Khaya Ronkainen and I have known each other for several years through WordPress. I’m not quite sure how we first encountered one another’s work, but I know that it was at least seven years ago. Khaya was also the third-place winner for the first Navigating the Change body-positivity contest. Her poetry has a way of settling into your bones and making you feel deeply.

SYNOPSIS (from the publisher):

The recent years have been violent to most of us, with one crisis after another. We all are dealing with grief. A collective and personal anguish for things and people dear to us, we’ve lost.

The Sheltering is a recounting of pandemic and political anxieties through verse. The book exists as a witness to the darkest times of our modern society. A collection of poems that centres on themes of loss, grief, resilience and healing. Sometimes a dare, and other times a plea, the author invites the reader to sit with their feelings in a world that wants us to heal fast and move on. Because we cannot heal what we do not acknowledge.

What I LOVE:

I love that, with this full-length collection, Khaya has acknowledged the collective trauma that we’ve experienced globally: the obvious pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and personal bouts with death. All of these are wrapped up in The Sheltering. Khaya begs us all to slow down, to feel our emotions, and to heal. However, healing cannot be completed in one sweeping motion, and this poetry collection shows that.

From her experience with her father-in-law’s death to her proximity to the death and destruction that the war in Ukraine has wrought, Khaya leaves no stone unturned. Other poems, such as “I Make My Own Beaver Moon” and “Arbitrary Numbers” are relatable for anyone who has lost their mother. Losing one’s mother is a special club that none can imagine, until one is a part of it, and Khaya perfectly expresses the grief of being motherless, no matter one’s age.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Khaya does well to insert humor. For example, her poem, “Faithful Encounters” outlines meeting Jehovah’s Witnesses. Khaya writes:

A committed couple stationed

at the central square has stopped asking

if I have time to talk about Jesus.

Instead, they take turns to let me know

He is coming. For once, I feel like saying,

“It’s about time!”

Finally, the mark of a good poet is that she is well aware of poetic conventions, and she knows when to use them and when to abandon them. Khaya is this poet. Her poem, “The Empty Chair” exemplifies this notion. It is a question-answer format, yet it reads like a poem:

Q. Are you still in touch with any of your childhood friends?

A. Hopes and dreams pulling us in different directions

Q. That wasn’t an answer, was it?

See what I mean? The poetess is skillful.


Poetry is not my preferred genre; however, there is nothing I dislike about this collection. It delivers what it promised.


This poetry collection is an ideal gift for anyone who has experienced grief of any kind and for those who require affirmation and comfort. Likewise, midlife is typically synonymous with grieving; oftentimes, we lose our parents; we lose our younger selves; we lose our sense of belonging. The Sheltering is a good summation of what it means to live with these emotions. I recommend it to all. In her own words, Ronkainen says, this book is written for “future generations.” She calls it an “archive. a love letter of sorts to the unborn, the young. to say this happened before” (p. 81). And I say, well done, Khaya. You’ve accomplished this goal.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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