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 PRISM international
Fall 2001
40:1
S7.00
Contemporary Writing from Canada and around the World  PRISM international  PRISM international
Editor
Abigail Kinch
Executive Editor
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Editorial Board
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Lee Henderson
Colin Whyte PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
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Contents Copyright © 2001 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Appliance Store: Catemaco, Veracruz, 1986, by Rafael
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Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. November 2001. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH
COLUMBIA
The Canada Council  j Le Conscil des Arcs W*^0^n      ARTS  COUNCIL
for the Arts       du Canada Supported by 'he Province or" British Columbia Contents
Volume 40, Number 1
Fall 2001
Fiction
Heather Birrell
The Captain's Name Was Ned / 7
Georges Perec
A Winter's Voyage / 28
translated from the French by Tim Conley
Dan Stolar
The Trip Home / 47
Poetry
David Seymour
Perlerorneq / 21
Patricia Young
Hotel Europa / 22
Evelyn Lau
Arson / 24
Jose Kozer
Abraham Marcus Materim / 25
Dad's Grammar / 26
Gaudeamus / 27
translated from the Spanish by Orlando Ricardo Menes
Sioux Browning
American Road Hazard / 33
matt robinson
a poetics of expressiveness; eve / 43
Susan Rich
A Poem for Will, Baking / 46
Contributors /w  Heather Birr ell
The Captain's Name Was Ned
Dad said Kyra had legs like tree trunks and a mouth like a rip in a
mattress. So that when she came marching out of the parkette at
the top of our street, as she did nearly every Thursday that summer, I imagined her knees uprooting her feet with every step and strained
to make out the pink flap above her chin. I was nine-years-old and had
taken to squinting the meaning into things. I could sit on our front porch
for hours, with only the street's unplanned procession for entertainment. I
got it down to an art, to the point where the crinkled contours of a paper
bag became the dark form of a lurking city rodent, the waving of distant
tree limbs the beckoning of a woman dressed too posh and pretty for
summer in the city. People became moving pieces of the landscape, to be
acknowledged only by stilted nods. Kyra was the exception.
"You doing anything today, Maddie?"
She had spotted me and was careening down the street in anticipation. I
stood up.
"No." I was never really doing anything that summer. My brother had
just returned from Scout camp.
"Collected kindling," he said when Mum asked. She signed him up for
remedial math for the remainder of July.
I had refused gymnastics, with its convoy of compact leotarded bodies,
and macrame. I wanted the two long months to myself. And they were
long, with no marked weekends to rein the weeks in. When I wasn't on the
porch, I sat in the weak spray of the lawn sprinkler, gazing fitfully at my
shins and sucking on sunflower seeds. The tar on the street mellowed then
melted, and the days pitter-pattered like centipede feet.
As Kyra approached, I noticed her T-shirt was soaked through under
the arms, two lopsided clammy patches stretching over to her breasts.
"You're sweating," I said lamely. Her woman's body still blindsided me
every so often with its effusions.
"Yeah, so what?" She sat down beside me. "Let's go to the park."
The park was the largest of its kind in the city, replete with pooping,
strutting Canada geese, peanut fattened squirrels, and punched in soccer
balls-a tract of green, treed land that stretched like surprise between Lake
Ontario and the bisecting main street. In the summer it had strollers and
dogs and a mini zoo with antelopes and peacocks, woodchip paths, and an orange girder sculpture that rose irrationally from the earth. To the south,
bordered by the highway, was a pond that froze frothily in early winter,
then hardened to a cloudy emerald in January. If you jumped on the ice
then, you could hear it; the echo of water beneath as it rolled and shifted
and broke on a deep, distant shoal. But summertime on the pond meant
ducks and swans and paper sailboats, and a boundless dry-eyed sky reflecting back at you.
Kyra had a bag of breadcrumbs in her pocket. She passed me a pile of
crusts, and we tossed them to the ducks, who scrabbled and quacked.
"There's a thousand dead soldiers at the bottom of the pond," I told her,
"dead as doornails, all of them."
"Did they sink?"
"No," I said, "they fell. It was in the dead of winter, and they were
fighting the enemy."
"Who was the enemy?"
I couldn't remember who the enemy was; could not even remember if
the soldiers themselves were French or English or American. They were
not Indians, because they had big brass buttons on their coats, this much I
knew.
"The enemy was very intelligent. They knew the soldiers had to get to
the lake, so they forced them to walk across the ice." I pitched a crust out
into the middle of the pond and we both watched it sink. "The ice was not
thick enough yet to hold them. It cracked right down the middle, and they
fell through the crack, never to be seen again."
"I saw them," Kyra said, "I saw them in a movie. Their faces were all
swelled up."
"Did not see them."
"Did too." She shook the remaining crumbs from the bag onto the
grass. A Canada goose flopped its long neck over my knee to nibble them.
I started and rocked back onto my elbows. The grass beside me had dried
to a beige stubble.
"Let's go to the playground," I said, and watched as the goose charged
at Kyra, who grunted and swatted at its head.
"Stupid asshole," she shouted, and several mothers turned chidingly.
"Geese can't be assholes," I whispered.
"Where's your brother? My brother never visits. He lives in Winnipeg
and carries a briefcase. Look at that red bird, it looks like a piece of blood
in the sky. Do you get the blood, the monthlies? I think you're too young.
You're just a kid."
It was necessary, in Kyra's presence, to let whole phrases unspool, un-
censored. Sometimes, if you followed them, they took you somewhere, but
mostly they just streamed out and away.
The first time I met Kyra I hid. Her voice reminded me of the under- sides of bridges; the trolls who hunkered there. We were in the kitchen,
Mum, Dad, and I. My brother was outside playing street hockey when she
arrived, her parents in tow. I crouched behind a chair to listen.
"She saw an old wedding photo with you in it, and wanted to visit," her
mother said, and stayed standing, sentinel-like, to one side of her.
Kyra's hands were everywhere. First on her person, patting at her pockets, at her high-mounded breasts, then on the table, picking up a saltshaker,
the Canadian Tire catalogue. I watched as she lifted the Weetabix box
from the cupboard, shook it next to her ear, and fished out the free figurine
before tucking it into the waistband of her pants. She was stealing! I felt
something humming inside of me; a notion of what was actually possible.
I asked Mum about the wedding photo later that night.
"Bridesmaid, or some such thing. Horrible lime green poufy dress," she
said, a book laid bare in her lap. "Don't you ever do that," she added, and
placed her finger under a word on the page.
"So much fuss..." She shook her head, and I understood that I had been
advised of something that may or may not become clear to me in the
future.
"Kyra, though, nice girl, bit bullheaded..." The book still prone, the
word still waiting.
"Pole-skee, Pole-skee, pass me the pierogies," was what Kyra had chanted
on the way to the park as we passed the delis and bakeries on Roncesvalles.
"If you're good later, maybe I'll buy us some kielbasa." She saluted to the
statue of the Pope on the corner and swiped a chunk of the sausage in a deli
two stores down.
The only part of kielbasa I liked was peeling away the thin layer of
skin, exposing the insides, which were thick and striated, like an overfed
earthworm.
"You know what it looks like," Kyra said, and bit off a chunk.
The pearly pieces of fat embedded in the pink made me nauseous, but I
was interested in the fact that someone had taken the time to put them
there.
Kyra took my hand and held it, her walnut knuckles white with the
effort.
"You smell like asparagus piss," I said.
"Asparaguses don't piss. They're a vegetable, asshole."
"No, you smell like piss after you eat asparagus. And girls can't be
assholes."
"Why not?"
"Because they just can't. They have to be whores or bitches or sluts."
"You're still an asshole." She dropped my hand.
I put the kielbasa in my pocket for safekeeping. When we reached the playground Kyra laughed aloud at the sighing of the
swings. She began to push the children, running between the small bums
tucked like dumplings until they reached the same dizzying height. The
children began to keen meekly, their sobs caught in the whoosh and sway.
The mothers came scurrying then, mouths caught for a second between
well meaning and worry.
"Not so hard, honey, you can't push them so hard." A hand on Kyra's
shoulder, a glance at me, hanging from the A of the swing set, legs thrashing with the effort of the climb.
Kyra swore under her breath, and I moved onto the slide, with poor
results, the backs of my thighs sticking like raw chicken to the metal. We
grabbed handfuls of gravel from the ground and threw them down the
ramp. There was pleasure in the wild skittering sound, and the white dust
that dried smoothly on our palms.
"I'm going to die, you know." Kyra brushed her hands on her jean
shorts. "It's how it is with us, because we have an extra chromosome." This
proudly. "That's why I don't run so much, because my heart is weak."
"I thought running made your heart stronger, farthead." I had been
suckered by Kyra's theories before.
"No, it makes it go faster, and use up more beats, and when you die, it's
because you used up all the beats you got when you were born." She threw
some gravel at me.
Dad invited Kyra to stay for supper.
"Yes," said Mum, "stay."
Supper was pork chops, mashed potatoes, and salad with Thousand
Island dressing that slid quickly from the bottle. Kyra was the first to
finish. She put her knife and fork down on her unused serviette and wandered over to the window.
"Could you pass the totties, Maddie?" Dad said.
I slid the dish across the table.
Dad tapped two potato clods onto his plate. "How was summer school,
Jeremy?"
"Tore up my elbow at recess," said my brother, and held up his arm,
which was crosshatched with scrapes.
"What about the learning part?"
"Test. Roy got caught cheating. I stayed in after school with him."
"As long as you didn't do the cheating. Solidarity." Dad scanned the
sky, then turned to Kyra. "Enough blue out there to make a Dutchman a
pair of pants, eh?"
Kyra grunted but did not speak. There was a group of sparrows pecking
at some seeds in the garden, jerking their heads like tiny apostrophes. The
last of the roses were in full bloom; their scent wafted slovenly through the
10 back door. I couldn't finish my pork chop.
"Tsk, tsk, you're always last," said Mum.
"Ach, if you come in last, at least you come in ahead of all those poor
sods who never started." He made a face at the pork chop.
"That's the problem with you Gordon, you never start." Clanging and
rearranging.
Dad went to sit beside Kyra on the couch, to watch the birds. "Never
mind then, never mind," he muttered. "Could you fix me a drink, Reenie?
My mouth's as dry as an Arab's sandshoe." He turned to Kyra. "Birds are
funny, aren't they?"
"Why?"
"Well, they've no arms. None at all." He got up then and began to
dance, his arms clutched behind his back, his chin thrust forward in an
attempt at a beak.
My brother shook his head. "That's because they have wings." He
slammed his glass down on the table.
Dad pursed his lips, then began to sing.
You canny shove your granny off the bus
Oh, you canny shove your granny off the bus
Oh, you canny shove your granny
For she's your mammy's mammy
You canny shove your granny off the bus!
He grabbed Mum by the waist and swung her around the kitchen until a
laugh galloped out of her.
Singing I will if you will, so will I!
Singing I will if you will, I will if you will
I will if you will, so will I!
Later, Kyra and I watched my father, followed his movements as he prepared to go out with my mother. First the hair: a quick comb in the upstairs bathroom, then downstairs to the kitchen where he stood, head bent
forward over the boiling kettle, trying to banish static from the few flyaway hairs that still sprouted from his forehead. Back upstairs to the bathroom, a quick slap of aftershave, one, two, behind the ears, on the sinewed
sides of neck.
"I've still got it, eh, Reenie, I've still got it!"
Downstairs again, distracted, to the front closet for the vacuum, which
sputtered and shook, snarky with overuse. Back and forth, back and forth
across the foyer in side sweeping arcs that left trails, a wake in the maroon
shag carpet. Finally, sitting at the organ.
11 Those were the days, my friend
We thought they 'd never end!
Until my mother was waiting in the hallway in her high heels, and they left
together, with a two-tiered shudder of the door.
The babysitter arrived as Kyra was leaving. Stephanie was tall and chesty,
with tight black jeans and a Vancouver Canucks sweatshirt. Her features
were plain and widely spaced under her high cheerleader's ponytail, giving her the look of a well-intentioned frog.
"Hiya," Kyra said, and held out her hand.
"Hi. How are you? I'm Stephanie.'', Stephanie gave Kyra her hand, with
her moulting purple nails, then pulled away. As she passed Kyra, she winked
at Jeremy, then blew a slick, slow motion bubble with her gum, allowed
the ball to float there like a heavenly sphere, then sucked the gum in,
quick and coordinated. There was a gold comb sticking out of her back
pocket. I watched as Kyra slid it quickly out and dropped it into her
plastic bag. Then, da-don, da-don, the swing of those wide hips, all the way
up the street.
Our mother would not allow bubble gum in the house, on account of
the mess, but Stephanie pulled a pack from her red vinyl purse.
"I'll teach you," she said.
Jeremy looked up, as if trolling for something in his eyebrows, but
stayed.
We practised for 4,5 minutes, until the gum had gone plasticky. My
brother pinched me hard, then went to his room. Stephanie let me watch
TV with her, in my pyjamas, sitting close to the screen. She shared her
popcorn and explained the back-stories of a show about drilling for oil and
having affairs in Dallas. When the late night movie came on we both sat,
hushed, fixed to the glow by a young girl possessed by the devil, her skin
all-of-a-sudden pockmarked, her words Satanic spitballs. She's like Kyra, I
thought.
"She's like Kyra."
Stephanie hooked her ponytail elastic with her index finger, then shook
out her hair as if she was about to have an affair.
"That is really mean, Maddie. Retarded means slow, not stopped. You
should feel sorry for her. Not be making fun of her." Stephanie threw up
the ends of her sentences like juggling balls. I could tell she thought it was
my job to catch them.
Advice, I thought.
Stephanie snapped her gum and stretched so that her sweatshirt rode up
above the coiled bud of her belly button. Then she yawned and looked at
her watch. "It's really past your bedtime."
12 Once, when I was only two, andjeremy was four, I watched him shadow
our regular babysitter, Gwen, around the house, ducking behind doors,
and squatting under tables. I was there when he finally had her where he
wanted her, back to him, over the sink, washing dishes. Gwen was a fleshy
woman, with a rear end that protruded like a shelf for doodads, Dad said.
Jeremy's face reached nearly to the top of the shelf, so that when he lifted
his chin and opened his mouth, I understood immediately what was about
to happen. She screamed when he bit her and locked him in his room for
the rest of the afternoon. When my mother questioned him, he shrugged:
serene, small. Sometimes boredom and childhood twist like hard twine
inside of you, until there is nothing for it but an ill-advised insurgence.
I inched closer to the screen, so that the demon girl's face was nearly
touching mine through the glass.
"You're gonna be in big shit when your parents get home." Stephanie
sat up, then tucked her legs, neat like noodles, beneath her.
I was pleased to see how her bangs had matted to her head where she'd
been leaning against the couch. What I felt for Stephanie was a sturdy, if
temporary, hatred—useful for the way it hardened my will. I felt as a soldier must, pure in my motivations. I would not go to bed.
"When you are watching someone, you must always follow the flinching
of their fingers, the machinations of their mannered faces." Dad had discovered Kyra had been stealing things. "Oh, yes, Maddie, you've got to
watch very carefully." He made a telescope with his hands, scanned a
faraway horizon. "I see no ships." He patted me on the shoulder.
I took my post on the front porch, waited for Kyra's arrival, then shadowed her around the house. Before, I had smudged and splintered her
movements, eyes narrowed and wary, but now I catalogued, wide-eyed and
conscientious. I scrutinized as she stepped into the living room, her step
ponderous, eyes snapping into place like the hands of a clock that clicks
forward resolutely every five minutes. A photo of my father as a young
boy (arms crossed, smile unassailable); a tiny detailed figurine (shepherd
or milk maid); a brass bell that clanged its annunciation when she picked
it up.
"Kyra," I said, "come outside. We can play 7-UP"
"No, you go. I'll be along soon." Like a grandmother she said it.
I sat on the back porch and played with a piece of string, my fingers
plucking at the patterns, loosening the loops, dropping then pinching,
until I held a series of diamonds fast between my thumbs and forefingers.
I shifted the pattern so that I could gaze through it, over the fence and into
the adjoining backyard, and centred the cat in one of the diamonds. A new
method of tracking.
When Kyra came out I had moved on to the sky, trapping and tidying
13 the clouds.
"Let me try." She grabbed the string so that it undid itself; a mess of
grubby pink lines in her open palm.
"I wouldn't mind dying," she said, "except there's no food in heaven.
There's pop, but no food."
I looked at her, with her square flat face, her bottom teeth shoved forward like an animal's, the label of her T-shirt lolling out the back. And our
same hair, hers pageboy brown, hers clipped to the side with a blue plastic
barrette.
"Here." I took the string and re-wove the pattern, then placed the whole
thing carefully onto her stubby fingers, our hands caught for a second, like
double parentheses, in the web.
"You weren't watching."
When I came back from walking Kyra up the street, Dad was standing
in the doorway. I slit my eyes and tried to push past him. Mum stood
behind, one hand clutching the doorknob. She took me by the shoulder
and nudged me into the kitchen. There was a pot on the stove with potatoes in it.
"Sit down," Dad said.
Several trinkets had gone missing: a farm boy figurine, a tiny silver
thimble, a photo of my parents on honeymoon in Paris, kissing, with the
caption ooh-la-la.
"Weren't you watching her, Mad?" His voice soft, now, forgiving or
forgetful.
"Yes." I had been.
"Then how could you have missed it?"
"I dunno." I looked at my hands, yearned for the string.
"You. Don't. Know."
"She's a retard! Why don't you just leave her alone?"
Dad raised his arm and I saw Mum reach for something new to clutch.
I felt it then: a spaciousness in my sinuses like turning a somersault in
the pool without nose plugs; a certainty. It is a certainty I have felt since,
although not very often, and always unexpectedly. I wouldn't call it excitement, but it is also not unpleasant in its inevitability. It is as if all the
possibilities in your world have been narrowed down, sifted for their essence, and you are left staring, unsurprised, at what's left in the sieve.
But he didn't hit me.
"You're about as bright as a blackout."
I closed my eyes.
When I opened them, Mum had punctured a potato with a dessert fork.
"Supper's ready," she said.
14 I found my father in his workshop, standing over a pile of sawdust, a
black-bristled brush in his hand, dripping varethane like honey. He had an
old housecoat belt tied around his head to keep the sweat from his face,
and there were tears in his eyes. He was singing.
Well, the Captain's name was Ned
And he died just for a maid
Her name it was cried Pretty Peggy-o
The floor in the basement was unfinished; a hard and humped foundation.
I made my way back to the storeroom, where the exposed insulation on
the ceiling glowed like someone's insides. There was an empty shelf above
the camping gear. If you stepped on the cooler you could lever yourself up
and sit there.
Captain Cook was making soup
His wife was making jelly
Captain Cook fell in the soup
And burned his rubber belly
I had some thoughts then, questions and concerns. The captain's name was
Ned, and he had died. All because of pretty Peggy-o. This was a shifty
thing. Less shifty, but no less unsettling, was the other captain's rubber
belly. How many captains? And what to do with the steady golden drip of
the varethane, the sawdust and the tears?
When I approached the workshop for the second time, the singing had
stopped.
"Well, that's just like you, isn't it, chittering away in the corner, looking
like the ragged end of nowhere..." He seemed to be railing at the sawhorse.
"Dad?"
The workshop was a dim, cluttered room, with a burlap cloth tacked to
the wall, covered in hundreds of badges and pins. Quebec, je t'aime, one
read. There was one window above the main worktable. It was a small,
mullioned window, of the type you might see in institutions. Through the
window, passing by, were the fat bottoms of two marauding raccoons, then
the thin, purposeful calves and shining shoes of Lucas Stanislowski, our
neighbour to the left.
My father seemed not to have noticed the driveway goings-on. If he had
noticed me, he did not let on. He gave a two-by-four a pat. "You watch him
now, he can be mean as a snake, he can, mean as a snake." He brought his
hand up to his mouth and pantomimed a pair of fangs.
The captain's name was Ned.
I climbed the stairs.
15 So many songs, and seeming non-sequiturs. These were mysteries not
to be plumbed. Still, there were certain axioms in my father's universe that
were impossible to counter or challenge. The captain's name was Ned. I
understood this to be one of them. This was the life that had been flung
upon us; we could not shake it.
Kyra's mum and dad came over the next morning, skittish with apology.
My parents sat them in the living room and closed the door. My father had
asked me to be there, as a witness, and his temperament seemed mild, if
slightly misinformed. He offered Kyra's dad a drink, but Kyra's dad was
not a drinker.
"Soda," he said, in a voice I could barely hear over the chugging of the
air conditioner, "if you have it."
Kyra's parents were delicate, with shallow, perpetually inquisitive foreheads. Her father worried at a thread hanging from his sweater, and cocked
his left nostril periodically. Her mother had neck tendons that stretched
like gum from her ears to her shoulders. She patted the couch and laughed
at dad's jokes. He told the one about the obscene clone fall; a shaggy dog
play on words about an out of control Frankenstein creature who ran through
the streets swearing at little old ladies.
"And there's a bang on the mad scientist's door...Bang! Bang! Bang!
And damned if it isn't two burly policemen standing there." He cleared his
throat like a law enforcer. "I'm sorry to inform you Mr., Mr...Inventor, that
you are under arrest. We have to take you in."
"Kyra has been stealing from us," said Mum, to get the ball rolling.
"Yes, yes, they're not valuable things, but they are precious in their own way."
"We've tried talking to her, but she doesn't seem to understand. We're
wondering if maybe there's something else we should be doing..."
"Yes, she's a fine girl, but the sticky fingers, the sticky fingers are a
problem." He gulped at his drink. "Maddie, what do you think?"
I didn't know what I thought, except that I was aware, at that moment,
of being somehow bigger than all of them, and it occurred to me that
Kyra's parents especially, looked inauthentic and naive, as if Kyra had
birthed them, instead of the opposite.
When we were toddlers, Dad played a game with Jeremy and me. He
lay on his back and made seats for us, his elbows rooted, his square palms
bent backwards. We sat on those twin stools and he sang. At the end of
every song there was a question. It was a quiz.
C'mon down the stairs, Pretty Peggy, my dear
C'mon down the stairs, Pretty Peggy-o
C'mon down the stairs, let down your golden hair
Take a fair measure of your laddie-o
16 "Now, Madeline, could you please tell me where, if I was to look, I
would find Mount Kilimanjaro?"
The answers were not as relevant as our attitudes towards the questions.
We were pre-kindergarten after all. Still, any hesitation meant the stools,
like tricky trapdoors, did not hold, and our tailbones would drop definitively to the floor.
I considered my father's question. I considered my father. In comparison, Kyra seemed straightforward, stolid; an example.
"I think she left her galoshes here," I said.
Dad frowned, then went out into the hallway. He came back a moment
later, galoshes in hand, shaking the rubbery forms in the air so that they
trembled cartoonishly. They were huge; at least five centimetres longer
than his own scuffed loafers.
"I'll say one thing for Kyra." He smiled. "She's got a good grip on
Canada, she does." He hummed and did a little jig on the spot.
That afternoon, after Kyra's parents had left, Mum discovered Kyra had
also stolen a bundle of cheques with rubber bands wound round them that
Dad had tucked in the butter compartment of the refrigerator.
"What a bandit," Dad said, shaking his head, "what a bandit."
It was decided later, by phone, that Kyra would be grounded until she
found a way to pay the money back.
But at that moment, her parents just sat on the couch, looking dim and
duped.
On the day Dad died, Mum, Jeremy, and I sat on that same couch like a
row of oversized birds. For some time we did not speak; our hearts limned
with the fact of it. Then Mum twitched her arms at her sides.
"Fancy a person up and dying like that." She mulled this over. "Fancy a
person up and dying like that."
Jeremy and I left her with a clucking group of neighbours and a battery
of casserole dishes, the plastic wrap overtop taut, opaque with steam.
We went for a walk around the block, then veered off towards the park
instinctively. At the streetcar loop Jeremy stopped.
"When I was a kid, I used to think the sound of the streetcars going past
was like the sound of the night breathing. Big raspy breaths, y'know?"
"Mmm," I said, but I thought this an affected observation, unlike my
brother, and I resented the choked reminiscence of his tone. I had not seen
him for a year, since he moved to Hamilton to work in the steel mill. I was
in my last year of high school, and had just finished my university applications. I did not want to be held back.
"Hoity-toity, eh?" Dad had said, when I showed him my choices. "Well,
good for you, I guess, good for you."
The park was scabby with winter; the snow rose in dirt-flecked mounds
17 along the trail, and had frozen in some places to crunchy ice. But the trees
were how I liked them, stripped down, showing themselves against the sky.
"How was the drive?" We had reached the edge of the pond.
"Fine, bit slippery."
We began to make our way out onto the pond surface, sliding our feet
tentatively.
"I'll call Auntie Joan and the cousins. Maybe you can call about the
cremation, how that all works."
"I think he should be buried, have a proper burial." He said this formally, like an affronted army officer.
I bounced on the ice, looked out towards the lake, across the highway.
The sky over the water was a clear, gray broth. "Kyra used to say if you
were really mad at a dead person, you could just stomp on their grave. Do
you remember Kyra?"
"Sure," Jeremy said, "she used to beat me up."
"She did?" I said, and turned towards him, although asking it aloud
made me realize how much I already knew, and would know, peripherally,
perennially, about Kyra, about all of us, and the versions we had been
dealt.
I watched my brother begin to cry, the tears like perspiration, appearing suddenly on his cheeks.
He tripped me then, sent me sprawling onto the ice so that my head hit
hard, and pinned me down. He grabbed one of my arms and began slapping me across the face with my own hand. "Hey, why're you hitting
yourself? Why're you hitting yourself?" When he let me up, we were both
shaking.
"I'll ask Mum about the cremation," I said, and pulled my scarf up over
my mouth.
Jeremy grabbed his cigarettes from his hip pocket and pinched one
from the pack. I stood in front of him, back to the wind, and made a house
for his lighter with my hands.
"Kyra," he said, and blew out a line of steady, streamlined smoke, "had
a mouth like a rip in a mattress."
The last time we saw Kyra was Labour Day weekend, Sunday morning.
Dad had just come downstairs, and was sitting at the kitchen table with a
cup of tea, singing.
Free beer for all the workers!
Free beer for all the workers!
My brother had already showered and dressed, and was fiddling with the
radio dial, trying to find the baseball score. I was still in my pyjamas,
18 prowling deliberately around the house, thinking about school: Rachel
Edwards and her sticker collection, the way my volleyball serve teetered
feebly at the top of the net, the perpetual sectioning of the days.
"I think I'll make crepes," said Mum, who had been reading the paper.
She pronounced it craypze, then seemed to forget she had said anything at
all.
There was a knock at the front door.
"I'll get it," I called, and ran barefoot to see. I could make out a bulky,
bouncing form through the stained glass. I let her in.
"Hi." She hugged me so I couldn't breathe, my nose squashed closed,
mouth full of late summer musk. I tried to relax, leaned into it. When she
let go I had to hold onto the banister until my lightheadedness passed.
"Sit down," Dad said, and poured Kyra a glass of milk.
Kyra did not sit. She tiptoed from one end of the kitchen to the other,
her step light and fey, one hand wandering in the air without motive. My
father, with his fondness for mimicry, was engaged.
"You know you're not supposed to be here," said Mum, putting down
the paper. "Do your parents know what's going on?"
"Just thought I'd drop by, see how you guys are doing." She picked up
an ashtray full of nickels and fished out a tarnished watch. "It's back to
school time. I'm getting a new kilt and pencil crayons. I think my teacher
will be a man this year, which is better. Men are much stricter. Is this a new
bowl?"
"No," said Mum, "we've had it for a while now. Why don't you and
Maddie go upstairs, and I'll make some breakfast."
Kyra knocked a magnet into her shoulder bag as we passed the fridge.
My room was messy, the bed a nest of barely dressed dolls, half finished
origami.
"Where'sjeremy?" She pulled apart a peace crane.
"Probably outside. Who cares?"
"Not me." She had moved on to my dresser, and was in the process of
upending my jewellery box. She tugged a gold chain with a crucifix from
the pile of baubles. "Where'd you get this?"
"My mum's friend. He's Lebanese. Once he brought us a whole goat to
eat."
"Did not."
"Did too."
"Was it dead?"
"Duh. Of course. Could you please stop doing that? You're messing
everything up."
"I'm just looking." She pulled a bundle of chains apart, sending a silver
charm skidding across the dresser and into the dark space behind.
"Kyra," I shouted. "You look with your eyes, not with your hands!"
19 "I know. I know that."
Downstairs, Mum was making crepes, the spatula flipping them up by
the edge, then over, until they were a blotchy, yellowish-tan colour, firm
and eggy-tasting. Dad was jangling cutlery in one hand, and the house
smelled slightly of garbage, but mostly of coffee.
"Where's your brother?" Mum asked.
"Betcha dollars to donuts he's in that damn shed." Dad went to fetch
him.
We ate quickly. The maple syrup shone on the plates.
"Go on, might as well," said Dad.
"Gordon," said Mum, "please."
He picked up his plate and licked it clean.
"I'm leaving," said Kyra, when she was finished with hers.
"You'll make it home alright?"
"You don't have to worry about me, Reenie, I'm an independent woman."
She spun around and curtsied.
I seem to remember we sat at that table for a long time after she left,
talking about the float Dad was helping to build for the Labour Day Parade, the rabid squirrel Lucas had shot with his bibi gun, the way summer
had slumped forward into September. When the sun peaked in the sky,
Mum said she supposed she should call Kyra's parents.
"That Kyra," said Dad, "you'd think she was King Shit of Turd Island."
"Gordon," said Mum, "language."
"You're right, I'm sorry. Queen Poop of Turd Island." He kicked me
under the table.
"Dad," said my brother, "act your age."
20 David Seymour
Perlerorneq
-a Killinemiut word which, roughly translated, means
to feel the weight of life in winter
It is time to save the things
I might otherwise have thrown away,
leaves eddying around the trees
colour frozen in the vein, scarf of sparrows
winding through the empty branches.
At evening the sunlight strikes the houses sideways
like thinning blood. Children and shadows
quickly vacate the neighbourhood.
There is a point when animals,
badly confused, or simply
tired of homing, do not return but go
farther astray, like memory, farther north-Igloolik,
Tromso, Komolomec-become cold bones forgotten
under drift; winter's resolution. But I will grow
a fur of transparent hairs to collect
leftover light, a pot belly for warmth,
practice reading in the dark, develop
a leanness of vision, clean past contour.
I will wander outdoors measuring each footstep.
Steadily the Arctic hares burrow into 22
hours of nightfall, caribou taste the air;
they know wakefulness differently, know places
where no one wants anyone to be.
21 Patricia Young
Hotel Europa
In a one star hotel
I look down at my feet,
one of which is slightly misshapen.
My breasts have filled with milk.
Strange, for my children
have grown,
even the youngest
drives a fuel-efficient car
along the highways of another
country. I try not to hear
the quarreling in the next room
but the words
spring into the air,
plain and simple.
Strange also
to be far from home
looking at a sink sag off a wall
in the corner of a room
outside of Naples.
None of us able to prevent
our lives,
the man and woman
shouting words not found
at the bottom of the suitcase:
Italian in Ten Minutes a Day.
It's July and I sit at the edge
of a bed, too old for all of it—
22 the tender breasts, the leaking milk,
the sweet/sad longing.
The body holds memories
we forget
and blame sounds the same
in any language. Sleep, I know,
will not surface for hours.
Even the smallest child's woken
from her afternoon siesta
and now sits erect,
riding the currents in her father's arms.
The balcony hangs over
the sun-drenched piazza
beneath which boys with gold
crucifixes around their necks
cat call and wolf whistle
at girls who strut
the length and breadth
of their small bit of earth, and oh
it would break your heart
to see these girls-
arms linked, heads held high-
how they throw
their whole souls
into this apparently
casual
stroll around the square.
23 Evelyn Lau
Arson
Tonight the house that mocks me in my sleep
rocks in a bed of fire.
The mother is trapped in the basement,
a spider in the centre of the web,
burning to a black crisp.
The father sobs on the dark sundeck,
He is himself and at the same time,
every other man. I press my body against his
to plead for everything I need.
For weeks the landscape has been changing,
the light dying inside your office.
We are approaching the place I locked away,
the desert with its spring of sorrow,
the hollow glass heart in the core of the maze.
Doctor, I've grown afraid of noises in the night,
and the white silence of days,
and young couples on the street
pushing baby carriages
remind me of my own death.
Yesterday you gave me a hammer and nails
to destroy the wooden dresser from childhood
that appears in all my dreams, but in my hands
they changed into a match and gasoline,
and the entire house went up in flames.
24 Jose Kozer
translated from the Spanish by Orlando Ricardo Menes
Abraham Marcus Materim..
Abraham Marcus Materim
tells that he saw the Bolsheviks enter Warsaw
long before obesity had obstructed his memory.
Says that in the backyard of his house one could hear cannon fire,
that he buried his head in a Talmud
just in case a shell blasted through the window.
Many years later he became an author of books that various refugees
commented on,
became a typesetter, published various odes
which the Jewish community fiercely adulated.
He appeared in newspapers, arm in arm with colleagues,
his shirt untucked, glasses fogged,
the fly open with his erudition.
Abraham Marcus Materim,
printer of books in Hebrew,
collapsed because of his own weight, under the claws of fatness,
agonized for hours spitting tetragrams from his mouth.
25 Dad's Grammar
One had to see this immigrant stammer verbs from Yiddish to Spanish,
one had to see him drift, a castaway, in front of his children
among notes and pages and Bolshevik stories,
in the streets his embarrassment found safety behind the parapet of
Galicians' dialect and Catalans' merchandise,
he toppled over impressively in the rags of his dislocated
conjugations,
said va for voy, ponga for pongo, buzzed prepositions,
pronounced fue as foi, when he said joives instead oi juevesthe street
became slippery,
fatal luck-despotic mockery-squandered itself in street corners,
and it was because the immigrant got tangled up in verbs,
he'd discharge a furious accumulation of crags in the penury of
tongue twisters.
he produced poet sons, hunched in the empty space of a number and
the disenchantment of negotiations,
and now his sons left him like a dead Ash Wednesday,
his sons moved on, slightly sewing Castilian words,
his sons nimbly composing the purest syntax,
parents inculcating the supreme exaltation of words to their children,
the wet emigrant shrank amid the last flaws of his red vocabulary,
finally he suffered perpetually, paused between Niemen's tears,
and Poland's end.
26 Gaudeamus
In my confusion
I didn't know how to talk back to my detractors, those
who take me
for a poseur because I pronounce the c in the Castilian
manner or say tio for tipo (I love) the hybrids
(Peruvianisms) (Mexicanisms)
of diction and words: I'm neither one (nor the other) neither upright
nor ambiguous, extremely
snub-
and big-nosed Assyrian (beard) slanted (eyes), and I come from the
other side of the river: Cuban
and vain (Jewish) and tabernacle (shofar and tallit) violin
of la Orquesta Aragon or first trumpet
of la Sonora Matancera: not
to have been a migratory ibis (shame) or sporadic heart
accustomed to the scandal of someone who, at the nuptial hour,
at the time of the feast,
crosses the threshold and breathes in a smell of syrups (smell) of
tropical fruits and dill: yes,
I'm like this, he
and I, cistern and limbo (myriad) hands that climb the hand ladder,
contaminate the mind
with favus and green scum imperturbable (waters): without nation,
still future
and mirth of round cooking pots (my hands) are my race,
stirring in the crepitation
of matter.
27 Georges Perec
translated from the French by Tim Conley
The Winter's Voyage
In the last week of August 1939, while rumours of war overran Paris, a
young professor of letters, Vincent Degrael, was invited to spend several days at a villa in the Havre area which belonged to the parents of
one of his colleagues, Denis Borrade. The day before his departure, while
exploring the library of his hosts in search of one of those books which he
had always promised himself to read, but for which he had not really had
more than time to carelessly flip through by fireside before going to make
a fourth at bridge, Degrael stumbled upon a slim volume entitled The
Winter's Voyage, whose author, Hugo Vernier, was completely unknown to
him, but whose first pages made such a strong impression upon him that
he uneasily took the time to excuse himself from his friend and his parents
before climbing to his room to read it.
The Winter's Voyage was a sort of narrative written in the first person and
situated in a semi-imaginary land whose heavy skies, dark forests, gentle
hills, and canals cut from greenish locks evoked, with an insidious insistence, the landscape of Flanders or Ardennes. The book was divided into
two parts. The first, the shorter, at first glance told, in sibylline terms, of a
voyage, in which it seemed that each stop had been marked by a setback,
and at the end of which the anonymous hero, a man who everything suggested was young, arrived at the edge of a deep lake within a thick fog;
there waited a ferryman who carried him to a steep-sloped island upon
which rose a tall and sombre building; hardly had the young man set his
foot down upon the narrow ledge which constituted the only point of
access to the island when a strange pair appeared: an old man and woman,
both draped in long black cloaks, who seemed to emerge from the fog, and
who came to stand at either side of him, seized him by the elbows, gripping him most tightly against their sides; thus nearly welded one to the
other, they climbed a rocky path, entered the residence, clambered up a
wooden staircase, and came up into a room. There, as inexplicably as they
had appeared, the elderly pair vanished, leaving the young man alone in
the middle of the room. It was scantily furnished: a bed covered with a
cretonne of flowers, a table, a chair. A fire was blazing in the fireplace. On
28 the table a meal had been laid out: a bean soup, a shoulder of beef. Through
the high window of the room, the young man observed the full moon
emerging from the clouds; then he sat himself at the table and began
eating. And it was at the point of this solitary dinner that the first part
ended.
The second part in itself constituted almost four-fifths of the book and
it quickly became apparent that the short narrative that preceded it was
only its anecdotal preface. It was a long confession of exacerbating lyricism, interspersed with poems, enigmatic maxims, blasphemous incantations. Hardly had he begun to read it when Vincent Degrael felt a sensation of uneasiness which it was impossible to define precisely, but which
only became more pronounced as he turned the pages with a hand which
trembled more and more: it was as if the sentences before his eyes were
becoming suddenly familiar, irresistibly putting him in mind of something,
as though the reading of each one came to impose, or rather to superimpose, the memory at the exact and uncertain instance of a sentence that
had been almost identical and which he had previously read elsewhere; as
though the words, more tender than caresses or more perfidious than poisons, the words each in turn more lucid or obscure, obscene or steamy,
dazzling, labyrinthine, and ceaselessly oscillating, like the panic-stricken
needle of a compass, between a hallucinatory violence and a fabulous
serenity, sketching a confused shape wherein one believed one found again,
pell-mell, Germain Nouveau and Tristan Corbiere, Villiers and Banville,
Rimbaud and Verhaeren, Charles Cros and Leon Bioy.
Vincent Degrael, whose field of interests included precisely these authors—he had been preparing for several years a thesis on "The Evolution
of French Poetry from the Parnassians to the Symbolists"—at first believed
that he had actually read this book before, haphazardly during his studies;
then, more plausibly, that he was a victim of an illusion of deja vu, as when
the simple taste of a sip of tea all at once brings you back thirty years to
England; it took only the slightest thing, a sound, an odour, a gesture-
perhaps this moment of hesitation that he registered before taking the
book from the shelf where it had been placed between Verhaeren and
Viele-Griffin, or else the eager manner in which he had skimmed through
the opening pages—for the false memory of a previous reading comes as a
superimpression, to disrupt and render impossible the reading he was in
the midst of doing. But soon doubt was no longer possible, and Degrael
had to face the facts: perhaps his memory was playing tricks on him;
perhaps it was only coincidence if Vernier seemed to borrow from Catulle
Mendes his "lone jackal haunting sepulchres of stone;" perhaps he could
take into account the fortuitous encounters, the displayed influences, the
intended tributes, the unconscious copyings, the urge to pastiche, the taste
for quotations, the happy coincidences; perhaps he could consider such
29 expressions as "the flight of time," "winter's mists," "obscure horizon,"
"deep caves," "vaporous fountains," "dim lights of wild undergrowths" as
belonging to poetic license and that it was, consequently, also completely
normal to re-encounter them in a paragraph of Hugo Vernier as in the
stanzas ofjean Moreas, but it was absolutely impossible not to recognize,
word for word or close to it, here reading by chance a fragment of Rimbaud
("I saw clearly a mosque in place of a factory, a drum school conducted by
the angels") or of Mallarme ("lucid winter, season of the serene heart"),
there of Lautreamont ("I saw in a mirror that bruised mouth of my own
will"), of Gustave Kahn ("Let the song breathe out...my heart cries / A
bistre ramp around the lights. Solemn / the silence slowly rose, frightening / the familiar noises of vague personnel"), or hardly modified, of Verlaine
("in the interminable dullness of the plain, the snow glistened like sand.
The sky was copper-coloured. The train glided along without a murmur..."),
etc.
It was four in the morning when Degrael finished reading The Winter's
Voyage. He had picked out some thirty-odd instances of borrowing. There
were certainly others. Hugo Vernier's book seemed to be nothing less than
a prodigious compilation of the poets of the end of the 19th century, an
enormous pastiche, a mosaic in which almost each fragment was the work
of someone else. But at the moment he attempted to imagine this unknown
author who had wanted to draw from others the very matter of his text,
when he began to grasp fully this mad and admirable project, Degrael felt
an alarming suspicion rising within himself: he came to remember that in
taking the book from its shelf he had mechanically noted its date the
acquired reflex of a young researcher who never consults a work without
observing its bibliographical details. Perhaps he was fooling himself, but
he believed he had read: 1864. He rechecked, his heart beating fiercely.
He had read correctly: this would mean that Vernier had "quoted" a verse
of Mallarme two years in advance, plagiarized Verlaine ten years before
his "Forgotten Ariettas," written of Gustave Kahn nearly a quarter of a
century before him! This would mean that Lautreamont, Germain Nouveau,
Rimbaud, Corbiere and many others were only copyists of one inspired
and unacknowledged poet who, in a unique work, had known to gather
together the very sustenance which would nourish three or four generations of authors after him!
Unless, of course, the printer's date on the book was incorrect. But
Degrael refused to entertain this hypothesis: his discovery was too beautiful, too obvious, too necessary for it not to be real, and already he was
imagining the vertiginous consequences that it was going to provoke: the
incredible scandal that would result from the public revelation of this
"premonitory anthology," the range of its effects, the enormous calling
into question of all that the critics and historians of literature had imper-
30 turbably professed for years and years. And his impatience was such that,
firmly renouncing sleep, he threw himself into the library to attempt to
learn more about Vernier and his work.
He found nothing. The few dictionaries and indexes present in the
Borrades' library ignored the existence of Hugo Vernier. Neither the Borrade
parents nor Denis were able to offer any more information: the book had
been bought at an auction some ten years before, in Honfleur: they had
flipped through it without giving it much attention.
All day long, with Denis' help, Degrael embarked upon a systematic
examination of the text, seeking out the famous fragments in dozens of
anthologies and collections: they found almost three hundred and fifty of
them, divided among almost thirty authors: the most famous as well as the
most obscure poets of the end of the century, and sometimes too a few
prose writers (Leon Bioy, Ernest Hello), seemed to have made The Winter's
Voyage the bible from which they had drawn the best of themselves: Banville,
Richepin, Huysmans, Charles Cros, Leon Valade alongside Mallarme and
Verlaine and those others, now fallen into obscurity, named Charles de
Paomairols, Hippolyte Vaillant, Maurice Rollinat (the godson of George
Sand), Laprade, Albert Merat, Charles Morice, or Antony Valabregue.
Degrael meticulously recorded in a notebook the list of authors and the
points of reference of their borrowings and went back to Paris, determined
to continue his research of the previous day at the National Library. Events,
however, did not permit it. In Paris, his movement order awaited him.
Mobilized to Compiegne, he rediscovered himself, without having had the
time to fathom why, in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, passing through Spain, whence
to England, not to return to France until the end of 1945. Throughout the
war he had carried with him his notebook and had miraculously managed
never to lose it. His research had naturally not advanced much, but all the
same he had made one major discovery: at the British Museum, he had
been able to consult the General Catalogue of French Booksellers and the
Bibliography of France and had been able to confirm his fantastic hypothesis: The Winter's Voyage, by Vernier (Hugo), had indeed been published in
1864, in Valenciennes, by the Herve Brothers, Printers and Booksellers,
and, submitted to the official depository like all books published in France,
had been deposited in the National Library where it had been indexed with
the classification Z 87912.
Appointed professor at Beauvais, Vincent Degrael henceforth devoted
his spare time to The Winter's Voyage.
Thorough study of the private diaries and the correspondence of most
of the poets of the end of the nineteenth century quickly persuaded him
that Hugo Vernier had, in his time, known the celebrity he deserved: notes
like "received today a letter from Hugo," or "wrote a long letter to Hugo,"
"read VH. all night" or to the famous "Hugo, only Hugo" of Valentin
31 Havercamp, clearly referred not to "Victor" Hugo, but to this unfortunate
poet whose little book had apparently inflamed all who held it in their
hands. The manifest contradictions that literary criticism and history had
never yet explained thus found their logical solution, and it is obvious that
it was in thinking of Hugo Vernier and of what they owed his Winter's
Voyage that Rimbaud had written "I is an other" and Lautreamont, "Poetry
must be made by all and not by one."
Yet the more value he placed upon the dominant position that Hugo
Vernier was sure to occupy in the literary history of France at the end of
the last century, the less he was able to provide tangible evidence: because
he could never lay his hand on a copy of Winter's Voyage. The one which he
had consulted had been destroyed-at the same time as the villa-during
the bombardment of Havre; the copy deposited in the National Library
was not in its place when he asked for it and it took only the interval of a
short walk for him to know that this book had been, in 1926, sent off to a
binder who never received it. All of the inquiries he made to tens and
hundreds of librarians, archivists, and bookstores proved futile, and Degrael
soon convinced himself that the five hundred copies of the edition had
been willfully destroyed by those who had been so directly inspired by it.
Of the life of Hugo Vernier, Vincent Degrael learned nothing, or almost nothing. One unhoped for note discovered in the esoteric Biography of
Remarkable Men of Northern France and Belgium (Verviers, 1882) apprised
him that Vernier was born in Vimy (Pas-de-Calais) on September 3, 1836.
But the civil state documents of the Vimy municipality had burned in
1916, at the same time as their duplicates deposited at the Arras prefecture.
No death certificate had apparently ever been drawn up.
For nearly thirty years, Vincent Degrael sought in vain to gather together evidence of the existence of this poet and his work. When he died,
in the Verrieres psychiatric hospital, some of his former students undertook to file the immense stack of documents and manuscripts he left behind: among them appeared a thick register bound in black cloth and
upon which was the neatly written label, The Winter's Voyage: the first eight
pages retraced the story of these vain searchings; the three hundred and
ninety-two others were blank.
Translator's Note:
In its corpulence the English language will always have bulges when it tries on a
French suit. I have relied on scissors in my tailoring here, opting to cut loose ends.
The misfortune lies in the fact that Perec's fabric is beautiful for its loose ends: the
winding antitheses (with whose length I tried not to interfere) and the fine ambiguities of French meaning. The hope of this project is for a feeling of casual, rather
than formal, dress.
32 Sioux Browning
American Road Hazard
They dream only of America
To be lost among the thirteen million pillars of grass
-John Ashbery
I
Something is wrong with the car.
I push down on the gas pedal
but the car still slows.
If I watch the gas gauge
I can see the fuel level dropping.
Outside, the headlights pick out nothing
but fence lines and wheat.
Behind me, a U-haul shimmies on the trailer hitch.
The mountains that hold my family
have long since faded from my mirror
like the fallen sun.
Suddenly, the car lurches forward.
I realize I have been driving
into a torrent of wind
and the torrent has ended.
I ease off the pedal,
giddy with tiredness and relief,
when something dashes across the road
and is crushed beneath the tires.
It is only a tumbleweed
and I spend the next mile laughing.
I stop at a closed gas station.
The wind rocks the car all night long and I sleep
like the back seat is the bed I have always had.
By morning the rushing air
has corralled me, the car boxed in
by wind-fallen trees. So neatly done.
So accidental.
33 II
My mother says I will marry an American.
While it's true I don't dream only of Americans, they figure often,
surely more often than they should.
So he is tall with a lanky frame, slightly buttless so his pants hang well,
and he has big hands with wide palms
so he looks like he could work a trade.
He wears jeans and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, open
one button at the neck.
He tries to win me over with a passion for baseball, which I hate.
He will have broken at least one bone doing something stupid.
He will never admit that he once wept alone in his dorm room
over a poem he had to read for Intro, to American Lit.
He holds the knife carefully when he cooks.
He got a girl drunk in college so he could sleep with her and
now he can't think of it without a gut-boil of regret.
He prefers dogs to cats, outdoors to in, fall to any other season.
Ill
At 13,1 float up the Mississippi with my family.
This is what we do, lock up our home
to see the States by land and water.
And now a paddle wheeler threads us
north into the continent.
The captain's son is 15,
has blue eyes and blond hair.
Somewhere around Memphis his soft hands
wend their way under my shirt.
I leave him at a run,
sit on the deck and watch the red banks
slump down and infect the water like a dye.
34 IV
My mother says I will marry an American, but she can't say
precisely which one.
There must be 13 million possibilities and my dreams
do little to narrow it down.
He is a Jewish man from New York whose voice cracks as he sings over
the Menorah because he's not sure he believes in it any more.
He is a black man from Spokane who came into Canada to play junior
hockey for the Wheat Kings, but he never made it to the NHL.
He is a chemist—Hispanic, white and Hopi mix from Fort Worth, Texas-
who broke horses in the summer to make money for school.
He is career air force from Mississippi with a drawl so thick it takes him
half an hour to introduce himself.
He is a Chinese Los Angelino who works as a grip and smokes
too much dope in his spare time.
He is Irish Catholic from Missouri who once considered being a priest
before he got a girl from his high school pregnant;
now he often wonders where she is.
In my dream our bridal clothes are denim, my bouquet is made of
daisies, and the car that waits is Detroit heavy metal.
V
New Orleans is lions
(the MGM lion at least,
chained in the lobby of a big hotel).
Here is a picture of me, a girl, with it.
I'm behind the massif of his head,
my fingers twisted
in the coarse dreadlocks of his mane.
We both look agitated.
After the picture, my hand
had a soft sheen of lion oil
and I didn't wash it
for the whole day.
35 VI
My mother says I will marry an American because she often sees me
with my head bowed over the map, kneeling before the geography
of the vaulted, grassy states, tracing paths my grandparents took.
But in my mind the seat beside me holds no one, is occupied with
Coke cans, with burger wrappers and creased maps,
cassette tapes with no cases, and a pen.
VII
In Washington in May the mountain falls on us.
It falls for two days,
sifting down in ash and powder.
Clogged birds fall from the trees.
A hundred miles south sits the Hanford reactor,
power living its fast lives in wires my grandpa pulled—
another mountain waiting for another time.
We are caged in my grandparents' house;
we circle around the living room,
watch candles flicker on the darkened TV.
On the third day we leave for Canada
where mountains make more sense.
We drive on closed roads, pushing ash
in piles with the fender of the car.
Powdered mountain streams behind us in a wake.
VIII
All Americans are like all dreams.
I wake to them again and again, and again they surprise me.
Each one represents a hazard, each one a possibility.
There are six places this gravel road can take you.
36 IX
I drive across Nevada, leaving
my father in his mining town
in high blown desert. Peel back
the scales of chrome and neon light
and the state is hulled rock and shadows
stretching long-fingered across alkaline soil.
In only months my father
will leave town on business and his landlady
will crack open the door,
sell everything.
Trailed by the flicker of waxing moon
I drive into the town of Walker Lake,
am greeted by weapons,
missile silos cropped up whitely
over a city's space.
Like chert formed out of limestone
they wait,
all potential.
X
My mother says I will marry an American.
I wonder if she says that because she did.
XI
When I wake the truck is rocking.
My first thought is, Keep sleeping.
It's the sheriff and you can't afford
the fine for sleeping on the beach.
My next thought is, Keep sleeping.
It's not a sheriff. A sheriff
would have told you who he was.
37 A light flashes at my eyes,
flicks on and off.
Hands scrabble at the thin canopy windows,
rattle the handle where there is no lock,
handle held shut only by blankets wedged against it.
I lie there huddled,
trying to look both masculine and dead.
Beneath my pulse, I can hear the Pacific
as it beats the shore,
tugging California away grain by grain.
The hands desist, a door slams,
a car rolls away in neutral
The engine fires when it hits the highway.
Speeds off.
XII
When my cousin was 17, she had pretty legs and high breasts,
frosted hair and pink turtleneck sweaters.
She listened to Gino Vanelli and Peter Frampton.
She kept Final Net hair spray and peanut M&M's in the glove box of her car.
There was a poster on her bedroom wall that said,
If you love something, set it free.
I was 11, so I thought all that was indescribably beautiful.
She took me to a county fair and we rode on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
On the drive home we passed a huge accident on the highway.
The wreckage was everywhere and people milled dumbly
in the blue/red flash of emergency lights.
My cousin drove slowly past it and said in a shaky voice,
Don't look. Don't look.
So I covered my eyes with my hands but looked out between the fingers.
I don't feel sorry at all for the people who sprawl on the pavement.
From here, they don't look like they're hurting.
38 XIII
I sleep on the sandy bank
of a stream that cuts
through the Tuolumne meadows.
My boyfriend sleeps beside me.
The meadows are spring-like still in August
and shimmer in the thin alpine sun.
When we wake up,
a herd of tiny deer surrounds us,
a doe standing close enough to touch
and we hear her breathe.
The pink bisquit of her tongue
laps the stream,
her cupped ears move slowly
like the open pages of a hardbound book.
I can't help thinking, Oh yes,
this is how I'm going to spend my life.
XTV
My mother says I will marry an American.
My mother says to pick the very best one and he was not it.
XV
I have played house with men;
I have bought house
and kept it,
painted walls and planted tulips,
crushed spices in a mortar,
cleaned the lint trap in the dryer and
sucked cock before breakfast.
I have done it all but say
the words before the man,
before the people, before the justice of the peace.
39 XVI
My mother says I will marry an American and I know there is a gulf
between what she says and what will be.
Because the truth is there were these men who loved me
and I was the woman who left them.
I don't know what it would have taken to make me stay.
XVII
We cut mushrooms into curry soup,
cooking on the tailgate.
I have never been stoned
on anything, think I feel nothing
but now he paces around the truck
muttering and I absolutely
must sit down.
We are lost in the Oregon dunes,
find the ocean,
beach glazed with the tide way out.
He looks like he is sinking
into the sand and I swing
between panic and laughter.
I step gingerly over the centipedes
that crowd the ground. He says,
Jesus look at all these
and I am impressed he can see
my hallucination.
The dunes are cloistered in fog
and I remember disconnected things:
that somewhere out there is a good friend
seven digits of a number
and I have never seen the sun.
40 The only place on my body
I can feel is the place
his hand touches. I answer
the question raised a week ago, Yes
I love you.
XVIII
My mother says I will marry an American but I am not waiting,
and if he comes, he will come from wherever he can.
And if he makes it to me, I only want four things:
that he is kind and patient,
that he understands how morning wind rushing off the Rockies
can whittle sin from your heart,
that he has a filigree of crow's feet at his eyes from so much
laughing, and that when I leave, he willingly leaves too.
XIX
A coyote,
the colours of soot and winter grass,
flashes across the pavement.
I grip the wheel and swerve,
tires negotiate their purchase on the road.
The day narrows to just:
me, singing to a coyote—gogogogogo—
and the coyote reaching for a speed it cannot match.
And yet it does. When it vanishes
into the bunker of the drainage ditch
I think of its quick feet,
how beneath them in these hills
hum the lives and half-lives of the Hanford reactor.
I think of salt on the coyote's feet,
of the coyote licking them clean,
reactor traces in the hills,
the hills now in the coyote,
the coyote with hills in it
running before the car.
41 Something is wrong with the car.
How many times have I passed through here?
Suddenly, I regret that I am driving,
leave the car
keys swinging from the ignition,
walk into the empty
Horse Heaven Hills.
42 matt robinson
a poetics of expressiveness;
eve
4. variation-lynda: a perspective from the local diner
she was an odd one, that one—always, from
the time they arrived, looking around, nervous-like; never
comfortable in her own skin, even sitting down to
a cup of coffee, a piece of pie: fidgety, like them rats in
the back when you've got 'em cornered and there's nothing
but the broom, those eyes, i always expected
her old man pushed her around, maybe yelled at the kids after
work, come to think of it, i don't know if
she even had kids, real quiet, that one: never too
chatty about the home-life, about where it was they come
from, you learn not to press 'em, though-they tell you
what you need to know; ask for help if
things get too bad. or, they end up gone—dead maybe,
yeah, she was always not really here—even with
a fresh pot just poured—you could see it in her
eyes: tired; away, removed-like, and the counter: some strange,
that: i'd just finish wiping it down and catch her looking at
it gleaming-at an angle-like she was checking
her rearview before changing lanes; seeing what was behind.
43 5. division-thoughts on paring apples
leaving: not unlike paring an apple; there
is a trick to it, a certain skill or knack only
perfected through practice, repeated attempts, this
was, of course, their first, and not
surprisingly (or, perhaps, surprisingly, given
the tendency history has to veer towards beginner's
luck) it did not go completely smoothly; included
a hitch or two along the way. a
hangnail of memory; a bit of skin or scab that—
although, for all intents and purposes, dead
to nearly everything, including itself—hangs on
in spite of, instead, at times she feels
all apple, all raw flesh—her skin peeled off, still
peeling in ragged, clumsy strips—her
nerves exposed and burning with the separation,
the fragmentation; it would have been,
she thinks at times, much easier if there had been
a clean break, a deliberate move to this, but
now she hopes to get no better, to never try again.
44 8. combination-surgery and sleeper cars
excision, or combination? on top
of everything else, a fit—an attack—and
then another removal, only this time another
tact: one piece at a time: the spleen.
at first, she thought, it might have been her
gallbladder—gallbladder, spleen: no matter;
consider it simply the sleeper car of memory
(bustling full about its business: hostages
or spies) listing, and then suddenly derailed-
horrifically divorced from the fleshy tract and
track of her interior landscape, its windows, once
tastefully curtained and contained,
now gaudy in their jagged, bright
wetness, the commotion had to be addressed.
and so—the operation, the thin tracery of
departure will soon smudge and fade
away; raw red subside, but, there will be cues
as to what has happened, suggestions-
always-that she is something less than whole.
45 Susan Rich
A Poem for Will, Baking
Each night he stands before
the kitchen island, begins again
from scratch: chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg,
he beats, he folds;
keeps faith in what happens
when you combine known quantities,
bake twelve minutes at a certain heat.
The other rabbis, the scholars,
teenagers idling by the beach,
they receive his offerings,
in the early hours, share his grief.
It's enough now, they say.
Each day more baked goods to friends,
and friends of friends, even
the neighbourhood cops. He can't stop,
holds on to the rhythmic opening
and closing of the oven,
the timer's expectant ring.
/ was just baking, he says if
someone comes by. Again and again,
evenings winter into spring,
he creates the most fragile
of confections: madelines
and pinwheels, pomegranate crisps
and blue Florentines;
each crumb to reincarnate
a woman-a savouring
of what the living once could bring.
46 Dan Stolar
The Trip Home
Even as I pace this gritty poolside, waiting for Louise, I think of you.
Tucson is a godforsaken city and I long to hear you making fun of
it. "More strip malls than people," I can hear you saying. "The
personality of a parking lot and the good looks to match." It is no exaggeration to say that for the 20 years we were together, Clara, nothing was
quite real to me until I had told it to you at our dinner table.
The pool lies in the corner of the motel parking lot, an oval-shaped
thing with a weary plastic slide. I set my hand on the rail of the slide,
impossibly hot in the midday sun, and squint down Speedway to the east
where Louise will soon pull up in her old Ford Bronco. The heat ripples off
the wide pavement in waves and the entire city smells burnt, an oppressive
mix of tar and exhaust.
We will take eight days to drive home to St. Louis. We will stay in
motels, eat at diners, maybe even camp. Can you imagine it, Clara? Me,
roughing it? The trip was Louise's idea, of course, but I'm in the rich part
of a new relationship, when everything is full of surprise and promise. So
when Louise suggested meeting me here after my conference and driving
back together, I let her convince me. I even brought along a set of my
charcoal pencils in case I feel impelled to sketch the western landscape; it
is a hobby I'd all but forgotten until I met Louise.
In Denver we'll visit your sister and brother-in-law. I haven't seen them
since the week of your funeral. I know it will be awkward introducing
Louise to your family, but ultimately, it's unavoidable. Kim is as much
family to me as my own brother and sister; it was she I called during my
worst nights six months after you died. And as much as Harvey infuriates
me, I can't imagine this trip without the visit to their home. In truth, I've
felt the anticipation of it like a slow burn since the day Louise and I first
planned our vacation, a hope so fierce that I didn't dare look at it directly.
Now, as I turn to pace another length of the motel pool, I realize what it is
that I hope to see in your sister's rich brown eyes: the closest thing I'll ever
get to your blessing.
The red Bronco bounces into the parking lot as Louise honks on the horn.
More than two full days driving alone, and there she is, honking the horn,
47 waving her hand out the window with all the enthusiasm of a school girl
celebrating homecoming. I feel wings flutter in my chest, and I know as I
walk the length of the pool that my face is beaming.
Then I see the dog, Sophie, sticking her head out of the opposite window, her face sleek in the breeze. I nearly stop in my tracks. Sophie came
into Louise's life six months before our first date. She is a mutt, mostly
German Shepherd, a beautiful dog but a charity case—abused by her previous owners. She was due to be put to sleep when a friend of Louise's
phoned from the Humane Society; Louise adopted her that very afternoon, literally saving the dog's life. But in all of our planning for this trip,
we had never mentioned bringing her along.
"Hey honey," Louise shouts, just a little louder than I might wish. She
climbs out of the car and walks toward me, her arms outstretched to embrace me from twenty feet away. "We're definitely in the desert," she says,
feeling the air with her hands as she closes in on me.
We wrap each other in a hug right there in the parking lot, two 50 year-
old adults hugging under the desert sun. Louise shakes me from side to
side. An old Mexican in a creased denim baseball cap has been watering
the potted plants outside of the motel rooms and he stands absently watching us until I catch his eye. The back of Louise's T-shirt is wet, molded to
her skin.
"Can you believe it's only been four days, Jonathon? I missed you.
How was the conference?"
"Everything you ever wanted to know about the new tax codes for
private enterprise." I feel the pressure of her breasts and ribs and bony
hips against me. In minutes, I will make love to this woman under taut
motel bed sheets in a place neither of us knows. "How was the drive?"
"I can't decide which sounds worse—a conference on taxes or driving
alone across Kansas." She smiles as we pull back from each other. Then, in
a gesture borrowed I'm sure from her third grade classroom, she clasps her
hands together in front of her. "We're going to have such an adventure."
She kisses me loudly, full on the lips. From her ears swing the dangling
airplane-shaped earrings she wears whenever she travels.
"I see you brought company." I nod finally toward the car.
"Oh God, I almost forgot." Her hands fly to her face and I remind
myself to focus on her eyes; her hands are too unsettling. She nearly jogs
back to the car. She throws open the door and Sophie scampers out.
I crouch down heavily on one knee in the parking lot. "Come here,
pup."
Sophie bounds toward me, frisky from the time in the car, but at the last
second she veers away. She eyes me from five or six feet away, wagging
her shaggy tail furiously, but with her belly cowered close to the ground.
Her eyes are opened wide in some strange mix of excitement and fear.
48 "I know I should have said something, but I just couldn't bear to leave
her behind. Not after all she's been through." Louise adds this last part
tentatively, not sure yet if she needs to head off my objection, not wanting,
I can tell, to start our trip on any note of tension. And like so many times
in the past few months, I'm struck by the fact that Louise is also damaged
goods, a widow of sixteen years, a mother of one, who had all but given up
on dating, and that she, too, finds herself on new and shaky ground; that
this, in fact, may well have been why she brought Sophie in the first place.
I extend my hand toward the dog. "Come here, Sophie." The Mexican
man eyes us nervously from behind the nozzle of his hose, none-too-pleased
with the skittish German Shepherd mutt loose in the parking lot. Sophie
watches me with the same trepidation.
"I thought you two were past this stage of being coy." Louise crouches
down next to me with one arm over my shoulder, the other reaching out to
the dog, a position we have assumed countless times over the past months-
Louise proving by association that I'm not dangerous. Sophie skids a few
feet closer, then pushes herself back on her paws, the wild look still in her
eyes. "It must be all the terrible things I said about you on the drive,"
Louise says.
"They're all lies, Sophie, she can't be trusted. Who fed you for the past
three months?"
For the first two months Louise and I saw each other, Sophie wouldn't
come near me, even after I was spending the night regularly at Louise's
house. Soon we figured it out: Sophie panicked in the presence of men,
particularly dark-haired men like myself. Whoever owned her before must
have really done a number on her. I could hardly ask Louise to give up the
dog on my account, so I started feeding her, letting her in and out at night.
There was something soothing in the daily incremental progress, and eventually Sophie let me pet her. She had never entirely overcome her wariness
though, jumping away if ever I moved too suddenly.
Now she is having no part of me. The four days apart have put a world
between us.
"Well, dog, that's your loss." Louise rubs her hands together as she gets
to her feet. She pulls me close to her, her hands on my hips. Then she lets
out a low, throaty hum and turns me toward the motel.
From the moment you turned lo me and asked if I was ever going to
propose, I thought I'd never have to face the uncertainty of dating another
woman. We were at the old Esquire Theater, the late show, and I got down
on one knee right there in the aisle as the credits rolled. But I had no
delusions of being a romantic or impulsive man. You took my face in your
hands and the family in the row behind us applauded, but I did not feel my
49 heart open up. I did not weep. No, it was more like the feeling of a project
finished, filed away, the relief and satisfaction of a clean desk—bigger,
perhaps, but not qualitatively different.
I like to think that even then you knew this. You loved me still. And
gradually something happened: I see it as a gentle layering in my heart-
day upon day told to you, and thus, given to me-the imperceptible daily
accumulation amounting to a sea change over the years.
We were making love when I discovered the first lump in your breast.
How does a man forget such a thing? It comes to me now suddenly—when
I am driving to work or cleaning my desk or watering the ferns on our
second-floor landing. I can feel your nipple under my palm, the uneven
nugget of tissue against my middle finger. If I try during the day to summon your face, the image is often vague, the lines unclear, but I can feel
the first lump of your cancer on the pad of my finger as if it were a pebble
I just picked up.
You must have noticed my sudden fumbling because you pulled your
face away to look at me. "What? What's wrong?"
"I don't know."
"What, honey?" you said, the fear in your voice, I think, because you
were worried something had happened to me.
I didn't speak but you moved my hand away and felt with your thumb.
You stood up slowly and went to the full-length mirror on the back of the
closet door. You stared bluntly at your naked self, feet shoulder-length
apart, torso squared, and I couldn't help wishing that you would cover
yourself up. But I was a different man then than I am now and I went to
you quickly. I stood behind you in the full-length mirror and took you in
my arms. My forearm stood out against your olive chest and shoulders,
and it was my body with its sparse black hair and pale skin that looked
sickly. Your face was drawn, your eyebrows arched, and you seemed, somehow, resigned. "First thing tomorrow," I said, "we'll get it checked."
Even now, barely a day passes that the trials of the next ten years don't
repeat themselves in my mind. The three major surgeries. The radiation
and chemotherapy. The wigs and scarves and hats. Your interminable weeks
of nausea. I can still hear the exacting young surgeon describing your last
operation: how they would crack open your breastplate and pry apart your
ribs to remove the metastases in your lung. You had left the room; you no
longer had my need for such detailed explanation.
But, of course, there is another, more shameful list that also encompasses these years. A list of anti-depressants, anxiolytics and sedatives. It
began just after your mastectomy when my occasional insomnia turned
into an unbearable, nightly ordeal. The names and dosages have changed
over the years, but the pills I take have long been part of the given of my
life-tiny round watch guards of my soul.
50 After your death, I was taking more and more of everything. The first
few months were manageable with all that had to be done. But Friday
morning, five and a half months after you died, I was at the gas station on
the way to the office, and I could not fill up my car. I could not open the
door or drive forward. I stared at my hands gripping the steering wheel.
They were pale and chapped from the St. Louis winter-I had lost three
pairs of gloves that week alone. I don't know how long I sat there. I watched
my breath form and dissipate in front of me. The very essence of life, it
seemed, was nothing more than this mindless repetition.
Starting that day at the gas station, and for the next few months, no
combination of pills was quite enough. I lay in bed at night, writhing
inside the contradiction of insomnia—obsessed by the very thing I wanted
to be unconscious of: the moment to moment passage of time. I rubbed
my ankles together until the skin was raw and I tried to imagine my lonely
dinner the following night, the expanse of weekend that lay ahead. But I
could see nothing around which to structure the hours. I added and subtracted my different pills like so many numbers on a ledger, but I could no
longer achieve the zero balance that meant that I'd make it through another day. Suicide was with me always then—like a lamp left glowing at the
end of the hallway that I walked past regularly, but wouldn't allow myself
to enter. Every day I had sudden glimpses—images shimmering just inside
the periphery of my imagination when I was cooking or shaving. Once
driving over the Mississippi.
How I made it through that time, I'm not sure. I see them as gray,
blurred months, the days indistinct and underwater, vanishing untold one
into another. I remember taking time off work; I remember doctor's visits
and long walks; I remember late-night phone calls to Kim. I don't think I
noticed any colours for four months.
Then I met Louise. No, Clara, I have not told Louise about the pills.
You, at least, loved me before. There are many things that I haven't told
Louise. There will be time for that. It's good to feel that there is time
again, and I'm not just talking about you, I'm talking about me as well. I
can see the shapes of my days again, with Louise at our dinner table, with
Louise at the symphony and art museum, with Louise seated across from
me at the outdoor cafes of the Central West End. After only two dates, we
were blocking out time for each other in our nearly identical day planners;
within weeks we were spending every night together. And soon, I found
myself jotting little notes of things to tell her during the day and needing
less and less medication to fall asleep at night. In fact, the pill bottles lie
for entire weeks now inside my briefcase, making it easy to forget that
they are something I'm keeping from Louise.
51 We have barely left Tucson when Louise reaches into the backseat and
unzips her duffel. "Look what I brought." She places a cardboard shoebox
on the dashboard between us, pausing for effect. "I played along in art
class." Ceremoniously, she lifts the lid. It is a handmade diorama. Of all
things. It's just like the dioramas her kids are always making to dramatize
the latest history or reading lesson. A man and a woman stand beside a
construction-paper tent; the tiny clay man has sideburns with a touch of
gray, just like myself.
"What a handsome couple," I say.
"And so outdoorsy."
"If I look closely, can I figure out how to set up a tent? It might be my
only hope."
"I also brought this." Louise twists around again to reach behind her.
"For Kim and Harvey." She pulls out a bottle of port. It is a bottle I
recognize, one we sampled together at a restaurant, full bodied and expensive. "Do you think they'll like it?"
"You didn't have to do that."
"I wanted to," she says. "Do you think they'll like it?"
"I know they'll like it." I put my hand on top of hers and interlace our
fingers. "I know they'll like you."
We continue to hold hands much of the way as we drive north past
Phoenix. In Sedona, we check into a bed and breakfast beside a noisy
creek, arriving in such thick darkness that we have no idea of the red cliffs
that contain us on all sides. The next morning's view feels like a revelation.
Sophie and I remake our tenuous peace over the first couple days, and
except for the smell of wet fur in the car, I have to admit she isn't a bad
travel companion. The only time she doesn't obey Louise's commands is
at the sight of water, and then she takes off in a headlong dash. Afterward,
she has an endearing post-swim routine of shaking herself off, rolling on
her back at Louise's feet, rubbing her coat against trees and rocks.
Louise has spent a part of each summer traveling the country with her
son, Jeremy, and she happily regales me with stories of their adventures in
some of the very places we are visiting now-which rock Jeremy climbed,
where they camped, how muchjeremy ate. Jeremy is a sophomore at the
University of Michigan and over his Spring Break the three of us ate
dinner together twice. He is an agreeable, well-mannered boy, his pierced
ears and torn jeans notwithstanding, and he handled Louise's frenetic doting with touching grace. Louise adopted Sophie the same weekjeremy left
for college and though it was a call from a friend that prompted the adoption, I'm sure that the timing was more than coincidence.
Louise and I decide to camp for the first time near Durango, in southwest Colorado, the night before Denver. We park the Bronco at the trailhead
52 and prepare our packs. Here, Louise is clearly in charge—I haven't spent
the night in a tent since summer camp. I stand stiffly at her side as she
packs the two backpacks. When she's done, I take the heavier pack and
sling it over my shoulders. Louise steps behind me and adjusts the straps.
Then I hoist the other pack in the air, and she slips into it. I am a new man,
an adventurer and camper, and together we stride down the dirt trail through
the occasional patches of snow and ice. For the first mile or so, Sophie
takes off on long bounding sallies, galloping back to us at full speed, but
soon she settles into an easy trot behind us on the trail.
We set up the tent in the glow of a fiery dusk as I again follow Louise's
instruction. Then we cook couscous on her camping stove and sit cross-
legged on the ground, eating directly out of the pot.
After dinner, we unroll our sleeping bags and pads inside the tent.
"Tomorrow's the big day," Louise says.
"You're going to make me pack the backpacks by myself?" I lift her
hand to my lips and kiss it.
"I feel like I'm a freshman in college going to my boyfriend's parents'
home for Thanksgiving."
"Please don't call Harvey and Kim 'Mr. and Mrs.'"
Louise busies herself with the zipper of the tent. "You almost never talk
about Clara," she says. "And still, I feel like I know her."
"Really?" I say. "What was she like?"
Louise takes off her earrings and slips them into a pocket of the backpack
at her feet. She adjusts the sleeping bag around her. "It took me almost
three years to talk about Steve without crying."
"Hmm." I smile at her consolingly. I've seen the pictures of her husband on the living room wall, in a tiny gold frame by her bed. He had a
crooked, good-natured smile, eyes set close together, bushy, endearing
eyebrows. I have heard the stories. He was a lawyer, a studious man who
was surprisingly athletic, and he died in a fluke canoeing accident. But I
have no concept of the give and take between them, of the tenor of their
relationship. I have no sense of their shared life. And, as much as I try, I
cannot feel like these things have anything to do with me.
Louise is looking at me now, waiting for me to say something more.
"Seriously," I say, "tell me what you think she was like." I do my best
to keep my voice light, even.
"Okay." Louise looks at the wall of the tent. "Okay," she says. "She was
funny. She had a bit of the devil in her."
"Yes," I smile. "She had a bit of the devil in her."
"She loved you very much."
"We were married twenty years."
She nods slowly. An electric lantern sways from a strap on the tent's
ceiling, the shadows advancing and retreating across Louise's face.
53 "Do they look alike?" she says.
"Who?"
"Clara and Kim."
"No." A hint of exasperation has slipped into my voice. I take a breath.
"Yes." I've always focused on the differences, but, of course, now that I
think about it: "They both have brown hair and brown eyes. They had the
same eyes."
"Is it that you don't like to talk about her, or that you don't like to talk
about her with me?"
"Clara was sick for a long time," I say. Outside, the racket of night
insects has reached a fever pitch. "I wasn't always the man I wanted to be."
Louise takes off her glasses and sets them in the dark corner of the tent.
"I just thought—" She stops herself. "Sometimes you seem to forget that I
lost my husband, too."
But they were married just four years, I want to say. And her husband
died instantly. She can't possibly know what it is to stare at death day in,
day out for a decade.
"There's nothing to be nervous about tomorrow," I say.
"They are Clara's family."
"They are everyday people with problems of their own."
"Oh?" The question in her tone is unmistakable.
"It seems Harvey has played around at times." I don't know why I tell
her this-certainly I hadn't intended to-and yet I feel the relief the moment
the words are spoken. I can tell from the drop in her shoulders that Louise
feels it as well. "For all I know, maybe they both have," I say, though I
can't imagine it of Kim.
"But they stay together?"
"They seem to get along. Their boys are wonderful." Louise's question
is the same one I've been asking for years. Harvey is a man I've never
trusted, swarthy and handsome, roaring off to his swank architecture practice on a bulging BMW motorcycle. And yet I think the world of Kim, and
I can't deny the obvious understanding between them. "They're easy to get
along with. You'll like them."
Louise pulls her Walkman out of the top of her backpack. She plugs in
the two tiny speakers and then pops in a tape. The tent is indented behind
her where Sophie has collapsed against its outside wall. If Louise lies
facing me, their backs will push against each other through the sleeping
bag and tent.
"And they'll like you," I say, and though I make my voice consoling, it
has finality in it too.
Louise sets the Walkman and speakers between us at our feet. "Purists
would hate this." She is trying to put the previous conversation behind us
with her cheerfulness. "Disturbing the sounds of nature. But I think the
54 setting is perfect for Chopin." She knows that this is my favorite music.
She clicks play on the Walkman and the tape whirs forward. She lies back
in her sleeping bag and turns off the flashlight. A moment later, the piano
pierces the night's irregular hum. The notes seem to hang in the close air
of the tent, surprisingly clear out of the little speakers. Through the mesh
of the open fly, the stars are an indistinct web of white.
"I didn't mean to upset you."
"No," I lean over and kiss her lips in the darkness. "You didn't."
Louise's hand lingers on my cheek as I pull away from her, but she
doesn't say anything more.
I lie back in my sleeping bag and listen to the shimmering piano, to
the rise and fall of my own breath. I can hear Louise's breath as well, just
below the music. At some point, I know that she's asleep.
I like to think that I could have been many things, a physician as my
father wished, maybe even an artist as my mother secretly hoped, but I
settled on accounting and it is work that suits me. The satisfaction of the
balanced account, the nine to five. I am a man who appreciates the dotted
i and crossed t. But I do not suppose that this is beauty. I can't say why the
majesty of these mountains—the sheer rock, the unimaginably bright swathes
of snow and ice-looses a vague terror in my joints. Nor can I say what the
perfection of Chopin's surging eighth notes moves within me. Or Louise's
tender and nervous questions. It's almost a hunger that I feel, as if I could
consume some essence of the music and the view—of her very person—and
make it a part of me.
I cannot sleep: the power of insomnia to reduce everything to that
simple, unnatural failing. I roll onto my side on the Thermarest pad. My
bony hip presses into the hard ground below. The tape ends and clicks off.
Louise twists in her sleeping bag, and her breathing catches, then resumes
at a lower pitch. Still I cannot sleep. I find my flashlight at the edge of my
pad. It lights a fuzzy beam in the air, refracts off the tent and continues
into the darkness above. Louise's eyelids flutter. They are barely open. Is
she awake? No, she seems to be dreaming behind the almost translucent
layer of skin. I grope around inside my dope kit and find the bottles of
pills at the bottom. I threw them into my bag at the last minute before
leaving for Tucson.
I lean over and touch Louise's eyelid with the back of my finger-
barely, almost imperceptibly, touching her. I graze my knuckle over her
cheek, over this face that I have come to know these past six months.
There is a tiny violet spider vein where a surface vessel has popped. Two
small scars on her forehead from chicken pox as a child. A dark birthmark
in the corner of her eye. Lines from laughter and from worry. I slide my
hand around her neck-so thin!-and feel the tendons, the rings of the trachea, the strong, slow pulse. A two year-old son when her husband died.
55 Sixteen years of raising him alone. I think of all of this. All that is contained, the suffering and triumph. And I cannot sleep. I think of the diorama on the Bronco dashboard, of her strapping my pack tight to my back,
rescuing Sophie from the Humane Society. I think of the questions she has
just asked. And the thin terror courses down my limbs. I feel it in the
tendons of my wrists and in my ankles. I zip the sleeping bag tight around
me, an effort at containment. I pop open the bottle of Xanax and swallow
a pill. We will hike out tomorrow morning. We will be in Denver by
dinner.
The next morning, I wake thinking about Kim and it takes me a moment
to orient myself in these strange surroundings. Like in the months after
your death, remembering follows closely on the heels of consciousness: I
am in a tent in Colorado, you are gone, I am with Louise. Angled sunlight
streams into the tent, and the shadows of wind-blown leaves mince all
around us. The entire world seems yellow and green and teeming with life.
Louise is seated on top of her sleeping bag next to me, gathering her
things. "You were out," she says, and I wonder if I've left her any reason to
suspect the Xanax.
Of all the people we knew, it was Kim who had the most in common
with me in losing you. And yet there was a time, early in your cancer,
when I actually resented her frequent visits to St. Louis-the implication
that we couldn't handle things ourselves. I remember once coming home
early from work to see how you were doing with a new regimen of chemo.
Kim's shiny rental car was parked in our driveway, but the house was quiet
when I called your names. Finally I heard your laughter on the second
floor. I gathered my things and trudged up the stairs. I was surprised to
find the door to our bedroom closed. I knocked briefly and then eased it
open. You and Kim were sitting cross-legged on top of the bed facing each
other. The sweet, pungent smell of marijuana was unmistakable.
"Busted!" you shouted as I stuck my head through the door.
Kim waved hello.
"What's going on here?"
"We're getting stoned." You lunged across the bed toward me, your
weight on one hand, the other offering me the joint. "Want a doobie?"
"What?"
"Your wife asked me if I could hook her up," Kim shrugged. You had
told me enough about her wild days in the sixties for me to guess this
much already.
"What the hell?"
"It's an antiemetic," you said.
"A what?"
56 "An antiemetic!"
"Do you have a prescription?"
"Oops." You covered your mouth with your hand and a thin, gray stream
of smoke slid between your fingers. Then you both laughed until you were
gagging to catch your breath.
"Damn it, Clara. Does your doctor know about this?"
I think what scared me most was the way you looked: your forced
hilarity; your exaggerated, open-mouthed laughter; your eyes, bloodshot
and glassy. It was as if you were being taken from me already. "Goddamn
it. Does Dr. Zepphryn know about this?"
Kim stood up and grabbed my arm. "Conference time,Jonathon." She
led me by the elbow into our adjoining bathroom. You sat on top of the
billowing comforter, waving a cruise ship good-bye.
Kim closed the door behind us. "JesusJonathon. With everything she's
been through. Is it really that big a deal?" Your sister's face was flushed,
her voice rising. "If all it does is make her laugh?" I could tell when she
rolled up her long shirtsleeves that she was trying to calm herself down.
She looked around our bathroom until her gaze came to rest on the suspended glass shelf with your different bottles of pills. Then Kim took my
hand. "Look, I thank God she has you. I really do. But if I know my square
older sister, she's going to start coming down in a couple minutes, and
she's going to want you on her side. There's plenty she could get sad about
right now."
Several times during the hike back to the Bronco and the winding drive
out of the mountains, I want to tell Louise about that conversation. How
your sister stood in our bathroom and told me about you. How she set her
hand on our ancient copper sink and leaned into me. But I don't say anything to Louise. My chance to talk has passed, and I can tell from Louise's
determined cheer that she means for me to see that she respects this decision. Our conversation is light and careful, exceedingly polite. The highway straightens out on the east side of the Rockies as we begin the steady
descent into Denver. The roadside is littered with salt-stained motels, gas
stations, ski rentals, all looking sadly abandoned in these last days of summer.
Kim was right, of course. I leaned over the sink and splashed cold water
on my face. My own eyes were bloodshot in the mirror, the dark skin
drooping below them. I toweled myself off and followed Kim back into
our bedroom. "I have declared, by official decree, the legalization of marijuana." I swept my arm in a grand, blustery gesture before me. I joined you
two on the bed, sitting with my back against the headboard. It wasn't long
before you moved beside me. Sure enough, your hilarity soon subsided.
Every few minutes you asked how long before the marijuana would wear
off. You rested your head on my chest. And once, when your conversation
57 turned morbid, Kim and I quicklv changed the subject. Your sister and I
shared a number of quiet looks that day and maybe even a chuckle or two
at your expense.
***
The front door swings open before I can knock. Harvey greets me with his
usual two-fisted old-world handshake as he glances over my shoulder at
Louise. Suddenly I am the college freshman, self-conscious of the looks of
my date. Kim emerges from the shadow of the entry hall and wraps me in
an enormous bear hug. The sight of her brings tears to my eyes, and I can
tell from the way she clenches my back, she feels it as well. We have not
seen each other in more than a year, since the day after the funeral.
Behind me I hear Sophie's tags rattle as Harvey introduces himself.
"You must be Louise." I know I'm being rude, holding Kim too long, not
introducing Louise, but I need to clear my eyes-better that she wait to be
introduced than see me this way.
I'm surprised to find Harvey and Louise hugging when I turn around,
but of course, it's just like each of them.
"Louise, this is Kim." I touch Louise's hand as I guide her into the
introduction. They hug as well. Sophie strains at her leash, pulling Louise's
arm to the side, keeping a wild eye on Harvey.
"And who is this?" Kim turns to the dog, her one arm still around
Louise's back.
"This is Sophie."
"You'll have to forgive her, she's not too crazy about men." I nod over
Kim's head, in Harvey's direction. "It seems she's been burned in the
past."
"She's from the Humane Society." Louise narrows her eyes at my joke.
"I got her from the Humane Society."
Suddenly Harvey is crouched low, moving toward Sophie. "I don't
believe it, you sweet thing." Harvey winks, half at the dog, half at Louise.
Sophie is worse than usual: her head twisted against the leash, her eyes
bulging. When Harvey reaches out his hand, Sophie bares her teeth with a
growl, her thin lips curling under. Harvey stumbles backward to his feet
and I have to suppress a laugh: for once, I think, Sophie is showing good
taste. My amusement is quickly tempered, however, when Louise's face
colors a deep red.
Before I can speak, Kim has stepped in. "She's a beautiful dog." She
pats Sophie on top of the head and is nuzzled and licked in return. Once
again, memory burns my eyes: that remarkable gift for putting everyone
else at ease. Already there is a sense of communion between Louise and
Kim, each with a hand on Sophie's thick coat.
Kim leads Sophie through the kitchen to the back yard and we settle in
58 the living room, around the glass coffee table. Harvey fixes drinks as we
agree to save Louise's port until after dinner. He seems unusually gracious
as he responds to Louise's compliments, motioning with his drink to the
sky light and the exposed wood beams of the house he designed himself.
Kim and I smile at each other as Louise and Harvey talk. In truth, we have
trouble looking away from each other.
The boys announce themselves with a crash of the screen door. "Une,"
the) say, nearly in unison, the name they have called me forever. Mark,
the younger one, the high school actor, is in front as usual, and he can't
decide if he should shake my hand or hug me, and we come together
awkwardly. Eric, the editor of the school newspaper, shakes my hand formally. They shake hands with Louise in turn, then stand at the edge of the
couch rocking back on their heels. Finally Harvey says that he'll call them
later for dinner. "Nice to meet ya," they call out as they bound up the
stairs. It is clearly a family routine. And as Kim smiles unconsciously at
their backs, I am shot-through with a pang of wayward envy.
Before long Kim suggests that Harvey and I grill the chicken out back
while "the girls" set the table and make the salad. Kim hooks Louise's arm
as they stand up, and they walk out of the living room together.
As I carry the tray of chicken parts out to the patio, I am buoyed by
Kim's good will. They will talk in the kitchen: Louise about her classroom, her third graders, Jeremy. About me. Soon we'll all eat together in
the flattering glow of candlelight and best intentions. I stretch out on a
lounge chair and pop a bottle of beer as Harvey places the chicken on the
grill. The regular tipping of the bottle to my lips is as soothing as the
alcohol itself.
Harvey finishes basting the chicken, then opens himself a beer. "You
seem to be doing well for yourself." He lifts the bottle in my direction.
"Thanks," I say, returning his salute.
"What's it like to officially be on the market these days?"
Once when they visited us in St. Louis, Harvey and I sat in the bleachers
at a Cardinals game. There, among feathered hair and beer bellies, we
took off our shirts and drank Busch beer from yellow paper cups. Standing
up after the top half of the seventh, Harvey turned to me, his face red from
beer and sun. "Man," he said, "I'm jealous of you and Clara. You two have
it all figured out. My life can get pretty complicated sometimes." I looked
him square in the eye then and told him that life was only as complicated
as you made it. After all, this man had created his own problems. He
turned into a moping, sour drunk after that, falling asleep against the car
door on the way home, but I have often wondered what I might have heard
if I had humoured him that day.
Now, I'm in no mood for the conversation to go in the direction he
seems to be leading it. "Sophie sure gave you a hard time there," I laugh.
59 "It took me almost two months to win her over."
"Two months? Jesus. Bet I can have her licking out of my hand by the
end of the night." He closes the grill and walks toward Sophie in the
corner of the yard. She is asleep, her body rising and falling rapidly, her
nose tucked under her paw.
"Leave her be, Harvey. What's the point?"
"It's just conditioning. All I have to do is show her that nothing bad
happens when I get close."
Harvey is on all fours, crawling across the grass, and suddenly things
become clear to me—Harvey's stunt by the door, the almost subdued gra-
ciousness of before, his recent line of questioning—Harvey had been drinking for some time before we showed up.
Sophie wakes with a yelp and slinks to the other corner of the yard.
"Harvey, she's terrified of you."
Harvey jumps up and chases after her. "Come here, pup."
Sophie's nose is close to the ground. She is visibly shaking. Harvey is
cornering her in the far corner of the yard.
I push myself to my feet. "Enough already, Harvey."
Just as I reach him, Sophie panics. She streaks between us and runs
across the yard. She leaps at the wooden fence, hitting the top of the six-
foot fence with her front paws. Then she pulls herself over and disappears
from view.
Harvey and I stare at the spot as if she might soar back into the yard at
any moment.
'Jesus."
"Come on. Let's go get her." I can't help shaking my head at him,
pursing my lips. When he starts for the kitchen, I stop him. "Can't we get
out through the gate? I'd rather not get Louise all worked up."
Harvey nods, even now giving me a look that implies that we are in this
together, partners in crime. And it strikes me that in some small way, I
have just chosen sides. He walks quickly to the garage. Inside, I hear him
banging around, moving metal cans, searching the shelves. This, from a
man whose house is spotless. Finally he emerges, jangling the keys.
When, at last, he opens the gate, Sophie is nowhere to be seen. "You stay
here," I say. "You'll just scare her off." I jog into the street. I stand in the
middle of the empty street and squint into the descending darkness in both
directions. "Sophie!" I call in a strained whisper, even now afraid that
Louise will hear me in the kitchen. "Sophie!"
Harvey trots out to the street after me. His mouth is closed, his eyebrows knit. "I'm sorryJonathon," he says, facing me now in the street, "I
really am."
I think of Louise in the kitchen, talking away. I think of the countless
times we have petted the dog together. Positive conditioning, just as Harvey
60 said. "You have no idea what that dog means to Louise."
"We'll get in our cars. I'm sure we'll find her."
When I don't respond, he says it again. "Come on. I'm sure we'll find
her in no time."
"If only she hadn't had to bring the damn dog."
'Jonathon." He reaches out to wrap his fingers around my elbow. "There's
no reason to blame this on Louise."
I turn to look the opposite way down the street, breaking his grip.
"Sophie, come!" The heavy green elms limit my view.
"Jonathon?" Harvey's voice trails off behind me. There is that confiding tone in his voice—almost a plea—that I haven't heard since that day in
the bleachers at Busch Stadium. "What are you so afraid of?" The question
registers in my chest, a physical sensation, and then it seems to fall—endlessly, like in a dream. For a moment I hold my breath, but Harvey's
question doesn't strike solid ground within me.
I brush past him toward the house. "Sophie!" I call one last time. Inside
the front door, I pause. The dining room table is set. Spiral candles stand
in sleek silver candleholders. The napkins are stuffed in Harvey's fluted
water glasses in a way that can only be Louise's doing. What will I say?
That Harvey cornered the dog in the yard, that together we terrified her
into jumping the fence? I spill one of the Xanax into my hand and gulp it
down without water.
It is Kim's eye I hold as I walk into the kitchen: we have long ago
grown accustomed to reading bad news in each other's faces. And when
Kim immediately registers the look, my chest aches with nostalgia—a nostalgia I wouldn't have thought possible-for the connectedness of those
painful days. It's all I can do to force myself to look at Louise. "Honey,
Sophie got out. We should get in the car and try to find her." There are two
half-filled glasses of wine on the counter. I can tell from the pale lipstick
on the rim which is Louise's.
Her hands fly to her face. "What happened?"
"I don't know, she must have found a way to push open the gate. All of
a sudden we noticed she wasn't there."
"Where were you?"
"We'll take two cars," Kim says. "We'll find her in no time." Already
she has a hand on Louise's shoulder. I know I should do the same, but I
can't bring myself to. "Does she have tags on?" Kim says.
"With the area code in St. Louis." Louise locates the phone on the bar
and pulls it to her. "Let me call someone to stay at my house?" Kim nods
her on and Louise dials the phone without sitting on the stool at her hip.
Harvey writes their phone number on a memo pad and places it gently at
Louise's elbow. I watch from across the room. I can't help wondering who
I could call on such short notice to stay at my house.
61 At last, I follow Louise down the front walk to the car. A light mist is
thickening now in the darkness and the streets are wet and gleaming. Louise
sits in the passenger side and immediately rolls down her window to yell
for the dog. The diorama stands still on the dash between us: in some deep,
pernicious part of me I want to point out that there's no dog in the model
version.
"I'm sure we'll find her," I say.
I drive in slow circles around the residential neighborhoods while Louise
veils out the open window. In between, she pulls her head inside the car.
Her thin bangs are pressed moist and flat against her forehead, giving her
an especially haggard expression. "Poor thing," she says, unconscioush.
over and over again.
At the end of each unsuccessful block, I know the chances are less that
we will find the dog tonight. I want to console Louise, but even more, I
want to be out of the car, to run or swing my arms, to loose the tension
building inside my chest. I flick the window wipers on and then off: if I
leave them on too long, they grate loudly across the window; if I turn
them off, the mist blurs my vision.
"I would call her," I say. "but I'm afraid I might just scare her off."
Louise nods and cranes her neck back out the window to yell again.
"I'm sure we'll find her, honey." I put my hand on top of Louise's on the
seat, but her hand is clammy, barely responsive. I use the pretense of
turning on the wipers to take my hand away.
We circle past Harvey and Kim's house, but they're still out looking. "I
can't believe it," Louise says. "Of all nights."
"Everything's going to be all right." I click the wipers on and then off
again. The clear window begins to cloud over.
"You think it's ridiculous, getting this worked up over a dog."
"I just think we'll find her," I say. "That's all."
"Clara would never get so worked up over something like this."
"This has nothing to do with Clara."
"And now I've gone and done it in front of her sister."
"Come on, Louise. Kim loves you."
"Kim loves you." Louise wipes the moisture off her face with a tissue
from the glove box and then stares at me across the seat, her trembling-
pose both challenging and imploring. The balled-up tissue is cupped still
in her hand. "She is Clara's sister and she loves you."
"We are looking for Sophie, part German Shepherd, part mutt. Four
legs. A dog." I pound my palm like a gavel on the steering wheel as I stare
at the shining road ahead. All I want is to be out of this car.
There is silence for a minute, the hum of tires on wet pavement, the thin
splatter of water from the Bronco's wheels. Like in the tent, I'm aware of
Louise's breathing. I try to make my voice gentle: "Let's stop here so we
62 can call your house and see if there's any word."
I swing the car into a diner parking lot. "You make some calls, I'll walk
around a few blocks-maybe I'll see her." I yank up the emergency brake
and dip the car door open before Louise has a chance to answer.
Louise steps out of the Bronco into the artificial white light of the
parking lot. Her face hangs flat—the bags under the eyes, the jowls of loose
skin—and her hands are rid of their usual kinetic energy. Even the airplanes
dangling from her ears seem hobbled.
The diner is the only commercial establishment in an otherwise residential neighborhood, and the streets beyond are quiet. I call for the dog.
"Here, Sophie." Three times I call. But the strained sound of my own
voice against the empty streets is too much to bear and soon I walk on in
silence. The buildings of the first two blocks are close to the street, flat,
mostly two-family duplexes, but as I walk in the direction of Harvey and
Kim's, the houses are further removed from the sidewalk, the lawns manicured, the streetlights fewer. Downtown Denver is five or six miles to the
South, and the light reflects off of the uniformly gray skv above. Sophie
has been gone more than an hour now.
What would it be like to walk these glistening streets free of the world of
everyday concerns? I think you knew, Clara. The years of suffering" set
you apart. The years of facing your own death.
I will turn around and head back to the diner, to Louise, to the routines
and sign posts that I now call my life. The life I once had, the life I
desperately wanted to recreate with someone else, I relinquished even
before you died.
At some level, I think you knew. I had just finished sorting the mail,
brushing my teeth, turning off all but the hall light downstairs when you
called from the hospital. You wanted ice cream. "Something chocolate,"
you said. I could hear the hospital machines beeping in the background.
"Sure, I'll pick it up on my way home from work."
"No," you paused, "I meant tonight."
"Honey, it's eleven o'clock. I've barely been able to stay awake the past
three days at work. Tomorrow's just a test. An easy one. You'll be home by
dinner."
"I thought that instead of doing laps you could bring me some ice
cream. Maybe we'll walk circles around the ninth floor here." You forced a
laugh. Before, when my insomnia had been only an occasional nuisance,
we would joke about my late-night tours of our house. Sometimes I would
pencil a landscape on my sketchpad and leave it at your place at the table.
That was before the cancer, before the pills, and my sleepless hours seemed
almost like a gift, a window through which only I could look out at the
63 world. "I just feel like some ice cream."
"Tomorrow's an easy one, honey."
"If you say that one more time. I don't know what the hell that means."
I glanced at the quivering red numbers of our digital clock. Automatically, I calculated the hours until morning. I considered the bottle of Valium
in my night stand drawer, but I could feel myself getting out of bed,
swinging my feet onto the floor. "Chocolate?"
"Chocolate."
I had left you that night, Clara. Even as we walked around the hospital
floor, you in your blue hospital gown, eating ice cream with a plastic
spoon, me dragging your IV, I had sealed myself against your fate. The
next day's procedure was nothing, an injection then a long x-ray, certainly
nothing compared to the countless operations and tests you had been through
already. All things considered, it was a fairly good time for you,
symptomless, and we had no way of knowing that you would be gone in
less than four months.
"I feel fine and I'm supposed to be dying," you said at some point. "You
feel terrible and you're fine. I appreciate the empathy really." Again, you
made yourself laugh. You were the child of Jewish immigrants: as a baby
your father was hidden in the house of a crazy Russian woman; the superstitious Cossacks thought she was a witch and left him alone. There was a
long tradition in your family of using humor and irony to undermine the
enemy. But I, needless to say, am from less resilient stock-I heard only the
accusation in your voice.
"I'm not in the mood to laugh at that."
"That's too bad. I could really use some laughter right now. The doctor
said that I'm in perfect health except for the fact that I'm dying." You were
my tether, Clara, my only real friend, but I could no longer love you. How
I went through the motions those final months. I'll never know.
Forgive me when I say that I thank God it wasn't longer.
The mist has thickened into a drizzle as I approach the diner. I can see
Louise at a booth inside. The rain streaks down the diner window, and
through it Louise's face seems painfully distorted and drawn out. She holds
her coffee close to her lips with both hands wrapped around the mug.
Finally she tilts the mug to take a sip.
When I see Louise walk to the pay phone, I step inside the diner and
slide into the booth opposite her coffee. Louise shoulders the wall, facing
away from me with her head down, the silver phone cord stretched flush
against her neck. She hangs up the phone and walks back to the booth. She
sits across from me without a word. And then, without a word, she takes
her coffee cup to the counter for a refill. Louise who announces everything.
When she returns to the booth with her full mug of coffee, I pull myself
64 up in the seat. I brace my shoulders. I know what I must do; in some way
I know that I owe it to you, Clara, to try. I reach across the Formica and
take Louise's hands in mine. At first she tries to pull away. She twists her
fingers, but I am firm. My heart pounds against the front of my chest, but
I don't let go of Louise's hands. I look into her bleary eyes and tell her that
we will find Sophie before we leave Denver. I tell her that I'm sorry. Please,
my face says. Please, Louise, take this from me. The diner is a precipice now,
full of sound and movement I can't grasp. I tighten my grip on Louise's
fingers. And then, as I hold her, a miracle; the tension ebbs from Louise's
hands. She shapes her fingers to mine and I feel her take in my words. I
feel them settle in her body, the weight of her solitude subsiding with my
touch.
No. I don't do any of these things. I don't so much as look up when
Louise slides silently into the booth opposite me.
Instead I reach into my pocket and pull out the bottles of pills. I spill
them onto the table between us. With my trembling forefinger, I slide the
white tablets into neat lines, one line above the next, seven across. Sophie
could be anywhere. Roaming the streets, curled up asleep in the gutter, in
some nice woman's home. Hit by a car. She could be miles away in any
direction. No, Clara, we will not find Louise's dog tonight. Tomorrow has
become unimaginable to me. Maybe this is the reason I push the pills into
orderly lines of seven on the table in front of me: Sunday to Saturday
across, the calendar of my days.
65 Contributors
Heather Birrell's story, "Machaya," won third prize in PRISM
internationals 1999 Short Fiction Contest (39:4), and appears with another
story, "The Present Perfect," in the 13th annual Journey Prize Anthology.
These stories, along with "The Captain's Name Was Ned," are part of an
as-yet-unpublished collection, tentatively titled, Congratulations, Really.
Sioux Browning is a Canadian with colourful American relatives. She is
a graduate of the University of British Columbia's graduate program in
Creative Writing and worked as an editor on PRISM international. She
procrastinates in several genres.
Tim Conley teaches in the Department of English at Queen's University.
His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in journals such as Queen
Street Quarterly, filling Station, Pagitica, and The Antigonish Review. He is
book reviews editor for the online journal paperplates (www.paperplates.org).
Rafael Goldchain's artwork has been shown across Canada, as well as
Chile, the United States, Cuba, Germany, and Mexico. His work is in the
collections of the Biblioteque National (Paris), the Canadian Museum of
Contemporary Photography (Ottawa), the Museum of Contemporary Art
(Toronto), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Houston Museum
of Fine Art, and the Museum of Photographic Arts (San Diego). Born in
Santiago, Chile, Goldchain received a Master of Fine Arts from York University and currently teaches photography and digital art at York University and at Sheridan College.
Jose Kozer was born in Cuba (1940) ofjewish parents who had emigrated
there from Eastern Europe to escape the Nazis. He himself became an
exile in this country soon after the Cuban Revolution, settling in New
York City where he taught Spanish literature at Queens College until his
retirement in 1997. He now resides in Hallandale. A prolific poet, Kozer
is one of the major voices of his generation, whose work has been widely
anthologized in Latin America and Spain. In 1997, a colloquium was held
in Denver to study and celebrate his poetry.
Evelyn Lau was born in Vancouver in 1971. She is the author of a memoir,
three volumes of poetry, two short story collections, and a novel. Her
latest book, INSIDE OUT: Reflections On A Life So Far, was published by
Doubledav Canada in March 2001.
66 Orlando Ricardo Menes is an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at
the University of Notre Dame. New poems have appeared in New Letters.
Spoon River Poetry Review, and Chelsea. His second poetry collection, Rumba
atop the Stones, was published in 2001 by Peepal Tree Press (Leeds, England',
which specializes in new Caribbean writing.
Georges Perec (1936-1982) was one of the century's most experimental
French writers, and the diversity of his works is of the strangest order. A
member of the OuLiPo collective, his books include La vie mode d'emploi
(Life A User's Manual), La Disparition, notorious for its complete avoidance
of the letter "e" (translated with boggling cleverness by Gilbert Adair as A
Void), and Les Revenentes, in which "e" reigns supreme.
Susan Rich is the winner of this year's PEN West/Poetry award for The
Cartographer's Tongue/Poems of the World. She has been a staff person for
Amnesty International, an electoral supervisor in Bosnia, and a human
rights trainer in Gaza. Her poems have appeared in DoubleTake, Harvard
Magazine, Massachusetts Review, and Southern Poetry Review. She lives in Seattle
and teaches at Highline College and the Antioch University MFA low-
residency program in Los Angeles.
matt robinson's first book, A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (Insomniac, 2000),
was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert and ReLit Awards. His work has
been featured on radio, television, in anthologies, and in numerous Canadian,
American, British, and Australian journals. He is on the editorial board of
The Fiddlehead.
David Seymour has had work published in Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review,
and Ellipse. He lives and writes in Toronto and is currently working on a
poetry manuscript.
Daniel Stolar's fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in DoubleTake
and the Utne Reader among other places. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, he now lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife, Lauren Cathcart.
"The Trip Home" will be included in his short story collection forthcoming from Picador USA.
Patricia Young has published eight books of poetry and is presently working
towards a collection of short fiction. She has stories forthcoming in The
Fiddlehead and Other Voices.
67 PRISMinternational
^/InnHfll £ht>rt "fiction (Contest
$2000 Grand Prize
5 Runner-up Prizes of $200
Maximum 25 pages per manuscript, typed and
double-spaced. Please include a cover page; the
author's name should not appear on the manuscript. All work must be previously unpublished.
Entry fee: $22 per manuscript, plus $5 for each
additional manuscript. The fee includes a one-year
subscription to PRISM international. All non-
Canadian residents, please pay in U.S. funds.
Contest Deadline: January 31, 2002
Send entry fee & manuscript(s) to:
Prism Fiction Contest
Creative Writing Program
Buch. E462 -1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC   V6T1Z1
CANADA
For complete contest guidelines, send a SASE to the
above address, or visit our website (listed below).
prism.arts.ubc.ca Creative
Non-Fiction
Contest
#15
EVENT
new ty established writers
$1,500
Three winners will each receive $500 plus payment for publication in Event 31/3.
Other manuscripts may be published.
Final Judge: TBA. Our past judges include Myrna Kostash, Eleanor
Wachtel, Andreas Schroeder, George Gait, Sharon Butala, Tom Wayman,
Di Brandt, Terry Glavin and Karen Connelly.
Writers are invited to submit manuscripts exploring the creative non-
fiction form. Check your library for back issues of Event with previous
winning entries and judges' comments. Contest back issues are available from Event for $5.35 (includes GST and postage; US$5 for American
residents; C$9 for overseas residents).
Note: Previously published material, or material accepted elsewhere for
publication, cannot be considered. Maximum entry length is 5000 words,
typed, double-spaced. The writer should not be identified on the entry.
Include a separate cover sheet with the writer's name, address, phone
number / email, and the title(s) of the story (stories) enclosed. Include a
SASE (Canadian Postage / IRCs only). Douglas College employees are not
eligible to enter.
Entry fee: Multiple entries are allowed, however, each entry must be
accompanied by a $25 entry fee (includes GST and a one-year subscription; make cheque or money order payable to Event). Those already
subscribing will receive a one-year extension. American and overseas
entrants please pay in US dollars.
Deadline for entries: Postmarked April 15, 2002.
■■I f Clin11 The Douglas College Review
t V tIM       p-°- B°x 2503' New Westminster, BC
Canada V3L 5B2
Phone: (604) 527-5293   Fax: (604) 527-5095
e-mail: event@douglas.bc.ca
Visit our website at http://event.douglas.bc.ca
Douglas
College $300 cash prize plus publication
in subTerrain
When the
revolutio
comes,
jy'll kil
the po
*sl...
llm Annual
LAST POEMS
POETRY   CONTEST
Rules:
Maximum 3 poems per entry.
Runners-up receive complimentary
book prizes, plus publication. Entries
must be accompanied by a one-time
entry fee of $15. All entrants receive
a one-year subscription to subTerrain.
Only those entries accompanied by
a self-addressed, stamped envelope
will be returned. (If submitting from
outside Canada, please include 2
International Reply Coupons to
cover return postage.)
Send submissions to:
Last Poems Poetry Contest
subTerrain Magazine
P.O. Box 3008, Main Post Office
Vancouver BC V6B 3X5
email: subter@portal.ca
www.anvilpress.com
Deadline:
January 31st, 2002
(postmarked) $3000
IN CASH PRIZES!
1st prize $500    2nd prize $300    3rd prize $200
EFKE
Contest Rules
Entry fee $27. This entitles you
or your designate to a one-year (4 issues)
subscription to Prairie Fire. Make cheque or
money order payable to Prairie Fire.
Deadline for ALL contest entries: November 30, 2001.
Do not identify yourself on your entry. Enclose a cover sheet
with your name, address, telephone number, the title(s) of
your piece(s), and word count (prose) or line count (poetry) along
with your entry fee.
No faxed or e-mailed submissions, please.
Your entry must be typed on 8 1/2" by 11" white paper and the
pages clipped, not stapled. Prose must be double-spaced.
Entries will not be returned. If you wish to be informed of contest
results, include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Each piece must be original, unpublished, not submitted elsewhere
for publication or broadcast, nor accepted elsewhere for publication
or broadcast, nor entered simultaneously in any other contest or
competition for which it is also eligible to win a prize.
You may enter as often as you like; only your first entry in
each category will be eligible for a subscription.
Winning pieces will be published in Prairie Fire
magazine, with authors paid for publication.
The Banff Centre
Bliss Carman Poetry Award*
(submit 1, 2, or 3 poems, maximum 150 lines)
Short Fiction
(one story per entry, maximum 15.000 words)
Literary Journalism
(one article per entry, maximum 5.000 words)
'The Poetry 1st pri^e of S500 is donated by The Banfi Centre for the Arts
a jeweller-cast replica of poet Bliss Carman's silver & turquoise ring to the Other Voices
Summer 2002 Creative Non-Fiction Contest
Judge: Myrna Kostash was born and raised in Edmonton,
Alberta. Her most recent book is the national best-seller The
Next Canada: Looking for the Future Nation (2000). Her short
fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in Brick, The
Camrose Review, Capilano Review, Prairie Fire, Ceist and CV
II. A persistent traveller, she has lectured across Canada and
abroad. In 1993-94, Kostash served as Chair of The Writers'
Union of Canada.
Other Voices solicits original non-fiction for our
Summer 2002 issue. There is a $500 prize for the winning
entry and publication in the Summer 2002 issue. The
following guidelines apply:
- Works on any subject and up to 5000 words in length, must be
original, unpublished and not simultaneously submitted.
- Each submission must be accompanied by an entry fee of $22
(Cdn.) in cheque or money order form made out to Other Voices.
An additional entry fee is $5 (Cdn.). US and International entries
must be accompanied by a money order in Canadian funds. All
entrants receive a one-year subscription to Other Voices.
- The author's name or contact information must not appear on any
page but pages should be numbered. Each submission must be
accompanied by a cover letter with the author's name, the work
title, word count and full contact information including address,
telephone numbers, and, if possible, a current e-mail address.
- Manuscripts will not be returned. For contest results, please
enclose a SASE with adequate Canadian postage or IRC or
indicate an e-mail address for reply.
- Winners will be announced by June 2002 on our website at
http://www.othervoices.ab.ca and during our Summer 2002 Launch.
- All entries must be postmarked by midnight on March 1, 2002.
Send your entries to: Other Voices Publishing Society
Box 52059 8210-109 St.
Edmonton, AB T6G 2T5 CANADA  Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Non-fiction
40:1
Sometimes boredom and childhood twist like hard twine
inside of you, until there is nothing for it but an ill-advised insurgence.
— Heather Birrell, Page 13
Heather Birrell
Sioux Browning
Tim Conley
Jose Kozer
Evelyn Lau
Orlando Ricardo
Georges Perec
Susan Rich
matt robinson
David Seymour
Daniel Stolar
Patricia Young
lenes
Cover Art:
Appliance Store:
Catemaco, Veracruz, 1986
by Rafael Goldchain
■72QQL "AbBbl

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