Liz Howard

from Letters in a Bruised Cosmos

I might sit in a chair and watch as a stranger’s brain appears

on the screen, slice by slice. It is the gruesome cum digital

and it what rues this world. I could plot a correlate of thoughts.

Still I will never know you, only myself in relation. Letters

in a bruised cosmos. Who am I writing to? You and everyone.

A rape in every generation of my line within the time

of photography. Have I made myself accessible enough?

There is a real power in the semipermeable. Danger of the underbelly
exposed. Tripwires of any tree rooting itself to the ground. In the forest

I would often trip where the roots surfaced in partial relief against the pine

needled ground. Smelling of sifted blood in full summer, iron oxides, ochre.

Now I paint my body with Sephora.





thrown my lot

a burnished head

at the ready to rot

estuary monday

no lily white


at the dam’s ready

my timber silt hard

cast tributaries

hare’s breadth



a brother’s ideation

among the earth

metals slighted


I’ve got promises

and roses

and plastic

amber cylinders

for remedy


I’ve got to ask a question with lichen in it


My hair with streaks of caribou moss in it


Give it up


My bad ankles and wet temperament





I set out in my work dress into the back seat of a strange man’s car. “A beautiful day,” in an accent I can’t place. The worn spillage of North York goes on in burnt umber coloured brickwork. And I have myself become a stranger. Walking down the street older women study my face, I think, to ascertain whether or not I belong and when we lock eyes in the final moments of our passing I never know the answer.


When I enter the hospital I see Kafka’s face. He stares out at me from a print in Warhol’s “Jews of the 20th Century” series gifted by a community member. Sometimes the lobby is filled with the smell of frankincense and the sound of women singing in Hebrew. Many of the eldest elderly came here as children after the war, survivors. This is a place of final refuge and a place I am paid to peer inside and tease out the machinations of the living human brain.


The walls of the upper floors of the research wing feature work by Inuit and Native American artists. On Fridays, after the lab meeting, I will stare into the eyes of a man’s portrait, an unnamed warrior who resembles my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather fought in the First World War. I was able to get a pdf of his war records off of He was wounded in France, a bullet to the left shoulder care of a German, just a few inches away from, in so far as I can ever know myself, never existing at all. I’ve also heard that my grandmother’s brothers fought in the last war and what they saw there left them unable to speak of it. One uncle took what he couldn’t say to the train that killed him. In many ways service was so much harder for the native infantry. I stand in this hospital of survivors looking into the eyes of an unnamed warrior.  The cosmos knows how to hold such a moment. History, which is a sewing motion. Time collapses. One is a bruise for being forced into an assimilation that doesn’t fit. Pia mater. Dura mater. Tender mother. Hard mother. Each membrane does its part to protect the surface of every living brain.




Dear surety,

I broke a puss capsule in my

rind’s corridor

rind of my mouth’s inside

I could pack a gauze to choke

the story, cup my cheek and think

on irrepressible haunts

cortisol of my stresses exes

pillows my face, a stone fruit

I’ve been arraigned to the couch

with my curfew cut short

as I black out


As a child sometimes

I would receive a flick

to the centre of my

forehead. A flick

to the skin above

the skull bone

which houses

the cortex that

together with other

neural sites organizes

the sense presence

I experience as me.


Every love poem

is a self-portrait

of childhood.


Sitting here

in the last

of light while

strangers pass.




I texted myself:


“reading early Goethe embarasses me like childhood’s razor edge”


With a fresh razor

I will often catch

the skin over

the surgical nail

embedded in my right ankle

and a little shock of red

will snake its way

down my heel

distribute itself

into the pinkening foam


Small moments, minor passions, ill-considered missives into the drain of days.

Always it is like this.






All the night assembles my subject


All the night, the shape of one’s self


And what do you find there

Beyond the quiet and the dark

That I was to do away with all of it

Then decided to remain


Reforge myself inside tomorrow’s humidex

Slant listless, answer the messages

Order eggs and begin again


Let there be light

And there was light


Begin again.