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 PRISM international
46:2 Winter 2008
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international
2007 PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Grand Prize - $1,500
Trisha Cull
"Becoming Vegetarian"
Kitty Hoffman
Jane Silcott
Contest Manager
Shana Myara
Larissa Buijs
Sean Casey
Caleb Das
Jaclynn Gereluk
Kristjanna Grimmelt
Meredith Hambrock
Carla Hartenberger
Elena Johnson
Christine Leclerc
Sarah Maitland
Michelle Miller
Jennifer Neale
Sandra Pettman
Carmen Pintea
Emily Walker  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Claire Tacon
Poetry Editor
Sheryda Warrener
Executive Editors
Jamella Hagen
Kellee Ngan
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Emilie Allen
Brianna Brash-Nyberg
Mike Christie
Dave Deveau
Laura K. Fee
Ria Voros
Meghan Waitt
Michael John Wheeler
Brandy Lien Worrall PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
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PAP Registration No. 8867. January 2008. ISSN 0032.8790
BRITISH COLUMBIA     &S9     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ART*; r^OTTXTPTT <T_D    for the Arts du Canada
Canada Contents
Volume 46, Number 2
Winter 2008
2007 PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Judge's Essay
Jane Silcott
Beguilements and Invitations / 7
Winning Entry
Trisha Cull
Becoming Vegetarian / 9
Kitty Hoffman
Threshold /  19
Tara Goedjen
Dimensions of the Court / 40
Sheheryar Badar Sheikh
Mayhem / 59
Marc Johns
He thought the extra arms would make him more productive / 29
He thought the extra legs would help him go faster / 33
He had heard that antlers were in vogue / 39 Poetry
Kate Hall
Obtain the Perfect Answer y We Allow Anything / 30
The Smaller the Length the Harder the Problem / 31
The Autocorrection Function Commonly Caused Erroneous Replications:
Some Rules For Implementation / 32
Patricia Young
Alpaca Facts / 34
Fever / 36
Mexican Wedding / 38
Lorna Crozier
The Longer Ending / 49
Karen Enns
Contemplation: Three Panels / 50
Stewart Cole
Ovum / 52
Generation / 53
The Freshly Made Bed / 54
Emilia Nielsen
Surge Narrows / 55
Daniel Scott Tysdal
Research Material for Poetry on Late 20th Century Art / Insert
Contributors / 67 Jane Silcott
Beguilements and Invitations
What is imagination and what is memory? What is fiction? What
is nonfiction? These questions come up in classes, magazines,
coffee shops—the places we writers gather to talk about writing the stories of our lives (but aren't sure if we dare). Then someone suggests, what if you turn it into fiction, and then someone else says, what
makes it fiction anyway? In the November issue of Harper's, Joel Agee
writes that scientists have shown much of our memories are constructed
from imagination and we do this so automatically that we're not even
aware when our minds perform this quick sleight of neuron and eye. So,
now what? Our minds are constructed of fictions?
No matter. Creative nonfiction is a place where the writer can admit
to all the complexities of self, where journalism, history—any field the
writer wants to explore—can become personal. It's an admission that life
is personal. Why not admit we're here and in the story? Of course, when
it goes too far, all that self becomes self-indulgence and is embarrassing,
which raises other questions about what we owe to the reader and then,
how much does the reader owe us? What is the pact we share?
One of the best parts of judging a contest like this is considering all of
these questions—not answering them, but seeing how each submission
plays with or against some part of an idea.
The top six finalists explored ideas in forms ranging from lyric essay
to literary travel to a story so much an admitted feat of imagination,
that I thought it didn't belong here until the ending brought truth and
memory and the work of imagination together in a way that reflected on
all of this: how we make up the stories of our lives. The runner-up, published here, explores how the pressures of religious tradition can press
against the individual, and that in pressing back, the individual makes a
space for herself and so becomes a part of a larger whole. Brilliantly, the
writer also explores language. Did you know that vowels are not written
in Hebrew, so traditional Jews spell God in English as G-d, and Kabbal-
ists teach that the space between the consonants is there for ambiguity
and creativity? For that juxtaposition—language, culture, the mystery of
an empty space—I think it rightly belongs in these pages.
In the winning piece "Becoming Vegetarian," the writer's masterful
handling of language is a fine balance between word and space, image and idea. This essay sings because of its language—language hung with
emotion, quivering with tension, leaves on branches in late fall, hanging
by tenuous threads. It's lovely work, lovely and moving and lifts the
reader off the page, away from his or her mind and into another's. This
is the best of writing, writing that can take a reader out of herself. And
here's the central paradox—that to transcend self, the writer must delve
deeply into self.
In his essay, Agee explores the challenge of self at the core of any personal narrative. He points to the verticality of "I" and describes it as the
character standing against the horizontal pull of memory, the "I" serving
as a sort of depth sounder representing the level to which the narrator
has descended into the story. And isn't that interesting—whether we're
writing the mysteries of cultural identity and language or the hell of depression, there is a pull and there is tension. At the core of any good
piece of writing, there's a strand of Active structure. Writing is a journey.
And at the beginning of that journey—always, and isn't this part of the
beguilement of art?—there stands the narrator, crooking a finger and
saying, "Come with me. I want to show you something." Trisha Cull
Becoming Vegetarian
A person who eats meat
wants to get his teeth into something.
A person who does not eat meat
wants to get his teeth into something else.
If these thoughts interest you for even a moment
you are lost.
—Leonard Cohen
I am a meat eater at heart, but today is the last day.
The chicken vein lies on the surface—as my fork lifts it up, a thought
detaches from the surface of my cerebrum, flits away from the grey
matter of my brain into the grey matter of the cosmos.
The breast is breaded and split open to expose the juicy, white flesh.
The skin is crisp and brown on the outside and slippery and pale on the
underside. It's parted now, its edges curling away from the wound it has
become, like the two sides of the Red Sea, creating a passageway, a new
geography of absence through which one might travel safely to the other
(This metaphor is stretching beyond itself the way the mind stretches
beyond the skull as it contemplates the afterlife.)
I must come to some kind of conclusion, must bridge the gap between
my body and my mind.
Death has become a viable option.
I wish I could say it was strictly a moral issue, something to do with the
pamphlet that guy gave me—all those pictures of chickens crammed into
wire cages with their wings hinged at right angles, piglets whose tails are
clipped without anaesthetic, cows stunned and then skinned alive, the
deterioration of rainforests to make room for grazing, hormones in the
But my motives are more self-centred.
I see it for what it is, lying there on the plate, its flesh and blood not so
remotely foreign from my own, evolutionarily speaking. We all inhabit this earth, linked and dependent upon each other. We all come from the
same cosmic sludge.
Still, I salivate when my husband Leigh cooks meat. Torn, I want to
bite into it and I do not want to bite into it.
I do not want my stepchildren and in-laws to know this about me. I worry
what people will think when they learn that sometimes I want to die.
The relationship between depression and my simultaneous conversion to vegetarianism is remote, but I am convinced there must be some
correlation. It has something to do with countering thoughts of death
by decreasing my consumption of it. The flesh and blood of once living
animals has become surreal.
I have been popping my pills in triplicate, waiting for that cloud to lift,
for the medicine to do whatever it's supposed to do, counting down the
minutes until my next appointment with Dr. Pastorovic or Fiona.
Dr. Pastorovic says I should not be ashamed. "This is a medical condition, no different than diabetes."
Fiona says I am in crisis.
Is it enough to say that daylight is shocking?
I sit on our back porch watching for shooting stars and drinking Pinot
noir, thinking about death.
What happens? Where do we go?
The streak of light from a shooting star is a tiny particle of rock being
extinguished—it's the friction between high-speed debris and the atmosphere that makes the fire in the sky, yet we believe the star burns itself.
Every religion begins in the sky. Call it faith.
I like the idea of reincarnation the best, to come back as Gateau,
the cat named Cake. She lives a good life next door, lounging all day
on the porch overlooking the garden. Sometimes I lean out my kitchen
window, whisper in a French accent, aAllo Gateau...Je t'adore." Gateau
stares back, uninspired. Every time I speak French to Gateau I think of
my South African French teacher in grade one, Mrs. Hartley, singing at
the front of the classroom, holding up a picture of a bird.
Alouette, gentille Alouette...Alouette je te plumerai...Lark...lark...lovely
lark.. .1 am going to pluck you.. -going to pluck your head....
Something beyond rhythm and rhyme is lost in translation.
I think of Mrs. Hartley's fingers fluttering through the air to give the
effect of feathers falling to the earth.
In my mind, the feathers are always black.
I always felt sorry for the bird.
10 I'm six years old. Grandma places a newborn St. Bernard pup on my
lap, shows me how to nurse it by squeezing drops of warm milk from a
turkey baster into its tiny mouth. I watch Grizzly Adams on TV, pretend
that Grizzly is my father, and he and I and the bear all live together in
the mountains. Beef stew simmers in a Crock-Pot in the kitchen. The
floors smell of lemon oil. This puppy smells pink, like a baby. My knees
are skinned from climbing high up the apple tree.
I squeeze milk into its mouth, one drop at a time, then two drops, then
three. It pants softly, gurgles, closes its eyes.
Grandma comes in, looks down and says, "Ohhh...." She takes the
puppy from my lap, cradles it like a baby and disappears into the kitchen.
Later, I look in the garbage can, see tiny velvet ears sticking out from
a tightly wrapped cylinder of paper towel—a little cocoon.
The body is warm, but the ears are cold.
Vegetarianism has been growing inside of me for years. Perhaps it began
with the dead fawn nestled into her mother at the side of the highway
near Lake Louise, the faint trace of blood pooling out from under both
of them, how soft and peaceful they looked—the mother in mourning,
the fawn in flight.
Everything has a reason, a root. For a long time I stopped believing in
God, but I've come to believe again.
Part of my problem is an inability to decipher truth from lies, to get
my teeth into something and hold on the way life requires you to hold
on, to settle into my skin and breathe, like a robin settling into her nest
on a warm spring day. I can't get a foothold.
My wings are trembling.
The sky is too big.
This branch is weak.
This morning, I pass by Leigh without saying a word, careful not to
touch anything, and he is careful not to touch me too. I open the fridge
and guzzle back a litre of orange juice.
Sometimes I don't eat all day, can't figure out what to eat in replacement of meat. Salads require so much work. Cutting up vegetables is
tedious. I hate vegetables anyway.
In the evenings, I buffer the hunger with booze, numb the pain
and disappear. Pouring alcohol into an empty stomach is like pouring
bleach into a basement. The mornings after nights like this, I wake up
11 anaesthetized, bloodless.
Climbing the stairs to Fiona's office is exhausting. "Your body is probably in shock," she says. "I can't help you until you stop drinking."
Fiona, I can't stop drinking until you help me.
I close my eyes and see my uncle hanging from a noose in Grandma's
garage last year, can't imagine what maternal inkling made her go out
back in the nick of time, open the door and find him there, what supernatural force flooded her seventy-nine-year-old frame and instilled her
with the strength to hoist him up and cut him down, to save him.
Just now, my mother sits across from me in a slippery plastic swivel
chair on the Spirit of Vancouver Island ferry and says something I'll
never forget. Sunlight streams through the windows, glares off the white
surface of the table between us. Seagulls hang in currents of wind beyond the glass, their wings spanned, their beaks opening and closing in
seagull-talk but no sound coming out. The words leave her body and
brand themselves into my heart.
Depression runs in my family.
My sister Tammy has a perfect life, lives in Minnesota with her handsome husband who designs airplanes for a living. She has two beautiful
children, a house in the country, annual holidays in the tropics. But she's
been having panic attacks, was recently rushed to the emergency room
in the middle of the night because she thought she was dying. She chews
her fingernails down to the first half-moon, makes them bleed and shred.
My brother Sean positions all of the cans in his cupboards so the labels
face outward. My sister Sandy lives a block away from me. She polishes
each individual apple in the tree in her backyard.
The seagulls open and close their mouths, no sound, just sunlight and
waves and the vessel slowing as it enters the islands.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore," my mother says, and I know
what she means.
I can't believe this is me. I don't want to believe this is me.
"You are actively suicidal," Fiona says. I balk at this summation of my
psyche. Her conclusion seems melodramatic. I have, after all, only been
thinking about it. Thinking about it doesn't make you suicidal. "How
would you do it?" she asks.
"Pills," I say. It's a no-brainer. I don't understand why anyone would
deliberately inflict more pain upon themselves than necessary. Why
make such a mess? Why not just go to sleep?
"On a scale of one to ten, one being you're nowhere near and ten be-
12 ing you're ready to do it now," she says. "How close are you?"
Her scale raises an interesting question. If I was a one, I wouldn't be
in therapy, and if I was a ten, I'd already be dead. So for all intents and
purposes, the scale is a paradox.
"Five," I say.
She asks me how the medication is working. I tell her I feel tired and
foggy, but that this is preferable to the gut-wrenching pain. I consider
telling her I've been having technicolour dreams—blue lightening bolts
shooting from my fingertips, like the Emperor in Star Wars. "I want you
to check in with your doctor," she says.
So I go see Dr. Pastorovic—she increases my dosage and refers me
back to Fiona. This goes on for a while, this back-and-forth scenario.
Fiona speaks to me in gentle tones, but she doesn't put up with any
shit either. When I tell her I feel like at any moment I could fall off the
edge of a cliff, she asks me to locate this feeling inside.
"Groundless," I say.
"But how do you feel?" she asks. I find it difficult to describe my feelings without the buffer of metaphor. Like a bird. Like the earth is slipping
out from under me. Like I'm falling. I have cultivated an intellectual existence, but I have the emotional integrity of a ten-year-old. "Mad, glad,
sad or scared?" Fiona asks.
"Scared?" I suggest.
Several years back: my stepdaughter Linden is on her tiptoes, leaning
over the bathroom sink in the cabin at Two Coves Resort. Her head is
in my hands. Wood smoke in the air, sap and pine. Dust burning off the
base heater against the wall. The air in this cabin is dank, coppery. The
toilet water has not moved in months.
The boys are by the fireplace, threading popcorn onto a string. In a
moment, Logan will flail a stick and burn Grant's neck, scar him for life
Leigh will shout, obtusely, ineffectually, 'Jesus Christ!" But they won't
Linden's hair is so long it gets sucked down the drain. I cannot manage this delicate relationship of soap and water and hair. It is up to me
to keep this child from going blind. It is up to me to make her clean. I
resent this process. I resent this child for being a child who does not fully
comprehend my ability to resent her. I resent her for not loving me and
making me whole.
"Is the water too hot?" I ask.
"No, it's good," she says, eager to please, already learning to be compliant and willing like good girls are expected to be.
13 I lather her hair, gaze upon her tanned neck, a freckle.
The first time I met her, she came up just above my knee, thudded
along the steep path from the beach, her sandals kicking up clouds of
dust, the thin straps of her yellow sundress falling off her shoulders to
expose the slender tan lines beneath. "This is fun," she said. "What's
your name?"
Now, she strains higher on her tiptoes, lets out a gasp, her gut compressed against the counter. "Lean in more," I say.
She is a tiny drowned mouse in my hands.
Another death one autumn morning—apples rotting on the ground, ripe
fruit decomposing in plum trees. I find the animal on the back porch
sleeping in a pile of warm laundry, inhale the scent of fabric softener in
her fur.
I hold her up.
This is the moment preceding realization when life is still a foregone
conclusion and death an unfathomable abstraction, when she is still alive
and not alive at the same time. She weighs more, the weight of blood as
it cools.
I lift her higher. Gravity pushes.
Even though I don't know what gravity is, somewhere in my childish cognition I understand, the way every creature born of the cosmos
I turn her over, feel the pellet in her gut, see gravity for what it is—a
force to be reckoned with, a force that folds this kitten over the hard edge
of my hand. It's a force that keeps us from skipping off the edge of this
world into outer space, even though in the grand scope of the universe,
everything is skipping off everything else into outer space. And in an
even grander scheme, there is no distinction between outer space and
inner space, space being just space—never-ending, deep, irrelevant.
She's not coming back. She's nowhere.
I look at her against the blue sky and understand why the sky is blue,
not just its being blue. But as quickly as it has come, the moment is gone,
and knowledge buckles under the abstraction of gravity again.
Linden wears her mother's hoop earrings these days, and Gap jeans and
clunky shoes. I hear her shiny bracelets jingle as she taps on the bedroom door, and whispers, "Aren't you awake yet?"
I smell ham and onions, burnt eggs. I hear Leigh's silly banter, cartoons. I want to kill Spongebob Squarepants.
Blue sky bleeds through the olive green curtains. Gateau is terrorizing
14 swallows in the lilac tree next door—their chirping is inflicted with urgency. It reminds me of the chatter that echoes from the cliffs overlooking China Beach when the small birds scatter every time an eagle swoops
My stepson, Grant, the oldest boy, strums his blue electric guitar in
the spare room with the lights out, doesn't speak unless spoken to, has
become infatuated with Led Zeppelin, scoffs at my love of John Denver.
He is kind and sensitive, has the tender reserve of a monk. I worry about
him sometimes.
Logan is bright and mischievous, needs a lot of attention. Just now he
torments Linden, calls her ugly and stupid. She screams in terror. She is
too old for these antics, has no self-soothing abilities. I've felt as though
her mother has taught her nothing useful.
Logan has softened, seems more self-conscious, seems to want me to
love him now, but his allegiance lies with his mother:
"Why did you stop eating meat?" he asks.
"I don't like the way they treat animals," I say.
"But you still eat eggs, right?"
"Yes," I reply.
I'm twenty-two years old. My best friend, Kay, sits next to me on the
ferry. Her hands lie folded on her belly, caressing the slight curve protruding beneath her Kurt Cobain T-shirt. My hand rests on her belly too.
I have friendship bracelets on both of my wrists—aqua blue and fuchsia
threads, silky strings woven into tapestry.
These are our three hands resting upon the life inside. This is the closest this kid will get to experiencing the world outside.
Kay's blown her student loan money to buy the RX-7, and I'm bulimic and fucking everything up. We drink a lot and get high sometimes.
A week before I slit my wrists with the dull edge of a disposable BIC
razor, came out of the bathroom and showed Kay the beads of blood
bubbling along the scrapes. "What the fuck did you do?" she laughed. I
blotted the blood and wrapped my wrists in friendship bracelets so the
customers at Muffin Break wouldn't see the marks when I served them
coffee and strawberry cream cheese muffins, so no one would see how
stupid I am for pretending to kill myself with the dull edge of a BIC razor.
Kay's face is angular, thin and freckled. Just now she looks like a
young Meryl Streep with red hair. "Holy shit, I think I felt it kick," she
says. I'm sort of in love with Kay in a non-sexual way. She isn't traditionally pretty, but I love her hair and slender body, her studded leather
belts and choice of T-shirts. For being the cool unaffected girl I've always
15 wanted to be. Maybe I even love the baby inside her. You have to go
to the mainland to get an abortion this far along. "Can you feel it?" she
Her flesh feels thick and hot in the sunlight, and it occurs to me I've
never touched a woman like this before, never been so intimate. "No," I
say. "I don't feel anything."
Later that night, we sit on my mom's porch overlooking the park. In
the distance, the lake gleams in moonlight. Willows sway on the shore.
I hear ducks paddling across the surface and every so often the squeak
of wings followed by a long threshing as a duck skids across the surface
and halts to a landing, then a quack or two, then nothing as its feet find
rhythm under water. "It's not too late to change your mind," I say. The
sky is black and starry but glows white above the far side of the lake
where the shopping mall parking lot begins, and beyond that is a faint
reddish glow from the neon cross on the spire of the church adjacent to
the mall.
"I know," she says, and a mother raccoon and three babies scurry
across the yard.
"You've lost weight," Fiona says. "How extraordinary." She is careful
with her semantics, a skill honed from years of clinical practice.
"I no longer eat meat," I say.
"Oh?" she says.
"I think I'm feeling better."
I have no explanation for what comes next except to say that inevitably change happens this way—slowly and suddenly at once. After seven
years of perpetual hangovers, I wake up one morning and say, "Leigh,
I'm never going to drink again." Even though this is the millionth time
I've said it, this time I stop.
I start taking my pills one at a time, eat breakfast every day and even
take up hot yoga.
My first yoga class, the teacher, Wendy, walks me into the studio where
everyone lies flat on their backs in the Savasana position. Everyone's feet
face the same direction—this is yoga etiquette. It is considered an insult
to point your feet at the teacher.
She leads me to a vacant space, unfolds my mat and whispers, "Did
you bring a towel?"
"Yes," I say, my voice booming. "Yes," I whisper. But mine is a hand
towel, and everyone else is lying on full-size bath towels. I lay my tiny
white towel on my blue mat. It floats in the middle of the thin foam like
an upside-down stamp floating in a blue sea.
"You'll need something bigger." Wendy smiles.  "You're going to
16 sweat...a lot."
Damn, I think. The impulse to berate myself surges, then subsides. But
it's okay. These blips in my judgment are part of my charm. I can forgive
myself for this.
We begin by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth,
using our throats as a valve so the air moves slowly and deliberately in
and out in counts of six. We flex and arch and reach for the sky, molding
our bodies into half-moons and eagles and trees.
In between each posture, Wendy tells us to relax in Savasana, the
dead body pose—palms up, mouth slack—to let our feet fall open as our
heels touch, to just breathe, to just be.
My sister Sandy and I sit in her backyard. The apple tree has begun to
blossom. Every so often we hear the Tally-ho trolley full of tourists dawdling along the next street over, the horse's hooves clopping on asphalt
and a man's voice on a microphone fading as they turn into Beacon Hill
"Do you still polish each individual apple?" I ask.
She laughs. "Yeah, it's just my thing."
"My neighbour has an apple tree," I say. "And a cat named Cake."
"A cat named what?"
"Gateau," I say. "Like French for cake."
She rolls her eyes. "Could it be Gatto? Like Italian for cat?"
I keep going, now with a big bathmat and two litres of water. I continue
practicing. You do not do yoga—you practice yoga. My muscles stretch,
my core tightens, my legs grow stronger.
It hurts and strains.
"A millimetre farther each time," Wendy says. "Baby steps.. .wherever
you are is where you're meant to be." So I pull on my heels and arch my
back and let my palms fall open.
I breathe.
I drink rose petal tea, lean out my kitchen window and inhale the scent
of life sprouting in the garden: geraniums, wisteria, clematis climbing up
the fence, twirling around the lower branches of the plum tree.
Gatto blinks, sniffs the wind.
"I'm sorry, Gatto," I say.
Ti amo. Ti amo. Ti amo.
17 The sign in the Thrifty's produce section reads, Very ripe mangos should
only be eaten naked in a bathtub.
On the way home, Linden and I stop at Starbucks. I get a vanilla soy
latte and say, "Sweetheart, you get whatever you want."
We walk through the Ross Bay Cemetery, the bay sparkling in the
distance through trees and rows of tombstones. Somewhere in here is
Emily Carr and Matthew Begbie, The Hangingjudge. On days like this,
I don't mind walking among the dead.
"Do you think you're smart?" Linden asks.
"Sure," I say.
"What's your favourite colour?"
"What colour is my hair?"
"What colour is the sky?"
"What was the first question I asked you?"
"Do you think you're smart?" I say, and she laughs, covers her mouth
with her hands, her brown hair shimmering in sunlight. "I think you're
I catch myself smiling, thinking about eating mangos in a bathtub.
We sit down on a bench. I hold a mango in my hands, watch the
white sails drift past in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cherry blossoms float
through the air. Every so often I see the bright colours of a spinnaker as
the sailors jibe and change course.
Is this the cloud lifting, these colours blooming against the blue sky?
Is this the blue sky? Maybe I don't need to know why.
My front teeth pierce through the surface, find an edge and pull the
pink-green skin away from the fruit in broad sections.
I bite down and take the flesh inside.
18 Kitty Hoffman
Threshold Marge Piercy writes...are "the doorways of life"....Traditionally,
women have spent a great deal of their lives standing on thresholds and helping
children and men across...
—Debra Orenstein
"    ■  ^ tz Chayyim Hee.... She is a Tree of Life for those who cling to her."
#-^ My mother is standing on the bimah in front of a collection of
M J strangers, cradling a Torah scroll for the first time in her life and
uttering the ancient words in the language her father taught her in another time and place, and for a very different purpose.
Apart from the rabbi, she is the only one on the bimah who understands or speaks the language. And yet she is untroubled by the fact
that, like her, almost everyone in the shul is non-religious, that we are
all going through the motions of a ritual that is a relic from an earlier,
believing time. She is dwarfed by this Torah. A tiny woman with silver
hair, her features carry the imprint of the thousand-year Eastern European sojourn and her deeply shadowed eyes bear silent testament to the
unspeakable. This is the moment she's longed for—to stand in one place
with her daughter and her grandson, her revenge for all the killing, and
to pass on the legacy.
It was rare for a girl to learn the holy language then, and it was only
the secular political nationalism of the time that made it possible. It was
a modern, secular Hebrew that her father taught her in that Ukrainian
shtetl, in what was then an avant-garde and controversial transformation
of the language of God into a secular language of political nationalism.
The rabbis were still the custodians of the language then, and in the
shtetl of her youth they argued in Yiddish over the proper use of the
holy language. The rabbis and their yeshiva bochers understood that the
Hebrew letters were the building blocks of the universe, believed that
the template of creation was held together by the energy of those letters,
so they guarded Hebrew for its sacred purpose. Who could have known,
then, that the language would prevail in its secular incarnation, after the
destruction that triumphed while God turned away.
I know the scenes as though I lived them myself, for she told me the
19 stories over and over, as she brought her homemade tomato soup to my
childhood sickbed, as she preempted my own time with my girlhood
friends to inject her long-ago and far-away tales of a disappeared world.
I imagine myself there, transported as I was so many times as a young
girl. I am in the little shtiebele, the one-room wooden structure that serves
as shul and cheder, as synagogue and school, the focus of religious life.
The boys are there with the rabbi, it's cheder class, they're learning Torah.
A few girls are there too, breaking the age-old injunction, for even then,
even there, the barriers were beginning to fall. As long as they were still
girls, before they became women, they were briefly admitted to the holy
circle for a tantalizing taste of the sacred teachings, permitted to sit in
with the boys who were preparing for their Bar Mitzvahs, who were preparing to take on their privileges and obligations as adult Jewish men.
I see the rabbi, overworked and underpaid, teaching the squirming
boys and the few, rare girls. His black serge jacket has frayed cuffs, his
restless fingers toy with curls in his tangled beard, his nimble eyes catch
every stray gesture, and his hand is quick to deliver a blow to the ear or
the shoulder, just strong enough to bring back straying attention. It's not
easy transmitting the holy tradition to these rambunctious boys—even
then, the temptations of secular life were proving irresistible.
I see my mother there, a young girl with a quick mind and thick,
brown braids, well taught by her father in the subtleties of the holy Hebrew language. "Read the words," the rabbi commands. "Read the holy
Torah—this is the account of what God did for us." But my mother is
puzzled—she has already read the text and there is too much that doesn't
make sense.
"Why?" she asks. Always that question. "Why is the name for God,
Elohim, a plural form, when there is only One God, when we affirm in
the daily Shema that God is One?"
The rabbi is getting nervous—who is this girl, and why is she distracting his class with these questions? Doesn't she know that girls are not
supposed to question? Doesn't she understand how lucky she is even to
be allowed to sit here with the boys and learn?
"Why," my mother persists, "Why is there more than one telling of
the creation of Adam and Eve, and why are they so different?"
The rabbi is getting impatient—won't she stop? Who does she think
she is, a yeshiva bocher, a student in a holy seminary? Doesn't she understand that she's a girl, that these are not questions for a girl to ask?
"Enough!" He shouts the word. Slams his hand down on the bare
wooden table, so hard that the books jump, the children shrink back.
"Get out of here," he shouts at her. He is standing now, his beard shaking, his finger jabbing the air. "Get out of here."
She never goes back.
20 My mother has waited more than seventy years for this moment. There
were long years when she stopped believing the moment would come,
when she resigned herself to the lesser reality of a merely physical survival. Her waiting has hovered over me like the shechinah, the female aspect
of God, that accompanied the Israelites in their forty years of wandering.
Like them, I was not free to engage the journey on my own—there was
a compelling purpose greater than myself that lurked under the surface
of events and would not be denied.
It was about you, she would say, about the miracle of your very existence. But I knew that this was a cover story. As she told and retold her
stories of running, her stories of hiding, her stories of killing. I knew as
she filled my imagination with the details of her shtetl. I knew as I woke
from my own nightmares of hiding in a landscape that was hers. I knew
that it wasn't really about me. She explained her life as a story of survival. What choice did I have but to be her redemption?
"It's so great," he says, "to come back home, to live in my own place."
He happens to be newly returned to his native Newfoundland, but I've
heard the same sentiments from Quebecois, from Albertans, from those
who grew up on the Prairies. I've even felt it myself, coming home to
Montreal, even though I was born in Europe, even as an "allophone"
whose first language was neither English nor French. Even though I am
forever doomed to be Other in la belle province, despite my ease in both
official languages.
He's an up-and-coming writer and we're sitting over lunch in the dining room of the Banff Centre, gazing at the deer on the lawn against the
backdrop of the Rockies, trying to find points of commonality. Today is
for getting to know each other and so today we're talking about home.
Home is where my loved ones live, the place I phone each night.
Home is the familiar landscape, the sights and sounds and smells and
tastes, of my early years. Home is the fact that, even though I've lived
with Toronto bagels for so many years, actually come to enjoy them, I
know which side of the Great Bagel Debate I'll forever be on. Home is
the fact that, even though I left Montreal before there were any political reasons for the move, even though I grew terminally weary of ex-
Montrealers whining about every place that wasn't Montreal, I still parse
the minutiae of Smoked Meat Distinctions with fervour, adhering to the
religion of spice over chemical curing as though these details really mattered.
And yet, there is a very real sense in which none of this is really
mine. Because home for me is Yiddish, a language now spoken only by
21 people in their eighties and a handful of inward-focussed ultra-religious
sects. Home for me is debates about the respective merits of Yiddish or
Hebrew, nostalgia for a secular Yiddish world that died with its denizens
and lies in unmarked graves in places that don't remember it was ever
there. Home is stories about a world that was gone before I ever arrived.
"Vilst geyn tantsen?" He invites me to dance, laughter in his eyes, and
that sardonic yearning that speaks to me of lost worlds, of self-mocking
humour, of survival. "Mih ken lachen a bissel, "he promises—we can laugh
a little, enjoy our vitality, briefly forget the overwhelming tragedy that
has brought us all together.
I'm thirty-three, and the world has finally discovered the survivors,
silently present for so many decades before. We're at an International
Gathering of Survivors and Second Generation, honouring our parents
and their fellow remnants of a destroyed civilization, wandering bewildered among faces that remind us of a home we never knew, hoping
against hope to reclaim some buried, but never fully forgotten, hope
of a family member who might have survived, undiscovered for half a
The cadences of Yiddish fill the rooms, the corridors, the dining rooms.
Yiddish, the language of the lost world, the language of our childhoods
among remnants transplanted to new worlds that don't even know such
a language exists. I've never in my life been in a place where so many
were together speaking this language, the language of my lonely childhood home, the language of my parents and their few survivor friends.
And here, for the first time ever, is this man of my generation, speaking
to me in the language I associate with old people.
He looks like those old European men, those friends of my parents.
He has the short, stocky, powerful build, the broad face and thick nose,
the wiry, somewhat wild hair that hints at the passion, the sheer life
energy, barely contained by the intense gestures and rapid speech. Like
me, he is North American, the product of a secular and naively optimistic culture. Like all of us, he is over-achieving and successful by the
world's standards. And yet, underneath, betrayed by a certain sadness
around the eyes and a hint of yearning in the voice, is the knowledge
of evil, the awareness of the utter fragility of life, the understanding that
everything of joy and beauty and love can be overturned in an instant of
mad envy.
I'd resisted men like him all my life. I'd longed to be free, to be
naive, to believe in my parents' promise that it really was different here,
that the new world contained no traces of the dangers of the old, that
it was possible to imagine a future where life was fair, where effort was
22 rewarded, where power was used only for good ends. I gravitated to the
"real Canadians," as my mother called them, the ones whose families
had come generations before, the ones who thought they were safe. I
longed for their certainty, I longed for their ignorance.
But this guy, talking to me in Yiddish. Flirting. Only sixty-year-olds
flirted in Yiddish. There was no one younger to speak the language in
this way, only a handful of ultra-Orthodox who would never flirt, or at
least not in public, and certainly not with anyone other than their wife.
I remember learning some cultures believe if an image is taken of someone or something, the very soul has been captured. But an ancient Jewish notion goes farther: if you speak a name, you bring that very thing
into existence. The ancient Hebrew letters, the Jewish mystics teach, are
the building blocks of the universe, and whoever knows the creative
power of the letters becomes the partner of God in creation.
Traditional Jews do not speak or write the true name of God. Over
the centuries many surrogate names have developed, using replacement
letters or alternate pronunciations. Some modern Jews follow the same
practice, and avoid writing out the name in translated English by adopting the convention of omitting the middle letter, thus the name appears
as G-d. While many adopt the custom, almost no one knows the reason—the true name of God is the fundamental creative force of the universe, bringing life out of nothing.
The Kabbalists go farther. Each of the Hebrew consonants, they teach,
is an energy link, a pathway between two Sephirot, two emanations of
divine flow, two frequencies on the Tree of Life. The vowels, unwritten
in Hebrew, provide the ambiguity, the room to manouevre, the creative
freedom. Yiddish, written with the ancient Hebrew letters, sounds out
the vowels phonetically, flattens the ambiguity, makes explicit the hidden heart. While the rabbis and their yeshiva bochers penetrated the secrets of the cosmos on the wings of the unpointed Hebrew letters, their
wives created life with the vowels of Yiddish.
I'm avoiding writing again. There's no shortage of material, God knows.
In fact, I have so much material I'm drowning in it. It's a good thing, the
writers tell me, it's better to have too much material than too little. "Your
problem," they say kindly, "will be knowing what to cut out." Not quite.
My problem seems to be knowing where to begin. They come at me, the
stories, the concepts, the memories, the ghosts. The words in a language
that no one speaks anymore, or at least no one who would ever read
anything that I, a secular, modern woman, might write.
23 "Be like them," my mother told me. "Be like the real Canadians." That's
what she called them, the "real Canadians." While we Yiddish speakers,
we DPs, even the children, now grown to have children and even grandchildren of our own, were inzere, "ours," members of an invisible but
distinct tribe, existing only as hidden remnants of a vanished world. "Is
he eyner fun inzere?" she invariably asks when she meets someone, when
she likes someone, is he one of ours?
But here's the odd thing. Even the Jews fell into these categories. The
Canadian Jews were just as foreign as the English. In fact, in some ways
they were even more foreign, because she had expected them to be the
same, to be familiar. She expected them to feel like home. I expected
them to understand. It never happened. The greatest exile was with the
Jews, forever talking about bagels and their grandmother's cooking. Forever satisfied with the scattered Yiddish phrases they'd inject into their
sentences, as though a few words were a language, a culture, a way of
being in the world.
I started to notice something puzzling—whenever someone sprinkled
a few Yiddish words into conversation, everyone present would laugh.
This was a very odd thing, continues to be a very odd thing. When
someone with Italian heritage adds some Italian words to their speech,
it's cute or clever or nuanced. When French is added it brings a certain
sophistication and romance—and so it goes for the various languages
that have come with the immigrants.
But Yiddish, which has infiltrated the popular culture to such a degree that many of its words are no longer even recognized as foreign,
brings a laugh in its wake. Yiddish is the language of the murdered Jews
of Eastern Europe, the repository of that thousand-year-old culture and
civilization. It is an endangered language, as threatened with extinction
as the tribal languages of aboriginal people around the globe. With the
destruction of the Yiddish world and almost all its millions of people
in a mere five years, the language became a repository of yearning and
sentimentality. A mere handful of ultra-religious Chassidim still use it,
refusing to debase the holy language of Hebrew for everyday use. But
the millions who spoke it, wrote it, created life and love and passion and
commerce with it, are gone without a trace, their ashes floated up to
heaven with no marker here on earth.
I'm reading again, more stale newspapers. I'm reading about the latest
version of Europe's love-hate relationship with the Jews. Throughout
eastern and central Europe, in all the countries where Nazis held sway,
24 where the killing took place, non-Jews are unearthing and reclaiming
Jewish culture—virtual culture, a culture without a people. The Jews are
long gone from these countries but the culture remains to inspire the
grandchildren of those who were complicit. "Appropriation of voice"
seems an inadequate term.
I digress. Here's what I wanted to say: Yiddish is meine mamaloshen. Ich
hob esgeret az a kindt. Yiddish is my mother tongue, my first language, the
one I spoke as a child. It is the language of the deepest parts of myself,
the language in which I am most myself. It is the language that evokes
what Richard Rodriguez, in writing of his own childhood in Mexican
Spanish, has called the hunger of memory. There is a sense in which it
is absolutely true that I was not fully a woman until, at the age of thirty-
three, I finally had the opportunity to flirt in Yiddish.
This sweet and caustic language, the language that gave us shnook
and shmuck and putz and kibbitz, is the tongue of my deepest heart and
soul. So why do people laugh whenever a word of it is introduced? This
laughter is so automatic and immediate that people are astounded when
I point it out to them. It is so automatic and immediate that it was years
before I even realized it myself.
I imagine I'm back there again, speaking Yiddish. Answering this man
with the long forgotten features evoking the legacy of a vanished world.
Trying to picture a different life trajectory. What if I'd followed the language of my heart, allowed myself to respond to the cadences of the
ghosts? At the time it seemed like the past, a step back into a world that
was no longer, that could not be. And yet, I felt most alive in the stirrings
of that moment, felt that the familiar words I heard and answered were
unmediated experience, language echoing the energy of life.
I imagine the uninflected letters, the powerful letters of creation, floating in the air above us. I see the black letters floating, colliding with the
ashes, watched over by the spirits who have no resting place.
I let it pass, declined the offer years ago. Played at the flirtation a
bit, but continued on my path of make-believe, the performance of a
modern Jewish life, a life in English. Left the deepest reality behind, in
fleeting moments of flirting in Yiddish. Exploring the space between G
The speaker's topic is endangered dance, a term he's coined to express
the fragility of ancient movements, sacred movements, in remote cultures that are threatened with modernity. He shows excerpts from a film
that he's made, documenting the steps and gestures of Tantric Buddhist
25 dances in Ladakh and Nepal. His name is Joseph Houseal, and he tells
his story. "I'm a dancer, a choreographer. One day I looked out my window by the lake in Chicago, and called out to two crimson-robed monks.
Jellai, jellai,' they responded, and came to tea. And when they learned
that I'm a dancer and a writer, they told me to come to the monastery
in Lamayuru, on the top of the world in the Himalaya, and document
their dances for them. Not for us, but for them, so their dances would
not be lost."
I watch the movements on the screen. I remember the thin mountain air of Ladakh, I remember the laughter and lightheartedness of the
people. I remember seeing such dances when I was a young traveller
myself, seeking the farthest, most exotic corners of the world. Fleeing
my own legacy of endangered culture. Seeking freedom, transcendence.
"These dances are actually pre-Buddhist, from the time before writing,"
he says, "although they are now known as sacred Buddhist dances, and
the monks have preserved them. The dancer obtains the Karmic kiss, his
movements lead to mystic union with the ultimate deity, who is female.
And the spectators meditate on his movements, approach karmic union
through engaging with his spectacle."
This is not dance as we know it, nor is it performance. The dancer
becomes the dance, and his movement in time attains the timelessness of
the sacred. I think of the shaliach tsibbur and the chazzfln on Yom Kippur,
the leaders of prayer and chant, leading the annual day-long ritual of
communal prayer and fasting, the yearly process of symbolic death and
rebirth. I think of the weekly Shabbat service, echoing and transforming
the sacrifice rituals of the great Temple, re-enacting the moment of revelation on Sinai. Action in time, to escape time and join energy.
I watch the young lama on the screen, recreating the ancient gestures
of his people. He is the sole vessel of transmission, the last remaining link
in his particular chain. Dependent on the interest of strangers to keep the
secrets alive. "He has assumed his role with grace," Joseph tells me later,
"understands that his life is for the purpose of transmitting the secret
"Where does he do these dances now?" I'm filled with the grandeur
of it, and the horror. "How does he live in the modern world?"
I think of the Dalai Lama, inviting rabbis to advise him about strategies for survival in diaspora. I think about BC natives, using technology
devised in Australia in their own efforts to preserve their tribal languages. I think of young Klezmer musicians, playing the old freilachs to young
German audiences.
He's wearing skate shoes, this independent son of mine. The day of his
26 Bar Mitzvah, chanting from the Torah for the first time, in front of his
local community and the friends and family who've travelled across the
continent for this rite of passage, he's wearing shoes designed for skateboarding. It was the best compromise I could negotiate.
"Ask Bubby," I'd said, knowing that my mother would be the only person who might care, her European sense of propriety threatened by inappropriate behaviours. I remembered all the battles of my own youth,
losing battles where my drive for normalcy was never strong enough to
overcome their demands for keeping up the appearances they'd carried
with them from a vanished time. The year of struggling with my son
over attending classes, memorizing the ancient chants, learning the Torah portion, composing the midrashic commentary, had worn me down.
The shoes were not going to be my make-or-break battle.
"Ask Bubby," I'd said, wondering why, of all the possible aspects of a
four-thousand-year tradition that could have been her distinctive legacy,
it was coming down to footwear.
"You know she'll say okay. She loves me so much she'll let me do
anything I want." As usual, he had a much clearer understanding than I
"Noah's story is about integrity," he's saying, delivering his personal
commentary on his birth parsha, the Torah reading for the day of his
birth. "What if peer pressure took over and grasped Noah? Would we
be here?" And then he repeats a Chasidic teaching. "For every person
created in the world, there is one goal that only he or she can do, for this
reason he or she was created and no other person can do it."
He's alone on the bimah, a small figure addressing the crowded shul.
His voice is strong.
My mother hadn't been sure she wanted to be on the bimah at all. In her
day, even in most of mine, the bimah was reserved for the men. Women
didn't handle Torah. Kol Ishah, they said, the woman's voice—too exciting, too distracting. Or the woman's touch, possibly ritually impure
because of the monthly taste of death, the sloughing off of the life-giving
potential. None of this was halachic, of course, it was all just tradition, but
this did not minimize the power of the injunction, only made it stronger.
There had been long telephone conversations, a slow process of accommodation to a new era. "Are you sure?" she'd hesitated. "I don't
know. I've never done it." As I talked over the phone, I would imagine
her characteristic drawing inwards, hunching of her shoulders, shrugging.
It was the old dance—desire, buried under hesitation. Wanting to do the
right thing. Wanting to make sure she caused no offense. And yet, that
27 drive to know. That pride in her perfect Hebrew. Always correcting my
father as he read from the Passover Haggadah.
Now here she is, finally holding the Torah in the way the men have
done for millennia. Finally speaking her perfect Hebrew words in a public place, in a public role. It's taken her a lifetime to get here and she's
not leaving so quickly. She peers over my son's shoulder as he chants
from the Torah scroll, unofficially assuming another male role, the pointer who ensures every holy word is pronounced correctly. She wants to
stay as the rabbi utters the ancient priestly blessing over the new adult
member of the tribe. She wants to remain forever on this bimah that has
eluded her until this day.
My son has prepared for a year and the focus is on him. I stand beside
him briefly, deliver the parental response. I speak of our family's turn to
stand and take our place in the unbroken chain that goes back to the very
beginning. I speak of feeling the connection with all who came before,
and all who will come after. I speak of the others who hover around us,
those whom we never knew. I feel the bimah becoming crowded, as I
stand there with my son.
I understand that I have arrived at a special place, fulfilled a promise
that I never fully understood I had made, until this very moment. And I
watch my mother, a tiny woman who has endured what millions could
not. I watch my friend, another rare shoot from the blighted European
tree, gently escort her down the steps from the bimah. And I realize that
it's no longer clear to me whose day this is.
28 He    thought    tkfe    evtfa    arms
wowlJ    make    kim    more    prodUxctav-e..
w\ A r t     i«i Wv\ 5
29 Kate Hall
To Obtain the Perfect
Answer y We Allow Anything
Even hindsight.
Hindsight the factor behind the wind.
Another word for beautiful:
Hindsight. The train could only be as beautiful as
we were. A linking of cargo containers,
side-by-side, bumping against one another,
this idea and the picture of the world.
If trees were forms in frozen water, then water is responsible
for holding trees in a landscape
where they can stand upright. Impossible
to say which were living and which were not.
Sudden prayer. Even that.
Even without we allow.
30 The Smaller the Length the
Harder the Problem
la)  Other things being equal, insofar as we wait for the translation of
hereafter that conforms to syntactic and grammatical conventions, the
light is failing over the gardens.
2a) Other things being equal, insofar as it could save people from great
pain, the plants are learning to cast long shadows.
3a)  Other things being equal, insofar as you answer for one infinite set
larger than another, only the outline of the palace is visible now.
4a)  Other things being equal, insofar as we hear the trumpeters call us,
giant buildings hold the places of people who have died.
5a)  Other things being equal, insofar as the trumpeters are sparrows
acting as boundary markers, I shall not measure infinity or compare it
against itself.
6a)  Other things being equal, insofar as there will be no explanation
hereafter, for calculations I am small and unlasting.
Therefore, I am small and unlasting.
Therefore, I shall not measure infinity or compare it against itself.
Therefore, giant buildings hold the places of people who have died.
Therefore, only the outline of the palace is visible now.
Therefore, the plants are learning to cast long shadows.
Therefore, the light is failing over the gardens.
31 The Autoconnection Function
Commonly Caused
Erroneous Replications: Some
Rules For Implementation
1. Signify at least. We cannot say irrelevant and leave it at that.
2. Is the lake possible (nevertheless)? We put the found stray
horse in the backyard and wait.
3. The lake is possible (however). We hold it as it continues to be lost.
4. At least a legend, the possible lake (despite). We pray for the spelling
of names in other languages.
5. It closes from that. We accept the hoofbeats and the language of
6. The lake perhaps (nevertheless) is and we use ourselves like fireflies
are used as temporary lanterns, like fireflies to find evidence of life
in alien soil.
7. "Not less than (but perhaps more than)." I am waiting for the waiting
to overtake me.
8. It does not close. We ride toward failure on the impossible horse. We
ride toward saving singing you will save us.
32 He    thougkt   tke   extra   lerfs
woxcU    kelj,   k£m   rfQ    faster.
33 Patricia Young
Alpaca Facts
From the top of Beacon Hill
my husband and I look down on the meadow stretching to the sea.
He's wearing the alpaca coat my father bought in England
because he was immigrating to Canada,
true north cold and free. We came up here to look at
the geographical marker: 38 lines pointing in 38 directions.
In 1954 my father paid £47 for the coat,
the price of a half-decent second-hand car.
Of this my mother never failed to remind him.
Walking around the circle, I keep the Olympic Peninsula in sight.
Mt. Rainier: 75 miles distant. Mt. Baker: shimmering in my sweet spot.
Everything else I keep up my sleeve.
Rain drumming on a tin roof sounds nothing like
an alpaca kicking its softly padded feet in high thin air.
Since the marker's installation in 1950 a few notable buildings
have been torn down. Time, my husband says, ain't she a wrecking ball.
What was my father, son of an East Yorkshire farmer,
doing in an import clothing shop in London?
Even the hyper-allergic can wear alpaca wool,
which comes in 22 natural colours. After his death in 1987
my mother gave the coat to my husband. At 6'2"
he's the same height as my father was. Some articles of clothing
are so beautifully tailored they transcend the whims of fashion.
Alpaca farmers love their animals and claim their animals
love them back. Descended from the wild vicuna,
they make a humming sound when happy, like a swarm of bees.
My father arrived on the west coast of the continent in a heat
wave, with $300.00 of borrowed money in his pocket.
The centre arrow, pointing to True North, is as accurate today
as it was the day my father stepped off a train in Vancouver,
34 wearing a calf-length, satin-lined coat made of a luxurious
grey fibre. On my husband it is a regal looking garment.
Tribes in the Andes once practiced rituals around the alpaca's death:
a person of honour would plunge his hands
into the animal's chest cavity and rip out its heart.
For a while it felt like my father had just gone away.
The night I knew he wasn't coming back I sat up in bed and howled.
I was 33. Alpaca facts: strong, resilient, warm, light, soft.
Knowing nothing of the Mediterranean climate,
or flora and fauna, my parents pinpointed
the southern tip of this island, then made it their home.
This morning my father's passport photograph appeared on my desk.
His eyes seem to say: this is my location:
48 degrees North Latitude, 123 degrees West Longitude.
He once told my mother he felt like a "right dafty" wearing the coat.
So didn't. Talk of cross-breeding gets you thinking, doesn't it?
Alpaca and bee? Striped wool, silken hum, 22 shades
of honeycomb? Memory is full of microscopic
air pockets whereas my father's eyes in the photo
are piercingly exact. The arrow pointing to the North Magnetic Pole,
on the other hand, hasn't been accurate since the middle of the last century.
Once, in a dream, I walked into the strange and bloody waters
of sacrifice and realized I'd been there before.
In 1950, City Hall paid $557.00 for this bronze circle
installed on a chest-high concrete cylinder. Some breeds
of alpaca cluck. Others warble like songbirds.
According to the farmers, the love is in the fleece.
Forty-seven pounds was a small fortune back then, my mother said
the morning she draped the coat over my husband's shoulders.
For that you could buy a half-decent, second-hand car.
35 Fever
We fell out of love, all of us,
at the same time, on the last day
of winter, crocuses poking through dirt,
yellow and mauve, and the trees
turning an excruciating green.
A spell had been cast over the happily
married heartland, even the old ones,
the shrunken couples who couldn't
walk or swallow or see the fingers
snapping in front of their faces,
even they were blowing apart.
One morning we woke and divorce
was the song everyone was singing.
A sweeter deal, afresh kick at the can!
For a while we went through the motions,
tried to sit still in school auditoriums,
blood thrumming, hearts galloping
past the speeches and recitations.
At the lawyer's office, we lined up
around the block, telling jokes
and drinking daiquiris.
Slip us through the loopholes,
make it iron clad and legal.
36 Every time we turned around
another marriage had bit the dust.
Spring, then summer, then lost
in the thrall of our new mates
we didn't notice all the commotion
had interrupted Mah-jongg
and mealtime, carpools and swimming
classes. The gardens went to hell.
And no one paid attention
or the water bill, no one
scraped the bird shit from the windows.
No one heard the kids
choking on stolen bubblegum
underneath the stairs.
37 Mexican Wedding
The guests sang, hundreds of them,
walking out of the church
behind a twenty-eight-year-old
virgin dressed in white lace. No one knew
the words but words didn't matter.
At sea level my voice is damp and monotonous
but in that high clear air it took on
an exultant tremolo. In the great hall
with no windows: a dais
decorated with fresh flowers, five men
in pink suits, trumpets, violins, guitar,
a mariachi band playing La Cucaracha.
Fog rose from the dance floor.
Someone's idea of heaven? I asked
the old caballero. Dry ice,
he laughed, and I wished I'd been born
in that village, in the pine-crested mountains,
among those people. Girls
wearing pineapple crowns delivered
platters of tortillas, tamales,
fish caught that day from Lake Patzcuaro.
Children everywhere! Around midnight
we pinned honeymoon
cash to the bride's veil and groom's
lapels, while the waiter
with the cruel and beautiful face
of an Aztec king
plunked a bottle of tequila
down on each table. Hot sauce,
hip action, we left sun-beaten cowboys
doing the salsa. Four in the morning:
walking cobbled streets, bone
tired, a little palsied dog leading the way.
38 + W<\+    «^tlev5
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39 Tara Goedjen
Dimensions of the Court
Your birthday. Your wife of four decades makes a cake and you're
sad when you walk out the door knowing you'll have to return.
No more escapades, pana. No more late nights, chamo. You have
passed the age for seducing the women you give lessons to on Saturday
mornings. But it's your birthday and you want an erection. You want to
make sure that it's still possible.
Two weeks ago you became severely dehydrated. The doctors warned
that you could become comatose. Last week you suffered from heat
stroke. You fainted on the court and your son carried you to the pro-
shop. The doctors told you that your temperature had risen. That your
brain could have been damaged. Your son clapped you on the back and
said, Hey, pops, you gonna make it? You said, Yes, Reinaldo. You said, Yes, my son.
Strangely, fainting was a pleasant experience. One moment you were
standing up, racket in hand, looking across the rectangle of green and
red. The next minute, your face was resting tenderly on the ground. Your
heartbeat was in your ear. Ba bum Ba bum Ba bum. When your eyes fluttered open, you saw individual grains of dirt on the cement. You smelled
sweat, and realized it was yours—a small collection of drops from your
neck. Then your son was lifting you with his arms and his stomach, and
his knees bent. Hey, old man, you gonna make it?
You wanted to tell Reinaldo that you haven't made it in awhile. That
his mother who handed you your coffee this morning has become too fat
for you. Too much maiz and not enough sweat. And now her answer to
everything you ask is yes, okay. She has become lazy—has given up all
her dance and fury. She used to swirl around you when she was happy or
fling cusswords and beat your shoulder with her fists when she smelled
another woman's perfume, or when she pulled a light coloured hair from
your dress shirt. But now all she says is yes. Si, claw. Deflated, like some
popped tennis ball. Stooped on the couch, watching soaps. But it's not
just her size, you think. It's the size of the years that have come between
you. It's the width and the length of a tennis court. The place you have
passed your years giving lessons, or having affairs with the country club
women you teach. Large, full years of watching young girls run past
you as you stare at their bobbing ponytails, their moving limbs—flash
designs reflected in your sunglasses.
40 Morning, Bub. Today the Director eyes you like you're a liability. As if you
might faint again and smash your skull on his court and then sue. You
don't tell him that it's your birthday. His look of concern—eyes honed
on you, tightly squeezed brow—surfaced after your accident last week.
Before that, you were only Bub, the guy who is good with strategy. You
don't know why the Director calls you Bub, but you've always answered
to it. You've spent most of your years answering to that name out of
sacrifice for your son's well being. Isn't that right, santo? That you work
at the academy every afternoon so that he can train for free? Your son,
all that you have. You think of him as your long-term investment. Your
son, the winner. You've taught him everything he needs to know to go
far. He's not intimidated by other players—and more importantly, he's
not afraid to cheat. Si, mi pama. He's not afraid to slide on the clay, to
puke his lunch, to jump the net, to break his racket, to chip away his
opponent's calm point by point. Your son, the winner.
You stand in line with the coaching staff at the training academy, your
arms crossed. The sunglassed heads in line are all former tour players.
There's also a strength coach, a sports psychiatrist, an intern—the college student with thick-rimmed glasses who studies nutrition, serves pasta and bananas and talks about energy burn.
Your son runs past you, his skin darker than the herd of arms and
legs around him. They barrel over the red cement outside of the sixteen
courts and trot alongside the fence and the tidy windscreens that line the
outer edges. Underneath your feet are the dried remains of spilled Ga-
torade that dripped from the coolers and trashcans stationed at intervals
along the fence. At the end of the day all garbage is thrown away—the
paper cups and salty stained grips that have been peeled from their
handles and left coiled in the sun. Sometimes you collect the garbage,
sometimes you catch it in-between the rim of your racket and your tennis
shoe as you go from court to court at night, head down like a dog, a dog,
while Reinaldo showers or watches TV in the lounge of the pro-shop.
Sometimes you think you should show him your teeth. At night the 277
volt lights snap on, humming like a choir in a cathedral.
But now the sun is at the top of your head and you take a sip of water
thinking, hace color. Thinking heat stroke. Beyond the courts the dormitories loom in the sunlight, their Spanish-tiled rooftops gleaming. Visiting
parents and vacationers watch on the bleachers, their flat hands shading foreheads. Cameras and quick smiles for their kids, their babies on
the court. That's my son. That's my daughter. You remember your English
books when you first came to Florida and for some reason the parents
seem like those clipped sentences you used to read—they seem something half formed, a truncated thought. See-Jane-run. See-Jane-swing.
41 The bleacher parents swelter in the heat and smile. The ones who
watch every practice are nothing but for their children, just like you.
The men wear khakis and loafers and collared golf shirts. The women
wear sandals one-inch heels, white cotton, coral pink nails and rings with
diamonds that catch the light like small moons. Women wearing those
rings are too young and out of your price range. Do they notice you? A
sixty-two-year-old coach? Only when you compliment their child. Your
wife wears a plain gold band that cost you less than what you had wished
you could spend—one hundred and fifty dollars, the price of two private
lessons at the academy. Most of which goes to the Director.
He's staring at you now, so you spring to action.
You shout at the players.
Hustle, hustle!
You clap your hands.
You pace in the shade, listening to the Director spit his plan. Every
coach to a court. Every court with a different stroke. You, backhands.
Have them take three ground-strokes and an approach. Set up cones,
pronto. You, volleys. Triangle drill, touching the net in between. The
younger kids, just finished with school, run to the courts and scatter like
roaches in the light. They're armed with sunscreen and giant water jugs
with ice that clicks. They wear racket bags half their size. Suddenly, one
of the pros is swaying in front of you, and you think maybe he's about
to faint. Replay, he says. Of you last week. He pretends to nosedive at the
court. Just kidding, man, he says. Willyou hose this sunscreen off me? Seriously.
He wipes his face—sweat white from the lotion—on his sleeve and you
stare at him. My wife chisels it off every night, he says. One of the other pros
does his best impression of a penguin in heat. The kids like it, he says. They
like it.
Your son sprints past, hollers Ole'f in your ear. He has quick hands and
broad shoulders for sixteen. He takes after you. If he wants it more he
could turn pro. You want him to want it, but you don't tell him this. You
want him to figure it out himself. All of the juniors are now pounding
eighty shoes, mostly Nike, around two thousand square feet of court.
They do sidestep, back pedal, grapevine, high knees, butt kicks. They
are a stampede of curved calves, muscled thighs, ligaments pulsing from
joints. You watch.
The kids divide among the courts at the sound of a whistle—yours—
and then there are tennis balls off of forty rackets and it sounds like
a shooting range. It sounds like downtown Caracas. And you think of
your brother, your twin, collapsed in the streets during the revolt. It
was a busy street, and he was talking about a girl, and there was sweat
on his forehead. You heard gun patter in the distance, but this was your
42 home. People running past did a double take. Young twins with the same
dimpled grin, the same height, the same size, the same stance—folded
arms and a slight lean to the left. There was a sound like a car backfiring
and then he was at your feet. People kept moving. Your brother, staring at you with open eyes. Something wet on his neck, above his chain.
Later, when the shock wore off, you wondered why. For years you've
wondered why it was you left standing.
It's your sixty-second birthday. You stand behind a net. You feed balls on
the court next to your son's. Your hands move and you feed easily, automatically. You feed deep topspin, you feed short slice, you make them
run and pant. Every birthday since your brother's death you've spent on
the cement of a tennis court. Not at this shiny academy, but the place
you go to when you want to be alone. The worn tennis court surrounded
by a barren field. The single tennis court that you used to walk to, the
one beside the overpass off the mall exit of Highway 60, before it hits
the beach. You don't have to put your face close to this court to see its
cracked cement, the grass and dirt and sand caught in its fissured stone.
The fence is rusted. The wind guards have wrestled loose from the metal.
Above, six lights with broken bulbs. And below, your feet planted over
the debris, the shade of the scattered light. Your home.
Now, you are drenched in the noon heat and surrounded. Titanium,
graphite, carbon, flesh. Six kids to a court. Every hour they switch. You
send them away with the flick of your hand. You receive a new group
and move them in place with the wave of your racket. Two pairs in
the alleys, one pair in the middle. They trade forehands. Long, smooth
strokes for the older ones. Short, loopy balls for the younger ones. And
then Reinaldo is on your court. He's in line, teaching the Japanese boys
a song. You no longer gonna pop dat coochee. They repeat slowly with high
pitched voices. Little boy voices. You. no. longer. They sing—half watching the court, waiting for their turn. Reinaldo hits a clean winner and
then gets back in line. You cheer for him silently. The Japanese boys are
singing: Pop, Pop, dat coochee.
And then you see her. Her, and you almost drop your racket. A new
one with the Director. Gliding down the sidewalk, racket at her right.
Played in the Southerns, the Director says. She'll start with you. He pushes
her toward your court like a gift. You gape.
Her tentative glance.
Hair swept behind her ears.
Soap smell of not yet sweat, all for you.
At the end of the day you turn your back to the players and change
your shirt. You wring the old one out. The kids are in front of you, their
ribs going up and down and up and down. The whole academy, grouped
43 in front of you, breathing. Tired players, moaning about conditioning.
Rackets abandoned at the fence. It's time to tone their bodies. To increase flexibility. To build strength.
You pick her out for leg throwdowns. The grass receives the length of
her spine and you step over her head. She turns on either side to watch
the other players before clutching your ankles at your nod. One smooth
palm on your bone. Another. She brings her legs up straight and you
clamp your hands on her shins and then push her legs down. Again.
Again. Her stomach flat before you. Her shirt at her ribs.
Then you throw balls past them from a basket. They spin around and
sprint to catch them on your go. When she finishes you say, good, you
say, bueno. She smiles and you reach into the basket for more. The same
basket where you used to place Reinaldo during your lessons when he
was small. And after the lessons, the basket where you spun him round
and round until he pleaded for you to stop.
Later, at night, your son takes you out for your birthday. Can you keep
up, old man? You hope the girl will come along, like the rest of the girls
Reinaldo cuts his teeth on. He drives you to the salsa club, but she isn't
there. Inside, the heat is thick and the lighting is dim and red and the music rushes your eardrums and you think, heat stroke, heat stroke. You dance
with women half your age. You dance, you let go. You salsa with round
women, with skinny girls, flesh on flesh, you sweat together, the whole
room, together, pulsing, moving in the smoke like ghosts, like wisps of
humans, like the music has conjured your eyes up into the vague red
light of the room and formed your blood first, and then your penis, your
body, your mouth. You're not sure why you're dancing, maybe for sex,
or for youth, or for your wife at home, or your brother in the ratty suit
he always wore to church. Maybe you're dancing for the standing crowd.
You wipe tears from your face and hope your son thinks it's sweat. You
buy him a beer in a plastic cup. You tell him to relax. Relax. He won his
last tournament. His ranking is going in the right direction. Up.
You want another one? Here.
Thanks, old man.
The night ends and your days are the same. You go to the academy,
where every court is precisely measured—seventy-eight feet long and
thirty-six feet wide. At the end of the day, it always looks longer, as if the
sunlight has stretched it thin. But the size of the court never really changes. You know it like you know your own body. When Reinaldo was ten
he fit between the white strips of the alley, which are four-and-a-half feet
from line to line. Now, when you lie down with your toes on the single's
court line, the end of the alley slices the nape of your neck.
Sometimes, for conditioning, you have the players mime their strokes
44 on the court. You demonstrate. You run its length, swinging your racket
in the air—forehand, shuffle, backhand, shuffle, approach, split-step, volley. You do it with your eyes shut. This is muscle memory, you tell them.
Visualize, you say. Visualize. Picture the win. The shot. You do it again
and again until the movement is natural. Until it's all you know. This,
here, you tell them. This is all you are. This is all you have, you say,
looking at your son. You make them bend for invisible volleys until their
knees bleed from scraping the ground. Again, again, again. They stare
at you, panting. They stare at you with blank faces. With even tempers.
They know how to play mind games, these kids, but the girl, she is in
the corner. She doesn't have it—a game face. She is there in the corner,
soft. She looks at the world as if it were a grass court. Something rare,
miraculous. God those legs, you think. Jesus, you say aloud. Jesus. When
she runs by you lightly pat her shoulder like you used to pat your son's.
You watch the back of her thighs and then look at Reinaldo's legs. Tight,
strong. They could be your own. Legs for thrusting, for rotating, for stepping in. Always, the weight going forward. Always aggression.
With your legs, you climbed your way up from nothing. You fought
for everything, for every last ball, and they called you a digger and a
grinder. You practiced until your leg muscles bunched into cramps, until
you spit up in the alley and your chest was a rapid drum beat. You with
your dream. You too old to make it but starting your son early. You
drove and drove and drove and drive him and you still attack everything
the same way—the yellow balls, your son on the court, and maybe this
girl. She compresses your rib cage. She makes your breath shallow. She
makes you sweat. Ah, you sigh, ah, like when the doctor said you were
having a son.
You approach her. She wants to get better, you know it. She asks
you, What can I do? What can I do, coach? Ask me anything, you say. She
doesn't know strategy. She doesn't know how to be smart. How to distrust her opponent. How to question calls. You offer a lesson.
For extra practice.
For free?
Not here, though.
Different courts. Close by. Where I practice with my son.
You want this, yes?
Tonight, you say. You will take her from the academy. Soon, tonight.
You will take her to the court you call your home. The court under the
overpass where you spent your life grinding away. The rundown court
with cracks in the pavement. The court where you sweated year after
year, every time leaving something of yourself on its surface. When you
45 put your face against it, you feel the Florida heat radiating like a warning. You see where it slopes in places, where the cement has sunk into
the earth. You see moths batting at the lights, weeds at the fence, slashed
windscreens, grass shooting up from the cracks. You see all this. A beaten
tennis court. A forgotten park. You see the only home you have left.
Home is no longer the place where you sleep stiffly next to your wife.
It's not the place where you raised your son. In that place you take a
shower and leave your eyes open in the water. You draw the razor along
your jaw, over the bulge of your neck with your head tilted back. You
comb your hair and slick it back. You gargle mouthwash. And choke,
thinking of her. Your wife cleans the kitchen, munching on the leftovers.
Chewing. Always chewing loud with her fake teeth. You pull on your
socks, bringing them up tight around your calves. You lace your shoes
and jog in place for a minute. You get your heart rate up, get your blood
pumping. You swing your bag over your shoulder. I'm going out, you
say. For a lesson. Your wife nods and you squeeze her hand as you pass
her in the hallway. It's late, she says. The door closes behind you. Reinaldo went out for the night with your car, so you slide into your wife's
Grand Am. The seat is too close to the wheel and your knees are pressed
against your stomach. You adjust.
The windows are rolled down to the cool air. You pass fluorescent
signs, you pass gas stations. Loud trucks, music banging. You pass tennis courts and car lots and restaurants with thick smells in the night. You
coast to a stop at a red light. You wipe sweat off your forehead with your
palm and remember you didn't sleep so well last night. You woke up on
the couch, your body coated with sweat—your eyes opened but heavy
with sleep in some sort of half dream where everything drifted slowly,
so slow, and as you rubbed your eyes, a door opened and there your
brother stood, shining in someone's headlights before he slammed the
door. Your brother, tall, so tall, standing in jeans and a T-shirt and the
gold chain around his neck that you stole from the street vendor to give
to him. You spoke in a half murmur, the words from your throat slow like
your movements. You asked your brother where he'd been for so long.
Jesus, your brother said. Jesus, you fucking scared me. You told him you were
sorry. Sorry that your reactions weren't quick enough. Sorry that he died
for no reason. Christ, he said. Christ. I hate when you speak Spanish, old man.
Everybody's gonna think you're a Mexican. He moved out of the darkness
and you sat up on the couch and saw your son. Reinaldo?you shouted.
Reinaldo?'But he was already far from you, already at the top of the stairs
and moving toward his waiting bed, and it seemed at that moment then,
in the darkness, that every person who could really see you had taken
themselves far from you, everyone except for maybe this girl.
You grip your hands tight on the wheel. Now the mall is in sight.
46 Breathe. This is the meeting place. This here. The mall exit. You pull
into the empty parking lot and wait. Mariachi music rattles through the
speakers. You check the time and take deep breaths. Your breath sounds
like the ocean. The parking lot is dark—a beach at night. You remember Venezuela. Bright water and cigarettes and brown glass in the sand.
Again, you see your brother's aging face. You look in the rearview mirror at the wrinkles along your eyes—your brother's eyes. Your brother at
sixty-two. Your twin, all one hundred and forty pounds of him. A dead
weight. And her, alive, in front of you. Her, in front of you. Her! You
honk your horn. Her, you think, your heart fast in your chest. She came.
Heat stroke, heat.
You roll down your window. Leave your car here. I'll drive us, you
say. It's just across the street.
Okay, she says. She opens the door. You smell peppermint and soap.
Her elbow brushes yours. Her racket in between her legs. You hold your
breath. Your brother would say, You're making it man, you're making it. You
drive her to your home, to the court under the overpass. Cars race above
you. A truck blows its horn. You turn off the car engine and she is out
with her racket.
Start warming up, you say. Get loose.
The balls empty from your basket—one hand in, one hand out. This
is the motion you know by heart. You can close your eyes, but you'd
rather watch her. How many times have you done this with your son?
Taken him after practice, made him work longer? How many times have
you asked him what he wanted to work on? How many times have you
told him beautiful, beautiful, as he swung his chosen shot? Again, you
say. It's never enough. You know her legs are burning as you move her
side to side as you have also moved your son. Her shoes squeaking, her
breath hard. More.
You feel it?
You want me to go faster?
She shakes her head. Your hands keep moving. Mosquitoes bat around
her legs, her stomach. She focuses on the ball. She angles her strings and
brushes up into a follow-through over her shoulder. Extend! you say.
Reach toward me, reach.
The basket is empty. You pick up the balls as she dangles her head
toward her feet in a stretch. Hold it, you say. Count for thirty seconds.
You touch her hamstrings. Tight. She stands up. Have a drink, you say.
I forgot to bring water.
Have some of mine.
She takes a swig, not letting her lips touch the bottle. Half of it runs
down her throat. Stretch some more, you say. Then we start.
47 She circles her arms. You stand behind her. She pulls her arm above
her head, dropping her hand to her shoulder blade. You place your
fingers on her neck, feel her stiffen. You're tight, you say. You feel the
grooves that connect her bones and muscles. Her soft skin, its slight
sheen of sweat. She doesn't move, doesn't breathe. It's important not
to tear anything, you whisper. She says, I think I want to go home. You
shake your head, no.
We practice first.
I think—
—You're tight. You need to stretch.
—Come closer.
Here, now. Come closer.
Come to me.
She trembles like a let cord. You might faint. She is beautiful, beautiful, you tell yourself. You find yourself yelling the words as you reach for
her. You pull her close—Jesus!—thrusting your hips. You're hot, feverish.
She drives away from you with her legs and your arms loosen from her
and you feel your heart stop. You think maybe she'll make a good tennis
player after all. You think maybe she'll show you what it really means
to win. That maybe she has figured out what you only learned when
you got older, like not to trust a thing, not anything on the court—not
the bounce of the ball, not the other player, not the line judge, not the
spectators, not the net, not your dream. Only you. Your body. Here.
In your house.
48 Lorna Crozier
The Longer Ending
To save themselves
the birds huddled together, hovered
in the shape of a chestnut tree. Two hunters passed,
the third went no further. He sat in the shade
and opened his lunch; cracked two boiled eggs
and peeled them, rolled them in salt in his palm,
then poured coffee from a thermos into its lid,
slurped noisily and slowly so the hot and bitter
wouldn't burn his lips. A bird fell from exhaustion,
then another. They lay broken at his feet.
The hunter looked up and saw nothing
beyond the branches and leaves, not even a cloud.
Another bird fell. What does he do now?
Does he take a closer look at the tree and truly see it,
raise his shotgun and bring dozens down,
or does he gather the three already dead
as if the sky has blessed him with a gift
he can't explain, his own strange story to tell?
Let's give him that. He drops the birds in a sack,
then walks from the flickering shade into the sun,
and never wonders at
the way the tree had slightly moved
like a heat mirage, up, then down, the leaves
autumn-brown and papery as they should be
yet in a day of calm, they've never stopped
their restless rustling. Perhaps he just pretends
to be taken in. Gathers the fallen as the tree
flutters, sways, and comes very close
to singing, knowing this will be his last day
with the gun, the bag bumping warm
against his thigh; high above the branches
the sun hammering what is new in him
to a hardness and a shine.
49 Karen Enns
Contemplation: Three Panels
Deep snow. A listless, pale sun.
The quiet want of winter's lying in.
At McNab, the steeple clears the gully bush
and skeins of long white sky unroll as far as you can see.
Strands of poplar break the line, and oak
and elm. This is the place you come to
for the end of flat-handed light.
See the circling hawk: there is longing here,
a brushstroke in the trick of wind lifting off the drifts
and settling back. And lifting.
Mourn for the hollow where your boot has broken through,
the thrust and give, and nothing but whiteness
on this plain.You need the stalks of ragweed,
red-brown winter char, you need the fall-off sky.
The world narrows with your breath,
widens with the heart's long leaning into wind,
pulse of belonging and then not.
Bird tracks like remembered songs,
scattered, without end.
50 Hymn to the winter orchard's giving in.
The trail is covered over, blank space between the apples,
pears, between the sycamores, the ridge of breaking plums.
Dark branches hold the sky's gray weight
and less than that: the dots of swallows homing in,
last offerings before the bank, the lake's slow claim.
The sun seems closer here and if you look out past the Welland locks,
to where the concrete buttments channel into shallow ice,
you can see the end of what this is.
The name eludes you.
And the silence—dream stripped down to its essential grain,
the eye's unbearable scan.
51 Stewart Cole
Close your eyes, see
if you can find her mouth
before the yolk breaks. Proof,
sings desire's tremolo, lies in this
blind game of cradled egg
(though which outcome
proves what, and against whose palate
or irrepressible teeth
should the tiny yellow cosmos
finally burst, and after how many
preternaturally gentle passes
between your mouths?) but the longer both
song and yolk remain unbroken, the closer
comes the fervid pitch of one
to bringing on the spasm that will burst
the other. Proof,
if required, will swoop in like a dragon,
breathing something more fierce
than the fire you imagine: her still-shut eyes,
she trusts. You swallow.
52 Generation
Thank goodness for the blood,
for that affirmative pat on the head
from the universe: "You're still young,
you might skirt this yet another turn."
For soon enough, at the sight of a sandbox
a watery longing will surge up,
and out will gurgle the first words
of a brand new amphibian:
"I can't wait to meet our children."
Till then, let's keep our four collective feet
firm in this era of arid carelessness,
upon this rootless sand let us bask
like giants, levelling castles
we ourselves have just erected,
because we can't yet bear to let them stand.
53 The Freshly Made Bed
It reclines in a pond of white light
cast down by the clouds,
concealing under quilt and pillows
pieces of its nighttime
occupants' bodies, microscopic evidence
of wellness and decline: flecks
of skin and wiry sprigs of hair—
not to mention dried excretions.
Precisely. The freshly made bed assuages
our dread of the unmentioned,
setting out a tidy front that never
hints at the decay within. Affix
the coffin's lid and tuck
the corners under, whistling out
the morning for what may always be
the final time. Dwindler,
never forget your bed's a chunk
of the eventual, a dense puff of heaven-breath,
the closest you might ever come
to afterlife. When you pull back the covers,
listen for the blast of distant trumpets.
54 Emilia Nielsen
Surge Narrows
Drawn to smaller islands,
forts surrounded by ocean,
we begged the skipper to beach
the homeward-bound school skiff,
forget rising bread dough—wait,
we wanted to roam moss bluff and tideline
scoping good trees for hammocks, berries, warm tide pools,
sites for our future cabins.
We'd do high school by correspondence
instead of moving to town, get dogs and speed boats,
learn to make root beer, become hermits together.
Said we wouldn't leave—
Who spotted the rocky outcrop in Canoe Pass
awash in chocolate lilies, more lilies on one island
than was possible?
We'd live on the same island until our faces and bodies were shrunken
brown and wrinkled as alder cones, our hair (what was left of it),
unruly as old man's beard, could scare exploring kids,
or maybe, grudgingly, lead them along deer trails
to hot springs, point out orange-bellied salamanders,
butterflies that flocked for salt from piss. We'd laugh,
stuff our pipes with kinnikinnick, puff smoke rings
into the night, ripples, stones skipping
across the ocean—
Know everything as if we'd lived
on the same island our whole lives.
55 First to leave, to set out for town
in a loaded herring skiff with parents, sisters, dog, upright piano
wrapped expectant in a blue tarp, a few dissonant strings sounding
as the skiff's outboard engine sputtered out of Elephant Bay,
pushing us into the strait—
Surge Narrows, the rapids:
Canoe Pass, Beazley, Surge, three narrow rock laden passages
interlock Maurelle, Read, and Quadra Islands' bubbling seawater,
white water tornados pulling towards the ocean floor,
whirlpools big enough to suck deadheads, whole dinghies,
even the tin-roofed post office shack with the official-looking sign,
Surge Narrows, British Columbia, VOP 7 WO,
rocking wildly in wake from each passing speed boat,
big enough to swallow Read General Store with boarded-up windows,
roof painted with seagull shit, salal growing thick,
and the one room cedar-sided school house, feral horses shearing
grass to stubble on the school's playing field.
Left Maurelle Island,
Elephant Mountain, three lakes, waterfall,
Wesley Island with the grey seal that lurked in eelgrass beds,
geese honking and flapping from Port Maurelle's shore,
Cortez, Windfall, Rendezvous—
During summer drought, deer swam from Maurelle
to Quadra to Read in search of tender grass,
as sinewy shadows followed them
through the alder grove, golden and unseen.
The dog whined at night, trailed us during the day
barking, kept us in eyeshot, watching for a cat's steady gaze
until a hunter's dogs treed a cougar by the lake.
Forced to shoot, he skinned it,
gave the liver to buddies who asked for it—
by nightfall even the whites of their eyes might have been yellow.
56 Pining to swim, to become fluid,
to slip from heat—
We ate. A crew of us roamed Elephant Bay, grubbing
wild things, foraging creek bank, waterfall, estuary:
licorice root, ferns stripped from moss and maple tree,
a gummy chew of swamp grass pith, freshwater-filled fronds
popped between tongue and hard palette,
salmonberry shoots peeled from prickly skins
to satisfy our appetite for anything
that tasted of saltwater, earth.
Made fires that wouldn't cave, burn out.
Back of throat an inferno.
Couldn't sit still, keep my mouth shut—
Jigging from Elephant Bay's rocky point,
biting at sea lettuce, bull kelp. The line reeled in
every few minutes.
Beneath the ocean's foil-sheen, rock cod:
even tiny ones bulged eyes, stingers mohawking their spines-
To reel fish in, bash, remove hooks.
Dinner in my bucket. Walked the tideline back home.
With the cleaning knife sliced gill to tail,
slippery warmth of fish guts in my hands.
57 Took the skiff to Heriot Bay, sun and two-foot chop
beating against the hull there
and back, ice in the cooler floating in its melt.
In the house boat, boiled a kettle of water,
poured it over the needle, halved a potato
while I found the rubbing alcohol, sat on a galley stool
watching the clock, a chunk of ice held to each ear,
ten minutes a side, front and back. Felt
nothing when he pressed his thumbnail
into my pink earlobe, his nail leaving
the imprint of a first sliver moon.
Wanted just one ear pierced.
Mistaken for a boy.
Taken for a girl. Unfamiliar
power: something unspoken, dangerous.
Wanted to stay raw-boned—
Each spring solstice
dozens of hidden crystals,
ones with tiny chipped imperfections,
glistened in dewy moss, suspended
from arbutus limbs with fishing line, radiated
drops of night rain in the morning forest.
And how shooting stars, fairyslippers, white fawn lilies
became illuminated. We knew the forest. At day's end,
on the trek back to the skiff, our path lit by kerosene lanterns, beeswax
candles burned to warm honeycomb in our hands.
A streak of phosphorescence whipped from the stern, but I faced
forward into wind and saltwater spray,
eager for the sting on my skin—
58 Sheheryar Badar Sheikh
"    A     priest, a rabbi and a mullah enter a bar," begins Nazim. We've
I \ heard this one before, but that doesn't stop Ghaus from laugh-
.X. A. ing and saying, "Bhanchod Nazim, let me sleep." We are at the
Hangu bus station, sprawled in the early morning fog on the platform
with our heads on our bags. I'm hungry. I always feel hungry, even when
I've just finished eating.
Nazim doesn't finish the joke. He doesn't need to. Sameer's hyena
laughter begins and I choke on my spittled grin, laughing even though I
don't want to. I keep my eyes closed through the laughter, hoping sleep
will come back.
Between the four of us, we have enough money for meals, a cheap
hotel stay for a couple of nights and the bus back to Peshawar. We left at
midnight on Nowroz eve to have the entire day in Hangu. The few passengers that got off with us in Hangu disappeared into the night and the
bus went on west. We put our bags in a row on the open platform, and
slept through the call for prayers and the sunrise.
Nazim gets up and starts playing soccer with our feet. He taps a foot
lightly with his own, which by itself is neither annoying nor funny. But
Nazim does his running commentary thing. "Ladies and gentlemen, for
those of you who have just joined us, welcome to the last minutes of
the FIFA World Cup final between Pakistan and Italy. Neither team has
scored as yet. Pakistan's Kalimullah has the ball and he doesn't want
to pass it forward to the open Salimullah. What's this? Salimullah approaches Kalimullah. Salimullah politely requests Kalimullah to pass up
the ball." Nazim does this in his deadpan documentary-narratingjames
Earl Jones voice. I'm apparently Salimullah, because he taps my left
shoe whenever he says the name. "Kalimullah replies that Salimullah
needs a written application from the coach in order to receive the ball.
So Salimullah goes to the sidelines to get the application, but what's
this? Oh no! Salimulla is calling out to the waiter, ladies and gentlemen!
He orders a jumbo burger with fries! Meanwhile, Hasibullah makes a
run for the wrong goal because he sees his girlfriend on that side of the
"Bhanchod!" It's me and Ghaus both, pissed and amused. It's usual
for me to be picked on because of my size. But Ghaus isn't easy to annoy.
59 He's got a dark, intense look and he's easily the best looking among us
four, possibly the most handsome guy in Peshawar Model High School
(Boys branch). The problem is, Ghaus knows he's good-looking.
We're in Hangu for Ghaus to see his girlfriend, Shumaila. We've told
our parents we're on a school trip. That's why we all have money. Lying
comes easy when you don't get to do any living unless you lie. Ghaus is
the tall and dark one. Nazim and Sameer are both fair, taller than me,
and pencil thin. I compensate for colour, height and weight in our group
by being wheatish, short and pudgy. This is probably the last holiday
we'll get to spend together unless all of us make it to the computer engineering program at the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Technology.
Ghaus is the only one among us friends who has a girlfriend. So when
Ghaus says "Bhanchod!" to Nazim's joke at the bus station, he's in a spot.
With Shumaila, he can be king and all, but with us, for these few hours
before his date, he is the sacrificial goat. It's nearly too easy. Nazim's the
lead roaster. Sameer with his cacophonous laughter is the fire and I, as
the alternative victim, am buffer for more jokes, like garnishing.
Our school's off for Nowroz, and the Pakistan Day follows after Sunday, so we have a total of three days off. If Ghaus's date goes well, we
might hitch up for a night or two at a hostel.
But right now, the only thing on my mind is food. My stomach grumbles and I open my squinting eyes to a misty spring day where everything is hidden behind a grey veil.
It's not easy being the fat one among us four. I can't afford to be
too lazy or too eager to voice my need for food. Either could mean an
hour of pecking at my sore spots. So I stay quiet, letting my body suffer.
The frosty smell of tangerines chokes the air, mostly from peels thrown
on the platform. There's a splash of water coming from the bathroom,
where Sameer is changing. Ghaus and Nazim are going back-and-forth
over our plans. The fog is lifting by and by.
"We'll get machchi at the stall, then see which park," says Ghaus, still
leaning back on his blue duffel bag.
"How aboutJinnah Gardens?" Nazim suggests.
"Too crowded."
"Bhutto Park?" That's the only other one we know about.
"Shumaila said there's a park she knows of, near the bookstore. Anyway, once we split the fish, we'll go there and you guys can go explore
the town. I'll meet you around six at the bus station again. We can probably get a room at the hostel near the river."
"Does Shumaila have any sisters or friends?" Nazim does his half-jest
pleading voice.
"Fuck you, Bhanchod. Find your own chicks." Ghaus laughs sleepily.
Sameer exits the bathroom, changed and having gelled his hair, walk-
60 ing his awkward gait back to us across the concrete platform. Ghaus and
I lie on our bags while Nazim goes to clean up next. The sun has cleared
the fog up by the time all four of us are changed. Nazim, Ghaus and I
are wearing the usual—jeans and T-shirts. Sameer is in his white shalwar
kurta, hoping to blend in, as well as hide his emaciated body in the folds
of the billowing fabric.
This is operation Shumaila'n'Ghaus—fish, books and chick. First we
make it to the triangle of three streets that make up Hangu's downtown,
where Sameer, Nazim and I secure the food. Meanwhile, our dashing
comrade Ghaus enters the Old Book Shop. This is a small miracle, because Ghaus doesn't believe in books. "Words have nothing to teach me
that life can't," he's used to saying. At the bookstore, Ghaus will, according to Nazim's narration, "Hold a picture book upside down" while he
waits for Shumaila to show up. Once she arrives and there's confirmation on all points (the food ready, Shumaila's driver sent away, etc.),
Sameer, Nazim and I meet up with the lovebirds to distribute the fish,
and then we split up again—they to a park and we to explore the city.
We think that the four of us, simple and daring as we are, will survive
anything. We do not know about the processions planned for today, one
by the Shias and another by the Sunnis. Our blissfully ignorant amble
through the streets, asking for directions and lugging our bags, is punctuated with lazy jokes and curses. My stomach rivals my heartbeat with its
regular grumbling. I feel weak and near hysteria, but pretend to be as
smooth as the others, who strut into the market with the confidence of
lifelong Hangu residents. Everyone is in shalwar kurtas, and the women
bargaining with fruitsellers and cloth merchants are hidden in their black
burqa fortresses. Some girls have their hoods lifted so I can see their light
eyes and hints of golden hair. Shumaila belongs here.
"Chikni babes," says Sameer. The market is open, the air clean and
I laugh with hungry delirium over the silliest comments. There's the famous fish stall, Al-Mash'hoor Haji Karim Khan Hangu Machchi, made
up of a shack and three benches—all occupied. A couple of cars are
parked nearby, with people inside eating their fried fish breakfast and
disheveled street children looking in through the closed windows. We
walk past and ask around for the Old Book Shop. There is only the one
in town, and after a couple of vendors, one of the antique sellers knows.
It's two blocks down and around the corner from the fish stall.
"All right, boyfriend," says Nazim. "You get the fish and we'll get the
food." Another round of cackles from Sameer, another laughing "Bhanchod!" from Ghaus, another grumble from my nether pit, and we separate.
Back at the stall, Nazim shouts our order. "Four big trout machchi with
extra spice," he hollers to the boy waiter, who shouts back that it'll take
61 a half-hour. My heart sinks and fills my stomach. If we move, our order
will go to someone else, so we set our bags down and stand around. Nazim turns again and again to where Ghaus went while doing his running
commentary on the progress of our fish. "In its heroic attempt to satisfy
our appetite, the fish is sacrificing itself.... Ladies, the fish has entered
the fryer..." Sameer begins to heehaw. I snort. Then Nazim stops and
we're quiet. People, mostly women, come and pick up the orders they've
left a while back. Some of them flash eyes at us from behind the burqas
and shyly, despite the cloth barriers, lower their stares. I wonder if Shumaila is at the bookshop now, with Ghaus, and this thought makes me
hungrier. Nazim is turned away from Sameer and me, looking past the
fish crackling in a vat of oil in the Old Book Shop's direction. I suspect
things. Despite my overwhelming concern with food, and the pungent
oily smell of it in the air, I suspect things of Nazim. Lately he hasn't been
laughing much when his jokes work. I've seen him smile often enough,
but maybe....
Shumaila was the one great thing about Peshawar Model High School
(Girls branch). Ghaus's and her seemed meant-to-be from the first moment they met at the evening tuitions. When they started going out, the
next few months were the happiest of our lives. We'd all meet up at the
Baarha Bazaar, get ice cream and hide among the carpet and knickknack
stalls. Only Ghaus ever talked to her, but she gave us all something just
by being so close. Shumaila's laughter began to mean something in the
world would always be good. I would find myself thinking about it before sleep. But then out of nowhere, her father got transferred to Hangu.
We'd been planning Ghaus and her future together, their marriage and
kids, when she left us in the lurch. Then her first letter came, which
Ghaus read aloud to us during recess in the otherwise empty classroom.
Somehow he wasn't as heartbroken as I'd expected he would be. He
laughed at the sentimental parts. He was probably embarrassed, but it
didn't seem right. He didn't look like it was the end of the world. It felt
like he didn't love her the way she deserved to be loved.
Nazim checks with the waiter. Fifteen more minutes. The oil-laden vat
has remnant pieces of batter and fish swimming on its surface. Its bottom is charred. Black objects float in the spitting oil. The young bearded
man who ladles the fish in and out isn't the cook, just the ladle man. Haji
Karim Khan, the cook and owner, is a nearly eighty-five-year-old man
sitting on a chair inside the shack, prepping trout and salmon slices. He
rolls them in flour, then in batter, and sprinkles spices on top. He reaches
out to hand trays with readied fillets to the ladle man, letting long armpit
hair show. Grey and black hair spouts also from Haji Karim Khan's chest
and back. His paunch stretches and perspires into his sleeveless vest.
Which doesn't mean that I won't eat what we get. His sweat is probably
62 a special ingredient. But I turn away to keep my appetite intact.
A bench empties and we take it. Skeletons offish are still on the table.
I can smell the fish like it's already inside me. "Nazim, we'll need naans
also," says Sameer.
"Yeah," Nazim mumbles.
"Why doesn't Fatty here get the naans while we wait."
I feel hot tears coming. Not only has Nazim sold me out, but he's
agreed to a suggestion by Sameer. And Sameer has just called me Fatty,
something only Nazim and Ghaus have called me before. This stings.
"Why don't you get them, Sameer?" This is all I can manage as comeback.
"Because, unlike someone, /won't be eating more than my share." I
turn to see Sameer's shoulders shake. Nazim smiles distantly. My eyes go
back and forth a couple times and then I get up.
Can't lose my cool, I tell myself, can't—and then I say, "Shove that
laughter up your ass, Bhanchod!" I walk away with Sameer hooting on.
I'm hot, hungry and now I'm the scum of the group. Laughter, I tell
myself. Ghaus has his looks and a girlfriend, Nazim has his jokes and
Sameer has laughter. I don't bring anything to the table. My cheeks are
jelly, but my legs take me somehow around the bench. Fuck them, I tell
myself. Gandu. Bhanchod. Who do they think they are? Motherfuckers.
I ask the waiter where the closest tandoor is and he points me down
the opposite side of the road, around fifty yards in the other direction
from the Old Book Shop. A carpet seller on the way is beating his ware
to get the dust out. I feel like taking his stick and pushing it up Sameer's
ass. Up close to the tandoor, I'm somewhat soothed by a line of only two
people. I inhale the fragrance of kilned dough. It won't take that long
before I can pick apart a naan and take its gooey warmth into my mouth,
piece by piece. I look back at Sameer and Nazim, and they're talking and
joking, both of them turned to where Ghaus is. Worms of hatred crawl
up my arms and neck. I could take the pincers from the tandoor and
pierce their eyes.
I calm down by telling myself it's the hunger. It's this hunger that
makes me so prickly. I give the order to a Gandhiesque man for eleven
naans. I can smell food and garbage in every direction. It's hunger and
dirt. It's also the traveling without proper plans, without packing meals.
It's also the lying to my parents to be with these three wiseguys I call my
best friends.
It's also Shumaila. When Ghaus read that letter out to us, "My beloved, my true love Ghaus...," the letter mentioned us too. "Take care of
your friends. Their love and companionship are an amazing gift." That
day after school I went home and sketched a picture of Shumaila's face
63 so I wouldn't forget how she looked. It's not that I want her, I swear it's
not. I don't deserve her. Not me. I'm fat, short and ugly, and those are
the bare truths. But Nazim...
The naans are ready. The eleventh one is an extra, an appetizer. I pay
the tab, tear off a couple of handfuls from a naan and squish the doughy
bread into my mouth. My stomach rumbles for the coming satisfaction.
I walk out to the fish stall with the bread.
At this point, things click so casually into place that I nearly miss them
for my chewing. We'll soon have the fish. Ghaus and Shumaila, who are
probably holding hands in a corner of the bookstore, will presently come
out and we'll catch up with them to ration the goods. Nazim will be quiet
in front of them, but once they leave with their share he'll do his running
commentary again. "Ghaus's pants are getting too tight for him, ladies
and gentlemen, and Shumaila's hands are itching for the engagement
ring that she expects that bulge to be.. .join us after the commercials...."
I can hear it now. And I can hear how in the evening Ghaus will relate
the meeting in his own unexcited manner. "It was nice...she's coming
over tomorrow to the hostel...." We'll book two nights at the student
hostel and Shumaila will come to spend the day in Ghaus's room, while
Nazim, Sameer and I will sit in the next room.. .no running commentary,
no laughter. In two days, we'll go back to Peshawar, back to our homes,
and Ghaus will find another girl willing to fool herself into thinking he'll
marry her. Nazim and Sameer will split from Ghaus and me before I can
from any of them, just because I'll never get the nerve to say what I feel,
and because Ghaus really doesn't care. I will hang around with Ghaus
until he too will move on, at which point I'll be the only one who doesn't
make it to university. They will all find new friends.
This prediction is skewed, not only because it's too negative, but also
because it doesn't encompass the Shia and Sunni processions in Hangu.
It doesn't take into account the man dressed in black running from a
man dressed in white, both of them tall and lean with muscles rippling
under shalwars and kurtas. Their fearful green eyes and bouncing golden-brown hair so lovely, so wasted. It doesn't take into account their
being on the same street as myself when I exit the tandoor.
These two men turn the corner behind me, easing on the swivel, but
gaining speed on straightening. I turn and look for traffic, but it's them I
find. Shia in black running from Sunni in white. Shia with a knife in his
hand. More like a dagger. Sunni with a gun. Not a pistol, not a rifle. A
machine gun.
I run with naan in my mouth. I run chewing, I run shouting through
the chewing. "Bhanchod" is what I'm thinking, "Bhmmmmmm" is what
I'm saying. I watch a burqa crouching on the pavement ahead, and realize it's a woman who has ducked to a side. I hear the Shia's breaths
64 behind me, closing in. "Haaaan-uhhhh Haaan-uhhhh." I hear Sameer
laughing and I look at him across the street. Nazim is just now grabbing
the bag of fish from the waiter. Sameer is pointing down the street. I
straighten my neck and see Ghaus and Shumaila straight ahead, coming
The Shia man pulls up on my right and for a breath we're at the same
plane in the universe, stuck in the same shit. Together. And then I stop,
because I can. He doesn't because he can't. I'm about to go down on
my knees and catch my breath when I'm hit from behind. Bhanfuck. A
bullet! I'm shot. There's been no shots. My head hits the ground. Bang! I
mumble a shout. Chewed up naan falls out of my mouth. An empty Pine
Cool juice box and a dirty red cotton rag are near my head. They seem
so significant, I almost reach out to touch them. But then I get up on my
knees and I reach around my back with my left hand. No bullet wound.
Someone pushed me, I think. My right hand goes to my forehead, where
a headache is beginning. Blood drips from my head and I nearly fall forward again but I'm held up by hands. The sound of many running feet.
I look up and see Shumaila and Ghaus's faces between someone's
legs. My left hand goes up toward them and I try to tell them that I got
the naans. A hand takes the bag of naans from me. I turn to see Nazim
holding my arm. He dabs my forehead with his towel. His red duffel bag
is open. I try to point and say that he should close it. I'm picked up by
the legs. I try to tell the stranger lifting my legs that I can walk. My head
gets lifted, and then my arms. This is like floating on water. I'm put in
the back of a car. My head is in Nazim's lap. He holds the towel tightly
pressed on my head. I look down and see Sameer sitting under my stomach. I don't feel like cursing anymore. I try to find Shumaila. "Gnnnna,"
I say through the migraine. In the front seat, Ghaus turns around and
asks something. There she is. My shoes are on her lap. I panic and lower
my shoes to the mat in front of her, but she grabs at them. She pulls
up my legs by tugging at the jeans. She says something to Ghaus, and
the driver, who is a stranger with a moustache, begins driving. It hurts
to concentrate, but I do. I focus on my legs in Shumaila's lap. On her
hands touching my jeans. My head hurts. I want to tell her she's beautiful. I want her hand to slide inside the cuff of my jeans. I want to tell her
Nazim loves her.
A door is opened, and I'm taken out and put on a bed, and the bed
is rolled into a corridor and I have faces looking at me. I raise my neck
but someone pushes it down. I try to say they should double check for a
bullet in my back. The bed turns a corner and leaves my friends behind.
I think I manage to say, "Shumaila, I love you."
This is a hospital, and a woman has a cool hand on my forehead. I
want to tell her I love her too, but I've already told Shumaila that. But
65 what is this love that keeps shifting? I want to ask if I'm dying, but she
shushes me. I want to tell her I love her for shushing me. I manage hot
tears. I'm so hungry. But more than hungry, I'm thirsty. I look around for
water. There's white walls, and people. No water.
Doors open, I'm wheeled under a light and they work on my forehead. They try to keep me alive.
Here's what happens. I survive a cracked skull with lots of stitches.
From newspaper accounts I gather the politics of what happened—a
rally of Shias attacked by armed Sunnis, ten Shias killed. My forehead
heals over the next two days, while I wait for my friends to come take
me home. They don't come. But Shumaila does. She comes in like a
breeze, like a golden-haired angel. She sits down beside me and holds
my hand and tells me things will be okay. I try to tell her that I love her,
and that Ghaus isn't worthy of her. She shushes me like a nurse and puts
her hand on my cheek. She says not to tell Ghaus or the others that she
came to visit me. She leaves me then. I wait for her with the feel of her
hand against my cheek like a throb, but she doesn't come again.
No. I wake up and the nurse tells me my friends are here to pick me
up. I get up easily and go outside to find Shumaila, Nazim and Sameer.
They tell me the Shias and Sunnis are killing everyone. It doesn't matter
who belongs to what faction. Then they guide me softly into the backseat of a car and all four of us drive to the market. I ask them, "Where's
Ghaus?" And they say, "You told us he wasn't worthy of us. We let him
go." I laugh loudest, even louder than Sameer.
No. I wake up and nobody comes. Nobody at all. My wallet with the
sketch of Shumaila's face in it is missing. I call home for money and take
the bus alone to Peshawar. I cry several times, I think of everything that
I said or tried to say. The bus ride scars me for life with motion sickness.
I get migraines at the thought of travel. For this, I hurt the only person I
can—myself. I grow fatter than I think I can. I eat up my family's income
and stay at home years after school is over.
No. The murdered Shias are avenged, and by the time I'm awake all
the city is stained with blood. Some Shia, some Sunni. All Muslim.
No. I sleep.
I open my eyes. There are newspapers on my bed. A nurse leaves
the room, which is how I know she was there. The door opens inwards
again. Nazim enters, then Sameer, then Ghaus and then Shumaila, who
twirls a white flower in her hands.
66 Contributors
Stewart Cole grew up in the Ottawa Valley and now lives in Toronto,
where he is working towards a PhD. Four of his poems appeared in Issue
228 of The Fiddlehead.
Lorna Crozier lives with two cats and a poet outside of Victoria. Her
latest book is The Blue Hour of the Day, Selected Poems, published by McClelland and Stewart.
Trisha Cull has been published in various Canadian literary journals.
Most recently, she has won the Prairie Fire Bliss Carman Award for Poetry and the Lichen Magazine Tracking a Serial Poet Prize. Her nonfiction
is forthcoming in the Federation of BC Writers Anthology. Trisha lives in
Vancouver, BC, with her two rabbits, Caravaggio and Marcello.
Karen Enns, originally from rural southern Ontario, is a musician and
poet living in Victoria, BC. Her poetry has appeared in The Fiddlehead,
The Antigonish Review and in a chapbook, Stark Ravens, edited by Patrick
Tara Goedjen is a Graduate Council Fellow in the MFA program at
the University of Alabama. She has work forthcoming in AGNI, Denver
Quarterly and Gargoyle.
Kate Hall's poems have recently appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, Swerve, The Denver Quarterly and Open City.
Her chapbook, Suspended, is forthcoming with greenboathouse books.
She is co-editor of Delirium Press Chapbooks and is currently living in
Kitty Hoffman is a writer and teacher of Creative Writing, Film and
Kabbalah, currently living in Victoria. Her creative nonfiction, reviews
and articles have appeared in literary anthologies, newspapers and magazines including The Malahat Review, Grain, PRISM international, Boulevard and The Vancouver Sun. She has won the Maclean-Hunter Prize for
Literary Nonfiction, and the Grain award for Creative Nonfiction twice.
67 Marc Johns creates simple drawings filled with dry wit and humour. His
artwork has been exhibited in many cities, published in several books
and magazines, blogged about extensively and caused him to grow antlers. You can explore more of his curious drawings at www.marcjohns.
Emilia Nielsen is a PhD student in Women's Studies and Gender Relations at UBC. Her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Contemporary Verse 2, Descant, Event, Grain, Prairie Fire, The Antigonish Review and
The Fiddlehead. In 2006, her work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in
Sheheryar Badar Sheikh has an MFA from the University of Notre
Dame. His work is forthcoming in or has appeared in Black Warrior Review, The New Orphic Review, 5_Trope and The Potomac. He is also staff critic for and Pakistan's features heaven, The Friday Times.
Sheheryar lives in New York.
Jane Silcott won a CBC Literary Award for creative nonfiction in 2005.
Her writing has appeared in Geist, Utne, The Malahat Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Room of One's Own and Prairie Fire. Her nonfiction also appears in two anthologies: Body Breakdowns (Anvil Press), and Double Lives:
Writers Who Mother (McGill University Press, 2008). She teaches in the
Continuing Studies programs at Langara and Capilano Colleges and at
the UBC Writing Centre.
Daniel Scott Tysdal is the author of Predicting the Next Big Advertising
Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method, winner of the 2007 Re-
Lit Award for Poetry and the 2006 Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry.
He would like to thank Matthew Holdenried and Andrea Charise for
seeing this project through.
Patricia Young has published eight collections of poetry and one collection of short fiction, Airstream, which was shortlisted for the Butler
Prize. She is presently the writer-in-residence at the University of New
Brunswick. A new collection of poetry, Here Come the Moonbathers, will be
published in the spring of 2008 with Biblioasis.
68 The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
i    /
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Writing. The M.F.A. degree may also be
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Writers are invited to submit manuscripts exploring the creative
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Literary Nonfiction Contest Issue
Judge's Essay: Jane Silcott
Stewart Cole
Lorna Crozier
Trisha Cull
Karen Enns
Tara Goedjen
Kate Hall
Kitty Hoffman
Marc Johns
Emilia Nielsen
Sheheryar Badar Sheikh
Daniel Scott Tysdal
Patricia Young
Cover Art:
by Marc Johns
l7SDDb"flh3bll April 15,2007
My friend,
I hope this finds you well. Thank you for the letter. I have done what I can to answer your question, which
I include here for your reference: "How should artists speak of events that refuse speaking—from Auschwitz to
Rwanda, from colonization to colonization, from hurricane to tsunami?"
As an artist you need to feel your era in your bones but, as you point out, how does one express this era
when it is "appallingly," in Susan Sontag's words, "an age of genocide"? How does one bear witness in the way
one is capable when confronted with what Theodor Adorno observed: that after Auschwitz there can be no more
poetry? "Even the most extreme consciousness of doom," he wrote, "threatens to degenerate into idle chatter."
The dilemma to demand silence before these events is to remain quiet about the injustice that
engenders them, while to speak, to render in words what was witnessed and remembered, is to risk tourism and
appropriation. As you wrote me, "The future peoples who would build monuments to Silence, who would erect
them light-years away from any memory of the dead, are as frightening as the peoples who would reanimate mass
graves for the sake of selling soap."
I believe the answer to your question resides in this imagining. Don't you find in your hypothesizing
"future peoples" a potential voice, one that not only avoids but also investigates the silence and exploitation you
fear? Why not begin by creating works that attend to the forms of language and life that bear witness to mass
loss, that attempt to tally and transform the absences wrought by these disasters and crimes? However inchoate,
they make what is gone material; they speak, though stuttering or scheming, what is otherwise unsaid.
Please find enclosed in this package the examples I composed for you, this "Research Material for Poetry
on Late-Twentieth Century Art." The peoples I have imagined are different artists: the art collective, the digital
photographer, the filmmaker and the cosmetic surgeon. In order to explore these artists, I have melded the poet's
purview with a selection of respected cultural intermediaries: the scientist, the historian, the critic, and the eyewitness. The works I created for you are titled and ordered as follows:
1) Exceipt (lpg): American Institute for Retrieval. "Cup on the Table in Photo of Chernobyl.'" In Nitce: A Complete
Guide to Unknown Masterworks of World Culture. Vol. 11. New York: CSH, 2002. 294-5.
2) Footnote (2pg): Cole, Stewart. "Rachel Whiteread and the Things of Emptiness." In the Tower of No Shadows:
Terror, the Sublime and 21s' Century Art. London: Verso, 2004. 127-28.
3) Review (3pg): Lim, Mi-Jin. "If This Is the Experiment, then the Results Are Not Good." Rev. of Reg N. Rutrok's
An Experiment in Living: Footage for a Documentary Film of the Tutsi Resettlement, dir. Reg N. Rutrock.
The Times Herald 20 Sep. 1997: R2.
4) Missive (2pg): Portner, Aaron. "Dear Anna, I hope." Greeting Card to Anna Hazel Collins. 23 Aug. 1999. The
SAND Papers. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights Lib., Winnipeg.
To return to your question, how do we speak of the horror that demands, while refusing, voice? By
imagining the hungers and ends of those who seek to define for us in relation to disaster what is real, what is just,
what is possible and preserved. We speak by renewing poetry at the roots, seeking a new elegy to mourn the
victims of a new breadth of murder, a new form of prophesy for glimpsing a new twilight's rise. Let the dogmatic
and homogenized language that poetry opposes crack open poetry's own homogeneity and dogmatism and,
hopefully, sound something new. Compose letters that answer questions with questions like "Will you give this a
shot?" which is why I have written you and await your reply.
Sincerely yours,
Daniel Scott Tysdal Nev
New Poems
by Daniel Scott Tysdal
Research Material for Poetry
on Late 20th-Century Art ■..v.:
find, finally, Co codify and assay the disaster's VM10U8 reirmimk-i';,
and resonances through all means available. Yet despite this
propitious goal, die men's •work was far from exhaustive.
Most prominently, the cup on the table in the photo
of Chernobyl went unnoticed by the men who shared with the
cup in the photo's endurance [3], The men descending with
instruments upon the apartment's dining room sought only
what the dirt and air retained, a decade later, of disaster, the
leavings that deceived all the senses but the ones they straight-
out destroyed. The men in their protective, plastic second-skins
gleaned nothing of the cup's origin and perseverance, of the life
it had waited to sustain in those final shades of delay, the first
signs of danger, when the cup's last bearer's finest textures were
already changed in the mounting of what it knew too late as the
failure to get away.
Within the 10,389 kg (4722 lb) of the men's data and
analysis that we were able to examine, the appearance of the cup
is limited to the photo with the men, and a brief description of
the cup in a crate titled, "Things with Things Painted on Them,"
which reads as follows:
The   revocation  of our  archive  privileges,  coupled  with  the
3 -** GoouMMilotil RGmtmtbrHhCfi of the Rotation
batwoon tlui Cup mid Urn M«t» In tho Photo
Sllvar-roilalln print, 28 x 18,8 MO'/, x TVA
, 1
S-v:." ■
4 — Gestural Sketch from Memory of the Cup
In tha Photo
Acrylic and phatoernulston on canvas, 149.9 x
114.3 (59x45)
S — Aah between Glass
Ash and Glass, 1 x 1 (0.39 x 0.39)
294        199&3 | Teacup (iii T'uhk: in Photo of Chernobyl
levelling of the apartment complex (once the mtn had preserved
and appraised everything they needed), left us only with the few
capitalized and perspicuous lines we copied down from them,
and our shared but separate memories of the way the cup in the
photo held on [4].
And lacking evidence, we remain divided on whether
or not the cup can contain itself, whether there is more to the
cup than the cup can hold. Among us are lives that want to
decide the cup's convergence in duty with the cupping together
of their own two hands. And though we've painted portraits of
a Saviour lifting the cup to his lips, we cannot decide from
which side he would sip in resigning .Himself to the flavours the
mortality of immortality literally offers up to itself. (One of us
dreamed she fell with cups unblinking for eyes and the motion
she descended on was the effortless motion light defines in its
eternal composition of shadows.)
Some have speculated (without mentioning their
wonder) that in the cup's painted scene, on the cottage's top
floor, there is a window that when opened reveals a room with a
table with a cup resting upon it. And on this cup the fisherman
has carved all the names elided by the simple fact of being borne
into days that pass, Name after name atop name he's scratched
so all that remains is the porous poise of the cup's most raw and
impractical twilight.
Others believe the figure kneeling by the brook is not
fishing at all but simply sounding his few notes with the hum each
rum relays in the botched ascension of oblivion, in the singed
strangeness of casting the endless disorder of his own ashes [S]
over the waters that surge motionless before him, durable in blue,
A 1609, 1937
Teacup on Table in Pholo of Chernobyl | 1996c
295 for them lo carry with them into the morning" (386).
' Stallabrass' anecdote, confirmed by a number of sources, is
not the only evidence to link Whiteread to Alana Grace. Grace
is the "acquaintance" Whiteread discusses in her 1999 BBC
interview with David Smith. In response to Smith's comment
about the tendency among young artists to construct their own
gallery spaces, Whiteread explains how
a young acquaintance of mine once did that
in a roundabout way. You see, she erased
herself, with a computer, from all her family
photos. Vacation shots, baby shots, school
shots—she hung them  in,  like,  her  folks'"
kitchen,    or    their    bedroom,    it    all    had
something to do with a friend of hers who'd
gone and hopped off a bridge covered  in
class photos,  or,  no, that was a different
moment. But this friend of mine never ended
up offing herself, which I think had been
part of the deal, because when her aunt, an
artist, this aunt found all the emptied out
pictures.  She thought it was just brilliant.
And advertised the kitchen or bedroom or
whatever as a show. (3)
Further evidence of their relationship  is the letter
Whiteread sent to "The Unpainter of Modern Strife," which is
on file in the Rossetti Archive at the Slade School of Art. In it
she   thanks   Grace   for   the   edited   stills   of  the   Kennedy
assassination,   the   president's   body,   both   pre-   and   post-
shooting, wiped clear from different views on the motorcade.
Whiteread adds that she is looking forward to receiving the
stills of Archduke Ferdinand removed from the carriage in
which he was shot and expired.
Not only has there never been any work done on
Whiteread's relationship with Grace, but little has been said
about Grace in the now developing cannon of 1990s visual
culture. Mortimer Prentice justifies Grace's exclusion in the
introduction to Digit, his anthology of computer generated art.
;' "•'
Grace, he observes, though an originator at the young age of
18, fell behind too quickly:
By    the    time    she    was    producing    her
assassination stills, Theresa Kolakowski had
already completed her manipulations of the
Zapruder      film,      while      Matthew      C.
Holdenried was well into his epic salvaging
of the   Vietnam   War   with   footage   from
WWII. (24)
Kolakowski's Zapruder, in which Jackie, Connelly, the car, el.
al.,   are   erased   from   the   Dealey  Plaza   roadway   (so   that
Kennedy alone floats past a crowd of waving then terrified
witnesses),   and   Holdenried's   new  Vietnam,   in   which   (he
1940's  Yankee  G.I.   replaces  his  Dawning  of the  Age  ol
Aquarius counterpart in combat footage, render Grace's work,
for Prentice, "short-sighted and amateurish, and, in a way,
obsolete" (24).
Grace, in the final blog entry she left before
removing herself from public view, contrasts Prentice's view
with her own peculiar theory:
All these tragedies. I will now and forever
take the blame for them. You all holed [sic]
me responsible for 9/1 1 and I won't argue.
You say 1 prayed for towers to erase and
bless    you     with    planes    that    combtlff
spontaneously mid-flight in a sky. Can you
imagine if it had been raining that day?
Grace recently took a government job editing internet
photos of sexually abused children whose whereabouts are
unknown. She erases the child, what is done to the child, su
that purified and unpeopled surroundings can be released to
the public to give those who might have visited those rooms
(with no idea (without them) what happened there) the chanea
to tell the proper authorities where to look.
128 2 - REV]
., Faiiiiiiiiiii:
On May 12. 1943, Polish
jew Szmul Zygielbojm took his
own life as World War 11 raged on
and news of the horrors of the
camps reached the Allied
communities. What is important to
remember about Zygielbojm's act,
as he states in his letter to the
former leaders of his occupied
home, is that he committed suicide
not in response to the cruelty of the
camps but as a reaction against the
world's response to this cruelty.
Horror was met only by silence:
violence by indifference. Even the
Polish government, who Zygielbojm admits did more than anyone
to raise public awareness about the
camps, "did not do anything that
was not routine, that might have
been appropriate to the dimensions
of the tragedy taking place." The
horror and evil would have been
bearable had an at least equivalent
force of good arisen in reply, a
benevolent undertaking as shocking and unconventional as the
unconventional and shocking
malevolence of the camps. That
Zygielbojm believed his death
might constitute such a reply, and
''contribute to destroying the
indifference of those who were
able to act [but chose not to],'*
evidences both the depth of his
faith in humanity and his naivete
A figure in the jungle awaits its fate in Reg N. Rutrok's An Experiment in Lh
Film of the Tutsi Resettlement
about the vigour of the self-interest
that seems to guide our kind.
My review, though not a
suicide note, does share in Zyg-
ielbojm's dilemma. Where he was
shocked by the global apathy that
met the news of the camps, I am
shocked by the accolades and praise
that, have been showered upon an evil
(which, I know. J write at the risk of
sounding fanatical) film. Where for
Zygielbojm the camps exampied
"how little human life was worth" in
his age, Reg N. Rutrok's An
Experiment in Living: Footage for a
Documentary Film of the Tutsi
Resettlement expresses, for me,
pretty much the same thing.
Unequivocally, no film (no cultural
artefact, past or present, for that
matter) has brought me closer to
doubting the capacity of our species
to not only empathize and commune
but to survive. That a number of my
peers have had the audacity to
describe this film as "irreverent but
honest," "bold," "unflinching," and
"a must-see." is shameful and,
frankly, beyond comprehension.
For those of you who don't
know the origins of Rutrok's project,
An Experiment in Living performs
the contemptible act of contemporizing the unreleased Nazi propaganda film Theresienstadt: A.
Documentary Film of the Jewish
Resettlement. Theresienstadt, marking an abuse of cinematic technology
an -. ■■:>?* ::■■"
-t m
artefact,   past  or  present,   for  that
matter)  has   brought  me   closer  to
■ ibtmg the capacity of our species
to not only empathize and commune
but to survive. That a number of my
peers   have   had   the   audacity   to
describe this film as -imvQrmt but
honest,' -bold/' "unflinching," and
a   must-see,"    is    sharoefu,    and
frankly, beyond comprehension.
For those of you who don't
know the origins of Rutrok's project
-f ExPe™e»t in Living performs
the contemptible act of contemporizing the unreleased Nazi propaganda film Theresienstadt 4
Documentary Film of the Jewish
Resettlement. Theresienstadt. marking an abuse of cinematic technology
until now unmatched, was filmed at
the concentration camp of the same
name    by    German-Jewish    actor
writer   and   director   Kurt   Gerron
(from whose  name,  anagramically
the  pseudonym Reg N. Rutrok is
derived). A friend of such luminaries
as Marlene Dietrich and Peter I orre
Gerron ended  up   in  Theresienstadt
alter underestimating the Nazi threat
and refusing to escape to America
During   the   making   of  hjs   fi,m
Gerron staged well-attended public
events at the camp, such as debates
concerts and soccer games; he
coaxed malnourished and terrified
children into playing happilv he
asked fellow prisoners to carry out
before the camera the simple routines
of a daily life that had been stolen
from them. The challenge put to
him by the Nazis was to show the
world that a concentration camp
specifically, a camp that lav on the
road to Auschwitz, was. in "truth "
a kind of Jewish city-state, a little
Utopia that greatly improved upon
the traditional ghettos.
An Experiment hi Living
shares    with    Theresienstadt   the
same twisted goal, to misrepresent
a genocide (in this case, Rwanda.
1996) as an act of compassionate
social engineering; vet where Gerron aimed for propaganda purity
m  the  sense  that  he  sought  to
conceal the  painful  facts  of his
matcnal under an ideal and generic
%ade. Rutrok seeks to document
material that no technological trick
or generic conceit could ever transfigure or contain. As unbelievable
as this may sound, An Experiment
m   Living   is   Theresienstadt   as
remade in the showers and ovens
of Auschwitz. Rutrok attempts to
reshape the massacre of the Tutsi
in   the   Rwandan jungles   into   a
atopic cause the same way Gerron
tried to reshape the Nazi's project
of liquidation into a philanthropic
gesture. Rutrok literally directs the
violence; he makes "players" out
of the victims and a stage out of
the  slaughter.   And  since  this   is
"footage'" for a documentary film
and    not    the    edited,    narrated"
subtitled, and scored final cut  we
•get to hear" Rutrok direct a father
who is about to be butchered, as he
begs  for  his  son's  life;   we   are
"given" the different angles Rutrok
takes on the Tutsi woman tied up
and unconscious behind the home
of her Hutu captor.
As I've already suggested
(and, as consumers of various news
media, I'm sure you are already
aware), the shock expressed by my
peers is negligible. After going
through the motions of the required
compassionate" caveats they
Promote An Experiment in Living as a "chilling meditation on the
cinema's relationship to terror." as
"the ultimate deconstruction of the
documentarian's claim to object-
iveity," "a sobering indictment of
our times." and on and on and on
and on. Sadly, along with guesses
over Rutrok's true identity (he still
has not come forward despite
receiving special mention at the
recent New York Film Festival),
the only struggle that unites my
peers is the one over "essential"
questions regarding the film's
authenticity. Many of them have
gathered evidence from the film's
five and a half hours in order to
prove why or why not he or she
believes the events filmed are
genuine or staged, without once
wondering: does it matter? 1 mean,
is there really a difference between
the two possibilities- "real" or
"fake," in the face of the more
important question: should this
film have even been made?
And before answering too
quickly (again, "fanatic" warning)
please consider that what is at
stake in your response is not
simply the potential for a kind of
cultural experience but the survival
of the very qualities that make us
cultured beings. So rather than give
you another apathetic review, 1 ask
that you give me the chance to
compose a reply (borrowing
Zygielbojm's phrasing) that is
"appropriate to the dimensions of
the tragedy taking place." I want
the chance to tell you why I
believe that what An Experiment in
Living offers us is evidence that
our passion for the freedom of
individual expression and consumption (in which the popular
practices of transgression and
subversion, of nihilism and
irreverence (and your "fanatical"
reviewer will go as far as to
include our prohibition against
censorship), are based) threatens to
"transgress" and "subvert." all
limits and boundaries until this
passion for the self has erased
forever the very individual that is
capable of experiencing and
exercising the freedom to create
and consume. (Continued cm R5)  23/08/99
Deer Aisa,
I hop© this finds you well, I spoke to your mom earlier
today and she gars me your address. It's great to kear you're
doing your residessy in California, Congratulations.
I'm also living os a west coast these days, in Freetown,
the capital of Sierra Leon®, All in all, it's a lot like any
coastal city. From the room I rent 1 can see rooftops, and beyond them the ocean, the"sun just starting to set, A few minutes
before I sat down to write you a children's street band passed
below my window, slapping sticks together and beating their
improvised drums. I're been here for about two months now, volunteering with the "Sears Are the New Diamonds" Project. 1 came
at the IsvitatidB of Jean-Mare, who's almost put in a full year
of service with the Project, Since I tiefer ended up returning
to school I'm not involved with him in the O.R., but working in
the field is fins with me.
Your mom couldn't say enough about the work being performed
here, which, I know, she did fer my benefit, but it's good to
hear peofde back home are being reached. She says instead of a
ring,"she's thinking of asking your father for one of those"
bullet wousd sears for their anniversary. Like the rest of the
volunteers, I had one grafted to my pinkie upok arriving and
told her it only hurt a bit before healing.
As you ean imagine, my work is exhausting. But I don't
hate it. Teday I signed up a donor who agreed to give the foot-
losg sear from his thigh in exchange for the usual benefits,
A lawyer" in Massachusetts has already paid over a hundred grand
t© have the sc ar grafted" across his chest, something like a
sash. The donor told me that his leg was cut off below the knee
by the rebels when h® refused to take part in the fighting,
One of the perks of the" job is that even though a majority
of the Project's procedures take place in the states, most of
the celeb rjitles get their work performed here in Freetown, Jean-
Mare let me sit in while he grafted the scar from a toddler's
forehead te the cheek of the guitarist from that band you used
to lore, Some rebels had bet on the todd&er's sex before cutting her out of her mother's sto$aeh'"so, really, it's a miracle
she lived. It was her brother who gathered her out of the jungle,
her tisy head" bleeding", and the guitarist promised to show off
the sear and tell the tale of her plight every chance he got,
"^though 1 want to say that you shouldn't feel ©bliged'to
write bask, I would really like it if you did, earth-shattering
news ©r otherwise, 1 wouldn't actually mind hearing something
simple, F©r example: do you ever walk to the beach to watch the
way the ssun dissolves in distant waters? Do you still listen t©
that guitaxist and his band before falling asleep each night? 1SX
I made"the card myself, I hope you like it, ^he pictures
on the frost are the palm I tried grafting a passion fruit flower's
broken stamen te. And the scar from my shoulder (remember that
fall?), 1 pinned it repeatedly t© this same, small stone, but it
refused t® hold.
Yours always,


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