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 international  Tl
AAJ international  BRIAN BURKE
Managing Editor
JOHN sorrell
Poetry Editor
Drama Editor
Fiction Editor
Translation Editor
Copy Editor
Advisory Editor
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times per year at
the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. v6t IW5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright ° 1982 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover design and artwork: Derrick Clinton Carter.
One year individual subscriptions $10.00, two-year subscriptions $16.00. Libraries and
institution subscriptions $14.00, two-year subscriptions $20.00. Sample copy $4.00.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or international reply
coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and
then discarded.
Payment to contributors is $10.00 per page and a subscription. PRISM international
purchases First N.A. Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and the University of British Columbia.
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British
Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery Revenues.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. September 1982. CONTENTS
William J. Klebeck
Bert Almon
Three Poems
Mary Reynolds
Mary Hagey
The Long Way Home
Richard Harrison
Jascha Kessler
Two Mythologems
Al Purdy
Bill Tremblay
Two Poems
Sean Virgo
Susan Musgrave
Two Poems
Martin Robbins
Patrick Worth Gray
Two Poems
Dorothy Livesay
Two Poems
Rona Murray
63  William J. Klebeck
touched by the flicker of a matchstick coaxed by the wheezing breath of
an old man the faded newspaper is devoured by flames now licking the
slats of the broken boxes piled on top the dry pine wood claimed easily
by fire scorching plaster and cement reaching upwards to the beams the
low ceiling hugged by smoke thick clouds of it continuing to build and
the old man's mind sucking it in but the body coughing not willingly
taking it eyes squinting the sting rubbed in by knobby knuckles the
smoke like fog billowing each gasp for breath catches another mouthful
of burning expelled with wracking upheavals of the ribcage a reluctant
body geared by the man's mind set to stay and die in the heat of hell but
when the flames tug his pantleg when knothole sparks land like fireflies
on his gray knitted sweater he beats away the survival reflex
I enter the poolhall, smell the stale cigarette smoke, hear the low cursing laughter, the sharp crack and thud of a good shot. Comfortable
feeling. Home.
"Hey, Whip." to the thin-haired, obese man sitting on a tall stool
behind the wood counter.
"Hey, Bob," he says, looking up from the watch he's working on. He
raises the magnifying eyeglass off his right eye. "Home for seeding, eh?"
"You bet." I walk up and lean against the counter. "Thought I'd stop
in town before heading out to the farm."
"So how'd university go this year?" he asks, pulling the glass down again.
"Okay, I guess. Find out how good or bad in a couple weeks when the
marks come out."
Whip leans forward, studying the inner workings of an expensive
Gruen. "What are you taking again?"
I drop a quarter down on the counter and reach behind him for a
cellophane-wrapped Beef Jerky. "Engineering. One more year to go."
"Then the big bucks, eh?"
In the back of the hall there's an outburst of high-pitched cackling
from a group of boys too young to legally be there.
"What's that?" I tear the plastic off with my teeth. Whip speaks without looking up. "The boys are playing jokes on old
Iwanicki. Step-and-a-Half. You remember."
Looking back, I see him, wearing a faded yellow sportcoat, scurrying
along the wall near the back table. There's more laughter. I remember
him from when I used to hang out here in high school. He's an old
Ukrainian, short, hunchbacked from picking things up off the ground.
Called Step-and-a-Half because he always steps out big with one foot,
then swings his body around, bringing his bad leg up even with his
good one.
"What're they doing?"
"The Urzada boys got hold of some clear fishing line, strung it
through a needle, and put a cigarette on the end of it, and then when
Step-and-a-Half bends over to pick it off the floor, they jerk it away."
"You mean he falls for that trick more than once?" I ask, turning back
to Whip.
"Ah, he's nuts. Mind's gone. He don't remember from one time to the
next. He's always looking for butts, collects 'em, scrapes out what little
tobacco's left in 'em and rolls his own. He sees half a cigarette lying
around, he's right there. And then the kids jerk it away from him again."
I shake my head. "Seems kind of cruel."
"Yeah, big joke." Whip says. A little gear from the watch clinks onto
the counter. "Shit."
On my way out to the farm, I can't help but think about Step-and-a-
Half. I know we farm what Dad calls the Iwanicki Half but I'm not sure
of the connection between it and the old man.
I pull up in our yard and the folks are out to greet me before I even get
the trunk open. Percy, our hired man, gets hold of the biggest suitcase,
lugs it into the house. Mom's got supper on and we have to sit right
down. Everyone's in good spirits. Even my younger sister is being
dutiful, helping Mom with the setting and serving.
Percy nudges my arm with the plate of roast beef. "Sure is good to
have you home, Bob," he says.
"Only reason you're saying that, Percy," I say, stabbing a slab of meat
with my fork, "is that you know there'll be less work for you now."
"Oh, Bob." From my mother. Percy laughs.
After we're talked out about university and the Stanley Cup playoffs, I
mention that I'd been wondering about whether there was any connection between the land we farmed and the old man in town named
My Dad looks up from his dessert, cocking one bushy eyebrow. "How
come you're asking?"
"Just that I saw him in town today." I push my empty plate away from
me. "Some of the boys in the poolhall were playing jokes on him." "That would be old Miles, all right," Dad says. "It was from him that I
got those two quarters."
"They call him Step-and-a-Half down at the poolhall. From the way
he walks."
"That's 'cause he's got a clubfoot," Percy says. He's jabbing between
his stained front teeth with a toothpick. "One time Miles Iwanicki and
me, we shingled Jim MacGregor's barn, and he was more sure-footed up
on that steep roof than I was, with two good feet."
"You used to work with him?" I ask. It seems like something I should
know but can't remember.
"Actually," says Percy, "I worked full-time for him for quite a few
years. I was working for him the year his wife died. That was the last
year he farmed. His brother Charley worked the land for a couple years
after that, but he was getting old, half-crippled with arthritis, and that's
when your Dad bought the land."
"That's right," Dad says. "That's when Percy came to work for us,
right after I acquired that land."
"And I been working here ever since," Percy says proudly.
"You know, that old man picks up cigarette butts off the floor in the
poolhall," I say.
My father sips his coffee. "Old Miles, he's had a hard time of it the
past few years."
"Yeah," says Percy, "when Sophie died something in Miles just
seemed to snap. He got listless, wouldn't do anything. Didn't even seed a
crop the next spring."
"The boys down at the poolhall were putting a needle threaded with
fishing line through a cigarette," I say. "When Miles would go reach for
it on the floor they'd jerk the other end, pull it away."
Percy leans back in his chair, rubbing his two-day growth of white
whiskers. "I remember Miles, he used to be quite the practical joker
must have been two dozen of us threshing over at Macy's and come
night those of us who were single or lived too far away would catch a few
winks in Macy's bunkhouse
this fellow Alex Greneau a Frenchman a big country boy all pecker
and feet who left here long before you ever saw the light of day used to
hang his overalls on the clothesline when he came in from the field and
one morning he comes stumbling out of the bunkhouse with sleep still
crusted in his eyes and he crawls into them overalls
next thing you know
Miles during the night had borrowed old Sam Macy's bee-keeping
outfit and moved a wasps' nest from the ceiling in the machine shed to
the pantleg of the overalls Alex he was a-yelling screaming rolling around on the ground like a
dog with fleas up his ass and he must have got ten fifteen stings before he
got rid of them overalls
next morning when he stepped into 'em his eyes were wide open
Salter's threshing time again and at Salter's we had an outhouse right
near where we bunked only half a door on it so you could see a fellow's
feet and maybe the top of his head if he was standing up
you know the first thing a guy does in the morning is head to the John
for a leak and one morning by the time I got out there some of the boys
were lined up already waiting on Miles you could see the special boot he
wore for his foot under the door
the fellow who was first in line started grumbling he'd been waiting ten
minutes already and pretty soon a couple more were lined up behind me
and we all got to go so bad we're hollering for Miles to get out of the John
but Miles he ain't saying nothing so after a few more minutes a couple of
us can't hold it any longer and we're hanging it outside when big Ben
Salter a man who liked to be on the giving end of orders came storming
down yelling that breakfast was late let's get the lead out and what the
hell are you men doing there's women up at the house
one of the boys tells him Miles is holding up the privy and big
Ben shouts at Miles to get the hell out and he raps on the outhouse door
which swings wide open and there's nothing inside but Miles' boots
then we heard this laughing coming from behind the outhouse and
when we walked back there was Miles laughing so hard you'd have
thought his eyes would pop out
Most of the summer goes past without another thought about
Iwanicki. Late one afternoon in early August, Dad and I are working
near the shed, changing knives and guards on the swather, getting ready
for harvest, when the MacGregor boys roar into the yard in their half-
ton, skid to a stop not ten feet away from where we are. And they're
excited. Tom's red face is more flushed than usual and Scottie is waving
his hands in the air.
On the way back from town driving by the Iwanicki homestead they
noticed smoke coming out the windows of the old farmhouse. Probably
some oily rags in the basement, it being August and hot and all that.
Combustion. Anyways, the house is on fire good, and with the dry grass
and the wind and the bins —
"Which are full of wheat," Dad says.
"Probably need the firetruck," Scottie suggests.
Dad runs off towards the house. "I'll phone, meet you over there."
Fighting fire. Oh boy. "There's some shovels in the shed." I throw
down the wrench and crawl out from underneath the reel. Tom and
io Scottie are already out of their truck, pitching into the box a few empty
five-gallon pails that we had stacked up against the shed. I grab some
blankets from underneath the workbench, throw the shovels and
blankets into the back of the half-ton, hop in with Tom and Scottie. We
fill the pails from the slough on the way over and, when we bounce into
the overgrown farmyard, water is sloshing all over the back of the truck.
We see flames spouting out of the basement windows. No hope for the
house, empty anyway save for a few storm windows. All we can do is
attack the wild fire starting up in the long dry grass. We run around with
wet blankets, slapping and beating on the ground, stamping with our
feet patches of orange. Nick Wasalenka and his boy show up; they'd seen
the smoke from their farm. They start smacking on the flames with
spades. Dad pulls into the yard in our truck and the six of us work hard
trying to contain the fire, it being August and hot enough already
without this two-story frame house throwing heat in our faces.
Finally, Milligan's new lime-green firetruck rolls in, siren blaring,
lights revolving, three men in fire helmets on the stoop behind. The
small of my back feels stretched and tight. The east wall comes shuddering down and the Wasalenka boy has to jump out of the way. The
close heat singes his eyebrows. "Stand back!" Bill Casper from Country
Motors shouts from underneath a fire helmet. He's dragging a hose out
from under the tank on the truck. Another man, Leonard Todos from
the tire shop, is twisting open a big valve. A gush of water livens the hose
and Bill directs the spray towards the fallen wall. Ten or twelve cars and
trucks, all carrying workmen and shop owners, have followed the
firetruck in, and soon another hose is active, arcing water onto the roof
where the shingles are beginning to curl up. When one more wall collapses, the roof caves in, bangs to the ground, showering sparks. I soak
the blanket in a pail of water, drag it across smoking grass that crumbles
into grey, black ash. Others are throwing shovelfuls of dirt onto flames
springing up. The roofs ablaze when I hear the last hiss of water
meeting fire. The tank of the firetruck is empty. Bill, one foot on the
running board of the truck, watches the flames intently as he talks with
my father, who's nodding.
Dad walks over to me while the firemen roll up their hoses. His eyes
are red; his nose is runny. "Bill figures it wouldn't be worth the trouble to
go and put another tank of water on the truck for a final dousing. He
figures it would be easier to get the deep tillage and make a fire-guard
around the house." Dad leans forward, presses shut one nostril with his
thumb and sends a shot of snot out the other. "Be a good idea if you
stayed around until I can get Percy up here with the tractor. To keep an
eye on things."
I lick the sweat off my upper lip. "Sure."
"Oh," Dad says, smiling as he turns away, "some of the boys up on the road got a few beer. If you're thirsty."
The sun's splashing fire-red in the west over the treeline behind the
round plywood granaries, and I'm still out at the Iwanicki homestead.
Alone. Watching blue wisps of smoke funnel into the air off scarred studs
and shiplap. Listening to the crackle and pop of the old house, the hum
of mosquitoes out now that the wind has died down. I sit on a five-gallon
pail, doing the Thinker Pose, wondering what the hell happened to
Percy and the old man. Got better things to do on a Friday night than
swat sparks with a wet blanket.
And that's what I'm doing, beating on the grass ten yards away from
one of the full bins, when Percy chugs into the farmyard, the engine in
his '56 Chevy half-ton missing worse than ever. I rub the toe of my
workboot into the smudged grass, snuff out the last of the upstart fire. As
I walk over to the truck I drop what's left of the blanket beside the
empty pail.
"Thought you were supposed to bring the tractor out," I say to Percy,
who's rolling down his window. He surveys the collapsed house, the
grass blackened in an uneven circle around it.
"Looks like you had some excitement, all right."
I slap a mosquito on my forearm.
Percy motions to the other door. "Get in. I got some supper for you."
"Supper?" I say, walking around the truck. "Christ, without the
tractor — "
"Been having trouble with the hydraulic all day," Percy says when I
get in. He lifts a lid off a pot on the seat. "That's how come I didn't bring
it out here. Your father and me been working on it the last couple of
hours." I notice the oil splotched down the front of his shirt and trousers.
"We need a new hose and can't get it until tomorrow, so the goddamn
cultivator's stuck in the ground over on the CPR quarter. That's how
come we couldn't get over here to make a fire-guard."
I take a plate off the seat, dump thick stew out of the pot onto it.
"Without a fire-guard," I say, "means we'll have to stay out here most of
the night."
"That's why — " Percy reaches under the ripped seat.
"There's still sparks popping off far enough to catch the grass."
"-I brought this along." Percy holds up a half-full 26-ounce bottle
of whiskey.
"Shit, Percy." I shake my head as he unscrews the cap, takes a pull. I
eat the stew and mop up the gravy with one of Mom's homemade buns.
Then I light an after-dinner Rothmans.
For the next couple of hours we sit in Percy's truck, drinking the
whiskey, bull-shitting. After a while we roll the windows up to keep the
mosquitoes out. The windshield begins to fog, chilled by the autumn air
outside, warmed by our breath inside. A few times one of us —we argue
12 every time whose turn it is — has to get out and run over with the blanket
to a patch of grass put on fire by a spark belched out of the smouldering
wreckage, flying like a flare in the dying light before it lands.
middle of November he went on a hunting trip up to Hudson's Bay with
three farmer friends Won't be back until the sixteenth Soph he told his
wife but the moose didn't show a single-shot's worth so he arrived home
two days early on Wednesday in the evening after driving most of the
day after dropping the boys off he discovered Sophie's not there probably
visiting the MacGregors down the road or in town at her mother's he
thought chuckling at the notion taking seed in his head and by the time
Sophie arrived home the half-ton was parked in the barn and the house
was dark just like she left it to take some eggs to the MacGregors who
sent back the jar of cream she had in her hand while walking through
the gate up the stone path to the door she opened reached for the light
switch but there was another hand over it the jar crashed to the floor she
fainted so quickly she didn't hear her husband chuckling and she died in
his arms a moment later without hearing his I'11-never-do-it-again words
Across the smouldering embers appears a dark figure, a deeper
blackness against the round dark shapes of the bins, looming larger, the
spectre of a hunched woman in black advances towards us, blotting out
now the stand of poplars behind the bins and the head, even slumped
forward as it is, pokes into the purple sky. "Holy shit!" I grab the armrest.
Percy rolls down his window. "Hey! Who's out there?"
I rub the steam off the inside of the windshield and Percy flips on the
headlights. On the other side of the burnt house a small man in a gray
sweater looks up in the path of light, raises an arm as if to protect
"What the hell?" I say to Percy.
The man in the light steps forward, then swings the rest of his body
even with the stepping-out leg.
"Miles," breathes Percy.
"Step-and-a-Half," I say. "What the hell is he doing out here?"
"Good question." Percy gets out of the truck. "Miles? Miles Iwanicki,
c'mon over here." He gestures to the old man, who lowers his head and
cries nothing short of a whimper.
"It's me, Percy." Percy walks around the ruins of the house. "Percy,
remember?" He puts his arm around the old man's shoulder. "C'mon
back to the truck. Awful cold out here with only a sweater on."
Before the two of them reach the truck I hear the "sorry sorry sorry"
whine of the old man. His brush-cut head sways back and forth; his
shoulders are shaking. When he gets into the half-ton, he turns eyes red
as pickled beets towards Percy. "You can take me to jail now, boys."
'3 Percy laughs. "Ain't nobody taking you to jail. Only place we're taking
you is home."
Step-and-a-Half rubs his ruddy cheek with a big thumb. His head
drops until his chin hits his chest. "I'm sorry. ..." he cries.
Percy puts his hand on the old man's knees. "It's all right, all right."
He glances at me behind the wheel. "Let's go, Bob. We'll take Miles back
to town."
I look out through the bug-splattered windshield. "The house — "
"It'll be all right. Wind's died right down and there hasn't been a spark
in the last hour and a half." He motions with his hand. "Let's go."
I back the old Chevy up and stall it only once before getting onto the
grid. Old man Iwanicki cries tears, babbles incoherent words, most of
the five miles to town. We don't ask how he got out to his old homestead,
what he was doing out there. He probably couldn't tell us anyway.
Whipping the GMC into an angle park in front of the poolhall, I bang
against the curb harder than I intend. My face is powder-puffed with
dirt, my eyes raw, from swathing barley most of the day, and the only
reason I'm in town is to get a goddamn idler arm welded at the machine
shop. But since I am in town....
"Hey, Whip," I say, striding into the dimness, walking up to the
counter. "Two packs of Rothmans."
"Ain't we a sight." Whip turns on his stool away from his game of
solitaire and plucks the cigarettes off the shelf behind him. "Two-ninety."
I give him the money and put the smokes into my shirt pocket.
"So how's the whore-vest and come-bining going?"
"Not bad," I say, walking away. "If the weather holds and the frigging swather doesn't break down again, should be done swathing by
Whip nods, flips over three cards. "Don't work too hard."
I stop in the doorway, hesitate before re-entering the afternoon glare.
Step-and-a-Half rounds the corner of the building, carrying a handful of
grimy popsicle sticks. "Hi Miles," I say but he doesn't even look up. He
just plops himself on the bench in front of the poolhall.
A long-legged young woman I don't know, a tourist probably,
wearing bright yellow pants and high heels, struts by on the sidewalk. I
follow the rear end, think of grinding gears. She flicks a half-smoked,
lipstick-smudged cigarette out of her hand as she enters Pip's Department Store. The butt rolls up against the leg of the bench Step-and-a-
Half is sitting on. He leans over, reaches down towards it.
"Hey," I say. "Miles." I pull a pack of smokes out of my pocket and
hand it to him. "Here. You can have these."
The old man stops in mid-motion to look up at me. I advance with the
outstretched hand. "Here."
14 His sunken eyes stare blankly at me. I see sweat beaded on his lined
forehead. I put the smokes on the bench next to him. "You can
have 'em."
Step-and-a-Half looks away. He picks up the woman's smouldering
cigarette, brings it to his lips.
I get in the half-ton and head out to the farm.
15 Bert Almon/ Three Poems
I have an axiom about the equality of times
As the Champ took off from the grassy strip
Jim waggled its wings to Jennifer
down in the car doing her math homework
The highways were a fine set of geometrical shapes
I noticed an interchange like an infinity sign
with the ray of a freeway bisecting its middle
and could have believed our vector was unlimited
except when an occasional bump of warm air
from a plowed field reminded me of earthly ties
After the landing we went back to the car
and tapped on the glass to get Jennifer's attention
She had spent a dull half hour on one assignment
Times equal to the same time are not equal to each other
We're here to honour gifted children
by launching a volume of their writings
With folded arms three minor politicians sit
on folding chairs in the little theatre
Each one represents someone important
who couldn't come but wanted to be here
An interpreter transforms every speech
into the fluent gestures of the deaf
The politicians have good words for the book
but their speeches are made of pre-fab phrases
many of them damaged in the assembly —
"This is a warm-heartening event"
we're told
and the interpreter
makes a quick move with the hand
fingers outward away from the mouth
then traces the outline of a heart
with index fingers on the chest
I'm astounded to see a speech
gaining so much in the translation
My mother was six in 1931, the year
of KarlofPs Frankenstein. When the monster
and the little girl began to play
by the lake, tossing flowers in the water,
my mother stood right up in the Strand
and yelled out, "Run, you crazy fool, run!"
That scene was soon cut from the film.
A few years later, a strange man sat by her
in the dark and ran his hand over her body.
She didn't yell, not knowing what would happen
if she did. I can't imagine her as a child
when there are no snapshots — a cold family —
so I always imagine a Shirley Temple
in curls and cuteness. More than forty years
after Frankenstein, her uncle Eli was coming
for a visit, and she broke out in a rash.
Finally she realized the strange man
hadn't been a stranger. Memory made the cuts
it had to, but the body remembered
the monster wearing a family face.
18 Mary Reynolds
touch yourself there.
Your hands will fall off.
But I did and I did and
sure enough, my
hands fell off.
With the stumps of my arms,
I placed them gently in a
brown paper bag and
quietly carried them
to the garbage can.
Then, I carefully sewed
small ladles to the empty
spot on my arms
all things could be done
with spoons.
'9 Mary Hagey
The Long Way Home
Livvy Harris leaned forward in the driver's seat. She peered over the
steering wheel, holding it with both hands, and seemed to be concentrating intensely on the road as it unfolded beyond the shiny blue hood of
the car. The exaggerated caution was for her parents' benefit; the car
was new and belonged to them.
Despite Livvy's efforts to appear totally in control, her mother, sitting
in the front beside her, pressed down on an imaginary brake at every
stop sign. Her father relaxed in the back, smelling up the car with his
spicy after shave. Livvy longed to roll down the window but knew it
wouldn't get halfway before her mother would complain about the dust
in her throat, the wind wrecking her set, or not being able to hear herself think. It would be nice, Livvy mused, to not be able to hear her
mother think.
"You know, Olivia," said her mother, interrupting Livvy's thoughts,
"you really should sit on a cushion when you drive. You can hardly see
over the steering wheel." Livvy assured her she could see just fine, but
her mother continued. "You look just like Oaffie. He sticks his nose up in
the air like that when he smells another dog coming around."
"Thank you, Mother," said Livvy, unconsciously tilting her head
downward a bit and taking a deep breath to prepare herself for the
speech about being short that she knew was coming. She wished they'd
gone straight home from church rather than taking this unnecessary detour. Her mother had talked her into it —said they should enjoy the
autumn colours.
"You might as well face the fact that you're short."
Here we go, thought Livvy.
"It's not the end of the world. You could be crippled or blind or something. There are nice clothes for short people now, and you can wear as
high a heel as you like. Think of poor Margaret. Can you imagine being
six feet tall?"
"Five ten," corrected Livvy.
"Is that what she tells people? Anyway, she has to wear flats all the
time, which certainly does nothing for the leg. Having to sit on a cushion
20 is nothing to be ashamed of. . .being short is nothing to be ashamed of.
Some very famous people were short: Napoleon, Einstein. . . .1 don't
know of any women."
"Laura Secord," said Livvy dryly.
"Was Laura Secord really short?" asked Mrs. Harris, looking at her
daughter in amazement. "How do you know? Did you read that
"It's recorded in all the history books," said Livvy, pressing down on
the accelerator. "Laura Secord: five foot one, one hundred and ten
pounds, thirty-six twenty-four thirty-six, led her purebred Jersey cow
through the American lines to warn the British. I thought everyone
knew that." She could feel the muscles tightening at the back of her neck.
She shrugged her shoulders a few times to loosen up.
"I can tell when you're being sarcastic," said Livvy's mother, shaking
her head sadly. "It's bitterness, Olivia, and not a very attractive trait. I
don't know where in heaven's name you get it. . . .Of course I don't
know where you get your height either; there isn't a woman on my side
of the family who's under five four."
"Why that's a fact, isn't it?" said Mr. Harris, turning his attention
away from the medley of fields: grass, corn stubble, and those just
freshly plowed. "None on my side either that I can think of."
"There's your cousin Alice," said Mrs. Harris in an effort to set the
record straight. She picked some lint from her skirt, then, rolling the
window down just a crack, pinched it through to the outside.
"She's stout, Ellen, but she's not short," insisted Mr. Harris. "She just
looks that way; it's an optical illusion."
"There's no way she's five four," said Mrs. Harris with finality.
Turning to Livvy she added, "There's one thing to be thankful for,
Olivia —you'd really have something to complain about if you were fat
like Cousin Alice. . .though I think you've inherited her heavy foot.
Must we fly down the road like this?"
Mr. Harris stretched himself out sideways and remarked how nice it
was to just sit back and let someone else do the driving. Livvy, relieved
at the change of conversation, relaxed and when they reached an intersection, asked if they wanted to go home by Woolich road and stop by
the quarry. Her father said he was game for anything and her mother,
foot still pressing on an invisible brake, was agreeable on the condition
that Livvy stop driving as though there were no tomorrow.
Livvy turned down Woolich road, passing the familiar farms, noticing
touches of recently painted trim, repaired fences, thinking how she
really should drive over some day and visit old Mrs. Mason. She
wondered how someone so old and wrinkled could stand being alive.
"Potatoes!" burst out Mr. Harris suddenly, sitting up and resting his
arms on the back of the front seat.
21 "Where?" asked his wife skeptically. She knew that no one for miles
around grew potatoes. And anyway, it was too late in the season.
"No," he laughed, "I'll bet it was the potatoes. Remember Liv? I used
to say, 'Eat your taters Puddin-head,' and you never would. That
must've been what did it. What d'you say, Livvy?"
"I say, why don't you talk about my nose for awhile. It's been days
now since anyone has mentioned my nose."
"What d'you mean?" he asked, leaning back, offended. He tried to
think what it was he'd said that could have been taken the wrong way.
"She's being sarcastic again," explained Mrs. Harris to her husband.
"She always has to take everything so personally. She's at that age."
Why hasn't she told me how I'm ruining this lovely Sunday drive,
wondered Livvy.
"The other day I just mentioned to Olivia," continued Livvy's mother, addressing her husband in a very controlled voice, "I said if she
wanted to, she could have her nose fixed —made a little smaller. Only if
it's what she wants. I mean lots of girls in her position would jump at
the chance."
What position am I in; am I in a position? Livvy blew at the bangs on
her forehead. "It's hot in here," she said, and opened the vent on her side
of the car.
"It was just a suggestion," Mrs. Harris went on. "Ann Landers says,
and I agree, that there is absolutely no point in going through life with
flaws if it isn't necessary." She gave a dry cough and gestured towards the
open vent. "We can do without that arctic breeze, Olivia."
Livvy inhaled a deep breath of the fresh air and pushed the vent back
in. "I like my nose," she said, surprising herself at how much she meant
it; she had despised it for as long as she could remember. "If I had it fixed
I'd look just like everyone else."
"That's ridiculous," argued her mother. "You can't look like everyone.
You'd look more like me, I think. You got that nose from your dad." She
reached over and took a strand of hair away from Livvy's eyes. "You'll
ruin your eyes letting your hair hang in them like that. I don't think
glasses would suit you either."
Livvy looked at her father in the rear-view mirror. He was running
his finger along his nose and looked as though he was about to say something. Protest, likely, Livvy figured, about being responsible for her
nose. He started whistling the children's hymn from the morning's
church service: All Things Bright And Beautiful.
"Let's just drop the whole business," suggested Mrs. Harris with a
deep sigh. "This over-sensitivity is ruining the drive. Just look at the
sunshine. How could anyone be so touchy on such a beautiful day?" She
straightened her skirt and settled more comfortably in the seat, as
though starting over.
22 I must have a personality flaw, thought Livvy absently. Her father's
whistling played on her nerves. She looked back at him, glaring,
thinking maybe he'd see her eyes and get the hint. That nose looks fine
on him, she thought. It matches the rest of his face: big, square. But he's
no movie star. Mother's just fixed him up, trying to make him look as
though he's not a 'dirt farmer' — make him look like he matches her in the
same way she matches her renovated kitchen: clean, efficient, colour coordinated. Livvy glanced at her mother. Mrs. Harris was peacefully
looking out the window, toying with the gold pendant that was usually
down in her cleavage. Big tits, thought Livvy. Always saying, "Olivia
dear, you should wear blouses with tucks or gathers to fill yourself out a
bit. . . don't slouch. . . don't be ashamed of your breasts." I must have got
my tits from my dad.
"You're speeding again, Olivia," said Mrs. Harris, annoyed that despite all her efforts, this was not turning out to be the nice Sunday drive
that people go out on. "Would you look at that," she said, perking up and
pointing to a farmhouse. Livvy slowed down. "The Wilsons have finally
got their circular drive put in. And paved yet. Seems ridiculous to have a
driveway paved when even the roads aren't done, don't you think,
"Oh well," said Mr. Harris, "that's George for you. He'll be happy
now. He's been planning that thing ever since we put ours in five
years ago."
Mrs. Harris was shaking her head incredulously. "Why has Ethel
gone and put her shrubs in those awful tractor tires? It's so tacky. It's
ruined everything really. Why spend a fortune on a driveway and then
plop those. . . those things there?"
Livvy started to shake her head too, thinking sarcastically, Why oh
why has she done that? God has made all things bright and beautiful and
Ethel Wilson with her tacky taste is messing it up.
"Livvy. Livvy!" said her mother in exasperation. "I know I said to
slow down, but this is ridiculous. Are you tired? Don't slouch. Good
heavens but you need a cushion!"
Livvy leaned back trying to look casually competent, thinking how she
was competent. She'd had her license for over a year and her driver
training instructor had never mentioned anything about a cushion.
"Is that Caroline out raking leaves?" asked Mr. Harris, sitting up and
looking keenly in the direction of the young woman he knew full well to
be Caroline. Caroline looked up when the car passed but not in time to
recognize them. "Honk the horn, Livvy! Livvy. . .you should have
honked the horn."
"I think it's a shame that no one observes the Lord's day anymore,"
said Mrs. Harris.
"Some people find raking leaves relaxing," Mr. Harris said, sitting
23 back again, flushed, annoyed that he hadn't been driving. "I don't think
you could call it work." He thought about how it would have been if he
had been driving the car. He could see himself tooting at Caroline,
stopping to remark at what a lovely day it was for raking leaves. His wife
would have made some comment, he thought. Something that would
make him feel ridiculous. He started to feel ridiculous. Caroline was
barely older than Livvy.
"That Caroline is a lovely girl, though," said Mrs. Harris. "A wonderful cook too." There was a note of condescension in her voice.
"Oh, for sure," said Mr. Harris, confessing, "I had a piece of her
sponge cake at the strawberry social this year. That girl will have no
trouble a'tall getting a husband." He felt better; it was all such a lot of
silly nonsense, he thought, wondering why he'd gotten caught up in
it again.
"The men hang around her like flies," said Mrs. Harris, thinking how
silly her husband had looked last June hanging around with the others,
making such a fuss over an angel cake.
"I think Margaret is a much better cook," said Livvy. "The things she
makes aren't all fluff. And she makes all her own clothes too."
"She has to, she's so tall. . . and since when have you been so thick with
Margaret?" asked Mrs. Harris. "I didn't know you were chummy
with her."
"We're not chummy," said Livvy abruptly. The car swerved slightly and
the wheels momentarily spun through a ridge of thick gravel. "I just
think she's nice. . . smart, too."
"All right, all right, let's not get ourselves killed," said Mrs. Harris,
hanging on to the dashboard. "Maybe your father better take over
driving since you seem to be in a mood."
Is that what this is, wondered Livvy. Is it a mood when you feel like
going a hundred miles an hour with the windows down, the radio
blaring and your parents screaming for mercy?
"Don't you worry your little head about Margaret," said Mr. Harris
soothingly, staying settled in his seat, making no move to do as his wife
suggested. "Her folks have a nice farm set-up there for a bright lad with
an eye for more than just a beautiful girl. The good Lord has a way of
Why doesn't he go back to whistling? Why doesn't he just shut up and
whistle, Livvy wondered, then said, "Margaret isn't sticking around to
marry someone who likes her dad's farm. She's going to university next
year." Livvy wanted to say that she wasn't sticking around either, but she
didn't have the nerve — and then what if she didn't leave? She wasn't an 'A'
student or outgoing like Margaret.
Mr. Harris said he hadn't heard of Margaret's plans.
"They change with the wind," explained his wife. "First she was going
24 to be a biologist, now it's a doctor. Margaret's always thought she was
better than the rest of us."
Livvy clenched the wheel and said, "It's just not true." Then they
drove on in silence.
Mr. Harris felt at a loss for words. He knew something was troubling
Livvy but wondered if it wasn't some 'woman thing' that he couldn't do
anything about anyway.
Mrs. Harris was thinking about how her husband had referred to
Caroline as beautiful. She cleared her throat. "I wouldn't say Caroline is
beautiful, Edward," she said.
Oh, oh. . .Livvy thought.
"She's really a bit too thin," continued Mrs. Harris. "Her elbows are
just two little knobs. . .her knees and ankles are bony too. There should
be enough flesh to smooth over the frame. It's more feminine."
Poor Caroline, thought Livvy. Throw her in the quarry and she'd
probably drown. Not enough fat to keep her beautiful teeth and blond
hair afloat.
Mr. Harris thought it best to change the subject. He drew his wife's
attention to some burnt ruins off in the distance.
"The Miller place," Mrs. Harris cried. "I haven't seen it since the
accident. Slowdown, Olivia."
Livvy obeyed, bringing the car to a crawl. Now we're going to hear all
about the very handsome Larry Miller, thought Livvy, his beautiful
fiancee, and how there was something very fishy about the whole case.
"You know Edward, there was really something strange about that
case if you ask me," said Mrs. Harris. "He was such a nice boy. I just
cannot believe he'd do such a thing. I remember when he ran out of gas
once over by our place and came to borrow a gallon. Tall —he bumped
his head in the doorway." Her voice softened. "Such nice manners. You
couldn't ask for nicer manners."
"The shed he killed her in is gone," observed Mr. Harris. "Somebody
probably took it apart for the wood. City people likely, finishing their
basement. Wonder if his folks are going to rebuild or stay in town
now. . .foundation looks okay. I could never figure out why he dragged
her into the house and set fire to it. Why not just bury her?"
"I don't think he could have done it," said Mrs. Harris. "He was such a
lovely young man." She leaned her forehead against the window for a
moment; her breath made a circle of steam.
"Did he pay for the gas?" asked Mr. Harris. "When he stopped by —
did he pay for it? Did he bring some back or what?"
"It was almost a year ago, Edward. How am I supposed to remember
some little detail after all that time?"
Mr. Harris took a white, folded hankie from his breast pocket, shook
it loose, then reached forward and wiped the steam from the window. "I
25 always remember when people pay for things or bring them back," he
said. "Miller did it all right, Ellen —killed her. There's no doubt of that."
"If he did it —and I'm not saying I think he did, it was probably because he was too smart. You know, sometimes people are very intelligent
and something just sort of snaps. They say he was really very clever."
Livvy stifled a laugh, thinking, clever Larry banged his head twice a
day for five years getting on and off the school bus because he was so
busy thinking deep intelligent thoughts. But not thoughts about how to
strangle his beautiful half-naked girlfriend and drag her body across the
yard to the house so he could fry her up like a chicken.
When the Miller place was behind them, Mrs. Harris turned to her
daughter. "It's nice to see you smiling, Olivia," she said. "If you're feeling
better maybe when we get to the quarry we could get out for a minute or
two; it's always quite nice in the fall."
Livvy turned off Woolich Road onto the narrow laneway that led to
the quarry. They were less than a mile from home —the quarry had been
one of her favourite childhood places. "It if nice," she agreed. "But it
could be so much nicer. They should tear out some of the wild bushes
and lay down some sod. What the place needs is grass and some patio
blocks —what the place needs," she said, smiling with mock earnestness
at her mother, "is total landscaping."
Livvy's parents looked at one another. Mrs. Harris could tell that her
husband was thinking it was her Livvy was making fun of, and she hated
him for it. She turned and sat looking straight ahead with her arms
folded, thinking how the Sunday drive was being ruined. And weren't
they speeding again? "Slow down!" she commanded.
Livvy tried to lift her foot slightly from the pedal; it felt numb. She
wondered what would happen if she couldn't control herself and put the
accelerator to the floor. She could imagine the car bouncing wildly and
the trees and road blurring in front of her. She blinked her eyes, trying
to clear away the image.
"Now Liv," said Mr. Harris patting Livvy on the shoulder. Their eyes
met in the mirror and he thought it looked as though she was about to
cry. "Let me take over, Livvy; it just isn't your day, is it?"
"Fm just fine," she said, looking back at the lane and shrugging his
hand away. "Who couldn't be fine on such a beautiful day." She honked
the horn. "That's a cheer for the beautiful day."
"You're not the least bit funny," Mrs. Harris said calmly, telling herself she would not give her daughter any satisfaction by getting upset.
Something white running among the bushes ahead caught Mr.
Harris's attention. "It's Oaffie," he said, pointing. "For a minute there it
looked a bit like Sheba."
"Sheba," repeated Mrs. Harris softly, remembering. There was no
way Oaffie could look like Sheba. "Sheba was one in a million," she said.
26 "A purebred. Oaffie's a mutt, for heaven's sake!"
"Sheba was special all right," agreed Mr. Harris.
"She didn't run all over the country either, getting sprayed by skunks
and mating with anything," said Mrs. Harris. "Never again do I get
myself attached to an animal like Sheba; it's better just to have a dog
like Oaffie."
"Oaffie's a good dog," said Mr. Harris. "He's a whiz at rounding up
the cows."
"He's a wonderful dog," said Livvy. Tears blurred her vision. "You
gave Sheba liver and hamburger and let her in the house."
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked her mother. "What's
the matter with you, anyway?"
"Slow down Liv," urged her father. "The potholes along here are
pretty deep —you shouldn't be doing more than ten miles an hour."
Livvy's hands gripped the wheel as she aimed the car down the middle
of the lane. "Oaffie gets stale bread, soggy with bacon fat," she said.
"Are you going to let her drive like this, Edward?" demanded
Mrs. Harris.
"Liv, stop the car," insisted Mr. Harris, leaning over the back of
the seat.
"Leave me alone," Livvy hissed. "Both of you just leave me alone!"
The car jolted as it hit a pothole. "For Godsakes Edward, the quarry's
not far. . ." cried Mrs. Harris, grabbing for the dashboard, her face
twisted urgently towards her husband.
Out of the bushes on the right hand side bounded a white mongrel.
He raced alongside the car, tongue hanging, ears back, eager. In a burst
of speed he started to cross over to the other side of the lane the way he
often did when racing with the tractor. To Livvy he was but a small
fuzzy image that moved within the blurry tunnel of the trees, a white
splotch that seemed to hang suspended for a second in front of the car
before she heard her mother's scream, a deep resonant thud, and her
foot, quite on its own, found the brake.
There was a moment when the noise of the engine roared in Livvy's
head, distorting her mother's voice nattering about a cushion, about how
she knew something like this would happen. Her father reached for the
keys, turned off the ignition and got out of the car. With the silence came
a vague realization of what had just happened. "Oaffie," she cried,
quickly opening the door and following her father to the ditch where the
dog was lying motionless.
She knelt next to Oaffie and watched her father as he stooped and
examined the dog—his hands moving with the quick efficiency of a man
who'd handled animals all his life. "He's in pretty bad shape, Liv," he
said. "His hind legs are both broken —no more chasing skunks. And
there's no telling about internal injuries."
27 Livvy leaned forward and stroked Oaffie's forehead. "If we take him to
the vet right away, Dad
"Don't go getting blood on that good wool skirt, Olivia," yelled her
mother. She was out examining the bumper.
"How's the car?" asked Mr. Harris.
"It's all right," she said, running her hand over the surface. "Is... is he
Livvy tried to blot out her parents' conversation. She scratched Oaffie
gently behind his ears. "I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "Wake up. Please,
please. ..."
"It was an accident, Liv," said her father. "Now go on back to the car."
He pushed back Oaffie's eye-lids, then went to the car and opened the
trunk. For a moment Livvy's hopes rose; she thought maybe they'd take
Oaffie to the vet after all. Her father was removing his suit coat and
rolling up his sleeves. He took some tools out of an old feed bag and left
them in the trunk, bringing the burlap back with him. "Go on, Livvy,"
he said sternly.
"What are you going to do?" she asked. "Are we taking him to the
vet?" She could hear her own voice rising, shrill.
"No Livvy. . . there's no point taking him all that way and paying
thirty, thirty-five dollars for what I already know."
"You took Sheba when she got hit. You took her and she was already dead."
"We weren't absolutely sure. Anyway, it's not the same thing." He
shooed Livvy aside and placed the sack on the ground next to Oaffie,
easing the dog over onto it, his hands avoiding the knots of burrs that
were now wet with blood. "He won't suffer this way, Liv. You don't want
him to suffer, do you?"
"How are you going to murder him?" asked Livvy. "Are you just
going to throw him in the quarry? That's what you're going to do, isn't
it? Isn't it!"
Mr. Harris picked up the dog, struggling to get a good hold. "I'm not
going to throw him. I'll just put his head under for a minute. He won't
feel a thing." He adjusted the sack to protect his clothes and headed
down towards the water.
"I'll take care of Oaffie myself," cried Livvy, calling after her father. "I
hate you," she screamed when he didn't stop. "I hate both of you," she
yelled, turning towards her mother, who was sitting in the car with the
door open. "I want you to know I gave him hamburger. I gave him all
kinds of things when you weren't around."
Mrs. Harris looked through her purse for a kleenex. She found one
and held it up motioning for Livvy to come and get it.
We musn't look a mess, thought Livvy at the sight of the yellow tissue.
Not even out here with no one around. "No!" she yelled, backing away
28 from her mother. She turned and ran, stumbling through the brush
along the ditch, tripping as her high heels caught on clumps of earth and
stones. She crossed over into a field at a place where the fence was down,
and headed toward the hill that faced the quarry.
Mrs. Harris watched her daughter and thanked God that the teen
years would soon be over. She thought that maybe it would do Livvy
some good to run home —let off some steam. She turned to see her
husband attending to things at the water's edge and wondered for a
minute about Larry Miller and what it was his girl friend had done to
provoke him so.
Mr. Harris knelt on a flat white rock that jutted out into the small
lake. He held Oaffie over the water, the brown sack drawn over the dog's
face so he didn't have to see death quite so vividly, and to protect himself in case the cold water should revive consciousness. When he lowered
Oaffie's head into the water the small furry body convulsed, almost
making him lose his balance. He felt a shiver flutter through the dog;
bubbles gurgled up to the surface. He thought of Oaffie rounding up the
cows, darting eagerly into the woods searching out the strays.
Livvy scrambled to the top of the hill. She had discarded her shoes;
her feet were bleeding and her stockings were riddled with holes and
runs; bits of weeds clung to her skirt and sweater. She stood panting,
wiping her hair from her eyes, and looked down over the quarry where
she could see her father huddled over the dog. For a moment she imagined she saw Oaffie snap to life; she could picture him tearing away from
her father and racing back up the lane toward the car where her mother
was sitting with the door open. She could almost hear her mother
scream, see the horror on her face as she reached too late to close the
door on Oaffie, who lunged, teeth bared. . . .But Oaffie did not rise, did
not fight back.
Exhausted, Livvy sank to the ground. She breathed the crisp autumn
air and slowly pulled the clinging weeds from her clothes.
Before her lay the quarry, the leaves on the trees dazzling in the sunlight; and the water, usually dark and cool, reflected the vibrancy. Even
Oaffie, lying now on the ground, looked from a distance like one of the
little white rocks, speckled with beautiful red leaves and radiating warmth.
29 Richard Harrison
There are moths within my mother
beautiful moths, large
with wings like the faces of owls
moths named for the moon and its madness
Within her they have been born
within her they have slept
and dreamed the sleep of changes
within her they have been safe
and when they awoke
it was beneath the pale white light
of her translucent skin
This is a story, one inside me
that I tell and re-tell. I look for
its image within my work.
In the words themselves
it happens:
the word moth
within the word mother
the word mouth,
where poems begin,
opens the same way
in the same act of speech.
Each time I begin these words
it is the same.
The others are silent in the one
and struggle to escape.
3° This is a story. It is of how we,
as children, took some caterpillars home
and hatched them with care into moths
and how they died in our home
unable to get out,
how I saw them
reaching for the light
with their tattered wings,
how even the death of insects
speaks of pain,
how the body
does not release its own
and dying
they flap against her skin
like mouths
she does not hear.
31 Jascha Kessler
Indian Summer. The Mohawk Valley. The rolling countryside of
Oneida County. On College Hill, actually, out back on the north side,
beyond the football field, following the fairway as it slopes up and
delivers you onto the mount of the 7th Green, atop which, after putting,
you can pause to survey three small valleys —and consider the conclusion to summer's works. A pattern of greens: cornfields, beanfields,
fields of broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, hayfields and stony cow-
pastures, clumps of maple, oak, ash and beech copses glimmering aureate, blistering into scarlet, slowly burning and dropping their shrivelled,
cooling embers to reveal, from this height, their interwoven branches
that will look like great grey nests for crows and winter snow. Among
them the farmhouses standing out more clearly now, the roadside
hamlets like Paris and Oriskany and Hinman Corners down below
where the creeks wind, those withering old New York wooden houses,
shapeless and shambling, leaning together in peeling poverty for a
hundred years now. Smoke curling in the still air of October, partly
from fireplaces and leafpiles, partly from the garbage dumps or car
bodies forever smoldering in the wreckers' pits that mark these nearly
nameless places littered and dying around this harsh region. Here and
there the new ranch homes or redone Greek Revival specimens of
gentlemen farmers, the squires and merchants and bank presidents who
prefer the countryside, bleak as it is, to the decrepit cities and industrial
suburbs of the long valley to the west towards the Great Lakes far away.
A fine prospect though during Indian Summer. Best time of the year.
For spring is melting snowpack and running red clay. Summer humid,
oppressive, empty. Winter a hell of ice glare or howling blizzard of sleet
and unending drifting snowsqualls. But in autumn there is that distant
view of grey-black foothills to the north, the Adirondacks; and over
them, high up, the faint feathered clouds darting through the stratosphere, presaging those ponderous black bellying low clouds that sweep
along the ridges and drop the damp, immolating snows of late November. Yet, these few weeks of clarity we have, and vision comes as revelation, as fulfilment before the end.
32 I am not, this late afternoon hour, mounting the tumulus of the 7th
Green, putter in hand, but helping my friend's wife up. We have strolled
out here for our last portion of the still and limpid air. It's the Saturday
of the annual Sigma Chi Halloween Party. The cars have all pulled away
from the football field, crowds scurried off to their various celebrations
and cocktail hours. After several years of this regular Halloween bash,
we have grown weary of the Sigs of Sigma Chi and their sluttish Vassar
dates back there before the First Tee of the golf course. In the hall we
have just left, the Sigs, suavely cheery in their Brooks tuxes, snotty
and condescending, pouring out bourbon and champagne to the faculty
by the insulting case, are introducing their dates, vivid twenty-year-old
girls, healthy, fresh-skilled, tireless, stunning in their Bendel and Saks
dresses, and flushed with roaring the afternoon away in the football
stands, with booze, and brimming over with eager sex. The Sigs and
their dates enjoy hosting their professors; they get a sardonic sort of
kick from watching their intoxicated teachers weave off into the night,
staggering among the fraternity's Porsche, Triumph, MG and Mercedes roadsters that lie parked carelessly outside like a few dozen hunters
tethered at a country inn toward the close of the great Fall Hunt.
Margaret and I had left them while it was not yet dusk though, to
watch the twilight come on, as well as to escape the swelling din of orgy.
Her husband was standing with his nose in the 90-proof punch cup,
paying court to Prexy, an unctuous ex-minister who'd been brought up
by the Trustees to beef up the venerable institution by augmenting
sociology, political science and psychology — the wave of the future, as
he calls these subjects. He may well be correct: we are working hard at
transforming Sigs into lawyers and admen, into our social managers,
our chiefs. Canny, these ex-Presbyterian ministers, who are caring properly for this world of ours. Margaret's husband was listening hard to the
President, who had remained as usual next to the big bowl to dip his cup
frequently and get the obedient attentions of his faculty as they came up
and returned for more of the same. Margaret's husband was laughing at
all his jokes: he hasn't finished his thesis yet, and his position is still
unsure. He is only halfway through a study of voting behavior in the
former colonies of Africa, a Harvard idealist who'd helped in formulating their constitutions as a prize undergraduate interning in Washington
over the summers. But over the last six years, six of his seven countries
have been restructured into native tyrannies, and he is persona non
grata in them all: if the records he needs are not destroyed, they are in
any case sealed to him. Between that, and Margaret's six-years' barrenness, he has work ahead yet for his laurels. Still, his old preppy ties at
Rockefeller and Ford keep him in firewood, and Margaret in gowns like
this ivory, gold-embroidery-edged raw silk thing she has on tonight, her
fine breasts floating free in it as she takes my hand to clamber up onto
the 7th Green with me. Her shoulders are protected from the cooling air
33 by a thick ermine jacket. For three years now we have been friends.
Margaret is happy here after nervous, smug, perverted Cambridge. Her
childhood as a poor white in the tobacco-sharecropping hinterland of
North Carolina haunts her, but these clothes, the great old college
house, and the position comfort her. Great wide eyes and a fine head she
carries erect above those sloping, firm shoulders: these ought to more
than suffice for her here in this small, closed community among the old
Indian hills, populated by pigeon-toed and gaunt professors' women or
chapped-handed and haggard, pregnant instructors' wives. Often she
seems melancholy to me after a few bourbon and waters, wistful. This
vestige of her miserable childhood is charming: she has grown up, not as
a weed with tiny flowers in some briar patch, but into a handsome, big,
velvety magnolia blossom. She walks with a long sway, but proudly tall,
and in that white gown, pacing across the 7th Green, her gait is a
"Did you know," she says, "the fruit of the magnolia flower's a spiky,
hard, dry, heavy cone, about as big as your fist? We used to throw them
like grenades when we were little kids. I have a scar from one too." And
she lifts the mass of auburn hair that shaded her cheek: on her left temple
there is a faint round set of tiny, stippled scars, like an old smallpox
badge. I touch it gently.
Around the valleys strung out below us to the north, to the east, and
the south there are bonfires lighting: they look like torches lifted here
and there on those slopes facing us. Too far off for us to make out the
knots of children running or dancing about them like savages. The sun
has just vanished behind our backs in the southwest, beyond the distant
Alleghenies. Oriskany Valley, laid out beneath, is a clear gold, red,
black picture puzzle. There are stone markers standing in the woods that
show the border of the English colony a little more than two hundred
years ago. We are standing a few miles outside that pale, in Indian
Territory, up here on the golf course. Margaret has laughed at everything I've said during the last hour. Margaret has smiled at me with
affection, tenderly, even when I've said nothing at all. Margaret tonight
is gay, yet grave. A handsome woman, but in this twilight now, as I
touch that scarred temple, her loveliness stuns me. I see beauty itself.
And I tell her so. She smiles, and in that murmuring drawl replies,
"Why how poetical the liquor's made you tonight." No, no, I say, it's
something about you. "My new gown, child. Isn't it ravishing?"
Look at that! I say. It's perfect: the full moon has come floating up in
the east. A primitive artist has painted it a deep red-orange, pumpkin
colour, laid on for Halloween. The long hill over which it sails gives it
rondure. What a pity it would have been to have missed this sight by
standing back there in that Sig pen swilling hard punch. But, glancing at
Margaret, I realize that she gazes up at it with no joy. Tears fill her
34 wide, green eyes; her hands lie crossed, palms cupping her breasts.
Margaret, I say, are you grieving?
The moon's light lies pooled in those eyes as she looks at it. From the
gray, old stone mansion of the Sig house, a patch of lights beyond the
golf course, behind the pines, comes only the syncopated thudding of the
rock band's bass. We stand alone in the circle of close-cropped green
grass at the 7th hole, its green now a black platform in the scarlet moonlight. Margaret tries to answer me. Her lips quiver, but she can say
nothing. The tip of her tongue emerges to taste the tear that has trickled
down beside her nose, and over her lip. I think, I should like to taste
Margaret's tears myself. I say, Margaret, what's the matter? A reply,
faint, "It's nothing dear, nothing at all." At a loss, I try, It's beautiful,
isn't it. "Yes. For the moment only." Is that what makes you sad? "I'm
not sad, really. It's these headaches I've been having. I'm on tranquilizers, you know." I did not. "And they make me laugh, they make me
weep. As if I had feelings."
Her words perturb me. "But," she adds, "I don't have them, you
know. Isn't that awful?" With a catch of laughter or of tears, a sob, she
tosses her head proudly. She is gorgeous. I turn and take her in my
arms, consoling. It is awful.
She clings, burying her wet cheek in my throat. For a moment. I don't
know what I hold in my arms: the ermine jacket has a thick animal
musk, and her breasts against mine shake as her breath comes in broken
gasps. A long moment it is, until I feel her calming. It must be some fine
animal I have caught in my arms, and now it rests here, without terror.
But it's unpredictable, I know. Then, "Oh, look!" she cries out. I release
her and turn. She points at the sky near the moon, suffused now with an
expanding aura of shimmering golden light. "What's that!" Above the
globe of that moon, and far beyond it in space it seems, there's a point of
bright light, brilliant as the evening star. It is rising fast, towards the
zenith. It is not Venus, for that one sparkles over the horizon at our
backs, above the abyss into which the sun has fallen. This wanderer
swims steadily, wavering slightly in the tremulous atmosphere. "What
ever is that?" she cries again, "it frightens me." Ah, that must be a satellite, I say, one of our space stations. It's picking up the rays of the hidden
sun. Look how fast it flies out there.
"Suppose it's one of theirs," she says. "Suppose it's coming for us.
Suppose it's carrying the Doomsday Bomb." Ah no, Margaret, I say,
stroking her arm, don't even think of it. "Suppose it is, and suppose the
end of the world will come in twenty minutes. What would you do!" Her
hair is disarrayed, drooping in an auburn-black shield over her cheeks.
Her eyes are fixed on me. She has seized my hands in hers, and is pressing them convulsively, as though trying to utter a phrase in sign
language. "What would you do if you'd only twenty minutes left to live?"
35 Well, I say, I think I would. . . ."What!" She's smiling at me, curious.
Well, I'd fuck.
Margaret flings my hands away, in disappointment, or despair. She
turns away sighing. "Oh, you!" Well I would, I say, coming up beside
her where she stands poised at the edge of the Green. Deeply, ruefully,
she sighs again. She's staring like a diver down into the wild ground
below, the coarse weed stalks of summer gone, down along the disused,
rutted path wandering off precipitously to the woods that border the golf
course here, a path tangled with fallen branches, deep drifts of leaves
clotted with mold and mud. Quite calmly she remarks, "I'm afraid it
wouldn't do me much good. My legs are like logs for the first ten minutes, like dead wood. It's all I can do to hold them open, you know. And
it takes me thirty minutes to come. . . if I do come. Isn't that awful?
The world would be over by then. I'm sorry, darling." And she begins to
laugh, too loudly now, pointing up at the satellite that has climbed into
the velvety black zenith overhead. "Twenty minutes to go," she cries,
"only twenty minutes!" I am looking up at that moving point, puzzled.
A violent tug at my throat snaps my neck painfully. She has ripped
open the knot of my bowtie. And she's flitting down the steep slope off
the Green on her heeled white sandals, dashing along that dark path,
running towards the wood, a white, weaving form. I hesitate up there on
the high mound of the dangerous darkness down the hillside. I listen to
her steps fading. Then her voice comes back, a poignant cry of pain.
Then, silence. She must have fallen down there in that obscurity. Like a
wounded creature, she is lying in her fine white silk and fur, waiting for
an end to it.
36 Jascha Kessler
"In ten years, you'll forgive this night."
"Another ten, and you'll forget it."
"Ten more, and you'll wonder what the fuss was about."
Never, I said, finally.
Cocksure. But it went beyond that with him. Decathlon Silver Medallist. I'd watched him scoring all those years at school. He knew it, too.
And after a triumphal return from the Games, he came to me at Thanksgiving. I was alone in our Newport place, Mother and Father away at
St. Moritz, my future husband grounded in San Francisco. Years of
adoration — now there he stood at the door, the very form my eyes had
admired in action on the fields. My knees quailed. Who wouldn't have
let him in. We made drinks and talked, gazing out into the grey,
deserted lagoon, where hundreds of shrouded boats rocked their masts
in unison, swayed by the pelting of the season's first storm.
Though fame has just come to him, his reputation was really long-
established with me: my Sisters had each taken him on, and boasted of
it. Charming, all muscle, and rare skill — who wouldn't have. Yet I'd
held out. Still, here he was, as if he were keeping a card on our Class in
my Sorority, all of us scattered around the world now a year after graduation. I'd eluded him for five years. It was the only promise my mother
even extracted from me: not him. Not that I possessed the strength to
keep that vow. Twice luck was with me because of the ways things fell
out. The first time, Dad's plane to Los Angeles was scratched, and he
stayed on in Palo Alto to take me to dinner. The next time my turn came
round to be initiated by him into the mysteries, Mom's mother died in
her sleep, and I took flight for Syracuse. Close calls.
Two martinis towards the evening, another front of the storm pouring
black, heavy clouds in low from the wild Pacific everywhere to the West,
the fireplace burning mossy oak logs. The Silver Medalist lies glowing at
ease on our thick buffalo robe, the orange light glancing warmly over the
harsh facets of his unmarked face. No escape this time. My belly seems
as hot as the flames pouring up into the chimney. Between my legs a
37 giant rose opens slowly, its petals twisting, rustling almost audibly. An
hour and more I hold out, until the docks and the boats vanish, drowned
in the dark and pounding rain. I don't want him, though that rose sighs.
I keep him off, making him tell about the Games. No use. He simply
stands and removes his clothes. After which it is nothing for him to strip
me naked. Yet, in some infinitely small place somewhere behind my
forehead, my whole, true self is compressed, concealed from him. Before
I slip, frenzied, into the net of his arms and am grasped by his wall-hard
thighs, I am capable of one thing: I take my grandmother's diamond
from my throat. I can recall that I managed to unfasten that tight
antique catch on the fine platinum chain, despite my trembling fingers.
And that I placed it on the night table beside my parents' bed.
Nevertheless, I fought him all night. What it was really like, I cannot
say. Not since then, certainly not before then, have I experienced such a
long, dark night. Rape we call it nowadays. Perhaps it has always been
rape. Yet to be truthful, I wasn't violated. Passion, and possession too.
Not union. We entered it consciously, and, after a short sleep as profound as coma, emerged at dawn fully conscious again. Knowing him,
rather, knowing his track record, how could I have been surprised. Or
blamed myself. We become utterly our bodies in such hours. All right.
But it may also happen that we are outside them at the same time,
watching. You read of people who die, and say they have looked down at
themselves and said farewell — only to return, to be called back or forced
once more into the partnership through the intervention of a doctor or
some passerby who found them in time. So with me that night. Not right
away. After our first bout, before the ecstasies that were to come.
Where was he? I heard my hidden self ask. He'd come for me; he was
taking me; I'd taken him to me —yet, I sensed that he was not there at
all. Though not a machine, the self-loving stud you meet and even take
on sometimes for the hell of it. Something else. I was afraid, not of
his absence from me, but from himself. I could endure the not having
him —almost all of us have known that agony. But not the horror of the
latter. For one night, I'd thought, I would have that beauty I'd missed
for five years, just as my Sisters had had. This was unimaginable. Towards morning, hatred —its metallic taste filled my throat — turned what
the sweet, rich flesh gave to sudden harshness. And even then, not to the
lips and tongue: but towards the one who woke and watched us: my self
in me. All through the dawn, through the hour of dripping silence
between two waves of the vast storm that kept on coming in wet masses
from the tumbling skies, lit at last by a cold light in the grey East from a
sun that would not be seen for three more days.
What was it? I wondered. What was so terribly wrong? I was too young
then to know. Still, he was aware of it; he knew. It made him cruel. I had
come to, raw, weeping. I didn't know that it was despair, that I had been
destroyed somehow forever. After twenty years, I know what a night like
38 that should end like — not with uncontrollable weeping and a body that is
one great, torn wound. Quite the opposite, in fact: a body that may
seem to be crushed, powerless to move, but nonetheless a body that
smiles, humming with quiet praise as it knits itself miraculously again,
and rises as though just created like beauty itself from the spume of the
black waves rolling against the shore. No, it was not like that. And he
knew it. He was cruel, never drying my tears, never consoling me for
what he'd done to me. Unlike the others, I'd guessed his secret: all the
the gifts were his but one. He had no. . . what? No soul. His prowess, his
fine form, his irresistible charm —it was monstrous. He knew I'd
glimpsed that emptiness even before we sank through midnight. Yet I'd
gone on with him, knowing what I did, until morning. Out of what
necessity, because I was too young to know better? Perhaps. Now I
guess that it was compassion. That, or perhaps, unable to believe that
such a thing can be, needing to hope that it might not be. Or, miserable
that I could have been so deluded, mistaken in my longing, in my body's
response to him.
He was cruel because he could be nothing else. Perhaps he wanted to
disclose that secret to me, as if my sharing it could lessen the burden of
nullity. Had he soothed me in his arms, had he pretended that all was
well with us, that our night of hard loving was something to be remembered as one of the possible fulfilments of life, the sort of thing that
comes into existence, and remains, he'd have been kinder than most
men. Though I should have hated myself for letting him pretend. Instead, he showed me truth —and it was too cruel to be borne. Adding
those hateful words, "You'll forgive," and, "You'll forget. ..."
And as I swore, I've never forgiven, nor forgotten what I suffered that
night. Rape's such a weak word for it. A thing without a soul in my
arms. A thing like that in me.
When he left, he took something from me. Not what he'd come for —
although there have been moments when I was nearly ready to give it to
a lover. He took my grandmother's diamond pendant. He didn't think
I'd seen him pocket it while he dressed, as I lay on my parents' bed, tear-
blinded, my legs and arms strengthless. As he went out, he said, "At
least you'll never have to see me again, if that's how you feel."
I'll see you dead first! I choked out.
Down the hall, laughter. Laughter as the door blew in under a gust,
and was yanked shut once more. Outside, laughter through the cold
sheets of rain, the sloshing of his deck shoes on the wooden planks as he
trotted away.
I couldn't know how much I'd meant what I'd said in my rage that
morning. After twenty years I realize it, neither having forgiven, nor
hardly forgotten that night. Now he lies here before me in the Hyacinth
Viewing Room. He did well in life for twenty years. He made a fortune
in yacht brokerage right here in Newport, more than ten million a year
39 in sales. He couldn't have missed. Today there's not a foot of dockage to
be had. And I am down here by mischance, clearing up the estate after
the fire, only to see the obituary. He died by water. Aboard some plutocrat's 220-foot cruiser, the Palace, that ran aground in a fog off Anacapa
and broke up in the darkness. He was found drifting in his lifejacket two
days later, miles and miles away. And he looks marvellous: the soft
blonde hair silvery after twenty years, the squares of the bronzed face
hardly needing the cosmetician's brush. Dressed appropriately: the
sportsman's blue blazer, the white flannels, the graceful black patent
leather slip-ons. Calmly sleeping at ten in the morning. Viewing's set for
eleven. I'm quite alone with him in this air-conditioned chamber heaped
with floral arrangements: anchors, cruisers, sailboats. The ventilators
purr; the lights are very low; the electric candles flicker beside the bier.
When the sad Muzak comes on, I realize it's late, almost time for the
obsequies. Nothing is changed; nothing is solved; nothing more is to be
known. It comes to me then, like an inspiration: my jewel's with him
still! I want it back. Against the force of my loathing, I reach over into
his coffin —oh, it's fine polished rosewood, with heavy antique bronze
moldings for handles —and put my hands to his neck. Yes, beneath the
knot of the crimson and white silk rep, there's a lump. My fingers thrust
through the shirt —my eyes, I realize, are shut tight against the vision of
that immobile carcass full of cold, blue chemical fluids —and they yank.
The big, oval gem, with its large, old-fashioned facets, comes away in
them with a bit of chain, not the fine platinum of my grandmother's
legacy but some contemporary 18-karat goldwork in flat, S-shaped links.
The Muzak turns up: his family and friends will be filing in any minute now.
I have to get away. Through the Exit on the other side of that coffin.
The door's flush in the wall, without a knob. How does it work? Behind
the recessed panels around the ceiling, the lights are brightening. A plate
beside the door has two switches in it —which one's for what? I flick one.
The door doesn't budge. But there's the sound of machinery somewhere
near me. Turning, I see a panel in the far wall slide away, and then, the
whoompf! of a gas furnace igniting beyond it. A sudden whoosh, with
the flare of intense fires. Whirring of belts. The far end of the coffin
drops away, and his body begins sliding out, as though on some plank,
head first through that opening in the wall. The feet tilt up in their shiny
black shoes, and he slides helplessly, steadily down towards the flames.
As the feet disappear, another panel with a thick, quartz glass window
comes down, sealing the chute. The whole room flickers as the body
seethes in the blast of that incinerator. Now the top panel of the coffin is
swung up again, and the empty box remains here with me, its satiny
white padding molded in the shape of his missing form. I don't know
whether I'm laughing or crying, but I fumble at the other switch. The
door slides away noiselessly before me, and I step through and down the
40 narrow corridor as fast as I can, my heels turning in the thick, brown
At the other end, the heavy door yields easily, and I find myself out on
the black asphalt of the parking lot, dazzled by the August sun overhead.
Lincolns, Cadillacs, Mercedes, and a notable number of Rolls Royces
are moving sedately in line towards the entrance of the mortuary and
chapel. Getting into my car, I drop my grandmother's diamond into my
change-purse. My hands are shaking, and it takes a little time for me to
get my key into the ignition. I can hardly see through my sunglasses. But
I drive out as fast as I dare, trying not to think of the fuss that is being
made back there behind me now.
41 AI Purdy
Small shrines beside Mexican roads
tiny adobe chapels
or mere piles of stones
with artificial flowers sometimes
surmounted by the inevitable cross:
where a farm laborer was struck by a car
where a poor paisano died
some ragged Jesus or billowy Maria
and their relatives and loved ones
erected these small memorials
Above all they are not ostentatious
wealth has nothing to do with it
even a pyramid of six or seven stones
has the same meaning
as the slightly more elaborate adobe chapels
They mark the sadness and grief of being loved
loved so intensely it is like a flame
as if some clotted choked emotion
hovered tangible in air
even after blood is washed away in rain
which is all the living can give the dead
42 There are never any names
no indication of identity
and most can't write anyway
but there is never any doubt of love
which is so commonplace and rare
that it must be genuine
as well as part of religious protocol
It makes me wonder about myself
and which should I prefer:
a poet's brief undying fame in words
or this love
that shrieks silently beside the highway?
But there is no choice possible
neither my little whispering words
entombed in books and magazines
nor the shrieking stones
43 Bill Tremblay/ Two Poems
Flakes of amber glow down the avenida
through palmetto arches, night's corridor
to the black harbor beyond.
Teresa shows me
Lisbon in the quake,
makes bells toll in cathedral towers,
makes the fissure open, swallowing the faithful
on All Soul's Day.
Alone by the sea
I read a stone cross,
this cruz erected by don Nobleman
por some sailors, morte off this coast.
Their skulls light the ocean bottom
like Japanese lanterns; the waves come at me,
mile-long freight trains hurtling sideways in the dark.
I am buried to my neck in sand,
the same paralysis as the dream where a man
is strapped in a wooden chair & the only sound's
of weeping beneath the black hood.
Yellow smoke
enters his lungs;
he slumps, deceasing, down,
then strangely through to a double death.
The tide rushes over my head;
I am carried by the undertow to the fissure
where crimson magma burns the habit of judging out of me.
44 Down the strand,
a woman sings fado, her voice
many voices, elohim, sheaf-gathering lullabies,
six thousand years gone.
She must know the fissure
as opened lips where songs spread.
She must know the tiny birds who stab at foam,
running to escape the kiss of waves.
She must know.
The same old women
who lit candles thirty years ago
in my parish church pray in red-stained light
to thunder like knots of tarred rope
in Lisbon.
My sons stand near the altar,
a glass coffin with St. Teresa's effigy inside,
covered with dresden roses like Sleeping Beauty.
They wheel, staring at the cupola,
open-mouthed, sick with Jesus whipped
& crowned with thorns.
How can I tell them
to look past?
When the nuns catechized me
they asked, What are the evidences of God?
That sudden Spring blooms,
that bellshaped thrushes arrive from the invisible shore,
singing up dawn, making ships appear, flags astern,
signs of the other harbor through which
we first sailed, through which
we will return.
46 It was the same as singing
"blackbird, blackbird, in & out my window"
as we wove under Sr. Benefice's wide sleeves, knowing
who the blackbird was, & later, writing letters
to St. Mary, which we would burn,
sending our petitions up in smoke to her address.
My sons & I walk San Petro,
listing what we saw in the thieves' market —
prehistoric radio tubes, duelling pistols, field glasses,
cracked plaster Jesuses, unnameable junk of centuries —
when, on the land, a lungfish gasps,
hauls itself on pectoral fins, re-evolving the world.
I see my sons as babies,
crawling across the kitchen floor.
A white moon hangs in the purple sky, pulling on my blood
with the desire, not to be shriven, but changed
into a trumpet, triple-tonguing the waves
as they break in the foam of exhaustion.
47 Sean Virgo
Death is an elephant,
Torch-eyed and terrible
Vachel Lindsay
Vaguely the world was wrong.
At every dawn a flicker of anxiety
like thin summer lightning
unleashed the day.
There was no leisure, no
rhythm of hours, just
constant turning back
at the edges, the
shifting edges.
Constantly, every year quicker,
the clearings bled
into each other
and parched to dust.
It seemed that there was
more clearing than forest.
Feeding was snatch and run;
the young were trampled;
the grey herd would panic
after nightfall
at a bad dream.
48 The starving, intelligent rays
from mind to mind were muddied;
idiot rages broke out at a whisper;
their dung was liquid
on the jungle floors.
Only the half-grown mated,
under the goad of a week-long
insatiable rut. For the others
the old will to couple and cruise
down the slow year
The young bull met men
at mid morning.
The brimstone, the raging
of buckshot over his eyes,
the rusted wire throttling his breath,
the pit in his side.
The meat, quarried in clumsy hanks,
trucked off to market,
The meagre ivories chopped
by the still soft lips.
The wiry spine-ridge razored,
the delicate penis tip scalped.
The legs stumped. Scarcely
were the dark eyes mantled
when, under night,
the jungle rats
swarmed in the rib cage.
49 3.
Three nights and three days
an old man and a boy
breathe dust, strange ghosts,
the question of leopards;
Finding the news true, bones
almost intact and quite clean.
They work on the spot, their
load will be lighter
when they're through.
The boy hacks the shoulder bones free,
gashing his foot.
The old man discards
the bright knuckles slowly,
his fingers raw
from the old brass hacksaw.
He settles his back to a tree
and the great, angled bone
through his knees.
As he carves
he speaks to his grand-nephew,
lacking the heart to translate them.
50 The clearings are spreading,
his patience
is not the old patience of caring.
There is no time, working
for the sons of his daughter.
Face follows face, hatched deep
on the fresh
fatty bone. They are memories,
of faces before the clearings.
The next night
an old sheep's cough
coming closer, a
stink of tomcat
A leopard across the trail
crunches the rib-bones.
The boy sleeps, the man
remembers fear but thinks only
how, with a shotgun,
the spotted peltry
could make them rich.
51 6.
His daughter stops up
the honeycomb tunnels
with cheap wax, holding
the bone on her full
widow's belly, locking up
ants, a spider,
a moth's cocoon.
Worn by the journey
the old man eases his
gums with goat's milk;
daubs soot from the hut's wall
on the naked faces.
on the thatch
a rooster crows
at the moon.
52 Susan Musgrave/ Two Poems
and a .38 in his briefcase
and a pocketful of lead.
Afterwards we drank orange juice
and talked about emeralds
there was a moon, I remember,
a cold slit in the sky,
and a war going on in Ecuador
and another in Guatemala.
Later, tired of talking,
we made love. I think it was
on the roof of the Hotel
Conquistador, I think it was
all we had left to do
given the night and the
thin moon which, when fatter,
lacks the same power.
You pressed yourself into me,
tired of living alone.
There comes a time when you
tire of a life together,
but that comes later still.
53 I remember I was thinking
how longing becomes regret
when you pressed yourself so hard
that a bullet tore into me.
It left an impression on the
inside of my thigh, as below me
in the doorway a blonde girl
kissed a black man goodbye.
She had her face turned
upwards to the sky where her
eyes burned like my trigger-hand
to pull and unload the
murderer in the heart.
You held on to me as if you thought
love could last forever.
The blonde girl left with her
poodle in a cab.
A hunchback followed me home
with an armload of black tulips,
a black hunchback with a waxed moustache —
he must have been a magician.
I say that because it was the wrong season
for tulips. The ground was covered with
leaves and just breathing I walked quickly;
the shadows were gathering like cutthroats
in the ditches.
Inside the house I felt safe from all
things though there were petals under my
covers, messages in my dreams. I think
because I missed you I noticed these things
so much. When you were asleep beside me it was
more than just enough.
But the hunchback had followed me in, it was
not an illusion. He was naked so I gave him
one of your suits, the one you never wore
that was covered with little stars.
55 The house suddenly changed; it felt colder
and I was a stranger. Even when he was gone
he still possessed me — I use the word possessed
because without him there was nothing left of me.
I threw out the black tulips. They smelled
of flesh, old flesh both fish and reptile,
and I think they finally died at the
bottom of the garden. I can't get rid of the
smell, it may be something permanent. You will
notice it when you come back, months from now,
in your white suit cut to perfection.
You will notice the scars, too, when we are
both finally naked. In the darkness split by
lightning our nakedness should be clear to us,
but love could be there to comfort us
through the bursts of dirty thunder.
56 Martin Robbins
With a metal tape he touched to floors
Whose shape he took to the drawing board.
And more: designs for waitress traffic,
Counters and booths, a backbar and stools;
A small half circle showed a door-swing,
An arc of dots stood for hidden lines
Where two planes, clearly seen, overlapped.
When he'd noted the dimensions I
Called out, filled empty space with people,
He'd press a button to clatter in
The tape —
which snapped up like his fly line,
Curling with his wrist's exact designs.
57 Patrick Worth Gray/ Two Poems
My mother is stacked upon the shelves,
thirty-three per cent off, with coupon,
but she's just not moving; my father
sighs, "Goddamn chains. The little guy's dead."
He locks up, then peers across the road
at twenty-four-hour neon. "Prime
grandma, sixty-nine cents. Goddamn chains."
He walks home, and there is an angel
on his corner. My father falls
to his knees, crosses himself, says, "At last,
a little help. Whaddaya think, huh,
maybe a special on angelfood?"
The angel swallows the last fillet
of mother and takes my father's hand.
On the south porch of the Polish Home,
Widows knit. Hands dive into darkness,
Walruses surface in wool's rough scud.
Now the night freight moans on river flats,
Narcissus open beneath empty skies;
Rabbits nose frozen stalks and starve.
Pisces undulates in the deep drifts
Of space, mouth open, forming bubbles
Far beyond wherever you may lie.
59 Dorothy Livesay/ Two Poems
I talked that evening to a stranger
name of John
we spoke of love
but not as lovers do:
the first man I've told
about the love of woman
for woman.
"It's different then?" He
lost in thought, bemused.
No one's trying
to be master
prove a prowess
force a climax —
that is somehow
why it's different
"And is the touching
Oyes, Each one knows
how the other feels
knows the other's need.
"Because you are the same?"
Exactly, yes
It's an opening up
of love
not a narrowing
"Then it's all right" he smiled:
"There's still room for a man!"
(for Anthony)
Wrapped in a storm
the tree crashed
onto the cliffside —
'garden sculpture' he said
and sawed through the grain
Those naked bones
stand upright now
leaning against the house
gleam white in moonlight
yellow in sunlight
or (sea's delight)
misted in rain
free from frost
winter's pain:
unliving —yet
in different form
61 We too, olding
cut off from roots
are part of the west's
seascape    landscape
our faces sculptured
into the garden wall
our voices lilting
near        far
through fronded forest
a part of frog song's
throbbed refrains
Not love now
but the memory of the tree
the memory of love
62 Rona Murray
She was glad she'd decided to take the first ferry over and although it was
cool, she stood for some time at the railings staring down into the water
and looking at the islands which floated by like mirages in the early sun.
She'd looked eagerly at the people travelling with her, hoping to come
across someone she'd known in the past. But there was no one, and the
few travellers seemed sleepy and indifferent. They must be weekly commuters, she thought. Even when a pod of porpoises passed by, flukes
shining as they leaped out of the water, few people were interested
enough to come outside and watch them.
After driving off the ferry, she decided to detour and have a look at the
city. It was wonderful, exquisite, to have this time to herself. Jaime had
asked if she was sure she wanted to go over alone. Of course, she'd
answered, already feeling the weight of her domestic life slide off her,
already feeling young again, in command of the car which moved
smoothly through the traffic, in command of her unencumbered self for
two whole days. And she thought of him briefly in the other house, the
one they'd sold, with the packed boxes waiting for the movers. David
and Valerie had promised to help. After all, they were no longer small
Perhaps it had been selfish of her to want to go ahead, to decide on her
own exactly where the furniture should go, to clean up if anything had
been left undone, although their contract had specified the place be clean
and all "extraneous matter" removed. But why should she feel selfish?
After all, this was her homecoming, more special for her than for the
others, and she deserved to have some time to herself. She pressed her
foot down on the gas, found herself suddenly singing —it had been so
long since she had felt like singing—as she drove towards the city she'd
left nearly twenty years before.
Had it changed much? Going through the outskirts, she passed the
generous architecture she'd missed so much, the large old houses and
their spacious gardens. Well-behaved children walked along the sidewalks on their way to school. The town itself, as she moved into it,
shone: old buildings had been cleaned and painted; new specialty stores
63 and foreign restaurants had sprung up; outside them, shopkeepers were
sweeping the pavements, getting rid of faint traces of dust. On the hill in
the distance she could see the university campus where Jaime would be
teaching. She drove by her old school, the house where she'd lived as a
child, long since sold, inhabited now by strangers.
And then, driving back north to her own cut-off, she'd seen him. Or
it. A bicycling advertisement. A heavy, red-faced man of about sixty was
riding an old-fashioned bicycle, each push on the pedals a frightful effort
as he balanced himself under the weight of sandwich boards. He wore a
brilliant red fox-hunting jacket, a white shirt-front, black tie, tight black
trousers, black lace-up boots, and, on top of it all, truncated boards on
which was written in italic lettering, White Unicorn Inne. On his head
was a top hat, and his small, bright eyes stared out from under the brim
at the traffic. She was so close she thought she could see beads of sweat
on his forehead.
The hanging baskets on the lampposts, the picture postcard glimpses
of the sea, could not prevent her drop into that dismal emptiness she had
long since recognized as a part of her nature.
Why did he do it? Did he have to or was it some kind of joke? Had he
any idea of the effect his humiliation might have on somebody else who
was happy, driving through a happy town? And did they, the people
who promoted this, really think he would encourage business at the
wretched hotel, motel, or whatever it was? She remembered passing it,
three or four blocks back, a huge place with a pretentious white unicorn
in a wrought iron frame over the entrance. Well, she'd make a point of
never going there. But of course the advertisement had already worked
in a way: she wouldn't forget it. As she turned, she saw him briefly in her
rear-view mirror, straining along on his bike, his large back with its
obscene board crawling like a great beetle between the cars, back into
the heart of the city.
When she was out of the traffic, she forgot him. Her road wound
through pastureland and woods, sometimes passing stretches of white
beach and oceanfront. Once she glanced at the seat behind her to make
sure she'd brought her sleeping bag. That had been the last thing to be
crammed in. It would be lovely to camp in the house by herself. To get
the feel of it. To hear the sea at night, and the gulls.
The closer she came to her own gate (her own gate!), the more her
heart lifted. Would it really be as she remembered? The house itself was
old but the place was magical. There was no other word for it. They had
bought so quickly, had not shopped around, had known this was it.
They'd moved so often, but had never found the house, they'd told each
other, that they would be happy to die in, and they had used this as a
measure of their feelings.
She swung down the drive and sat appalled. None of the debris had
been removed. It had been added to. But the contract? The large blond
64 woman had promised her sons would clean up the "yard", as she called
it. She had five sons, she'd said proudly, and one of them had a truck.
Everything would be in order. But now an enormous pile of junk sat on
what had once been a lawn. Scattered through long grass and weeds all
round her were cans, bottles, plastic containers, chunks of metal. The
garage still had an old Buick in it and beside it an engine and crankshaft;
nuts, bolts, lidless tins, old tools, parts of engines littered the wooden
floor, black with oil. She parked outside, trying to shake off the sudden
fury that attacked her. It was ridiculous. She hadn't felt really angry for
years. Anger was childish and had to be controlled, like other things.
The place simply had to be cleaned up. After all, if it hadn't been rundown they could never have afforded it, so why should she be upset now,
despite agents and promises? And one day the garden would be filled
with rhododendrons, roses —all would be restored: the hedges cut back,
paths clipped into shape, dead wood removed.
Her children teased her about her sense of order and Jaime laughed at
her, but gently. In their hearts, she thought, they know I'm right; lines
had to be drawn between the way her family should live and the
usurping state of affairs outside; small things held the civilized world
"Oh, mother," David would say, "you belong in the Victorian Age. I
suppose it isn't surprising since you come from Victoria. Is everyone in
that pokey place like you?"
And Valerie: "Can't we just sometimes eat dinner in front of the TV?
Everybody else does."
And Jaime: "I'll never get used to this ridiculous butter knife and
having to spoon salt onto my plate. For Christ's sake, can't we use an
ordinary salt-shaker?"
Then the children would take his part: "I don't see why he has to carve
at the table if he doesn't want to."
Or: "Why don't we use paper serviettes? Think of the ironing
you'd save."
"The word is napkin. Anyway, think of the trees I save." And she'd
laugh with them. It was a family joke. "You just have to put up with it. If
I'm like King Canute, that's the way I am. A great king, after all."
"You have it backwards," David had said. "He knew he couldn't keep
the tide back."
"It's all the same thing," she'd answered, knowing it wasn't. "If you
abandon order in your life you turn into slobs."
"Slobs?" Valerie said. "It seems to me that's a new word in your vocabulary, mother. Are we winning?"
"Sluts, then." She'd been surprised to hear the edge on her voice, and
they'd looked at her, not sure after all if she was joking. "And don't stir
your tea with the sugar spoon."
65 The back door was left unlocked, as they'd promised. Inside, two pails
of filthy water and rags sat on the kitchen floor. The hall had cartons in
it, an ancient upright vacuum cleaner, stockings over the doors, corsets
sprawled on dirty shag wall to wall carpeting. In the living room old-
fashioned curtains hung crookedly, their bottom corners in strips: torn
by a dog perhaps. The smell —was it dog urine? —made her close her
mouth tight and breathe quickly through her nose. Did smells carry
germs? She opened the french doors, opened the windows, leaned out
and smelled the sea, noticed the dead flies on the windowsill. Couldn't
bear to touch them; to sweep them away with her naked hand.
A telephone sat on the floor and a notepad with a carefully written
note on it:
Dear Mrs. Phillips,
I am sorry to tell you we have had trouble with the truck but the
boys will be out early Saturday morning to finish clearing the yard
and pick up the appliances. Please phone me if there is anything I
can do for you.
MayLattimer (592-6453)
Saturday. That was today. She looked outside again. There certainly
was no sign of a truck. The appliances: yes, they were everywhere.
Besides the stove, which they'd bought, were two fridges, a washer, a
dryer, dishwasher. Her disgust grew as she went upstairs: cartons filled
with old hats and handbags, broken jewelry on the floor, underclothes
scattered over worn brown carpeting. Then down into the basement, a
large cavern with filthy windows covered by weeds: magazines, broken
guitars, a record-player with no turntable, a chest of drawers with a
drawer missing, junked bicycles, flower pots. But why so many, so
much? Then she remembered: of course, there'd been old people living
here, pensioners paid for by the government. What had happened to
them? But the waste. Three vacuum cleaners. Nothing mended. Everything discarded. No order, control. A body run bad with cancer cells.
She went upstairs again. She'd have to carve out a corner where she
could camp for the night. One room where the chaos could be forgotten.
She plugged in the old vacuum, and to her astonishment it worked. She
could clean the living room, leave the windows open so the smell would
be gone. But would it? Perhaps she could sleep outside, tear the rotted
matting off the verandah, listen to the sea all night. She dragged everything out of the room, cleaned up the dead flies, brought her things in
from the car.
It was midday and still no sign of the boys or the truck. She'd have to
phone, keep the anger out of her voice. May Lattimer was at the other
end, bland, cool, unconcerned. Oh. Weren't they there yet? They must
be waiting for their oldest brother. They would arrive soon. . . .When
she stood up off the red shag, she found two fleas on her bare arm.
66 It was afternoon when they arrived: five boys in their late teens. An
old truck, noisy, driven fast, screeched up in front of the house. Standing back from the window, hoping they wouldn't see her, she looked out.
She was like one of those old women who peer from behind lace curtains,
she thought, sickened. Old women with nothing better to do. She went
back to the space she'd made, set up the card table she'd brought, started
to unpack: wash things, make-up, underwear, a couple of books. She
came to the cooking utensils and food, moved into the kitchen and
started to clean off the counter tops.
The loud rock had been going on for some time before she allowed it
to consciously irritate her. In fact, it had come in with them and now was
reverberating in every crevice of the house. She went to a bedroom
window again and looked out. Two boys were lounging in the cab of the
truck and three were in the high, weedy grass. They were smoking and
drinking coke. While she watched, one of them emptied his bottle and
threw it into a clump of thistles. She could feel her face staring at them,
gaunt and rigid, skin tight on her scalp. For a moment she hesitated. She
was tall and that had always given her some authority. She was also
good-looking, she told herself. Intelligent. Not old. Capable. It was
her house.
She walked quickly to the front door and threw it open. The boys
looked up, mildly surprised. They said nothing, their faces closed.
"Why aren't you clearing this mess up?" she asked coldly, nodding
towards the huge pile of junk.
"We're waitin'," one of them answered, dragging on his cigarette.
"For what?"
"Our brother. He's s'posed to tell us what to do."
"I'll tell you what to do. You load this junk into your truck right now
and take it to the dump."
"This truck ain't the one. He's got a hire truck. He's meetin' us here."
"Well, you don't have to sit around doing nothing." They didn't move.
She turned to one of the boys in the grass. "Get up and get some work
done. You were supposed to be here this morning, early, and have all
this stuff cleared away. It's after three o'clock."
"I ain't one of'em," he said, and they all sniggered. "I'm a friend. Just
here to watch."
"Ain't our fault if the fuckin' truck broke down," one of the boys in the
cab said, draining his coke.
"You've got a truck. Now get that stuff loaded into it. It was all supposed to be gone before we moved in. It's written in the contract." Her
thick anger astonished her. She couldn't stop the shaking in her voice.
The boy in the truck shrugged his shoulders. A slab of dank black hair
fell over his forehead. He seemed to be the oldest. "We don't know
nothin' about that. Our Ma said to come and get the appliances. An'
we'll get 'em when Jimmy's here."
67 "You'll clean up or I'll call your mother right now."
"O.K., O.K., ya don't have to blow your stack. C'mon, you guys." It
wasn't the boy with the black hair, but one in the grass: one not so
heavy, paler.
Slowly, they started to get up: heavy winter house flies, buzzing aimlessly, dying of lethargy. They threw their bottles on the junk pile, their
cigarettes on the grass. As she went back into the house she heard one of
them say contemptuously, "What a bag of shit."
"Yeah. Shit." And they laughed that vacuous, rough laugh boys may
develop somewhere between being children and knowing they are men.
She watched through the window as they went round to the back. She
heard them in the basement and watched again, through a back window,
as they started to bring objects out. After two hours they had the body of
the truck lightly packed. Then they started rolling on the grass, shoving
each other, braying the laughter she found so hideous. She watched
them pass a glossy magazine around, devouring it, shouting above the
transistor: "Hey, look at that, will yuh, some pussy," and, "Howja like to
get into that, eh? eh?" and, "I sure could use some, pass the cigs, Ben."
There was no sign of another truck, another brother.
Now they were at the front of the house. The sea was at the back, and
she returned there to look at it: desolate, steel-coloured now, still calm.
A cloud with dark edges had blotted out the sun. The light had gone off
the green of the island with its two sentinel firs in front of her. Far
beyond, on a point of land, a lighthouse was blinking in the late daylight. A blue heron flew slowly by, neck outstretched, great wings
beating against air. All her life had been trained to a kind of thrift; it had
little to do with money, she thought now, watching the heron and the
way he used his wings, used the air. It had to do with control, non-
wastefulness. She could still hear her father telling her to turn off the
light if she was not using it, to shut the windows if the heat was on. Every
day she folded up the brown shopping bags, stacked the newspapers, put
the vegetable peelings on the compost. Through long habit she had
learned not to waste her emotions either. Anger drained; passionate love
She couldn't remember being so tired since the children had been
born, since she'd felt no flow of energy would be a part of her again. She
left the window after she'd cleaned it with Windex she'd found among the
dozens of half-empty household bottles in the cupboard. She'd used a
pair of underpants left in one of the bedrooms to wipe the glass. She
looked at her watch again. It was nearly six o'clock. The day was
draining away.
Exhausted, she walked to the front door and opened it. Her voice was
icy, controlled, raised above the hard, beating rock. "Turn that thing
down." They stared at her without moving. "Obviously your brother
isn't coming, and obviously you aren't going to do anything unless you're
68 made to. Now pile all the junk you can fit in and take it to the dump. Go
on. Go."
"We ain't taking nothin' more. This here's good stuff. We don't want
that crap." It was the one with the dark bang.
"Oh, yes you are, you're bloody well going to help me. Now get up."
"We bloody well ain't, lady. This is good stuff. When our brother
comes, then we'll get the rest — the washing machines an' stuff."
"Well, then, get out of here, or I'll call the police."
One of them whined, "Listen, lady, the fuckin' truck broke down.
That ain't our fault. My brother'll be mad. . . ."
"Leave your fucking truck and your fucking brother out of this." She'd
never used the word before. It gave her an unexpected sense of liberation. Then she had a flash of brilliance. "If I call the police that will be it.
This is my house now. You won't be allowed back to get your appliances"
(they wouldn't care about that), "or your car." That was the trump card.
"Your car or your engine or your tools. They can sit there forever and
rot as far as I'm concerned."
She stood above them and watched as, still slowly, they sorted out
some of the larger objects from the garbage, barely making a dent in
the pile.
When they drove sullenly off, she could hear them for some distance
down the road.
Afterwards it seemed deathly quiet, and she leaned for a moment
against the front door, surprised at the uneasy beating of her heart. Was
it then that she started to be afraid, or was she too angry to be afraid as
they took off down the drive, spraying gravel out under their tires?
Would they come back, or would their brother turn up? Surely it was too
late? But if they did? And she remembered that they had the house keys,
if there were any.
She hesitated, not wanting to go back into the hulk of the house. It
was growing cold; there was a slight wind and the sky was now heavily
overcast. She took her cigarettes and lighter out of her pocket and lit a
cigarette, then went down into the garden, collected some cartons and
newspapers and set fire to them. Six-thirty. Another couple of hours of
semi-daylight. She looked round for wood. There was plenty of it: parts
of old chairs, dead branches, broken fence-posts. When she had the fire
going, she started piling everything that would burn in the heap onto it.
It was all dry: there hadn't been any rain for a long time, but it looked as
if it would come tonight. Better to burn what she could before it became sodden.
She threw a heavy earth-encrusted rag into the fire, watched the end
of it smoulder and then snatched it out again. Something about it looked
familiar. As she stared at it she could just make out the texture of what
might have been tiny petit point stitches on a canvas backing. She was
going to throw it in again when she hesitated; if it was embroidery, one
69 of the old women who had been a guest in the house must have worked
it. Judging by the ragged edge, it had been torn off a chair. But why? It
hadn't any holes in it as far as she could make out. Might as well wash it
and see what it was like. She threw it to one side and went on piling the
fire. She sorted a carton, dumped it in, and then stopped, standing
extremely still, as she looked down on what appeared to be, in the half
light, a human head covered with grotesque hair —but no, it was part of
a pool of wigs: red, grey, blond. They curled and sputtered when she
threw them gingerly, one by one, on the flames. Sparks spread up,
breaking into the dusk. A dark bottle lay on its side. It was corked and,
thinking she would pour the liquid out before she put it on the pile of
unburnable objects left for the dump, she opened it, smelled it, and
realized it was alcohol. She looked at the blackened label. Dubonnet.
The bottle was three-quarters full. But was it really Dubonnet? The
smell was rich, pungent, delicious. It must have belonged to one of the
old people: a hidden store, kept for a drink before dinner, a ritual gesture in bleached lives. She put the cork back carefully.
The fire was burning slowly, well banked, safe. Holding the bottle in
one hand and the mud-covered cloth in the other, she went into the
kitchen. She filled the sink with warm water, added soap, dropped in the
material. Blackness rolled off it and she had to refill the sink again and
again. Finally she found she was right. Yes, there it was, exquisitely
embroidered work: flowers on a black background, without blemish, as
the fire had only scorched the edge of the canvas. Who was it who had
put hour after hour into making it? A dead person or someone still alive?
Someone, perhaps, again stitching as the night came down on another
"guest" house for the old, the dying. Tears came into her eyes (she must
be tired), and she carefully laid it out on her only towel so it would dry
without creases. The sink was black with grime.
She unpacked a plastic glass from a carton and took it with the bottle
down to a rocky point stretching into the sea. How quiet it was. But it
would soon rain; already a few scattered drops were falling. Two oyster-
catchers cried mournfully as they circled the island before settling down
for the night. She drank the wine, and it settled warm and comforting in
her empty stomach. It was still worth it, right that they had bought the
house, and that she should be here instead of those louts.
She heard it a long distance down the road. An old car or a truck,
engine gunning, rock blaring. For a moment of pure, unreasoning
terror, she sat without movement, knowing what she had refused to let
into her mind, that at the edge of the oyster-catchers' grace, the island's
floating quiet, this was what she had been waiting for.
It passed. Had it been them? Or others? Would they return? Would
they torment her by driving past again and again through the night?
Would they come in with their shadowy brother? Or had they simply
forgotten her? Gone on in their refuse-scattering way, chanting, "What a
7° bitch, full of shit, the old bag," as they doubled up with laughter.
She'd almost finished the bottle. Very unwise, one part of her had
been saying; she was not used to heavy drinking. She stood up and threw
it from her, heard the splash it made in the sea. Then she ran over the
rocks, up the overgrown path, through the huge tentacles of blackberries, tearing her coat against their thorns. She flung the door of the
house open, ran in and picked up her bag with the car keys in it. She got
into the frail safety of the car, turned on the windscreen wipers, stood on
the gas, and swung out of the gate with a squeal of tires.
Only one hotel presented itself to her.
When she arrived it was pouring. The sandwich board leaned neatly
against the building. He stood under the arcade, half in and half out of
the drenching rain, gesturing people in with huge, unwieldly swings of a
cape-covered arm. His face above the scarlet jacket was agonized,
imploring, intent. Surely they would come in, he seemed to say, to the
White Unicorn Inne, the most traditionally modern, the most friendly,
of all the hotels in beautiful Victoria? His top hat glistened with raindrops, his red cheeks burned with frantic welcome. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Bert Almon teaches at the University of Alberta. His latest book, Blue Sunrise, was published by Thistledown, 1980.
Derrick Clinton Carter is a Vancouver-based Art Director/Graphic Designer.
Patrick Worth Gray lives in Nebraska.
Mary Hagey has studied Creative Writing at Concordia University. The Long Way Home
is her first published story.
Richard Harrison lives in Peterborough, Ontario.
Jascha Kessler is a Professor of English and Modern Literature at UCLA. Jazz Press
will publish Transmigrations: 18 Mythologems, in 1982.
William J. Klebeck practices law in Saskatoon, and has prepared a booklet entitled,
An Author's Guide to Book Publishing Contracts, available from the Saskatchewan Writer's
Dorothy Livesay has published numerous volumes of poetry and has twice received the
Governor General's Medal for poetry. In 1947 she was awarded the Royal Society's Lome
Pierce Medal for Literature. She now lives on Galiano Island in British Columbia. A new
book, The Phases of Love will be published by Coach House Press.
Rona Murray lives in Victoria, B.C. She recently received the Pat Lowther Poetry Prize.
Susan Musgrave's latest book is Tarts and Muggers (McClelland & Stewart, 1982), a collection of new and selected poems.
Al Purdy is one of Canada's best-known poets. He received a Governor-General's Award
in 1967 for his book of poetry, The Cariboo Horses.
Mary Reynolds lives in Wausau, WI. Her work has appeared previously in the Jump
River Review.
Martin Robbins has recently completed a chronicle of a Fulbright teaching fellowship in
Argentina, A Year With Two Winters.
Bill Tremblay teaches poetry at Colorado State University. His forthcoming book is
entitled, Second Sun: New & Selected Poems, L'Epervier Press.
Sean Virgo was born in Malta and emigrated to Canada in 1966. He has taught at the
University of Victoria. The Graphic Designer's of Canada have awarded PRISM international, and designer Derrick Clinton Carter an award of excellence
for his series of three magazine covers appearing on issues 20:2, 20:3,
and 20:4. Mr. Carter's design work is featured again on the cover
of this issue, 21:1. 


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