The Gospel of Breaking

In The Gospel of Breaking, Jillian Christmas confirms what followers of her performance and artistic curation have long known: there is magic in her words. Befitting someone who "speaks things into being," Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialized life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems. Christmas draws a circle around the things she calls "holy": the family line that cannot find its root but survived to fill the skies with radiant flesh; the body, broken and unbroken and broken and new again; the lover lost, the friend lost, and the loss itself; and the hands that hold them all with brilliant, tender care. Expansive and beautiful, these poems allow readers to swim in Jillian Christmas's mother-tongue and to dream at her shores.


I speak things into being                                       if I do not open my mouth
that's the kind of witch I am                                                      it will not bond
conjuror                                                      no matter how perfect the blessing
careful when I spell your name           with my own blood on my tongue
I will not say it unless I believe                      I don't dare whisper a curse
it’s real                                                                     this backward barking drum
this charming trick                                                                         it is a warning
where I give you my voice                                             and it is a metronome
the same moment                                                        this is a wicked wisdom
the breath leaves your lung                                    laying teeth at your boot
making ritual                                                                   unfurling dirge themes
of hymns we didn't sing                         when the magic stopped working
when the magic stopped working                  these hymns we didn't sing
unfurling dirge themes                                                                  making ritual
laying teeth at your boot                                    the breath leaves your lung
this is a wicked wisdom                                                         the same moment
and it is a metronome                                            where I give you my voice
it is a warning                                                                         this charming trick
this backward barking drum                                                                    it’s real
I don't dare whisper a curse                      I will not say it unless I believe
with my own blood on my tongue         careful when I spell your name
no matter how perfect                                                   the blessing Conjuror
it will not bond                                                     that's the kind of witch I am
if I do not open my mouth                                     I speak things into being

things I can do

for Sylvia

I can brush your hair, squeeze this tube of medicated moisture onto green sponge
       and through your open mouth. I can run my oiled fingers across your dried lips,

hold your hand, I can still hold your hands. I can file and paint your nails same as
       always, I can play you all the sad songs I know on ukulele. I surprise myself, I can pray

to a god I don't remember kindly. I can cry sometimes. I can check with the nurses:
       Is it time for medicine? Is it time? It is time for medicine. I can read to you from a book

that I will not finish once you are gone. I can sit quietly in a room with family that has not
       felt like family for so long; since they piece by pieced you years too early. I can tell

myself and my mother that we are all here because we love. I can try to make myself believe.
       I can brush your hair, put on your favourite music, squeeze this tube of medicated

moisture onto green sponge. I can check if you are breathing. I can call the nurse: It is time
       for medicine. I can phone with an update. I can cry, can argue over brands of morphine.

When no one else is around I can smoke, quickly. I can rush back; find you breathing.
   Run my oiled finger across your lips, I can wash your face. Move a warm cloth over your hands

and rub Ponds into the whisper thin creases of you. I can watch and wince as nurses change
       another diaper, I can cry, I can wait, I can kiss your fingers. I can thank and thank and

       thank. I can say goodbye into your ear, knowing that it is good. I can drive to the airport.
I can fly home, I can hear your voice. I can hear your voice.

reasons to burn


no water in the line
there is no water in the line
there is no water in the line
for bodies on the land

there is no water in the line
there is no water in the line
there is no water in the line
just bodies on the land

there are bodies on the land
there are bodies on the land

come and drink the water
come and drink the water
come and drink the water
does it burn
does it burn

come and drink the water
come and drink the water
come and drink the water
does it burn
does it burn


I have things to burn     this body     already alight     these words     ashen
and weightless     and offering themselves like dancers to darkened sky
this quickening clock     this tightened yolk     this ship     that will not port
and will not port     these borders     and the walls that would enforce them
this frozen tongue     these slow feet     this stage     this pen    this quiet voice

I will make a fuel of them

Better than bitchumen     better than petrol
Better than elephant tusk     or drug lust
I filled myself with false fire once
only blinking before I was emptied again
I have put acres of rainforest up my own nose
Burned money on clothes     I did not wear
Charred myself     throat-to-belly     with firewater that would not
extinguish a match and I have been thirsty     ignorant     naive but not
innocent     complicit and complacent     I have been
and seen time wasted

There are no renewable resources

Not water     not shorelines     not a hundred little boys in wet
red sweaters     not tradition     not treaty
not native tongue     or trust     or thirst


Everything can burn

I learn this
watching water ignite from kitchen faucet.

I learn this
watching a man     once mountain     reduced to carbon

Everything can burn

and all of us turn either to ash
or to dust

If fire is either lust or love
then I want to stop dousing myself in gasoline
as a cheap party trick

There are reasons to burn
and we have plenty

Let me make of my words a fire
a purpose
a front line
a service
a choir
an engine
the matches
and the urn

every passing second is another ending

maybe Joni Mitchell                                   is a prophet
or a witch                  I scarred a record of hers once
you know the one                   a kind of premonition

one day I will say goodbye  so hard that my whole
body will blossom                   into a field of poppies
a single      iris      dripping     from each of my eyes

you could be proud           I said no         again today
cut the chord                   I'd used to sing your name
shattered our tune into a thousand tiny bells and
danced toward some doorway

this bruised sea I've crossed      it is the picture of
our great big ending
                             spitting image of a falling red cedar
                  piling her body between yours and mine
kicking         a heel against the door as we stumble

fog a breath against my window      finger    so long
into the misty film separating us       go away again

I promise you         there is always something good
to walk away from    sweeter still   once you’ve left
you know                 the freedom                is exquisite