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 rvL
IMJ
international
Contemporary writing from Canada and around the world
Summer 1995
$4.50 (plus G.S.T.)  Al
international
The Journey Prize
*%
PRISM international
would like to congratulate
Gabriella Goliger, author of
"Song of Ascent," which appeared
in PRISM international, Vol 32, No. 3 and
Shaena Lambert, author of
"The Falling Woman," which appeared
in PRISM international, Vol. 32, No. 4.
Both writers have been nominated
for the $10,000 Journey Prize
and will appear in the
seventh Journey Prize Antholojjy. PRISM international
1995 Short Fiction Contest
$2000 FIRST PRIZE & 5  PRIZES OF $200
PLUS PUBLICATION  PAYMENT
RULES
NOTE: Entries not conforming to the format outlined below will not be considered
1. Entries must be postmarked no later than December 1, 1995.
2. Entries must be no longer than 25 pages typed, double-spaced, on 8 1/2 x 11 white paper.
3. To ensure the anonymity of the writer, the entrant's full name, address and the title of the
story must appear on a separate cover page. The title of the story should appear on each
page of the manuscript, but the author's name should not!
4. To enter ONE story will cost $20 total. There is a $15 one-time entry fee and a $5 reading
fee for each story submitted. Two stories will cost $25 ($15 + $5 + $5). There is no limit
to the number of stories which may be entered. Entrants will receive a one year subscription
to PRISM international. Current subscribers will receive a one year extension to their
subscription. Please make cheques payable to PRISM international.
5. Entries must be original, unpublished material. It must not be under consideration elsewhere.
It should be available for publication in a future issue of PRISM international. We will
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6. Contest open to anyone except students or instructors in the Creative Writing Department at
the University of British Columbia.
7. Works of translation are eligible.
8. Entries will not be returned. Winners will be notified by or before March, 1996 and
published in the Spring Fiction Contest issue. SASE for list of winners only.
SEND ENTRIES TO: PRISM international / Dept. of Creative Writing / University of
British Columbia / BUCH. E462-1866 MAIN MALL / Vancouver, B.C. Canada V6T IZl
Preliminary judging by the PRISM international editorial board.
Final Judge—To Be Announced _MJ international
Editor
Shelley Darjes
Executive Editor
Gregory Nyte
Advisory Editors
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
Associate Editor
Leah Postman
Business Manager
Andrew Gray
Editorial Board
Kate Baggott
Jennifer Herbison
Bonnie Hoefiicker
Bryant Ibbetson
Annabel Lyon PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times per year by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6T IZl. Microfilm editions are available from
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E-mail address: prism@unixg.ubc.ca
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Contents Copyright © 1995 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Heather Keenan
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Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of
Arts' Office at the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British
Columbia, through the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 5496. July 1995 Contents
Vol. 33, No. 4 Summer 1995
Janalee Chmel
Fiction
Pen State    53
W.M. Adair
Marilyn Bowering
Cornelia Hoogland
Jean McNeil
Derk Wynand
Jan Zwicky
Poetry
Breakfast at the Algonquin    29
with thanks, giving    30
Autobiography    11
Drum    67
First Bed    68
The Girl Who Went Forth to
Learn Fear    69
Brazil    58
Cachoeira    62
Mathematics for Narcissists    65
Torschluss    20
And Yet    22
remorse    24
Lullaby    48
April    49
Shade    50
Bill Evans: Alone    52
Lorna Crozier
Patrice Melnick
H.C. Artmann
translated from
the German by
Derk Wynand
Creative Non-Fiction
Talking Dirty    7
A White Night in Africa
In Translation
32
The Miner    25
Horticulture    26
The Brushmaker    27
The Consummate Lifesaver
28 Cover Art
Heather Keenan        Stepping Out
(oil paintstick on paper)
Contributors   70 Talking Dirty
Lorna Crozier
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't
say anything at all."
"Kiss, but don't tell."
"It's up to the girl to say no."
"If you do it, he won't respect you."
My mother could hear me and my two girlfriends coming
down the street from three blocks away because we giggled so loudly and so often. Fifteen, and we were inseparable. At sleep-overs and in the corner cafe with a coke and chips
and gravy, we talked about everything (he said this, and I said,
and then he said), we talked about everything except. . .
what I
loved about Rus was the way he undid my bra with one quick
twist of his fingers, and I didn't even have to pretend not to help
him. It was warm in the car parked by the dam, the radio playing, a cigarette burning in the ashtray, his tongue circling my
nipples while below the surface of the water, eels slid back and
forth, dark and fleshy as a wet dream (I was the only one, the
only girl who let a boy touch her breasts . . .)
How do you shave without cutting your legs? Use your dad's
razor, not your mom's. Who's the cutest teacher in the school?
I'm cutting gym—I've got my little friend. Did you hear Mr.
Hanes fart in front of the whole class? You didn't notice the
way Dwayne looks at you? Of course, he's going to ask you to
the dance, and he said, and then I said, and then she said. . .
last night, I didn't wiggle away when his hand pushed down
the back of my jeans, his palm pressing against my tailbone, that
pale concavity just above the rise of my buttocks, and he slowly slid his hand over my hip, my belly, and down . . .
Bitch, slut, whore, cock teaser.
Why pay for the cow, if you can get the milk for free?
In the cafe after school one of the boys tells us a joke:
"Jack and Jill went up the hill
riding on an elephant.
When they got to the top,
Jill helped Jack off the elephant."
"I don't get it. What's so funny about Jill helping Jack off the
elephant?" I ask it over and over again, and the boys laugh. "God,
are you ever stupid."
Later my boyfriend explains the joke to me in the car. He thinks
it's cute I didn't know about jacking off. Naivete and ignorance
are feminine traits. And so is a loss of words, an absence of vocabulary for parts of the body that are never spoken. I was eight
years old when I first learned about that absence. Two older boys
trapped me and my friend in our seats against the wall in the
Eagle Theatre. The movie was "Ma and Pa Kettle on the Farm."
When their poking and fondling were over, we ran home, crying.
My mother laid me on the bed, said, "Where did he touch you?" I
closed my eyes and pointed, not saying anything, because I didn't
know the words.
"Where did he touch you?"
Here   and here
those places no one ever named.1
For me, writing about sexuality, means finding the names, means
moving out of a learned, imposed silence; a geography of secrecy
and shame. I was, after all, a nice, working-class girl in smalltown Saskatchewan in the fifties and sixties. The double standard was invented there. Boys who were sexually active, or so
they told us, were admired. They were bad in an exciting way,
like James Dean on a motorbike, a sexy antidote to Frankie
Avalon crooning on the beach to a large-breasted girl who used to
wear mouse ears. The comparable girl to James Dean was a slut
and she lived, like me, on the wrong side of the tracks.
Rich girls who got pregnant went off "to visit an aunt" in the city
for several months, and when they returned, no one spoke of their absence. Damaged, no doubt inside, they went back to school in
their beautiful angora sweaters, their pleated skirts, their new
city shoes. Poor girls had to stay in town, carry the shame of their
pregnancies on the street, quit school on the principal's orders.
One day they'd suddenly disappear, drop out of the world of basketball games, Teentown dances and trivial talk. How one dealt
with one's sexuality, the penalties you paid, the old double standard, had everything to do with class when I grew up, as well as
gender.
I knew if I got in trouble, there would be no one to blame but me
and no one to help. The urges of the body were dangerous: do it,
but don't get caught; do it, but don't go all the way; do it, but don't
talk about it to anyone, even your best friend. Girls discussing desire—orgasm, masturbation, sexual turn-ons—was a taboo. It
was as much a secret as my father's alcoholism, as much a source
of agony and shame. My sexuality was one of the two big silences
of my young life and keeping those silences damaged me.
When most adult women say they would kill themselves rather
than be teenagers again, I think it has a lot to do with the muting
of that major part of their lives, a suppression that created an unremitting sense of regret and loneliness. (I'm bad, so bad. I'm the
only one who lets him touch my breasts.)
Having said all that, I don't know how I ever came to write about
sexuality as much as I have, except to say that I believe it's central to our existence as human animals in the world. My motivation came from anger, love, and the many powerful women writers who spoke their female experience before me and the ones
who continue to do so—writers like Dorothy Livesay and Muriel
Rukesyer, lesbian writers like Adrienne Rich who seemed fearless in their expression of what had once been forbidden love, and
Sharon Olds, a contemporary, who has written some of the best
poems about heterosexuality from a woman's point of view.
Once I became consciously aware of the cultural inscriptions on
my body, the male writer's descriptions of my desires, I felt a
tremendous urge to write over them; to say, hey wait a minute,
that isn't it, that isn't how I feel, that isn't all I feel. Listen to another side of the story. What I discovered is that it's impossible to
erase the obscenities, the lies, the many they-would-be-funny-if-
they-weren't-so-sad male versions of female desire, but it is possi- ble to revise the old stories and to tell them in an untraditional
woman's voice. Along with the work of many of my peers and the
generation before us, my poems about sexuality have moved
away from the romantic diction of the past and into linguistic areas, such as bawdiness and braggadocio, that until very recently
have been male preserves.
At the same time, it was not easy for me to leave behind my reticence. I had to learn to use the language in new ways to speak my
undeniable pleasure, something I'd been conditioned for years to
hide. No wonder it was so difficult. Antipathy towards female
genitals and sexuality goes back a long way, perhaps best summarized in this eighteenth-century dictionary definition of cunt:
"a nasty name for a nasty thing."2 I had to learn to reclaim that
word from its usage as a curse, to dust off its ancient origins, to
say it out loud at a poetry reading as Dorothy Livesay had done,
that brave and sexual woman who was in her early seventies
when I first heard her read. I wrote down my stories, I confessed,
I kissed and told, I reclaimed my physical self with the old Anglo-
Saxon words and with urgency, power and sometimes joy.
1. Lorna Crozier, "Fathers, Uncles, Old Frie]nds of the Family," Angels of Flesh,
Angels of Silence, McClelland and Stewart, 1988, p. 29.
2. Captain Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, ed. Eric
Partridge, Third edition, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1963, p. 110.
10 Marilyn Bowering
Autobiography
/ was born
in a caul.
I was proof
against drowning.
Green marble and a gold locket
were placed with the caul in my basket:
flecks of white foam in the green,
a gold penis, a gold sun on a chain;
the skin was the stretched white
of an egg.
They put my head in a bucket of water.
The villagers watched.
I breathed water like sunlight,
the light I was born with. Gold.
I had a red thread around my waist.
The caul was folded, dried like snake-skin,
tied with the thread.
/ was found
in the cork tree at the bridge.
A man drove his truck over the bridge and parked it next
to the river. His tire tracks
made the long thin cries of a wounded animal
in the red earth. He took his wide
11 knife and began to cut the bark.
He finished cutting
and stuck his knife in the body of the tree.
(He tells me this as he stares in a scrap of mirror,
picking his teeth. He touches the blood on his gums
with his finger.)
I was high in the branches
with my empty infant face.
There was milk on my shift,
a wrap of dirty cloth between my legs.
(He says he saw, for an instant, the face of an angel.)
The sun drew the shape of a small gold figure.
I can remember,
deep in my blackness,
a rainbow as it danced into my eyes. My pupils swallowed
her. She remained, a mannequin, in my brain.
(I wear a white cloth over my eyes.
My eyes are colourless film.)
The man wept at sight of the angel.
He had discovered his sins. They were in his hands,
his mouth, his feet, the gold penis that dangled
between his legs. They were
in water, the thread of blood he drew
on my skin with a knife.
They were like brilliantly coloured beads,
fragile, made of glass.
He placed them, loose, in his pocket.
I stirred in my basket.
12 I could smell the pines
and the rust of the cut cork trees.
The tree trembled.
The man saw light and shadow.
When I was three years old
the man showed me the coloured glass beads.
I played with them while he slept.
I made circles,
bodies of men and women, a head with all-seeing
eyes.
I felt his sins.
I held them to my eyes, but saw nothing.
I put them in my mouth and breathed in colours and sunlight.
I breathed, with his breathing, the silent light,
the scaly lids of his eyes. I breathed amber
and smoke, the strangled cries of afternoon bells,
the goat limping down the path.
I put the glass beads back.
My new family was the minister and his wife.
In church, on Sundays, he praised the Lord.
I sat in the pew,
and felt shadows climb the thin walls of my legs.
I could hear the shores of the cork grove by the river,
the fall of bark, its blood soaking into the ground.
I bit my thumb. I put the green marble in my mouth.
I felt the flecks of milk,
I touched the wrapped caul,
13 the red thread,
the gold locket.
When I was twelve,
I was baptised.
I walked to the river behind the minister.
I wore a white slip.
There was no one with us. But when we came to the riverbank,
the cork-cutter waited beside his truck. The minister's wife
was at home, sick, lying back in her bed, her dress drawn
above her knees.
I had heard her thighs, like two animals,
hungry pieces of flesh;
I had heard the minister's words to God
fall like bright coins into empty pockets.
He stood still with his hand on my back.
We had entered the river. The flat of his hand
was a stone. I sank to the bottom. My hair followed
the current. My hair was a still brown fish. The minister
caught it and lifted me up. The cork-cutter stayed where he
was; I could feel his sharpness.
A woman came across the bridge.
Soon I walked beside her in the dust.
I carried the water.
At night she let me warm myself at the fire.
High in the rose-coloured mountains
where the houses sat like white teeth,
she picked some herbs.
I drank the tea she made from them,
and I could see.
14 The appearances began soon after her death in 1962. They
occurred firstly in the street near her home. Two women
saw her come to the window and knock to be let in.
We are driving down an endless road into the desert. It is
nighttime, but I can feel the heat frozen in the chevy frame.
I have my feet on the hump in the back seat. My friend, Dan,
who is more experienced in these things than I am, taps his
fingers on the steering wheel. He is listening to music.
Beside him the medium is quiet. The bulk of her teased hair
rises above the headrest. We carry food, water, blankets,
candles, rice and salt for the ritual. I have a green stone
in my pocket. Suddenly, the car swerves and we slide across
the road.
The stars, bright as cat's eyes, ride the arc above the
flatness. Jesus! Dan gets out of the car.
He walks to the front and kicks the tire. I open the door.
The air is cool. "Someone will be along to get us," I say,
looking down the empty road. There is no one. He sticks
his hands in his pockets. He is a long lean man with straight
grey-black hair—an sirline mechanic. He is due back at work
tomorrow. "We're on the right road," he says. I look down the
road.
I can feel the strain of watching nothing. "Should we do
something?" I ask the medium. She shrugs and tucks herself
into the blanket. I fall asleep and when I awaken I feel
something cold in my chest. I try to move,
but I can't.
15 I know that by these few [remarks], I am providing not
only starting points but conclusive proofs to those in whom
inwardly there blazes fiery strength and a heavenly origin,
so that they may indeed readily lend their ear to the great
Democritus, announcing to those who wish to effect a healing
of the soul and a deliverance from all distress that this
doctrine is not mythical, but mystical and arcane; as also
[they may listen] to that [author] who has asserted that the
logos of the creative universe works by rules so that man,
godly-minded and born of God, may learn by straight-forward
work and by theological and mystical language.
John Dee
I go to the King,
show him the caul,
the red thread,
the locket of gold.
I tell him about the cork tree,
the wind stirring rainbows.
He touches me all over.
We go to the church and do penance.
For seven years I live in the desert without him.
My hair grows long. I am brown as earth.
I try to drown myself in a well, but the water won't take me.
I belong to the earth.
I return to the King.
16 I would have wept if weeping
netted continents in heart's safekeeping:
what do you want, why call or write
to me? My heart's closed, it's night,
my hand will never trace your cheek in sleeping.
As dawn began its walk, its sweep
of all good sense, you took my hand: fleeting
touch that left its mark—I feel it yet—why should I fight
to lie to you? I would have wept.
There are no words for this regret, a leaking
hard, dry as drought, unstaunched by all these months: needing
you is all it is, a wound against myself, slight
as a sting of frost or second-sight—
I have no heart for change, no grieving (understand?)—
But, oh, I could have wept.
We run out of water and drink from the radiator. There is so
little. I don't mind, but I wanted to see her. She
always appears on her birthday, says she is happy but still
looking for the right someone.
White as a candle, hot as flame, a cool green diamond. She
sits in my mind like a foreign country, a word so dirty it
can't be said. She would cure me if I could touch her.
Sweetheart.
I remember, first, the surgeons, dressed in green hospital
gowns, masked, wheeling intravenous carts through the street.
There were a dozen or so of them moving through the square.
Next, half a dozen "traffic-lights," their heads encased in cardboard boxes of flashing lights; a woman dressed as a shower, her
17 flesh-coloured body-stocking showing through a transparent
plastic curtain, and the chrome showerhead pointing down at her
from above. I remember carrying my daughter because she was
afraid of the noise and people, and a period when I could no
longer carry her and Kevin held both children on his shoulders,
biceps straining the sleeves of his shirt, the tendons in his neck
thick as the spines of books. He and Angelica—thin, quick, pretty
with her long dark hair—seemed like dream figures, companions
to whom I was attached—I had forgotten why—until the sun rose
or I died. Both seemed equal possibilities, because of the fever I
didn't know I had.
In the cafe on the square, to which we returned for the second
time to buy juice for the children, my daughter and I waited to
use the bathroom. After fifteen minutes in line we went in. The
bowl was smeared with shit. There was shit and water on the
floor. She looked at me, "Mummy, what will I do?"
"I'll hold you, honey." There was a noise in my ears like the sea.
Planes passing overhead from the base at Rota.
The five of us in one room, in Cadiz.
8.
Awakening in time
to see the rooms bright with moonlight
spread in sheets, folded in corners.
Awakening, fingers wet, wet mouth,
sweat painted like gold
on flesh,
to hear silence
anonymous as the weather,
and understand
it's not enough
to ask for more
time in the hourglass:
18 like Dante's continents, we are hell
and heaven in the same body,
the fingers and mouth
the sleepy puckered flesh, the mind
on its long stroll;
the moonlight as it was when you awoke
on the dark side of the world,      spinning
towards sunrise.
19 Derk Wynand
three poems
Torschluss
The air flickers and rises, everything in it.
Breathe it in.
Breathe out.
Let it go.
Stop brooding about how it works on others,
hikers and bikers this first day of summer.
Forget them.
Focus instead on crickets in the bush,
in the rising broom, clicking,
or on the broom's thick blossoming,
its dark pods that spiral open, catapulting
black seeds outward, too quick for the eye,
slow enough for earth and ear.
And the woman ahead, shadowed
by a younger man hot on her trail,
who may or may not remind you of yourself—
if you cannot say what you're after,
take a moment to gather your thoughts.
Consider each of the distinctions between
the woman, her shadow, and you.
Who cares if she rides her bike slowly,
giving and taking her own sweet time?
Don't even begin to pretend it's for you.
Wipe the sweat from your eye.
Lick the salt from your lip.
Let her pedal, backpedal, brake, then push
her bike at less than the young man's speed,
ratchets clicking, tacking into and
out of your line of vision—
no help now from impossible Zeno!
Is that what you're thinking?
Let it go.
She's easy to dismiss; shake him off too.
And don't imagine her elsewhere, dangling
first one foot, then the other,
into lake or bath water.
20 Turn your back on her and your own image
of her meticulously pumiced foot
sliding evenings into its shoe or glass slipper
clacking up the long wood of your staircase
come morning, breaking into your sleep,
kicking through sunlight that angles past
your bedroom window.
Don't believe these promises of heat and light
even if they make you feel decades younger.
Watch out for the easy miracles, stiletto heels
on which your fancy's too gladly impaled.
Let the woman and the man make their own way.
Go halfway home.
Then half of that.
And another half and half again.
And if this way you reach your door,
lock it behind you.
Set the chain.
* Literally: shutting of the gates. Closing time. Torschlusspanik
is the fear of older people that they won't achieve their goals
or find a spouse.
21 And Yet
Not long before his apartment burned down
I tried to explain to Jim that my poem
about the cat on a fence in snow and
dark clouds sure enough gathering might have
sprung not simply out of the play of light
and dark in our back yard one November,
my brooding as usual about the
nature of good and evil, the latter
hinted at perhaps by bird seed strewn on
the ground, making the simple cat appear
to turn complex a little—that what there
was of it may well have had at its core
something more basic, namely the notion
—I know: outdated—of simplicity
itself as a foil for the tricky new
paradigms of both poetry and life,
pendulum, say, attached to pendulum
to confound the predictability
of its singular sweep, or turbulence,
usually of water, but also in
our lives, especially as one begins
to touch on the other, (note in the first
line above how Jim's situation makes
an enormous leap in complexity
that will in time provide a harder edge
to my arguments, though at the time we
could not have divined these reasons), so I
find myself increasingly tolerant
of those who want more clarity in their
writing and their lives, both complicated
a little however by my trying
to impose on them a small poem, and well
enough aware that even editors
nowadays want to read only fiction
and nonfiction, yes, prose, and hardly share
my interest in the surely valid
22 reductions of, say, my cat poem, hardly
the-cat-sits-on-the-mat stuff (consider,
for example, its discreet allusions
to the largely chaotic systems of
weather) and yet despite my efforts to
convince him of the poem's virtues, not to
mention its obvious, though tangential
bearing on his own future, he chose two
easier pieces for his magazine.
23 remorse
did not work against language enough . . .
did . . . did not say "did not"
enough . . . did not say enough . . . did . . .
did did did, in code . . . did
artless enough . . . did uh, did uh
did uh enough, did: permutations the
mind can or cannot keep track
of, all that intellectual and pseudo-
intellectual twitter and flicking of wrists . . .
did did not, did did . . . did
uh:   a—eh? uh did did
did: b—see?    c?   did uh
did uh . . . whatever language needs us
for and vice versa, whatever we choose
what chooses us to be conveyed . . .
did language, did . . . did not: knots . . .
undid them too . . . never learned though
semaphore, but in scouts knew how
to wave the morse flag, significantly ...
did did:   i, flicking the wrist. . .
see? dashes and dots made visible
at modest distances . . . print on newsprint
later, at arm's length visible, smaller
and smaller, and a voice more
or less behind: stern grandparent or
parent or teacher, dare I say
master?    did print a little, did
a little voice, did less, did
more and tried to keep my
elbows steady . . . steady wrist. . . did not
did too . . . did uh . . . did did.
24 H.C. Artmann
four poems translated from the German by Derk Wynand
The Miner:
1. The morning sun's early rays strike the peak of the tall mountain first—gilding it with an index finger.
2. After 4 hours walking a trail marked in blue and red, one
reaches the entrance to the cavern, a hole about half a metre
in diameter.
3. Close to where the little nightingale begins to warble is a tavern—the hard-working pitman stops there after work, drinks
his quota and gives an account of the massif's ravines and
terrains.
4. Early in the day, watchful cowherds and hunters hear the
faint knocking and jangling from the mountain's innards.
They know: the miner's already at work, he's excavating metal
for the benefit of mankind.
5. Above the cavern entrance is a small wooden rope winch, on it
sits Dalibor, consuming his modest lunch, he's just taking his
break.
6. Below ground one works with the simplest lamp imaginable,
but one that is just the job, for it begins to flicker fitfully
should dangerous gases arise, a signal to leave.
7. In the colder season, coal and lignite are also excavated,
Dalibor's signs are two crossed hammers, he's a highly regarded man, he has no wife, though now and again, as the opportunity presents itself, he does look up the skirts of milking
herdswomen.
8. Waterfalls are brooks that try to fly in vain, they're no birds.
Dalibor is a hard-working pitman, he has a long beard to
which he always fastens his simple lantern, leaving both
hands free for work.
25 Horticulture:
1. A gentleman tosses his half-smoked cigar over the garden
fence—the gardener is there at once with her rake and removes the foreign body; she'd rather raise asparagus.
2. A garden that belongs to everyone is called a park. Once, the
majority of parks belonged to individual noble families, these
were still real gardens.
3. Women gardeners discuss love affairs with many gentlemen,
it lies in their flowery nature. The apprentice girls need to
start with the basics: watching closely, paying attention, not
being born yesterday and having a quick intellectual grasp are
essential requirements.
4. In autumn, much foliage is raked together, asters and dahlias
are cut, tied into bunches and sold to passers-by, ready cash is
honoured and more. There are also corpulent women gardeners in shawls.
5. The city's biggest garden is called city park, an imposing area
with trees, flowers and green spaces. During their working
hours, the women gardeners have their calves bitten by
swans, flocks of birds skim over their scarves, squirrels often
raid their set-down lunch baskets—a daily work, then, that's
by no means so easy as it first appears.
6. Libussa is a gardener in Prague, Yagoda tends parks in the
city of Zagreb, both carry pruning and garden shears under
their belts, have bright teeth and a pleasant breath. Libussa is
a Cancer, Yagoda a Virgo—which means June and September.
7. When gardening apprentices turn nubile, a bird sings them a
song. Gardens and parks are most refreshing when they have
fountains.
8. The woman gardener's vocation is a sunny one, where there's
grass, there's love, where a tree casts its cooling shade, there
one gladly lies. One almost never gets bored, one accomplishes
much and is always in high spirits.
26 The Brushmaker:
1. He holds the individual bristles up to the light and checks
their firmness, he numbers them, cuts them to the right
length, shakes a box of wire clips, fetches the glue bucket, waters a geranium, turns to his work again.
2. No, he does not use razor blades, he really does have every
number in his head, he lays everything out precisely, remains
silent during the more difficult operations, mixes hot and cold
with calm deliberation.
3. His daughter steps on dropped tweezers and bends them
straight again, sometimes it's a question of fractions of millimetres, one could say she sweeps what's useless away, locks
up her blackbird, sets out what is desired.
4. Brushes and smallish brooms are also made by hand, the following should be noted: the glue's already boiling, one turns
off the stove, grabs the pot with a wet rag. Asbestos mats are
advisable here.
5. The bristles of the four seasons should be given: Spring at 6
cm, summer at 2 cm, autumn at 3 cm, winter at 1.5 cm. Open
flame or excessive heat to be avoided if at all possible.
6. Otherwise during monsoons &c, cf. South Indian, East
Indian, archipelago-related &c.
7. Sometimes such bristles have a long journey behind them,
they are shaved off, gathered and packed the world over. The
daughter leaps to the upper storey, the master has misplaced
his glasses.
8. To the north, an artificial square moon of wood or synthetic
fabric, to the south, a sow with sucking pigs. East and west
mean nothing here. Once brought to boiling, the glue must
maintain a constant temperature, along with the clips, this is
the most important thing.
27 The Consummate Lifesaver:
1. May we suffer no reversals of fortune! He has long poles fitted
out with smooth hooks, a milk-white rubber ring, an impeccable soul. No one can determine the age of his tattoo—he wears
it with honour.
2. He has a pith helmet for really hot days and a whistle to warn
wanderers and bathers of dangerous moors or abrupt cliffs.
3. He's less concerned with the moon than the sun. This gives
him confidence with people: on one occasion, he rescues a boat
from the Rhine, three persons and a little dog.
4. The greyish green of nettles is no hindrance for him, barefoot
he rescues children from them, in Koblenz he spends a burning night on extension ladders, his coal-black eye glows with
love for his fellow man. Oh time, oh space, oh alpha of all
that's noble & true & good!
5. Praise the Lord, he sings, the wet element and mountain
peaks are His subjects, He alone gives me courage and
strength to conquer them and my inner weakness.
6. Whether he's ever been in love? Sensually, manly, intensely?
Oh yes, Marietta it was, the brash Italian, an acrobat's child—
only that was long ago, a shark wrapped himself around her.
7. Lost in thought, he gazes after the swan, tracing its bluish
evening course, from the pier, the Red Cross sees the night approaching, it begins in the east; and waves splash and lick the
desolate beach. Another day's work, oh Martin!
8. Temps de vacances, temps de voyage, July, August, and
January too . . . Mombasa, yes, a line of palms and other
trees. Maybe he'll change, the distance still lures him and—
how often the foam-scented wave breaks, crumbling rock
threatens. I warn you, swimmers, I warn you, climbers—the
shark has it too easy, too easy the peak's icy geranium!
28 W.M. Adair
two poems
Breakfast at the
Algonquin
Outside of the hotel windows, a young woman, a young man. Her
linking her arms about his neck after racing toward him from out
of nowhere. As a warm season sweeps early into the cold, she, too,
had no regard for time or place.
For her, it was love-time. She clung to his face, a peach, and
danced her apple-morning into his eyes. A straight man, he took
her on, with his thumbs firmly hitched to the pockets of his
trousers. He chose to ignore her feckless puppy-love when it
jumped again, pulling him with all of its might. Her joy, certain to
pull over the Algonquin hotel itself tugged at my heart.
I said, "Bend."
But straight, the straight man held his place. In an earthquake
he would remain under lintels and gauge the arcing sway of curtains without a bit of sweat on his fine lip.
Beside him, Rose Hips fought the frost. The broad-faced
dahlias had succumbed, bent at the neck. How very soon the
summer ends.
29 with thanks, giving
1. with thanks
twenty or more horsechestnuts
we garnered from his grandmother's
ground, the old home place on Tower Hill,
and carried these away from the base of a wind-broken tree
twenty or more
the cold in them more intense than in the worm-
scarred apples picked and tossed on the divided seat
ending another summer. Cold, red hobs of what was creeping
in. Around the blueberry fields we drove,
circling, rodeo riders. You showed me
the place where your sister stood sucking her thumb,
the hills reflected in her eyes and the horse, sheering
past, free of harness, and running
with the cutter
for home.
For good measure, you broke a vital branch
from the horsechestnut tree, and this, also,
we carried. At Brockway you doubled back
to filch from the road-side used surveyor's stakes. These,
you said you needed
to brace the yew, the cedar and pine
and the wisteria which made it through
one winter, and who knows,
may come again. On top of all of this you added
that the one
person in the whole world a boy is allowed to love,
and love without shame,
is his grandmother.
I saw you both then,
a kerosene lamp lighting your faces.
The giver and the gift
settling into sleep.
30 2. giving
several chestnuts to the newspaper girl
and her little friend at the mail box,
they chime at you, "What are these?
Aren't they pretty?"
They carry them in their hands
like new puppies,
their young cupped breath
full of care as
they take their steps
protecting something,
larger than a man it is.
And as perishable.
Gentle they
transport us
beyond
this doorstep and this day.
31 A White Night in
Africa
Patrice Melnick
Candlelight and shadow pulsed over Engime's temples as if
he were still alive. A warm wind stirred the sheet that covered his body and a wiry, coffee-coloured woman pulled the
end of the sheet over Engime's feet and tucked it under. I pushed
my hair out of my eyes so I could see better.
Marie Claire, Engime's wife, squeezed her eyes tightly as she
screeched, "Lo kwi awe, lo kwi awe,"—he died, he died, "lo kwi
awe, lo kwiii ..." She rolled on the ground and curled up like a
drying snail. I tried to show respect but my mind shot pictures
and my imagination took notes.
"Why don't you cry?" a young girl asked me in French.
I had never seen a corpse before, much less spent the night
near one. I was afraid that if I cried out loud, people would think
that I was faking it.
I had been in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) for six
months but had only been in Bangassou for three. I taught
English at the high school, Lycee Moderne de Bangassou. I taught
English poorly, my French was wretched, and I knew only a few
words of Sango, the national language of the C.A.R. I was grateful to Jeff, another Peace Corps volunteer in Bangassou, for helping me adapt. I needed to become fluent in French to communicate with the school faculty and other educated officials. But to
talk to most people outside of school, I would have to speak
Sango. Speaking Sango for me was like juggling pineapples.
"I want to learn Sango," I told Jeff as we tried to siphon
kerosene from a barrel into a jug to fill the refrigerator in my
kitchen. Sango was the language people used to complain about
mothers-in-law, to discuss the number of wives the mayor had, to
gossip about girlfriends, to curse out their children, to laugh
about apomme cithere fruit falling on someone's head, to mourn a
death, to whisper what they really thought of the president, to
cry.
32 "Get Engime to teach you Sango," Jeff said.
"Engime?" I looked up from wiping the spilled kerosene off the
floor.
"When he gets well." Jeff hadn't seen how sick Engime had become.
"Jeff..." I knew he really liked Engime. "Okay, when he gets
better," I said.
Jeff lit the wick to start the refrigerator and shoved the tray
back into the fuel compartment underneath. On his hands and
knees, ear close to the floor, Jeff watched the wick and adjusted
the flame until it burned clean and blue. We would have cold water in a couple of hours.
I lived alone in an old, French colonial-style house, but Jeff ate
lunch with me every day. A cook worked for me, the same man
who had cooked for Peace Corps Volunteers in that house for
seven years. Jeff helped me keep the refrigerator running, offered
advice on how to deal with the school authorities, and suggested
which of the three town markets to shop at.
I liked the idea of learning from Engime. But I had seen him at
the hospital the day before and felt that I had seen a dying man.
I didn't know what to tell Jeff. I rarely heard anyone in my family
talk about dying and had not learned to talk about death myself.
My parents talked about "passing away," "fading away," and "slipping away." My mother sent get well cards to terminally ill relatives, like a denial of imminent death. Friends sent jars of candy
to hospital patients with no appetites. Visitors ate the M&M's to
calm their nerves. We rarely talked about a past death, and never
about approaching death. I was afraid that saying the word "die"
would make it happen.
Engime and his family lived next door to me. Our houses on the
school grounds were scalding hot in the dry season but didn't leak
in the rainy season. People considered us privileged to live in tin-
roofed houses with cement floors rather than in mud houses with
hairy roofs of dead palm fronds.
I went to Engime's at seven every morning before school to buy
soft beignet doughnuts from his wife, Marie Claire. She fried
them outside in a cooking hut constructed of three sides of mud
bricks and a low, palm leaf roof. Three large stones held the woklike pot above the wood fire. Engime's robust wife squatted next
to the fire. Marie Claire took a soggy ball of dough out of a deep
bowl and rapidly rolled it between her palms. Working like a machine, she rolled about thirty balls at a time and dropped them
into the oil one by one.
33 When I arrived, the beignets were rising to the top of the oil,
floating like toasted ping-pong balls. I bought ten. "Cadeau," she
said in a husky voice as she wrapped the three extras with the
others in a scrap of used notebook paper. All the ladies who sold
beignets wrapped them in their children's old English tests and
algebra assignments. The beignets burned my hand as the oil
seeped through the fifth grade lesson. The next time I brought a
bowl to carry them home in.
Engime often sat outside the front door, right next to the cooking hut. He drank coffee and ate beignets. Sometimes he had student papers or a book in his hand. Other times he just rested
against the back of his lounge chair, his long legs stretched forward, and watched people passing by on the road near our
houses. He usually wore a pair of slacks for school but relaxed in
his bare feet and open shirt. He waited until the last minute to
put on his leather shoes. "Baramo, Mo yeke senge?"—Hello, how
are you? he asked and smiled. Formal Sango lessons hadn't begun, but he tried to teach me a few phrases, and would test me
later.
"Aaah, mbi yeke senge," I answered back, waiting for the first
batch of beignets. I only knew basic greetings.
While Jeff's senior mathematics class shrank from fifty to forty
students and my English class dwindled to only twenty-five, students packed into Engime's History-Geography class. The seniors
studied anxiously because at the end of the year they would take
the Baccalaureate exam. Only four to ten of the sixty-five
Bangassou seniors were likely to pass. Maybe none would. Those
who passed would continue on to college to become teachers or
engineers, depending on their specialty and the needs of the
country. Those who flunked took it again the following year. If a
student flunked twice, he took his limited knowledge of chemistry, philosophy, English, geography, literature, and trigonometry out to the field to plant cassava with a short-handled, wooden
hoe. There are no private employers in the Central African
Republic. If students didn't find work with the government, there
were few options beyond planting their family's fields and selling
the crops in the market at the end of the season.
The seniors knew Engime was a serious teacher because he
never came to class drunk. He never spent his ten o'clock mid-
morning break at the palm wine stands on the street corner.
Even the headmaster, Monsieur Kande, went out on a morning
drunk. If someone needed to talk to him, it was best to catch him
before he drove away on his moped at mid-morning. The students
34 mumbled to each other, as they stepped aside to let the headmaster by. They watched the tall, rigid man ride away in a straight
line. Everyone knew where he was going. The students wished
they were going too. But they didn't even have enough money for
cheap palm wine which tasted like fermented lemonade in the
mornings. By late afternoon, when the teachers returned to the
palm wine stands, it had become more potent and tart.
When Monsieur Kande returned to school, he wrung his
sweaty hands and stared out his open office window. If you tried
to talk to him, he nodded his head with his eyes glazed and his
shoulders slumped. He could no longer listen attentively to problems of crowded classes or disruptive students.
When the palm wine professors returned to school, they walked
more slowly, but their eyes squinted into grins. The school recess
lasted for fifteen minutes, just enough time for some of the teachers to wander off the school grounds to visit the palm wine vendors. Engime, and a few others, stayed at school reviewing for
class. At noon, the end of the school day, the students, professors
and headmaster, would all gladly leave the stuffy classrooms and
burning walls behind them to go home for lunch and an afternoon
nap.
After my first few weeks at Lycee Moderne de Bangassou, I saw
Engime less often sitting in his front yard with a cup of coffee.
His wife said he was sick. When I saw him, he greeted me,
"Baramo," and smiled, but his eyes looked tired and dark. As he
coughed, his chest shook. His jaw grew sharper and his elbows,
knees, and ankles protruded more every day. Sweat beaded up
upon his broad forehead and narrow chest even in the cool
evening when he only wore a pair of soccer shorts. Week after
week he dropped pounds, and then began missing classes.
Students talked about the day Engime would come back, but
there was worry in their faces.
After a couple of weeks, Engime seemed to get better.
"How are you feeling?" I asked him one day when I saw him in
his yard.
"I'm feeling good. I can eat better and I feel much stronger,
though I still have headaches. I expect to be back in school any
day."
The next day, in the afternoon, he came to school. My house was
on an incline above the lycee, so I could see the school from there.
I walked down to see what he was doing. He was drawing maps on
the board with coloured chalk, having scheduled extra classes for
the seniors to catch them up on the History-Geography program.
35 They were worried about the Baccalaureate. Students were relieved that Engime had returned and hoped he wouldn't have a relapse. Engime taught most of his classes, though occasionally he
would leave school early to sleep off a recurring headache. We
watched Engime for signs of returning strength.
Marie Claire had left town to visit relatives now that Engime
was stronger, and I no longer saw him in the mornings. I bought my
beignets in Banguiville's morning market, Jeff's neighbourhood.
I felt better since I saw Engime at school every day. I was sure
he had put on weight. So the morning I looked out my window
and saw Engime leaning into a friend's shoulder and walking in
the direction of the hospital, I was surprised. He took small,
unsteady steps, like an old man. He looked as skinny as ever.
Several days later I went to the hospital. I didn't recognize the
skeleton lying on the bed with his limbs angled awkwardly.
Engime trembled, struggling to move an arm or foot. The dry
season had set in and the heat and dust baked the room. Engime's
head curved like a brown eggshell with veins about to crack open.
I could almost see the pain in his temples racing to his skull and
jaw. His skin hung loosely about his bones, and he riveted his
hands to his head as if trying to grip the pain. He didn't notice
anyone in the room.
He must have been whirling around in his pain, as he rocked
back and forth to the throbbing and his toes grasped the wrinkles
in his unmade bed. He rolled to the edge and one of the teachers,
Ndega, pushed him back into the centre. As the sheets slid off,
Ndega tucked them back around the edges of the foam mattress.
I became dizzy. In the long room full of sick people, I leaned
against the molting, salmon-coloured wall. Flakes of dead paint
fell against my neck. Six beds lined the walls and two stood in
the middle of the room. At least the breeze from the window
cooled Engime's area.
In the bed next to Engime's, a wrinkled girl slept on her side
with her hands tucked under her cheek. I noticed an old man on
the other side of the room, with young and old women all around
him. He smiled, pleased to have company. There were pots of
stew and cassava meal under the bed. The hospital served
no food. The families of the patients brought food and water jugs.
They filled their jugs from the water faucets outside. Visitors
also brought food for their friends at each visit.
"Wake up!" said Ndega, shaking Engime's shoulders. "Patrice is
here to see you. Say hello."
"Don't do that..." I said, shocked at how Ndega treated a dying
man. "He needs to sleep."
36 Ndega agreed to leave him alone but stood by the bed attentively. There was nothing to do.
I later learned that the sick in the Central African Republic
don't get a lot of sympathy. Engime's friends treated him well and
visited frequently. But, if you have a cold or the flu and tell someone about it, more than likely they will reply, "I'm sick too"—and
it would probably be true. So much illness fills people's lives that
poor health is the norm. Few people live without bouts of
malaria, tapeworms, ringworms, diarrhea, acute dehydration,
lice, pneumonia, schistosomiasis, influenza, or colds. Central
Africans work when they're sick, because they're sick most of the
time, and work needs to be done all the same. The sick aren't
given any special food, like chicken soup or extra liquids. If they
have an appetite, they eat the same stew that the family eats
every day. Few families have the resources to give a sick person
special food.
Engime had no appetite. His only concern was to get rid of that
pounding in his temples. He was oblivious to his friends and fellow teachers who stood around the iron bed helplessly and made
lame jokes. In spite of Ndega's brusque attempts to wake
Engime, I could see he was a good friend and very upset. When
Engime tried to bend his legs, Ndega very gently took each one
and bent it for him.
"The doctors can't cure him," said Ndega, staring at Engime's
closed eyes. "He needs traditional medicine. I'm going to the
country to get some. I know a traditional doctor there who will
know what to do. I'll find something. Engime will be fine."
Engime's breathing went fast and shallow. Ndega looked at me
and I nodded.
Marie Claire had received word of her husband's relapse and
returned to town. As I approached the hospital room a few days
later, I heard women wailing. I stood at the doorway of the room
holding a loaf of bread in one hand and a bunch of bananas in the
other. I couldn't hand them to his wife, who wailed and clung to
the other women. Engime lay on his back, his ribs moving in and
out slightly.
I worried that in the next moment, his ribs wouldn't move, that
he wouldn't make the next breath. The wailing women didn't notice me. I didn't know what to do with the bread and bananas.
Engime gasped like a fish with his head twisted back, and I
couldn't imagine how that jutting jaw could open to eat.
"Thank you, Engime will like these," Ndega said, as he took the
bananas from me. "I got some medicine from the country."
"When are you going to give it to him?"
37 "I already have. He will get better."
I couldn't stand watching. My eyes watered, as I heard Engime
struggle for each breath, his legs frozen into V-shapes. He could
no longer indicate if he wanted Ndega to move them or not. The
women swayed back and forth, crying over Engime, who seemed
neither dead nor alive.
As I walked through the hospital grounds, I realized how lucky
Engime was to have a bed since there were not enough for all the
patients. Others lay on blankets under trees. Wives squatted
near the ground and cooked over smoking fires, as they must
have done at home. The patients who lay outside may have been
farmers, hunters, or brickmakers. Engime probably had a bed because he was a professor. Nurses came into the room to check on
Engime more often than the old man or the wrinkled girl.
Two days later, during my eleven a.m. class, I stepped out for a
moment and noticed how quiet the air was. Silent masses of students and teachers drifted across the school grounds, and they
gathered at a hill near Engime's home. Silence spread like smoke.
I ended class. The other professors had already dismissed theirs.
Marie Claire and the other women of Engime's family walked
out of the house. She ran ahead of the others across the field in
one long wail, through the tall savannah. Her heavy legs seemed
to move in slow motion, as if running through water, and she held
her skirts high, barefoot in her sorrow. I thought she would never
make it across the field, to the road, to the hospital. I went home
to tell Jeff, who was having his mid-morning coffee. He put his
face in his hands for a moment, then looked at me with red eyes.
"Let's go," he said and stood up. We followed the others to the hospital morgue.
Outside the morgue the women tugged at each others' braids
until the hair stuck out in wild clumps. The wife, children, brothers, and cousins paced back and forth in ripped up clothes stained
in red dirt. They went barefoot and screeched hysterically. The
boys wailed and shrieked, as they ran aimlessly like trapped antelope.
One of the teachers told us the funeral would be at the house of
Engime's relatives in a nearby neighbourhood. He described how
to find it. Jeff and I returned home to rest. We would return at
sunset.
When Jeff and I arrived at the funeral house, I was surprised
to see dozens of children. In Central Africa, if parents go to a funeral, they don't hire a babysitter to watch the kids. The husband, the three wives and all fifteen kids attend. Who could pay a
babysitter for one, two, maybe even three days and nights?
38 I didn't know how to stand, how to hold my hands, or what to
say. Most people spoke in Sango. Jeff kept his hands awkwardly
in his pockets, though he spoke French well enough to talk to the
other teachers. The red mud huts surrounded an open area
where women constructed a canopy of palm leaves. The doors and
wooden window shutters of the houses stood propped open, and
children carried chairs outside. I wondered where the corpse was.
I sat down on a chair, and one of the older students, a twenty-
year-old, sat down next to me to tell me about how hard English
was for him. I was relieved to remember his name, Bapai. In
class, Bapai always sat tall and silent in the back of the room and
knew all the answers. He took off his round glasses and rubbed
them. Without the glasses, he looked less serious.
I tried to listen to Bapai talk in his deep, gentle voice, but I was
distracted by the movement around me. A pick-up truck arrived,
the back loaded with the long bench-tables from the school. The
older students lifted them out of the truck. Families arrived carrying sleeping mats under their arms and narrow, sway-back
shaped bamboo beds on their heads.
Mats surrounded the canopy. Several fires heated huge caldrons of gunia, a leafy green sauce. Women prepared pots of tea
and coffee and placed them over the fire to keep them hot. Bapai
noticed that I was studying the scene and explained that the
women were good friends of the family and helped by cooking the
food.
Finally, two men carried Engime out of one of the mud houses
on a bed. Bapai left me and joined Engime's son under the canopy.
A sheet covered Engime's body up to his neck. He looked more
comfortable than when I'd seen him in the hospital. One of the
ladies lit candles. The air grew cool.
Even in the dark, Engime's skull looked polished. His cold,
brass-coloured forehead reflected the candlelight, and small
flames burned like half moons on either side of his face. The eyelids barely closed, and a dull gleam peeked out from the narrow
slit of one eye. Or did I imagine that? I imagined the slightly
parted lips were about to greet me, "Baramo," with one of the few
Sango words I understood.
A sheet covered the rest of his body and bunched up under his
arms like bleached cow hide. His chest rose a fraction of an
inch—or I thought it did. I was glad that I'd brought a jacket.
Before the night was over, I would wish I'd brought my own bed
so I could sleep like the children who lay curled up on mats and in
the centre of the curved bamboo beds.
Ten or fifteen members of Engime's family sat on straw mats
39 beside the body. Marie Claire lay on her side like a small child.
She uncurled and sat up slowly, staring at the broad, polished
forehead. She wiped a line of saliva from her mouth and brushed
the flies from the corpse's lips. Engime's son, David, sat on the
other side of Engime, across from his mother. David bent forward
and squeezed his eyes tightly, drawing creases across his forehead. He wrapped his long, cardamom-coloured arms around his
legs and rocked back and forth. He took the hand of one of his
younger brothers. As he rocked near the candlelight, I could see
the red dust coating his face—the make-up of mourning. Red dirt
covered the arms, legs, hair, and necks of all of Engime's people.
It was embedded in their wrinkles, pores, and fingernails. Red
clay dust stained their shredded clothes. The mourners looked
like a family of clay figures that had just stepped out of the ashes
of a fire. I stood towards the edge of the pack of mourners.
Outside the tight, clay-coated family stood about seventy professors, students, neighbours and friends.
"Coffee?" More tea?" Ladies circulated among the guests and
offered drinks to keep us awake. I took a cup of hot tea loaded
with sugar.
"I see you have something to keep your eyes open," said Ndega
in English. He taught English and liked to brush up on his own
speaking skills by talking to the Peace Corps volunteers when he
had the chance. He held his coffee delicately, as if at a cocktail
party.
"How long will people stay?" I asked.
"This is La nuit blanche," he answered.
"What's that?"
"That is a 'white night.' We will stay all night. But you don't
have to. You can go home."
I hadn't stayed up all night since I was a high school student. I
wanted to see what it would be like to stay awake, to feel that fatigue with the others.
"I want to stay. Why do you stay awake?"
"To keep the family company on the hardest night. Why don't
you take pictures? That would be very interesting."
"I'm afraid to. I don't have my camera. Wouldn't people think I
was rude?" In Peace Corps training, I had been warned not to
flash my camera in people's faces like a tourist. I'd had enough
rotten papayas thrown at me in other countries to know not to
push my lens in people's lives indiscriminately.
"No, it is fine. Take pictures. Take many pictures," said Ndega.
40 He didn't seem to realize how upset people might become.
"No, I better not. I don't want to," I said. And yet my mind
flashed frame after frame of the frozen body and the well-
dressed, smiling ladies offering small, murky glasses of coffee.
Several teachers gathered around Ndega and me. I was pleased.
During my two months in Bangassou, other teachers had rarely
spoken to me. I was too shy to speak to them at first. I feared they
didn't like me, or that they had nothing to say to a white woman
unless they were flirting. I envied Jeff, who knew the other professors well enough to join them at the palm wine stands or school
soccer matches. I was the only woman teacher in Bangassou other
than the principal of the upper school, a French nun.
"Are you tired yet, Patrice?" Mbolinguera, the philosophy
teacher, asked me in English. I was surprised how well he spoke.
The others leaned forward to listen.
"Non, pas du tout." I wanted to practice French.
'You look tired. Why don't you go home?"
"Why do you want me to go home?" I asked, smiling. The other
professors looked confused. Mbolinguera translated into Sango.
"No, stay," said Adabi timidly. He was the superintendent of the
school.
'You are in the Peace Corps, yes?" asked Trepaye, the French
teacher. They all wanted to practice English.
"Oui, je fais partie des Peace Corps," I answered.
"I think you are very curious," said Mbolinguera.
"Oui,je suis curieuse."
"You speak French," Trepaye said.
"Oui, je parle Frangais."
"Very good," said Mbolinguera.
"Unpeu seulement."
"Are you and Jeff going to stay all night?" he asked.
"We're planning to."
"That's good. We stay here to say good-bye to Engime's soul, to
keep it company before it goes to heaven," Mboli said waving his
hand towards Engime's body.
"What do you mean? Does he know we're here?"
"The soul stays for a few days. We keep it company before it
leaves the body."
"We'll be here for a few days?"
"No, just one. We used to stay up for three days, but now it's
just one. We used to play drums, dance. But we don't do that any
more. We have a party and dance one year after the death."
41 The teachers started to talk among themselves in French. I
couldn't understand much of the conversation but listened and
tried. Mbolinguera spoke and smiled slightly. Sango words mixed
into his French, and as he began to speak more quickly, he
changed into Sango altogether. The others were quiet and attentive. Mboli's hands gestured rapidly. He began talking faster and
faster, excitedly, and then ended his monologue with a few slow
words. The teachers began to chuckle at the joke. They laughed
and guffawed, holding their bellies. Mbolinguera gurgled and
laughed hysterically, his arms wrapped tightly around himself.
His shoulders shook in laughter. He put his hands over his face,
still shaking. His shoulders jerked once, twice, then he sobbed
and tears dripped between his fingers. Ndega moved closer and
put his arm around Mboli. The other teachers stood silently.
I heard the students singing church hymns in French. They sat
on benches facing Engime's family. I took a free chair near the
canopy, so I could hear better. Jeff sang with them and shared a
hymn book with Bapai. I wondered if they sang for Engime's soul
or for the family. Marie Claire didn't seem to hear. She lay her
head on her arms, and she looked at the ground as if she were a
leftover rag doll.
The harmonies sounded strained. The tunes quickened and became so loud that the students sounded as if they were yelling anxiously. Bapai leaned forward as he sang, his eyes squinting into his
hymn book and his neck stretched forward. He sang as though
forcing his voice from his tight throat. I felt too nervous to try to
read the French and learn the melodies. When the singers took
breaks, some got up and sat elsewhere. Other students took their
places until the benches were full and the students sang again.
Bapai and another student, whom I didn't know, sat next to me.
"Madame Melnique, it's very good that you and Jeff are here,"
Bapai said in French. "Did you like the singing?"
"Yes, it sounded good."
"We sing to keep Engime company. We will sing all night."
"That's good."
"Many students are here. They will miss Engime. And they
want to help David. Do you know his son, David?"
"Not very well."
"That's David over there." Bapai pointed to the long-legged
young man with his arms wrapped around his knees. He was
looking in the direction of Engime's body, in a daze, as if he was
looking through the corpse. Bapai talked to his friend more
rapidly. I listened to the French.
42 "Look, the school headmaster is here. The principal of the
lower school is here," Bapai said.
"Everyone is here," his friend agreed.
"Everyone but Soeur Bet." Soeur Bet was the principal of the
upper school, the French nun. For at least fifteen years she had
occupied the small school library, which was more like a storage
room. She made up the teachers'schedules, passed out books, and
scolded students for "insolence." I hadn't noticed her absence until Bapai mentioned it. Her obligation to come hadn't occurred to
me. She must have appreciated Engime as a teacher. She probably saw him at the cathedral every Sunday.
Bapai's voice hardened. "Where is she? It's a shame. Everyone
came. Why isn't she here?"
I wondered if Soeur Bet hadn't come because there was something un-Catholic about the funeral, but I didn't know enough
about Catholicism or funerals to be sure. She must have realized
that all of the teachers and the other principals would come, and
that people would notice her absence. Did she decide not to come
because it wasn't right for a nun to be out in the neighbourhoods
so late at night? I tried to imagine her at the funeral, with her silver-white hairline, in her white habit, but I couldn't. Maybe she
would have come to a funeral held during the day.
I wondered if she objected to the kind of funeral being held for
Engime. What about the belief that the soul stays around for a
few days, that those at the funeral must keep Engime company
before his soul leaves the body? What about the all-night ritual?
There didn't seem to be any Christian component to the funeral
beyond the hymns. Were Soeur Bet to come, would she scoff at
the references to the spirit staying close, would she mumble
"Pagan" under her breath?
"Madame Melnique, ga ti te kobe," a girl said to me. She knew I
didn't understand her. She sat next to one of the pots of gunja
helping the other women build up the fire and stir the food. I
wondered if she were one of my students. She looked to be the
right age, twelve or thirteen. "Ga," she repeated, flapping her fingers downward to call me over. I came and sat on the mat next to
her. Though she smiled, I saw tears on her cheeks in the light of
the fire. The heat felt good.
"Why don't you cry?" she asked me in French. She looked familiar, but I wasn't sure if she was one of my students, or Engime's.
I had two hundred and fifty and had not yet gotten used to the
African names. I felt sad and hoped that I looked sad. But no
tears would come.
43 "I'll cry later, when I get home."
"Are you hungry?"
I realized that I was. She gave me a bowl of gunja with a spoon.
I had eaten gunja before and liked the bright green leaf sauce
cooked in palm oil with garlic, onions, and peanut butter. She didn't offer me any gozo, a thick cassava paste which Central
Africans eat with every meal. A big bowl of gozo sat on the other
side of the fire. I asked for some and a woman gave me a lump the
size of a baseball, as heavy as a shot put. Gozo is a filler.
"Mo tene na Sango ape?" She laughed at my puzzled expression. When I finished eating, she brought me a bowl of water to
wash my hands in and a towel to dry them with. Five other girls
her age gathered around us. They talked with each other in
Sango, and I thought the girls sounded like chattering weaver
birds. The sounds rose and fell, for Sango is a tonal language and
pitch contributes to meaning. But it still sounded like birds to
me.
One of the other girls held up a finger in front of my face and
said, "Oko." Was she asking me to wait for her a moment? After a
pause, each girl held one finger in my face and said, "Oko."
"Oko," I held up one of my fingers.
"Use," they shouted and held up two fingers each. For an hour
we practiced numbers and greetings, one of my first friendly contacts with students. In the classroom, they either competed for
attention by throwing pencils across the room at each other, or
avoided my questions. I was intensely curious about their personal lives. When I taught my next class, I remembered the
names of the students I had met at the funeral and soon learned
others.
Jeff joined me and said, "The other teachers wonder why you
aren't sitting with us. You might want to sit with our group pretty
soon." Jeff pointed to the teachers sitting on a circle of benches.
"Do I have to sit with them?" I enjoyed the girls' friendly company most of all.
"No, you don't have to. But if you don't, they may wonder why."
Jeff left in the teachers' direction.
I understood that I was classified as a teacher and was expected to socialize in certain ways. Yet I felt excluded. I wasn't invited to drink palm wine with the teachers on Friday afternoons
because that was considered a man's affair. They didn't see me as
a regular teacher because I was female, and yet I wasn't viewed
as a regular woman because I was an educated professional. I
dreaded going back to sit with the professors. I liked their com-
44 pany but resented the pressure. And I was irritable with sleepiness. The caffeine didn't keep me awake—the trips to the outhouse did. I stood up and thanked the girls for teaching me some
Sango and walked over to the cluster of teachers.
Someone screamed. Engime's wife began another round of
wailing. It was almost three a.m. and I hadn't heard her mourn
for several hours. As if following a cue, the others sat on the mats
near Engime, put their arms around Marie Claire and wailed
with her. I wondered about the grief she must have felt. And at
the same time, I wondered if she was obligated to mourn loudly, if
the others in the family were also supposed to make an appropriate amount of noise. I thought it made sense, when in mourning,
to put on rags and scream.
Weeks later, I learned more about how my students felt about
funeral ceremonies. In my English class, we discussed different
ways of dealing with death. I was surprised how open the students were to talking about death and funerals. I described the
embalming done by a paid stranger, eulogies given by people who
didn't know the deceased, expensive coffins and burials, black
suits and dresses, and the twenty-minute funeral service. I explained how carefully Americans avoided talking about death.
The students were astonished by the complexity and expense of
funerals in the States. They didn't think the American system
sounded right.
But Bapai told me that he didn't like all the loud crying that
goes on at African funerals either.
"It's not good to show your emotions, whimpering like a dog.
That won't bring the dead back," Bapai said. While the students
were disturbed by the distant American attitude towards death
that I had described, most of them were in favour of reserved
ways of mourning. Quiet tears, silent prayers.
I wondered if these students thought that wailing rituals were
too primitive after learning of the controlled, weepy, formal funerals of the missionary churches?
Every culture has its funeral rituals, but I think that if I were
mourning, really mourning, I wouldn't want to dress up in a conventional black dress with stockings, black heels, and make-up.
That seems too refined for the raw emotion felt when someone
dies. To wear rags, go barefoot and wail like a lost jackal comes
closer to real grief. To mourn loudly would be like turning myself
inside out, showing the naked raggedness of my feelings.
When morning light came and a pick-up truck arrived to take
Engime to his home town to be buried, Jeff and I left, walking in
45 a daze. We passed others who had slept at their houses but were
returning to see the last of "la nuit blanche," and to watch the
rusty white pick-up truck drive away with Engime, Marie Claire,
David, the other children, and friends, for the burial.
I never found out what gave Engime those headaches, caused
him to lose weight, and killed him. I later knew of many people
who died of "God's will" and "unknown causes." That same year
the principal's mother died. "Cause unknown." One of the teachers'wives died in childbirth. "God's will." While playfully chasing
a rooster, the neighbour's five-year-old boy fell down a well.
"God's will," again. A student died in a knife fight. The school
mourned for days. People didn't expect to prevent death, though
they grieved just the same. Mboli said Engime died of tuberculosis. Jeff speculated AIDS. I didn't catch all the interpretations in
French, but I heard no one speak with certainty.
"It was his own fault," Soeur Bet told me. She said he had been
feeling bad for years. "I told him to go to the hospital for a checkup." She looked disturbed. "I told him. Maybe they could have
helped him then. But he waited too long. This shouldn't have
happened."
Later on, when I was at the hospital waiting for antibiotics to
treat my infected mosquito bites, I again faced the questions surrounding Engime's death. While I sat in the doctor's office, I saw
a small jar on his desk. A stringy white piece of human tissue the
size of a chicken gizzard floated in the formaldehyde. ENGIME
was printed on the label wrapped around the jar.
"Qu'est ce que c'est?" I asked. The French doctor pretended not
to hear and seemed uninterested rather than evasive. I asked
him again and he answered in rapid French. Maybe he named a
piece of anatomy, the part that didn't make it into the white pickup truck with the rest of Engime's body. Maybe he named the disease. But I didn't understand. I wondered if the jar held a part of
the brain, for I remembered how he had held on to his aching
head. The doctor gave me my antibiotics and sent me away.
Cause of death, still unknown.
The morning after the funeral, classes were cancelled, but we
had flag-raising. The students usually sang the national anthem
mockingly. While they were loyal to their families and ancient
tribal nations, they didn't feel much for their twenty-five-year-old
country. They giggled while the flag was raised and purposely
sang off key. Some swayed from side to side during the song and
carried out the last note several beats longer than necessary. The
headmaster had to lecture them every few weeks to sing the anthem respectfully.
46 This time the students stood absolutely still. All our eyes
watched the flag being raised slowly, and I felt a pang of sadness
when it stopped halfway. The students stared at the midway flag
and began singing. They were thinking only of Engime.
Standing in the crowd of singing students, I saw the girls who
had taught me Sango. I scanned the lines of students and found
Bapai. His head, like many of the other boys', had been shaved
clean in respect. I thought of Engime's brown, skull-like head. I
would never see Engime's wife or David again. Marie Claire and
the children moved to her hometown. Friends cleaned out
Engime's house, and Mboli moved in the next semester. This time
the students sang the anthem for Engime and carried out that
last note in perfect, mournful pitch.
47 fan Zwicky
four poems
Lullaby
Don't let grief frighten you.
Standing out there, in the mind,
its silhouette is winged and cavernous.
But what brought you here:    is past.
No need to lock the door.
Don't let grief frighten you.
It comes to let you sleep.
Bring it in to sit down by the fire.
In the hearthlight,
you will see its face is human, its hands
are empty like your own.
48 April
How the light is sad.
How it will not leave us alone.
How we are tugged up staircases
by the way it angles across landings.
Or just our faces—tipped
to the clear, depleted sky.
How, because of sunset, the imagination
headquarters in the west.
Spring in the north: all that
tawny grass and gravel and nothing
green to sop up the excessive honesty.
Outside our windows,
something like youth or promises.
How the wind blows right through them,
blossoming. Fleet.
49 plants actually emit light for a short
time at the moment of change from light to
darkness
Plant and Planet, Anthony Huxley
Shade
is not dusk, though it is often then
I think of it: the grape-hung oak
and hickory and maple trees
paused after the day's heat,
motionless. Nor is it shadow—something
a little sad, subtracted-from, where other
things get lost. Shadow is
what lengthens into dusk, the exhausted image of the world
laid out across itself. Shade
goes straight down, espresso,
dense with intent. And yet
it's not as though shade isn't what we think of
when we're tired.
And as we learn from paintings,
shade is not mere absence, isn't black; and does
resemble shadow, being
many-coloured, subtle. So,
not single (though in this kind of heat
it feels like an embrace
to stretch out on the dark grass, breathe green
under the canopy, and doze)—shade is
multiple as leaves, each
cupping light, light spilling
over to the next, rilled, glinting,
until here, at the bottom,
it sways through the clearing, thick
as taffy; glossy, braided, sleek
—but that's
the light; and shade
is other.
50 Other,
then. Which is after all
a kind of absence, neither a
breathing out or breathing in, top
of the swing. Maples at dusk,
not dark but still—
even in wind.
Some place
where we are no one but ourselves
and in that moment of transition
give off light.
51 Bill Evans: "Alone
//
Sound that makes night fall around it
like the glow from a reading lamp.
Rain on the roof, straight down.
The name of your name
spoken without another's.
Rubato is a hand
you thought indifferent
laid, briefest of moments,
on your sleeve.
It walks away, then,
that sound, without looking back.
Lights up a Lucky. Says
we hadn't the ghost of a chance, says never
let me go.
52 Pen State
Janalee Chmel
The recess bell sounds with a clang clang clang and hundreds of children run into the playground silently. They run
past the basketball blacktop. Past the tetherball poles.
Past the jungle gym. Past the swings. They run all the way to the
back fence and wait. A very few children remain back near the
school building on the blacktop playing games. These children
hold a distinguished position at Central Elementary.
At the fence, children line up shoulder-to-shoulder, chests
against the fence, fingers white-knuckling chain link. No one
speaks. They listen to one another breathe and watch the steam
exit their own mouths. Lips curl through chain link. Breath
shoots through to sacred ground. The fence, topped with barb
wire, rattles against its poles as the children lean on it and shake
it demandingly. The shaking increases until the top of the fence
resembles the zig-zag function on a sewing machine.
Across the adjacent lot, the doors of the huge minimum security prison grind open and hundreds of breathless women rush
out. The children erupt in screams of delight as their mothers, all
dressed similarly but recognized immediately, rush to their
places on the fence. Huge breasts bounce like basketballs on
blacktop as the mothers race to their little ones. They do not have
to hunt for each other. Like students who insist on sitting in the
same seat all year, each child and mother have their place on the
fence. Some mothers greet two or even three of their children. A
few women remain back by the building. They do not have children at Central Elementary.
Grubby little hands push through chain link to touch mommy-
cheeks. Well-manicured fingernails (they have the time) reach
through link to stroke uncombed locks. How's school? How's the
dog? How's your aunt? Rarely, how's your father?
School is OK. The dog ran away. Aunt Martha is fine. I made
you something today.
Gifts are acceptable because the mothers are strip-searched
when they re-enter the prison; a situation well worth enduring to
53 see their children once a week. The mothers and children spend
the fifteen minutes questioning, laughing, scolding, pleading.
And always touching. Lips reach through link to press chilled
cheeks. Noses poke through link for silly Eskimo kisses. Ears are
stretched through link and inspected. Bodies lean against each
other in mock-hugs as fingertips grip fingertips. They cling desperately to the seconds—all three hundred and sixty of them.
Then, clang clang clang, and the children unlink themselves
obediently. If they are not back in their classroom seats within
five minutes, they will not be allowed out for recess next week.
The mothers know this fact well and release their flesh and blood
as painfully as birth. It is twelve fifteen p.m. on Wednesday at
Central Elementary, also known as Pen State, Link U., and
Momma-Got-High High. (Most of the women have at least one
drug offense to their name.)
Johnny Appleseed heads back to the school with the other kids,
ready to start math class. While in a cult, his mother changed her
name from Annabeth Warren to Jesus-Mary Appleseed and
Johnny Warren suddenly became Johnny Appleseed. Luckily, his
transcripts still say John Paul Warren.
After everyone takes a seat, the teacher walks in behind a
small girl. A new girl. New students are pretty common here.
Families move into the area specifically to be near mothers who
have been locked up. Sisters, cousins and best friends take responsibility for the kids of locked-up moms and keep in touch
through the weekly chain links. If a mom is released, the family
usually stays in the area to let the children finish school with
their friends.
Sissy Hanson is introduced. The teacher places her in a seat
behind Johnny, who immediately writes her a note and passes it
over: Looks like you missed this week's link-up. We do it every
Wednesday for recess. Is that why you're here? Is your mom here?
I'm Johnny.
She responds and flips the note back when the teacher turns:
My mom is here. She got here about a month ago and I'm living
with my brother. He's 24 and I'm only 10. Funny, huh? I can't wait
to see her. She's innocent.
That's the first thing every new student says. "She's innocent."
They soon learn that no one cares about innocence, guilt or even
offense. They care about time.
How long? he writes.
Five to ten years. You?
54 Johnny responds: Life. I've been here since sixth grade. I go to
the high school for ninth grade next year. I don't want to leave her
alone, though.
The note tossing stops when the teacher looks at them accusingly.
Wednesday is the best day of the week—even better than
Saturday—and all the children are in good moods and anxious.
At the end of the day, Johnny Appleseed walks Sissy home since
it's on the way to his aunt's. Sissy again says her mom is innocent
and Johnny tells her that it really doesn't matter because she'll
be hugging chain link next week just like the rest of them. Sissy
listens, but once again insists that The Lawyers will make it all
better soon. Her shiny blonde hair and determined blue eyes are
a sharp contrast to Johnny's sticky brown hair and dull, boiled-
mud eyes.
They arrive at her home and Sissy thanks Johnny Appleseed.
Her brother walks out on the porch and she hustles to his side.
She explains that the boy's name is Johnny Appleseed. Funny,
huh?
The week progresses as usual. Johnny introduces Sissy to
everyone and by Friday afternoon she is no longer explaining her
mom's innocence. She is giving time. Johnny even introduces her
to some of the children whose mothers have gotten out. They explain the time they had and how it feels to be free. Sissy likes her
new friends and is a little sorry The Lawyers will make it necessary for her to leave.
The next Wednesday comes and Sissy is introduced to the
silent run, the shaking fence, and the beautiful sound of mothers
on the approach. Johnny pulls her to the fence next to him and
listens as she describes her mom. As the women rush across the
yard, Jesus-Mary Appleseed finds Johnny quickly, kisses him
through a link, and listens as he describes Sissy's mom. Jesus-
Mary has bad news.
"She's been denied kid-yard access," Jesus-Mary explains. "She
bit a guard."
Sissy stumbles back. "What did they do to her?"
"Honey, you don't need to go asking questions like that. From
what I hear, she'll have access in a month."
Sissy breathes back her tears and lets her hand fall from the
fence. Her mom taught her never to hurt others or be mean.
What did they do to her?
'You can use my mom," Johnny says, and he pulls Sissy's hand
55 up to his mom's link-circled fingertips. Sissy and Jesus-Mary look
at him uncertainly and then at each other suspiciously. But the
touch is too much for Sissy and she immediately leans against
Jesus-Mary's chain-linked chest and cries. Jesus-Mary coos and
cuddles with the talent of a ten-year link veteran, holding Johnny
with her other hand all the while. The others are too engrossed in
their three hundred and sixty seconds to notice Sissy's sobs and
Jesus-Mary's tender response.
When recess ends, Sissy asks Jesus-Mary to tell her mom to be
nice. Johnny gets a kiss from his mom and passes her a picture of
his bedroom. He rearranged the furniture last month and wants
her to see. Johnny pulls Sissy back to class.
When Johnny and Sissy walk home, they find her brother waiting on the curb.
"Well? How is she?"
Sissy cries and Johnny Appleseed explains.
"But my mom was real nice to Sissy," Johnny says. "My mom
said she'd tell your mom to be good so Sissy can see her real
soon."
On the third Friday of every month, English class is spent writing notes to the moms and they are delivered on Saturdays during the moms' breakfast. Sissy writes about their new home, her
new friends, and the Wednesday recess she can't wait to share
with her mom. She says The Lawyers are calling a lot and her
brother doesn't like them, but she knows it will be all better soon.
Johnny writes about graduating from Central Elementary in four
months, the meal his aunt burned during the past week, and he
thanks her for being so nice to Sissy. When they are done, all the
letters go in a big metal box for transport to the prison. On
Saturday, the children imagine the moms receiving their letters
and smile proudly.
Monday arrives and Sissy is not waiting on the curb to walk to
school with Johnny. He arrives at Central and cannot find her.
When class begins, the teacher stands before them and does not
look up from her hands. Johnny knows something is wrong with
Sissy.
"Class, I've been asked by Principal Cooper to tell you that
Sissy Hanson, the girl who joined us less than two weeks ago, has
withdrawn."
She pauses to find words. She looks up and finds Johnny. "Her
mom killed herself yesterday."
None of the children speak. They each think of their own mom.
This has happened before and they know it will happen again.
56 Each time, the abandoned child withdraws from school and the
family moves. It's like being forced to play Russian Roulette with
someone else's finger on the trigger.
Johnny stares at the blackboard behind the teacher. He's supposed to leave Central in four months. What will his mom do?
She says he is her only reason to live. He wants a job, maybe even
a wife and a big house with lots of green grass. He doesn't want to
visit his mom in a prison once a week for the rest of his life. But
he will. He'll never get to leave this neighbourhood. His aunt will
always burn dinner. His children will go to Central and visit
Grandma once a week.
Johnny and his mom will only be free if she does what Sissy's
mom has done. Johnny Appleseed flinches and ducks low in his
chair. His fantastic dreams escape like circus clowns emptying a
funny car, and he shrieks.
57 Jean McNeil
three poems
Brazil
1. Landscape
A cake-batter landscape, silly in its frilly
pretty G-stringed splendour. The wind-whipped
meringue-peak mountains swirl and thrust
the city's white-sheen flanks apart
spreading it like butter along the litoral
the slum-shacks first baking in the sun then
turning rancid.
2. Women in Bikinis
Cariocas'
Ai,e, Ta?Na?
Puerile exclamations gurgled in the throats of animals
pre-linguistic, presumptuous and staccato.
Sounds which threaten to become sex-cries
without provocation, emanating
from women whose bodies are—for them—
the UN, the ecosystem
and the international timetable
of Air France—in short
everything.
3. Amazon Jungle Adventure
The veined hand of the Amazon
reaches out, and its index finger
the Tapajos, thick and blue
catches my sleeve.
The night is arching over the Amazon
as it used to at home
barrelling down from Greenland,
equally slaked of light
equally deadly.
The flight is hushed. Everyone knows
if we go down
we never get up.
58 We start our descent
into the liquid forest.
I study maps as the cowboy pilots
whoop and rope another mining-field airstrip
like a daft calf bucking out of the forest
or young women sold into prostitution and consumed alive there.
Suddenly red roads carved across the forest's skin
like thin knife-fight wounds appear
leading to hulking sugar-mill creatures
left over from the special effects department
of some space wars film. Outposts are the same everywhere
Uranium mines of Great Slave Lake, logging camps of Alaska
oil rigs parked like whales off the Orkneys
a thin skin of purpose, a tarpaulin of elevated salaries
thrown over stiff pricks, violence and a mean little lassitude.
The pilots tuck into the tarmac
just as the wheels come down
—Itacoatiara, Oriximind—
They are having fun
branding us with fear.
They are bored.
Salvador, Aracaju, Maceio.
After two months of airports and no sex
I can now mimic the breathy voice
sex-wet, lust-paused
of the Varig airport announcements:
Recife, Joao Pessoa, Natal, Fortaleza,
I even know the flight itinerary
of the nightmare circular plane:
Sao Luis, Belem, Santarem
e Manausssss . . .
Manaus is the climax
the voice greases into the hole
of the word swishes out again
a slippery condom-covered
ssssssss ... a hissing coagulant of juices
my abdomen revolts
I have no business being here
59 among gold miners and their drooping women
Something tinder
is crackling, the wet animals
of the Pantanal, a swamp as big as Europe
claw at the bottom of my stomach.
Jacare, pica-pau, onga
they are rioting there, in their cloud-humid
abdominal slew.
"You,"
they squeal.
You.
4. Indigenous Groups
A map of the hunchback continent covers the wall behind her
desk
bent like a pregnant woman, or a child with spina bifida
the Andes snake too close to the Pacific
a too-thin spine to support such bulk.
Brazil's businessman's stomach
hangs over the belt of Argentina.
We chart each other's movements on this map:
One of us in Redengao, ("no final do mundo," he laughs
down the phone line) there to talk to Piakan, leader of the
■   Kayapd
and convicted rapist, who above all wants a satellite dish.
One of us in Sao Paulo, where a man comes up to her in the
airport,
visibly shaken, saying: "I've just had a gun held to my head.
They took everything.
Can you lend me 20,000 cruzeiros
to get into town?"
"Try somebody else," she says.
She believes him.
5. Tropical fruits
In the Amazon the 5:30 night has no sieve
for draining the light from the cucumber sky.
Only the night's lacquered facade
tacked down like a groundsheet
over the breathing flanks of the jungle.
In Belem it rains at the same time every day, all year
60 the hour at which my friends—the 'girls with big hair'
ready themselves, purring their voices—
they speak Portuguese with a meow, the long
wailing vowels draining down the throat
where they rattle, threatening to become
sex-cries. They use the tu, and conjugate it correctly
in their black lace, red lips, small black dresses, a
patient Madonna-who-has-never-heard-of-Freud expression.
Waiting for a man to scoop them up
like Amazon icecream, lick its riotous flavours—
agai, cupuacu, cajii.
Make them purr.
6. Football
A black boy—a future football hero—five years old
rises from the flames of his Mae. He watched her
shrink into ashes. Disappear. She poured kerosene
over her body and pushed him away.
Brazzzil! Brazzzil!
This country has drunk his blood:
"when I was a boy they tried to make me be the woman,"
he says, cryptically. "So I learned to fight." He has
a Nelson Mandela face. Then the film cuts to
1970 where he runs, or rather skims, through
the night-field, his shirt a sail of sweat
his arms rigid in the air.
Brazzzil! Brazzzil!
He has just scored
a World Cup Goal. The military President
hugs this black man, a faint residual distaste
hanging off his lips. The man turns, saturated.
Tonight, his cruel lover of a country will burn him
up. Eat him alive.
Make the ghost of his mother disappear.
Brazzzzzil! Brazzzzzil!
61 Cachoeira
Tap, thock, tap—
we hobble to the staccato limp of my broken-legged friend
who tripped over a television in Paraguay.
Her Rastafarian boyfriend also limps, kicked in a Salvador
barfight.
We are also an English biographer, excavating
the recent artifacts of the life of a novelist
who passed through here and slept with a man called Luis
whose eyes—the writer wrote in his journal, what was it about
his eyes?—
the tightness of his jeans, the way they slipped like octopii
reluctant to relinquish their grip
on his hard buttocks.
There is a melancholy to the rust-oyster houses
their bleeding yellow, like the baroque serpentines of piss
drawn by taxi drivers on the wall outside the London bookshop
where I worked for a hot summer.
Time has become a sap running down aquamarine
against peach against a green
I can only call piss- (again) houses. Wet colours
mixed with four-hundred-year-old dried slaves' blood
from Dahomey, Ouidah, Angola and Guinea
their midnight faces bound for the sweet fields of Pernambuco.
Now we sit by the river below the cachoeira
drink from tall feline bottles of Brahma cerveza
not far from the old slaves' marketplace
in a town that has become a slow, prosperous place,
pretty like a high school cheerleader, the same kind of town
I thought I would never escape.
The crumbling railway bridge leads to the abandoned station
where the rust-track trickles in a thin line of blood from the
building.
The green Bahian Railways cars were imported from Britain
to carry sugarcane and sisal, and have metal seats whose rust
skeletons
62 are frozen corpses in an incinerator, hands thrown out in
supplication
not to be burnt, not to be forgotten.
The novelist stopped at this station, enchanted by the damned
guano facade
of the mottled baroque clocktower, modelled on Prague
where he would also live, before dying.
We cross the open spaces between the wooden slats
of the railway bridge, we step over these spaces of time,
one moment behind the novelist's retreating back,
as he walks with Luis
to the square for a mute beer, a sour tryst
a lingering noon-struck sundown of a kiss.
Oy Tia! Oy meu amigo!
The Rastafarian shouts from the back of the tiny car
where he is being crushed by white people.
We are asking directions to the cigar factory
in Maragojipe. The biographer shifts facts
sauteeing the recent history of his friend's life
separating the onions from the peppers.
Another town heat-peeled, the apple skin colours
greet us, another eczema town topped by the carbuncle
of a thick-walled church. We find the cigar factory
owned by a Dutchman who met a typical tropical end
by asking a man with a cyst that sticks out at least six inches
from his jaw, his grey cotton suit and polished wooden skin
like an African politician—he could be Kenneth Kaunda
on a village visit.
Slowly, we realize he is drunk
at high noon on a Sunday, because when the fireworks start
sounding like rifle-shot, he tries to tell us it is Pentecost.
But that was a month ago.
This is where the novelist came, we think. A breath
of his existence against our cheeks.
The Rastafarian picks up a cigar end
dropped outside the door as the factory shut forever
three years ago. The biographer drives, excited
as topography begins to take the shape of literature
his own sentences blooming like the rough sisal plant
in his mind.
63 Back at the convent, the whispering ghosts of nuns
are our backup singers, as the Rastafarian and I sing Gershwin
until 2 in the morning, and then he teaches me Djavan
who will later haunt me, his Bahian-pop sugar regrets.
The biographer and I share a room. We wake
to the sound of cars gunning their engines
—Saturday morning entertainment in Cachoeira
go to the convent, rev up under the Gringo's window—
and of children being slaughtered.
I come into the blue of morning
with the biographer's unfamiliar grey mop, propped up
in the bed beside mine reading journals.
"'A colour of wrecked oyster . . .'"he reads aloud
or some such baroque, art-valuer, trained-eye poetic
evaluation—
(the middle-class eye will of course see the exact colour).
This I could never hope to approximate, except by theft.
The air conditioner whirrs its cheap time sound
click clack, click clack.
The children go on being slaughtered
outside the convent-prison walls, thick parapets
(someone has brought their parrot to market)
64 Mathematics for Narcissists
1) - i.e.: division—the narcissistic division of self:
divided self
= projected self
+ desires
x potential expressed as indefinite potential (i.e. always
projected in the future = dream)
- (minus) execution
= dream
2. y - is relative. In an algebraic world it is a radical waiting to
be assigned a value, or meaning.
i.e.
y = musicologist
hairdresser
windsurfing instructor
poet
3. it = constant (i.e. pi)
A value that does not change. A principle
which exists. The mountain
which has yet to be acknowledged.
(The pi of disappointment is the same as the pi of
happiness.)
A the same amount of progress can be made through
failure as through success.
4. Equations:
Tumble.
Their oyster-mottled facades
(either Versailles-yellow or heaps of Galapagos guano)
melting under scrutiny like:
65 certainty = doubt
transience = uniqueness
experience = transformation.
[insert here a sequence of futile calculations]
5. The Unknown: In the process of alchemy
the third element—the free, the bound
the singular, the divine, the passion—
is not given
but must be found.
66 Cornelia Hoogland
three poems
Drum
When    in the morning
your hand finds my face
fingers curve round bone
thumb draws me to you gently
as first light    then
I do not know if
I am your lover or your child
the sex that beats
is a woman's for her lover
but the heart is a child's
ear pressed to the earlier road
the soft shoulder
angora   eau de cologne
67 First Bed
I was scared. You were elsewhere, going without me. My body raced
to catch up—it didn't know
what yours knew, or how to draw you
a common tongue.
I thought of your word: fibrillate.
The fine root hair of the plant; vessels
flush with memories that here, with me, drive
you underground. Intent
on the child
who always lost
control, who lived in the split/
second before the convulsion
seized his thin life. Knocked
him senseless; fisted
against brick like the root ball
of a pot-bound plant.
Bare as panic;
that tendrilled underground.
Its delicate whips
collapse the nerve-endings between us
and your body muscles a wild molecular search
—a way out of the concrete floor coming
up at it. Or in.
68 The Girl Who Went Forth to
Learn Fear
In every crowd a child cries.
But here? With you?
I call between rocked
gasps any breath the air
off the lake all the air
in the world I need then
when you enter me.
Where does the wild noise come from?
Your hand gropes over library spines
for the rhymed alphabet. The trick
is to let just let. Call it childish—
it is that and nothing
but the brave child with her collection of pain
orderly as shells—oyster, sea and razor
clam—on the window ledge. While
in that other-world your penis
accomplishes safe crossing. Love
making the distance between
home with its stepmother
and the fox at the edge of the wood
easy. But like a third,
uncompleted task, the shudder
of this baby,
who has cried so hard, so long
that when help arrives
when the milk comes
it cannot drink
for the huge convulsing sob
the gulf it must cross
to the human side
where drinking and being
held are possible.
69 Contributors
W.M. Adair writes from her home in New Brunswick. She is currently interested
in whale anatomy for a literary work-in-progress entitled "Heart Like a Whale."
H.C. Artmann is one of Austria's leading literary innovators. He has recently
published Der Zerbrochene Kaug and Register Der Sommermonde Und
Wintersonnen.
Marilyn Bowering's most recent book of poetry is Love As It Is (Beach Holme
Press). She was writer-in-residence at Memorial University of Newfoundland in
1995. She lives in Sooke, B.C.
Janalee Chmel lives and works in Denver, Colorado. She wrote "Pen State"
while visiting New Jersey—a state her father still defends. Her greatest writer's
block buster is the Rocky Mountain Range and her greatest inspiration is her
mother, Sylvia.
Lorna Crozier's Inventing the Hawk received the Governor General's Award for
Poetry in 1992, the Canadian Author's Assocation Award and the Pat Lowther
Award. Her latest collection, Everything Arrives at the Light, was published by
McClelland & Stewart in the spring of 1994.
Cornelia Hoogland's second book of poetry, Marrying the Animals, is due from
Brick Books in September 1995. Recent readings of her work include an Animal
Alliance function and the XV Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British
Columbia.
Heather Keenan is a Victoria artist. She had a solo exhibition of her work at the
XV Commonwealth Games and she has won the honour of being one of the artists
featured in the Winsor and Newton Artists' Materials 1995 Limited Edition
Calendar.
Jean McNeil is a writer and editor who lives in England and works for several
months each year in South and Central America.
Patrice Melnick received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of
Alaska, Fairbanks. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Xavier University
in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Derk Wynand's newest collection of poetry, Closer to Home, will be published by
Brick Books in 1997.
Jan Zwicky's previous books include Wittgenstein Elegies (Brick, 1986), The New
Room (Coach House, 1989), and Lyric Philosophy (University of Toronto Press,
1992).
70 THE 18TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL
3-DAY
s
J
's=
■;—- , sa I
1 ~^^
Si1
NOVEL CONTEST
Labour Day Weekend (Sept. 2 - 4,1995)
HOW IT WORKS (BASICALLY):
■ Entrants must register by Friday, September 1st.
■ Writing begins no earlier than 12:01 a.m., Saturday, September 2 and
must stop at or before midnight, Monday, September 4. (Outlines are
permitted prior to the contest; the actual writing must take place during the
Labour Day Weekend.)
■ Novels may be written in any location. (Yes, the honour system still exists!)
■ First prize is an offer of publication and world-wide fame.
■ Entry fee: S15.00
■ Copies of previous winning entries are available.
For a copy of the rules, send a SASE or fax request to:
Anvil Press Publishers
#204-A - 175 E. Broadway, Vancouver, B.C., V5T 1W2 TEL: (604) 876-8710 FAX: (604) 879-2667 aa Poetry • Novel/Novella • Short Fiction, Stage Plays * Screen & TV
c
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Creative Writing B.F.A.
The University of British Columbia offers a
Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
Students   choose ^ three genres to work in
range      of
eluding: Po-
from a wide
courses, in-
etry, Novel/
Short    Fic-
Plays, Screen
Radio Plays,
Children, Non-
Translation.   All instruction
workshop format or tutorial.
Faculty: sue Ann Alderson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Brvan Wade
For further information, please write to:
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5
Novella,
tion, Stage
& TV Plays,
Writing for
Fiction and
is  in  small
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3  Fiction
Janalee Chmel
Poetry
W. M. Adair
Marilyn Bowering
Cornelia Hoogland
Jean McNeil
Derk Wynand
Jan Zwicky
Creative Non-Fiction
Lorna Crozier
Patrice Melnick
In Translation
H.C. Artmann
Cover Art
Heather Keenan
ISSN 0032.8790

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