Reminders on the Path (Mawenzi House) is Sheniz Janmohamed’s third poetry collection. In this week’s edition of Where in Canada, Sheniz shares how she questioned her relationship with nature during the pandemic, and how she hopes her new collection will encourage readers to look beyond their front door and see beauty and complexity in even the simplest of things outside in nature.
Upon first glance, Reminders on the Path seems to solely reference places outside of Turtle Island. Places where my ancestors walked, ate, slept and dreamt— Kutch, Gujarat or more recently in our history, Western Kenya. While it might be an understandable assumption, it would be an inaccurate one. The first poem in the collection, Ancestors, was written while I was standing in the middle of a trail in Tkaronto. It was the summer of 2017, and my friend Whitney French was facilitating one of her Tree Sessions, where we all met at Old Mill station and walked to Etienne Brulé Park (named after a French explorer, of course). While we walked and observed, I stopped to witness the sunlight illuminating the edges of a maple leaf. A few lines came to me, “I do not know the/names of these trees/though they have known/of me since birth”. I don’t know the myriad of Indigenous names for these plants, trees and flowers. The language I have to describe them, and the names I have been taught, are in English, the language of the colonizer. It made me reflect more deeply about the ways in which colonial language is a form of erasure, not only on the page, but on the land itself. As many of us can attest to, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to seek refuge in nature. And yet, when I went for walks during lockdown, I’d often see discarded masks caught in a tangle of bushes. What does this say about us, and our relationship to nature? It’s not the first time I’ve asked this question. There is one sandy trail I return to often, right in the heart of the York Regional Forest. One sunny March afternoon, I deliberately walked slower than my companions to take in the palpable shift of winter to spring. Combing the ground for signs of life, I noticed something glinting in the light. A foil wrapper. The poem, All we hear, speaks to this experience, “here lies the dirt of our disregard/you know/i know/when it thaws/nothing can be hidden” In Reminders on the Path, I strive to sit with place in the micro-moments of life. Places within us and outside of us, just within our reach. In the spirit of that relationship, the cover art itself is dominated by holly leaves from my garden. The book is divided into sections to mark stages on the path, and each section is preceded by an original drawing of flora observed on that stage. The last section has a pen sketch of a rock with a white clover growing beside it. When I was growing up in Scarborough, I’d find white clovers dotting my school playground, or the local park. I marvelled at them, finding the blush of their pinkish-white blooms magical, even though most people ignored them. Perhaps this is my deepest hope for my collection— that readers are encouraged to take a second look just outside their doorsteps, and witness the beauty and complexity in even the simplest of things.
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Sheniz Janmohamed is a poet and nature artist born and raised in Tkaronto with ancestral ties to Kenya, Kutch and Gujarat, India. Her work has been featured in venues across the world, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, The National Arts Centre and the Aga Khan Museum. An artist educator with over a decade of experience, Sheniz regularly visits schools and community organizations to teach and perform. She has three collections of poetry, published by Mawenzi House: Bleeding Light(2010), Firesmoke (2014) and most recently, Reminders on the Path (2021). Sheniz currently serves as Writer-in-Residence at University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.