him in that way. When the Beatles invaded in 

‘64, I didn’t like Sam Cooke in that way, either. 

I remember ’77, the summer of Emanuel Jaques, 

The Shoe Shine Boy found dead on a rooftop in a

garbage bag. I nearly wept when you asked me

about Yonge St., faggots, body rubs, as if I’d know

how those child raping degenerates could drown 

a young boy in a sink. You Scotch taped the Star

clippings in saran wrap, careful to keep them dry. 

When you said, Mom, only poor kids get lured away 

and snatched in bags, I understood your insistence

and stopped reading your sisters Curious George.

Sometimes, I’d watch you watching me, your gaze: 

water beads in my fro, my big boobs floating in the

fake lavender scented water, my pink C-section scar, 

the wiry hair between my legs, like you were trying

to figure me out, like you were trying to see the future.


How She Read

Section 2: icons


Note: In "An Introduction to Cultural Studies," I am referencing Emanuel Jacques, a kid I didn’t know, who was found murdered in Toronto in August 1977. I was ten and consumed with newspapers. Twenty  years ago, I read the same stories on microfiche. Now, I Google them. There are some things you can’t get over.

Poem 4

Two poems from The Mountain Pine Beetle Suite

I. dendroctonus ponderosae 

They come with axes between their teeth. Pioneer beetles,

females hungry for trees, ready to carve an instant town    out


of the wilderness. Somewhere in the needling green sprawl

between Darwin & God, an edict etched deep & tingling

beneath the skin, they believe this stand of old pines will last 

a lifetime. By nature, they desire. A species wants 

nothing more than to procreate. Back home, 

a pheromone-frenzy stirs a gnashing appetite 

for industry. The new believers wake & uncross 

their legs, hell-bent on leaving this unholy land 

of hollow trees. How soon they forget the splinter’s prick

between their lips. In unison, they hum, the blue-

stained settlers, young males itching to leave this once-

Eden girdled & snap-necked. A ghost town rusting, their dead

pitched out of the trees. Meanwhile the humans look 

petrified, like butterflies shocked in resin, arms wide,

palms flat against the front room window, disbelieving 

the FOR SALE sign on the lawn, wishing away 

the dust on the toys piled up in the driveway.

II. summer: mating season

the female plays house   between 

the bark & the sapwood   she is 

hardwired for love   in the phloem 

her scent on the walls  she rubs

her Avon wrists together   & waits

the male finds her  intoxicated  they 

make love  under the trees  legs be-

come arms  hands grow fingers   nails 

scratch   tiny love notes   in the bark 

summer is short here   little time 

for courtship in the North:   the cold-

blooded retreat to the woods   veins 

pumped with anti-freeze   the female 

bores deeper into the sapwood she 

drags her smokes  & her big belly up 

the tree  carves her birthing chamber 

and her coffin with her teeth

pg. 58-59

How She Read

Section 2: icons