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On Reading a Book

By Chelene Knight
Jun. 30, 2023
How-to Cite

the portraits, watch you faceless flutter down—
a hundred-year-old snow dusts the ground.
This is our only blessing: bury you in the yard, sing
as I fingernail our forgetting into the bone clay 
—”Dear Ghosts, I pick the list,” Midden by Julia Bouwsma 

You find me here, worn and windtorn 
winter magnets you to every corner of me 
and I wait as you thumb each one of my spines, 
and pull my body into your hands 
hoping to bring back a memory lost in some other space 
you read me all the beginnings of love, spiraling 
into my chest a place to hide 
the portraits, watch you faceless flutter down—

we build a home here under the endnotes 
inside the prologue we weather this chilled wind 
your fingertips, insignificant. 
We hold space as I alter your language, 
sliver your understanding, expand your tongue 
(you know so much more than yesterday) 
and you hide it so no one can take our joy 
slow, quiet, tentative— 
you wrap your eyes around me as 
a hundred-year-old snow dusts the ground 

you tell me that a book can be a love letter, 
standing there waiting to be pulled 
from crown moldings, pot lights, oak floors. 
You speak of me like we will grow in this garden, even when waiting 
for someone to paint the sun across your back 
I remember how to celebrate in your head as I rumble
notes about people, places, and forgotten histories 
clogging your insides, clipping your waning half moon
heart as we try to bring back the sweet melodies 
This is our only blessing: bury you in the yard, sing 

as loudly as you want to, dream— 
watch your breathing shift as you turn pages and 
worry about the last book you’ll ever read, what
the weather will be like when you hold it— hold
me … for the last time 
we wither under false beginnings 
of a snowstorm, a wind whistles your memories
adrift into whispers and we can’t stop 
from seeding, from growing 
as I fingernail our forgetting into the bone clay




Gallery

A shelf holding "That Time I loved You" by Carianne Leung, "brown girl dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson, "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, "Native Son" by Richard Wright, "Saint Monkey" by Jacinda Townsend, "Brother " by David Chariandy, "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong, "At the Full and Change of the Moon" by Dionne Brand, "Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn, "Black Girls Must Die Exhausted" by Jayne Allen, "Swing Time" by Zadie Smith, "Sodom Road Exit" by Amber Dawn, and "Go Tell It On the Mountain" by James Baldwin.
A shelf of nonfiction works by authors including Cynthia Cruz, Alicia Elliott, James Baldwin, and Roxane Gay.
Some of Knight's books of poetry, by poets including Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Hasan Namir, and George Elliott Clarke.
More books of primarily nonfiction, by Maggie Nelson, Han Kang, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Carmen Maria Machado, Jordan Abel, Tanya Evanson, and others.
A shelf of poetry with collections by Dionne Brand, Anne Sexton, Aislinn Hunter, and others.

How-to-Cite

MLA

Knight, Chelene. “On Reading a Book .” Shelf Portraits, 30 June, 2023, richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/on-reading-a-book. Accessed 24 February, 2024.

APA

Knight, Chelene. (2023, June 30). On Reading a Book . Shelf Portraits. https://richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/on-reading-a-book

Chicago

Knight, C. “On Reading a Book .” Shelf Portraits, 30 June, 2023, https://richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/on-reading-a-book.

Chelene Knight

Chelene Knight is the author of Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and long-listed for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail, the Walrus, and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Award. Her poem, “Welwitschia” won the 2020 CV2 Editor’s Choice award. She was shortlisted for PRISM’s 2021 short forms contest. Chelene’s novel Junie (Book*hug 2022) was longlisted for the Inaugural Carol Shield Prize for fiction and is a finalist for the 2023 Ferro-Grumley Prize for LGBTQ fiction.

Chelene’s latest book of narrative nonfiction Let It Go is forthcoming with HarperCollins Canada in 2024.

Knight was the previous managing editor at Room magazine, and the previous festival director for the Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She has also worked as a professor of poetry at the University of Toronto. Chelene is now founder of her own literary studio, Breathing Space Creative through which she’s launched The Forever Writers Club, a membership for writers focused on creative sustainability, and the Thrive Coaching Program.
www.breathingspacecreative.com