PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Apr 30, 2000

Item Metadata


JSON: prism-1.0135296.json
JSON-LD: prism-1.0135296-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): prism-1.0135296-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: prism-1.0135296-rdf.json
Turtle: prism-1.0135296-turtle.txt
N-Triples: prism-1.0135296-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: prism-1.0135296-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

writing      _________________________________
AROUND                                               V'< *•>-: ->>>--    \
THE                                         />-5|    . _   ^t,*^'^*t- C-,,V -        -^>
7 ^H                  BH^Mfli                Sa
HI ■
; iS||H
h0jr                           ,   * ■           .#  ■■•j&^Jr                  . jM
T   r-                    '                    '    f          __fl
^^         Mi#   ~iw^
m         *w«* lilt-_
1 \      H
9&                               9H
Jennica Harper
Kiera Miller
Business Manager    Executive Editor
Belinda Bruce    LaishaRosnau
Advisory Editors    Associate Editors
George McWhirter    Quade Hermann
Bryan Wade   Andrea MacPherson
Residency Prize Coordinator    Editorial Assistant
Steve Galloway    Nancy Lee
E-mail Submissions Manager    Production Manager
Anthony Schrag   Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Elizabeth Bachinsky    Cristina Panglinan
Ross Deegan    Nancy Lee
Charlotte Gill   Anthony Schrag
Chris Tenove
First Readers    Second Readers
David Anderson
Anosh Irani
Doretta Lau
Cristina Panglinan
Hannah Roman
Clayton Mackee
Theo Armstrong
Amanda Burrus
Catharine Chen
Karin Gray
Kuldip Gill
Stephanie Maricevic
Pam Galloway PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times
per year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, BC, V6T IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation,
New York, NY. The magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals
Contents Copyright © 2000 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Bird's Eye View, by Erik Mohr.
One-year individual subscriptions $18.00; two-year subscriptions $27.00; library
and institution subscriptions $27.00; two-year subscriptions $40.00; sample copy
$5.00. Canadians add 7% G.S.T.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts
should be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or
International Reply Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage
will be held for six months and then discarded. Translations should be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original language. PRISM will not receive
manuscripts via electronic submission. The Advisory Editors are not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including
continuity, quality and budgetary obligations.
PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights for $40.00
per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other genres. Contributors receive
a one-year subscription. PRISM international also purchases limited digital rights
for selected work, for which it pays an additional $10.00 per page.
Our gratitude to Dean Alan Tully and the Dean of Arts Office at the University
of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council ($16,500)
and the Government of British Columbia through the Ministry of Small
Business, Tourism and Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. April 2000. ISSN 0032.8790
The Canada Council     Le Conseil des Arts __^^^^^__T      AK1 j   V_^ vV U IN v.-. 1 L
FOR THE arts      DU Canada Supported by the Province of British Columbia
SINCE I957 Contents
Vol. 38, No. 3 Spring 2000
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Robin Parks
Martha's Stint with the IRA   13
Home On the Range   44
Linda Potvin-Jones
Would You See Your Brother's Face?   30
Finn Harvor
The Looksist   62
K. I. Press
Ryan Knighton
Aurian Haller
gillian harding-russell
Philip Burton
Monica Missrie
Apocalypse Love 2 (a pop glosa)   7
Apocalypse Love 3 (a pop glosa)   9
Colour Theory  11
Teddy Tweed   20
Tofino Sub Marine   22
LaBicyclette   24
The Bends   26
West   28
bat sense   55
The Palm House of the Five Winds,
Haifa  58
Reflections on Monarch Migrations   59
Contributors    76  K.   I.   Press two poems
Apocalypse Love 2
(a pop glosa)
Anger and no one can heal it
Slides through the metal detector
Lives like a mole in a motel
A slide in a slide projector
—Paul Simon, 'The Cool, Cool River"
I tried to wash you out, tree bark, mint
non-union cigars. Nothing. So now I step
on spit-spotted sidewalks, my hands
close on themselves, my head features
lightning, I wear good walking shoes, eat
sparingly, buy therapy in bundles and sit
on benches, skin tingles, maniac clicks wink and
dust runs up my nose like scamper-rat-worms
stirring my senses with a palpable hit.
Anger and no one can heal it.
Pin eyes sleepless, walking or stopping, I
stare sweat and shake and that's
anger. I am quiet.
Across the glass you move your lips
away from me, to the TV, to the waiter;
my stomach in spin-cycle churns pins and razors
from bit candy apples and witchery
but still, as I track you through doors
up buildings, my gut glides on the escalator
slides through the metal detector. I write this note in newsprint
torn from the nests of rats and birds.
I insist stay right there look straight
ahead step over the crack I warn
you who walk loudly, leave garish clues behind.
I'm coming, quick, heavy, invisible.
I write my message in lemon juice, on bandages
so only the heat of your skin will reveal it.
It hides like a tale I can't tell
lives like a mole in a motel.
There will always be thin stains of you
on me. In my room dark but for doorcracks
transparent you fill my pupils.
I aim my eyes at walls, you shine there
your flat back to me, I throw knives
straight through you like paper
impaling your image, unmoving
unmoved, immovable, you are
a hot brain spectre
a slide in a slide projector. Apocalypse Love 3
(a pop glosa)
You just want to run somebody
And a body won't let you
Want to let somebody and a body won't let
You want to kiss, feel, take, hear, ride
—Mary Margaret O'Hara, "Body's in Trouble"
You want to feel where the razor's been
and rub it against the grain you want a cheap
sweater somebody on the nape of your neck
a new body with pull and steel wool
and iron filings to taste you want to take
your glasses off read tiny pores till you can't see
anymore to bite dead skin on the insides
of fingers to open the throat with perfect
tools and peel the muscle slowly.
You just want to run somebody
across a stale carpet you want salt
lots of it and rugburn too and red roads etched
all over the coast and blue roads full of holes
inside stabbed elbows. You want a wet exoskeleton
a gift of the tide body and to roll with it up
the shore the sun to burn it burn you
want sand to rub your rugburn raw
harsh gooseflesh to grate against sounding
like seagulls screaming circling for food
and a body won't let you slide like a belt mark with friction
wrap pleasant loops around it
sculpt long precious lines in its skin.
If a body came walking toward you
with its hand in its pocket jingling its
keys to enter the room with the rough-hewn carpet
you would put up your hard parts sharp parts shoulder-
blades fingernails to make an impression.
You just want to force it not to forget
want to let somebody and a body won't let
you arrange its limbs crooked, neck jerked back, eyes
open. You identify a body by its teeth
for your tongue knows every filling
its bones you carry X-rayed in your brain.
Now a new body fresh and heavy with clean skin
and fragile would not let you if you tried
to touch it behind the fence far out stars ahead of you
want to run somebody across the grass to stop
and sneak your fingers up where it hides
you want to kiss feel take hear ride.
10 Ryan Knighton
Colour Theory
forRory (1977-99)
Look, Tracy says, it works this way. Green
is to disappear all the others. What I didn't know
& a throaty peel of'Twist and Shout"
burns through the joint.
Two Ringos two tables away, gassed & uptempo for a decade
they heard about, want custody of the myth
called good time. But my ales vanish without a clue.
She says you'll find green is not printed but you can see it
there, in not being the other colours. But that green
on TV is different, illuminated & projected to you, in you, as its
self? Now the pool table is crawling in
my eye railing trajectories back to him
self? My brother is a blond child
in his Mr. Turtle pool. There is no water & no way.
But I am there like the water that is not
there when he begins weeping for it to fill the empty
belly of his creature, for himself
to fill some future. So I turn
that world on its back, switch channels above the bar.
I am turning on the old green hose for you.
Water in its elastic shape
of memory is workin' on out
11 the throat of a coiled & sleeping snake. I
know It is poison
to kill a dying past
to spring some new present to life, but for you
with love I am shaking & drowning that flicker
you are you are not.
12 Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Martha's Stint With the IRA
I go in to the K mart from time to time to steal. I'm Mary Martha
McDonough. Everybody knows me around here and I'm not a bad
element really. I only steal to assert my individuality, to define my sense
of freedom and, naturally too, out of sheer unconditional boredom. But
anyway, I didn't steal the gun. I bought it.
The gleaming black plastic Browning 9mm High Power replica with its
embossed grip was authentic down to the last fake clip and screw. It was
easily tucked into my Wrangler blue jeans, easily pulled out again, aimed
and easily fired to blow some poor sot to smithereens. And the real real
beauty of this heftless yet otherwise perfect made in Hong Kong baby was
its price. One dollar and forty-four cents. Truly a bargain. I kept asking
myself how do they dare, how do they dare?
I fired at a few housewives in the parking lot, a toddler with a greener
and, as I ran to hide behind a panelled Grand Torino, I savoured the fear, the
comic realization, and the relief that played itself out upon their faces. Oh
delicate line separating seems and is, how I love you, how giddy you make
me. Laughing, I almost pissed myself.
That was The Summer, eh? The summer of 1981. Bobby Sands starved
to death for the Irish Republican cause and I, myself, was dieting. Dieting to
emulate the IRA hunger strikers, and dieting out of respect for their high
moral stance. I fasted on cucumber slices and mayonnaise (a per diem of 1
tbsp.) and as each Catholic dropped off I praised myself. I was vindicated
and triumphant and lovely and thin.
Mother said, Eat your potatoes, Mary Martha.
I can't look one in the eye.
You're not even Irish.
I'm Irish in part.
You're not. Eat, eat.
I was Irish. I was. I felt sure. My great-grandmother was a Brady, full to
the brim with Irish blood. I read up all that spring on Ireland in the municipal
library, that darkened reading room, musty and dank and voluminous, above
the town hall in the minuscule farming community where I lived. I read
every dusty tome and kept abreast of each current event. I ate cucumber
slices, salted, one by one, out of the Tupperware I had smuggled in my
satchel, and read and read until everything was read and then I went out and
13 bought that gun, hitching into town and back, savouring the plastic imprint on my belly, the gun-shaped sweat the sensation of reckless false
power. In the evening I flipped to international news, and thought deeply
about Long Kesh, and Thatcher and my poor innocent comrades.
Through the kitchen window I watched Mother, her figure corpulent
and silver in the waning light, standing, stooping, a thick blur in that tangled
web of a garden, culling miniature cucumbers from the vine for pickling, and
monstrous yellowed gourdlike cucumbers for composting, already bursting from their own weight and spilling seed. Cucumbers were brilliantly
useful—you could exfoliate with them, diet on them, moisturize with them
and if you felt libidinous you could cut them to size. I never did that. I
thought about it. The starving, the cukes and the Cause, the summer heat
and the gun had made me so damn horny.
Absent-mindedly, I drew the gun and popped it at my mum, widely and
ridiculously missing the mark. Mother was a formidable target even sideways, or perhaps more so sideways. I realized I would have to practice. I
dove for cover just as she swung around, and grabbed the telephone receiver as I did and dialled.
Paulie, I whispered, answer.
Can you get the Buick? I need to get out.
Can't I just come over? We could watch the Audrey Hepburn double
No, Mother's bridge club convenes here tonight. Plus I have something
to show you.
We were halfway into town, Paulie steering with one hand, cramming
the stub end of an Oh Henry in his jaw with the other, his father's burgundy Buick floundering all over the highway, when I unwrapped the Browning pistol and set it on the dashboard on top of the 8-track tape deck. He had
Ethel Merman blaring and he was out-bigging her, voice for voice, but he
stopped and gaped, epiglottis retracted, chocolate embedded in molar cavities shimmering.
What in the bloody hell do you think you are doing, my child? he spluttered.
$1.44 at the Kmart.
Bleeding Jesus on the cross and so lifelike too.
Watch this, I said. At a stop light I put the muzzle through the auxiliary
triangular vent-window and targeted the neighbour driver's dyed blond cranium.
Pshew pow pow, I said and enjoyed her facial expression unwind and
then contort as we simultaneously recoiled. She didn't know what the heck.. .
Paulie was worried. Charming, he managed to get out but otherwise he
just kept drumming the dash to the beat of a distantly approaching cavalry.
14 Char-ming, he repeated then pressed on the gas pedal and prepared for
the inevitable lurch of his daddy's boat as it recognized the command to
The bottle of grape Crush Paulie had jammed into the ashtray followed,
like much else in life, its inevitable inertial path, and sloshed up and spitted
into the air, a delicate line of purple staining my T-shirt. I had dressed with
care that night. I had stood naked before the mirror, and the sight of my
ribs beneath my skin and, sideways, my pelvis jutting ahead of my belly,
had pleased me. I had run my hands down my front, my fingers through
my pubic hair, making it stand out horizontally. I had had an incalculable love
for myself just then. I'd pulled on my most torn jeans, and after many failed
attempts, clothes piling like corpses on the foot-carpet by my bed, I had
chosen a green and orange striped T-shirt and yanked it on over my taupe
double-A Dicey bra. I was ready for the Revolution.
Dinner, shouted my mother up the stairs but, no, I would not be eating.
I raced down pausing only to stare pointedly at the bridge foursome gathered there, making crude significant signals to their partners, snapping
cards and grunting. Mother and Mr. Smiley, Pieter and Eva Bruin who kept
rabbits. Morris Smiles was a spindly retired newspaper man. Mother and
he had a decorous relationship, she had said once to me.
Decorative, you mean.
Don't be facetious, Mary Martha. But I was pretty sure they did it. You
hear things in a big old house if you listened for it.
I had pulled the revolver out and had cleaned it with the hem of my shirt,
ignoring the shocked expressions, and the pleading eyes of Mother as I
slipped the revolver into my jean's front pocket. I thought of one thing and
one thing only. Tomorrow would dawn, it would be rain, or shine, regardless, the Orange Day Parade would snake its way through Main Street, past
the church, the Separate School, the priest's meager quarters and I would
be there: rain, shine, regardless.
Mary Martha, when are you going to calm down?
I liked the way the gun nuzzled, at its butt, my navel concavity and at its
tip, my pubic bone.
You're starving. You are wasting away, child, she said. Stay home and eat
here with us.
Now. The cotton T-shirt wicked the purple grape Crush into an ever-
widening stain. It lay like a wound along the chest of my shirt. The juice
dribbles evaporated leaving a precipitate of sugar, which felt gummy and
unnatural against my skin. I scratched myself with the gun muzzle.
I said to Paul, Let's rob a convenience store.
I'd advise against it, Martha, he said.
Well good for you. There's one. Stop, I shrieked, stop!
15 I slipped the Browning into my back pocket, and as he lurched the Buick
to a halt, I heaved the great clonking door open and, leaving it so, made for
the all-night.
Paulie called after me, first, You've been advised, and then, Hickory
sticks and a ginger ale. Oh and corn chips. I'll pay you back.
No need, I laughed.
The store was overlit. The malnourished acned cashier looked up as I
entered and stashed his smutty magazine behind the counter. I picked out
Paulie's snacks, plus a newspaper, a Mars, an Aero and a Zero bar. I went to
the back to get a cold Canada Dry and a cucumber. There were no vegetables. I looked up into a convex mirror and waved, but the clerk was back at
his porn. So I brought my spoils to the counter, whipped out the gun, and
nudged it right up his freckled nose.
You have no cucumbers, I said.
Was that sarcastic?
Uh, no, he whimpered.
Okay, then, I'll let it go this time, I said. Then I walked out.
In no time, Paulie had the hickory sticks flying and the pop tucked into
his crotch, opened. Small viscous crumbs of orange artificial colour and
monosodium glutamate had accumulated at the corners of his mouth. His
unfettered gluttony irritated me.
Want some? He spluttered bits and motioned the bag toward me.
My stomach tightened. I'd given up my mayonnaise ration when the
fifth hunger striker died. I looked great, f-ing svelte actually and, since
Ireland was front page news, I felt great, too. Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes,
Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh and Joe McDonnell were dead. Martin
Thurson was poorly. And the Protestants were getting out their costumes
for Orange Day.
Paulie said, Technically speaking, hickory sticks are not food.
It's alright. I'm not hungry.
Eat the Aero bar. Come on, you must be starving. It's just the tiniest bit
of chocolate holding the air together.
He swung out along the deserted highway in a U-turn. Waves of heat
licked off the burning asphalt and disappeared along the soft shoulder. The
sun was vanishing. Not a red sky but instead a slow darkening of light.
There was an immense silence which I could not bear. To gain attention I
did shocking things with the gun. I put the muzzle in my mouth, against my
temple, then, I let it hang out my open fly in a gesture of flagrant eroticism.
No reaction.
Why do you not ever come on to me, Paulie?
I do, he said. But my subtlety escapes you.
16 Paulie, what would you do if you had an inexhaustible sexual appetite?
Dunno, keep going?
Hypothetically, right? Your lover is spent but you aren't. You've come,
say, sixteen times.
Cicadas, like winches pulling me to them, wound out their siren song in
the still hot night. We turned onto a gravel concession road and a lone car
barrelled past us leaving swirling choke dust, filthing the wild flowers along
the soft shoulder, and settling on us too, before we got the windows tight
What would you do?
He laughed. He said, Christ, Martha. I'd medicate.
I activated a switch. The window hummed open. I stuck the pistol out and
began target practice. An unfortunate turkey vulture perched on a fence
post was my first victim. I watched it struggle for balance, hopping and
cascading in an indignant dance until it vanished from my point of view. A
farmer on a green tractor was luckier. I missed. The bullet ricocheted off a
telephone pole and embedded in the stack of hay he quietly drew homeward. I killed three sorry ground hogs and a twitching little fieldmouse. I
took potshots at mailboxes, gleefully knocking them off their posts. I was
starving. Starving.
There's an Orange Day parade in the village tomorrow, I mumbled.
I love a parade, sang Paulie.
The cicadas began up again like an air raid and my heart, my lungs, my
esophagus, my entire reproductive tract were attuned to that song.
Hey listen...
It's the bagpipers.
No, insects.
We passed fieldstone houses perched on hillocks, one after another
harbouring a history of family secret, and illness, and passions: sexual,
political, culinary, creative, violent. Hiding, too, the uncoverable stories of
mites and worms and snails and trilobites, the traces of which, and sometimes the beast itself, were fossilized in the stone. And this narration piled
by man or men, one rock on top of the next was simply to give a taste of
home, and shield from weather.
Inexplicably, Paulie took a hold of my hand, stopped the car along the
ditch, half in really. He got out of the car and came around and helped me
out too. He pushed his body against my body, in an intentional embrace.
The pistol pressed into me, tight into my ribs, and Paulie's phallus pressed
on my jeans considerably lower. I lost my balance. We tumbled down the
bank and into the dry ditch where amidst the primrose, vetch, and clover, of
which I found, afterwards, in the dark, a four leaf. We rubbed together and
plunged, spittle and all, into a fervent and hardy aborted sexual intercourse.
The result of all this, and the heat, and the occasion spent Paulie. He ejacu-
17 lated into his hand.
Look at the clover, Paulie, I said.
No, luck.
I yanked a fistful up and tucked it into his mouth, enough of a mass to jam
his throat and set him rasping and spewing.
Fodder, I said.
Fuck. He retched green and fell asleep. I too fell asleep.
And then the night crickets gave way to the whine of a distant piper and
day. The "Lilliburlero" summoned me. I rose and marched away from Paulie
past a seeding lilac hedge toward the fife and drums, trying to mentally
block the oration that followed me. And it did. I made my way, overland,
along fences not electric, barbed, split wood, not stone heaped upon stone
in an effort to clear the damn field, nor wire with little pressed maple leaf
decorations, not knarled bone-like tree root barricades, but rather, the rusted
decrepit remains of a time-line of automobiles, broken, smashed, incomplete: a disassembly of rotted upholstery, ground hogs and vespiaries. Nothing charming here. Paulie kept shouting after me but I ignored him.
Or tried to. The speech dwindled in amplitude, of course, the further I
went from him but this was in direct proportion to its increase in resonance.
He had begun loudly in a melodic Irish schoolmarm accent, with an account
of the Boyne skirmish with William of Orange rising up on his white stead
and trampling the papist army and ending, as it did, with a shrill and emphatic declaration of my insanity.
You're out of your bleeding head, Martha.
You've got a strange way, Paulie, I whispered.
I stumbled toward the parade though rasp and blackberry bracken which
smeared me and scratched at me but I pushed my way through anyhow
treading now and then into ancient pioneer dumps of rusted tins and medicine bottles, whiskey salve. The bagpipers' screechings were clear now. I
came into the open air and screeched along with the tune until coming into
town I could no longer hear myself so loud were the pipers. A fat man
dressed as King William, be-sabred and straddling a white gelding, pranced
ahead of the marchers. The paraders were decked in orange and blue
sashes and royal purple hats. Some donned bowlers in the tradition of
Belfast Orangemen and all had their collars and their attitudes. The crowd
was blissfully unaware, ignorant in the extreme; they waved at the flotillas
and accepted candy and balloons and silly little union jacks from the marchers.
What does it do to you, Martha, said Paulie. He had snuck up behind me.
18 It gets my ire up, I said.
The Browning slipped nicely into my hand. The parade seemed a herd
instinctively moving forward toward a gleeful and pointless collectivity, each
face flushed pink and swollen in the heat. Their animation fed me. It was
difficult to tell one parader from the next but I had my target chosen. He
was bringing up the rear fumbling a sort of flag-cum-baton. I chose him
because he was alone, because he was bulging out of his undersized uniform and because I had a clear shot. Thinking only of my compatriots at
Long Kesh prison, I took aim and pulled the trigger.
It was only then, as the bullet left its chamber, that I saw her. Mother was
not in the parade but had somehow become caught up into it. She carried
two paper bags of groceries, one in the hook of each arm. The crowd
jostled her into a variety of uncomfortable positions. She tried to pause but
was inevitably nudged forward. This would be a story she would have wanted
to tell later with shrill fury, how she had been menaced and abused by an
infantile pack of revellers. How it had badly affected her card playing. How
it would affect everything she did for the rest other life. She was aghast. I
could see, her buttery cheeks puffed yet further out, her rose-grey permanent splayed in her anxiety, then suddenly, her washed out pink hairdo
jerked back, as if hit by some immeasurably huge force, a hole in her
forehead became evident briefly, then, a gush, a stream, a river, a pool of
lifeblood. Something terribly wrong had happened. Trying desperately to
connect the disparate, I looked down at my weapon, too late. Mother fell
down dead. Matricide.
It's just plastic, I said.
Paulie took the pistol, wiped it carefully on his shirt, spit on it, wiped it
again, let it drop and pulled me toward him and, even as I fainted away, he
said, You must be famished.
19 Aurian Haller five poems
Teddy Tweed
The boy on the motor-cross,
peddling mad between his s-turn
and our gravel stretch, invited me
to my first slaughter around the time
they painted the yellow line down the
valley, as if the two sides were
tough to tell apart.
They sawed the legs off short before
hanging the carcass from a rafter;
the belly, hung vertical, sagged
like a man's before spilling its guts—
dirty laundry, unsorted on the straw.
We found the stomachs innocuous
as a lawnmower bag beside the bright
pink flesh, and cut fat off like warm snowballs,
ducking behind the nervous bulwark
of the next cow.
A week later,
he split my nose open like a
ripe tomato, juice down my collar;
said he'd come and finish the job
after school before my mother came home
where I waited with my collie-dog
and garden hoe.
We ended up smoking in the woods,
settled over my marbles for a rusty knife
with a headdress on the blade, and
buried my dead rabbit under a tamarack
because its needles are soft as fur
when they fall, yellow
to the ground.
20 Heavier than me by half,
they found him in the basement
swinging warm—his mother
who made moccasins, his father
at our door for cancer donations;
death moved under the house
where we wouldn't see it, lonely
as a lost boy in a man's body.
I heard him cry once only,
fallen off his bike on the pavement,
his voice too deep for skinned elbows-
we were suddenly uneasy with tears.
On the road, we buried starlings
under crosses along the new blacktop,
and cursed the cars,
so clearly in the wrong.
21 Tofino Sub Marine
Noon on a Sunday these days along the coast
is much the same as any other:
meeting the boys at the bakery,
swapping who's mortgaged their boats,
or started hooking tourists on whales.
Larry walks in all skinny like he hasn't eaten since he left,
waves a red inner tube so he doesn't have to hide it—
wants to know the news, but nobody bites.
You got tubes in there? is the only thing comes to mind;
have to know the score beneath his grey jump suit
before we carry on. He says he's all hooked up:
Enough pipes for a submarine, that's what I am now,
a submarine, laughing, so we can too.
And we tell him Rick's boat got holed
just above the waterline—can't be stuffed with
repossession papers. Everybody knows who done it,
some guy in a drunken yacht, but no one has proof.
We stick to Rick because he's big and his wife's tiny—
the humour of logistics, anything not to sink deeper
into Larry's metaphor.
What about the cannery, become a corrugated whale,
beached between dry docked boats? This town is changing
face. When you're standing still, he tells us,
you can't count on where you left off.
22 Sitting on his tube makes him taller without his beard,
more like a sleep-wrinkled boy shaking his head—
have we really been here that long?
And that impact crater on the hillside where they're building,
are they going to plant new trees in the yards
before they slide into the sea?
At least he's home where he's recognized—
the landscapes that hold us in place,
do well to keep up with the times: storefront windows
smashed jagged as the shoreline, a single motor
roars away into the night with the streetlights
calling foul, foul.
Noon on a Sunday these days along the coast
is where we come to shoot the shit, rubber deck boots,
good for nothing now but the rain;
and all this time his wife leaning against the counter
like she's got all day, keeping watch from a distance—
lighthouse in the shoals where we walked ankle-deep,
between the ribs of boats sifted through.
23 La Bicyclette
pour Baba
These days, speaking your mind
is like riding a bike—it's not that you
forget how to pedal, but that streets,
once familiar, leave you poised and
uncertain, fenders rusted from winters
under the plum tree's drip.
Halfway between one language
and the next—all four slowly
taking back their words—you wonder at
old letters written in the full
bloom of syntax, effortless on the page,
while even your mother tongue is now
spare with the present.
Words belong to the time and place
you lost them—the bakery
where you broke your arm
when you first arrived from Europe,
towing two children,
a fleet of trunks,
has given up its name.
So you keep them on hand
in poems learned by rote,
checking on them like people
take the measure of their oil:
Milosz for cold weather,
Szimborska for catnap afternoons.
You'll be the first to know
when stanzas grind their hip joints.
24 Careless the way to the library—
pannier rattling down the narrow walk,
a cargo of books together with broccoli
and bread—you roll titles off your lips
like the names of cities you've absorbed:
Krakow, Paris, Montreal, Vancouver,
pages you've found yourself in,
you're a constellation stretched thin
between smudges of light,
hands gripped tight to the handlebars,
determined white helmet
leaning into the curve.
25 The Bends
pour Joel
The river tests its banks,
looking to shorten its path—
a prisoner, muttering at the foot of a wall.
I've watched you stand over the hole
all this pacing has worn, and cast
kitimats and roe over the troubled dark,
until it's a sign for the source
of a hunger you've only begun to read;
weekdays on the mountain, the
emerging damp of fresh-cut saplings
smells of eggs between river cobbles.
Until the day you land it on the counter,
where we witness the frozen arc,
gaff-hole along the gill, oyster eyes
staring blue, like a TV screen's
frosty residue,
its body lost all sign of passage:
jolted out of its riverskin,
furious at the barbless hook,
red bags of reeking oil,
how you bruised the stone
with its blunt head, scales on your sleeve,
the black garbage bag drive home—
You threw it in the freezer beside
green beans and ice cream
to chill the vertigo of whose displacement?
26 Yet you return to leaves
rusting on the backwater, aping softly
a churning in the shadows,
and phone me late at night,
asking what I know of loneliness,
(as if you'd just been introduced)
the air full of bubbles between us.
27 West
A star falls
sideways, follows
the earth's curve like a
pitcher's arm
into the swing,
below its bright streak, the car
pursues a broken trajectory, setting its
sights on half-moons of torn
truck tires, fingernails
left in the sink.
On the move again after
a night in Spanish, early
morning breakdown in Blind River.
The cats are hunting wipers;
mistaking the blur of trees for wallpaper,
they've gotten used to a world,
distilled from nine months
in our blue apartment.
Strapped to the roof, soggy cardboard
peels off the dining room mirror,
flashing signals into space,
(all it has seen at our table).
We are motion—
even time depends on how far
we have driven between zones,
where no one can say for sure how long
to the next town, without a reason
to have gone.
28 Every day accumulations
we are accustomed to: how
the seamless plain stacks itself
a quarter section per row,
(four jellyrolls high, six wide)
rotting in the spring rain,
and the northern forest
on its side in bundles, ready
to fence in new highways against
drivers hypnotized by trees
left standing,
blue population signs remark
how many trucks come home to
drip oil, a black census pooling
in the gravel.
Far ahead on the coast,
our boxes arrive first;
like lizards backing into new
shade, afraid of emerging tailess,
we check off their contents
in our sleep, anxious the cats
might slip through the car door,
across the highway
into the woods.
The next morning they're back,
skinny and strange in the cage,
eyes full of roaring, like the
dead moose's—
we wake
to a world
hurtling from the night,
still molten,
still unformed.
29 Linda Potvin-Jones
Would You See Your
Brother's Face?
Letters to Death Row
In your letter you said, "I didn't expect I'd find myself writing to a prisoner again." Implicit in that statement is that at some point you had
decided not to write a prisoner again. What changed your mind, Linda?
Now the typical answer would be that you changed your mind out of
deep concern for prisoners in general, but you admitted that writing a
prisoner was a "hard thing." So if you know what a person inside goes
through and you know that you can't change anything, why on God's
earth would you subject yourself to that mental and emotional turmoil
Throughout the few years I've spent behind these walls, I've learned a lot
about people on the outside and the selfish reasons they have for writing
people on the inside. Some people write prisoners for academic studies;
some people write because they think it will place them in good standing
with their Lord; and some even write because they have rocky marriages
and a prisoner can fill that emotional void. But in your words, "That may or
may not be true of you. I have no way of knowing."
Lamar Johnson, Missouri, 1999
Excerpt from a letter (by permission)
Most of the prisoners I write to have been incarcerated since birth.
Coming up hard and poor in the projects of St. Louis, on Chicago's West Side, in South Central LA, in the neighbourhoods of
the American nightmare, shackled by injustice and walled in by racism, it's
hard to resist the pull of "the Game." Prison doesn't separate them further
from the American dream, but it increases a hundred-fold their well-founded
belief that the world is a dog-eat-dog place, where no one gives anything
away free.
The idea that anyone, let alone a middle-class white woman, has "deep
concern for prisoners in general" can be ludicrous in their eyes. Some-
30 times, months into seemingly friendly correspondence, a man will make
it evident that he extends to me the same trust he'd show a chummy
rattlesnake. And why not? As James Baldwin said in his essay, "Show Me
the Way," "Black People have managed to survive White sympathy."
I may never achieve the trust of the prisoners I write and I will never
hope, given the conditions of their confinement, to escape the "mental and
emotional turmoil" which is the inevitable price of caring about them. And
there are days when I would like to turn away. I would like to unlearn the
ugly facts, and return to the fond delusion that society has made progress,
that opportunity isn't meted out by colour or economic status. But it's too
late for that. One particularly weary day, I said to an activist friend, "After all,
it's not up to me to save the world." 'You're right," he replied, with a caustic
grin. 'Whose turn is it today?"
However, even the most altruistic of souls cannot survive on a steady
diet of mistrust and emotional turbulence and I am no exception. There are
good days. Recently, LeRoi wrote to thank me for helping him survive a
year in the hole. A Cherokee friend says he has asked his spirits to watch
over me. A friend on San Quentin's death row told me, "Getting a letter is
like Christmas, Easter, and Sunday dinner all wrapped up in one."
I have spent three years writing to and about prisoners, researching and
witnessing the painful inequities and excesses of the penal system. I have
groped unsteadily for comprehension, convinced that no real change can
occur without it. In attempting to look through the eyes of my imprisoned
friends, I have glimpsed ways in which my cultural naivete has contributed
to sanctioning this system, and realized that my comfort levels are not what
is important here.
The point is to understand, to witness, and to change.
This essay is a lesson in not looking away.
Messages in Bottles
I have written letters all my life. I used to carry on old-fashioned correspondences that continued for years. Now friends reply with rushed e-
mails or answer my letters with long-distance calls. Writing a real letter is a
luxury, like growing your own vegetables or putting up preserves.
Hoping to revive that connection, I key "pen-pals" into an internet
search engine. The resulting list turns up school children, the lovelorn,
and a pen-pal site for prisoners. I click on the prisoners' site and scroll
down the screen. The word "lonely" repeats in ad after ad. One reads: "I
haven't had a letter or visit in eight years."
I think about the books which have profoundly affected my view of
prisoners: The Gulag Archipelago, Lazarus and the Hurricane, Dead
Man Walking. I know justice often misses its mark. It targets the poor,
31 blows hot and cold in changing political winds, and is not colour-blind.
The little I understand of prison life leaves me with a feeling of dread. I
relate more to the kept than their keepers.
The section for women is not available. "Under construction," the
message says, and shows a cartoon man industriously chopping with a
pick-axe. I skip over the messages from men who are looking for female contact only, men posing for the camera, muscles rippling, searching for that "special someone."
Although fiercely opposed to the death penalty, I avoid the death row
ads. What could I offer someone counting down time? I don't think I'm
strong enough to handle the awful certainty of ritual death.
I flee to the relative safety of "general friendship."
One ad reads, "Been down twenty-four years. Need contact with the
outside. Anyone, anywhere, any race or religion." No picture accompanies
it. No list of hobbies and interests. Stark, lonely, this electronic message in
a bottle washes up on the internet's virtual shores. And I qualify: I am
anyone, anywhere.
"Been down twenty-four years."
The words roll over in my mind. What good does it do society to keep a
human being so isolated and alone? How does anyone survive twenty-four
years in such a place? Days later, I can't make the haunting words go away.
My husband looks like a man facing a flash-flood with only a teaspoon to
bail when I tell him I want to write. He's dubious and reluctant. I am stubborn. We discuss conditions and safety-checks. I rent an anonymous post
office box, gather up my courage and write. I use my maiden name.
For weeks, the post office box remains empty. I joke with my friends
that I can't even pry a letter out of a captive audience.
Finally, a reply arrives. The envelope bears a US postmark, and the
return address, typed on an old typewriter with wobbly keys, shows a name
with a number beside it. "Thank you for your letter. I am a proud African-
American on death row."
Beyond This Place be Dragons
The prison LeRoi is in is old, crouched on the banks of the Mississippi like
a gothic gargoyle. In winter, the prisoners freeze, and in summer they
swelter. There are rats and roaches. When the river floods its banks, ground
level cells fill with water. The men are inoculated against disease, but left in
wet misery, their meager possessions floating and ruined. LeRoi says
it's the worst camp he's ever seen.
He endures the conditions and the daily harassment from the guards
with self-discipline and a staggering lack of self-pity. Anger surfaces in
32 his letters, but only in short bursts. Control is essential to survival.
He appreciates whatever small blessings come his way. In one letter,
he announces happily that he's now allowed hour-long visits to the "yard"
three times each week. I congratulate him, and in the weeks that follow,
find myself slogging through cold rain and biting November wind with more
cheer than I'd have thought possible. I have always been free. The difference is, because of LeRoi, I know it now. The burdens of my life, compared
to his, are minor inconveniences. The cold weather I detest might be a gift
to him.
Our discussions expand and stray from the safe topics of earlier correspondence: family, memories, books and music we like. "If you want to
know about my childhood," he says, "read Manchild in the Promised Land."
I borrow the book from a friend, and when I've finished reading it, I am
suffering from severe culture shock. White and middle-class, I had never
imagined what an inner city childhood could be like.
'We were raised on different planets," I tell him, and then anxiously, in
the next letter, I ask, "Is this an okay subject to bring to the table?"
"Any subject is okay to bring to the table," he replies. "I was wondering
what was holding you up."
I look forward to his letters. We talk about race, religion and politics. We
discuss the justice system. He has a good sense of humour and enormous
energy. He challenges my beliefs. Often, before I've had a chance or nerve
to ask something, he sends the answer, seeming to know what's going
through my mind even before I do. It doesn't take long for me to see that
the man at the other end of the letters is both intelligent and astute.
In December, LeRoi and the guy in the next cell are talking when the
guard distributes the mail. There's a letter from me for LeRoi, but nothing
for Baker, the man next door. He tells LeRoi, "I'm going to lay back awhile."
They discover Baker's lifeless body, ten minutes later, hanging in his cell.
The guards laugh and joke about who's going to go in to cut him down.
LeRoi sits silently, listening.
I read this passage in his letter over and over, unable and unwilling to
believe that I've understood it. But his anguish burns on the page. He
blames himself that he didn't see it coming, and didn't intervene, didn't
help somehow.
Until Baker's suicide, the picture of LeRoi's world has arrived in my
mailbox in bits and pieces, but with this, it coalesces into a terrible whole. It
hits me like a punch to the solar plexus, and the blow knocks my detachment out. This is my friend. These things are happening to my friend.
In January, he disappears for a month. I send a frantic card: "Where
are you??" He's been in the prison hospital with pneumonia. He seems
33 surprised and pleased that I've worried about him. "After all," I say to
him, "I can't very well tell myself you've taken a vacation in Bermuda,
when you up and disappear, can I?"
He tells me he senses change is coming to the row. His instincts about
institutional policy shifts are finely honed, and whatever is coming, he knows
it's bad. The staff have an air of smug secrecy. He's trying to warn the
younger guys and prepare them. I plead with him to stay safe, stay out of
whatever happens.
In late February, in the middle of the night, a team of guards drag LeRoi,
naked, disoriented, and blindfolded, from his death row cell. They throw
him into a newly built cell, isolated from other prisoners. The cell was built
just for him, they say. They warn him not to sleep too soundly. He doesn't
know what part of the prison he is in. They won't tell him why he's been
moved. He's shackled, chained, and cut off. For an unspecified time, he'll
be allowed no visitors, but the law forces them to allow a letter out. He
believes the guards are going to kill him, and claim it was suicide, induced
by stress. He sends me the names, addresses and phone numbers of his
Several weeks pass with no word. Just as I am almost snapping from
shock and horror, I receive a call.
On a Saturday afternoon, I'm coming up the back path on my way from
doing errands. My husband stands in the open doorway, waving to me to
hurry up. He holds the phone out.
"It's somebody from the States. About LeRoi."
I take the receiver with trembling hands. Is he dead? Has a guard somehow found my number? Is this going to be a threat or harassment? LeRoi
has told me how the guards have intimidated visitors and friends before.
"Linda Jones?" The voice is unmistakably that of a black man, and my
chest loosens enough to allow a breath. "Yes."
'You know a man—LeRoi J. Monroe?"
"Yes." Now my voice is shaking too. Why does he sound so coldly official?
"My name is William Downs. I'm with the Anti-Death Penalty Lobby.
LeRoi asked me to get in touch with you. He knew you'd be worrying. I saw
him two days ago, and it's not good, but he's okay."
'William? Right? You said your name is William?" My thoughts are darting like terrified birds. I can't seem to absorb anything. "He's okay?" I can
feel tears starting to press on the backs of my eyes. William softens his
voice a little.
"He's been through worse. The brother is strong. You understand
34 me? He'll get through. He spent many years behind a steel door. He
knows how to handle himself."
"Why are they doing this to him? Why is this happening?" My sanity
is flapping like shredded curtains in a bombed out window. I can't block
out the view.
'They say he was plotting to kill the warden. It's bullshit. We tryin' to
check it out now. They can say anything to justify themselves."
"Why, though? Why him?" The world is falling apart. I need a reason.
Please. Tell me they can't do this to someone and get away with it.
"Why him? He's a black man who won't bow down and they can't have
that. See, they want him to break. They want him to be a good nigger. He's
an activist and they hate him. He helped a lot of prisoners." William's tone
is hard, ironic, matter-of-fact. There is blood in it.
"I see."
"You understand that right? The brother can't bow down. You wouldn't
wanthim to do that, would you?"
"Yes. No! I understand. No, I wouldn't. Can't his lawyers do anything?"
I've called his lawyers. One snapped, "I'm not responsible for anything
but his appeal." The other didn't return my call. William laughs with the
warmth of hail hitting metal.
"Yeah. He got Jewish lawyers. We all go for Jewish lawyers. Think they
smarter than a black lawyer. But I think a white lawyer can't look at a black
face and see his brother, or his nephew looking back at him. I mean could
you look at a black man and see your brother standing there? What do your
people think about that?"
"I don't know. I mean, I don't know what white people think, in general."
I sound stupid, even to myself. I've never thought of white people as "my
William lets me dangle for a minute, thinking about the implications of
the question. Then he lets me off the hook.
"Don't worry. He'll be alright. You just keep writing. He seem to think a
lot of you. He say you hangin' in. Most don't. Keep writing, let them know
somebody is watching what happens to him."
"Thank you, William," I say. My voice is choked and wavering, and William
relents, letting kindness into his tone.
"I'll give you my home number and pager. And my e-mail address. You
can call me if you need to know something, or if he gets word to you, let me
know. Don't worry. He's strong. They never gonna break him. You got to be
strong now too. Don't let him down."
"I won't. Thanks. William?"
"I'd see my friend's face."
"Yeah. You call if you need to."
35 The Dragon's Lair: 1997
Death row presents fewer security problems than the general population areas of a prison, yet sweeping changes are introduced after LeRoi's
removal: privileges are reduced, punitive new rules added. Misery after
misery is added to the prisoners' wait for death. Access to the law library is lessened, preventing the prisoners from adequately working
on their appeals. Visiting restrictions are tightened, reducing meaningful contact with family or friends. The Department of Corrections (DOC)
runs a midnight exercise with their tactical unit, rampaging through the
cell blocks with dogs and weapons, rousing the men out of sleep and
invading their cells, destroying and damaging personal property under
the guise of searching for contraband. Some of the prisoners are badly
injured. The DOC invites the press to attend.
William and LeRoi's other outside contacts have spoken off-record to a
few guards and discovered the new regime is the real reason for LeRoi's
removal to the Special Housing Unit. The DOC feared LeRoi would have
organized resistance. No evidence of a plot against the warden or staff
surfaces, and the DOC stops bothering to pretend they have a legitimate
case against LeRoi. He is simply in the way.
They intend to make sure he is never in the way again.
Six months into total isolation, we are writing to each other two or three
times a week. He has held his patience, but he's having more and more
trouble with the guards. They turn his food tray upside down, leaving the
contents a soggy, spoiled mess. They delay his mail and refuse him writing
paper from the commissary. They turn off the hot water in the shower.
One tooth is killing him and he suffers blinding migraines. They ignore his
requests for treatment. He hasn't been allowed exercise time or reading
material. I send him a paperback dictionary, after being assured by the
DOC that it is allowed, and the prison sends it back, beat-up and dog-eared,
marked "Unauthorised Property." One morning, he finds a newspaper ad
taped to his cell door. It gives a phone number to call if you "want a nigger
killed." They are waiting for him to snap or strike out, so they can justify his
It's over a hundred degrees in his cage. The air is wet and stale, suffocating. When he's given the phone for a legal call and the guard gets distracted, he dials my number. Cautiously, I ask how it's going. Rage smoulders in his voice, sparks through the phone lines. He's trying hard to
control himself. He mutters about retaliation. The next insult, or one soon
after, will be a lit match. I listen, wait for him to finish.
"Use your head instead of your fists," I say finally. I keep my voice
low and quiet. He lives with loud male voices, shouting, demanding. A
soft, female voice he can hear. "You don't have to use your fists, LeRoi.
36 You're smarter than that. Out-think them. Manipulate."
I've blurted a word guaranteed to raise the hackles of any prisoner.
Manipulate. Con. Nobody can con you like a con. I might as well have
slighted his mother.
There's an intake of breath on the other end of the line, and he launches
a furious defence: "Oh, no. Oh, no. I do not manipulate. I am not one of
those." I realize I've just traipsed in with one of the oldest, nastiest stereotypes of prisoners. And I've tracked my muddy footprints all over his
I catch myself.
'Wait a minute."
He stops protesting, but the silence threatens to explode while he waits
for me to speak.
'Why is that a bad word? Everybody manipulates. Leaders manipulate
people to get the best out of them. Parents manipulate their children to
teach them. It isn't a bad thing. It's necessary. Everybody does it. I don't
understand why everyone thinks it's a dirty word."
The silence holds a few seconds. Then he surprises me. He chuckles
"I never thought of it like that."
I've accidentally said something good. Helpful. I try so hard to help, to
mitigate the misery of his surroundings. Most of the time, I feel useless. I
write letters to the Department of Corrections, and I can tell by their replies, I am a thorn in their side. While that affords me some petty satisfaction, it doesn't help him much. There are only so many times that you can
urge a person living in torturous conditions to hang on, to forgive, to turn
away, to let it go. I despair sometimes of being any use at all.
This time, quite by chance, I've given him something he needs: the
assurance that, out here, we upright citizens aren't morally superior to him
or any other prisoner.
After I hang up, I think about consciously lowering my voice, to get his
attention. In my lifetime, I've lied, flattered, manipulated, and plotted strategy like a General. There are more con artists out here in the so-called
"free" world than we can ever pack behind those prison walls.
Not in Canada Now
Less than three months before LeRoi is transferred to the latest horror in
the state's arsenal, a "supermax" prison, I visit him.
The visits take place in a cell in the guards' station. He is shackled and
chained, sitting on a tall cement block too high for comfort, too far from
the wall to lean back for support. He is wearing black boots, and a prison-
issue green jumpsuit with the sleeves pushed up. He sits straight and
3 7 proud, shoulders back. The guard scrapes an orange plastic chair across
the floor and dumps it in front of the bars. I sit down.
I am not prepared for his prison face, an impassive mask. It takes the
better part of two visits to inch our way across the bridge built by letters, to
speak with the ease of people who know each other well. Even then, because we have no privacy, we measure what we say, and speak in the shorthand we've developed as a defence against the staff's scrutiny of our correspondence. Static belches out of the guard's walkie-talkie, punching holes
in our conversation. I lean forward, holding onto the bars, straining to narrow the distance a little. Personnel come into the room on one pretext or
another, stare openly at the Canadian lady visiting this prisoner they think
of as a mad dog.
I watch him glance out the tiny barred window of the cell. He hasn't seen
the sky in over a year. When word of my arrival is phoned up, he is brought
to the cell by a team of guards. He stands at the barred window, watching
my progress as a guard from the main building conducts me to a guard at
the Death Row wing. Even a few extra seconds of delay at the second gate
makes him fear they will find a reason to prevent my visit. But each day I
clear through sign-in and shakedown, and make it in to see him.
I'm staying at a Christian hostel for families and friends of prisoners a
mile downriver from the prison. The house manager and two prisoner's
wives pick me up at the St. Louis airport and drive me the sixty miles to
Haven House. They welcome me like a long-lost sister, and assign me a bed
in one of the bright, clean, farmhouse bedrooms.
After I've ditched my suitcase, Rosie marches me through rehearsal for
sign-in and shake-down. I am to take with me: change for the locker (I can't
take my purse in), my passport, and only one other piece of ID. "Don't let
them know anymore about you than you have to," Rosie warns, "be polite,
but not friendly. Sometimes they try to strike up a conversation hoping
you'll give them something they can use against a guy." I will not be allowed
to wear a scarf, but earrings are okay, as long as they aren't gang-related
jewellery. We talk about prison conditions, and the worsening situation of
the men inside. They offer to pray for me and we sit around the big maple
kitchen table, holding hands. Christine prays that "no weapon or harm
succeed" against me.
The first night there, I hitch a ride with Christine to a town across the
border, and after buying groceries, my sense of direction suddenly deserts
me. I'm over a thousand miles from home and lost in a tiny back-water town
in southern Missouri. I feel ridiculous and scared.
It's Halloween night and dark creeps up fast this time of year. I'm
only a few blocks from the salon where I've left Christine having her
38 nails done. When I emerge from the grocery store, encroaching night
has altered the look of the landscape. A car races down the near-deserted street, its occupants yahooing drunkenly out of the open windows. I have a kick-myself feeling that I didn't pay enough attention to
the landmarks.
I walk towards the town square, looking for Chris's salon. Passing the
gun shop, and the church situated in the square, I know I'm close. The
place is spacious, modern, and brightly lit. It's absurd that I can't spot it. The
square runs a block on each of its four sides, and the grocery store is only
a few minutes walk away. After circling around four times, I still can't get my
bearings. I don't remember what Chris's car looks like either and panic is
beginning to form a knot in my stomach. The plastic grocery bags slice into
my fingers, raising red welts.
I stop on a corner and spot a man getting into a late model Honda. I recall
Blanche Dubois, depending on "the kindness of strangers." Uneasily, I put
the bags down and holler across the street to him.
"I'm lost. I'm from Canada and I'm lost, and these groceries weigh three
hundred pounds," I wail.
"You're lost?" He laughs in astonishment. "In Perryville?" I drag my groceries across the street, my arms almost pulling out of their sockets. I
explain to him about catching a ride with Chris and that I'm at least 30 miles
from where I'm staying.
"I was sure I remembered the way back to the beauty salon. It's too big
to miss. Problem is, the only one I've seen is small and ratty-looking and
that can't be it." I tell him how many times I've walked around the square.
He looks at me nervously, sizing me up. He isn't laughing now.
"Okay. Okay. Look. Get in. I'll try to help you find it." I see insurance
brochures scattered across the back seat as I plunk the bags down, and
hope something so mundane is proof he isn't a psycho-killer. I think it's a
good sign that he looks as nervous as me.
We cruise slowly around the block for several minutes, exchanging jittery conversation. He asks what the weather's like in Canada this time of
year, and wracks his brain aloud, trying to recall where his wife has her hair
styled. I keep exclaiming over my stupidity, and apologizing for inconveniencing him.
Finally he has a brainstorm. It hits him why I couldn't find the place.
'They renovated and expanded inside," he says. 'That was in August,
and they haven't done the exterior, so it looks old and shabby. That's where
my wife goes." He sounds giddy with relief. I'd noticed the salon interior,
but not the seedy facade, with it's peeling paint and small windows. "I can
understand how you'd make the mistake," he says, generous in the
knowledge that he's about to rid himself of this strange hitch-hiker.
He pulls up outside, and wishes me luck, backing out as soon as my
39 feet hit the pavement. It's a toss-up as to who takes a deeper breath
when he drives off.
The next day, when I visit, I tell LeRoi the story, and he looks at me as
though I were a crazy woman.
'Tou do not get into cars with strangers, not in this country," he instructs
me, as if I'm three years old. I'm grinning, because I know he's about to go
off on a roll. Give me proper shit.
Good! Nothing he enjoys more than delivering a lecture. The travel
warnings started well before the visit: my husband anxiously reminding me
to phone home every day and LeRoi convinced I would be killed by crack
addicts the minute I stepped off the plane in St. Louis. "For God's sake. I'm
a grown woman," I'd said to both of them in exasperation.
"What if," LeRoi says, very quietly, not kidding around, "one of these
crackers picked you up?" He flicks his gaze towards where the guard is
sitting. "Somebody who knew who you was visiting? Lot of them live out
that way." The grin on my face withers.
Most of the guards have been courteous, some even friendly. But at the
end of my first visit, when LeRoi asked me to turn and count the number of
guards gathering to take him back to his cell, I caught a glimpse of something else. A look I never expected to see aimed at me.
Of the nine guards gathered, one stared straight into my eyes. Six feet
tall, built like a linebacker, his blond hair was shaved down to a quarter inch.
"Skinhead," I thought. He loomed, blue eyes glittering with hostility, a sneer
of disgust twisting his face. Teach you a lesson if I had a chance, his look
said. I turned away in shock, glad to be entrusted to the custody of a more
neutral guard for the walk back out. The whole thing lasted a split second,
but none of it got past LeRoi.
LeRoi studies my face as his words sink home. "Uh-huh," he says, evenly,
nodding his head, "You not in Canada now, are you?"
Tell Me What to Do
Saturday, the check-in point is nearly deserted. There is nothing to do but
let my mind drift while I wait to be called for shakedown. Apprehension
about signing in has been replaced with smothered resignation. In the
paramilitary bureaucracy of a prison, complaints from visitors can be rewarded with deliberately prolonged delays or even dismissal from the
premises. I am not going to make waves.
The only other people in the room are a young black woman with a tiny
baby, and a slightly built boy who appears to be in his early teens. They
have come back from a waiting room in the main building and are waiting at the counter. The woman's face is turned away from me. She
40 watches two of the guards on desk duty as they confer in muted voices.
I stroll over to see her baby.
Peering into the pink knit bundle, I smile at the miniature, perfect,
brown face.
"She's beautiful," I say to the mother, smiling, my eyes still on her baby.
'Tell me what to do," the woman pleads, "they won't let me go back for
my visit."
What? Shock jolts me to attention. My eyes dart to her face. Tears are
coursing down her cheeks and she's looking at me with anguish and desperation. I am dismayed, horrified. Intent on seeing the baby, I hadn't really
looked at her. Even worse, there is a problem and she thinks I have an
answer, that I know what to do.
'They won't let me in. Why won't they let me in? Why won't they tell
me? I haven't done anything. I didn't break the rules. What will I do?" She's
looking straight into my eyes, asking me to intervene, to make this right.
She couldn't have picked anyone less qualified to help.
I've taken care not to be labelled a problem by the guards. After a year of
mind-bending isolation, LeRoi is on the thin edge. If they bar me from
visiting it could provoke him to violence and provide an excuse for the DOC
to increase his punishment. Knowing this, I've been painstakingly polite,
quickly responding to questions and complying with instructions. Like the
young woman with her baby, I know enough not to break the rules. But,
through no apparent fault other own, she is clashing with the guards and I
have unwittingly endangered my visit by talking to her. I can feel my courage draining away and panic rising, but the floor refuses to open up and
swallow me. It's too late to avoid involvement, no matter what the consequences are.
She is crying. She is alone. I know I can't live with myself if I turn my back
on her.
"What's your name?" I'm trying to gather my scattered wits. "What happened?"
'Trina," she chokes out, "and this is my son, Richard. I was only coming
back to feed the baby because she wouldn't stop fussing. They said I could.
They said it would be okay. They wouldn't let me take the bottle because it
was glass."
Six guards swoop from behind the counter, forming a half-circle around
us. The drab, institutional room takes on a threatening, nightmarish quality.
I can feel the guards fury over my interference. The chances of my being
refused entry are escalating, and I dread what LeRoi will do if that happens.
It flashes through my mind that I am frightened, not just because the
guards have the authority to prevent my going in, but because they are
white. In sympathizing with Trina, I've crossed an invisible line and forfeited the protection normally afforded by my white skin.
41 "Leave the property Ma'am, or we'll call the Sheriff," a guard says.
Richard stands rigid and silent off to the side, outnumbered and helpless, his face unreadable.
"Where can I go? My bus is gone," Trina pleads with the guards. "It
won't be back for four hours." The prison is five miles from nowhere.
Only one bus travels here on Saturdays. It comes from Chicago, a few
hundred miles away.
Not knowing what else to do, I urge Trina to go to Haven House. She
sobs that it's too soon after the baby and she can't walk that far. One of the
guards laughs. 'Take a cab," he says, and desperate to help her, I put
money in her hand. Then I realize what they all know: there are no cabs in
this town. Money is not going to make this stop happening.
'This is racism," she says, her voice a crescendo of rage and tears, "I
demand to see the Warden." She's sobbing hysterically and clutching her
baby. The baby is beginning to cry. I'm frantic because I haven't brought my
phonebook and there's no directory by the pay phone. I can't call Haven
House for help.
I fix my eyes on Trina. I refuse to look into the guard's faces for fear of
what I'll see. Trina is crying so hard that I can't make her listen. I turn to
her son.
"Richard, you have to getyour mom off prison property. Find her a place
to sit down, then you go to Haven House and get someone to pick her up."
I repeat the directions and address several times. I tell him to give the
house manager my name, and say I asked for help. He stares at me silently,
his face a mask of shock.
"Do you understand, Richard? Can you remember the address?" I am
trying to speak calmly but adrenaline is screaming through my system.
He nods but remains paralyzed. Everything seems to be happening in
slow motion, each second a long cold hour. Finally a guard breaks from the
pack and whispers to me, "the phone number is on the bottom of the list by
the pay phone."
Jelly-kneed with relief, I fumble change into the phone and call the house.
Christine breaks the speed limit getting to the prison to pick up Trina and
her children. Heart still pounding, I am finally ushered in for shake-down.
The guard who pats me down talks to my chin, my collarbone, the space
beside me. She deliberately doesn't meet my eyes.
'Take off your shoes and lay your jewellery on the table. Raise your
arms. Spread your feet. Show the soles of your feet. Turn around. Walk
through the metal detector. Walk back. Collect your things." Her voice is a
slammed door. 'Wait here for an officer to come for you," she snaps and
turns her back to me.
It is a brutal, slap-in-the-face start to the day. When I tell LeRoi, I'm
fighting back tears. His eyes narrow. His expression remains impassive.
42 He will not allow the guard behind me see his reactions. I know that he
expects me to get myself under control, too.
It's an old story to him. The rage and pain I feel in having witnessed
this is new only to me. He has seen worse. He confirms my fear.
"Her son won't forget this."
On the last day, I have only an hour and half to visit LeRoi and an hour to get
to the airport for my return flight. I haul myself out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and
find Harley, an elderly guest at Haven House, dressed and waiting for me.
Harley and his wife, Katherine, have worried that I'll have to walk to the
prison. He offers me a drive. The seventy degree temperatures have given
way to a freak snowfall, and I've only brought light clothes. I tell Harley that
Chris is picking me up before she takes her son to school. The two of us
slouch at the table drinking coffee in companionable silence. When Chris
wheels into the driveway, Harley hugs me and his face wrinkles into a sad
"You take care now," he says.
"Yeah, Harley. Thanks. You and Katherine too. Aid good luck with your
son's case."
When I'm checked through and arrive at the cell in the guards' station,
I take my seat in the orange chair. LeRoi and I talk about everything except
the fact that I'm leaving. He tells me stories. Laughing, he recalls a time
when his daughter was two, and he took her to a father/son baseball game.
He dressed her in shorts and a T-shirt. "At that age, who can tell?" he says.
He let her eat hotdogs and junk food until her stomach hurt. The sun was
blinding hot that day, and she got a sunburn. "Hell, I didn't even know black
people could get sunburned," he laughs. "My mother was there when I
brought her home. Gave me hell." His expression is relaxed and easy as he
recounts it. His eyes are smiling. A better time. Back when he was still in
the world.
I'm trying to hang on to the sound of his voice, his stories, the way he
smiles, but it's all slipping away like water. The clock ticks down the minutes
with merciless precision. When the guard says "time's up," words fail
us both. We look at each other helplessly. I tell him to keep hope. He
tells me not to let the guards see me cry.
The guard who escorts me out asks pleasantly, "What do you think of
our little institution?" The Mississippi flows peacefully by, only yards from
the building. Snowflakes fall gently, melting into the water. I am shaking a
little, and cold.
"It's a very frightening place," I reply. He nods agreement, and politely
wishes me a safe trip home.
He tells me the roads will be okay, the snow won't stick.
43 Robin Parks
Home On the Range
Mona placed her palm against the cool, dirty window of the bus,
steadying herself as the Greyhound shuddered to a stop in front
of Sherman's Feed and Seed. The driver pulled up the creaking
parking brake.
'Twenty minutes, folks."
The door clattered open and fresh air swirled around Mona's face. When
she drew her legs up to tie the frayed laces other sneakers, her stomach
gripped and heaved. She held still, waiting for the spasm to subside. She
hadn't eaten since she boarded in Bakersfield, since Al had shoved that last
rock-hard pumpernickel bagel at her with one hairy hand, the other shaking in her face as he nagged her not to talk to strangers on the bus.
Mona chewed her fingernails and held her stomach, which was whining
like a sad dog. She would have to lift some food at this store. She gauged
the distance between the bus and the wooden porch in long-legged footsteps, about six. She'd have to time it right, wait till just before the bus took
off for the open road.
To kill time, Mona took out the map Al had given her and spread it across
her blue-jeaned knees, trying to guess where she was. She'd lost track
about 20 stops ago, maybe since crossing the California border.
Black bagel crumbs rested in a crease from the Pacific to Albuquerque.
Al's coarse pencil marked the rest of the route to New York, ending in a
curlicue and an arrow leading off the continent into the Atlantic, where Al
had written "Eugenia" but had crossed it off and written "Ruth" and an
address in Brooklyn. He couldn't remember his cousin's name, or which
cousin he was actually remembering, but that didn't seem to dampen his
belief that the cousin—Eugenia or Ruth—would take Mona in with open
Mona licked her finger and blotted up the crumbs. She doubted she
would make it all the way, but it didn't really matter.. .she didn't believe
there were any cousins there anyway.
A telephone line sagged from the store like an empty clothesline waiting
for someone to come home. Further away, a tiny flash of lightning against
a low brown hill caught Mona's eye. Then a rumble of thunder. Mona knelt
on her seat and pressed Al's Brownie camera against the window, waiting
for the next streak. Above the hill now, a bright fracture in the sky, and
44 Mona began to count, "One-chim-pan-zee-two-chim-pan-zee"s. Through
the viewfinder was a postcard of the southwest, maybe Texas, which
was halfway to Kansas City, halfway again to New York, as Al had explained.
"Whatsa matter with you!" he had shouted over the high counter, waving his spatula, rocking back and forth on his feet, laughing. "Don't you
know anything? Ha!"
They were having one of their endless trivia battles and Mona fumbled
when Al asked where the Midwest began.
"Big deal," she spat back. "So I don't know where the god-damn-mid-
fuckin-west is. You can't spell worth shit."
"Oh yeah? Shit? Ha! S-H-I-T!" he bellowed, flipping an egg right off the
stove. It landed on the floor. No wonder customers never came back.
And it wasn't just the yelling and how the little diner—Home On the
Range—was always out of things, like mustard for the pastrami and sugar
for the corn flakes. It was the service, too. Somehow Mona and Al had
gotten into the habit—during slow periods, which was just about always—
of playing Scrabble and pretending not to notice when customers came in,
sharing an unspoken hope that the customer would give up from lack of
service and leave them to their game. Even after two years, Mona was still
surprised when a customer just wouldn't give up, but sat patiently, five, ten,
even fifteen minutes until Mona couldn't stand it anymore and would call
over her shoulder, "Coffee?," rising with exaggerated fatigue, as if her
eighteen-year-old back had seen better days. She hated leaving Al alone
with the Scrabble board. He cheated, looked at her letters, moved esses
around on the squares.
The biggest fight they ever had was over Scrabble. The Santa Ana winds
had blown hard for three days straight and there was no one in the diner
the whole time but Mona and Al. They were in the middle of their fifth
straight game. Al had heaped a plate with French fries, garlicky dill pickles
and boiled eggs, balancing a monkey dish of Thousand Island on top. They
sat at their little table halfway between the door and the kitchen, hands
dipping into the food in turns like oil derricks, concentration high. Al
hunched over the playing board. Mona could smell the Brylcreem he raked
through his salt and pepper hair, faking a shower, his humped nose sweaty
and sprouting wires. He breathed hard, snorting sometimes like a horse,
rocking on his hips from too much energy, or coffee.
Mona had a word for the red triple score square and she was going to win
again. She lit a cigarette to break his concentration as he rubbed his cheek—
smoother than it ought to be for a man of 60, Mona thought again. Must be
all the booze. Works like a preservative.
Al covered his mouth with his big, thick fingers, black lowering brows
shading his eyes as he studied the wooden tiles.
45 "Ah!" he nodded suddenly. "Aha!"
Al spread his arms out then slapped his hands together, rubbing them
fast. He coughed. He sucked his teeth.
"Come on, Al, just put the god-damn word down."
With his pinky finger extended as if he were picking up a teacup, Al
delicately placed his tiles—M-I-T-Z-V-A-H—across the red square so that
the Z landed on a double letter score. 'Ten! Twenty! Thirty! Plus—"
"It's a foreign word."
"It's a foreign word! You can't use foreign words."
"What the hell are you talking about!" Al shouted, his mouth and eyes
perfectly round. "Mitzvah! Mitzvah! Since when is mitzvah a foreign word?"
"It's not English!" Mona cried. "I don't know what it is, but it's not English. It's not even a word, far's I can tell!"
"Not a word? Not a word? Oy vay!" Al stood up, hands pressed against his
temples. "That's it! I've had it!"
Al flipped up the board. Beige tiles bounced off the table. A "V" disappeared into the pink dressing.
"God-damn goy says mitzvah isn't a word!" Al stomped away from the
table. "Skinny little gentile waitress thinks she knows!"
Mona lit another cigarette, not noticing the one already burning in the
Al threw a cup. It bounced twice then shattered. He pulled at his hair as
he strode up and down the diner, shouting at the ceiling. "Lousy hit of 18-
year-old trash calls me a foreigner? Tells me mitzvah is not a word? Un-
'Would you quit yelling!" Mona followed him in circles. "I'm just telling
you, it's not English!" Mona reached for the pitcher of ice water, but thought
better of it. She sat back down at the table, trying to calm things down. She
didn't want him to fire her again. It wasn't so bad when the weather was
cool, sitting out on the porch waiting for Al to change his mind. But the
winds outside were carrying debris from the road—scraps of paper, pebbles, dirt—in horizontal gusts past the screen door. While Al yelled that he
knew what for, Mona imagined sitting by the side of the road, covering her
eyes, the wind piling up sand along her body like a dune.
"It's just a game, Al," Mona said to Al's back as he went for the Smirnoff
in the refrigerator.
Al turned and planted both hands on the table, leaning over Mona. "Look
it up." His nostrils flared out and in, his eyes were rimmed red.
"Fine." Mona went into the kitchen and pulled the enormous maroon
dictionary from the lower shelf where the grey plastic bus trays sat empty.
Al breathed hotly over her neck.
"Spell it again?" Mona said. Al's sweat smelled spicy, like cumin and fresh
46 oregano. The smell floated over her cheek as she turned the thin pages.
"Ha! There! See? Right there!" Al's stiff, blunt finger pounded the
page. Mona read aloud: "One, a commandment of the Jewish law. Two,
a charitable act."
'Was I right? Was I right?"
"Yes. Al, you were right."
"God-damn right I was right!" He snorted. "But you didn't think so, did
you? You think I'm a stupid foreigner!"
"I didn't say—"
"Stupid, eh? Foreigner, eh? And after all I done for you?" Al started to
make snuffing sounds and wiped his eyes. He reached into the refrigerator
and took a long swallow from the bottle, then paced out of the kitchen.
Mona followed.
"Don't take it so personal, Al."
"After all I done for you, taking you in, giving you this good job—" Al
went for the broom.
"Give it to me." Mona reached for the handle.
He pushed her away. 'To hell with you." He bumped around the chairs
chasing chips of white ceramic and blond tiles like mice. Mona followed.
"Show me the photos. Al." Mona said, prying the broom from his hands.
"Go on, Al. Get the photos."
He looked wildly up to the ceiling, rocking hack on his heels. 'The
"I'll clean up."
"Yeah? Really?"
Mona swept while Al lurched up the stairs to his room above the diner.
She heard each footfall, thick and hard, as he grabbed his photo album and
another half-full bottle of Smirnoff, this one warm.
When he came back down the stairs, Mona felt tired of being grateful.
She needed to get the hell out. She had been there far too long. The night
she'd arrived at Al's seemed like a century ago. She was 16 then and had
been hitching Highway 58 for days, trying to put distance between herself
and the foster family who thought she was their state-appointed slave.
That night she'd kicked her way out of a yellow T-Bird and rolled beneath a juniper bush, shivering until dawn, until the blue neon of Home
On the Range sprang to life and she smelled burnt toast. She crawled
out from beneath the bush. The "n" in "Range" hummed dimly and steam
rose from the roof as she approached the diner. She looked through
the screen. A big gray-haired man in a sauce-stained shirt sat at a small
table, looking up at her, a fork full of potatoes poised in mid-air.
"Waddya want?" The food disappeared into his mouth, his dark eyes
fixed on Mona while he chewed. Mona's stomach growled so loudly they
both looked down.
47 "I'll clean up here if you give me something to eat." Mona picked
scratchy leaves from her long hair while Al looked around the diner.
He pointed his fork at her. "You saying I'm dirty?"
Mona turned to go.
"No, no! Whatsa matter with you?" he said, rising, opening the screen
door. "Cantcha take a joke? Eh? Here. My name's Al." He took her hand in
both of his, huge and warm and slightly slippery.
Mona swept the dining room and then the kitchen. She dragged the
garbage can out to the dumpster behind the diner. It was full of empty
bottles and flies and reeked of dead animals. She washed all the dishes and
pots and pans. Then she cleaned the windows. When she mopped the
bathroom floor, she tried not to notice the holes where the roaches fled.
By the time she finished, the sun was setting. Al put a plate of deep-fried
chicken livers and a slice of plain rye bread in front of her. He brought her
a glass of water. Mona ate slowly. Finally Al came out of the kitchen wiping
his hands on the cotton towel that hung from his belt. Mona pulled her
sweater around her and stood up to leave. Al said, 'Thanks" and held the
screen door open for her. As she walked out he turned the sign to "Cerrado."
Mona walked out to the highway. It was almost dark and there were no
cars in sight. She stood on the edge of the road with her arms crossed,
kicking at rocks, a desert breeze lifting her hair. Later, when the moon
began to rise, Mona sat down in the dirt and wrapped her arms around her
After an hour or so, Al came out and got her. He led her up a staircase
behind the restaurant. At the top he opened the door to a little room and
snapped on the light. The room was empty except for a narrow cot covered
with an army blanket. He said he couldn't keep the diner clean himself, she
was like a godsend, would she stay, rent free?
Sherman's Feed and Seed was one square building covered with laths the
colour of elephants. Mona watched a thin old man with a thick waist, white
short sleeves and an ecru Stetson come out of the store into the now bright
sun. He squinted and cupped his hands to light a pipe. After a few deep
draws, he looked skyward. The nut brown skin of his neck and bare arms
hung loose with wrinkles. He kicked at a clod of dirt with the toe of his
moccasin. The bus driver came around the side of the building, zipping up
his fly.
Mona folded up Al's map and put it on the seat next to her. She sidled out
of her seat and went to the back of the bus, into the lavatory cubicle. The
heavy metal door slammed behind her and the stench of disinfectant and
dirty diapers washed over her. Mona bent her head over the toilet, vomiting nothing. She wet the end of her shirt-tail in the sink and wiped the
corners of her mouth and her forehead, then pulled her shirt out all the
48 way, making sure it hung over the pockets of her jeans. She looked into
the greasy mirror.
"I'm no thief," she had hissed that first week when Al had finally caught
her stuffing saltines into her knapsack on her way out the door. "No one
eats these old things anyway."
They struggled in a tug-of-war with the knapsack.
"Give it to me!" he yelled. "What else is in there, eh? Cash? The till?"
"No, nothing! Let me go!" Mona yanked on the bag and Al lost his balance, falling forward onto his knees. He was drunk again, his eyes wandering in different directions.
"Why do you steal from me, huh? Why? Why do you have no respect?"
"I told you, I'm hungry. Don't take it so personal."
Al groaned and lowered himself onto the cement floor. "Why do you
have no respect for your elders, eh? What. Do you have no manners? How
can you take things without asking?"
'Tou are not my elder, Al. You're my boss."
"Yeah, lucky me."
Mona turned to leave, the saltines falling to the floor.
"No. You cannot go yet. I want to show you something."
Mona sat down. She pulled the purple metal ashtray over and lit a cigarette while Al went upstairs. She heard his creaking footsteps above her
head. He came back down the stairs with a bulky hook tied with kitchen
string under one arm, a pair of wire framed bifocals dangling from one ear.
He set the book down in front of Mona and patted it twice.
He went into the kitchen and reemerged with a plate of cold knishes in
a puddle of congealed brown gravy, carrot sticks protruding from the sauce,
and a cold bottle of Smirnoff and a shot glass. He set the food down in front
of Mona and sat down, pouring himself a shot. He adjusted the bifocals.
Both lenses were scratched like a skating rink in winter.
Al made Mona look at every page in the photo album, which was filled
with blurred and underexposed photos of women in babushkas holding
babies, sets of children with Al's nose, young men with foot-long sideburns.
Every time Mona asked who someone was, Al got mad. "I told you.
"But what family, I mean, who are these people?"
Al licked his fingers and gulped a shot of vodka before turning the page.
"Family. I told you." He burped.
"But where are they? Russia?"
"Russia, yes," Al peered through his glasses. "No. Not Russia. Um." He
licked his finger and turned a page. "Brooklyn. I dunno. Queens, maybe."
Mona had a vague suspicion that Al had found the album in a Goodwill
Store somewhere along the way, carting it with him from one failed enterprise to the next, east coast to west. She was just about to ask when he
49 turned from the photos and fixed his gaze at her.
"Quit staring. It's rude."
"Why are you so skinny, huh?"
"Leave me alone." Mona stood up.
"No, no. Sit down here like a civilized person. Now why don't you spend
your tips on food, eh? Why don't you eat?"
"What tips, Al?" Mona cried. 'There aren't any god-damn tips because
there aren't any god-damn customers! And why the hell would there be,
huh? You tell me that!"
"Okay, okay! Don'tgetso mad!" Al waved his hands in front of her face.
"I'm just saying, from now on all you gotta do is ask. Is that so hard. Mona?
Just ask and quit acting like a crazy person, stealing and starving and wasting away. Now eat." Al shoved the plate of food toward her and resumed his
careful turning of pages, sipping the clear liquid until the bottle was empty.
By the last page Al's eyelids drooped. Mona got up to leave, to go outside and around the diner to the back stairs. She stopped at the screen door
and turned to watch Al begin to make his drunken way up the stairs to his
'Tou see, Mona?" Al stopped, shaking his head. "You don't steal from
family." He disappeared up into the dark one step at a time.
Well, Al, not to worry, Mona thought into the mirror. No family here.
Mona went back to her bus seat to check her knapsack for change. She
thought maybe Al might have slipped in a few coins along with his camera.
The olive-green canvas bag was empty of everything but two pencils and a
used Kleenex. No money. Al couldn't afford more than her ticket, she
knew that. They hadn't had a customer in weeks and most of the food
turned to grey-green rocks in the walk-in.
"I've got to get out of here." Mona had told him over mashed potatoes
and gravy so shiny with grease that rainbows swam around the plate. "I'm
going crazy doing nothin' day after day."
"Fine. Mop the floor."
He looked up from his plate, chewing his meat slowly, his brown eyes
moist like cow eyes.
Mona tried to talk Al into selling Home On the Range and going back to
New York.
'Tou go, Mona," Al had murmured. 'Tou go find my cousins. They will
like you, though you're still too skinny."
Al and Mona closed the diner early and walked up the highway to the
bus depot. Al argued with the ticket clerk about the weather in New York.
On the way home, Al ducked into a little store and came out with a long
50 whip of black licorice hanging from his mouth, a box of Milk Duds for
Six steps exactly, just as she thought. The darkness inside was cool. A
tall skinny man loomed above the register, poking at the keys with one
finger. Mona dusted her palms along huge burlap bags of seed and soil,
and caught the clerk looking at her.
She turned down an aisle with shelves of Sen-Sen, pipe cleaners and
Zippo lighter fluid; toilet paper and gauze and Brylcreem lined the other
side. Mona took a tube and twisted the cap open. She squeezed a little onto
her finger, put it to her nose and closed her eyes for a moment. She put the
tube back on the shelf and turned the corner, listening to the clerk talk with
the bus driver.
"Not too bad here, no. But out there at the foot of the rise, that's where
it'll getcha."
'Well, I welcome a break in these evil winds, that's for sure."
Mona turned down another aisle.
'Won't rain slow you down?"
'Teah, but this is the milk run, you know? Folks on this bus are in no
hurry, I can tell you that."
The aisle was filled with candy. Mona gently touched the wrappers of
Abba Zabbas and Mars. She thumbed through a deep stack of pink and
black Good 'n' Plenty and another of Red Hots. Her mouth watered as she
plucked a miniature box of Milk Duds from the shelf. She glanced around.
No one in her aisle. Quickly she palmed the small box and stuffed both fists
into her pockets. She ducked around the back of the aisle and headed
toward the light at the door. She almost made it.
"Miss!" the man behind the counter yelled. "Come on over here now."
Mona froze. "Damn," she whispered, facing the bright sunshine just a
step or two away. Her fingers tightened around the Milk Duds. She turned
to face the clerk.
'What?" She glared at him. He had faded blue eyes and stubble on his
"Whatcha got in your pocket, huh?" He grinned menacingly. The bus
driver snorted.
Just as Mona was going to tell them to go to hell and make a run for it, a
voice from another aisle said, "She's with me, fellas." In a puff of pipe
smoke, the old man in the Stetson stepped from one of the aisles and gave
Mona a little shove towards the door. She ran out and climbed up into the
bus, looking nervously back over her shoulder. No one followed.
Mona made her way through the bus. She dropped into her seat and
watched the store from the window. Her heart pounded. The candy box
poked her hip.
51 She pulled the Milk Duds from her pocket and tore open the pale
yellow box, her mouth filling with saliva. She popped one into her mouth
just as the old man came out of the store, cradling a brown paper bag
like a football. The driver was right behind him. When Mona heard them
board the bus she hunkered down into her seat. She held her breath as
footsteps approached. The candy melted into a sweet river down her
throat. Mona stretched her legs across both seats. She closed her eyes,
pretending to sleep.
"Hey, Missy." She heard him just above her. She opened her eyes
and saw him leaning over the back of the seat in front of her. Up close
he looked like the word "wizened" although she wasn't exactly sure
what that meant.
"You going to eat that stuff?" he asked, eyeing the opened box.
Mona rolled the candy around in her mouth, but didn't answer. Best not
to talk to strangers on a bus.
"Here you go." He pulled the paper sack over his seat and dropped it
onto her lap.
The engine rumbled to life, idling unevenly as Mona sat up and opened
the sack. In it were a couple of tangerines and a box of Ritz crackers. And a
pack of Lucky Strikes. Mona looked up at the old man. His eyes were like
slits beneath his hat.
"Thought you were hungry. That's why you stole back there."
She dug further into the sack. There was a box of wooden matches, a
black plastic comb, a bar of Lux soap, pistachios dyed red and two bottles of
Fanta orange soda.
"I used to smoke cigarettes, too," he said, "and I know what it's like to go
Mona fingered the Lucky Strikes. The old man laughed a raspy laugh,
followed by a series of wheezings. The bus jerked and he went down into
his seat. She held her breath, waiting for him to pop over the top again and
ask if he could sit next to her and diddle her while they entered Oklahoma.
Mona waited. Quietly she pulled at the paper wrapping and carefully tore
back the foil. She tapped out a cigarette, lighting it with the scrape and
sizzle of a wooden match. Nothing. Not a peep from his seat. She blew a
perfect smoke ring over the top of his head as the bus began to move over
the gravel, rocking and braking towards the black highway.
Mona ate a cracker between drags on her cigarette. She was thirsty but
didn't have a bottle opener, so she peeled off the loose skin of a tangerine
with her teeth and pulled out a section, sucking on the tangy, sour fruit and
spitting the seeds back into the sack.
The bus roared out onto the highway and began moving down the road,
gaining speed as the store disappeared from sight. Telephone poles loped
along the horizon. Disheveled houses passed swiftly by.
52 After a few miles, the suspense of waiting for the old man to reappear
at her side—a blanket sheepishly covering his privates—got to Mona.
She crawled onto her knees. She was going to give him back the sack
and give him Al's camera and tell him they were square, in no uncertain
Mona leaned aggressively over the back of his seat and was met with the
top of a brown, balding head, nodding in sleep with the rise and fall of the
road. Wisps of long, white hair curled around the old man's fuzzy ears and
his bifocals had slipped to the very end of his pointed, brown nose. A little
saliva shone on the corner of his mouth. He was covered with a nubby blue
blanket scarred with cigarette holes. The New York Times crossword puzzle hung from his lap, mostly filled in. She sat back down and leaned her
forehead against the back of the old man's seat.
"Don't talk to strangers on the bus, Mona!" Al had nagged, following
Mona as she made her way along the bus depot.
"I know, I know, Al. I'm not stupid!" Mona took the hard bagel from him
and mounted the steps onto the bus. Al ran up the platform alongside the
bus. When he got to Mona's window, he stuck his fingers inside and pulled
himself up on his toes.
"Listen to me." He shoved his face inside the bus. "I'm just saying,
Mona," he whispered, peering around inside the bus, travelers jostling past
him outside. 'Tou don't know what people are like." His breath was like fire.
"Maybe they will—" his voice broke.
"Christ, Al." Mona bit her lip. Al sunk down onto the platform and took a
long draw from the bottle he carried inside a rumpled paper sack. Mona got
onto her knees and leaned out the window.
'Tou know, Mona," Al called up from between the legs of people shoving
by. "I been thinking."
The bus driver revved the engine and Al had to shout. "Maybe I'll buy a
ticket South. Get one of those little carts and sell tacos at the border. Wadda
you think?"
Diesel exhaust fumed between them.
"But how—" The bus began to pull away from the platform. The driver
honked twice.
'Whaa—?" Al cupped his hand to his ear. The bus swung around a corner and Al and the bus depot disappeared.
The old man had begun to snore. Mona sidestepped into the aisle, taking
her things with her, and swayed up to the driver.
'What's the next stop?" she asked.
"Shamrock, Texas."
"Anything there?"
53 "Depends on what you want," he said, looking her up and down.
Mona turned back down the aisle. Suppose it does.
Mona came to the old man's side. She watched him nod and twitch in his
sleep. She backed up a few steps and snapped his photo. She pulled the
bottles of orange Fanta from the sack and carefully set them down in the
seat next to him. Maybe when he woke up she'd ask him to open them up.
Maybe she'd thank him for the food.
She sat back down in her seat and lit a cigarette. Maybe she'd send the
photos back to Home On the Range with a note for Al. Wish you were
here. Please forward.
Mona shook her head. The photograph, she knew, would probably be
blurred. And underexposed. And one day she wouldn't even remember
where she'd been.
54 gillian harding-russell
bat sense
(the raw materials for galaxies
are formed out of Stardust
from imploding supernovas...)
I knock the cupboard door. The dog
lifts an ear, whines
at piano chords too tremulous
violin strings pulled,
too close
to ears, that pleasure so much
As at the far off memory
of a round moon in June
ancestors lurking in shadows
of branches, gargoyles
in gnarled trunks, faces
in clefts of trees, eyes
swirls in bark, the dog
howls at the north wind and
an ambulance—where there's the yellow
car and the friend out there,
held up, lost
reading exit signs in the rain
blotched dark, past
the Science Centre (brown bats up
rafters dreaming arches, dark cathedrals
under bridges, mean-faced and
predatory under artificial
lights suddenly
turned on
55 echolocating that bug
across the room
imported from Mexico—)
Our dog alert
to the world outside—reachable
inside ear flaps, her rough-cut,
shell-cut caricature
ears forged like the sweep
of oceans, dip
of seagulls swerving
over waves, barnacles chiselling
icons, a rigid fringe of cells,
an inscription
of time and organism, living
matter turned to stone—an antique
microfilm, still unreadable
One flap other tail, and she gets up,
looks out the window,
I cannot see. When yes, I do
hear it. Click
of the mailbox, end
of summer's hot-ticking
heat stored up
after the incinerator of day—
a cold pressure zone—
56 Oast night's Perseides
already visible, remnant star showers—sent
light-years ago, falling
through time, weight
of worlds, dust, rust
motes, invisible
on the mailbox
in angel letters settling world
on accumulated world)
now September's metamorphosis
early snowdrops, wet
as raindrops and
these inward stirrings
57 Philip Burton
The Palm House of the Five
Winds, Haifa
Below the cooling forest of Mount Carmel
the city boils. High tech hums away on web sites, in bars,
on secret balconies. Haifa gloats as her balustrades unravel
through shopping glass, into the arms other sometime lover
The Mediterranean Sea. A brass-necked temptress,
she sits best on a golden cushion, defying Napoleon
but welcoming all prophets and builders of follies.
Especially from London. So what if the palm house might say,
"Queen Victoria burnt her skirts here leaving hoops of iron,"
should it not reflect an empire of madness dressed as action?
Lawrence of Arabia gave a full Tremadog laugh
at the greenhouse without glass. What it is to be sane.
Who can say? It has a French feel. Incomplete.
Magnificent. The maximum use of infrequent rain.
58 Monica Missrie
Reflections on Monarch
Chrysalis on a Lamp Post
Four thousand
kilometers away
three oyamel firs
One hundred
light poles await
Legs posed on purple Senecium
proboscis in search of nectar
body hinges
open and close
black-rimmed windows
New Breeds
Emerge from
black string, glue
orange cellophane,
rusty scissors
open, close
Fans scatter paper
flight sounds
59 As I look Up
Do they fly
or does the wind
take them?
Some Butterfly Names
Admirals, Painted Ladies,
Common Roadside Skippers
Checkerposts, Bouncing Browns,
Northern Crescents, Spring Azures,
Dreamy Duskywings, Mustard Whites,
Blues, Coppers,
Flying Pillowcases,
Clouded Sulphurs
Cleanwings, Metalmarks,
Swallowtails, Mourning Cloaks,
Question Marks
On the Palm of my Hand
Four Monarch butterflies
as heavy as one dime:
2.3 grams
Two thousand clouds
Ginkgo trees and Sugar Maples
left behind to reach me
60 On a Canvas
Green oil paint
bristles like needles
An oyamel tree
like the slashes
on the longleaf s bark
into a bottle of turpentine
61 Finn Harvor
The Looksist
[Stage empty except for lectern. Figure arrives, walking briskly with a collegiate air, carrying a bundle of notes.]
Good afternoon. Class.
[beat] or THE WAR BETWEEN THE SEXY AND THE NICE. It is an attempt to prove that pornography does indeed have a deleterious effect on
the maturation of the sexually conscious individual. But as you taking Pre-
The-Next-Millennium Post-Modernism 522 know, proof is itself a problematical concept, and, according to much current thinking, an indication of
empiricism's presumptions meeting common sense's myopia. In fact it's
been argued—for example, in E.E Schrieber's recent paper, 'What Is It
We Talk About When We Talk?"—that "proof is the foundation of oppression.
But let's not be coy. We're all scholars here...or at least, anxious graduate
students seeking yet another degree without a clear idea of what the future
holds for us. Generally speaking, we're highly strung individuals with a
neurotic need to have our existence justified by marks. What's an orgasm
for a grad student—? A-plus... We live to argue, and the fuel of arguments is
proofs. This is the way our minds work.
But what is proof? How can opinions be established as facts? The question needs to be broken into its constituent parts. Or rather, it needs to be
considered in a light not so much scientific as poetic. The crux of the matter
is that we need proofs to feel true. We never genuinely believe something
until its veracity has had a chance to sink in. The process can take years. So,
from this point of view, we develop a relationship with truth...we get to
know it over time. Perhaps we even marry it.
And what's the truth about pornography? Is it "just" art—or, if we're
not going to be naive enough to suggest it has merit, is it just a type of
Smut. Hard-core. The dirty magazine. These things surround us...they
saturate our society like some additive to the water. And we're upset by
them. Or obsessed with them. Or, with the blase sophistication of age,
indifferent to them. Although, no, it turns out we're never indifferent. And
62 while it turns out as well that the politesse of modernity requires that
we preface any generalizations made about society with the pronoun
"humankind," not "mankind," it's mankind, really, that's at issue here.
Men dig porn. Women—despite what the pro-sex feminists say—don't.
I mean, who am I to categorically deny this? Maybe some do. I really
don't know. But as a phenomenon, as something which is reflected in
virtually every convenience store and book shop and triple-X cinema in
the civilized world, pornography is a male fixation.
We bathe in it, we males. We start as boys. Its hot waters surround
us, and soon penetrate us, and sweat us, and turn us feverish with ever-
increasing temperatures. Ultimately, we generate our own blob of heat—
In the middle of pornography's hot tub, we find ourselves ejaculating a
spit-sized wad of pearl. And in the meantime (though we don't see it)
some force as hot as a branding iron descends on our brains, and sears
us with the cattle-mark of lust. It's not women who sometimes are's men. We're goofy herds. We just sit in the fields, munching
our masturbatory cuds, when suddenly—out of nowhere!—a cowboy
appears and scalds the letter 'P' into our skins. Forever after that, we're
the property of the Penthouse Ranch.
I remember it well. Seeing the magazine. It was an experience that, if I
were to be objective, could be characterized as one of the most aesthetically profound of my life. It may surprise at least a few members of the
audience to hear this, but it is popular in some critical circles to refer to the
'70s as 'The Golden Age of Porn." And while the label infers a salacious
sentimentality, there's something to it. Breaking away from the genita-
lia-concealing fakeness of Playboy, and preceding the gynecological crass-
ness of Hustler and most triple-X videos, the Penthouse of the early '70s
had a type of horny innocence. It was enough just to show the pubic
region. No spread shots were necessary: simply tanned models, luxurious settings, and clean bed-sheets. The words "cunt" or "hole" or "come-
bucket" hardly seemed associated with this dreamy, nudity-drenched
The place where I first looked at dirty magazines was a corner store in
Ottawa called Art's Smoke Shop. Art, the proprietor, was highly tolerant of
this activity. In retrospect, I think he believed he was performing a social
good. Because all those self-serving articles by Bob Guccione and Hugh
Hefner about the "artistry" and "healthiness" of what they were doing
couldn't have been without an impact. Somewhere along the line—and this
too was symptomatic of the age—there was a belief in sensual progress.
For a few short years, capitalism was so giddy on itself that it'd become
erotically socialist. Geez, everybody would be rich! And, by extension, everybody would be good-looking! NASA the Beatles, Volkswagens, the split-
level craze in architecture—it all melded together. We'd look like astro-
63 nauts. (What was 2001: A Space Odyssey but essentially a paean to the
California-esque cool of those who pilot space ships? Isn't the subtext
of all science fiction that outer space is a great location to train a buff
bod?—That outer space is, above all, a beach?)
But back to Art and his laissez-faire attitude towards the 12 and 13-
year-olds who used to squat at the back of his store, and feel their little
hard-ons so intensely that their brains felt soaked in sugar. Porn reminded me of that candied powder you could buy in straws; it was a
granulated high—flavour crystals savoured by the tongue. But Art didn't
know he was spoiling a sweet tooth. I think he felt that porn was virtually educational. Not only that, but ideologically sound. Sexually
communitarian. Here was pictorial evidence (no, proof!) that beauty could
be spread around. Every man on earth was entitled to a sexy girlfriend.
What is the highest form of social organization? An economy of orgasms!
Orgasms with partners who are hot!
I wasn't a particularly good-looking kid. This didn't affect my tastes during puberty, however. When I started to experience love, I wanted it all. It
wasn't love I was interested in, it was LOVEll Printed in 40-point type. Love
that could command as big a headline as the declaration of war... What, was
I going to, like, be moderate about my passions? Pas possible! I was going
for the gold. Or if not the gold, the chocolate bar. Because that was the
other great pleasure of my adolescence: junk food. So there I was, jamming
salt and vinegar potato chips, and Oh Henry bars, and Swiss Cream Soda
down my throat, while perusing the Pet of the Month. My body a bit pasty,
a lot self-doubting, and I—wee representative of the Male Pig—exploiting
the women I viewed. But what did I view myself as? Handsome? An equal?
I hated myself! If someone had shown me a giant meat grinder and told me
that if I jumped in, my body would come out the other end more lean, more
straight-toothed, more muscular, and more prone to tan, I would've leapt.
And on top of this, it would be an understatement to say I wasn't even
100% heterosexual. Though, I suppose, that in our cultural environment,
this hardly comes as a surprise. What "twist" in the recounting of frustrated love has become as much a post-modern cliche as the character
who is actually gay? Christ, it's almost as nap-inducing as a short story
about a person who is a writer! ('Well, he's like this guy who really gets
off on chicks, and he's a teenager and everything, but then, like, it turns
out he's actually queer. And plus, he's doing this screenplay about it.
Like, his trauma?") Okay, okay, no more smart aleckiness! No more
circumventing the solipsism by indulging in it! I'll get right to the confessional nitty gritty! Yes, I'm there, I'm getting so gigantically hard that my
little 13-year-old's penis feels like a Roman column, and I rush home,
and what do I whack off to? The thought of doing it with "Lorna Doone,"
the literarily stage-named model who is this month's Pet?... I fantasize
64 about sucking a cock! Or getting fucked! I mean, me getting fucked! Some
guy fucking my opening!
When I think back on my teenage years, I imagine them as the personification of one of those articles Penthouse was so fond of publishing about
the coming miracle of fusion energy: a fuel source as powerful as the
sun, and as clean. No more toxic waste, no more exhaustible resources.
Just fire, glowing in a great thermonuclear ball, and fuelling our electric
cars and futuristic houses. My inner life was like that: an orgasm even
bigger than I was, just burning, it seemed, without end. And caught in
the middle as I was between the gay and the straight, I tended to be
rather, ah, introverted about my expressions of love. I had crushes,
sure. Either on girls who were so spectacularly pretty that they equalled
in their good-looks the women in the magazines, or heroically athletic
guys at school. But somehow all this thinking about sex, and, when I
was alone, having sex, didn't result in sex.
What I really wanted was a beautiful girlfriend. But who's a beautiful
female? This is a question I've discovered is not so easy to answer. Well,
yes, our culture tells us who is. And our instincts do as well. And the instincts are often curiously in harmony with the culture. Some people hold
that's because the culture is so powerful it tells us what to believe is natural.
And others hold that there truly is a DNA-encoded sense of The Attractive.
But in either case, the presumption is that beauty is perceived mainly
through the eyes.
There was a girl in my grade 7 class. Her name was Geraldine Simmons.
Everyone called her Gerry. Her dad was in the military. They lived on the
nearby air-base...a quaintly Piper Cub-plentiful airfield called Rockcliffe. Like
a certain product of the Canadian Forces, there was an enormously pacific
quality to Gerry. She was very benign. Not something I necessarily liked.
In any event, she had a crush on me. I don't know this for a fact—I didn't get
mash notes in class. But I believe this was the case. Every now and then
Gerry would throw me smiling glances. And we'd talk.
Anyway, when the year ended—Wait! I'm forgetting the good part!—On
the very last day of school, the sun pouring into our classroom, all of us
grade 7 kids excited because it's two in the afternoon and we're going
home already, Gerry comes up to me, and smack, right on the cheek,
kisses me. As juicily as you can imagine. So there is objectively verifiable
evidence that she, y'know, liked me...
When the summer vacation arrived, we went our separate ways. But one
day, in the little playground next to the field where I hung out with my
friends, I ran into her. She was babysitting a couple of kids. It was a hugely
sunny day. We sat on a mound of dirt and talked. And as we did, Gerry, who
was wearing a halter-top, leaned forward. It was an utterly uncalculated act.
But because of the construction of her halter, the fabric fell forward. I
65 realized that by holding my head just a millimetre farther left I could see
one of her breasts. A boob! Just like in the magazines! Only how do I
Well, I could kiss her. I feel this intuitively. Even with her charges running around in the distance, I'm sure that if I leaned forward and gave her a
smooch, she'd respond. Maybe it wouldn't be much, but it would establish
mutual interest. We could arrange another meeting, behind one of those
hangers she must live close to. But I don't do anything! And why? Because of the gay stuff? Because I'm "really" a homo? No! The REAL
reason is because Gerry's breast isn't good enough!! It's a bit small!
The nipple is puffy! I don't think that it—compared to the martial
mammaries of the magazines, with their pert brown nipples, their at-
attention erectness—is good enough! Like a Puritan in the New Ontario
("Don't show us your tits, don't show us your tits!"), I view reality as a
disappointing shadow even while adoring the Platonic Ideals of the dirty
Students of Pre-Millennial Post-Modernism 522. Aspiring scholars... Who
are we? What is it we experience when we sit alone in study carrels and look
down at the beautiful windswept streets of fall, then turn our attention back
to yet another text on semiotics? Is it happiness? Wisdom? Insight?
I'll describe for you a typical day in the life of your standard "compensating intellectual." He/she gets up. Has coffee. Or freshly made celery
juice. Washes hair. Brushes teeth. Brushes tongue. Takes beverage,
goes (still not fully dressed) to computer. Turns it on. Works for a while.
Turns on radio. Gets irritated with host. Turns off radio. Lies on bed.
Gets idea. Works more. Works. Works. Stares into space. Works.
And here—this is the good part—when evening arrives, what does he/
she/it, the Ph.D-achieving brain, do? Well, the day seems to have been a
productive one. It's true that very little was actually written, but a great deal
of thinking has taken place. Yes, thinking is an exercise, and, as with the
completion of any work-out, there's a sensation of virility which travels
through the bloodstream. The intellectual now wants to go out...into the
world...into the night.
And so she/he does. Maybe to a bar. Maybe to a dance club. But finally,
almost always, to a cafe. And what does this person do there? Read.
It's a strange seduction, the life of the mind. It's a pity that (as Plato once
pointed out, or was it Jack Lelanne?) it is linked to the body. More to the
point, it's a pity that it juices the body. 'Cause, see, all those thoughtful
people, those professionals amongst us who make their livings by analyzing
and understanding, aren't less superficial than others. They're more hungup on beauty. They study it in its abstract forms all day long. But there's
another, baser reason than this for the link between a logical brain and a
drooling mind. And that's the environment academics work in. When you
66 get right down to it, what is the typical university campus but one giant
conglomeration of gorgeousness? Isn't this the intellectual thrill in a nutshell? An incredible number of babe-licious women concentrated in an area
roughly one kilometre square?
And I know what you're thinking, you members of the gay/lesbian caucus sitting at the front of the class. (Or this week is it the back of the class?
I can never keep quite straight the tactical symbolism of campus radicals.)
You're staring daggers at me. A few minutes ago I just "happened" to
bring up the fact of my own homosexual desires, and now here I am,
talking about "babes" and being as heterosexist as a strip club owner.
Well, okay, you got a point. [Semi-mock radically] Yo! Smash the Beauty
Myth! Right on!
But I am trying to describe a real passion. I'm trying to elucidate the
nature of the "male gaze." (A certifiable Cultural Studies term, by the
way... And speaking of terminology, it has often struck me that there is
no word in the language which is truly commensurate to the utterly staggering quality of some members of the opposite sex. There is no word
which genuinely captures the instant desire which astoundingly good-
looking women can arouse. No word which is both guttural and yet civilized. And so I've coined one. It is "unH!" Unh women. That's what really sexy women have. Total unH-ness.)
But back to my prepared notes. Right. Gerry. Gerry not being, in my
opinion, good enough. Gerry being inadvertently victimized by a standard
she couldn't compete with, since it wasn't even real but in a magazine. And
then Gerry turning out to be—or my belatedly realizing she is—beautiful.
When you look, what is it you gain? What's the looker's reward? Love of
what's seen? Sure. For a second. But then what? Can you relate to looking?
Will looking love you back? I have the following experience which I think is
pretty common. I'll be downtown, walking along a crowded street... [Off-
balance pause]. Sorry? Is there a question at the back of the room?
'What's my thesis? When will I stop telling anecdotes and establish something?" [Nervous, slightly condescending chuckle] Just be patient, I'm
getting to that...
Sorry? I beg your pardon? I—I'm boring?
[Enraged.] Listen, you lousy bunch of post-graduate punks, you want to
know about boring? Huh? You want to know what mind-boggling tedium is
like? I won't even stoop to the low of mentioning your so-called "pa-pers."
This is boring... [Waves sheaf of notes.] All this theoretical crap I have to
wade through. And do you know how much of it there is??? It just never
stops. First, there're all the greats—Aristotle, Plato, Berkeley, Kant—who
you've got to read just to know why it is they're not worth reading any
more... Then there are all the 19th and 20th century "giants"—Hegel,
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Sartre. And then
67 there's all the contemporary philosophical stuff—Derrida, Foucault,
Kristeva, Butler. And on top of that, you've got some guilt-tripping nationalist on the CBC hectoring you to read more Canadian fiction. It's enough to
make you vomit! I get SICK OF READING!!!!!!!
[Exhausted] I don't get sick oflooking, though. Inever get sick oflook-
[Pleading...or simply curious] Have you ever cried? I mean, cried because you hated your looks? I sometimes think that egregiously simple-
minded as the following may sound (belonging as it does to that genre of
commentary, the "There are two kinds of people in the world" generalization)... I sometimes think that there are those who trust and love their
bodies and those who view them as the most duplicitous traitors around...
And of course the irony is, those who fall into the latter group are even
more susceptible to falling for those in the former than a quote unquote
normal person would be.
There was a girl I had a crush on. This wasn't long after meeting Gerry.
The second girl's name was Nancy Britt. She was beautiful. In fact, she was
more than beautiful. She had a scrumptious sexuality that—to me at the
time—was as overpowering as anything I might see in the magazines. And
though of course I feel moderately odd even making this comparison now,
carrying as it does the faintest whiff of a Humbert Humber tesque sensibility, I can remember seeing her just like it was yesterday...
It's two in the afternoon. Sun is blasting down like an Augustan furnace.
Off in the distance, I see a friend of mine, Michael de Groot. He's with a girl.
As I approach them, I become aware of something. This girl is perfect.
She is so physically stunning—her legs are so shapely, her breasts so
confident and full—that I think she must be an adult person, like a 16-
I stop to talk to them. We chat. After a while Mike says, "Oh, Nils? This
is Nancy."
"Hi," I say.
'What's your name again?" Nancy says.
"That's kind of unusual."
'Teah, it's Scandinavian," I say.
"Oh yeah? What's your last name?"
"Neat-o!" she says.
So we hit it off. My relatively unusual ethnicity has given me something
of an advantage. And to my pleasant surprise, for the first few months it
seems I do have a chance with her. Yes, she has other boyfriends. But
sometimes she'll want my company—like, the physical me.
Memory: I'm down at Mile's Circle. It's early evening. Summer. There's
68 some event going on. I can't remember what it is. But a bunch of us—
my best friend, Terry Farkis, and local nice tough guy Peter Griggs, and
Bobby Holt and Nancy's best friend, Annabelle Flores, are sitting on the
grass. There are people all around us. Adults with the back doors to
their station wagons open. Little kids... Everybody's looking towards the
Suddenly, someone's grabbing me around the neck. No, the shoulder.
Someone's doing some teenage assault thing. Then laughing. It's Nancy.
Every now and then she leaves the guy she's with—the junior high Casanova Jeff Sawden—and runs at me and practically mugs me. And every
time she does this, an indescribable happiness runs through me: I can
feel everything photographs can't convey: the touch of her arm; the
cool sexual fat of her body; the scent of her; the warmth emanating off
her skin.
I'm delirious. It's like having a small snort of liquor. Touch alcoholic—
that's what I am. Nancy's a flirtatious flask and I keep getting small sips of
her. I reach out to grab her, hold her to me, but as soon as I do she's up and
She knows that...that I like her. And she is—for five seconds at a stretch—
I'm interested for whole years.
The grades pass. My crushes go through these weird permutations.
First I have a crush on Nancy. But before that, I'm in love with Marcie
Welland, the most popular girl in my grade 6 class. Then, because Nancy's
a grade behind, when I get to high school I run into Marcie and redevelop
crush-A and forget about Nancy. But months later, after being informed by
Marcie's best friend Karen Schwartz that she (Marcie) is not interested, I
have, as strongly as ever, a crush on Nancy, who's re-emerged on the social
Then Nancy's friend Annabelle dies. This is a strange incident. Just before... [Long pause.]
What was it I was talking about before? [Shuffling through notes, trying not to look disorganized. ] I'm sure there was some point I was about
to make... You'll have to excuse me, speaking extemporaneously isn't
my strong suit.
[Muttering somewhat] Oh right. Gorgeousness. The kind of
unsurpassable beauty Nancy possessed in embryo, and before that, university campuses just filled with gorgeousness. And looking. Lotsa stuff
about the male faculty of sight. And being interested in the other but The
Other not being too interested back. [Mentally clicking] Oh right! Women
who are attractive but not in the regular sense! Women who project something else besides titanic sexiness. I mean, who project a subtler kind of
69 I have the following experience which I think is very common. I'm
downtown. On a crowded sidewalk. And as the well-dressed masses swirl
around me, I spot a woman. A knock-out. Not so much more knock-outy
than thousands of others in this urban centre at this point in time. But
nevertheless, there she is...UnH rays travel out other at a speed slightly
faster than light, so that even as the photons in the air carry information
about her physical presence to my brain, some chemical has already
flooded my heart and I am inwardly prostrate with worship.
And then she's gone. She hasn't even noticed me.
And all this happens so fast. Meanwhile, the people on the sidewalk
keep moving past.
And then I see another woman. Or rather, I see her seeing me. She's
been glancing at me with more concentration than is Big City Standard. And
the truth is, I noticed her a split second ago out of the corner of my eye: her
slightly frizzy hair, her noticeably gentle face, and—also—her intelligence.
But for a variety of reasons, I glance away. I didn't feel that "insta-lock"
of automatic yearning. It wasn't until after my failed flirtation with woman-
A that I become conscious of woman-B. But woman B is A material! It
suddenly becomes obvious to me! She has soul! A corny word, sure! A
semiotically useless one! But there it is!!! My EQ (what little of it I possess)
kicks in a nano-second too late, and just as I turn to this other woman—the
one wise or generous or plain nice enough to see that I have worth—she
turns away! She figures she's been looks-snubbed! And what can I do? Backtrack across the intersection and say, "Hey, ms., I caught a life-comprehending gleam in your eye. Wanna get a coffee and/or married?"
So the moment passes. The two of us keep walking, still solitary...still
sensing there is some class of experience which no one can define objectively, but which generally gives you the short end of the stick. The loneliness stick. The homeliness stick. And I know what you're thinking! It's all
becoming obvious, isn't it? I mean, what the sub-text of this lecture is. Yes!
It's another ism! Loo—!!
[Pause.] Shit. Annabelle. I almost forgot.
So, as I was saying, she died. It happens when I'm in grade eleven. And
I don't want to sentimentalize the story. The truth is, I didn't like Annabelle
a whole lot. She was generally pretty icy with boys. Once, after I'd read a
book that was a bestseller at the time—Body Language—I decided to exploit one of the sure-fire methods it described to be seductive. One evening,
while the whole gang of us were up near the monkey-bars playing tag,
Annabelle said to me, "Do you have chapped lips?"
"No," I said.
'Tou're licking your lips a lot," she said.
I blushed. The book had said it would work. It was right there, in black
70 OPPOSITE SEX. Nancy wasn't even paying attention.
Annabelle looked at me with a knowing smile. "Maybe you should go
home and get some Vaseline..."
I stared back at her, my only arousal anger.
Next memory: Grade eleven. It's just before Christmas. I run into
Margaret Tarn, member of our group and, incidentally, the first girl I've
kissed. We did it for a week way back in grade eight. We met every evening
in a play-fort. Then, by the time our tongues were aching so much they
were almost paralyzed, we stopped. We must've enjoyed it. We're still
"Did you hear about Annabelle?" she says.
"She's in the hospital."
'Tou're kidding."
"No," Margaret says. "She's got some blood thing."
'Tou know what it is?"
Margaret shrugs.
"It's not like leukemia, is it?" I say.
"No, it's nothing like that."
"Maybe I should go visit her or something," I say, with the tepid good
manners of a recalcitrant teenager.
Margaret brightens up. "No, it's okay. She'll be out soon."
And when I get back from the holidays it doesn't register at first that
Annabelle isn't in the halls.
Then one day I see Margaret again. "She's dead," she says.
It turned out Annabelle had some congenital blood disease. What it was
was never clearly explained. I felt sorry for her. There was a memorial for
her in the assembly. But she seemed to pass out of existence so easily. I
still saw Nancy around. She had a steady boyfriend, and they constituted
one of the more famous couples at school. I expressed my condolences to
her. She'd been Annabelle's best friend, so it seemed to be the proper
thing to do. But none of it seemed—in any adult sense—sad.
Meanwhile, I kept on loving Nancy. I loved her so consistently that as the
years passed my crush took on an eternal aspect. It burned—not like fusion, but like peat. Whenever I saw her, I was struck by the profundity of
her beauty. Even as she put on weight and other guys at school dismissed
her, I was filled with adoration. My reaction had become so entrenched that
all I had to do was see her and a little flame in me would smoulder.
My daily routine after school didn't help. As soon as the bell rang, I'd
avoid the bullies on the front steps and make a bee-line for Place Bell
Canada, a giant edifice which contained a porn merchandising gift shop. I'd
look at Penthouse, Oui, Gallery, and Paul Raymond's Club International.
If I was desperate, I'd look at Playboy.
71 My brain was saturated with pussy. I could see it in my mind's eye,
like an Egyptian god—a perfect cat. And I loved the sound of the word.
But then, the word was perfect because it conjured up so succinctly the
sight. The meow of it, the furry rub-rub of an animal almost independent of its master but at the same time, when you least expect it, eager
for affection.
I was always a cat-lover as a child—it just made me melt that an animal
could be so perfect. From their cute, snubby faces to those erotically neat
tongues of theirs, I was kitten-crazy.
And the pussy, the human one, what more perfect organ could there be
to suggest eroticism? I could almost imagine it licking itself. I could imagine
that, if you spent an afternoon in the company of a friendly nude woman,
you'd see a little pink tongue come out and lick the labial lips—make
sure they were, as the French say, propre...
But back to the porno magazines. I didn't just get off on them when I
was an adolescent. During the mid-70s, the coffee-table book filled with
dirty photographs and placed in the "erotica" section of a book-store
also came into its own as a genre. There were a wide variety of these
books, but the only ones I now recall were by Helmut Newton. His work
was la creme de la creme of smut; here was pornography made aristocratic—or rather, since that's a banal characterization—here was porn
in which the soul of the rich was revealed. Though arriviste in their
blatantness, these photographs were so true to their roots that they
inadvertently revealed a ruling class truth: fetishism is kinky, and, though
kink itself is sick, money somehow cleanses it..makes it harmless.
Riding crops and garter belts. Panties and ballrooms. Louis Quatorze
chairs and spread legs: All these things were Helmut-y. There was an icy
sleaze to his work—a mean-spirited, well-heeled exhibitionism, as if even
love was a luxury: entirely for the upper crust. Something you'd have to get
on your knees and beg for to gain even a scrap of.
Nancy came to my room once. Actually, she came with Annabelle,
Margaret, and another girl they hung around with, Joanna Calder. They'd
heard that I had a mural of photographs from dirty magazines on my wall.
(After the great shame and screaming recriminations that followed my
mother's discovery of my cache of "adult magazines," I asserted my
independence by making a montage of pin-ups on my bedroom wall. It
was like opening up a gallery and calling it Atelier Skank.)
All four girls looked at the wall. Their faces were impassive.
"Look at that," Joanna finally said, peering disapprovingly at one woman
with very spread legs. "I'll bet that hurts."
I stood there like some idiotic curator, an uneasy grin on my face. I was
[ Changing gears] When I was grade nine I had a locker close to the shop
72 classes. This was in an isolated wing of the school only for boys. It could
sometimes be a particularly quiet area, because there wasn't the same
overpopulated flow of many rooms emptying all at once. But this also meant
there was a less diluted social atmosphere, and strangers got to know each
other's faces. We were like a village of grade 8 bad blood. And this is what
led to my being bullied.
The guy who picked on me was a fierce blond-haired kid. He was a year
younger than me but filled with an amazing amount of energy. He had an
older, tough brother, so I guess the blond kid was practicing bullying in
a touching display of sibling emulation.
I was already aware that loudly joking around was causing me romantic
frustration with girls. But I wasn't cognizant of the fact that the same behaviour could get me in trouble with guys... It was as if this particular kid
developed an anti-crush on me. It began one day when I was talking in
an accent. I was a big Monty Python fan, and was joking around in an
ostentatiously British tone. My accent wasn't only silly because it was
imitated, but it was taken from a skit in which silliness was the whole
point. The shrill Anglo-Cockney pretentiousness of the voice could be
badly imitated but still close in spirit to the original. Gust as a lot of kids
like to play air guitar when fantasizing they're like their musical heroes,
so a lot of kids like to "air joke": Be famously funny—be on "air TV.")
I was saying: "I'm so sick of spam! It's just spam, spam, spam and
The fierce blond said to me, "You're weird."
I didn't pick up on the dark lack of compromise in his voice. "Yeah, I'm
weird, I'm a REAL CRACKPOT," I said. I started dancing around and singing: "I'm weird...I'm so fucking—bomllNNGl f-tang, i-tang Olay Biscuit
I didn't say anything more, but by not playing it cool I'd earned this guy's
infatuated hate. From that day on, the least little thing I did—walking down
the hallway, ignoring him—was enough to arouse a smouldering, orgasmic
paroxysm in his heart.
'Tou're a fag," he started saying to me. "You're queer."
I sullenly put up with it, as if I could anaesthetize my fear with silence. I
was already scared enough, but because this guy had an older brother, I
thought that if I provoked him in the least way the two of them would beat
the shit out of me in some dimension of lawless infinity. I thought that once
the beating started, it'd never stop. Just because this occurred during an
era that predates the Psychotic Present didn't mean I felt safer. As with
porn, there was no "Golden Age of Bullying." I thought I'd get killed.
At the same time, my homosexual feelings were so overwhelming they
changed my body; they made me hotter and softer. Egged on by the good-
natured depravity of the Penthouse Letters Page, I'd think of everything:
73 bisexuality was OK, bondage was OK, group sex was OK. I'd want to be
bound to an X-shaped pair of logs and ritually raped; I'd want to suck while
being fucked; I'd want to be enslaved; I'd want to have so much sex that my
consciousness would melt into it, and never have to emerge...
Around the time I was 17, our Nancy-centric gang broke up. Nancy was
dating guys outside the neighbourhood, my best friend Terry had moved
away and my other best friend lived on the other side of town. So I spent a
lot of time by myself.
One warm day in the fall, just after it'd rained, I was walking through a
section of Beechwood cemetery. It was where those little granite rectangles that are set into the ground were. I wasn't even aware I was reading
names, but then I stopped. At my feet was one small gravestone set into the
ground. It said, ANNABELLE FLO RES. 1961-1976.
I felt..nothing. I was convinced it was another Annabelle, and the gravestone cutter had got his centuries confused. Then I realized it was her.
The grass was very green. It was already growing with healthy, weedy
strength over the plaque. I jumped back a step. I didn't want to stand on her.
And the thought other being underneath all that earth made me feel claustrophobic.
As well, I was surprised that I wished I could talk to her. Even though
she'd bugged me, I had this incredible desire she was still around.
When I got home, my mom was in the kitchen, making carrot juice.
"Hi, honey," she said.
'What's for supper?" I said.
"I'm not sure, I haven't started making it yet."
"There's nothing to eat in this house," I said, and made some toast.
That evening, after dinner, I went up to the swings. Nobody was there.
Our gang had completely disintegrated. Then I ran into a guy named Chris
Edelman. We talked for a while. Then he left.
I wandered over to the junior swings. These were the boxy kind for
kindergarten kids you could barely fit your ass in. It reminded me of the
time, a few years before, when the whole gang of us—Terry, Nancy,
Annabelle, Margaret, Jeff and I—met there every night for one month
As usual, I'd just come from a hot afternoon of getting hard-ons while
looking at Penthouse. Then I'd read some gay porn in an anthology of pseudo-
Victorian smut.
That night at the swings we were all joking around. I looked at Nancy and
thought of how amazing she was. She was wearing a jean jacket, tube
halter, cut-off shorts, and Indian-style sandals.
For a while I talked with everyone. Then I happily plunked myself in a
swing. It fit so snugly around my hips I felt trapped.
Jeff and Terry started teasing Nancy, stealing her jacket. Terry put it on
74 his head like it was a turban.
'Tou guys are such jerks," Annabelle said.
Then Jeff stole Annabelle's hat and she laughed.
The group moved away from me. I tried to stand, but it was hard to get
up. Then I realized that the group didn't need me. They moved farther
away, until they were close to the fence. I looked at them.
A strange feeling started growing in me. When I'd been little, sometimes
I'd bury my head in my arms and pretend that there was this force field
between me and other people. I found it relaxing. I decided to try it again.
It was nice at first. I could hear everybody's voices, as if I was hidden in
some secret cave and they were just over my head. Then a weird sensation
began rising in my chest. The distance between us seemed greater. I buried my head more forcefully.
I'd been in love with Nancy for so long and nothing ever happened.
There was nothing I could do. And I couldn't stop loving her, either. I started
crying, and, hunched over and hidden, the realization that nobody noticed
made me cry harder.
It was like coming. A salty warmth pumped out of my eyes, each sob an
ejaculatory heave. By this point I felt entirely self-enclosed. I couldn't hear
anything, and had lost the sense of where I was.
"Nils?" a female voice suddenly said.
"What's the matter with Nils?" Terry's voice said.
I felt a hand touch me. I was too embarrassed to raise my head.
"Nils?" a girl's voice said. It was Nancy's. No, it was Annabelle's.
I looked up. The two of them were in front of me. Terry and Jeff stood
off to one side. Everybody's face looked completely blank with concern. It
was a strangely adult expression on a bunch of 15-year-olds.
My face was completely red and wet. My mouth had that ugly, contorted
look of someone who's been bawling. I knew I'd better snap out of it: if I
nursed my mood a split-second too long, it'd turn to self-pity and then
somebody would notice this and they'd all start razzing me. But for a moment I was proud of myself. I'd done something. Crying was like articulating
a concept. Even if I looked like a retard, I'd established I wasn't just the
joker who never gets girls. I felt that in some small way I'd changed the
future, and, more to the point, my friends were in on this. I could see
it...happiness, for all of us.
But who knew where we were going? Who knew what we were going to
75 Contributors
Philip Burton travelled in Europe and The Middle East before taking up
teaching in Lancashire, England. He retired as a school principal in 1995.
His poems have been widely published in magazines in England, Wales,
Ireland and the USA. A recent chapbook was published by Project one-O-
one in England.
Aurian Haller is currently working on a Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Studies
at Simon Fraser University. He was raised in a dairy valley in the British
Columbian interior. His work has been published in many journals, including The Antigonish Review, Dandelion, Queen's Quarterly, Zygote,
Redoubt (Australia) and Yalobusha Review (US). His first book of poetry, A Dream of Sulphur, is forthcoming from McGill-Queen's University Press.
gillian harding-russell is poetry editor for Event. Her most recent work
is coming out in CV2 and on CBC's "Gallery." Last year "I wear my
mother's bones" won second prize in the Sandburg-Livesay competition and "Kaleidescope: study in variations" won second prize in the CV2
"Shades of light, Shades of colour" competition. Her most recent manuscript, Usual Lives, is nearing completion.
Finn Harvor has had artwork and writing published in the Globe & Mail,
Toronto Star, eye weekly, This Magazine and The Canadian Forum. His
monologue "Die Happiness" was delivered and recorded by Clark Johnson,
director/actor of Homicide: Life on the Street. Finn's work has also been
broadcast on the CBC.
Ryan Knighton teaches in the English Department at Capilano College
where he works as editor of The Capilano Review. His writing has appeared most recently in such periodicals as Geist, The Malahat Review,
Descant, The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Rampike and the anthology Hammer & Tongs (Smoking Lung/Arsenal Pulp). A chapbook, What Leaves Us,
is published by Smoking Lung Press (1998). A book of poetry is forthcoming with Anvil Press.
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a Canadian writer/critic living in Toronto. Her
work has appeared in Smoke magazine, The Literary Review of Canada
(LRC) and The European.
76 Monica Missrie was born and raised in Mexico. She works with the
World Wildlife Fund in Mexico City and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation in the US, coordinating their joint monarch conversation
project. She has written and translated scientific articles and a book about
the monarch butterfly.
Erik Mohr studied drawing and painting at the Ontario College of Art
and Design and apprenticed with Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs
in Berlin. Erik's illustration clients include McClelland & Stewart, Equinox and Saturday Night Magazine—most recently winning him a National Magazine Award nomination. As a fine artist, Erik has exhibited in
galleries across Canada with work in private collections throughout North
America and Europe. He lives in Toronto.
Robin Parks is originally from Long Beach, California. She now writes
short stories and essays from Lummi Island, a tiny island off the coast
of Washington State. Her fiction has appeared in the The Bellingham
Review and Woman's Words, and her creative non-fiction has appeared
in TRIVIA: A Journal of Ideas.
Linda Potvin-Jones' essays have appeared in The Halifax Daily News,
Globe & Mail, Brink and Stella! Her first short story was published in
the E-zine Mercury Sky. Still involved in prison activism, she is working
on her first novel. She lives with her husband and overweight cat in
K. I. Press is currently a student in the Master of Publishing program
at Simon Fraser University. Her poetry has appeared or will appear in a
number of literary journals and magazines including Descant, CV2, Dandelion, sub-Terrain and The Antigonish Review. She lives in Edmonton.
77 Creative Writing M.F.A. at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers a Master of Fine Arts
degree in Creative Writing. Students choose three genres to
work in from a wide range of courses, including: Poetry, Novel/
Novella, Short Fiction, Stage Play, Screen & TV Play, Writing
for Children, Non-Fiction and Translation. A course in
Managing, Editing and Producing a Small Magazine is also
offered. All instruction is in small workshop format or tutorial.
The thesis consists of imaginative writing. The Creative Writing
Program also offers a Diploma Programme in Applied Creative
&k5 c? X
Sue-Ann Alderson
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
■**      Linda Svendsen
O      Peggy Thompson
mi»J      Bryan Wade
For further information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6T IZl
Or check out our web-site at: T
Award for Literary Nonaction
Maximum 25 pages per piece, 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: $20 plus $5 for each
additional manuscript; this includes a one-year subscription to PRISM
international plus a copy of Fugue, UBC's Anthology of Literary Non-
fiction. All Non-Canadian residents, please pay in US dollars.
Contest Deadline: September 30th, 2000
PRISIVI  international
Annual Short Fiction Contest
5 Runner-up Prizes of $200
Maximum 25 pages per piece, 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 plus $5 for each
additional manuscript; this includes a one-year subscription to PRISM
international. All Non-Canadian residents, please pay in US dollars.
Contest Deadline:   January 31, 2001
Mail all entries to:
PRISM international
Fiction (or Non-fiction) Contest
Buch E462 -1866 Main Mall, UBC
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1 CANADA
For more information, send a SASE to the above address.
E-mail: prism(S)  Web: Bliss Carman Poetry Award*
(submit 1, 2, or 3 poems totalling no more than a
maximum of 150 lines in all)
Entries must be received by September 30th, 2000
Short Fiction
(one story per entry, minimum 1,500 words, maximum
15,000 words)
Entries must be received by October 31st, 2000
Personal Journalism/Creative Non-Fiction
(one article per entry, maximum of 5000 words)
Entries must be received by January 15th, 2001
acre w
1st prize $500      2nd prize $300      3rd prize $200
Contest Rules
Entry fee $25. This entitles you or your designate to a
one-year (4 issue) subscription to Prairie Fire. Make
cheque or money order payable to Prairie Fire.
Do not identify yourself on your entry. Enclose a cover
sheet with your name, address, telephone number, and
the title(s) of your piece(s), along with your entry fee.
No faxed or e-mailed submissions.
Your entry must be typed on 8 1/2" by 11" white paper
and the pages clipped, not stapled. Prose must be
If you wish to have your entry returned and/or to be
informed of contest results, include a stamped,
self-addressed envelope of sufficient size and with
sufficient Canadian postage or IRC.
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 Poetry 1st prize of $500 is donated by The Banff Centre
for the Arts, who will also award a jeweller-cast replica of
poet Bliss Carman's silver & turquoise ring to the first
prize winner.
Send entries to: Prairie Fire, 423-100 Arthur Street,
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1H3 or visit  Everybody knows me around here
and I'm not a bad element really.
I only steal...unconditional boredom.
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Page 13
PRIjTM international
Philip Burton
Aurian Haller
gillian harding-russell
Finn Harvor
Ryan Knighton
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Monica Missrie
Robin Parks
Linda Potvin-Jones
K. I. Press
Cover Art: Bird's Eye View by Erik Mohr
7  '"72006   "86361


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items