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 PRISM
internationa
50:2/Winter 2012  PRISM international  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Cara Woodruff
Poetry Editor
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Executive Editors
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Contest Manager
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Production & Design
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Editorial Board
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Sierra Skye Gemma
Elizabeth Hand
Leah Horlick
Will Johnson
Ruth Johnston
Michelle Kaeser
Anna Ling Kaye
Lucie Krajcova
Jen Neale
Janine Young
Volunteer
Veronique West PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
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Contents Copyright © 2012 PRISM international for the authors.
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of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
January 2012. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH COLUMBIA     »&     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL <±>   for the Arts du Canada Contents
Volume 50, Number 2
Winter 2012
Fiction
Wendell Mayo
Pleistoceners / 7
Marianne Villanueva
Flight / 24
Amy Gustine
Unattended / 33
Katie Addleman
Chester Alternative / 48
Corinne Stikeman
In the Clearing / 56
Poetry
Carolyn Smart
Texas, 1930 /  16
Henry Barrow /  18
The Day Fatty Arhuckle Died / 21
nothing lies more than a photograph / 22
The Accident at Wellington / 23
Billeh Nickerson
The Lost Worker / 28
The Piano Player / 29
The Embalmer's Daughter / 30
Leah Rae
This Train is for Waterfront / 31
matt robinson
Dog / 32 Emily Carr
Name Your Bird Without A Gun: A Tarot Novel / 43
Allison LaSorda
A Means to an End / 53
After Boating / 54
The Rub / 55
Adam Dickinson
Astroturf / 62
Hyperbole / 63
Neuroplasticity and the Course Work M.A.  / 64
Common Polymer Shared by Two or More Words in a Different Language / 66
Peer Pressure and the Demands of Memory / 67
Star Polymers / 68
The Fourth Kingdom Eats Its Action Heroes / 70
Contributors / 71 Wendell Mayo
Pleistoceners
Ak, Ak," she replied to my question. "Yours?"
"I'm Bud—Bud Tricklebank."
"No," Ak, Ak said, her tone tinged mellifluously with that silly-boy something I hated since my first days at Green, Greener You.
"What's your raz/name?"
A patch of blackberry juice stained her upper lip. I snatched a chicken
bone from my plate, snapped it open, and began sucking marrow out
one jagged end.
"Bo, Bo," I said. She giggled. "Whatever," I added.
"It's a nice name."
A few more berries disappeared over her dye-blue tongue. I looked
all about the cafeteria, lab time with other students of Pleistocene Caves,
my home away from home, their heads hung over plates of berries,
bones, roots, greens—edible weeds really, our first non-virtual experience with the mysterious diets of Homo habills, erectus, neanderthalensls,
sapiens sapiens.
"You cut orientation class," Ak, Ak said.
"Yeah?" I replied, snapped another bone, inspected the tiny core of
black-purple marrow, then noted the colour in my lab book.
"If you were there you'd know that Green, Greener You was once the
State Normal School for Teachers, only not enough people wanted to be
teachers anymore."
"I'm not surprised," I said, and with the tip of an index finger ferried
a blackberry from Ak, Ak's plate to mine.
"Well, the Green Earth movement inspired the name Green University, which, further inspired by the notion that grass is greener on the
other sides of things, became Green, Greener University, which, even
more inspired by more breakthroughs in leading edge student-centred
learning, begat—that's what they said, 'begat'—Green, Greener You-
niversity."
I rewound: "Me-niversity?"
"No, yow-niversity"
"That's what I said."
"Anyway, You-niversity got shortened to Green, Greener You."
"Speaking of green," I said, "you have a chunk of dandelion weed
prismmagazine.ca in your teeth." Ak, Ak chiseled the chunk of weed from a fang-like eye-
tooth, habtlts, I mused. "And you're not taking lab notes, partner."
"Oh, sorry," she said, scanned the cafeteria, pausing to consider a
scrawny guy named Lo, Lo, recent heavy beard crawling up his cheeks
like dark ivy up our cave walls, gnawing on an unidentified brown root
and making lab notes of his own. Then she removed an I-SMART! 9000
from her hip pocket, powered it, and waved it in semi-circles over the
table. "Dead zone," she frowned.
"Like you wouldn't believe," I said. "And no wi-fi—nothing."
I pinkie-nailed out a bit of bone marrow for closer inspection. "Looks
like," I whispered, "pudding," tried to sound curious, wise—intellectually brave.
"Anyway," she went on, "I'm glad you joined Pleistocene Caves this
semester. It's so real. I'm learning a lot!"
"Yeah," I said and drummed my plate with a thigh bone. "Maybe we
can study together again sometime, come back to my cave, fuck missionary style, then, you know, the other way, and compare them. Which do
you think our earliest ancestors preferred?"
"Bo, Bo," Ak, Ak said. Her angry brow swelled neanderthalensls. "I
don't even know you!"
"I know." I stopped drumming. "I'm a caveman. That's the point."
Ak, Ak fussed with her berries, stained her fingers. I thought about
my mother. She used to say, "Son, you need to socialize more." Once,
she wanted to enroll me in a course on internet addiction until she found
out it was taught online. So she went into hock to pay top-end tuition at
a leading edge lair of learning like Green, Greener You. I could have
gotten a normal online Liberal Arts degree at Avatar, but Mom was a
sucker for the You's "live-in learning communities with a fresh face-to-
face component." I had to shelve my apprenticeship at Chet DeCarlo's
Funeral Home, where I'd just made Embalmer I, got pretty good at getting the right mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, and ethanol. I'd
had my heart set on Embalmer II: Pumping the smelly chemical cocktail
into the corpse and setting the drainage rate of the blood it displaced.
But that took time and experience. Still, my regrets subsided as I went
out the cafeteria door with Ak, Ak, and onto West Green, Greener.
"See ya," she said, her face going Cro-Magnon, forehead sloping, relaxed, placid, even confident. She smoothed her short dark hair and line-
smiled. I was grateful she hadn't slugged me for my romantic gesture
cum research project. But still, I was hers—Ak, Ak take me by the hair!
Drag me somewhere!
As I crossed the West Green, Greener, for a miniscule, air-light instant I considered my newest hypothesis, that in the Pleistocene it was
the female who was in control of the when, where and how when it came
8     PRISM 50:2 to reproductive practices. I liked the sound of "reproductive practices"
so much I held it there, in my mind, a mystery of knowledge acquisition—where had I heard that phrase before? I doubted I'd heard it from
other Pleistoceners. And Professor Ga, Ga, had only mentioned sex one
time in his face-to-face lectures and that had to do with sexual pleasure
in Pleistocene-types and not pure reproduction. And when he said it,
there was this glint in the lenses of his glasses, like he had two sets of
eyes, one set behind the lenses, and another on the lenses themselves,
that reflected light from the lecture hall and obscured his real eyes.
Reproductive practices. Could be original. I could use it sometime.
But as I recalled Ga, Ga's eyes, my hypothesis drained out. The sky
was so blue, scudded with low-flying tiny fists of clouds, West Green,
Greener greener than I'd imagined green could be! The air was clean,
odourless. Several students walked the Green, a couple piloting their I-
SMART!s in the air, signal searching, zooming them above their heads
in wild helical circles like World War II planes in a dog fight.
I regarded with wonder the three dorms sleeping on their verdant carpets, each sitting at the point of a triangle formed by a high blue wooden
fence enclosing West Green, Greener. Our dorm, Pleistocene Caves,
was a splendidly lush affair with vinyl-polyester rubber tree plants dotting huge, grey-brown Styrofoam boulders framing our entrance to the
Caves. Early in the semester, someone had stuck a plastic Halloween
skull on a pole beside the entrance, something the Administrators declared they didn't like but would tolerate on grounds of academic freedom, though they were not so pleased with an early incarnation of
Hegemony House, also affectionately known as "Phallus Palace" and
appointed appropriately by the tenants with a sizable erect male organ,
until such appointment was unceremoniously removed by the Administrators and replaced by a copy of Goya's mural on plywood, nailed to
the portico, Saturn Devouring His Son, a boney giant looking like Tolkien's
Gollum, having just eaten the head off a guy now chomps on his arm,
gross stuff to be sure, the way gross stuff never makes sense unless someone, namely a pale, red-haired art history professor, explains that this
Saturn dude was afraid of being overthrown by his kids and so eats them
one by one. I was glad I hadn't signed up for Hegemony House! The last
and most austere of the three dorms was Heisenburg's Cloud, a water
spout each side of the entrance. At thirty-second intervals they sprayed
a fine mist in two intersecting spherical clouds, which taken together, so
we were told, represented a 2-p Pi bond, whatever that was. Members
of Heisenberg's Cloud, without exception, waited until the conjoined
clouds subsided to enter their dorm, which nevertheless led to a few
anonymous, muffled shrieks in the night.
Ak, Ak and I had heard of three other dorms miles away, high in
prismmagazine.ca    9 mountains, on East Green, Greener, engineering and business mainly,
but they were only rumours—names like World Bank Wonderland, Petrochemical Paradise, Counterterrorism Cove. They seemed very far off,
like foreign lands, fairy tales told on quiet autumn nights in Pleistocene
Caves. But for that matter, I scarcely knew anyone in any of the dorms
in my Green, Greener, though that afternoon there was a semester kick-
off mixer scheduled. Ak, Ak had invited me. Though attendance wasn't
required, if you went to the Mixer, you had to wear or bring something
representing your dorm. I'd already decided to bring a large cow tibia
I'd procured from the cafeteria, part of a variety of bones I'd secured for
my groundbreaking semester-long project. I'd explain to any neophyte
from Hegemony or Heisenberger House that for Homo habllls such a
bone was not only used as a weapon but as nutrition by sucking out the
marrow. Ak, Ak was bringing a basket of blackberries to support her
theory that this particular fruit, Rubus frutlcosus, as she reminded me several times a day, was a berry of choice based on its proliferation in the
Pleistocene. Armed with such heady hypotheses, I felt confident Ak, Ak
and I would hold our own with the Heisenbergers and Hegemonists.
I entered my cave with new confidence, went through my desk to find
my pencil, sharpened it in the crank-device, and set about writing in my
journal. We were required to handwrite everything.
Professor Ga, Ga's lectures are weird. So are the small groups. I can't think
of anything we learned that I could not have gotten with my I-SMART!
Anyway, I'm really suspicious about Professor Ga, Ga's saying that Pleis-
toceners were not only herbivore food-gatherers and opportunist carnivores,
but sometimes coprophagtsts. When I got In small group, that twerp Lo,
Lo said Ga, Ga Is saying we used to eat our own shit! What's up with
that? And Lo, Lo said he kind of believed it. Then our group got fixated
on the matter of shit until that dumbass jock, Wa, Wa, said "Hey, maybe
cave people recycled their ideas, same as their shit, and maybe this created
a stagnant consciousness, and maybe it was only when they stopped eating
their own shit that they started getting new ideas, like using tools to hunt
and shit like that. But I can't say whether they stopped eating their own
shit and that led to using tools or the other way around. What do you guys
think?" Well, that ended our discussion right there... Oh, I just want
to add that a couple times Ga, Ga strayed from the subject matter and
rambled about "the joys of teaching face-to-face." I mean he's a pretty good
teacher, but who's interested in his opinions?
When I finished writing my hand was throbbing. I was dying to call my
mom to rescue me from the You, but that'd involve finding a landline
in the Caves, and I'd forgotten where they were, so I went a couple
10     PRISM 50:2 cave doors down to ask Ak, Ak. When she answered the door, she was
dressed for the Mixer; she'd moussed her hair into a strange radiant
mass of black, like the Sun spewing unimaginably hot fingers of flame
into the solar system—Homo erectus meets the cosmos. Well, my thoughts
of bolting from the You dissipated.
"You. Look," I stuttered, "historically accurate."
She blushed, sat at her desk and motioned for me to drag a chair up.
She hunched over a microscope, snapped on the light for the specimen
stage, and revealed what appeared to be a small brown turd.
"Have you been talking to Wa, Wa about his shit theories?" I asked.
"No, what's he saying?"
"Never mind." I nudged my chair a little closer to Ak, Ak.
She smeared a bit of turd onto a slide, positioned it on the stage, and
cranked the focus knob for a closer inspection of whatever it was.
"Professor Ga, Ga made these turds for our small group."
"Made?"
"Not what you think." She slugged me—hard. "It's artificial—some
brown putty mixed with all sorts of seeds that we need to identify from a
chart he gave us. It's supposed to represent a Pleistocene-gatherer's diet.
Wanna look?"
"Sure." I hunched in, tickled the focus knob a couple times, and saw
a massive jumble of brown goo and seeds. Then I closed my eyes and
forgot about the artificial shit, felt Ak, Ak's breath on the back of my
neck, felt it deeply, truly, goose bumps so tall I was sure she'd notice, so
I rose from the chair. "Some stunning shit," I said.
She hooked one arm through her wicker basket of blackberries, the
other through mine, and hauled me out the door, down the hall to my
room, where I picked up my cow tibia. We headed to the Mixer, held,
of course, at Hegemony House.
"A masterpiece of high modern art," I said to Ak, Ak as we passed the
Goya mural.
"Yeah." Ak, Ak's eyeballs swam in her head trying to take in the entire gory mural at once. "I can't wait to see what the Hegemonists have
brought to the Mixer."
We arrived early, a bad habit I shared with Ak, Ak, actually how we
met, being first to arrive in Pleistocene Caves. At the centre of a small
reception room, a long table sat, piled high with fruits, cheeses, and
three gelatin molds, each made in the manner of the entryways of the
three dorms. Ours was green, Heisenberg's sky blue, and Hegemony's
red—blood red. After a short time, a student entered the room with
a pet dog close at his heels, a Pomeranian, white, chest out, looking
prophetically into the room, rather more like one of the four Pomeranians of the Apocalypse than an ordinary dog. The student looked like
prismmagazine.ca    11 Ichabod Crane, Disney's Ichabod, tall, thin, frightened to the tip of his
long hooked nose, patting the pocket of his tweed jacket. The knees of
his jeans were frayed—and no wonder, since the Pomeranian, having
finished its surveillance of the room, leapt and latched onto the student's
jeans at the knee and hung there by its jaws, growling, until Ichabod
shouted, "Drat!" then drew a biscuit from his coat pocket, tossed it, and
compelled the creature to chase it. That moment, I made eye contact
with him, raised my tibia at him in a friendly gesture, and Ak, Ak followed by lifting her blackberry basket a little. Ichabod raced across the
floor to us, clapped my hand in his, and pumped it two-three times too
many.
"Hegemony House," he announced.
Ichabod was in the process of shaking Ak, Ak's hand when the Pomeranian leapt onto his shin and began humping it.
"Down, Drat!" Ichabod hissed, and I realized the apocalyptic Pomeranian's name was Drat.
Ichabod's voice quivered and he shook his leg vigorously, removed
another biscuit from his pocket, and winged it far across the room. The
Pomeranian released his ravaged shin and bolted for the biscuit, only
to be picked up and held by another student, Hegemonist, I assumed,
while it wriggled and yipped.
We gave our names to Ichabod and explained why they were as they
were, to reflect simple syntax of Pleistocene names. Ichabod didn't offer his name. Ak, Ak explained her fascination with gatherer diets brilliantly, and then it was my turn.
"Okay, so there're all these stories and images of Pleistocene hunters
downing mastodons and such with spears, and a long time ago I saw on
this one website that, really, many of these people scavenged food left by
bigger animals like lions and tigers." Ak, Ak was beaming, gazing at me
as I spoke, seemingly proud to be a Pleistocener. "Well," I went on, so
inspired by Ak, Ak, "if there were only bones, Pleistoceners would just
break them open and suck out the marrow. But I got to thinking they'd
need tools or whatever to break them open, so this week, I've been collecting all sorts of bones from the cafeteria and drying them out."
"Oh," the Hegemonist said, fussing inside his pocket, and looking
over his shoulder for the Pomeranian.
"Next week I'm going to start whacking these different bones with
rocks to see which sizes of bones break and which don't. That'll give me
an idea of the types of animal bones Pleistoceners might have eaten."
"My," the Hegemonist said, and glanced again over his shoulder. He
shoveled a chunk of red Hegemonist gelatin into his mouth and fled to
the far side of the room to greet a newcomer.
"Well." I turned to Ak, Ak, realizing Ichabod hadn't revealed any-
12     PRISM 50:2 thing about his project. "Fuck him."
Ak, Ak's face went neanderthalensls again. "And the dog that rode in
on him."
"I was just going to explain my simplifying assumptions, like you did,
that I have to find a Pleistocene ancestor of a modern cow, sheep, or
whatever, that's about the same size for my study to make sense..."
While Hegemony guy was tied up with a colleague who had clipped
a large ring to his nose, like bulls or cows wear, a woman arrived. Unlike either of the two other fellows, she seemed perfectly normal, jeans,
t-shirt, and crossed the room with a friendly smile, offering her hand
briefly, and explaining that she was from Heisenberg Cloud.
"Cool," I said and looked at Ak, Ak, who began to smile all over
again, smile that seemed to mean perhaps our coming to the Mixer was
a good thing. It threw me a little. Sure, I'd miss Ak, Ak, but again I
secretly wanted more than anything for this face-to-face nonsense, the
You, Mixer, everything, to be a disaster, wanted to get to that landline
and demand that my mother rescue me, restore me to my Pumper II job,
My I-SMART!, my normal life!
After the Hegemony dude, I didn't think either Ak, Ak or I wanted to
share our projects first with the Heisenberger, no matter how normal she
seemed.
So I asked. "Weren't you supposed to bring some kind of object to
this party?"
The Heisenberger reached into her back jeans pocket, produced a
knife, swung around behind me, and stuck its blade to my throat. Ak, Ak
jumped a little in the air and yelped—I held a hand out to calm Ak, Ak.
"Do you," the Heisenberger whispered, "feel the blade against your
neck?"
"Yeah, some," I said, "but it's not a blade. It's plastic."
Ak, Ak sighed, somewhat relieved.
But the Heisenberger pressed the plastic edge harder against my Adam's apple. "Now?"
"Yeah?" I was getting pissed off, and could feel a bit of bone fragment
caught in my throat, thought of Adam's biting the forbidden apple, its
sticking in his throat. I kept hearing my mother say, "You need to socialize more," and so I played along, said, "So what?"
"Can you feel the edge-most electron on the blade against your
throat?"
"Yeah?"
"Now, can you describe its exact location?"
"Probably not."
"But you know it's there, right? You can feel it?"
"Yeah!" I hissed, the blade pressing harder and harder against my
prismmagazine.ca     13 Adam's apple. Finally, I elbowed the Heisenberger and sent her into the
table, where she landed among the various gelatin molds, a rainbow of
colour framing her face, her plastic knife cartwheeling across the floor
among several new arrivals.
"Bo, Bo!" Ak, Ak cried, seized my hand, and we fled Hegemony
House together, she with her basket and me with my tibia.
I followed Ak, Ak—whom else was I to follow? My cavewoman! She
glanced at the guardhouse and main gate leading out the Green, Greener, occupied by a couple campus cops.
"Let me show you," she said, veered toward the high blue fence,
pulled up short, and took the tibia from my hand. "Right here."
She stuck the bone into a large seam in the blue planks, pried a couple
loose, and we squeezed through, just before the heavy planks swung
back into position.
I looked at the reverse side of the blue planks, other side of the Green,
Greener, no longer blue but rot-grey.
"Now what, Ak, Ak!"
She gestured at a pond nestled in cattails and Queen Anne's Lace.
"Check it out."
The water was a thin-tea brown. Dragonflies zoomed over the surface and frogs bleated about the rusted ass-end of what appeared to be
an old Corolla automobile poking out the pond, its trunk sprung open.
The pond's smell wasn't like other smells, was not this or that smell, but
seemed to be all smells at once, the sort of thing that overcame senses
with every smell that ever was rolled into one. And the Corolla, half-
drowned in such an ancient place, not only felt like all smells, but all
times.
Ak, Ak set her basket aside, took out her I-SMART! and waved it in
circles above her head, all the while hypnotically staring into its bright
blue screen.
"This place is like a million miles from anywhere," I said.
She slid the I-SMART! shut, sat. "It's the other side of things," she
said and offered me a berry, which I took and tossed at the Corolla.
"Aren't those damned berries supposed to be bitter in September?"
"Not until the 29th when Lucifer cursed them after being cast out of
Heaven and landed in a patch of blackberry thorns."
I took a berry from her basket, tasted it, and didn't have the stones
to tell her it was bitter before its time. Then I walked awhile around the
pond while Ak, Ak laid back and drank in the late-day sunlight. I found
a couple cinderblocks half-sank in mud, pried them up with the tibia,
and carried them back to where Ak, Ak, had her cell out again, staring
at it. I set the tibia on one cinderblock, raised the other above it a foot or
14     PRISM 50:2 so, let it drop, and watched it bounce aside. I tried it several more times,
each time hoisting the cinderblock rubbing my hand rawer and rawer.
Finally, I raised the block my full height above the tibia, let it drop, and
heard the bone crack. I took the two pieces, fingered out a bit of marrow,
and offered it to Ak, Ak.
"No, thanks," she said—and looked in my eyes two, three seconds.
In those seconds, like smells that were all smells, times that were all
times, I saw everything at once—broken tibia, cinderblocks, I-SMART!,
blackberries, buzzing pond, drowned Corolla. I saw rocks, plants, caves;
giants devouring children; Pomeranians; that crazy light coming off Ga,
Ga's glasses; I saw myself inside the very electron the Heisenberger
pressed against my throat, the uncertain whirr of particles around me in
my foggy orbit around—what?
"Wa, Wa thinks that because we ate our own shit we just got stupider," I told Ak, Ak. 'Jesus," I added, picked up the halves of the bone,
and stabbed them into the mud, jagged ends down. "No one could live
like this!"
Ak, Ak stuck a blackberry in her mouth, chewed unenthusiastically,
and set her dead I-SMART! in her lap. She took my raw red hand in her
blue-stained fingers.
"But what if you had no choice?" she said.
A shadow passed over our faces, a low flying cloud, like the wing of
an extinct predatory bird blocking the Sun, a single moment that passed
for knowledge.
"Yeah," I said. "I suppose if you had no choice."
prismmagazine.ca    15 Carolyn Smart
Texas, 1930
they starved us off the fields     they have deafened us with the sawing of insects
the anger and the pungent need
the canyons the gulf plains the coast the lowlands the hill country the basin
the range     what do they ask of us now that the soil offers nothing
do you hear the thin and distant whisper of the tribes     the Mound Builders
the Pueblo the Apache the Hasinai the Comanche        the high singing of the
Spaniards the Mexicans        the bleached bones along the Rio Grande the dust
of Sam Houston the skull of Zachary Taylor the fallen at the sieges the dead
and dying all across the plains
wander the land at night and hear the screech owl lament      it is crying our
history our sad empty fields      how do they speak this American shame this
endless churning landscape of our fathers who have lost most all they hold as dear
come to the cities come there in your wagons on foot with your mules your
women your mangy puling children take whatever shelter you may cobble
tell the old tales mouth the history taste the dust upon your tongue
take flight from one border to the other just keep on in the thermal lift and
yearn      there are the markers of the rivers east and west Pecos Rio Grande
Brazos Colorado Red and still we thirst
and the black oil gushing out and out of the spindletops and the strangers
that come to town and the electric chairs in the backrooms and the men who
throw the switch and the prison farms the lean and beaten men running out
before the riders and their guns
the miles covered in the cars going nowhere but away from here then
turning back and back again to the same old gutted roads with the faces that
come and stare at you like death is in the backseat just joyriding
and the blacks all picked up and went somewhere else when the storms
blew in there was nothing but the weevil left behind and our gaunt bleached
faces peeping out at nothing
16     PRISM 50:2 now the women's work is over and they lie on the palleted floor the lack
another part of breathing and the taste of charity in their mouths and on their
breasts that hang like pockets of despair
and who remembers now the hurricanes in Indianola or in Galveston again
in Galveston and the many thousands who there died clutching the Bible to
their acquiescent hearts
we walk the streets we line the curbs we forage in the news we lean against
the brickwarm walls bewildered outrage pooling in our eyes      when will it
come        the justice and respect
and into the long white ribbon of the future the road careens away
prismmagazine.ca     17 Henry Barrow
i.
Ever see a horse run?
Teeth just grinding air, shine
coming off it like a blazing afternoon.
I wanted one of them.
First day I went to school
I fainted straight upon the ground,
never went back, never learned to read.
What good would it have been to me?
To see my boys' dark history there,
the blood upon their heads and hands
and all the weeping in the world
fell down around my head
and in my house.
The only time we found some happiness
we had just wed, and then we had but five good years
til it was done.
I could never buy a horse,
but went to church and did the proper thing.
I married Cumie, she was 16 and under five feet tall.
She was a rock to me for all her days.
I started with a rented field
and babies, we had seven:
Jack and Artie, Buck and Nell,
Clyde, LC and Marie, all of them lived
to talk of it: hunger, constant moving,
no time for dreaming.
Jesus watched us every day.
18     PRISM 50:2 3.
They call me quiet. It was true.
I laboured til I dropped.
Cumie made our children go to church
and school, she made those children mind.
My daddy never hit me
the way her daddy done,
a whipping sets them straight I guess
though it never fell to me.
I was too busy on the journey to provide.
We never had the time to play or watch them grow,
there was no room for grace
nor kindliness
nor hope
They grew up, got away to town,
I worked until my hands were bloody bones
and still I tilled the soil
til the cotton root rot came
and weevils ate the rotted crop right off.
We moved to Dallas, to the Bog
and started there again,
through illness and the dusty storms
my children did provide for me just fine:
I was a scrap dealer and
a station owner
and sometimes I sold hooch.
I drank some too, some days.
prismmagazine.ca    19 Our boys would drive their flashy cars
and dress real well,
they told me it would work just fine:
there would be land, a pasture with deep shade,
the things I'd wanted in a life
but I saw them in the ground before their time
We bought one stone for Buck and Clyde
I did not shed a tear
sat still with Cumie while she mourned
my head held low
as fits a man without one stroke of luck
20     PRISM 50:2 The Day Fatty Arbuckle Died
"Like floating In the arms of a huge doughnut, It was really delightful
to dance with the man."
—Louise Brooks
More than 100 in the shade for weeks now
We hide in the woods & listen to the chatter,
all the eyes of Texas looking out for us
It is June '33 & the heat truly on
A fat man like that, he understood the downs
We could have talked together easy
for he knew how falsehood feels
Do they look down from Heaven & see us,
all our dead ones?
Is there happiness at last?
The press said it was them that made us
with our photos & her poems & our clothes,
all they did was deal a pack of lies
A great big blue-eyed baby:
Fatty knew the truth
can crack your heart
prismmagazine.ca     21 nothing lies more than a
photograph
pearly teeth and a cigar
I never smoked it
tiny teeth
finger on a trigger
did not fire a gun at all
knew how to clean it well
lightning happy
sharp clothes
tiny teeth smiling
lips like hairline fractures
moll disguised as moll
22     PRISM 50:2 The Accident at Wellington
how it all comes down in silence, slow
relentless shift of bodies
foul mouthed acrobats
holy
speckled flash and spark, clipped and turn
gyration
headlights crackling on through air
the stock-still world
Clyde outside
now turning, clipped blood bits flash
on edge of river broken bridge
pressed against the engine she is
locked there, beneath the leaking battery
dripped on thigh to ankle
all the way to bone
prismmagazine.ca    23 Marianne Villanueva
Flight
My family lived in a three-storey white house, built to resemble a
ship, on the main street in Bacolod. That house rocked gently
on its foundations. The windows were round, like portholes.
When I was still very young, I became obsessed with flying. I thought
I could sail through the air by simply spreading my arms.
My first attempt was when I was not even five. I launched from a balcony on the third storey. All day, I had been staring at the yard and the
driveway and the mango tree whose topmost branches stretched past the
second storey. The ground moved, approached, and fell back, moved
approached and fell back, like a monstrous, grey wave. I closed my eyes
and launched.
Naturally, I fell hard. The servants, who had seen, came screaming
out of the house. Lifting my battered body, Estrellita, the cook, asked
over and over: Did somebody push you? Who was it?
All I could do was shake my head: No, no, no.
From that moment, I became determined. Although it was a long
time before I again attempted to fly from such a great height, I made
many smaller, more successful attempts: from the top steps of the front
porch, and later, as I gained in confidence, from the second floor.
My mother had a great fear of my catching pneumonia. She had a
younger sister, Candida, who developed a bad cold and then died in a
hospital. She was just seven.
As the months passed, my wings itched terribly. I was assailed by
temptation, almost every waking moment. For a long time, all I could
manage were short distances, and only when I was sure I was not being
observed. My mother began coming to my bed each night, cheeks wet
with tears. The drops fell freely on my face. I lay under my blanket,
wondering what I had done.
On my sixth birthday, wings began to sprout from between my shoulder blades. Hard, like sails.
My grandfather taught me. First, he said, one must have air. This is necessary to generate the required lift.
Then, the air must churn at a uniform rate. One-hundred cycles a
minute was the minimum to raise my body two inches off the ground.
24     PRISM 50:2 Third, my grandfather said, one must have optimism, for optimism
infects the whole being, and renders it light.
Fourth, and this was absolutely essential: one must have light. My
grandfather could only fly on clear, cloudless days. Light had an effect
on his buoyancy.
When I was eight, my grandfather, by then a widower, developed a
strange longing to live in Sweden. One morning, he put on his white
Americana and boarded a small plane that would take him hopping
through the continents. His pilot was his youngest son, my Uncle Dino. I
never saw either my grandfather or my Uncle Dino, ever again.
In the beginning, my grandfather wrote every month. His letters from
Sweden were cold: holding one was like holding a block of ice between
my fingers. As soon as I finished reading a page, it would turn into snow.
By the time I read the last page, a little pile of snow had collected at my
feet. I would look up at the coconut palms that surrounded our house
and feel my wings begin to unfurl. Then I would catch my mother looking at me through her bedroom window on the third floor. My wings
trembled and remained shut tight.
Sometimes, I would talk to Father Naidro about my grandfather and
his cold letters and my mother looking at me from her bedroom window
and the snow collecting at my feet and my ambition to be the first Filipino to fly to Sweden, entirely unaided.
Father Naidro understood ambition. His older brother was the President. Father Naidro had entered the seminary to escape a similar fate.
The brother immediately after him became a congressman.
Father Naidro was a priest, but he had never completely lost desire.
At night, he told me, he dreamt he was a ship. Not a ship like the Don Julio which carried passengers back and forth between the islands. No, he
dreamt he was a Spanish galleon traveling across the Pacific to Mexico.
Because he in fact was the ship, there was no crew, no one directing him
where to go. In his dreams, he stopped at any number of islands. They
had feminine names: Santa Catalina. Santa Imaculada, Santa Oa.
I objected to Santa Oa.
Father Naidro would say: All right, you name the island.
I thought for a while. Okay, I would say. Keep "Oa."
Father Naidro wanted to build a new church for Bacolod, because the
old one had been damaged during a typhoon. The winds had knocked
down the bell tower, which had been constructed of thick red brick,
brick that had withstood centuries of earthquakes and tropical humidity.
The pile of bricks from the dilapidated tower made Father Naidro so sad
that when he said Mass, his voice sank to a whisper, and all the parishioners had to murmur to keep up his spirits. Finally, my father gave a
prismmagazine.ca    25 sizeable donation—almost 10 million pesos—for the repairs.
I could talk to Father Naidro whenever I liked.
One day, just before Christmas, my grandfather wrote:
I've moved down to the beach.
A year later, there was another letter:
/ made It to Ystad. I am In good shape, I think. Shoulders ache. Thinking of
exchanging wings for something more efficient.
I didn't understand. I counted back in my head and estimated that my
grandfather was at least sixty. He had been a widower for fifteen years.
Why hadn't he found another wife, there in Sweden? Surely there were
any number of native women who would have been happy to spend two
decades of their lives with someone who could fly.
Why did he want to exchange his wings for something else?
That was the last letter my grandfather ever wrote.
Several months later, around Easter, there was a letter from my Uncle
Dino:
I live in a small village called Boras. Do you know It? If you take out a map of
Sweden, It Is lower down, near the point where two great rivers meet. My wife's
name is Karin. She knows no other language but Swedish.
The very last sentence of my Uncle's letter was:
Father passed away two days ago 8:30 In the morning.
I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what had happened. Why
did my uncle reserve the news about my grandfather till the very end?
Was he sorry? How would he cope with his terrible loneliness?
It so happened that when my grandfather's will was unsealed, in the
law offices of my father's old schoolmate, Senor Isagani, I was found to
be the sole inheritor of all my grandfather's farms. I had become a landowner, with possession of all our family's haciendas, which stretched from
one end of our island to the other.
I decided that the best way to oversee my new possessions was to fly.
This time I made no secret of my skill. I flew just above the trees that
marked the boundaries of each farm. The people who worked for us
stopped tilling and planting and stared. A few, however, recognized me
and waved.
My father grew preoccupied. The liquid in his dinner glass was always a light amber color, which deepened with the passing years.
One night, he passed me a note. His fingers, I remember, were dry as
paper. The note said:
Go, sell what thou hast, and give It to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure
In Heaven.
I looked at my father, but in his face there was no sign, no reassurance.
26     PRISM 50:2 Over the next years, I flew over greater and greater distances. I saw
the rocky shores of the southernmost islands. I heard the sea people
lamenting the passing of time on their grey rocks. I heard the angels
singing, just above the clouds.
It had become very painful to walk. My feet developed blisters more
readily. I took care to remain just a few inches above the ground.
When I had grown fully into my manhood, the wings began to pain
me. Especially at night, when I lay on my bed. I tossed and turned.
I imagined my father listening in the dark. I suspected his satisfaction
when, the next morning, at the breakfast table, I appeared with shadows
under my eyes.
Before he left for Sweden, my grandfather had left some personal effects in the safekeeping of Father Naidro. Father Naidro kept my grandfather's journals, letters and his collection of German pipes in a carved
ivory chest underneath his bed. He did not want to show me the contents of the ivory chest, not at first. Eventually, when I persuaded him
to trust me, he laid in my arms a great quantity of photographs, all of
my grandfather as a young man, before he had married. His wings were
enormous, even larger than mine.
I decided that I would, in time, write a book about my grandfather.
One day, when I was forty, I did write a book.
After my mother read it, she said: Your grandfather was a myth.
Yes, I replied. But he is a myth that turns out to be true.
So, what is a true myth, my mother asked. She added: It reminds me
of the stories of aswang my nursemaid used to tell me, when she wanted
me to behave. How they come out of the dark, with the forked tongues.
And suck the blood of infants.
He is a story, I said to my mother. Not a myth. And I will continue
writing until I can't begin anymore.
prismmagazine.ca     27 Billeh Nickerson
The Lost Worker
Whether the faint clangs resulted from the rumours,
or the rumours resulted from the faint clangs
even the eldest believed the possibility
of a lost worker could only be an omen.
No matter their sense of wonder,
the pending deadlines or their hurried pace,
in the back of some workers' minds
their rivets sealed more than just the hull.
At home they hugged their children,
kissed their wives
or dreamed of families
they had yet to realize.
In the back of some workers' minds
their rivets sealed more than just the hull.
28     PRISM 50:2 The Piano Player
Unlike his musician compatriots
whose instruments needn't be hauled on deck
the ship's piano player could only watch
as his band mates played on.
At first he just swayed to the music
then tapped his feet and hummed
but he couldn't withstand
the ache to play along
even without a sound
his hands slipping from gloves
his cold fingers
tickling the air, ghost-style.
prismmagazine.ca    29 The Embalmer's Daughter
As a young girl her mother explained
it was like playing dollies,
dressing people up in their Sunday best,
pretty as a picture, her father's hard work
helping everyone remember
how much they loved someone.
She thought of this whenever
children threw spitballs or rocks,
pulled the ribbons from her hair,
or teased that she smelled like a corpse.
No matter how fragrant the soaps
or expansive the perfumes,
it was as if they could smell
the disinfectant and formaldehyde
that followed her family
as fish smell follows fishermen.
When word spread that the boat
filled with the Titanic dead
would soon return to Halifax,
she thought of her taunting classmates
and her father's hands working hard
to redress and make things beautiful again.
30     PRISM 50:2 Leah Rae
This Train is for Waterfront
Early morning.
All the commuters
are dead animals.
I am watching
the sun rise
pink,
pink as the blush
I dusted on
this morning in his bathroom.
I am pale as a paper white,
from a night of insomnia
spent staring blindly out of his skylight
praying for the small comfort of rain.
Now the sky is blushing
like a shy girl over the Fraser,
down where I was born.
prismmagazine.ca     31 matt robinson
Dog
it's been suggested our understandings
of the present, of what that means or is,
differ; are two buried sets: disparate
treasure troves secreted deep in our
respective skulls' bone-yards. our
human timing all finite and contingent,
and yours simply elastic; almost
unconcerned. think smell rather
than sight: its self-same bleeding
both before and, yes, after, omen and
denouement all at once, if at once was
a thing, that rich allowance. and
this must explain how you love, how
you live, unconditional: that near-
constant licking, the thick fart, the
near-crocodiled yawn, that sigh that
empties your small, small frame and
fills the room all at once. and
this surely explains how i am left only
with memory's specious, two-footed
argument; with words and their iambic
trying, while you: you are still doggedly
swimming in the thick midst of it all,
unconsciously paddling through some
kind of unending wet-dream of now,
and of now, and of now:
32     PRISM 50:2 Amy Gustine
Unattended
J'oanne wakes with the worst earache she's had in years. Ryan is already gone and the baby is crying, of course. His diaper has come
loose—she put it on in the dark, at three am—and he sits in a yellow halo clutching his favourite toy, a stuffed elephant now marinated
in piss. When she plucks the elephant from his grip, the scream intensifies.
'Jesus," she says, flicking the toy at her son's face. "Fine, take the fucking thing."
Clutching it like a life preserver, he stares, startled, as Joanne takes up
the tears, kissing his head again and again. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't
mean to hit you with it. I'm sorry."
Dumbo sloshing in the Whirlpool, she gives the baby a quick bath,
which only makes him scream louder, and by the time she's got his
bottle ready he's apoplectic until she squirts a long line of milk straight
down his throat. Fine, take the fucking thing. While he drinks, Joanne repeats the words to herself as if they're a line she's trying to memorize
instead of a confession she's trying to bear. She imagines cutting out her
larynx, making all her mistakes in sign language. But then she'd have to
cut off her hands.
Once the baby's done eating, Joanne begins her penance, walking
him in circles through the house until the ache in her back and arms
is almost as bad as the one in her ear. When she was a kid, the doctors
wanted to do surgery, but her mother, Lou, dismissed that as profit mon-
gering. As an adult, Joanne had the surgery, and it helped, but not completely. Now her Eustachian tube feels like someone used a tire pump
on it. She'd feel better if she could turn off the air-conditioning, but then
the baby's thighs will sprout a rash and any chance of quiet will be destroyed. Not that there's much chance anyway. At eight months old, he
hasn't had a single good day. The doctors claim he's perfectly healthy,
that the crying is nothing but a symptom of infancy, and Joanne knows
they think she exaggerates, that he doesn't really wail twelve hours a
day. Ryan probably agrees, but he can't prove it. Between starting a
landscaping business and going to school, he's rarely home.
Minutes before the washer's spin rumbles to silence, the baby falls
prismmagazine.ca    33 asleep. He'll definitely wake if she puts him down, but he might also
wake at the click of the dryer door closing. Regardless, she'll need that
goddamn elephant, so Joanne takes her chances with the door.
A shudder, then the wail commences. She stabs the dryer's buttons
and resumes walking.
Her eardrum burst the summer she was twelve. Joanne's father had taken up with a woman named Pamela, whom he'd met selling industrial
cleaners, and they were talking about moving to Florida. When Joanne's
mother wasn't railing about this—"He can't fucking commit to a state,
let alone a marriage"—she worked at Dunberry Real Estate managing
low-rent apartments. Joanne spent her days off school with her friend
Andrea, who lived down the block, and Andrea's eight-year-old sister,
Marcy.
On a morning a lot like this one, she'd woken with a bad earache and
snuck four Aspirin out of the medicine cabinet, grinding them with the
end of her toothbrush before carrying a palm full of white powder into
the kitchen and slipping it into her cereal bowl. Lou sat at the kitchen
table drinking coffee and staring into space. If Lou found out about the
earache, she'd shoot cold vinegar in Joanne's ear canal and work it down
with a cotton ball, which hurt so much, one time Joanne threw up.
That morning, when she'd swallowed the first spoonful of cereal a
spike of pain even worse surprised her and she coughed, spewing Aspirin-speckled cocoa puffs across her t-shirt. Lou snapped from her reverie, her loud voice dulled and echoed. Jesus-us, Joanne-anne. You could
fuck-uck up a one-car-ar funeral-al.
Thinking of this, Joanne realizes she hasn't taken any medicine yet, so
she fetches the elephant from the dryer, puts the baby in the swing and
goes upstairs to get the ibuprofen off her nightstand. At the sight of her
bed, she considers closing the door and putting a pillow over her ear,
then pictures the swing, its shaky Chinese base, its white and red triangular sticker that reads, "Warning! Do Not Leave Child Unattended," and
goes back downstairs.
The swing has found its soothing rhythm, but the baby's face is still
red with rage and his cry has begun its raspy phase, which sometimes
means he'll take a break, sometimes not. Huddled beneath a blanket,
the entire city reduced to the size of her sofa, Joanne imagines the wail
expressed in water, a tsunami of grief bearing down, down, and presses
her ear against the couch's blocky arm.
Twenty minutes and no break. Joanne transfers all hope to an egg,
scrambled hurriedly. The baby throws it on the floor the same way he
has orange sections, steamed carrots and every other solid she's tried.
34     PRISM 50:2 Apparently chewing offends him. The pediatrician scolded her. "It's the
mother's job to get children on table food."
"I'm trying," she'd argued, "but he hates everything. Everything."
Before the baby, Joanne worked in a lab, her beakers always clean, her
experiments always consistent. Before that, in college, she got straight
A's and never missed a class. Back then she lived on the belief that life,
done properly, could graph a perfect upward trend, and unlike her parents, she'd look back on her choices and see a straight line rising steadily
to the right at a forty-five degree angle, as if life were a smorgasbord and
all you had to do was pick the vegetables.
Outside she lifts the baby in the air, gently shaking him—"What? What
is so damned horrible?"—until the flap of a neighbour's upstairs blind
sends her back to the air-conditioning, where she roots through her CDs
for a soothing voice, something like what she listened to that summer
she was twelve, when she had Olivia Newton-John's "Have You Never
Been Mellow" on a blue eight-track. The morning her eardrum burst,
after Lou left for work, she put the tape in the walnut console with the
lattice-covered speakers and revolved slowly, arms spread wide, marveling at the absence of pain.
As she turned, the music changed, swelling and receding. It never occurred to Joanne she'd gone temporarily deaf on the left, that the price
to be paid for relief was silence.
Of course she doesn't have Olivia now, the blue tape long gone to
God-knows-where. Maybe Norah Jones will do.
No to Norah. No to John Mellencamp, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Ian, Alison Kraus, Mickey Mouse and Barney too. Joanne
turns off the music and calls her doctor. With the baby on his activity
mat, she listens to the recorded voice instruct her on the health benefits
of fresh vegetables and daily exercise. Her son rolls over mid-scream,
then rises on one fat knee. Joanne knows she ought to be delighted—it's
the first time he's managed to get so far—but feels only impatience as
she watches him inch forward, right knee leading, then, unable to bring
the left up, collapse, his head wedged in the crook where the gym's arch
meets the mat. Reluctantly, she lays the phone down to free him, then
rushes back, catching the nurse just before she hangs up.
"I need to see someone today," Joanne begs when the icy voice says
they have no appointments. "I'm desperate."
They'll squeeze her in at 12:15. Joanne calls Ryan, but he won't come
home. They're behind on a job.
"This is so typical of you," she says.
"What?"
prismmagazine.ca    35 "Is a little help when I'm sick too much to ask?"
"I've been telling you to find a babysitter."
"Yeah, someone's gonna watch this baby. They'd kill him."
"Call your mother. She's got nothing better to do."
"Yes, because Lou's the soul of patience."
"Well, Jo, you'll just have to take him with you then. I don't see why
it's such a big deal."
"Thanks a fucking lot," she says and slams down the phone.
After she changes out of her pyjamas, Joanne puts the baby in the stroller,
bribing him with a sugar-coated pacifier. Every three houses she swaps
the one he's sucked clean for the one in the bag of sugar. At the end of
the block a lawn mower rumbles to life, its motor ebbing, then ramping. Of course she's tried white noise—fans, the dryer, vacuum cleaners,
burbling brooks. One time Ryan brought home fucking whale calls, like
a saxophone in a child's hands.
As she nears the noise, Joanne sees a girl pushing the mower. She's
got long legs and dark hair held back with a bandana, the way Andrea
used to wear it. The summer of the earaches, Pamela, Andrea and Marcy
would show up at Joanne's house before Lou's car hit the end of the
block and attack the fridge like they'd been on war rations. By July Lou
had warned Joanne, "Tell those girls to eat at their own damn house.
Your father's not paying child support for three." The day Joanne's eardrum ruptured, Andrea had downed two bowls of Captain Crunch, half
a bag of Cheetos and made Marcy two PB&J's before fishing a folded
yellow postcard out of her pocket. "Somebody stuck this on our door."
It was a notice from the health department about their grass. "Do you
know how to start a mower?"
Joanne shook her head. "Let your mother worry about it."
"So you don't know?" she snapped.
"Whoa, don't get so mad. What's the big deal? Since when do you
mow the lawn?"
"Since now." Andrea stuffed the yellow card in her back pocket. "Forget I asked. I don't need your help."
He's finally asleep. Joanne parks the stroller beneath the sycamore and
gets the book out of her car. Breaking the Cycle: A Guide for Mothers. Lou
had a hollow plastic tube, maybe three feet long and half an inch in diameter. She called it "the whip," used it on Joanne's legs when Joanne
forgot to change the cat litter, or lied about brushing her teeth, or let
a cereal bowl slip from her grasp. The whip left red welts shaped like
boomerangs. Where did it come from? And where was it now? It seems
impossible to throw such a thing in the trash.
Joanne flips through the book from back to front, reading the head-
36     PRISM 50:2 ings, unwilling to begin at the beginning. When it's time to go to the doctor, she lifts the baby carefully, but he wakes while she's buckling him
into the car seat and begins to cry. She backs out of the driveway, teeth
clenched, checking her mirrors obsessively, as if the baby will appear in
one by magic, directly in the path of her wheels.
Forty-five minutes of people staring in the waiting room—one old woman frowns when Joanne uses the sugar pacie—then five minutes with the
doctor.
"Probably a viral infection. Use a double dose of ibuprofen, call if
they still hurt in three days."
"Three days?"
After a lecture about the overuse of antibiotics, the doctor escapes,
allowing a sympathetic smile toward the crying baby.
Back home he refuses his bottle, spits out mashed banana, throws a
popsicle at her white curtains. Trying to scrub out the stain, Joanne eyes
the inflatable pool on the patio. The water will be warm by now, not like
yesterday, when she spent an hour with the air pump and the hose only
to snatch him out as soon as his toes touched the frigid surface, setting
off another rage. He would like it now. He would float, right? And if he
didn't float, he would be quiet. Sound can't escape water, right?
Joanne calls her mother.
While she waits for Lou to arrive, she puts the baby back in the swing
and goes outside. Several times she's left him alone in the crib, which
the pediatrician calls "the safe zone," and stuffed cotton in her ears, but
today the cotton would be intolerable, so she dons the ridiculous pink
fur-covered earmuffs her mother got her for Christmas. What was she
thinking? How can Lou help? Lou always makes everything worse.
Half-way done with a cigarette, Joanne realizes the old man behind
her—out trimming his shrubs—is scowling over their shared fence. Assuming it's the earmuffs that have drawn his attention, she takes them
off. The baby is howling as if he's just been sentenced to death. Joanne
checks her watch. Lou lives ten minutes away. What the fuck is taking so
long?
The old man goes in. Joanne tries to concentrate on pleasant things—
sprinklers hiss-putting in circles, bees buzzing in the lavender, children
called in to lunch—but this last one reminds her of the first hint she had
that something was wrong at Andrea and Marcy's house. That day when
Andrea suggested making macaroni and cheese for lunch, Joanne had
said they better eat at their own house and Marcy began to cry.
"Forget it," Joanne said, hugging her. "We'll just wash the plates.
She'll never know."
prismmagazine.ca     37 Waiting for the water to boil, Joanne had pressed Andrea. "You guys
seem like something's wrong."
"It's fine. My mom has a new boyfriend."
"Is he nice?"
"I don't know. We don't see him a lot."
"That's good, isn't it? So why's Marcy upset?"
Andrea pretended not to know.
They ate while playing Monopoly at the kitchen table, then watched
their soap opera. The dialogue came at Joanne as if from a cave, the
pitch deeper and every vowel laden with echoes, but she remained unconcerned, attributing the strange effect to a problem with the TV station. Her other ear had begun to hurt now, so she took more aspirin,
crushing it this time in a cup of leftover frosting. After the program, they
fixed each other's hair. Joanne worked on Marcy's, which was unusually dirty and had big knots underneath. When it was smooth again,
she repositioned a homemade barrette of yarn and ribbon. Marcy kept
warning, "Be careful. My mom and me made it."
Lou's voice, like a German Shepherd's bark, pierces the patio door and
Joanne immediately drops her cigarette, stepping on it as she swivels.
"What the hell are you doing? I was out there ringing the goddamn
bell."
Inside the familiar carping begins. Lay down? Aren't you going to shower? You stink. Well, what's wrong with him? Maybe he's got your problem with
the ears. Have you had him checked for Christ's sake? I'm turning off the air-
condltionlng. The poor thing's probably cold. You keep It like a fucking freezer In
here. Then to the baby. Is that shit I smell? Did you shit your pants?
Yes, Joanne thinks, climbing the stairs, let him take some of the heat.
He brought it on himself.
Lou takes the baby outside. Moles have turned the yard into a treacherous expanse of lumps and divots. From the spare bedroom Joanne
watches her mother plod, an anvil with legs, over the uneven grass. She
bounces the crying baby roughly on one hip, her face turned away from
his in a look of oblique disgust. By the garage she inspects the roses—in
need of a trim—then marches over to the shade garden and scowls at the
hosta riddled with slug holes. Coming back toward the patio, Lou steps
on a mole tunnel, buckling her left knee. As the baby pitches backward,
she brings the other arm around and before Joanne can even turn to run
downstairs, she's got him back on her hip and her face, now stiffened
with rage, pivots to the window. Quickly, Joanne backs out of sight.
After the fastest shower of her life, she goes down and pokes her head
outside. "He okay?"
"Jesus, what the hell is wrong with your yard? I nearly broke my leg."
38     PRISM 50:2 Lou toes some limp annuals. "And these plants need water."
"That's Ryan's thing."
"Of course. God forbid you get off your ass."
"You can go now," Joanne says, reaching for the baby.
"I've got him. Dry your hair, for God's sakes. Go." Her mother pats
the baby's back and he stops crying a moment. His loose eyes focus for
a second on some bug or flower.
On her bed, Joanne curls into the fetal position, though the house is
fast becoming too warm. Sweat runs between her breasts. She should
change into something lighter, but she doesn't move. A shout erupts,
then another. Kids' shouts. Bicycle-speed, they pass the house. Andrea,
who was long-legged and fidgety like an acrobat, rode her bike everywhere. But Marcy didn't have a bike, and that summer Andrea didn't
go anywhere without Marcy, so after their soap opera ended, the girls
walked to the corner and sat on a slope from which they could see the
house of a boy they liked. Maybe he would come out. While they waited, they plucked tufts of grass and threw them into the street. After a
while, a girl with black hair rode by on a yellow bike. Andrea muttered
somethingjoanne couldn't make out.
She brought up the boyfriend again. "You think he might move in?"
"I don't know!" Andrea screamed.
"Andrea," Marcy warned.
Andrea flapped a hand at her. "Just shut up."
The black-haired girl rode by several times, staring at them. Andrea
hit her front tire with a clump of grass still clinging to its soil. "What are
you looking at, you little shit?"
"Whoa," Joanne said. "Don't let your mother hear you say that."
Lou has come back inside and the baby's cry takes a sudden upswing, its
pitch sharper, more like a bird's shriek. What is she doing? Joanne gets
up and goes out in the hallway, leaning over the stair rail.
What's the matter? You don't like your swing? Your mother doesn't make you
stay in it, does she? She's always hauling you around. There's the snap of the
safety bar locking in place. Just try it, the voice directs, but low and quiet
now, like a secret. The broken-sounding click-grind of the mechanism
starts up. Joanne returns to bed and presses her pillow against her ear.
After Andrea yelled at her, the girl on the yellow bike rode down the
street and went into a dingy gray house with big American cars parked
half on the grass, their long rusty hoods and broken tail lights suggesting
shipwreck. She came back out with five older kids. The boys wore bandanas on their heads and leather bands with silver studs, like dog collars,
around their wrists. The girls wore halter tops and dark jeans. As they
prismmagazine.ca     39 neared Joanne could see a flamingo tattooed on one of the girl's arms. It
had the name "Rick" in blue-black along its neck.
"You been throwing dirt at my sister?" the girl asked.
Andrea tried to wiggle out of the accusation, but the older kids weren't
fooled. One of the boys smirked. "Maybe we oughta teach these bitches
a lesson."
The other girl said somethingjoanne couldn't catch and nodded toward Marcy.
Andrea said, "Marcy could whip her ass."
Marcy looked doubtful, but a little thrilled too. "Sure," she said. "I'll
fight her."
As Marcy stepped into the street, Joanne noticed the same stain on
the seat of her shorts from yesterday and the day before. She put it together then. Andrea's bringing Marcy everywhere for the last month, the
long grass, the girls' unreasonable hunger, Marcy's tangled, unwashed
hair. The boyfriend wasn't moving in. Their mother had moved out.
Joanne takes four Tylenol knowing they won't help, then strips down to
her underwear. Crawling back in bed, she freezes at the sound of Lou's
voice.
"Joanne!"
"What!"
"Where's his cups? These cupboards are a mess."
"Upper, right of the sink."
A few seconds pass. The baby continues to cry. Joanne puts the pillow
over her ears.
"Joanne!"
"What?"
"Get down here!"
In the kitchen Lou stands in front of the open fridge, the baby propped
on her hip, howling, his back arched against her iron grip. She eyes
Joanne in her bra and underwear as if they were in public. "What the
hell do you feed this kid? Your fridge is empty."
"I tried to feed him when I got home from the doctor's, but he wasn't
hungry."
"Well, he's hungry now."
"He can have baby food."
Lou bangs baby food jars on the counter. "All you've got is pudding.
He can't live on pudding."
"He won't eat anything green."
"You've got to make him. You're his mother." Lou slams the cupboard doors one after another. "Jesus, Joanne, when was the last time
you went shopping?"
40     PRISM 50:2 "There's plenty to eat." Joanne opens the cupboard above the stove.
A box of Saltines, some granola bars, the Oreos and ajar of Cheez Whiz.
She thrusts the crackers at her mother. "Here, he likes these," she lies.
Let Lou try to teach this baby something.
"Do you have any real cheese at least?"
Joanne checks, and there, a hunk of cheddar hiding in the crisper
drawer. "Here," she says. "Cut it small. Really small."
Back in bed Joanne hits upon a solution. Poke a hole in each eardrum.
How has she not thought of this before? Instead of removing her larynx,
she could remove all sound. And the pain right along with it.
She falls asleep thinking of this plan, and dreams of Marcy fighting the
girl with the dark hair, their pulling rather than punching, each grasping
for a hold—bare flesh, loose hair. Marcy's barrette snapped free and fell
into the storm drain. She took the other girl by the hair then, shook her
like a doll. "Let go!" the girl shrieked. Marcy did. Wound through her
fingers was a clump of dark hair like a dirty spider web. One of the boys
muttered what sounded to Joanne like "tons," but Andrea told her later
was "cunts." He stepped forward then, something long and shiny in his
hand.
Joanne wakes to Lou yelling. For a moment she curls her face into repulsion. What have I done now? Then the words begin to line up.
She tears downstairs and finds her mother hitting the baby on the
back. His mouth hangs open, eyes wide, colour gone. Joanne shoves Lou
away and fumbles with the high chair's strap.
"God damn it! What did you do? What did you do to him?"
"Just a cracker. I gave him the cracker!"
Joanne pulls at the strap, screaming, "I can't get him, I can't get him!"
"Push!" Lou hollers, "Push the button for Christ's sakes!"
Joanne pushes and the straps pop free.
"On his back!" Lou keeps screaming. "Hit him on the back!"
Joanne hits him hard, slung over her left arm, praying for the first time
in years—please God, please—but she can tell by the silence she hasn't
dislodged the cracker.
She puts him back in his high chair and sticks her finger down his
throat, probing, afraid she will lacerate his wind-pipe, the panic closing
out all time, all sound, all smells. She feels it way down, almost out of
reach, the mush of Nabisco that will kill her.
"It's okay, Mama's here, Mama's here. It's okay now." Joanne circles
through the living room, kitchen, and dining room patting the sobbing
boy while Lou follows.
"You told me he was used to it. Haven't you been giving him crackers?"
prismmagazine.ca    41 Life does not graph as an upward trend. It looks like dots in many
planes, but piled on top of one another, narrow and chaotic, the ever-
shifting mystery of opposites, the dark and lonely work of the heart.
"Yes, mother," she lies again. "Did you break it up?"
"For Christ's sake, he's eight months old!"
Lou prepares to leave. Joanne tries to remember the last time she
saw Andrea. Someone took them away. A grandmother maybe. She is
ashamed not to know, but that block of years is hazy, when her father
married Pamela and Lou failed her first two tries at the real estate exam.
Before her mother leaves, she puts a hand on the baby's head. "I'm
sorry little guy. You all right now?"
That's when Joanne sees it again—Lou coming down the block that day,
her anvil step and cold eyes testifying that she'd already been in the
house, where the frosting bowl, cereal boxes, a mac and cheese pan
and several dirty plates lay on the table next to Pacific Avenue. Then
her eyes shifted to the boys' studded dog-collar bracelets, to the flash
of the blade in the largest one's hand and for a moment Joanne actually
expected her to turn around, but instead Lou's anvil pace quickened, a
hard, relentless click, and she shouted, "Joanne, you okay?"
As Joanne jogged up the sidewalk, turning her back on those other,
motherless children, pain spiked again, this time in her right ear, and the
world fell away. All except her mother's face, where she is sure she saw
a flicker of relief, which today, more than then, saves her life.
42     PRISM 50:2 Emily Carr
Name Your Bird Without A
Gun: A Tarot Novel
HOSANNAH
eight of wands
You have had your go at love & now Liberty is gentle distant &
dreaming backwards.
With tiny hand & charred heart, the clock hums: two thirty. Did I?
Did I?
Your hand slips a warm shadow across her beautiful hair, small
high buttocks, thighs.
Without their violins cicadas head for the woods little bracelets of
fact/ practice yes, no.
Birds fly across her exposed chest & down one arm: a black
decrescendo.
Or an arc, whose fluted bones...
Is it love? is it hope? a dead cat? a kiss that scorched your ribs? You
cant quite remember...
On the spun backward wings of your pride your conscience
breaks, like a ship.
Hard at it: threw away the knife & the dream.  (As if.) Freed from
death. She is reversed.
But your heart keeps singing: in beautiful equation.
prismmagazine.ca    43 UNINTERESTED COWBOYS
ten of swords
Hot trees stretch across the sun-drunk horizon. The television is
faraway & spilling colour: powdered sweating men & women with
floating breasts.
Siltedup trees. Clouds rucked up over dirt.
You drink scotch, hold hands, kiss. You will never see her again:
you are sure of this now. You have another drink. It does no
good. It lays anonymous & hard inside you.
The Indians arrive on spotted ponies, whooping.
Their voices tremble on the sundrunk horizon. With an identical
gesture of breast & arms the beautiful women scream. The
cowboys shoot bright pistols.
Liberty breathes, stirs sometimes, on the couch.
She leans forward on folded arms, holds her head in her hands &
covers her face.
(Like a bird, & not the feather.)
The television is full of figures suspended mid-flight. The syllables
brush her elbows triceps spine & are like phosphorous.
She is "on the telephone." She is "at the beach." She is "sad;"
"afraid;" "jealous;" "fatigued." She is a "plucked cello." She is
"molecular." She is "orbit."
A page straight from God's book.
44     PRISM 50:2 (DACTYL) (SHE HAS GIVEN YOU THAT)
queen of wands
In an expensive place in the middle of a loud song you are
drinking French wine, lighting her cigarette.
She is wearing a denim miniskirt, flipflops, a blouse with a fringe,
precisely intelligent thighs. Her silhouette is washed in the bruise
of human, breasts glowing like a thin moon between battered
stars, in love at last with the pure geometry of curve—.
Liberty spreads her mind like a map & strives to see again what
she has loved: & is continually astonished.
See: your fork is a line separating today from yesterday.
Tattered stars, or rain. Flayed of & for love, like Christ.
Constellations explode into the bodys alert & willing myth.
Furniture counters the torsos antics & supports the frame—
Dreaming Liberty says God came & went while you were
sleeping. He came & saw you. & went back where he was.
This is Destiny: being face-to-face, & never anything but face-to-
face. Michelangelo clapping his hands over a hot burner. The
housecat steadfastly considering her name: Dirt.
The wine which is poured into the glass. One part & a second,
dispersed. The truth gapes open, the truth grows back together,
the truth signs on, the truth does not interrupt, the truth: adds on
petals, atemwende, a Breathturn.
(Theres no end, you know, & you dont need to fly.)
prismmagazine.ca     45 —THE PART OF THE BRAIN WE SHARE WITH TREX
eighteen
Crickets wind their one note to the breaking, a lone squirrel runs
guy wire, the subtle slinking cat stands inside the moon's shadow,
which is one hundred miles wide & travels at two thousand mph.
Dusk falls: useful, ordinary. For one moment she cant find the
vanished evidence—.
In her ignorant body which is so glad to be alive...
Liberty sits by the window & counts thirty-four crows.
Opening a can of cat food, she imagines herself a bride in the
kitchen. The sketchier the better, like a simply drawn young
mother pouring milk from a pitcher.
She puts on a translucent white sundress & eats a communion
tablet. Let me! she says. Everyone else has died, why shouldnt I?
The drug enters the beautiful membranes of her eyes, lights up
one cell at a time until her brain is flooded with sound or silence.
There are she thinks some desperate oaks in here.
Belief, or dream: with its immediate branches.
In the air she thinks there are tennis balls & chemical experiments,
there is semen & spit, there is holy words & humidity, there is
false molecules of memory colliding with the past, there is a
marimba in the trees saying water, water.
There is what love is there is her bare feet saying it is over: flat
like a dream on both sides she is the heroine let her do it—.
46     PRISM 50:2 19 REDUCES TO 10:1
nineteen
The day after tomorrow is a miracle of interior.
Is broken pottery. Is papier mache. Serious watercolour. Gone
past the promise of flowers. Orange stripe across a Eucharist sky.
Has edges. So do you. Jumps:
your skin swims out to the limit of sound. You think angels then
owls then semis, lost helicopters in the stratosphere. She is gone
your affair never was & here you are, all your resolute molecules
dissolving—.
(You are here: of course you are.) Wrongsideout: having sinned.
You are up on a scaffolding, alone with your conscience, playing a
complex game of proximity & distance. Repeats arrivals,
instructions, departures. Departures. Panic, though taking its
time, will arrive—.
Liberty is in the second world the dream makes—not wake, not
sleep. She has a terrible thirst. Rum & coke. Grocery wine. Gin &
juices. Not you Lord she dreams, nor him. Not you, nor him.
What I want back is what I was. White decades, a cutpaper tulip.
Black roses & the brilliant cutlery. Raindrops visible through a
row of powerlines.
A chord twicestruck, turns the truth into thunder. Sung a long
way back from the first firefly. Poom. A blue bullet, & the voice of
God
prismmagazine.ca    47 Katie Addleman
Chester Alternative
Clara, this is not a horror story.
Clara stood at the front of the classroom. Sarah was kneeling and
holding her hand. Behind her, the others were colouring maps
of Canada and the swish of crayons across paper sounded like rudders
over snow.
He didn't suffer, Sarah said. It wasn't scary.
Clara wondered. In horror movies dying was always scary. Peggs
liked to watch them in the dark when she slept over, and they snuck out
of Clara's room to the big TV downstairs. Horror movie lives ended in
panic and terror, to loud violent music.
How do you know? Clara said.
It's worse for us, trust me, Sarah said as she rose. When you're the one
left behind you have to think about it all the time, and every time you
think about it you feel scared, because we think he was scared when it
happened.
Even though he wasn't.
Right. Think about it that way.
Clara went back to her desk, sliding between the plastic chair and the
attached plastic writing desk, and thought about it. So the horror wasn't
in dying. It was in not dying. Which meant it was in this. The plastic desk
was patterned with brown swirls like wood, like the knots in a tree, and
Clara pressed her index finger into the middle of the middle one as she
thought. She didn't write her new idea down in her notebook. Instead
she drew a UFO, tried not to let the pencil shake. But it shook, and she
dropped it, and watched it roll between her running shoes on the short-
haired blue carpet, where she left it
Now, Sarah said to the class, What does it mean to feel sad?
Clara raised her eyes from the floor. Sarah wrote the words "grief
and "mourning" on the chalkboard, and asked the students to define
them and use each in a sentence.
At Chester Alternative there were only five desks, arranged in a circle
in the middle of the room. Sarah would stand inside the circle and turn
around as she talked so that her long skirt flared out around her ankles
and showed her sandals. Clara sat between Peggs and Thomas. Thomas
48     PRISM 50:2 was the one who never spoke. He was too shy for the regular school,
where recess bells rang like sirens and sent the kids tearing in two rivers through the heavy doors into the yard, where they screamed and
ran around in circles like seagulls that could smell tuna sandwiches but
were too stupid to find them. On Peggs's other side was Ramy, whose
parents were religious Jews and thought the regular school was too much
like church. Ramy sat next to Noah, Sarah's son, whose nose was often
snotty but he was only six so couldn't be blamed.
Clara always raised her hand if she thought she knew an answer. She
wasn't afraid of being wrong there, or of what the other kids would think
if she were right. She didn't even worry if Sarah didn't call on her, because another chance to dazzle them was already on its way.
The weekend Thomas had the accident, Clara's parents had invited
Peggs's parents over for dinner to discuss their daughters' education.
Clara watched her father pour wine and pass his lighter to his wife,
who lit a cigarette. The girls were gifted, they agreed, and the regular
school, overcrowded as it was, couldn't nurture them. They needed to
be challenged more. They lacked the freedom to explore. They should
be opened to education as a philosophy for living, and soon, before they
formed too hard an opinion of it. Wooden salad tongs clacked against
the bowl. Shit, said Clara's mother, and dabbed at her blouse where the
dressing had splattered. They stubbed out their cigarettes and sat down
to dinner.
Clara and Peggs were sitting on the living room couch. The Rockford
Files was on TV; Peggs watched attentively but Clara was spying on the
adults, up on her knees and twisted around, shifting for a better view. Sit
down, I'm gonna spill, said Peggs. Clara had already finished her Kraft
Dinner and the empty plate was on the coffee table, streaked with drying
orange.
The Harrises, who run the alternative school, are a smart family,
Clara's father was saying. Very forward thinking. The parents ate and
wiped their mouths, and talked about Sarah and Professor Harris being
forward, and the mothers' bracelets jangled as they passed plates of food
around. Then Clara's mother brought out dessert, and they all laughed
and said they shouldn't have any but did.
On Monday Clara was late for school; her mother couldn't find her
gloves and needed them for driving. Take mine, said her father. I'll use
my golf gloves for once.
That's not the point, snapped her mother, who was looking through
the kitchen cabinets. They're from Italy. They're my Italian ones. The
way she said it, Clara thought she might cry. After breakfast she went to
prismmagazine.ca     49 brush her teeth and found the gloves in the bathroom, leather yellow as a
cream puff, wedged between the mirror and the porcelain fish that held
the soap. She screamed and ran out waving them, sputtering minty foam
onto the handle of the toothbrush half-buried in her smiling mouth.
When Clara finally got to school she was relieved to see she wasn't last.
Thomas wasn't there yet, either, but he was probably out sick. He had
recurrent problems with his ears.
Mondays always started with quiet study period. From nine to ten
they worked independently on projects they'd designed with Sarah's
help. Clara's was a research project on human evolution. It was okay,
she thought, but Thomas and Noah's was better. They had special permission to work together, and were making a comic book called Jaguar,
Go! It's about a racecar driver who goes blind, Thomas had told her, but
is still the best. Then he had put his head down on his desk and kept
drawing like that.
At ten Sarah told them to keep working, she would be right back.
They heard her go into her office next door.
She's calling Thomas's house, said Ramy.
He's always sick, said Peggs.
Ringo Starr was always sick when he was a kid. It's no big deal, said
Noah.
Sick how?
Fever. Everyone had fever all the time in England.
I've never had one, said Ramy. Clara traced a drawing of Early Man
from the encyclopedia, the Junior Explorer series. She had the same ones
at home.
Sarah came back and said they should put their work away now, they
were going outside. She didn't say anything about Thomas, and no one
asked her where he was. Because of his ears he was absent a lot.
That afternoon Clara's mother took her ice-skating at Beaver Lake. Clara
did her socks in the stylish way, pulling them up to her knees and then
folding them down over the boots, all the way to the blade. On the ice
she held her mother's hands and they pushed and pulled themselves in
circles, yanking on each other's scarves to steady themselves when their
balance slipped away. Later they sat by the rink and took their skates off,
drawing laces from hooks, moving silently down the boot.
Thomas was out sick today, Clara said.
I heard. He had an accident over the weekend. His mother's worried
about him.
I want to be sick.
No, you don't.
50     PRISM 50:2 Clara's lace got a knot. Her mother knelt at her feet and worked patiently through it, while Clara watched it weaken and fall apart.
On Tuesday morning they were all at their desks before Sarah came in
from her office. Peggs had new stickers and was showing them to Clara
when Sarah came in and told them not to take out their newspaper articles for Current Events yet. Noah looked weird, Clara thought, like he
wasn't really there, like those dolls with the floating eyelids that were
supposed to close when you lay them down, but didn't. Next to Noah,
Thomas's desk was empty again.
Something's happened to Thomas.
I have to tell you something very sad, said Sarah. She spoke slowly,
like the words were liquid in a cup she had to take care not to spill. Clara
imagined a waiter in a room full of people, holding glasses on a tray on
one hand high over his head, and everyone crowded together laughing,
smoking cigarettes, and reaching out to each other suddenly, not paying
attention to anything, not noticing the waiter trying to get through or his
gritted teeth.
I'm very sad to tell you—Sarah stopped and looked at Noah, who
turned his face towards his desk and kept it there. He wouldn't look at
her. Clara stared at him. He should look up. His mother was looking at
him. Look up—
Thomas died last night. He had a concussion. Do you know what that
is?
He hit his head, Clara thought. The words went around and around.
Hit head hit head hit head hit.
He hurt himself tobogganing at the sound on Sunday, but no one
knew how badly. He seemed okay.
A small pool formed on Noah's desk and Clara looked away, looked
down at her own desk, then at her chest, at the t-shirt she had chosen this
morning. It was the blue whale one, from the gift shop at the aquarium in
Vancouver, where they'd gone last summer on vacation. She had wanted the red one, she remembered again, but they had run out of red ones
in her size. She should just throw this one out, she shouldn't ever have
bought it, she felt sad every time she saw it, because it wasn't red.
Clara could see Chester Alternative from her bedroom window. It was
in a heritage building rented from the town, an old bakery that Clara's
mother once told her had been empty since the last war, but still smelled
like yeast in winter, when the heaters were on, warm and heavy. There
was a broken-down dough mixer outside in the back. The thought of it
scared Clara, like the word "instrument" when her dentist said it.
The school stood on an empty lot. It was just a tiny lonely square. It
prismmagazine.ca    51 could've been crushed by anything. It didn't look safe even from the
moon.
The next day they dragged Thomas's desk out of the room together, and put it in the yard between the dough mixer and the tree. They
signed their names on it in marker, and wrote to Thomas that they loved
him as Sarah suggested, and left it to get snowed on. Clara wished the
snow would come soon, because she couldn't stand what she'd written
but she knew she'd keep reading it. She'd sneak outside to do it, until the
words were buried and then gone completely, and she could forget what
she had put there.
52     PRISM 50:2 Allison LaSorda
A Means to an End
By accident, he burned nutmeg in sesame oil,
sent it scalding and smoking on a cast iron pan
and rubbed the remnants behind his ears.
He massaged some into the padded bones
of her pelvis, the two dimpling peaks between
love handles. Palms coated her calves in grease.
The sting of spice in razor-nicked ankles,
as heat spread through muscles
like a current and triggered:
the feel of rubber-ribbed lawn chairs
sinking into the backs of leg flesh, afternoons
marked with sweaty crisscross scars.
prismmagazine.ca    53 After Boating
They were new colts, toddlers in puddles,
bodies anomalous and wild on a tour boat
confronted with white caps. The raft's buoyancy
held, but minds raced with the pontoon effect
as puny swells dampened ankles. Turbid water
phobias swallowed down as it struck—
the impact; the sudden cushion of coast
stirred plumes of algae as bottom cylinders slid
up muted ground. Shore, a retreat from the nasal memory
of lake air. Heads fume-fuzzy, bodies dizzy from wake,
the natural rise and fall retained in restive guts.
Evening licks coolness into landlocked homes
and lower temperatures bring friction under blankets:
tides embodied as a couch-hull creaks, pitching waves
of nausea. Through a substantial window, a crepe sky
hangs stiff over child blocks of three-storey buildings;
boaters cease their heaving, eyes to the moon,
while a high church spire lances the boil of a cloud.
54     PRISM 50:2 The Rub
You buried your face into my clothes
to relieve dryness, mouth-corner foam lapped
against lip shores. All the good angles given
to your cheeks and jaw marked a scent
where to recognize, revisit.
Without those fibres I wouldn't remember that
we share a hometown, were raised within mere kilometres.
Spent dreary nights separately, dreaming
of a garden with a maypole,
tentacles of ribbons interlocked in dance.
We saw the fields dissected,
suburban houses popped up
like deformed gourds, sloping west.
The escarpment looked heavily upon us,
perfumed parking lots with limestone breaths,
it was there we loitered behind video store/dry cleaners,
hid magazines and beer cans in the woods.
Even garment haunts turn into non-places, they turn
over and grow, forget us. Memories connect
to where we've yet to visit, as if arguments
always happen at my childhood home.
You've rubbed yourself into fictional scenes, set
lame footprints in the soil of a yard because
the driveways we carved our names into are grown over.
prismmagazine.ca    55 Corinne Stikeman
In the Clearing
My relationship with Charles lasted only six months, but Charles
is still the most wonderful person I have ever known. I knew
about his dogs, his farm (seven acres of apple trees), his beat-
up white Saturn with the screwy stick shift. I knew about June and her
crooked teeth and that when she took her first step, he didn't think he'd
ever feel the same about anything ever again. I knew the way he whistled
through his teeth when he was upset. I knew how his voice creased when
he smiled. In only six months, I knew I loved Charles, but Charles and
I had never met.
Charles was a wrong number. When the phone rang, George and I
were on the back porch trying to find the patch of earth in the yard that
had the longest exposure to sunlight for his heirloom tomato garden.
People plant heirloom tomato gardens when they think growing their
own food helps nurture their relationship with the earth, which is exactly
why George said he wanted one. Charles had called looking for Mrs.
Gonzales to send over her boys to clear the leaves out of his pool.
"My mistake." His voice was salty and thick.
"Don't worry about it."
The next week, he called again. I was in the living room watching a
documentary about farmers in Peru who were having a hell of a time
planting trees in their rainforests.
"Oh, it's you again."
"You're just one digit off, I'm sorry." I could tell he was smiling and
for a moment, I smiled too.
"We have to stop meeting like this."
"Who is it?" George called out from the shower in the upstairs bathroom.
"Tell them we're not giving money to the Sudan until they get their
shit together."
It wasn't long before Charles starting calling me every morning, after cereal but before his walk to the park at the end of the road. When you're
a single father with few friends, you start talking to the walls out of desperation, so this meant I was better than a wall. Did you know flies dart
between raindrops? That butterflies taste with their feet? I didn't have to
56     PRISM 50:2 contribute here, I only had to listen to him recite the facts that he lugged
around in his mind every day, like a salesman who sold encyclopedias.
It was warm, the way he murmured words like "yours" and "hills" and
"sanctions." I thought maybe he had thick hair that he only brushed with
his fingers and for some reason always carried a pitcher of beer with two
glasses.
At the end of the summer, George told me that I had to spend more
time with other women because I was starting to burp and scratch myself
like a man, which was true but when you're engaged, you start to let it
all hang out there more than usual. Plus, a woman entering her thirties
who works in a gift-wrapping stand in the mall needs to find ways to
amuse herself besides double wrapping gifts just so it takes everyone that
much longer to get to the good stuff. The only other women I knew were
the women I worked with, women like Joyce who was forty and talked
about really living in the eighties and Belinda who was twenty but wore
cardigans and high-waisted jeans and said things like, "That's the stuff of
life," every time someone walked out of the pet store across the way with
a new fish. Neither of them liked to double-wrap presents.
I'd suggested we should all go for dinner and Belinda clapped her hands
and said she'd choose the restaurant. She found a place that had a menu
fifteen pages long and a list of cocktails that had been named after movies. Joyce teased her hair and Belinda wore bright red lipstick and we
talked about what makes people happy and they both decided they did
not know. I spent most of the night thinking about Charles and what he
was doing and the way I thought he would smell right after he took a
shower and almost started saying his name in the middle of sentences
like I had Tourette's.
When I got home, I sat on the edge of my bathtub with the water running so it'd sound like I was doing something interesting.
"Tell me about something important. Tell me about parenthood."
"I don't know what I'm doing. It will probably end badly for both of
us."
"At least you tried."
"It never feels like enough. It never feels satisfying." His voice tore
here, revealing doubt.
"Nothing ever does though. Not the things you want to anyway." I
held my fingers to my lips and kissed them. These are Charles's fingers.
Then there was silence. I pressed my palm into the cool ceramic beneath
me, feeling my pulse radiate up my arm.
"I don't want to be a father."
"I don't want to be engaged."
prismmagazine.ca    57 It was fall when George decided we should go for a hike up the mountain beside the lake so he could teach me the differences between coniferous and deciduous trees. He said it was important that we exercise our
minds and muscles at the same time, something about learning what it
means to let our bodies' roots sink into the ground. I went because I had
started believing Charles might be everywhere, and when I saw him I'd
know it was him because June would be there too, and how many single
fathers with four year olds can there really be in one place? He'd notice
me, then see George and they'd shake hands. Oh you were that wrong
number that time, what a story this will make! I'd play with June in the
shade, and suddenly she'd be a preteen and we'd talk about makeup
and finding yourself and she'd hug me like the mother who left her four
years before. The sun would set and after a beer, Charles would brush
his hand across the small of my back and George would just know.
Charles and I would leave together and he'd put his arm around me
in the car and we'd talk about growing up and kids and moving closer to
the lake. He'd kiss my nose and we'd call it our thing and we'd always
tell our friends about how sweet Mrs. Gonzales managed to bring two
strangers together.
But on that Sunday, crunching through the red and yellow leaves,
panting up the side of Mount Whatever, Charles was not there. George
wore the plaid high top sneakers he'd had since high school and now
wore because he thought they were ironic. I asked him if he remembered why he wanted to marry me.
"What was the exact moment you knew? Was it that time we tried to
buy yogurt with all of those quarters?"
"It's the way you hold my face in the morning before we get out of
bed. I know I'll be okay doing that every day until the day I die, more or
less."
George was right, I was spending a lot of time holding his face looking for something wonderful about him. But standing there, sweating
sunscreen and bug spray, with hair sticking to the back of my neck and
my hands dirty from falling, I couldn't remember if I'd ever found it.
We turned a sharp corner and the trees opened into a clearing that
looked over the lake below. We saw people in the near distance sitting at
picnic tables beside a parking lot full of cars. It was really quite lovely, if
something like picnicking in the woods in the fall makes you happy.
"George, there's a parking lot. Don't tell me we could have driven all
this way."
"There's a party or something going on over there."
"Oh. Then let's go say hello."
It was an odd bunch of people all dressed in bright reds and greens
and yellows and from a distance, they looked like a string of Christmas
58     PRISM 50:2 lights. As I moved closer to them, I realized they were old, and when I
say old, I mean really old. A lot of bow ties is what I'm saying and macaroni salad.
"What's all the fuss about?" Only George would describe a party as a
fuss.
"We're scattering Sammy's ashes today," said one delicate man who
was definitely close to the hundred mark.
"Poor Sammy," I said.
"Not really, Sammy had a good life and he loved macaroni salad," he
said, and gestured to the tables. "Did you know him?"
"Did he ever need gift wrapping?"
"Probably not."
"Then I probably didn't know him."
"It's a shame," said the delicate man. "The number of people we really know gets smaller and smaller as we get older. The only person I
really have left now is my wife and with my luck, she'll kick the bucket
any day now."
The delicate man pointed to a chubby woman with big glasses sitting
on one of the benches. She waved at us and I thought this meant we
should sit down, so I did. George did the same but in a way that said,
I don't really want to be here because I'm uncomfortable in new situations.
After we ate, there was a debate about where to scatter Sammy. Some
said he should be tossed off the cliff, some said we should leave a trail
leading from the ledge back to our cars, just in case he ever changed his
mind and wanted to come home. There was quite the debate, actually.
Nothing like a good ash scattering to polarize a crowd.
"I can't wait to get married," George said. He took my hand as everyone around us shook their fists and raised their voices to the peak of their
throaty whispers. "I think I want to have arguments like that with you for
the rest of my life." I thought about this for a moment and felt scared and
even a little alone.
"I don't know if I can do that."
"Don't you want to marry me?"
"That's a good question."
George took back his hand and stuffed both under his armpits, and
for the first time since I'd met him, he looked like maybe he didn't know
what to say. In all the time we were together, I never once thought
George couldn't handle himself on his own. Without me, I thought he'd
be able to begin his journey into the wonderful unknown, leaving a
trail of freshly planted trees behind him. But there, standing under one
large coniferous with his cheeks smudged with dirt, he looked helpless
in a way that made me want to touch him. So I took his hand back and
prismmagazine.ca    59 pressed it between both of mine, and we stood there like that watching
the sun lower itself into the lake below.
In the end, we tossed Sammy over to the edge of the cliff and let him
wander into the breeze. I always wondered about spreading ashes when
there wasn't a good wind about. What a shame to watch someone fall to
the ground without the whimsy of seeing him or her fly over trees and
water into the heavens or whatever. Sammy did well, though, I don't
think he'll ever touch the ground. Good for Sammy. My eyes welled up
when we let him go and George asked me what was wrong and I lied and
said I'd been stung by a bee. He patted me down like we were at airport
security and when he couldn't find the sting we decided we should go
home.
That night, I huddled in the basement next to the furnace, the grind
grind grind of the heater adding depth to the space around me.
"You weren't there today."
"Was I supposed to be?"
"I wished you were there. Is that okay?"
"For all you know, I was there. You don't know what colour my hair is."
"You weren't. I looked. I would have known."
"I was home with June. I think she hates me."
"Do you hate her?"
"No. But sometimes I do. Like when I think she hates me."
"I can't see that there's anything to hate about you."
"I feel the same about you. I think you must be pretty."
"Have you seen me then?"
"The way you pronounce your 't's. You sound like you have perfect
lips." There was a pause here, and then, "Do you think we should meet?"
His suggestion was obvious, but I had never really considered it before. Until then I had been leaving it up to chance like those tree farmers
in that documentary who throw their arms up in the air when the last
seed has been put in the ground and say, "It's all up to the trees now!"
There were a few beats before I responded, a boom boom boom like
that bit of music in a pop song that leads up to the chorus. I was feeling
weird or maybe guilty for a second and touched the small of my back.
This Is Charles's hand. But It's not really his hand, It's just your hand.
"Probably not."
"And why is that?" His voice made me freeze in the headlights of
what I had just decided.
"I think I'd rather love you forever this way."
George and I married that winter. We plowed snow from the clearing
beside the edge of the cliff and put up a tent so we could have a wedding
in the spot where we decided we were going to spend our lives together
60     PRISM 50:2 and I lied about a bee sting. The delicate man showed up, his chubby
wife having passed on, and Belinda cried and took most of the pictures
and told me how I should keep the pictures that didn't turn out well and
make a funny album I could bring out at parties. Charles didn't call that
day or ever again actually because he was perfect.
George and I now live by the lake and he still wears those high top
sneakers even though there were a few months when I hid them in the
attic and he thought they were lost. Charles used to sing this song when
he talked me to sleep and sometimes I could hear it in my head when I
woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a dog howling or a car
coming down the way. You don't know what you got til It's gone. That's how
George said he felt about his shoes and I said I guess that could really
be true about a lot of things and George would smile and I would think
maybe I could live with that smile for the rest of my life.
prismmagazine.ca    61 Adam Dickinson
Astroturf
"Men believe they are better than grass."
—W.S. Merwin
We do it on the carpet near the lawn darts
wearing blushed baboon butt rug burns.
We do it on the reindeer moss
up the back hill under lake-effect antler tops
brandishing beam lengths
for cap bills.
We shag all the flies in the ripped-up scouting reports
from the dead-ball era.
Sunburns calisthenic elbows and knees, exorcising exercise
with the double-stolen gnosis
of Clement of Alexandria, who declared
that for weddings performed on shag carpet,
the benediction remains in the dirt
and doesn't penetrate through to the Platonism
of pinched runners.
I shave the front lawn straight into the space age.
I field birdseed
all the horndog squirrels bat into orbit
from the feeder teams.
Free men don't cut the grass, they pluck it,
like ear hair,
or those carpetbagging sentimentalists
who commandeer the sweet spot on the forehead,
the one that controls every facial muscle
needed for faking.
62     PRISM 50:2 Hyperbole
It was simple, really.
She was in love with riptides
and couldn't go back.
He had insulted her dolphin kick
and dog paddled the length
of a vodka punch into submission.
He had it coming
and going like water taxis
undertowing the tinfoil hats they wore
for whitecaps at last call
in every dingy sandbar.
Before long, the breaststrokers
were already armed with fins
and the neighbours grew suspicious
haircuts and furrowed swim trunks.
He said that she said that he said
that everything made sense
if you added up the divisions
that had multiplied
all the times tables tipped over
in unsynchronized swan dives.
The information in the springboard
turned out to be falsified pistol reports
burning off bad starts
and settled scores.
Excuses continued to fence the pool
with chain links.
Good people put on weight
around the midsections
of tightly held convictions.
prismmagazine.ca     63 Neuroplasticity and the
Course Work MA
With every fare, new hippocampus colleges
open in the brains of cab drivers.
Majoring in Slow Manufacturing Decline
of the Long Great Lakes Century, some drivers
can actually see the earth's magnetic field.
There it is blazing
through the comet tails of weekend pixels
barfing analogue maps
all over their compass-needle boyfriends
in the back seat.
Migrations are short and generally geared
toward income patterns
that take most drivers
to the outer rings of the city at night
before relying on their faculties
back into the morning rush.
Data migration at the dispatch is usually performed
to free human resources from tedious tasks
such as rustproofing
or stripteasing
or handwringing
offhand strip malls.
Recently, an entire neighbourhood
was mistakenly re-routed
through a new server.
64     PRISM 50:2 The Queen Elizabeth Way
collector-laned a north-end bingo, crashing
payphones and pay day loans
into low corporate tax rate commuter homes.
Drivers have been known to return to old necks
of the woods
even after being relocated miles away.
To keep them clear of residential areas,
some have been strapped with magnets,
like nuisance crocodiles
in the dog-breakfast suburbs of Miami.
There is no up or down in the universe,
only in or out.
No one can remember
anyone's phone number anymore.
prismmagazine.ca    65 Common Polymer Shared
by Two or More Words in a
Different Language
Heart beating in Danish,
bank, bank
Mercury monogloting in Minamata,
ataxia
Door creaking in Arabic,
azeeez
PCB cuneiforming in Monsanto,
chloracne
Bird singing in Thai,
jib, jib
Pharmaceuticals tap-watering in Adrenal Gland,
fight, flight
Cannon firing in Mandarin,
ping, pang, pa
Flame retardants keying in Keyboard and Furniture,
dyslexia, combustion
66     PRISM 50:2 Peer Pressure and the
Demands of Memory
The age of huts is collapsing around our ears.
At dinner parties cakes of perfumed wax
are now placed in the wigs of guests
for choral support. You don't remember
why you came, only that the highway din
mugging in through the windows
has carjacked the chitchat, airbrakes break
the off-beats to bits of horn
tooting out-of-town solutions
for longsuffering succotash.
None of the hairdos can be safely worn at the beach.
Ice cubes are the only ones drinking in the heat,
like cleaner fish and their hard-line mutualism.
When all is said and done, everyone
looks like regular rows of periodic tables,
properly seated, with their heads chorded to the crown
of train whistles.
When the sovereign pays in pennies, smashed pennies
elongate on the railway tracks. Plastic deformation
is the picture of health.
It was not until later that the whole thing
began to get out of hand.
prismmagazine.ca    67 Star Polymers
Is the problem with the world indexical
or umbilical?
Mete out the call centre capitalists,
and break up the hearts and minds
for the parks and rec.
An alphanumeric symbol, a fist pump
harvesting rig horns,
a pamphleteer morse coding the street for grassroots.
Every afternoon at the mall, enjambments
replace commandments as the cargo bays crowd
with the perpetuity of pigs wearing banana belts.
A backbone of backpacks bulletinboard the bus
for branch plants based on the superstructure
of partially eaten fruit.
Accompanied by cane sugars,
the multinationalists revise their hunches,
while wildcard carrying members hold their breath
and count to Cuba, the Congo, Bolivia.
68     PRISM 50:2 Someone somewhere repairs a tattoo with a Zippo,
and uses an Argentinean question tag
to confirm that the listener
is in fact
listening.
Che?
prismmagazine.ca     69 The Fourth Kingdom Eats Its
Action Heroes
The tourists are stacked at the boat launch
bivalving seagulls with French fries.
The phone booth is festooned with guano
and ruined snow cones. I got rid of the scales with mineral oil
and used the other hand to animate a stuffed animal
answering too many questions in the gift shop. The last thing
I remember we coughed into the garburator grammar
of the ice cream line and faulted the machines
for their mendicant fats, for leaving us tongue-footed
with the lamest of capes. I licked all the tungsten
in the broken flower bulbs and screwed them
into jerry cans between the gas pumps with my improving
outboard motor skills. Under the bellwether, the failed experiment
of the lake gives way to baked Alaska, tadpoles swim poorly
lit mazes into adulthood, wharf spiders dress their victims
in candelabra candy wrappers. The last I remember the tights came up
perfectly against the dock cribs, framing our junk.
Boats came and went from the marina with little wake
and gasoline spun insignias on the crap we pulled out of the drink
and hid in each others' clothes. Bored shirtless, we hung around
in anagrams for gills. Our bandanas emoticoned smoke signals
in hallucinogenic nylon windbreakers
interfering in from the bay.
70     PRISM 50:2 Contributors
Katie Addleman was born in Montreal and has lived in Miami, Barcelona, and southern France. Her short stories and articles have appeared
in Getst, the Dalhousie Review, The Walrus, Canadian Art, ELLE Canada,
and others. She is currently studying at Ryerson University's School of
Image Arts in Toronto.
Emily Carr has published two books of poetry: directions for flying (Furniture Press 2010) and 13 Ways of Happily: Books 7 & 2 (Parlor Press 2011),
which was chosen by Cole Swensen as the winner of the 2009 New
Measures Prize. Excerpts from The Weights of Heaven, Emily's autobiogra-
phy-in-progress, were published in the Summer 2011 Adaptations Issue
of The Western Humanities Review. For a video performance of excerpts
from "Name Your Bird Without a Gun," visit www.ifshedrawsadoor.com.
The genetic portraits project by Ulric Collette is a photographic study
about exploring the genetic differences and similarities between different members of the same family. Splitting the faces of brothers, sisters,
mothers and fathers in half and then merging them together, creates interesting new people that are sometimes quite normal looking, and other
times far from it. genetic.ulriccollette.com
Adam Dickinson's poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada
and internationally. His poetry has been translated into Chinese and Polish. His work has also been anthologized in Breathing Fire 2: Canada's
New Poets. His second book Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books) was a finalist
for the 2007 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. He teaches at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Amy Gustine's fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including North American Review, The Natural Bridge and Black Warrior Review. She received special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXII, Best of the
Small Presses and is currently at work on a novel. Her short story "Unattended" is part of a collection about parents in extremity.
prismmagazine.ca    71 Allison LaSorda is a graduate of the UNB English and Creative Writing MA program. She is currently curating an interactive visual narrative project entitled re:moved. Some of her poems have appeared in The
Antigonish Review, The Malahat Review, and in PRISM International 49.3.
Wendell Mayo is author of three books of fiction: Centaur of the North;
B. Horror and Other Stories; and a novel-in-stories, In Lithuanian Wood also
published in Lithuanian translation as Vilko Valanda. His stories have
appeared in Yale Review, Harvard Review, Manoa, Missouri Review, Chicago
Review, and others.
Billeh Nickerson's first journal publication appeared in PRISM international 36:1. He later had the honour of serving as Editor in 2002-3
(Volume 41). He is the author of The Asthmatic Glassblower, Let Me Kiss
It Better: Elixirs for the Not So Straight and Narrow, and McPoems. A new
collection entitled Impact: The Titanic Poems is forthcoming in the Spring
of 2012 with Arsenal Pulp Press. He lives in Vancouver and teaches Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Leah Rae is the managing editor of Poetry is Dead magazine and a contributor to Geist magazine. Her poetry has been published and anthologized in The Antigonish Review, Event, Room, West49th, antithesis, from this
new world and The Claremont Review. She has received numerous awards
for her writing. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She
is currently working on her MA in Library and Information Science at
Dalhousie University.
matt robinson's latest collection is Against the Hard Angle (ECW, 2010).
Previous collections include no cage contains a stare that well and A Ruckus
of Awkward Stacking. He works as a Residence Life Manager at Dalhousie. Lately, he's been revising older poems and dog-stting.
Carolyn Smart's fifth collection of poems, Hooked: Seven Poems was published in 2009 by Brick Books. An excerpt from her memoir At the End
of the Day won first prize in the 1993 CBC Literary Contest. She is the
founder of the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging writers, and
since 1989 has taught Creative Writing at Queen's University.
72     PRISM 50:2 Corinne Stikeman was born in Toronto, Ontario. She recently won
second prize in the 2010 CBC Literary Awards and her winning piece,
"Birds That Streak the Sky," was published in the September 2011 issue
of enRoute Magazine. Corinne currently lives in Los Angeles, pursuing
a career as a writer for television and working on her first collection of
short stories.
Marianne Villanueva is the author of the short story collections Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, Mayor of The Roses, and The Lost Language.
She also co-edited the Filipino women's anthology Going Home to a Landscape. Her novella, Marlfe, is being published in 2012 by Vagabondage
Press. "Flight" is part of a collection-in-progress called Magellan's Mirror.
prismmagazine.ca     73 m
The Creative Writing Program at U.B.G.
4	
lift;
The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.F.A. degree may also be taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen &? TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics &? Libretto.
Meryn Cadell
Steven Galloway
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Online Faculty CM.P.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Joseph Boyden, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner, Terry Glavin,
Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe, Stephen Hunt,
Peter Levitt, Annabel Lyon, Susan Musgrave
&? Karen Solie
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca
Faculty UBC Bookstore
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