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The Elephants

Port of Being

Shazia Hafiz Ramji


I don’t even have socks.

Past the docks I knowthere are camerasover which

flags raise emblemswhose pacts

cut timeinto manageable bitsthat bob and wheelon a windvane

only a waltz aspired to such perfection years ago

arrowing out toward the other shorethe time and hook of pop songs

in the food courtthe hook and eye perpendicularto the weak shiver

of an exit sign     underneath a fake palmabove a wet bar

the intonations of whichtrendy is definitelya preoccupation

printed on T-shirtsin shipmentsback to the coast.

Black and greythe colour of the worldin a patch

for a covert operation.

Don’t let him get away.

Light seizes glass on glassat Harbour Centrewhere a stolen bottle of liquorslips

from the hands of a manon the floorover whom

two large men     fall   punch   kickone in peach boxers     with “Tommy Hilfiger”

around its bandits global hands in Indiawhere the man himself

sits in the factoryand tweaks   as he goes   around the worldRuki Vverh!

comes on MTVat the beginning of the millennium.

Partying Macedonian kids

happy slapping

Trump and Hillary

to earn twelve times the amount

of the average monthly wage.

We are already seeing an in-migration of young professionals and they are really high on technology.

A Vermeer on a lane behind Columbia Street in New Westminsterconduits

under the roadwork for the flood water and fibre-optic cablesa centre

recallinga heart of the citypeople in the spillway from a dam

near a fragile border     not seen when the operator wentall systems go

progress and development crowdsurf over the Fraserto beat East Van rents

make us swoon like Ivanka at Trudeauthe roses infrared

for the future-proofed deep dream. An average resident

in Brooklyn

must spendone hundred and twenty-fourpercent

of their wagesto meet monthly payments.

See you tomorrow.

Horizon of dried blood     on billboardsthe time for enjoyment has been

usurpedits guise of wet kisses snapped and stored

for the feed tomorrowwhat moves us

is the last note that sounds like the firsta performance for an oratory

words of death on the streets that win     win     win

best photofor the hangingsflayed chickens next to Save-On Meats

at Hastingsa slum appropriated for an orgyin the pink light

walls recede     into globes of snowcaught in poor sight

wet eveningsbeg for a clean syringe.In the vicinity

bottles of waterpacked in plasticdusty

fatherpacked in a rugon which a prayer hung


An alarm goes off.

Bells set off bells     about Jeff Mills on Saturdayat one hundred and thirty-eight

beats per minute  people chancefrom window   to windowa pigeon

pecks at a plantbehind glass   marbling waterin moving light

on the condo terrace   over which     shadows in planes

beg the brickworkto ease upreturn secrets

to the manon the pierbacking up into bioluminescence

visible only on summer nightsfrom a spot on the seawall

the Yaletown sidewhere the ocean reminds us of neonthat reminds us

of big words     like “history”inside of whichthe person

behind me unfurlsstacks risebeside the time I’ve spentdown

the road my lover takesa breath before sayinghe grew up

in a trailer parkthe guarded arrangements we’ve madethe unfurling

of that gridits ambling and crossesan aerial view

of each aboveor each beloweach other

beside each otherthe facts of love.Sixteen bison

  are moved     to Banff

sacredness a century later

  in the enclosure

  cold as Safeway in February.



The vanished look for lives because they have been overwritten
A new category in the court reasons “death by overwork”
Metadata shows us how we will wash up
The Most Influential Images of All Time
Hashtag secrets trending
Post-burial wi-fi connection speeds
Thirty-nine percent unoccupiable space

100 Plastic Containers for Human Corpses

Not long ago a soybean field
Five-hundred thousand disposable
Casket liners too big for one body
Plans for mass graves
Private property on Madison
FEMA Coffins
Whatever the term—
Liners for archival storage
Containers to keep graves
A global virus concealed
From settling and sinking
Square lids for stacking
Handled and interred
Material cared for

Every Wire a Nerve

Hashtag wars
Polyphonic chambers
Choreography of death
Echoes of voices
Real-life operations
Mock executions
Video location in question
A million bucks for a part of the body back to the family across the ocean
Pieced in proportion to veracity
Blitzkrieg and radio
Voices beyond the front lines
Alike in panic online
The scale of a photograph
Metadata to blow up
Extents into battlefields
Erasures of time
Distance expanded
Into social reach


Seen in the process of isolation
A life shot
To accelerate the days
High-definition contours of the face
Better understood as contingent
Upon the camera in the corridor
A forum for regret in involuntary relations
One missing shade of blue
A perfect complement to the song
Opacity of thermoplastic
Intrusion of narrative
Tomb the excess of a body
An inhabited presentation
The bear on the wall
Habitual human conversation
Between photons and skin


Birth from our own skin
Concerns over devaluation
Body that hangs and holds
Mushroom halos of once
Dark faces glow in oil
At the back of the room hands wait
To be held in courts
To speak a warm fabric of lips
Gaze that hangs and holds
Scholar alone in the office
Ports open for syntax
Decoy of chat and lovers
Hands that hang and hold
Faces of men and women
In the night of a still life
Circuitry to collect light
From our whispers



The text in grey that opens the poems in “Container” is sourced from overheard conversations and signage on the buses and streets of Vancouver, with the exception of the following:

We are already seeing an in-migration of young professionals and they are really high on technology.

These words were spoken by Councillor of the City of New Westminster, Bill Harper, in an article titled “New Westminster to build city-owned fibreoptic network,” published in the Vancouver Sun in June 2016.


“Khalifa” is an Arabic word that roughly translates as “successor” or “steward” in English. It is part of the name of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, currently the tallest building in the world.

100 Plastic Containers for Human Corpses takes its title from an artwork by Santiago Sierra. When I first encountered it in Toronto during Nuit Blanche, I was struck by how impenetrable and ominous it felt. Sierra’s artwork comprises black coffin-like tubs stacked on the back of a glossy, black truck that evokes a luxurious hearse. The most common question I heard from people on the street was: “What is it?” My poem is a response to this curiosity and to Sierra’s artwork. The language in the poem is derived from YouTube videos on “FEMA Coffins” as well as official patent information for these coffins, which are in fact plastic burial vaults that encase coffins, preventing the ground from sinking as decomposition occurs.

“Every Wire a Nerve” is derived from Sidney Morse’s quote on the influence of the telegraph: “The surface of the earth will be networked with wire, and every wire will be a nerve. The earth will become a huge animal with ten million hands, and in every hand a pen to record whatever the directing soul may dictate!”

Shazia Hafiz Ramji received the 2017 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry and was a finalist for the 2016 National Magazine Awards. Her writing has recently appeared in Quill & Quire, Vallum, OMEGA, The Puritan, and Canadian Literature. Her first chapbook is Prosopopoeia (Anstruther Press, 2017) and her debut book of poetry, Port of Being, is forthcoming from Insomniac Press in 2018. She lives on unceded Coast Salish land where she teaches creative writing and works as the poetry editor for PRISM International magazine. She runs the Ennet House Reading Group devoted to reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

This originally appeared on October 1, 2017