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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fishtailing Phillips, Wendy Jean 2005

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FISHT AILING  by WENDY JEAN PHILLIPS B.Journalism, Carleton University, 1984 P.DP. Simon Fraser University, 1993  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in  THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Children's Literature)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA November 2005 © W e n d y Jean Phillips, 2005  Abstract Fishtailing, by Wendy Phillips  Fishtailing is a young adult narrative in free verse poetry in six voices. Set in Vancouver, B.C., it is the story of four teens who navigate the complexity of modern high school as well as their own inner mysteries. Against the backdrop of a high school season and a poetry unit in English class, the four are caught in a web of past torments, present conflicts and future dreams. When their interaction touches secrets, the explosion of passion and violence transforms them all. When Natalie arrives at the school, she causes ripples in the smooth surface of the high school. A troubled soul with self-destructive habits, Natalie attaches herself to Tricia. Tricia is alienated from her newly reconstructed, allwhite family, and her habitual compliance is wearing thin. Tricia's need to be chosen makes her vulnerable to Natalie's influence, and her changing image makes her at the same time more confident and more fragile. Kyle is a talented mechanic and reluctant poet who learns that words help him not only connect with Tricia, the girl he can't stop thinking about, but also discover his own voice. Kyle's science partner, and Natalie's other target is Miguel, a traumatized refugee from a civil war in Central America. The loss of his parents leaves Miguel withdrawn and isolated in the hustle of a modern multicultural Canadian high school. At home, his uncle and cousin support the armed struggle, while he struggles with his own reactions to the violence. At school, Miguel is drawn out of his isolation into the mainstream of the school social scene, and into tragedy. The four play out their fragmented roles, interconnected by their passions and their misunderstandings, and observed by their detached poetry teacher and compassionate but ineffectual counsellor. As the web of events rises to a climax, Natalie's dark secrets and Miguel's deep, unresolved grief leave them broken; for Kyle and Tricia, however, transformation leads to hope.  ii  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  This thesis is submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Children's Literaturew offered by the University of British Columbia's multidisciplinary Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program. This program is offered jointly by the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, the Department of English, the Department of Language and Literacy Education, and the Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing. Thank you to my thesis supervisor, Alison Acheson, and members of my thesis committee, Alison Acheson, Judith Saltman and Rhea Tregebov, and to my students, past and present, who have taught me new ways to encounter poetry. Thank you also to my family, who listen.  iii  Contents  Abstract Dedication Contents  ii iii iv  Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4  1 44 73 115  Works Cited  155  iv  One  Tricia H e r glance across the crowded classroom speaks louder t h a n the d r o n i n g recital of paragraph structure. / know you it says You are mine S o m e t h i n g inside shifts.  1  Miguel  In dreams I swim through underwater hallways slapping my head against the lockers fighting the current down the staircase, fishtailing forward. They watch me school eyes do not blink my scales shine sleek slippery. I awake mouth open fins morphing into fingers  to: Margaret Farr from: Janice Nishi subject: Natalie Anderson Natalie Anderson (student number 062372) has been enrolled in your English class. She comes to us from a district secondary school where she had some difficulty with peer relationships. Please make her welcome and keep me informed of any difficulties.  3  Natalie  Pirst hay  at tl?e new school I can tell it will be easy like scooting fislp in a barrel.  Birthday They're wrapped up lyere in neat packages bow on top a little girl's birthday present. I'm crashing this party like always A mark on my forehead warns parents off but draws innocents like kjds to a clown. Behind my make-up a long-fanged hook-clawed monster.  Natalie Anderson  Mrs. Farr You have an admirable grasp of sentence structure and a rich vocabulary. However, your images are disturbingly violent. Perhaps you can find more optimistic diction to flavour your poetry. We can all use optimism.  6  Tricia I know my mother loved my fath er once and Jason is a carefully friendly stepfather hut the m i r r o r  shows my mother's round eyes, my father's black straight hair. I wonder why she couldn't choose someone a little less white.  Kyle She doesn't know I'm here. Her hair from the back is like my mom's black velvet dress shiny shiny hand wants to stroke it. Grease under my fingernails keeps them tapping the surface of my desk.  Miguel Voices here in fast English talk of things I don't know. I know the burn of hot sun and blue water the length of my father's back in the b o w the hum of my village at night. My hands know h o w to paddle against an incoming tide gut a fish assemble and shoot a mobile rocket launcher.  Natalie M u m sofo another house today. she's passeb out on the couch crablma  her wine QUSS. M a c a r o n i for supper aaam.  extra cheese throw it all up later. M u m ' s snores  f-foat down the hall to the tv room. Jay Leno fosses me goodnight.  Miguel In biology class while the class recoils I dissect a perch, pin back its scaly skin, expose its vital organs.  Kyle My lab partner may not talk much but his fingers know one end of the scalpel from another.  12  Tricia S t a n d i n g beside ker i n the caf line u p m y flowered sweater wilts. H e r slouch, just so black l i n e d eyes leather over belly r i n g --something lithe i n the line of her elbow— her hands clutch fries a n d gravy. I look at m y veggie wedges. She cocks an eyebrow, leans, shrugs. Easy come, easy go.  13  Natalie In English it's si(ent  writing time. Dust motes dance  abo^e t^e earphones of the quiet guy tapping his fingers shine a halo around the dark hair clenched jaw of tJoe guy behind. H e looks backHis eyelids close and open close again.  14  Feelings poem Black, black, black is the colour of my true love's hair. Her lips are something roses fair, The purest eyes and the neatest hands. I love the ground on where she stands. I know my love and well she knows. I love the grass on where she goes. I f she on earth no more I see My life will quickly fade away. Black is the colour O f my true love's hair. Kyle  15  Mrs. Farr I am glad to see you are reading poetry, young man. However, "Black is the Colour" is a traditional Scottish and then Appalachian folk tune. Presenting it as your own constitutes plagiarism. Please rewrite and see me.  16  Miguel The new girl has a look that cuts right through the scales to my c o l d fish heart. I read Pablo Neruda at night under the blankets Into the night of the heart your name drops slowly and moves in silence and falls and breaks and spreads its water. * Nata Natalie Natalia Sounds like music  * S l o w L a m e n t " b y P a b l o N e r u d a , trans. D o n a l d D. W a l s h  17  Kyle Nights at my dad's garage I tinker with a timing chain.  You got good hands,  kid,  my dad says. The car is f o r Tricia's stepdad. When he drops her at school she shoos him o f f with a wave blows kisses at her little sister in the back seat. I tighten the bolts, take extra care to make it purr.  Tricia School-issue g y m shorts sit cocky o n her hips, not h u n c h e d i n t-shirt l u m p s like mine. H e r s l i m legs flash w h e n she walks the h e m brushes a r i n g of cuts a r o u n d her golden thighs  I ask she hits me w i t h her l i g h t n i n g eye. Cat, she says. R u n n i n g g y m laps we keep pace. T h e other girls watch f r o m a distance. I a m chosen.  19  Feelings poem - rewrite A regular guy lived in Vancouver city  He liked a girl. She was pretty. He thought to kiss her would be real fine. He wrote her a poem. It's bad. It's mine. kyle  20  Kyle That black haired poem is what I mean, not this nursery rhyme crap. My motorcycle f i t s together neat and smooth bolts and casings pistons and pushrods everything in place. Words just lie on the page no schematics, no fuel lines no chassis. A poem is a bucket of bolts.  Feelings Poem When the aid worker pulled him out from under the bed long after the guns had stopped he held his breath over and over in the silence. Vamenos, she said covered his eyes on the way out of the house but from under her fingers he could see a leg splatters of blood his mother's kerchief. In the street bits of flesh stuck to the walls crushed heads lay in sticky red puddles their bodies swollen crumpled full of bleeding holes. Shhh, she said. TCi eres seguro You're safe. From Canada it felt like a dream or a poem a string of fear full moments tucked deep in his memory chest.  by Miguel  Mrs. Farr Your narrative line of the Central American village massacre rings w i t h authenticity and verisimilitude. It is a dreadful chapter in that region's history, and an individual tragedy for anyone involved i n it. If this is your experience, my sympathies are w i t h you. In your poem, however, you dwell on blood and carnage excessively. Perhaps an uplifting moment of redemption is i n order for the protagonist. Y o u might also reconsider your point of view.  23  to: Janice Nishi from: Margaret Farr subject: Miguel I am concerned about the violence in Miguel's poetry. Is there something I should know about behavioural anomalies that might affect the class's (or my own) safety?  24  to: Margaret Farr from: Janice Nishi subject: Re (I): Miguel  Miguel's traumatic experience has manifested itself only in withdrawal and periods of selective mutism. There is no suggestion he poses a risk to anyone but himself. Please keep me informed of any further concerns.  25  Tricia B l a c k heavy hoots heat u p m y feet. T i g h t r i p p e d tee shirt digs i n t o m y armpits. N a t a l i e says I'll get used to i t .  Natalie A scar cuts across his bark hand, clenched on tl)e desk, a light flickers in his still brown eyes. Prom the shift in his posture when I enter t^e room the shake of his floppy hair I know a tug on the line. He's been caught before and will require careful playing. Tonight I prepare bait hunch on the edge of the bathtub paint toenails with glitter shave calves silky with the razor blade make careful, measured slices around my thigh high enough to hide under gym shorts deep enough to let the hurt out I strode t^e tender blue sfen of my wrist. In my last school, others told me, across is for help down is for goodbye. Prom t^e mirror she watches me eyes narrowed. Not today, she says. Too many fisf in t(?e sea.  27  Kyle  Last week my fingers burned to stroke the length of her smooth hair. I t pulled me like a magnetic charge. Now it's clipped short like feathers and my fingers still burn. In the library I watch her, memorize the angle of golden cheekbone see her mum's eyes her dad's skin the best of both distilled in her face. Her eyes skim over me like tires over pavement make me hum.  Tricia The librarian tell us we're here to distill the truth from its many representations. I open the encyclopedia to Rial, glaze over. It's not that I don't love Emily. She's two, curly, cute, and she needs them. hut they hardly even noticed when I cut my hair. At the next tahle Kyle opens and closes his hands looks up from his hook. I can tell he noticed.  Natalie  sleep flashes through the dark eddies of the night escapes me. My pillow hot my feet cold. I n front of the gas fire I suck on touacco smo^e, through squinted e$es watch logs that never burn. I see ^is hair in the curled tendrils of flame. Today I stopped my number into his pocket.' H e didn't call. I need to draw him out or he'll snap when I'm not expecting it. Sifter slides over my e$e(ids I dream of fire.  30  Kyle Her hands generate  electricity.  When she takes one paper passes the rest back t h e r e ' s a spark.  Tricia I've put ker on like new clotkes dark  edgy Gone tke tremors at a teacker's glare tke sickness in tke pit of my stomack at Mum's disappointments tke storm in my krain from rusty Japanese after a weekend witk my dad and grandmotker. I meet tke eyes of guys wko seek mine eat frenck fries for lunck ckocolate milkskakes wken I come kome  easy come, easy go.  Wken Mrs. Farr asks wkat tke new image is akout I skrug, play witk my tongue stud Wkatever. No matter kow kard ske looks ske can't see me anymore.  32  Miguel My mother swims through the river of my dreams nudges me gently out of the shallows floats downstream belly up  Tricia My mother says Natalle is a bad influence. She pk oned tke sckool counsellor asked ker to move Natalie to anotker class.  As if it's only ker. Homework is a constant mutter class is a drone except for tkat skort, skarp kite of tke kell.  Kyle In the mirror I make five test runs. Then I ask her f o r help.  You do  homework?  she says, a laugh shakes her shoulders like a choked engine. Her dark eyes on high beam.  Write about your Farr  a poem  motorcycle.  would like  that  she says. I lean against the lockers wheels spinning.  Miguel Her number in my pocket rolled thin like a candy wrapper thought I'd lost the taste but hunger in the gut hooks me in.  Mrs. Farr I am becoming increasingly concerned, Tricia, about your growing list of assignments NHL* However I'm sure you can complete them all before MCO** should you put your mind to it. I am available for consultation should you have any doubts about  *not handed in **marks cut off ***evaluation criteria  37  Tricia Tke only otker time I was in tke counsellor's office was for career planning. The future looks bright, Ms Niski told me tken. It's crowded now me in one ckair m tke otk er my motker stroking tke kaky kair 0 f little Emily on ker lap. You've always been such a good girl ske tells me. Is this rebellion because of Emily? You know Jason and I love you both. 1 shrug. Ms Nishi moves the desktop Zen garden. A fluorescent kulk is klown tkere are new skadows.  Assignment: Grammar poem My motorcycle dream (noun  phrase)  (subordinate (verb  The wind blowing in my face  clause)  when I'm on my wheels  phrase)  makes me fly  (simile) effect  (2  like a bird on fire. lines)  I gun my engine till it roars The pistons explode between my legs I hear Bruce Springsteen  (allusion)  in my helmet screaming (direct  quotation)  "Wrap your legs 'round these velvet rims and strap your hands across my engines."*  (conclusion)  I'm spinning down the streets of my own runaway dream. by kyle  Bruce Sprintsteen, "Born to Run  39  Mrs. Farr A most effective (and might I say, unexpected) example of a grammar poem. You have made an excellent choice in writing about a topic you care about so passionately. However, you need to be careful of innuendo. You might tone down the more overt sexual references in order to make it suitable for the poetry display board.  40  Kyle sexual references  Miguel  My uncle's jaw ripples with muscle spasms as he stands at the stove holding the cooking spoon with his two remaining fingers.  Natalie I am in the bath when the phone rings I know it's him before he speaks H e hears me splashing in the shallow end. We're going to the Aquarium Saturday lunch m t^e parkI smile as I push END.  Kyle  West coast rain makes November dark. Bike tires skid around corners like my gut when I pass her in the hall. Cargo pants fishnet shirt eyes and lips lined with black commando. Sparks fly from her eyes settle on my bare skin burn like fresh shrapnel.  Make-up assignment — social commentary poem "Out of Step" A soldier steps out of line on the road from infantry to adultery drill sergeant yells lieutenant halts the platoon colonel writes a report general reconsiders the military objective. She is swarmed It's a jungle out there the company moves together orders come from above yours not to reason why yours hut to do or die  the soldier looks hack sees the line from a whole new perspective marches to her own new drummer and the other war begins.  by tricia yamashita  45  Mrs. Farr (make-up assignment: Tricia Y.) An interesting analogy for teen rebellion, and you have foiled our expectations by making the soldier female. However, I am concerned that you seem to regard adolescence as a war against authority. Superior officers often see the big picture. An army couldn't function if every soldier gave his own orders, now, could it?  46  Natalie Mum's got a bate with Mr. TopSefh'ng Ren-iax [local office). slye borrows my black sweater. I feel just like a girl, she twitters. Don't wait up Nat. ;  I try to write a poem for English, brip frozen lasagne not quite heateb on the keyboarb t!nink about my father. Mum says he's a monster never gave her money or compliments or took her on dates or watcheb me so she coulb go out. she has no idea. That's not a monster.  Miguel  The aquarium draws me, slapping waves, the squealing breath of the sea lions, the blue silence through the downstairs viewing window. The light on her face leaves shadows under her eyes in the hollows of her cheeks in the blue mask of her face the eyes, so alive dark lips smiling faintly.  48  Social Commentary Poem Internet Safety Worktop chilbhoob is a bubble they tell parents once burst/ forever gone. T^e bum on the retina of images that shoulb not be there the screaming mouth of a six-year-olb v i c t i m the luring come-on emails of the polisheb anb hungry saliva bripping from his mouth as he pounbs the keyboard licks his lips squirms, turned on, before the web cam shots of eager tec^nofods while blithe innocents google away their afternoons with a slibe into barkness frozen forever in the nowhere that never bisappears. by Natalie  49  Mrs. Farr This is a shocking poem, with a horrific message. You use impressive vocabulary, Natalie, creating vivid images. However, your response to our Internet Safety presentation does not follow the designated criteria. You show an almost voyeuristic depiction of detail of sexual predators and a hopelessness inherent in the innocence of children. Perhaps you might include some solution to the frightening situation. The nihilism in your poetry disturbs me.  Natalie Solutions disturb me.  Kyle  teacher says songs count for poems gives me a library book of 80s rockers  These are pretty hip, she says. I blow off the dust with laughing find my dad's shower songs my mum's red wine Friday dancing music. Reading the lines I feel the vibration of the speakers through my sock feet see my parents' arms around each other. Put some engine noise to the words they're not half bad. I download them to my MP3.  52  Tricia M i g u e l ' s story was strictly confidential and whipped t h r o u g h the school l i k e fire. H i s scars impress us parents lost eyes h a u n t e d almost wordless the first three m o n ths we're gentle w i t h h i m B u t N a t a l i e ' s new. W h e n I t o l d her, she p r o m i s e d she w o u l d n ' t hite.  53  Natalie  At lunch we sit together she watches me slant-eyed. I hear her voice low bored cool an edge I knew would sharpen that first day. I tell her about the park tJoe dark viewing room at the aquarium she grins Catc(? she says tosses the salt. t  Miguel  I've carried the blue glow all weekend cold but shining shadows in her eyes lure me in. Don't know what I expected Monday morning across the cafeteria a look that clicked like a calculator her friend looked over at me laughed You'd think I'd have learned not to take the bait.  Kyle teacher staples my motorcycle dream to the display board Tricia wanders over reads it I watch She turns stares raises an eyebrow d r i f t s to my table Told you Farr would like it she says Not I swallow a frozen Wanna ride  bad. lump  sometime?  She lifts her chin narrows her eyes I look away from the glare Yeah she says,  today  walks away. So poems are good f o r something.  56  Miguel She comes up behind me drapes herself over my back nuzzles the nape of my neck I leap clear but I'm reeled in by the hurt in her eyes / thought you'd like that she says I flounder for a s e c o n d Yes, I say. Only surprise. But I am afraid of her barbed laugh her measuring looks. A net drapes itself over me like a b l o o d wet kerchief.  Natalie, 1  Miguel prefers shadows But I tease him with exposure I like the alarm in his eyes when I hook a. finger in his gills  Tricia In PhysEd we do warm-ups Breathe deep, hend low, deep lunges, now. and memory kicks in. With every breath the leather of his jacket air thick with rain and cedar. I press against his denim thighs the solid muscle of his hack. Across the Starbucks table brown hair flopped over his forehead fingers laced around his coffee mug rough fingers, black around the nails, wonder how they'd feel across my cheek. From the look in his eyes he wonders too. Right - six laps of the gym ! Go! My shorts sit cocky today. I almost forget to look for Natalie.  59  Natalie Motorcycle boy is \)ot but she'll have to learn not to leave her frienbs behind.  Kyle  She fits on my bike like a casing on an engine like a fender on a wheel like a nut on a bolt When I gun the engine it seems it can roar till next week. Her arms around me tighten around corner bends but she laughs and breathes magic down my neck. Daydreaming in English I flip through old poems find it's not just me  The light that blooms in your body blooms in my hands. Around us the ground is strewn with its petals. Suddenly I can hear poem voices.  *Poem without voicesby Robert Bringhurst  61  Miguel A t school the Multicultural Leadership Committee leave no one out when they celebrate. They sell bashes at a pihata for the trip to the Guatemala orphanage fill the display case with a huge menorah plaster posters d o w n the hall to advertise the Diwali fashion show and fireworks display to respect the hungry Muslims for their Ramadan fast to invite canned f o o d donations for Santa's breakfast. The voices all shout at once. The others attend all the parties. But at home it's not a party. We are a household of men. my cousin, my uncle, me, all that's left. W e don't talk much. Tenemos muchos diablos para quemar, my uncle says, his words scorching. We have many devils to burn. W e follow our new year tradition, scour the house for anything frivolo to throw away. There is not much.  62  Kyle W e find corners I'd never noticed lean into them breathe wordless down each other's neck in each other's mouths. W e walk aimless in the early dark. Rain sizzles on our faces.  Tke rest of tke country gripped ky a cold I cannot imagine. My life kas keen lived in rain according to coolly followed plans. O n T V tke newscasters' kreatk puffs Between tkeir flusked ckeeks an dtke camera small kard snowflakes.  Kyle The rain slides down classroom windows and my pen slides across the page. Mrs. Farr's inbox yawns like a monster rising from the deep snapping at my ass and the words spill out. As I write the sun comes out gleams through the prism of raindrops scatters a thousand colours across my page.  65  Tricia Here on the coast we wallow. M u m phones Aunt Susan hack east brags ahout the weather Jason mowing the lawn in December t-shirt Sundays jogging the seawall trips to the park with Emily's pre school crowi She'll send baby pictures of c m , who's changing so fast. Tricia? She's the same. We love winters here, she says, and we're all so happy, so happy. It's all shit The clouds rest their heads on the ground Can't see past the windshield wipers Cloud voices leave a constant slanting drip across a window I shake my head to dry my hair swallow the bile at the hack of my throat think of Kyle's leather shoulders. It's time I let one burn.  66  Kyle  Late at night I strum my guitar garage door closed. The chords stroke the words I write about her. My voice is changing.  Tricia I tell Natalie about skipping Ckemistry riding witk Kyle down tke ram slick streets our alcove encounters my keart ketween my teetk Motorcycles are a turn-on ske laugks if it weren't for the guys drivin em. I smirk. My jaws kurt from clencking Ske rolls ker eyes. You could try mi novio.. I'll try motorcycle hoy. I kold it kack hut I know it skows. Your eyes went weird ske says You gotta problem sharing with friends ? We lock eyes. I'm kelpless target practice. No, I say, yeah, I don't think I want to. I look away swallow tke empty space wkere my lunck was kite down.  68  Natalie My sleeves are long enough to hfibe the lines carveb into the inner elbow. I invite her in With the jolt we'll be fused for goob.  Tricia She promises a river of forgetting a sensation past imagining. My hitten heart tremhles hefore her eyes.  Winter solstice celebration poem assignment At the /oasthe virgin looks the devil in the eye He breathes fire upon her dances, wiggles, taunts You'll lose,  turns to the audience and for a minute, this Central American Community Centre with echoing stage, silk plants, sagging velvet curtains becomes the bright clothed hot afternoon in the village square the Virgin of Guadeloupe standing tall driving down with her will this quivering devil. Their houses empty of vanities, the villagers shout Nd. and he melts under her burning eyes. The virgin has triumphed. The villagers explode fireworks shoot off guns that were hidden in boxes under beds in closets in violation of the ceasefire. In the background a Canadian salsa band takes it away. by Miguel  71  Mrs. Farr Your celebration is not one with which I am familiar. Interesting personal connection with the local centre and the description of (I presume) your own village square. You seem to find writing cathartic and therapeutic. Curious how many solstice celebrations involve cleansing rituals, setting the world to rights before beginning afresh. Wouldn't we all like to have that chance? Those devils don't always melt away, though, do they?  72  Three Natalie Mum's gone again conference weekend at Whistler motivational seminars all morning ski all afternoon screw tlpeir brains out when the fire dies down. she frowns when I talk this way. I call my father. Six thirty and his tongue is already thick words slurred his random heartiness booms and fades. He says You're okay rigfftfon. (not a question.) I say Fine, Dad, fine. Great. He says I may make it to Vancouver one oftfese days, or you could take a bus to tfae Interior. I could pick you up. I say I don't tf ink so. I don't tlhink so. I don't tl?ink so. I don't thinkDon't think-  73  Kyle Ms Nishi calls me in to the counselling office. Tricia's mum says someone is leading her astray wherever that is. I give Ms Nishi my poems. She reads looks at me sharp flips the page to read the comments smiles. You do her mother's  understand concern.  I shrug. I ride my own  74  road.  Ms Nishi They bleed all over the page. I wonder that she can read them and not be marked. I wonder that she can still see ink.  Natalie — Memory...! New email new address doesn't wipe out my last paternal contact. Dad's passed out in t^e La-Z-Boy C D Waring t^e Avril Lavigne I brought for him He was a sk8r boy s(;e said see ya later, boy. He wasn't good enough former." I (i^e t^at poetic justice. His upstairs neighbour, Andy mouth lazy arm languid draped over the back of the river blue couch fingers hookeb over my shoulder. Pin^ lemonade gin courses through my veins blur the feeble shakes of my head  " sk8r Boi" Avril Lavigne, Scott Spoofy Lauren Christy Grafraw Edwards  76  Miguel My cousin, Juan, says tradition is a lie. N o one defeats the devil A n d w e are not sick of sin.  We escaped but our people still need our help and we will send it to them. Then he laughs.  But it's not for you to know, muchacho.  Kyle I almost don't need to see her She's welded on the inside of my eyelids her voice whispers in the strings of my guitar.  78  Miguel  At home we do not talk we simmer. I walk the cool night streets my blood hot. My hands ache knuckles shredded by cement walls that do not punch back only rip the skin of my fists.  Natalie — Memory...! Wanna sl;ow you sometfring, he tells me. Dab's snoring. W e leave him there. A hanb hookeb unber my arms to help me up t(?e stairs. My legs folb heab spins. The boor lock clicks behinb us. His screen saver flips from centerfold to centerfold ^eads flung  back  lolling tongues swollen breasts  gaping vaginas That's only tfre beginning he says, plays a loop of iraouies watching m y face my stomach lurches at the desperate disconnected  eyes of the children H e switches on the web cam  pushes me back on the bed. traps my wrists in one hanb. My heab rolls back and fort^ on t^e blanket.  The voice that wails from my throat is not mine.  to: Janice Nishi from: Margaret Fair subject: Natalie I am concerned about Natalie's tendency to write o n inappropriate topics. She attempts to draw attention to herself by including shocking, violent, nihilistic details. Perhaps you can speak to her about exercising some restraint.  to: Margaret Farr from: Janice Nishi subject: Natalie Natalie has a disturbed home life, and I believe the school district has not been told the whole truth about her past. I don't believe she has been taught much about restraint. I will have a word with her when I get a chance.  82  Natalie - Memory...^ Dabby's still asleep wljen I stumble downstairs my stomach churning my body bruiseb and burning. It smells of smoke and old couches. I crawl oozing into bed. when I get home Andy sends me an email tells me I'll be famous. I throw up. change my address start a new work of art in blood on my tl?igh.  Tricia She's taken me into her confidence. / have no cat  she says. Her house is empty She lives in lucky silence M u m at work No toys or two year old or motker in a sour milk marskmallow katkrohe or family pictures wkere ske doesn't matck. We eat lean cuisine meals for afternoon snack. Watch me, ske says. sits on tke edge of tke tuk razor poised like a paintkrusk over tke klank canvas of ker arm. Witk eack touck a tracery of keaded kukkles winking to tke surface. Now  you.  We look at eack otker like we're akout to kiss.  84  Natalie she (?olbs tlye blabe like it will bite slips as I knew she woulb afraib to be afraid gushes, spurts bloob. Wit^ a cry she clamps a clotl? to her arm folbs into her elbow. I pull her open Feelit, I say, feelit w[?at? she says. H e r frightened e$es dart  like a bird in a cage But t£>e red driw brip drip  on the polisheb (inofewti is our bonb.  Miguel Beside my village ran a blue river where the canoes lay on the sandy shore. Juan tells me, for a week after that day, it was so choked with bodies you could not breathe for the smell. My father's was among them. Juan says the b l o o d made the river run red.  Tricia I avoid Kyle to protect him from Natalie. His muscles are hard hut his eyes flicker with need. When our eyes catch only the prickle of dried hlood in my elhow keeps my knees from buckling?. I pick at the scab.  87  Kyle I see her cheek in the curve of my guitar her long tapping fingers in the f r e t s . Power is in her fingertips. I am driven.  Miguel  From soft whispers her voice sharpens to a cutting edge Tricia and I are best friends, she says. We share everything.  A translucent lid is drawn across her eyes She can see out but I can't see in. "My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose. I love what I do not have. You are so far. "*  My mouth is open but no air comes in. I'm out of my element.  * from " H e r e I L o v e Y o u , " P a b l o N e r u d a , tr W . S . M e r w i n .  r 89  Ms Nishi A steady stream today in the hallway outside the counselling suite Something has awakened them skin thinned blood pulsing below the surface.  90  Poem about Poetry  My words like gears drive thoughts through school traffic congestion My voice like an engine roars along the passing lane in internal combustion My poem like a loose fan belt spins on its pulley with a high pitched scream Put it to music The world would listen then as I am listening now. by Kyle  91  Mrs. Farr Engine similes are powerful, Kyle. (No p u n intended.) I notice y o u have copied the structural pattern of Shelley's "To a Skylark," an unexpected but notable allusion. Y o u r technique is improving remarkably.  to: Janice Nishi from: Margaret Fair subject: Kyle  I am concerned about Kyle's sudden discovery of poetic aptitude. Having caught him once in an act of plagiarism I am concerned he is being dishonest again. Perhaps you can speak to him about intellectual integrity. Goodness knows I've made few inroads.  93  Kyle from smoulder to flame and back again Tricia's eyes are darker today. They flick towards Natalie as I approach then flick away.  Miguel  At night I smear ointment on my bleeding knuckles. Uncle Eduardo, deep in phone conversation, does not notice minor injuries. He plans to drive out the devils find freedom through the barrel of a gun make our home a shrine to justice. The troops are moving again,  Juan whispers. Our people are defenceless His mouth thins. But not for long.  I go back to bed pull the covers over my head, dream of dodging gunfire as I float down a blood river on a raft of human bones.  95  Tricia They're a lovely family I'm sure M o m and Jason dress up for the preschool parents potluck Emily looks adorakle in frilled overa. and hig klue eyes. I so don't kelongf kere.  Kyle In the garage, door closed, I bring out my guitar play it till my fingers hurt same chords over and over till I don't have to think voice in my head screaming till it's all I can feel.  T^ou^ts on razor blades T^e smooth surface of school invites perforation penetration l\)e teaclyers wear polite masks that look in only one direction. Such a blank canvas begs tlye artistry of the razor, the bloody beauty of wounds. by Natalie  Mrs. Farr I'm afraid I cannot give balanced praise and criticism to this hardly veiled threat. I am forced to submit a copy of your assignment to the administration for disciplinary measures.  99  MsNishi The poem lies before me, decorated with Post-It forms from teacher and admin. The counsellor form is still blank. Her blank gaze confronts me across the desk She rakes the mini Zen garden, separates all the rocks digs a moat around each with her little finger. No, she says, / have nothing I want to tell you.  Miguel  At the elementary school playground after dark I meet Natalie. We graduate from holding hands in side-by-side swings to clutching in the gravel under the climbing platform. Her lips are soft taste of water melon. Her hands fumble under my shirt, slide down to my belt.. I'm hungry she whispers. A dog-walker's flashlight breaks us apart gasping.  101  Dear Mr and Mrs. Lawson Kyle's Tech teacher has suggested Kyle consider a career in mechanics, as he has a natural talent in this area. He wants to take Kyle to the Trades Career Fair on the Professional Day next week. If you agree, please sign the attached waiver and permission form and return to me by Friday. Sincerely MsJ. Nishi Counsellor Career Advisor  102  Kyle My dad says he wants to frame the note. The first  step down your father's  road!  He spreads his hands on the kitchen table strong fingers, nicked with healing scratches. My hands clench voices sing in my head. I used to be so certain. My mom smiles. Just  103  keep your options  open.  Mrs. Farr The ProD day seminar is on the Adolescent Battle for Emotional Development and the Role of the Teacher in the Trenches. The presenter livewired with a remote control computer slide show complete with imovie illustrations, tells me I am the front line that it's my job to measure negative self image uncover the disturbing secrets of my 230 students, then save them from themselves. I'm sorry. After 26 years of adolescent crises it takes a lot to move me. I can teach them to write. End of story.  104  Miguel I get home late Uncle Eduardo is in the spare room kneeling before an o p e n w o o d e n crate. Inside guns nest in w o o d shavings. He watches Juan lift one out stroke the curls of w o o d from the blue barrel' reach forward with the sight tip the d o o r shut in my face.  105  Natalie tells me exactly how far to go how to pull hack leave him wanting. I tell her I will. I don't tell her it's because I want him too.  Miguel I lie awake in darkness the smell of gun oil seeps through the crack under my door. Uncle Eduardo tells me nothing., / promised your mother, he says. But Juan gives clues. A truck will head south next week. Until then, they are ours to protect. My mother's ghost hand reaches out of the water to stroke my face. There's more, she whispers, than hurting. Her face ripples and is gone. Maybe but I cannot see it.  107  Natalie Bring lyim along then cut him colb leaves him with an unquenchable thirst.  Poor boy.  Kyle The hum of a well-adjusted motor filters into my secret guitar harmony. A stash of music locked in my tool box. I take it out when no one's around my worker fingers pluck from the strings the delicacy of disharmony. Mum looks in sometimes, shuts the door behind her. She knows but no one else does.  109  Tricia In tke girls' ckange room ke freezes. I pull kim into a skower stall and in a minute we're kissing and 1 can t breatke sometking inside me is exploding and I don't want to stop kut as agreed Natalie sends in tke PkysEd teacki wko pulls aside tke curtain glowers.  Kyle In the garage I sing f o r her, my voice raspy and raw. From the look in her eyes I think I've crossed over.  Ill  Miguel When I reached for her hand today she slapped it away looked fury at me. What is it? \ am adrift. If you don't know, no point in telling you.  Kyle She cuts me in the hall but her body speaks another language the one I listen to.  113  Natalie M u m ' s moving to t^e next stage i n Iper relationship, a weekend at the hotsprings, just t^?e two of them. whatever I wouldn't have wanted to come anyway, and besides it must be party time.  *  Four  Tricia  You going to Natalie's Friday? K y l e asks me. H e ' s wary. 1 d o n 't talk to k i m at sckool. I l o o k a r o u n d . Yeah. You? H e rakes me w i t k a l o o k tkat leaves me weak-kneed. I squeeze m y t k u m k i n t o m y elkow. See ya.  115  Ms Nishi After a few years in this business you get to know when something's but when I cast into the waters I get no bites only shadows.  Lricia  M y m o t h e r lives o n another planet. T h e s l i d i n g door f r o m the f a m i l y r o o m to the dark hack y a r d rumbles a little i n tke m i d n i g k t kouse k u t n o t too m u c h .  117  Miguel My father never visits me in dreams. Uncle Eduardo tells me it is because his spirit lives on in our dreams of freedom. I think it is because he is gone.  Tricia A f t e r school I go to Natalie's to k e l p w i t k preparations. H e r place is clean as a skow kouse. W a s k t u k w i t k ice for keer a n d coolers (Natalie kas connections) kowls for ckips and d i p p i c k out m u s i c . A t midnigkt we k r i n g out tke razor. M y t o u c k is surer n o w as tke k l o o d wells to tke surface I can almost taste it. A t k o m e I start m y k o m e w o r k : i m m i g r a t i o n policies of tke W e s t essay cancer cell diagram quadratic equations. T k e k u s k of tke sleeping kouse presses o n m y skoulders.  119  to: Janice Nishi from: Margaret Farr subject: Tricia I am concerned about Tricia's decline in English class. Her latest efforts have been desultory and sporadic, and verging upon disrespectful. Perhaps you can speak to her about her lack of focus.  120  Tricia M y old friends my mother my teachers warn me that Natalie is had news. i tell them all she just knows the secrets they try to hide. She knows how to live on the edge. We link arms m the hall i feel the hlood and sparks flow between us.  Kyle At the grads' coffee house I step up to the open mike. My throat opens in time to my drumming heart. Heads swivel towards me eyebrows raised. In front, beside Tricia and Natalie Miguel nods in time. At the back with the other teacher chaperones stands Mrs. Farr, eyebrows raised.  Natalie So he's not just motorcycle boy.  T^at raspy voice belongs to star maker machinery. But there's more than one way to get attention.  Tricia He voice is raw and his guitar vibrates under kis magic fingers Tkrougk it all he looks at me, sings It cuts like a knife But it feels so right* He sees through me.  "Cuts like a Knife" by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance  124  Kyle When my dad asks over dinner how the career fair went  I tell him I'm not going to trade  school.  I wanna be a musician.  My father's back stiffens. That's not a career,  he says. It's a hobby.  And you won't see a penny from  me.  {Now dear, says my mother) Your old man's work isn't good enough for you, is that it? bad, I say, bad you got it wrong.  But he waves my words away like they're nothing. I slam the garage door, play the same chords again and again.  125  Make-up assignment: Poem about Poetry Write a poem, the teacker says, put in it your deepest feelings so,I can give you carefully worded encouragement constructive criticism and a mark out of ten to factor into tke class average. Here you go. ky Tricia Yamaskita  126  Mrs. Farr Your assignment borders on insolence. Please rewrite i n a vein more suited to the spirit of the assignment.  127  Tricia Witk tke Friday afternoon ke we ride tke wave of students out tke front door slougking off sckool like an old towel. In tke crusk I feel a kand at my waist Jbre atk i n my ear. I'll be looking for you tonight Kyle wkispers tken catckes tke current to tke motorcycle parking. Natalie graks my elkow Party, party ske says, pulls me along.  Natalie I turn up t^e music feed T r i c i a strawberry coofers In the kitchen I sip r u m and cokeNo more gin for this gir(.  129  Tricia by 10:30 tke voices are so loud tkey drown out tke m u s i c  Miguel  by midnight it's difficult to move through the noise and bodies I hear glass breaking drunken laughter things are coming apart.  Kyle I have no party language spot a guitar strum a few chords and around me clusters a circle of wondering faces. Beyond them Tricia stares catches my breath, slips away.  Natalie Loud strangers crowd the hallway, the kitchen, tl?e living room. The spreading stains and destruction feed my emptied stomach.  Tricia Someone kas kroken tke fern. Natalie pulls me kekind it slips me a note. Timing is everything, ske says ker voice manic. I figkt my way to tke kitcken to find Miguel.  Kyle Natalie sidles down beside me. She'll be waiting for you when the song ends, leaves a whispered kiss on my earlobe. My fingers stumble.  135  Miguel A poem from school stumbles through my head. My father's body was a globe of fear His body was a town we never knew* and the ghosts within me are louder than music.  * Letters and Other Worlds by Michael Ondaatje  136  Kyle The lights are off. When I call her name she whispers Shh  pulls me to the pillow her hands move quick across my body peel off my t-shirt before snatching my breath with a hungry mouth that tastes of watermelon and I know it's not Tricia.  137  Miguel  There is heat in my mind party music cannot cool. Tricia hands me a note: up the stairs 2^ door on the right I'm waiting. N. I mount the stairs two at a time The hallway light reveals a bare torso a startled face. Kyle's. M/gue^she breathes, and the heat explodes.  Natalie Miguel's face an orgasm of anger his boby an explosion of motion as he lunges towarbs the beb.  Tricia I hear a roar through a haze of coolers and the thudding bass in the kitchen speaker panic and Natalie's name U p the stairs in slow motion and Miguel's fist smashing into a face again and again the meaty thuds in ridiculous synchronization with the party music and I see he's killing Kyle.  Natalie when the others brag Miguel away push hi™ swearing and swinging through the front boor Kyle's face looks like raw meat but he's breathing.  It was so passionate it was poetry  Tricia What is he doing here? I left him playing to his audience. From the bed I hear Natalie's loud hreath. Electricity snaps throughthe air between us. / expected Miguel and he... her eyes shine with tears. Kyle rises on one elbow his bloody face heseeching I thought she was you. I turn to comfort Natalie.  142  Miguel I rage through empty streets before my eyes float Natalie's half smile the laughing faces of soldiers my father's limp body. My fists find the cement wall jar pain up to my shoulders I hear a groan that must b e me.  Tricia When the police come they say The neighbours made a noise complaint.  When Kyle staggers bleeding down the stairs they say Let's go, hid.  We're bathed m flash ing blue silence at the doorway and I realise the music has stopped.  Miguel Stupid boy says my uncle, to bring the police to this house. You know what we have here. The police are not our friends. On a kitchen chair in the corner Juan smoulders In my room I lie back, stare at the ceiling. My mother's voice is silent. The space around me narrows to a black tunnel. I have no choice. From under my bed I pull out the gym bag slide out the blue barrel cradle it in my bleeding hands spin the chamber.  Tricia As dawn breaks ske tells me it was ker kest performance poetry e's skock Miguel's anger my loyalty t k e k ouse is skattered around ker and she's laugking so kard she's crying I hack carefully out t k e d oor.  146  Natalie Mum  was so pissed  by the end of per weekend s{>e said n e x t stow was a foster home. I to[d her she was lucky she had connections i n t^e home repair business.  Kyle My face will heal with adjustments they tell me. They don't know about the other wounds.  Ms Nishi When I tell her that Options Alternate School is her last chance Natalie shrugs. Her mother looks at her watch. She's beyond me, she says.  She was beyond us when she arrived. Around her lies wreckage.  Natalie when t^ey tell me he is dead bullet in the mouth they look at me like I pulled the trigger. In the mirror in a moment of stiffness  I see the fangs behind my lips. Sometimes  I think I see him stirring in blue shadows, te(( him I didn't mean that. I make sure no one sees me cry.  to: Janice Nishi from: Margaret Fair subject: grief  I appreciate your offer of grief counselling but I don't think I'll need emotional support. I have my own coping methods.  151  Tricia Tke pain kas nothing to do witk the breakfast tkat sits still in my stomach. My footsteps make no ec. on tkese floors, washed clean daily of spilt blood. At the nurse s station they tell me where to go. I'm sorry I whisper I should have believed you. His rough hand on my arm sends music into my blood.  Kyle A t school I mutter through clenched teeth and jaw wire my face a tire tread of stitches but Tricia's fingers on my cheek let me smile. I tell her kissing will be safer without the tongue stud. She says she believes me.  Tricia A f t e r M i g u e l ' s m e m o r i a l service M y shoulder nudges K y l e ' s a r m we w a l k so close. O u t s i d e , u n d e r the oah tree, I h u g h i m so tight he winces, grins, cries. O n the r o a d m y face pressed against his jacket the hike r o a r i n g between us I smell spring.  Works Cited  Adams, Bryan and Jim Vallance. "Cuts Like a Knife." Cuts Like a Knife. A & M Records. 1983. "Black is the color (of my true love's hair)." traditional. Glasgow Guide Organization, ed. Martin Smith. 2 November 2005. <http: / / www.glasgowguide.co.uk/wjmc/butblack.shtml Bringhurst, Robert. "Poem without voices." 15 Canadian Poets x 3. ed Gary Geddes. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2001. 399. Lavigne, Avril. "Sk8r Boi." Let Go. Arista Records. 2002. Neruda, Pablo, "Slow Lament." Trans. Donald D. Walsh. The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. ed. Stavans, Ilan. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. 35. Neruda, Pablo, "Here I Love You (XVIII)." Trans. W.S. Merwin. The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. ed. Stavans, Ilan. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. 18. Ondaatje, Michael. "Letters and Other Worlds." 15 Canadian Poets x 3. ed. Gary Geddes. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2001. 341. Springsteen, Bruce. "Born to Run." Born to Run. Sony BMG Music Entertainment. 1975.  155  

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