spoken poem shane koyczan

Tomatoes by Shane Koyczan

People always ask me,

“How do you memorize all of that?”

And the truth is, the first girl I ever kissed tasted like tomatoes.

I know this because the second girl I ever kissed tasted like pepper.

It wasn’t unpleasant…

I was just expecting tomatoes.

When I was a kid I was fascinated by space

And I learned that time slows near a black hole

Inside a black hole time stops altogether.

Whether or not this theory will ever be proved,

I’m moved to believe that this would be the perfect place to love someone.

In grade 4 my gym teacher gave me the nickname “half-ton”. It was a name that stuck.

I remember it because it was the first time I ever told someone “Go fuck yourself!”

And meant it.

He quit calling me the name after he called my house trying to get me in trouble for what i’d said,

To which my grandmother replied…

“Mr. Shithead, I told him to say it.”

I remember my grandfather’s blue tool kit where he hid a secret stash of raisins.

I recall thinking, “My granddad has the worst taste in candy.”

But he did teach me how to tie a tie.

My first opportunity to apply this knowledge was my first date,

A seventh grade classmate,

Who showed up wearing acid washed jeans and a Def Leppard tshirt.

I wore a suit and tie.

When she asked why I was all dressed up I had to think quickly, so I told her,

“My other clothes smell funny.”

I’m not saying it ended badly, but she wound up leaving me for a boy who could make farting noises with his armpit.

I’m forced to admit he was pretty cool.

My fourth grade teacher had a rule about speaking out of turn

Failure to learn and practice this lesson would result in having to sit outside.

I know this because I tried it once.

When she finally came out to check on me, she asked

“What was so important that it couldn’t wait?”

Knowing that it’s rude to point, but needing to illustrate my position,

I gestured to her chest and said

“Your boob is hanging out.”

She quickly covered up and corrected me.


She was a good teacher.

When I was twelve, I was given an academic diagnostics test. Later the instructor informed me I had an aptitude for history.

He looked puzzled when I replied,

“Yeah, but that was yesterday. Today, I’m more interested in tomorrow.”

I remember it because the next day I asked a girl if I could borrow a pen.

When I offered it back she said

“You should write me a letter with it first.”

So I did.

I wrote her a note which the teacher then intercepted and read to the class.

It was something we’d learned in science that day

About the way gravity affects mass and weight

In relation to how quickly something will fall.


A crumpled ball of paper will fall at the same speed as a boulder of granite.

It doesn’t matter how much something weighs, it stays the same until you consider surface area and resistance, at which point the persistence of gravity loses force.


Crumple a piece of paper into a ball

It will fall faster than a loose sheet.

They are both composed of the same mass and weight so you’d think that the rate of velocity measured with the force of gravity would cause each to fall at the same speed.

But that’s when you need to consider that the greater surface area of the loose sheet adds resistance

So the crumpled ball will fall quickly but the loose sheet will slowly float.

I wrote a note

Explaining that when two people are falling for each other, they do so at the same speed.

There’s no need to factor in the physics explanations

Or something we can make no use of.

Einstein said:

“Gravity won’t be held responsible for people falling in love.”

I wrote her a note

Telling her:

“If I fall in love with you,

No one will ever be able to explain it.

And I think that’s beautiful.”

Despite the class laughing, she did as well,

Which is how I can tell you that I then knew and now still know

She tasted like tomatoes.

I don’t remember the way every song goes

I can’t recall every person I’ve met

I get names mixed up all the time

I’m terrible with birthdays

But I remember all the ways people have affected me,

How our stories became memories

And if you were brazen enough to make one with me

Then you’re in there somewhere.

Maybe it was a truth or dare kiss

Or a simple act of kindness

One that reminded me to remember this moment and mark it as a memory, so we would both have it to look back on.

From this life, I’ve drawn conclusions so big they can’t fit into the tiny comic book boxes

Because I don’t want to risk losing the detail

Just so I can make the story fit.

It’s not a trick.

I remember how things felt

Which in turn makes me remember how things happened.

Like my first attempt at skateboarding, where I received a down to the bone skinned knee.

I remember a tree that looked like a man with huge arms to hold up the sky.

I used to try to climb it to the very top

Until one day I couldn’t get down.

I remember the man with the brown car.

Tried to convince me he was sent to pick me up by my mom.

Number one, I lived with my grandparents.

Number two, he didn’t know the safety word.

I recall when it finally occurred to me,

I’m pretty fantastic.

It’s not magic, I remember because I make comparisons.

Not in terms of better or worse,

Just different.

And not all of these memories are great

But they’re mine

Which lends way to believe that none of our lives are put together on an assembly line

We’re not pre-packaged with memories or programmed with stories

We have to make our own.

And they all come “batteries not included”

And with the endless opportunities presented to us daily

Seldom do we take the time necessary to pause

To stop

To record


And press play.

 In our own way, we are all ghetto blasters at top volume,

We consume silence with noise

Speakers pounding out our heartbeats as we write refund receipts for the broken eardrums of people who could hear us live.

We give up ourselves’ time.

Precious, because its quality is limited only by your ability to live within it.

Put yourself into every second of every minute

And you will have a life worth remembering.

Just because we don’t have forever doesn’t mean we have to live our lives moving towards the end as if on a conveyor belt.

I’ve felt nothing short of astonished when people ask me

“How do you memorize all of that?”

The fact of the matter is

It’s not a trick.

There is no thick curtain you need to pull away.

No little old man making it all work from behind a locked door.

You yourself probably remember before when I told you that near a black hole, time slows.

Inside a black hole is where I wanted to grow tomatoes.

The failing use of my right hand isn’t actually the failing use of my right hand, it’s just another way to tell the time. And I’m ticking. So I’ve been picking myself up at bars with a bottle in each hand, but I never give myself any play. I just make plans with myself for the day after next. By the time the sun swings back around into position I forget the context of why I asked myself out in the first place. Did I think I was going to score?

I let a stranger pour me one more. She says,” my name is Sara”. Doesn’t take much more than that to start a relationship. My darling Sara cleans rooms for a living, giving her youth and beauty to dirt and dust. Understands more than most that family must be the foot you put forward first, you must weather the worst together. But, having never met her family, she places love above all else, then protests that I use the word love too freely in poems, and I should really just say what I mean. And I suppose what I mean most is that; I’m trying.

She’s been buying me time on a maxed out credit card, arms scarred from selling her own blood to pay down the debt. Tells me she doesn’t mind going broke so long as I can give her a little sweat. She says, “try”. So I do my best impression of a pen, and when every problem looks like a page I commit ink to paper. And the worth of the words that come out determines my wage. I’ve been making enough to pay her the compliment of not quitting, of not sitting when standing is required.

She only asks that I put the effort in, and in return she’s willing to pin a paper heart to her chest, then do her best impression of a target. She says that effort is the Siamese twin of success. So when everyone else looks like a wrong answer, she says she’ll settle for being my best guess. So we lie in bed like a mess that someone’s been meaning to clean for the large part of a long while. We lie there like a pile of dirty laundry, and how we’ll ever come clean is beyond me. So we don’t. She says, “it’s supposed to be dirty, and if by the end you haven’t hurt me then you didn’t try”.

So I do my best impression of a surgeon, going in, cutting purple hearts out of my own, use my veins like thread. Then have hurt sewn to our skin like medals, because when the bleeding stops, and that dust settles, all we have are our wounds to wear like decorations upon our chest. Sara does her best impression of a war, tells me not to count my pride among the casualties because maybe faith means never keeping score. She says there’s more to effort than just switching gears, and in terms of what one should give in this life sweat holds more value than tears.

You have to try, and even though the failing use of my right hand means I’ll never land a knockout punch in the first round, life is composed of sound and fury, and whatever noise is left in me will be twice as loud when I try. So I plug myself into the idea of going the distance and I amplify.

My darling, Sara has a throat like a vase that sings her words into bloom. She’s got a voice like perfume. It’s been sticking to my clothes, so everyone knows where I’ve been sleeping. She’s been keeping me so close you could use my body for evidence; pull her fingerprints as proof that she’s been on top so often she’s starting to look like my roof. But a real sexy roof, and she doesn’t leak, unless you count the crying. She does that sometimes, worries that she’s just a back up plan.

My darling, Sara, I’ve lived long enough to learn too many choices can destroy a man. I will make no exodus. I’ll be around long enough to watch uncertainty bid us farewell, then echo our names into the crater caused by the impact of when our lack of conviction fell. You’ve never had to sell me on the idea of absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of another.

The first and only time you met my mother, mom said, “I like the way she looks at you”. And I echoed back to her that I liked it too. Eyes like recycle bin blue. Sara looks at broken things as if she can make them new, and more than a few times I’ve caught her staring. Caught her wearing a smile reserved for those busy making plans. Sara believes that distance is a fundamental that can be side-stepped by a piece of string and two tin cans, and I remember when my tin can rang.

They said, “there’s no family to speak of so love is next in line, and there’s not a lot of time, but she’s asking for her boyfriend.”

In the cab to the hospital I feel my heart bend as if bracing for impact. So I do my best impression of a man and face fact. It’s supposed to hurt. A doctor does his best impression of the truth, and spares me attempts to skirt around the issue. They can’t stop the bleeding, and the failing use of Sara’s heart isn’t actually the failing use of Sara’s heart, it’s just another way to tell the time. My darling, Sara, I was holding your hand when you died, and even though the failing use of my right hand prevented me from feeling you leave, I tried.

—  My Darling Sara, Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long
How I Learned To Smile by Shane Koyczan

I shout my anger into a corner so it can count to one hundred

And ready or not

Go looking for its reason.

There has to be more to the why

Than just why not.

There has got to be a better answer than because

Because why?

Temper, temper

I used to scratch ransom notes into my skin as if I somehow kidnapped me from myself

And waited to be beautiful

So I could pay unmarked compliments to the parts of me

That needed to believe I am worth something.

I was not like the other kids who practiced smiling on pieces of kindness

The same way they practiced kissing on pieces of fruit.

I fought the urge to sharpen my laugh on the pain of others and learned to breathe

As if training my will to operate the heavy machinery of my lungs.

Temper, temper 

I buried rage as if planting fields of revenge that would one day need harvesting,

Watched the ground bleed finish lines toward me as if begging me to be done with this.

I carried a prison in my veins that I prayed would one day riot.

My body was an office building my blood cells were workers who hated their jobs.

I often wished there was a fire alarm inside me that I could pull,

I could send all of them rushing outside to rest in the glowing reprieve of an inferno…

but I never did.

This is how I learned to smile:

By refusing the seduction,

The easiness;

By sitting at their deathbeds fetching glasses of water to loosen the reasons from their dry throats.

I learned to smile at the funeral of each individual fury

It is not enough to bury what hurts us;

We must eulogize it.

Lay flowers upon the headstone and remember that we once quested to understand it

We smile when we satisfy ourselves with knowing why

Or haunt ourselves with never knowing.

Favorite Spoken Word Poems

Depression and Teach Me - Rachel Rensby

To This Day - Shane Koyczan

The Wish Poem and The Beautiful Poem - Emilee Nimetz

One Color - Neil Hilborn and Renee Schminkey *

OCD - Neil Hilborn


Dear Straight People - Denice Frohman

Boyfriend Material - Simone Stolzoff

Shrinking Women - Lily Myers *

For Nikii -  Renee Schminkey

Pine City - Renee Schminkey

There’s probably a million more, but here’s some of them.

*trigger warning

And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror, look a little closer, stare a little longer. Because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit.
—  To This Day Project by Shane Koyczan

If I knew what I know now then, way back when we first met,
I’d point to the sunset and say,
I drew that for you. Every now and then you can catch it wrinkling in the rain.
See I can talk a good game from the stage,
but if you want to gauge a romantic thing said when we were messing up the bed the best I can give you is,
“Oh my God we’re totally humping.”
Regardless, there’s something beautiful about stating the obvious.
All of us do it. In the moments when we can’t believe it, we have to say it.
It’s like pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake.

Take, for example, something as simple as touching someone.
We so often say, “You’re so soft.”
And the last person to touch them may have said it for the twenty-eighth time but today, I’m number twenty-nine
and I’m not saying it for her benefit, I’m saying it for mine.
Because there’s almost 7 billion people in the world, half of which are men, and when the number of them is 3.5 billion,
it’s pretty fuckin’ cool that I was number twenty-nine.
And once upon a time I was first in line for a girl with freckles and strawberry blonde hair.
We loved like an electric chair hooked up to a nuclear power plant and plugged into the sun, and everything we did had never been done.
I woke up the next morning with a smile that told the world, “I’m number one.”

I think of her, more often than sometimes, and if she ever hears this I want her to know that our first kiss tasted like pepper.
I met her on June 27th. That year it was Yellowknife’s first day of continual light and, despite the sun not setting that night,
we each went home alone, even though our parents told us, “Be home before dark.”
We could’ve stayed out for weeks, could’ve watched the way the sun leaks like liquid over the horizon, casting shadows over all the right places of a bargain bin where love was 75% off, and we were collectively 25¢ away from forever.

There are times in the North when the sun never sets.
And it gets confusing when we ask ourselves questions like,
“Is it too late, or too early?”
More often than sometimes we didn’t care.
We lived like two games of solitaire waiting to be played by one another.
Her mother once asked me, “Do you love her?”
And I said if there were 1 million teachers breathing down my neck telling me that the answer is no, I would say yes.
I guess that was enough for her, because that girl’s father palmed me a condom and wished me a happy birthday.
Even now there’s no way to tell, was that awkward or creepy?

We loved like two hit-men hellbent on assassinating regret.
Her orgasm was a wet gremlin multiplying itself into another.
Her younger brother knocked on the bedroom door asking, “What are you guys doing in there?”
And somewhere amid the awesome and the amazing, we replied in unison, “Studying.”
And technically we were.
I wrote notes on her skin in flesh toned permanent ink that would sink and sit inside as I tried to underline the important parts of her: bellybutton, birthmark, collarbone.
And I wrote notes explaining that hers felt like silk stretched over stone.
I told her, “You’re so soft.” She smiled and said, “Duh.” followed by, “My bellybutton is not an erogenous zone.”
And I said, “I hate that word,” and she asked, “Which one?” and I said, “Erogenous.” I told her, “There’s beauty in the obvious, and your bellybutton is where you started, it’s where cells divided and grew into you so let me do what students do best, you can test me later but right now let me study.” She smiled and said, “You’re lucky this is a take home test, boy.”

I think of the beauty in the obvious, the way it forces us to admit how it exists, the way it insists on being pointed out like a bloody nose, or how every time it snows there is always someone around to say, “It’s snowing.”
But the obvious isn’t showing off, it’s only reminding us that time passes, and that somewhere along the way we grow up.
Not perfect, but up and out.
It teaches us something about time, that we are all ticking and tocking, walking the fine line between days and weeks as if each second speaks of years and each month has years listening to forever but never hearing anything beyond centuries swallowed up by millenniums, as if time was calculating the sums needed to fill the empty belly of eternity.
We so seldom understand each other.
But if understanding is neither here nor there, and the universe is infinite, then understand that no matter where we go we will always be smack dab in the middle of nowhere. All we can do is share some piece of ourselves, and hope that it’s remembered.
Hope that we meant something to someone.

My chest is a cannon that I have used to take aim and shoot my heart upon this world.
I love the way an uncurled fist becomes a hand again, because when I take notes, I need it to underline the important parts of you:
happy, sad, lovely.
Battle cry ballistic like a disaster or a lipstick earthquaking and taking out the monuments of all my hollow yesterdays.
We’ll always have the obvious.
It reminds us who and where we are, it lives like a heart shape, like a jar that we hand to others and ask, “Can you open this for me?”
We always get the same answer: “Not without breaking it.”
More often than sometimes, I say go for it.


Shane Koyczan, More Often Than Sometimes

Listen to the poem here

Where by Shane Koyczan

The world’s first doctor was a mother.

Who diagnosed her patients asking the question,

“Can you show me where it hurts?”

And we staged sold-out concerts singing our pain as if the melody itself could explain the cure

Medicine’s first prescription was a kiss.

This is still practiced today.

Practiced on the scrapes of children who play just a little too hard,

Once-broken skin now scarred and worn as a medal of bravery

We paid our hospital bills with our hearts;

Our medical charts read like apologies: please accept these simple words as payment.

But we did not yet know the words ‘I love you’

Our first attempt was an invention, it sounded a lot like,

'Thank you’.

The heart became a metaphor.

If our body said enough, our hearts roared 'more’.

The heart became the core of our spirit, the seat of our emotion,

Currents and undertows of passion swelling within an ocean of feeling

We cast out our dreams and begin reeling in our desires;

Our heartstrings were wires trolling for love

I’ve known those who wear their heart like a boxing glove, ready to knock out each next contender

To render them weak-kneed and falling

Corners calling for timeouts as each fan rises to their feet and shouts

'Get up’.


But what happens when there’s no fight left?

When the heart is bereft of the will it takes to continue beating,

When the beats begin cheating, skipping like a bro-broken record, like a bro-bro skipping like-like a bro-broken re-record ski-skipping l-like a b-broken re-rec-record like a broken record.

And the volume falls from a yell to a whisper, a murmur.

Each beat less sure than the last; each silence a vast expanse where echoes hold no lease

Where rhythms police themselves, arresting the unfamiliar as if they were the usual suspects

How man times did love become subtext to stories that started with the question,

'Can you show me where it hurts’?

And how many times did we point to bruises or skinned knees

How many times did we beg please, please make it better.

This poem is brought to you by the question why.

Why is 'where’ a less important question?

Where does it hurt?

Why have we been stacking how upon how, like now when we’ve asked how many mothers?

How many aunts and sisters

How many daughters and cousins

How many grandmothers?

How many others hold their hearts and their throats, choking on last goodbyes and not knowing what to say?

How many fathers pray for hope?

How many sons cannot comfort brothers who cannot cope with the loss of those who give them life?

How many husbands will lose a wife this year?

How many?

It is not a number we wish to know.

We throw our love at death, hoping that through an act of sheer will we can make it not true.

I’ve known men willing to do anything just for a chance to bring you a tomorrow.

Boys would gladly borrow false hope if it meant that just for a moment they could believe everything will be okay.

Uncles who stay at the bedside of nieces,

Mothers who collect the pieces of their daughters’ broken hearts,

And build cathedrals of stained glass, begging light to pass through this moment to keep the shadows at bay for just a few seconds longer.

I have witnessed no heart stronger than those that weeped openly at the altars of love, family, and friendship.

We grip at our hearts not out of sympathy, not out of pity or charity. We grip at our chests because this is where we care from.

Each heart is a drum beating from underneath the concert hall of skin and bone, and as one lone drum sets for us the tempo, all of us echo in harmony.

We grip at our chests and sound off like a symphony of red alerts

It is a show of solidarity.

This is where it hurts.


The fool loves completely.

He stands with arms wide open, hoping to give away hugs for free.

He does not consider this work, he believes this is necessary.

Believes someone has to put a positive spin on the term arms dealer.

So he gives out hugs for free.

Keep reading


To This Day Project -  Shane Koyczan

Watch on theamberskies.tumblr.com

Instructions For A Bad Day - Shane Koyczan.

In my personal opinion, this spoken word poem is one of the most important things I’ve ever listened to and I wish I could scream about it’s existence from the rooftops.

Send this to someone having a bad day.

Send this to someone having a good day.

Send this to a friend.

A family member.

A classmate, a teacher, a coworker, your local mail carrier, anyone.

Sit down without a distraction and just listen.

Just listen.


Instructions for a Bad Day by Shane Koyczan