Land of the Sky


poems by Salimah Valiani

112 Pages
May 25, 2016

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Inspired by the Rocky Mountains, ‘Land of the Sky’, the last poem in this collection, is a means of using detail from various distances to reflect on the socio-political and the human that is all around us. At the essence of all the poems in the collection: to explore the land through the distance of the sky and understand that which seems so grounded as the sky as full of metaphor and near-unfathomable reflexes of histories. This collection is also a continuation of one of the projects of the previous poetry collection, Letter Out: Letter In: defining and redefining love as an alternative to solidarity, with the added twist of drawing alternatives to diversity and democracy from the multiplicity of nature.

“Land of the Sky delivers poetry that is moving, transporting, and transcendent. A citizen of the globe, Salimah Valiani has no time for the pedestrian and no room for the commonplace.  She recognizes that “things are similar and different simultaneously”: “What’s wrong with choosing the strange?”  In Land of the Sky, Valiani connects Canada, Tanzania, and Uganda; Ismaili, Ishnashari, and Buddhist; Anishnabek Cree, Chinese, and Luganda; Chez Rodin and Plante Bath; snow and savannah; astronomy that’s based on criminal justice forensics.  For Valiani, “The first crime is alienation,” and so she savours the world–exotic menus and mountain gorillas, public transit workers and women dancers–and each moment’s “eminence / decadence.”  This book is the result of the poet’s “fragmenting my life / into more new places.”  Why? “How many times can a heart be broken?”  The resolve? “it takes pain / to feel free.”

— George Elliott Clarke,  Parliamentary (Canadian) Poet Laureate (2016-2018)



Salimah Valiani is a poet, an activist and a researcher. She is the author of two collections of poetry – breathing for breadth (2005) and Letter Out: Letter In (2009). An Associate Researcher with the Centre for the Study of Learning, Social Economy and Work at the University of Toronto, she is also the author of Rethinking Unequal Exchange: The Global Integration of Nursing Labour Markets (2012). In June 2012, she was awarded the Feminist Economics Rhonda Williams Prize, an award recognizing feminist scholarship and activism in the spirit of the African American economist and activist, Rhonda Williams. Her poetry and essays have appeared in a number of Canadian journals and anthologies.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

To the park workers of Uganda

How to know

the road

Of the rainforest?


By the thickness

or thin-ness

of trees?

By the yellow mould

on stones

Orange mould on stones

Tawny-orange mould on tree trunks?

By the patches of nibbling ants?

surprise plots of wild apples

meandering blue flowers

By the creeping miniscule ferns

carefully examining the forest floor —



No matter the angle

I can’t capture

The depth

of this

Impenetrable forest


Can’t capture the amazing

profusion of trees


shrubs with flowers


vines – green and red





Can’t escape the shock of

sudden empty spaces

where sky breathes light into

the midsts

Can’t fathom the relief

of the many shades of green-yellow

spicing branches and rays.



When I ask

in the forest

on the mountain

(or in the savannah)

What is this/

What is that?

What I am asking

And what you give

along with the name

Is the story used by humans (from ancestral times to present)

To try and understand what is essentially






In this name-giving

Through this sharing

one vulnerable human being to another

Travelling together a rainforest in search of engaj1


(mountain gorilla)3


of the Rushengura Group

We arrive at a place

where a cousin-being sits

back against tree

peeling layers of bamboo

tasting the crunchy tears inside

where a cousin-being gropes a trunk

climbing up and away

for a sigh of solitude

where a small engaj lifts a smaller engaj

and moves away from what is feared


We arrive at a place






lose meaning

And what remains

What exists

Is the depth of the here and now

(now hunger)

now joy of quenching

now solitude

now fear—

So long as we are able

to peel and peel-away

So long as we are willing

to sink ourselves inside the moment.


1The Rukiga word used to refer to the large dark mammals of the Bwindi forest. Rukiga is the language of the locale in which the mountain gorilla live.

2The Luganda word used to refer to the large dark mammals of the Bwindi forest. Luganda is a widely-spoken language in Uganda.

3English word used to refer to the large dark mammals of the Bwindi forest. English is another widely-spoken language in Uganda.

1 review for Land of the Sky

  1. inannaadmin

    Land of the Sky by Salimah Valiani
    reviewed by Candice James
    Canadian Poetry Review – October 9, 2016

    At a distance and up close in the mind and psyche of the animate and inanimate, these poems resonate with many frequencies and moods bringing the reader to full attention and then lulling one into the relaxed atmosphere of daydream. SalimahValiani has the wherewithal and verve to spin the reader every which way but loose. There simply is “no putting this book down” once you’ve begun the journey into “Land of the Sky”

    The poem “Sculpt Me” is a journey into the reshaping and ‘fine-tuning’ of the soul:

    “Escape me form myself and meld me into the bigness of sound”
    “sift-sifting of chald and sawdust with rubber souls carrying body weight/
    ANO “Chords in fingers on keys in wood and wind”

    The first to lines of “Wien 2012” sum up who Salimah Valiani really is … A born poet.

    “You drink wine / I drink poetry”

    All the poems are very thought provoking and although it is very hard to choose only one as a favourite, I have done so. My favourite poem in this great collection of poetry is “Poetry or Gold”

    “The eye looking straight into the heart”
    / gold to reproduce alluring words one time events the self
    / poetry to re-envision the history of the species

    Poets who dedicate their lives to poetry have chosen poetry over gold whether consciously or subconsciously. Poetry is a calling and usually not a very profitable one; so goes the old saying that no matter how good a poet you are …. “Don’t quit your day job” if you want to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.

    Bombastic lines resonate in “From the Memorial of a Storyteller” to illuminate and shine the light of reasoning onto one’s past foibles:

    “…Believe it or not our drinking is part of the journey
    / we must make to find where we are going”

    The last poem in the book is the title poem and it breathtakingly reflects the beauty, magnificence and longevity of the Rocky Mountains: “The Land of the Sky”.

    “The weight of the Rockies / 4,000 year old goddess / stones of the earth/”
    “nights like this / your paintbrush strokes / white light / rugged/ on dark-grey-blue”
    “your tawny brown patches / are your many etched faces / one of the many that are one”

    The descriptions and moods of this, the last poem in the book, make one want to go back to the beginning and read the book, yet again.

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