Letters in a Bruised Cosmos

Letters in a Bruised Cosmos by Liz Howard

Letters in a Bruised Cosmos
Liz Howard
McClelland & Stewart, 2021


Review by Adrienne Adams


Liz Howard’s latest poetry collection, Letters in a Bruised Cosmos, contemplates science, silence, violence, grief, consent, and abuse through both Indigenous and Western cultural lenses. Howard explores resilience through language, its limits, and its possibilities for healing.


The CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) “cold spot” or “cosmic bruise” is believed by modern scientists to have been caused by the collision of our universes. “In Anishinaabe cosmology/ the constellation is known as Bagone’giizhig,/ The-Hole-In-The-Sky./ A portal between this world and spirit.” Howard uses bruising as a metaphor for personal violations and colonial trauma, calling out what has been wrought upon Indigenous people and lands.


A bruised cosmos is a result of colonial, ecological, psychological, and sexual trauma that Howard illuminates in her work. In “Brain Mapping,” Howard tracks the effects of intergenerational trauma and recovery, alongside her experiences being on the land, working in science, as a poet, and testifying in court: “I must pursue the future/ pulling dawn through/ the needle/ point of compass north.”


Exploring her father’s death and her lack of relationship with him, Howard repeatedly uses the Anishinaabe concepts of winter/north/snow as a place of rest or death: “This evening I looked up at the constellation/ Orion, Biboonikeonini, The Winter-Maker. /… Tuesday he will become ash.” Just before this, she infers that white snow “covers Halifax in a foot of lace,” a metaphor for Western Victorian morals and culture colonizing Indigenous lands and culture.


Howard writes,“Then I’m awake in the garage with my firstborn thought./ A thought that sublimates in a braid of snowflakes.” In just one line, Howard weaves poverty, the suppression of desire, the loss of language, and the cutting off of residential school children’s braids.


Howard also expresses frustration in her poems: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” all the while using it to superimpose meanings in feat after feat of linguistic athleticism. When she says “I know you know/ women too painted those novels/ in the caves of Lascaux,” she is calling out sexism in colonial and Indigenous cultures in ceremony, creation, rock art, and history.


Finally Howard says, “The desperation that exits me is not truth/ But surface. Can I spend the night? Can I/ spend the whole surface/ in one night?” Here, night is the spirit world and a place of rest. Finally, like the deafening silence of space, Howard’s last line, “the night I crossed out,” leaves us to contemplate the legacy of a bruised cosmos.