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   PRISM internationa
Jane Campbell
Zachary Matteson
Andrea Hoff
Sierra Skye Gemma
Jeffrey Ricker
Rhea Tregebov
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
Nadine Bachan
Ophelia Celine
Kate Edwards
Charles-Adam Foster-Simard
Tara Gilboy
Melissa Janae
Julia Leggert
Jennifer Macdonald
Hanako Masutani
Matt Maylon
Sandra Maxson
Kim McCullough
Beth Pond
Katherine Wagner
Catherine Young
Rosemary Anderson
Christopher Evans
Selenna Ho
Gabrielle Lieberman
Anna Ling Kaye
Andreas Schroeder PRISM nternat
PRISM international is proud to announce the 2012 Earle Birney Prize
for Poetry. This prize is presented annually to one outstanding poet
selected from our outgoing Poetry Editor's volume. This year's winner
is Ben Ladouceur for his piece "Grans Vals," which first appeared in
Earle Birney established UBC's MFA program in Creative Writing in
1965—the first university writing program in Canada. The Earle Birney
prize, awarded annually and worth $500, is PRISMs only in-house
prize. Special thanks to Mme. Justice Wailan Low for her generous
ongoing support. PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
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 Index.
Website: Email:
Contents Copyright © 2013 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover image © Mike Brodie from the bookyl Period of Juvenile Prosperity, published
by Twin Palms Publishers.
Subscription Rates: One-year individual Canadian $35, American $40, International
$45; two-year individual Canadian $55, American $63, International $69; library
and institutional one-year $46; two-year $72. Sample copy by mail is $12. US and
international subscribers, please pay in US dollars. Please note that US POSTAL
money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable to PRISM international. All
prices include GST and shipping and handling.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American
Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $20 per page for other genres.
Contributors receive three copies of the issue in which their work appears.
PRISM also purchases limited digital rights for selected work, for which it pays an
additional $10 per page. All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above
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to receive your response by regular mail, please include a SASE with Canadian
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responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate,
including continuity, quality and budgetary concerns.
For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM, please visit our website
at PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists
with other literary magazines; please contact us if you wish to be excluded from
such exchanges.
Our gratitude to Dean Gage Averill and the Dean of Arts Office at the University
of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the
Canada Council for the Arts and the Btitish Columbia Arts Council.
September 2013. ISSN 0032.8790
BRITISH COLUMBIA @PB    Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL Ct>    f°'^Ans du Canada  CONTENTS
Eric Freeze
The Ice Woman
Sam Shelstad
New Ice Kingdom
W. Mark Giles
A Man Will Set Foot on the Moon
Judy LeBlanc
Sarah de Leeuw
Soft Shouldered
A. Whitfield
The Garden
Mallory Tater
Perer Harding
Snow Poems
Translated from the German
Building You a Room
by Susan Thome
Leonard Neufeldt
The End Of Plato
Garth Martens
Everyrhing That's Yours
The Cleaning Girl
April Bulmer
The Risen Christ
Waxing Poetic
Moments in Time
Daddy Charles
Christmas Dinner
Mum leaves me to go to the store. She French braids my hair, then leaves me
on the leather sofa, a bowl of plump blueberries in my lap. The sliding door to
Grandmas room, left open. I watch Samara in her primrose apron and white
nurse-shoes as she leans over the queen bed, feels for my grandmas breathing
carcass in the sheets. She shakes her awake. Grandma curses in German, then
whimpers in English about too much light in the room. She digs her face
between two pillows. Samara says Emma, good morning Emma, lifts the floral
duvet off Grandmas creased and craggy body. Grandma had stripped off all
her clothes in the middle of the night. When she sits up, I see her flaccid, long
breasts, and slacked rumples of arm fat as she reaches for the Kleenex Samara
holds up near her face. She takes two Kleenex, blows clumps of yellow mucus
into one, then she spews up in another to drain out her throat. I dreamt about
horses, she says, twenty horses with their foals, trotting through ice water.
Samara slips Grandma's arms, one at time, through the sleeves of a purple
blouse. Grandma watches Samara's fingers button each button. It was so cold,
she says, I could see their breath.
PRISM  52:1 Sarah de Leeuw
X his part is true.
It is true because it is named and found. People have investigated and made
inquiries. And inquires result in findings and findings can be documented
and published and circulated and so people pay attention and they search for
Dystocia is the name given to any difficult childbirth or abnormal labour.
During childbirth, when the anterior shoulders of the infant cannot pass
below the mother's pubic symphysis, when a baby's shoulders are wider than
the opening in a mother's pelvic bone, it is called Shoulder Dystocia. Imagine
an infant gasping for breath, trying to emerge into the world. Imagine watery
panic. Contractions. Bone against bone, unyielding.
The quickest solution is to break the baby's clavicle bones. Reach inside, first
one side and then the other, thumb on tiny collarbone, hand grasping around the
curve of shoulders, fingers on shoulder blades. And snap. Yes. Snap. This must be
done with force and conviction. A clear fracrure heals with fewer complications.
We tell mothers that their babies will not remember that excruciating pain.
We tell mothers that their children, their daughters, will cross a threshold into
life with limp and broken shoulders. But the bones will bind themselves back
together again and the bteaks will set and arms will again stretch out strong,
poised for running, running, and being alive with breath pulled deep into lungs.
It's enough to make a person cry. With relief.
This next part is no less true.
And it hurts no less.
But there is nothing named or found and so nothing is documented or
published. The sparseness of findings and inquiries has resulted in almost nothing
and so nothing has been circulated and solutions are slippery and invisible.
No name is given to a child born to vanish. There is no diagnostic term for
those who slip into this world born to disappear.
There are no solutions or diagrams or carefully recorded scientific data about
the daughters who effortlessly take their first breath, who pull air into theit lungs
for years and years but for whom each breath is a breath closet to the moment
when, on the shouldet of a highway, they will go missing.
This too is enough to make a person cry. With anticipation of what is
And it too begins at birth, the edge of life, a life running and rushing, arms
outstretched, towards a vanishing.
So begin with me at the edge. That borderland where pavement ends and
soft shoulder begins. This is a land bordered by a wall of green so dark it might be
black. At highway speeds, this is how Engelmann spruce trees appear. Through a car's passenger window, branches blur and trunks transform. Tilings get hazy
and things get lost. The details disappear.
Asphalt dissipates into gravel, gravel touches mud that curves into ditches
scarred and slashed by the bulldozers and the D-9 Cats sent to scrape the foliage,
the never-ending efforts of devil's club, slide alder, Indian paintbrush, and
salmonberry bushes. This is a space where everything is feral and weedy, growing
and growing, creeping up past the boundaries that separate the regulated and
patrolled highway and the wild, wild, western wilderness. Soft shoulder of road,
slip of pavement, downward slope from the centre line, a space of refuse and
You are in northern British Columbia. Nowhere most of the world will ever
go. A land bordering on the lost. An unseen. A beyond cities, a far outside the
imaginings of most.
Still, it is worth looking at. It is worth looking closely at, if only to see what
has disappeared, what is missing. Look into the thin shouldet space that borders
this highway. Here is what you might find.
Btoken beer bottles tossed ftom cars. Can you hear the hilarity, teenagers
partying, driving drunk on iinpattolled roads, sweaty and in love during the few
days of heat that summer offers up? Ice-cold beer and the freedom speed of a
car, a carborator-smoking-nearly-used-up-bought-ofF-a-neighbour-car with the
windows rolled down and the wind rolling in. Yes, oh yes, toss those beer bottles,
watch them shatter, just because you can. Nobody is patrolling you.
Plastic bags, snagged on brambles and translucent as lungs, filled with wind
and the rushing exhaust of cars.
Mufflers rotting into metal rust, patterns like muscled lace in thin seepages
of water.
Thick black curls of rubber, the ruins of wheels from transport trucks, skid
marks like scabs.
Carcasses of broken deer, necks snapped and smears of blood, legs always,
always, bent in that running position, some frozen reminder of a futile attempt
at escape.
Fallen rocks and the remnants of blasting caps. What is left after dynamite
has done its job and the fireweed has come back to ignite the dips and drops;
first there are the bright purple flowers, then during pollination the fluffy cotton
white. And as it dies, the fireweed gasps into red, a red so red it looks like fresh
meat, road kill.
Things decay and things are consumed in the ditches and crevices on the
edge of Highway 16. There is meat and metal and flowers and there is rot and
there is rejuvenation. These shoulders are thin and strong, exposed and jutting.
Imagine the shoulders of a very young dancer, clavicle bones jutting through
flesh. The ever-present risk of breaking.
Broken shoulders.
Soft shoulders and sharp shoulders and oh, oh, such are the shoulders of a
sinewy highway, Highway 16.
Things go missing at 120 km per hour on long desolate stretches of road,
straight shots between one place that almost no one has heard of and another
8 PRISM  52:1 place even fewer know about. Truck stops and Indian reserves, logging camps
and precarious towns clinging to the edges of giant gouges, open pit mines
exhaling molybdenum. Endako and Gitsegukla. Kitwanga, Kispiox, and New
Hazelton. Usk and Rosswood. Smithers and Moricetown.
We have stopped many times on the shoulders of that highway and the time
we stopped years ago was not so much different, a detour to the edge.
Pulling off onto the highway's soft shoulder for a soft-shouldered young
woman, standing there on the edge of the road on the edge of a town that seems
to have no hard and fast boundaries. Smithets simply evapotates. Slowly. From
downtown core to mountains, from Main Street to railway track to cabins on
lakes to glaciers that trail like tongues up the valleys and into sky.
And the sky is blue the day we stop for her, her in a tight black tank-top
and tight jeans and jaunt and confidence on the side of Highway 16, walking
backwards on the right shoulder of the road, right hand out, thumb spiked
By the time we reach Smithers we have already been driving for five hours.
We left late but the long summer days make driving all night seem possible. The
air is warm. Our car windows are unrolled, our dog is riding in the back seat,
head hanging out the window, face streamlined in glee and we have passed rigs
and beehive burners with sparks like fireflies in the long light of late August. We
have counted seven black bears, fish-fat fed and glossy handsome, lumbering
along the highway's edge. Our dog has barked. The evening has remained warm
but we know it will grow cool before the girl will make it to where she surely
must be going. And that is part of the reason we stop. We do not want her to get
cold on the edge of the highway.
And of course rhere is something else.
Moricetown, she says, slipping into the front seat beside me. I'm going to
We have decided I will drive, you will sit in the back seat with our dog, and
the girl from the edge of the highway will sit in the front seat beside me. We
do not want our dog to make her uncomfortable. So soon she is settled in, all
smiles and teeth and chitter-chatter and stories of summer basketball games in
Smithers. Stoties about kids from the reserves hitching "into town."
Into town, that descriptor that covers every place that is not the reserve,
not her reserve with the Moricetown Canyon at its heart, a canyon through
which waters boil, waters that men tether themselves ovet, strapped onto rock
faces, spears in hand, the gut-blood of speared salmon spewing into the fine mist
that sprays up from the Bulkley River, narrowed for such a breathtakingly short
span, dizzying, fish leaping. Salmon by the hundreds for canning and smoking,
fillets of red meat ctisscrossed and hatched and slung over ladders made of green
sapling alder bound with cord and bendable enough to withstand the winds that
careen in. The wind smells of all of this and mote.
And it is precisely this, this smoky-sugared scent of drying fish and the
slippery sweat of men tethered to canyon walls, which is everything she wants to
escape. Hitchhiking into town. Because in Smithers the smell of reserve smoke
How old is she? Fourteen. Going into Grade 9 in the fall. The call of new
jeans, runners white and unscuffed, crisp pages of notebooks, and moist bright
highlighter pens. Geometry sets with not a single missing piece, the protractor's
needle perfectly sharp. These are the things she is looking forward to, things she
dreams will unfold come the early days of September, come the first whispers of
We curve into Moricetown. Past the roadside hut selling smoked salmon,
past the bridge over the canyon, past the Band Office and the community hall
and up the hill on the other side of the reserve and onto the shoulder once again.
She points out a trail. An almost invisible cleft in the ditch's vegetation, a path
thtough bush and bramble that we would never have seen had she not known
just where to look. We let her out, sun-setting light on her swinging arms as she
crosses the highway's shoulder, descends the cupped lip of the ditch and then up
the other side and back to her home hidden beyond the tree line.
Our hitchhiket crosses a borderland, walks over the highway's soft shouldet
and is lost from our sight. Enveloped by all that grows on the sides of roads.
I have picked up other women hitching their way home. Once there was a
woman in Gitsegukla, perched on a stack of Coors Light cases, teetering in the
dark, hitching back to Kitwanga. I round the curve and my headlights catch her
eyes no differently than headlights would catch the eyes of a highway coyote,
ttotting along the side of the road. Glowing illuminated metallic yellow like
asteroids. She is so drunk I take her in my arms and fold her into the seat beside
me. I pack all the cases of beer into the trunk of my car and I do not argue about
the can she keeps in her hand.
She tells me stories as we drive, warm boozy breath wrapping around
descriptions of her daughter, her cousins, tales of picking berries or heading
down to Vancouver. She is heading home to her auntie's house and in the
morning there will be tea. She calls it angel's tea, tea so milky white, warm and
sweet, it is like the clouds we see in pictures of heaven. She is certain of this tea,
this tea that awaits het. It will mark her return home. And my headlights shine
and the ditches on the edge of the highway fade into blackness beyond the light
of high beams and her voice hits the pitch of tires on asphalt and we ate hurtling
together down a mean, mean, road.
Think of this highway as a cut. A slice through darkness or wilderness or
vegetation or the towns from which we all run.
And now think of this.
A slash right down to the bone can be done in less than three seconds. A slice
so deep the skin may never bind, the scar will most assuredly never fade.
Now think of that highway once again and hold your breath and contemplate
all the soft shoulders you have touched. Close your eyes and feel the softest
slope in the world, the slope at the top of a baby's arm, curve up to neck. The
landscape of your lover's clavicle bone, rising and falling with the deep breathing
of calm sleep, facing you and the early morning sunlight with a familiarity that
10 PRISM  52:1 knots your stomach and makes you teach out, again and again, just to touch that
beautiful skin. Think about every shoulder you have ever touched, ever loved.
Think about every person you hold dear.
May you never know what it is to lose your daughter. May you never know
a disappearance never explained. A missing without teason or answer or end.
May you never dream of your daughter's shoulders buckled and torn in the mud
and silt of a ditch. May you never know what mothers know in Moricetown, in
Kitwanga, in Burns Lake, Kitwankool, Terrace, Hazelton Kitimat Prince Rupert
or in Kispiox. May you never think of yout daughter as roadside prey.
May you never be the mother of the daughtet gone missing from the
shoulder of Highway 16 in July, in July when the days can be so cruel. A month
of forest fires, a month thick with mosquitoes and decomposition. Fish rot. Of
course there are daughtets for almost every month of the year because slaughter
has no timeline. Thirty-three murdered and missing daughters, sometimes at a
rate of more than one per year.
The missing daughter of July was a treeplanter. Hitchhiking between
Smithers and Prince George, backpack and hemp necklace and a shadow cast on
the shoulder of Highway 16. When I think of her I think of long moments when
nothing is audible but the sound of wind on the leaves of aspen trees. I think of
sun on pavement and the tustle of shrubs and blood red fists of elderberry thick
with juices that bitds will dtink come fall. I think of the safe stretch of time that
existed for her between cars passing. Yes, there would have been that flicker of
disappointment when the minivan with a mother and two children did not stop
ot when that fully loaded logging truck barreled on past. But as long as she was
walking, as long as a killer did not stop, that July daughter was safe.
In Moricetown there is a billboard on the side of the highway. "Girls, don't
go hitchhiking. Killer on the loose."
They search for her in waves, ripples of people winding through the ditches.
They sift through the foliage and the growth and the rot. Where the roadside
slips into fields, they use long sticks and methodically beat back the wheat
and alfalfa swaying in the wind. In those roadside tides of green, search crews
hope one of them will stumble upon her body. Even a piece of her would be a
clue. Please, they think, please let this stick connect with a portion, any broken
portion, of the family's daughter.
Let her not have gone missing without a trace, let the soft shoulders of this
highway reveal something.
These daughters go missing in the spting and in the wintet. They are only
occasionally found, frozen and crumpled amongst the roots of aldet trees, left
torn with pine needles resting on their eyelids, tossed without concetn and
scratched at by eagles and ravens that draw no distinction between someone's
child and the body of a porcupine clipped by a careless driver. Blood on the
shoulder of a highway is blood on the shoulder of a highway. So may you never
think of your daughter as roadside prey, shoulders soft as dawn, shattered in a
ditch overlooked when we travel at highway speeds.
May you never know this truth. 11 Eric Freeze
Oeventeen days of snow. The first had been blizzard-like with thick flakes
gusting, slanting in the wind. Malik used to welcome the snow. It was like bats
of insulation muffling everyrhing in white down. He fired up the snow blower
the first day, cleaned off the blacktop and the rutted gravel driveway down to
County Road 33. He shovelled the dtifts where snow reached the eaves, where
he'd had ro push the sttiated layets off the roof. It had creaked with the weight of
it. Snow. Now another day with flakes filling the yard, his pines thickly covered
like they had been dipped in wax.
Malik was in moutning. That was the official word for it. Ot the French, deuil.
It had been a year since he'd heard Genevieve's and his child's Quebecois lilt, the
language they spoke at home. Last night he had dreamt of his daughter Marie.
In the dream, he was looking for something, a book, a batch of photographs,
something small, boxed from his move. After searching his shelves, running his
fingers through the dust that had accumulated over the fall, he came ro the attic
stairs and the knotted rope that dangled just above his head. The stairs clacked
down and Malik climbed up into the hole. Mane stood at the dormer window.
A gauzy veil covered her hair and face, down to her chest. But the veil clung to
her like she'd been out in the tain.
When he first saw her, he was flooded with relief. Here's what he was
looking for, the doll-child of his ptevious life, preserved at five years old. She
was humming softly, fingering her charm bracelet and rotating the letters of her
name. "Marie," he said.
She turned. He meant the words to be soothing, like the time she was lost
at the State Patk and they found her crouched in a grove of pawpaws, picking
ripe fruit off the ground. It hadn't been long, a half-hour maybe, but by then
they had already called the state police. Matie had never wandered off before and
in their first-parent mentality, that meant she'd been abducted, lost, or killed.
When they found her with her chin wet with pawpaw slime it was like she'd been
gone for ages, a child back from the abyss. "Marie," he had said, with relief. They
smothered her with embraces and Marie smiled, saying "pawpaw" over and over,
Malik unsure whether she was talking about the fruit ot her fathet, her papa who
cradled her in his arms.
Now, it was like he'd said something wrong. Her face scrunched up like she'd
asked for a glass of juice and he'd given her milk. But there weren't any teats.
Through the veil het features spread, smoothed out like her face was soft and
pliable as egg cream. Her eyes grew, saucers of white daubed with brown, and
her lips pulled back so that her teeth were carnivore-huge. Marie's small body
expanded with one deep breath and then her mouth opened in a scream.
Malik stepped back. "It's OK honey, it's me. C'est ton papa!' The scream
12 PRISM   52:1 rose in timbre and her body shook with exettion. He simultaneously wanted
to flee and approach her, feel her warmth and calm her fears. But the scream
kept getting louder. She was a kettle come to boil, a bomb ready to explode.
Whatever this being was, it couldn't tolerate his presence. Her mouth opened
wider, her jaw coming unhinged like a feeding python. "I'm sorry," he said,
mindless of the hole behind him. He backed into the void. It was his own
scteam that woke him up.
Hours later, he was still awake, the lights on. He microwaved hot cocoa. He
sank into his couch.
When he awoke the next morning, he discovered it had rained ice overnight.
The pellets stuck to the top layer of snow and covered it in a pitted glaze. Aftef
breakfast, he suited up, put on his Sorels and marched outside. The ice had
formed about a six-inch layer. It was like walking on a blacktop. Near the house,
the ice sloped down, a steep slide reaching almost to his windows. He'd had to
shovel it now how many times? The back of the house he'd just let pile up. But
this stuff. No way he was going to try to chip it out.
He went to get his square shovel anyway, just to see. The shovel bit into the
snow, sending chips of ice, little white teeth scattering on the surface. He would
need a blowtorch or prolonged days and weeks of sun. Warm temperatures. A
mineful of salt. He climbed up the snow bank to get a view.
Malik remembered a scene from Nanook of the North of an Inuit in sealskin
cutting blocks of snow with a long serrated knife. The snow here would be
perfect for an igloo; any shape he cut out of the ice would be tigid as a brick. He
thrust the shovel straight down and was satisfied when it sank to the top of the
blade. Underneath the ice, the snow was light and fine. When he picked up the
first block, the backside was covered with soft powder like a layer of sawdust or
mould on a rotted peach. He cut out rectangle after rectangle and threw them
into a pile.
By noon the sun had finally penetrated the haze and lit up the landscape.
He would need sunglasses, could use food, too, after three hours of chipping
ice. Inside, he heated water for pasta, zipped open a can of spaghetti sauce. On a
yellow legal pad, he sketched a brick house the way you'd draft plans for a dream
home. This is where the toilet is, this is the kitchen. Here are the stairs up to the
second floor. Right. He thought. Today he'd at least get up the walls.
A blinking message on the phone. He was surprised the ice hadn't knocked
out his lines. He pressed play, heard his supervisor's concern. "You let us know
when you can make it in. The county's all shut down—first time in twenty-five
years. No one on the roads except emergency vehicles." So that was it, no more
Outside, Malik's snow quarry was an open maw of white. The snow
underneath was still dry. They would have cold temperatures for the next couple
weeks. He took the fitst brick in his mittened hand and laid it down, then
another. In his mind he had pictured a perfect line, square, like the brickwork
for a school or a correctional facility: a practical box for keeping people in.
But as the walls grew, he was disappointed. The snow on the backside of the
bricks helped the ice blocks set in but it wasn't uniform enough to keep the 13 lines straight. And some blocks were thicker than others with their fair share of
variation in size and shape. The wall looked more like a bombed out building
or the snow ruins of some ancient castle. Pinholes of light pierced the corners
where the ice bricks didn't meet. But the walls went up: one row, two. Before
long, he'd need more bricks. He'd have to dig further out, lug the bricks back in
his wheelbarrow.
The Ontario sun finally winked past the horizon, over the copse of trees
to the west. It would be datk soon. The walls of Malik's ice house were near
complete. He'd bricked out a doorway, made ice headers for windows. And, at
one end of his box, an empty hearth.
Once they went to an ice hotel in Quebec, a honeymooner's place. Genevieve
was six months pregnant with Marie and they had booked it for a couple days
over the bteak while they were visiting her parents. Theit room had a hearth
with an electric log that lit up the ice with orange light. They took photos. In
one, Malik, in a loose car coat, squatted with his hands palm up before the fake
fire. That night, they left the fire going and Genevieve straddled him, letting the
blanket fall away, and her breasts bunched togethet in the cold. The electric log
spun, backlighting her like a cherub. He thrust up inside her and her pregnant
belly bobbed and she opened her eyes and laid her hands on his chest for support.
"Don't stop looking at me," she said.
Now he was alone in this space. A frozen replica. Did he know that he was
building a hotel room when he started? But that's what it was—a house small
enough to be a hotel room. He had come out here to forget.
A week before the accident, Malik had imagined a four-car pileup, a semi on
its side, cars crushed like tin cans. Genevieve and Marie were going to be driving
north, to her sister's place in Sherbrooke. Sometimes he pictured calamities like
this as a hedge against what could happen. It was always the worst possible
thing: at Marie's birth, massive haemorrhaging, a baby with two heads. For his
wife's conference the April before the accident, an airplane plunging to earth.
Sometimes, selfishly, he dreamed of silence, of being liberated from the bonds
of family through freakish chance. Maybe he'd flirted with a cashier or noticed a
job posting abroad and felt drawn to the feeling of possibility. He would mourn,
grieving was always hard, but he loved his wife, his child, and that love would be
buried with them. He could start anew, remake himself, his petty dreams. What
he wasn't expecting was the guilt.
He misttusted coincidence. Genevieve's head had cracked the windshield
and Marie was crushed in the back seat. The semi fishtailed and caught them
head on. When he heard, he wanted the dispatcher to desctibe what happened,
where the ttuck went, how it skittered across the asphalt, what speed Gen was
driving. He made him go back, repeat what he said earlier. "How many other
cars were involved? Was there a Volvo?" The man apologized eventually, other
people to call, so Malik could never be sure the scene was exactly as he had
imagined it. But the similarities were too strong for him not to feel like he had
somehow caused their deaths.
In the moonlight, Malik thrust his hands into the powdet underneath the
ice. Much of the centre of the room had been tamped down, the crenelated teeth
14 PRISM  52:1 of his boots reminders of where he'd stepped. It was getting cold now and the
snow was hard to shape. So instead of building up, he dug down, removing the
excess snow until a figure started to emerge. First, a belly, plump and distended.
Then arms and hands, cradling it. It was a form like a giant gourd with space
between the atms and totso creating amphora-like handles. He dusted snow
away from the bteasts, swollen with the colostrum and milk that would come
only after the birth. He framed the head in a pillow of snow. The eyes and nose
were a mangled mess, even as his tools (plastic trowel, tooth brush, tooth picks)
got smaller and smaller for the detail. The nose was an avocado-like lump. The
too-sculpted lips of a Mr. Potato-head. There was something about the shape,
though, that suggested Genevieve. The face had the same roundness, the same
slight tilt to the head. The night cold seeped in now, numbing the exposed skin,
circling his parka'd neck. But still he wotked. Occasionally moisture fell from
his face. He dabbed around the spot where the drops crystallized and hardened.
It left indelible pockmarks on the snow-skin, circles of imperfection, stains. He
brushed away until he had space for the eyes but again he was disappointed.
Thete were none of the wrinkles, the crow's feet at the corners. Instead, the snow
was smooth as a plastic mask: simple lines, a forehead, a brow. Finished. He
shovelled out space next to the supine figure and then lay in the fetal position
next to it. He reached out his atm.
It felt solid. Or solid enough. He nestled his arm between the bteasts and the
pregnant belly. There. He closed his eyes. The angle of his arm was so familiar,
the feeling of the body underneath like sinking into memory foam. He wasn't
going to move. During the school year, he would have weeks where duties piled
up like harbingers of disaster. Just one more thing, one mote passed-out girl who
needed her stomach pumped, one more instance of sexual assault, one more
flunking kid depressed and playing videogames in his dorm room and Malik
would go over the edge. He wondered vaguely about the state of the campus,
students protesting frozen dorm rooms, huddled in the student centre. Maybe
Eddie, the student body ptesident, would have the whole campus in one safe,
gigantic pyjama party. People would stay in their dorms or in the library buzzing
with intellectual pheromones, studying. There would be sex, lots of it, he could
be sure of that. Something about the warmth of another body when the numbers
drop below zero. But all Malik felr now was cold. This was nuts. Even thtough
his parka he could feel the relentless cold. There was nothing reflecting back
heat, no reciprocation. Might as well be humping a block of ice.
Malik rolled onto his back. How often had he recommended counselling
for students? You're going through a tough patch tight now, and giving voice to
your concerns can help alleviate your struggle. Utter bullshit. Still, you couldn't
underestimate the power of conversation. It was one of the touchstones of being
human. Dialogue. That was what he needed now more than anything.
An arm. There was an arm across his chest that wasn't there before. An arm
and a weight. The thought was absurd but still he entertained it. It could be a
line of melted snow that had stuck to his parka or perhaps it was his own arm,
asleep, bisecting his torso in a self-hug after having lain on it wrong. Or maybe it
was a kind of transference; it was his wife's arm, Genevieve's arm, like a vestigial 15 limb. She had been cut off and he could still feel her body—feel her feeling him
as evidence of their closeness. Frozen dew from his eyes had sealed them shut.
Opening them was like un-velcroing a pair of children's shoes. He should sit up.
But if he did, what would he see?
"You were snoring."
The face hovered over him. The crude protuberances: nose, chin, breasts, had
smoothed somewhat, firmed up. It was like she had been carved from marble.
A snow woman. She sighed and stretched and the snow packed itself tighter,
forming the contouts of a solid body. Her buttocks and feet were still connected
to the ground but then she leaned to one side and puffed out her cheeks.
"Help me out hete?"
Malik sat up. Her hand opened and closed with wooden regularity, like the
too perfect features of a computer-animated cartoon. He scrambled to his feet
and tepidly reached for her. He half expected her fingers to break off, smash open
in his hand like burst snowballs. But they held, elastic. The pregnant woman
knelt in a Captain Morgan position and then hoisted herself up, still holding his
hand up between them like a couple ready to declare their vows. Chunks of snow
and ice clung to het buttocks and she chopped at them like she was dusting flout
off jeans. "God I'm hungry," she said.
Inside, Malik rifled thtough his refrigerator. He tried to think of things that
Genevieve liked. If what was out in his yard was some incarnation of his dead
wife. Most of his eating habits had degenerated since she died, even though he
was the one who usually did the cooking. Who was there to cook for? Better to
scrounge, to eat a little at a time: crackers, microwaved burritos, cheese sticks.
He still had a thing for perogies but he always bought them now, never made
them from scratch. The bounty of his vegetable-laden meals, the sauces and
recipes and side dishes made way for the economy of minute-rice, meals in
a can, Ichiban. He'd become like a college student without roommates. Still,
he found some grapes, picked through the half-withered fruit and washed the
remaining dusky globes in a bowl. He had some whole grain bread, and sliced
Swiss, mustard, lettuce, for a couple sandwiches. It would be enough.
Malik stood for a while in the entryway, one arm balancing a plate of
sandwiches and the bowl of grapes. In the other he held two glasses by their
stems and a bottle of clatet. He'd hesitated about the wine but he felt something
celebtatory that made him want to impress. The room had changed already, the
crude blocks and rugged lines smoothing to sheets of ice that looked like new
sheetrock. Baseboards emerged, crown moulding, a wrought-iron poster bed,
lamps, rugs, pictures. He paused too long and wotried that the food would
be cold, ice already forming around the meat and the wine too chilled. The
pregnant woman was sitting on a mission-style chair next to a small, cafe-style
table pushed up against a wall. She combed her hair with a tortoise-shell brush
in long even strokes. Her breasts perched on her belly like ripe eggplants.
"You got wine?"
He tried to tell from her tone if she was upset or pleased. He had forgotten,
somehow, that she was pregnant, that she probably wouldn't want anything
16 PRISM  52:1 alcoholic, and he half-expected her to turn him away. But she put down the
btush and took the glasses from his hand. "Just one glass," she said. "It's perfect."
He watched her eat. She took long, large bites and the bits of sandwich bulged
out her cheeks while she chewed. A snail's trail of mustard clung to het lip. A
torn leaf of lettuce the size of a postage stamp fell among crumbs on the table
in between swallows and sips of wine. By the time she finished, he was half-
convinced he was hungry himself.
"You have some mustatd," he said.
"More," she said.
She handed him the plate and he balanced it on his palm. Her breathing
had intensified and the earlier smile was gone. The contours of her face seemed
more and more distinct from Genevieve's. The lines of her brows were inverted
checkmarks, her nose a triangle with round dots for nostrils. And still no wrinkles.
It was unnerving, like looking at a wax statue that was suddenly ambulatoty, an
airbrushed model that had just walked off a billboard and into Malik's life.
"More,please" he said.
She didn't laugh. Malik backed out the door, almost kowtowing in his
retreat. The walls of the snow house were thick limestone now, etched from the
snow like a ttompe l'oeil painting, a hologram that at any moment could fizzle
or fade. Yes, he would get more. Plenty more.
Meat. His freezer was full of blocks of it: boxes of a side of bison he'd split
with a friend last winter. He unwrapped a couple steaks from the white butchet
paper. The stamp "steak" in red ink broke where the paper met. Soon his kitchen
was alive with the smells of cooking: Herbes de Provence, sauteed mushrooms,
steak sizzling in its juices. He folded in some cream, salted and peppered the
steaks to taste, and put them on plates. Two sets of cutlery, serrated knives and
forks ready to slice the rare meat open so the blood pinked the white sauce.
"Your steak, Madame," Malik said. He set the steaks on the table like a maitre d'
with a bow and an open palm. She picked up a fork and waved it through the
steam rising from the meat.
"You trying to kill me here?"
She poked the meat and let the fork clatter on the plate. It was too much.
Something about the meat, the sizzling undercooked steak an accusation: How
dare you do this to me. He thought e-coli and salmonella. Did she have some
olfactory superiority, a way of detecting meat gone bad? Or perhaps it was
simply preference. He would make it right.
"Too hot," she said. She lifted her shoulders—no big deal—and then pushed
her stomach forward, her posture textbook straight.
"I'm sorry—I didn't think."
She stood up, walked back to the mirror. Strange how she watched the food,
sneaking glances at it even as she feigned disinterest.
"You'd better get that out of here," she said. "Can't you see I'm starving?"
The plate was cold now, the last wisps of steam gone. He cut just one sliver
and dipped it in the already congealed sauce. Lukewarm, at best. "Five minutes
and this'll be cold as a hockey puck."
"I guess you're right." She paced now, making a hotseshoe around the bed. 17 Her impatience measured in heavy footfalls, in sighs of exasperation. When
Malik turned to confront her, it was like he wasn't there. He was just a screen for
the steaks, an empty chair
Finally, she sat down. Before he could object, she dumped the contents of
his plate onto her own and lifted the meat to her mouth with her hands. "You
did this to me," she said. The snow room filled with the sounds of the woman's
mastication. Sauce smeared her face in gobs. She gnawed on the bones until the
gristle came off. Tilting the plates, she slurped the sauce then cat-licked them
Little beads of perspiration had emerged on her skin. She held up the plates.
"More food," she said again. She was panting like some carnivorous animal. He
could bring her more, sure, if that's what she wanted. But at this pace she'd clean
out his freezer in a day.
"It'll take me a while. Any requests?"
"Don't cook it."
He tried inviting her in, so much easier not having to bring the food out to
her in plates, but she refused, shook her head vigorously like she was ending
an argument. At the door he turned back and she was pacing again, hands
under her belly like she held a great stone. He got a cooler this time, a gray
Rubbermaid with a white handle that locked the lid in place. In it, he dumped
cold cuts, blocks of cheddar, a wilting head of lettuce. He stuffed in a box of
ground beef patties, tilapia fillets, jalapeno poppers, frozen blueberries, a bag of
perogies, all the remaining contents of his freezer. Back in the snow room, he
lifted the lid and half-expected her to refuse. "This what you want?" But she was
already feeding, kneeling before the cooler like a pregnant penitent. She lifted
the bags out, scissored them open with her teeth, and crunched the frozen food
down. Halfway through the cooler, she started to slow, giving the cold cuts a
once-over before chewing and swallowing. "Finished?" Malik asked. The snow
woman nodded and Malik closed the cooler. "It's so hot in here," she said.
"Hot?" Beneath his parka, Malik was bone cold. It was warmer than outside
but the temperature still had to be well below freezing. It felt more like an ice
arena or the air during spring skiing, an anticipatory cold. The woman walked
over to and then opened one of the windows, letting the wind bathe her pregnant
belly. "Better," she said.
She turned and looked at the bed. Malik was suddenly self-conscious. They
had been spooning earlier in the night and he had felt himself awaken to the
presence of another body. The look, what did it imply? The woman, as she
developed, was more and more distinct from Genevieve. Her legs were storkier,
her feet and hands longer, like fine fans. She was so sculpted, too perfect, an ideal
that couldn't exist except in his mind. He approached the bed, expecting her to
beckon to him. She grasped the wrought iron at the foot of the bed and tried to
shimmy or slide it along the floor.
"Shouldn't you be taking it easy?"
"Pregnant women aren't invalids."
18 PRISM  52:1 Fair enough. Malik grasped the headboatd and together they pushed the bed
to the open window. The woman climbed up from the foot of the bed and lay
on her side with her back to Malik. She lifted her head once, a half-backwards
glance, either inviting him in or wondering why he was still there. All right then.
Malik unzipped his parka and knocked off his Sorels. His Wranglers and t-shirt
and underwear rumpled to the floor. Goddamn. He couldn't stay out here long
like this but right now he felt like his body was radiating heat. The bed was soft
and cool. The woman's body was a still question mark. Was she already asleep?
But then she shifted and flung her hair up and over her pillow from where her
body had pinned it against the bed, the hair as fine and uniform as the hair in a
shampoo commercial. He slid closer, suppressing the urge to shiver. He reached
out his hand and held it an inch above her hip. The contour, where it dipped to
her waist, was not as he remembered it, the slope not steep enough, the curve
lacking the claw-like stretch marks he used to linger on.
"What are you doing?"
He balled his open hand into a fist, retracted it. She turned her head slightly
so he could see the profile of her nose pointing up at the open window and after
a few seconds he could hear her solemn breathing. He teached out again, for a
caress, a place to put his hand. He laid his fingers on her hipbone and felt her
body stiffen.
Pain. The woman was on het feet now, her hands smoothing the stain on the
side of her hip. He had burned her, or melted het, he couldn't be sure. She was
hurt and she was pressing her hands into her snow skin. "I'm sorry, so sorry," he
said. She was limping, watching his naked body on the sheets like he was a giant
roach. He felt now the dampness in the bed, like she'd had a toddler accident
or soaked the bed with summer sweat. He teached for his rumpled clothes. She
picked up a chair and held it out like she was a lion tamer. The imprint of his
fingers on the side of her hip was deep red, pushing up ridges of skin.
"Get out of here," she said. "Out. Out!"
The next day, sick. He was frozen when he came in, his body shaking from
delirium. Soon, after hot cocoa and blankets and a scorching shower to try to
wash the shame away, he started to sniffle and felt the nodes in his esophagus
swell. Now his throat was inflamed and his breaths were pinched and catarrhal,
a cough coming on. Worse, still, was how his head was reacting. He had one of
those migraines that felt like a flint arrowhead had been lodged into his skull.
The pressure pushed on his eyes and all light and colour assumed a kind of dayglo quality. His house was carnival-bright, the beams of sun exaggerating every
mote of dust or lint.
He lay down now on the couch with a roll of toilet paper. When they'd been
a family, sickness always circulated through them one at a time. Even days when
Marie came down with some bug from school, Malik and Gen always took
turns. It was like their bodies knew they each needed to take care of the other.
He felt more than a ptoprietaty-like concern over the ice woman but now he
was sick. Would she be hungry? Should he will himself out again onto the ice?
He could leave something for her: dry cereal or frozen toast, a little conciliatory 19 breakfast. Just a knock and then leave it on the dootstep before a glimpse of his
face threw het into a rage.
But the knife in his head. Like a syringe or a vise, a stuck needle pulling
or pushing for a vein. Being sick like this always reminded Malik of college,
those cheap LSD-induced highs that infused his days with hallucinatoty clarity.
The world coming apart and then being put back together again, like he was
resequencing his DNA. Everything had this frangible quality to it. Once, pre-
Gen, he was at a Gtateful Dead concert and saw a woman sprout wings from the
nubs of her shoulder blades. She floated up and shot red rays from her eyes like
Superman, carving up the night sky in little triangles of light. They'd fallen at his
feet, all these fragments. He picked them up in his hands and accordioned them
out into a long line of paper dolls, a card trick with the cards flying from one
hand to the other. He opened his arms to the air and the pieces of sky winged
their way back up to the heavens, regrouping in many-starred constellations.
He needed sleep. Couch time, conked out with some herbal tea and some
Chopin nocturnes. The woman with her appetite would surely be up now,
pacing, ready to comb the local woods foraging for food. Judging by the size of
her belly, she should be near nine months, her body a perfect bulbous pear.
When Gen was pregnant, Marie's fetal limbs would kick the uterine wall,
bulging in lumps, sections of round hardness. Gen's belly was like a giant
dehiscent seedpod, ready to split at the seams. As far as he could tell, the ice
woman was one solid block carved from snow, not an expectant mother. Thete
would be no mewling newborn, no whoosh of liquid and blood. He had to
put her out of his mind, banished in the way of bad dreams. Better to hunker
down into the blankets, feel his pulse and breathing slow, turn up the heat, let
the humidifier crank out wet saturated air until his body started to recover. He
was near gone when he heard a long faint moan, like the lowing of a wounded
animal. He sat up, unsure. At night with Marie he always waited for the second
cry, the third, before getting out of bed. Sometimes she would calm herself down
and his footfalls to her crib merely hastened her displeasure. He was cautious. If
he went out now, he was sure his presence would disturb her. There was another
moan, this one more gravelly toward the end, like a throat churning up bile.
Another, higher pitched. And anothet.
His boots and clothes were in one inchoate pile near the sliding door. His
head felt like it was being squeezed from his forehead to his brain stem, a large
pair of callipers grasping it with ridged teeth. The sun was stronger now, slanting
through his mini-blinds and striping his naked calves. He left his bathrobe on—
no use getting cold for nothing—and pulled on his snow pants, zipped into
his parka. Still the incessant moaning. Outside, he felt the whoosh of thin air,
a cold and constriction in his lungs like he'd just had the wind knocked out of
him. A couple tentative steps on the ice and he felt his line of vision shift, and
his right leg slipped, dropping him to his hands and knees. "Ow," he said. The
ice was board hard, slippery as sealskin. But the "ow" was more for how his brain
ricocheted in his head, pain at every junctute. The moans were more insistent
now, separated by shorter pauses. Malik crawled the rest of the way to the snow
house. The door was slightly ajar and he clambered up, his feet gaining purchase
20 PRISM  52:1 on the carpeted floor.
It was still cold, pipe-freezing cold, even with the doot closed and Malik's
breaths pluming in smoke-like clouds of condensation. The woman rested het
head and arms on the poster bed, legs slightly apatt, like she was a linebacker
pushing a blocking sled against the wall. Her body blushed with an incarnadine
hue. Ice or not, the woman looked to be labouring, sounded like she was far along,
farther than Malik was prepared to accept. Hadn't it just been moments before
when he first heard her plaintive moans? Maybe it was time stretching through
his sickness, his pinched mind recalibrating to accommodate these sudden
events. He didn't know what to do. Marie's birth had been a C-section aftet forty-
eight hours of wandering the birth centre, cringing through the contractions that
rocked Genevieve's athletic body. She had prepared for the birth like she would
for a marathon and she'd made Malik participate as though he were her own
personal ttainer. They moved from position to position like adolescent lovers
trying out sex: a foot here, an arm there, pressure there, but nothing seemed to
alleviate her pain, make the birth move along mote smoothly. The midwife came
in at regular intervals, always with that look, and Gen said, "No drugs" in a way
that sounded increasing ideological. The one thing that Gen seemed to like more
than anything was for Malik to push on her lower lumbar vertebrae whenever a
contraction would hit. Gen sucked air through her teeth and she started to arch
her back and Malik fanned his hands out on either side of her spine and pushed.
The ice woman moaned again. His eyes bulged; his head ballooned with
fluid and pain. He wanted to put his hands on het now, but his memory of the
ice woman lashing out at him last night—just last night!—kept him from trying.
She began to wallop the bed, fist blows to the pillow, the mattress, the ruched up
covers. His yearning to touch her was adamant, insistent. He was the only one
within miles of frozen landscape who could possibly help. But the screaming and
the recognition that he had hurt her were enough to stop his progress into the
middle of the room. They were from different worlds, she and he, and damned
if he'd touch one inch of her hypersensitive body. He was an observer, nothing
Another cry. It statted soft, with a slow intake of breath, the woman's body
expanding like a bellows. Then a stricture of pain around her abdomen that
forced her mouth open and etupted in a loud high note, somewhere between a
scream and a belch. Malik threw his hands over his ears, lost his balance and fell
to the floor. His body felt sore all over, like his skin was a burning glove stretched
over too-large hands. He pushed up on one elbow and the ice woman's pelvis
began rocking from side to side in a slow hula. The cry diminished to a lulling
"ahhh." Relief. He was sure that she was awate of him now, a man in a parka
lying mere feet from her forked legs, but she wasn't showing any signs of it. For
all he knew, he was as innocuous a presence as a fly on the wall, just part of the
room. Or maybe not even visible at all? Pethaps she was so concentrated on the
wracking of her own body that anything else was a distraction. But he was here,
sick, listening, watching. She tensed again and Malik covered his ears.
To hell with it. He rolled over, crouched on all fours, brought one leg up
and then the next. The sound filled the room, his head, so that the air around 21 him vibrated with it. Before touching her, he took a towel from the ground, just
something from this place, something cold, for a buffer. He placed the towel on
her back, just above her coccyx, splayed both his gloved hands with his thumbs
along the ridge of her spine, and pushed.
The effect was almost instantaneous. She coughed first, a quick intake of
breath, and then the moan petered to a croon. When the contraction was over,
he moved back, waiting for a signal, and then pushed when her cries began
again. The contractions were close now, less than a minute apart, and building
in intensity. His head rang and the light in the room was a suffused amber, the
colour of sunset before the gloaming. Her back was damp, the towel soaked
through, his gloves glistening and sopping. There was a change the next time.
She stood up and shooed him away, then turned, still bent at the waist, and
reached her hand down below. The room was still but tense, as though the
snow walls and bed and framed prints hummed with electricity. She held her
breath, exhaled and inhaled as though she were diving and had just come up for
air. A lump emerged between her legs and she guided it. One push, two, and
shoulders, a totso, and legs that quickly bunched like a frog's emerged. She was
kneeling now and she pulled the baby up high on her chest and cradled it there,
fluid leaking down her still-swollen belly.
Malik had seen births before. When Gen was pregnant, they watched whole
video libraries of alternative birth: a woman with triplets giving birth at home,
vaginal breeches, water births that women claimed were orgasmic. In all the
births, there was at least someone there, an attending physician, a midwife,
or a doula. This was the first time he'd seen a woman pull the baby from her
legs like she was laying claim, like the baby was literally an extension of her
body. Hers. Seeing this here, now, brought about a birth mash-up in his brain, a
compendium of each groan, each position and setting. He and Gen sat on theit
Ikea couch in the basement, the TV flickering with these women's contorted
bodies, locks of sweaty hair clinging to faces, grimaces and smiles and Enya-Iike
background music coming over him in waves. Afterward, Gen would finger his
hand like it was a lucky rabbit's foot. "What did you think?" she asked, and he'd
say how beautiful it was, astonishing really, and she'd cuddle and nuzzle her
head into his shoulder. But inside he was thinking how the babies looked like
little gremlins and the women exhausted, spent. He mistrusted their triumph
the way he mistrusted climaxes in sports films. Nothing could be so perfect, so
transformative as the screen was telling him it should be.
The baby, he tealized, wasn't bteathing.
The ice woman held the baby away from her and looked at it. The cord still
pulsed but the baby's conical head flopped to the side, the lips in a droopy-dog
frown. He expected her to panic now. Or for snow paramedics to miraculously
appear with their child defibrillators and ventilators and stethoscopes dangling
like headphones from ears. Instead, she turned her head and embraced the child,
covering its nose and mouth with hers like a sloppy ardent lover. And breathed.
She did it twice, the child's cheeks and tiny torso inflating. The child coughed
once and emitted a cry like the squawk of a strangled chicken. Another breath
22 PRISM  52:1 and more noise and the baby pinked up. The ice woman held the child to her
body and struggled to her feet.
"Out," she said.
Months before Marie's birth, Gen said, "We need to talk about what happens if
something goes wrong."
"Nothing will go wrong," Malik said. "You're low-risk, healthy. The midwife
said to prepare for what will go right."
"I don't mean just the birth."
"What, then?"
She wouldn't say. In the kitchen, Gen turned and sliced summer squash with
gusto. They listened to the radio, Click and Clack guffawing about a squirrel
under the hood. They snapped beans, cut zucchini, added cream, tomatoes, a
farrago of vegetable goodness over pasta. "You've wasted another perfectly good
hour listening to Car Talk." Clinking utensils and the sliding of food and "Will
you pass the salt please?" breaking the silence.
That night, in bed, he asked, "What are you trying to tell me?"
Genevieve turned, the five-month-old baby a tiny muffin top, barely visible.
"You shouldn't have to ask."
"I'm asking."
She sighed. All the changes, the new accoutrements, the garage-sale crib and
pastel colours, had been so celebratory. Not this sadness. "What if one of us ends
up alone?"
After the ice woman kicked him out, Malik went to his house and lay down on
his couch and slept, only waking up in a delirium once to go to the bathroom.
When he finally pulled his parka back on it was the middle of the night. He
wanted some assurance that the baby was fine, that the mother was happy and
healthy, that there wasn't anything he needed to do. He thought: maybe a blanket,
a child's outfit, some gift as an offering to ease him back into her presence. In
Marie's old room, he slid the closet open. Dresses and toddler sweaters hung in
variegated rows. He teached in back for an 18-month jumper, the smallest he
could find. Before pulling back, he wrapped his arms around and bear-hugged
the clothes. Opened his mouth and bteathed her in.
Outside, he stood at the Ice Woman's door, expecting to see her supine body,
a nursling child by her side. But she was gone. The bed was empty, the sheets
stripped off, also missing. He could still smell the birth: the blood and amniotic
fluid and urine and sweat. A few steps and he found the source: a steak-sized
placenta with the cord almost straight out like the fleshy stem of a rose. It coated
his gloves with translucent goo. Down the driveway, out the clearing down to
County Road 33, he looked for footprints, some marring in the icy landscape,
an indication of her passing. He imagined her with the sheet over her shoulder,
wrapped around her and the infant like a great toga binding them together. But
no. The ice was hatd and solid, the wind picking up and scouring the landscape
clean. 23 Peter Hartling
Translated from the German hy Susan Thome
Nichts, was erstarren kann:
Heifi' unterm Schnee
die Sommerschritte
und die Linien des Vogelgesangs.
Unmerklich hdutet sich
die Erde.
Erst, wenn im April
aufidem See das Eis
und im Donner
durchsichtig wird,
kehrt die Erinnerung zuriick.
Ich rede mir Blaue ein
und atme sie aus.
Die Berge stiirzen
hinter den Horizont.
Es konnte sein,
das Meer steigt hoch
und schwemmt meine Kinderjahre an:
Buchstaben im Schnee,
der Abdruck einer Frauenhand
und eine Mutze,
sehr klein und hart
vom Frost.
Nothing that can freeze:
hot under the snow
the steps of summer
and the routes of birdsong.
Earth sheds its skin.
Not until April
when ice on the lake
tears apart
and grows translucent
in the thunder
will memory return.
I make myself believe in blueness
and breathe it all out.
Mountains plummet
behind the horizon.
the sea will rise high up
and inundate my childhood years:
letters in the snow,
the imptint of a woman's hand
and a cap,
quite small and hard
from frost.
25 III.
Immer schneit es,
wenn Krieg ist.
Soldaten schwimmen unterm
das Gesicht zum Grund.
Eine Stimme rufit
und will mich
Wer kann fliehn vor wem?
Wenfrifit die Lawine?
Im Schnee wirst du
bis zum ndchsten Krieg.
Ich sehe ihn, den Hut,
den Hut im Schnee,
und weifi, wie er lag,
ein Dichter, mein Dichter,
endlich nach allem Schlafi
unter den Wortern,
die schneien -
dieses eine Bild
in meinem Wintergeddchtnis:
wie Gluck friert.
eingefroren in ihr Mdrchen
den sieben Spiegeln.
Wenn es taut,
nach meiner Zeit,
kehrt es zuriick
als Ophelia.
26 PRISM  52:1 III.
It always snows
when there's a war.
Soldiers are swimming under
the ice,
facing the bottom.
A voice calls
and wants
to choke me.
Who can flee from whom?
Who is devoured by avalanches?
You will sleep
in the snow
until the next war.
I see it, the hat,
the hat in the snow,
and know how he lay,
a poet, my poet,
finally after all sleep
under the words
that are snowing -
this single image
in my winter memory:
how happiness freezes.
Snow White
frozen in her fairy tale
the seven mirrors.
When she thaws
long after my time,
she will return
as Ophelia.
Ich bau dir ein Zimmer,
sag ich, es schwimmt
aufdem See, es hdngt
zwischen Asten im Baum,
es nimmt seine Wdnde
nicht ernst, es wird
weit, es wird eng.
Ich bau dir ein Zimmer,
sag ich, fur alle
Jahreszeiten, einen Teppich
aus Schnee, und den
Sommer in der Tapete,
die Wiese unterm Tisch,
Weinlaub an der Tiir.
Ich bau dir ein Zimmer,
sag ich, es ist unsre
Wiege und es ist
unser Sarg. Ein Zimmer,
sag ich, aus Nichts
und aus allem.  So haltbar
wie dieses Gedicht,
das du bewohnst.
I'm building you a room,
I say, that will swim
on the lake, hang between branches
in a ttee,
not taking its walls too
setiously:  first growing wide,
then narrowing.
I'm building you a room,
I say, to span
the seasons: a catpet
of snow, and summer
in the wallpaper;  a meadow
beneath the table,
a grapevine at the door.
I'm building you a room,
I say, to be our cradle
and our coffin. A room,
I say, made of nothing
and everything.
As enduring
as this poem,
which you inhabit. 29 Sam Shelstad
X hings differenr in New Ice Kingdom, but things also same. Things same:
snow, water, ice, ice holes. Spend most of time at ice holes. Sun comes duting day
as always, then go away at night. Things different: nor as many polar bears—just
me. That means no Bud, Bud being my son. Miss Bud. Not so much miss others.
Also different: not good at killing seal. Before, was good at killing seal.
To kill seal, first find ice hole. Wait by ice hole, possibly fot long time. When
seal comes up for air, there is smell of seal's bteath. When smell seal's breath in
hole, teach down and kill seal by biting head. If still flopping, bash with paw.
When seal dead from head bite/bashing, drag to nice spot, eat. Or, if not hungry,
bury in secret spot for later.
As said, was very good at this in Old Ice Kingdom. Ate lots of seal, gave seal
bits to son, Bud. Also gave seal bits to other, less-good seal killers like Maury,
who is kind of mooch. Now, since come to New Ice Kingdom, not so good at
killing seal. Hesitate. New Ice Kingdom has ice holes and seals, seals swim up
to ice holes for air; all this normal. But when smell seal breath now, not quick.
Hesitate. Seal go back down.
Last meal? Long time ago; sun come and go away one hundred times or
more. So, hungry.
Today, maybe good day. Optimistic. Find ice hole, lay down. Wait at ice
hole. No seal bteath. Wait long time, then go away. Find new ice hole.
At new ice hole, lay down. Wait at ice hole. Wait very long time, and when
about to go away: seal breath. Hesitate. Seal go back down.
Later, Sun go away. While Sun going away, thank Sun for day. Even though
not good day—no catch seal. But not Sun's fault. Maybe tomorrow better. Dig
small pit in ice, sleep.
Today, meet friend. No friends in New Ice Kingdom until now. Was at ice hole,
waiting for seal breath. Waited long time, then smelled seal breath. Hesitated.
Seal go back down. Then, heard noise. Turned around, saw fox. Thought was
Bud at first—same size, colour—but not Bud. Fox.
Fox looked hungry—wanted seal bits? But no seal, so walked away. Would
have given fox seal bits, because fox friend, but no seal. So fox go away.
Later, go to different ice hole. Lay down, wait. No seal bteath. Wait long
time, no seal breath. See fox in distance, waiting for seal bits, but no seal. Fox go
Decide to spy on Old Ice Kingdom. Have to be sneaky, because of Maury.
Walk long time, see Old Ice Kingdom across water. Big swim from New Ice
Kingdom to Old Ice Kingdom; water gap good boundaty. Hide behind snow
30 PRISM  52:1 pile near shore, look at Old Ice Kingdom. See Bud. Bud with Maury. Bud
Maury's son now? No, Bud still my son. Miss Bud. Not so much miss Maury.
Hear noise, look back—fox. Fox followed. Fox good, fox friend. Maybe
thinking: seal bits? But not killing seal now; spying on son and Maury. Good
team, me and fox. Sidekicks. Will call fox "Foxy," go on adventutes, kill seal and
give Foxy seal bits. Foxy and Beat.
Fall asleep on snow pile. Wake up, Bud gone. Maury gone. Foxy gone. Go
back to New Ice Kingdom.
Hungry. Tired.
Sun go away. Thank Sun for day. Thank Sun for Foxy. Today good day
because have new friend. Also bad day because no seal. Dig small pit in ice, sleep.
Adventute for Foxy and Bear today:
After Sun comes, go to ice hole, wait. Wait long time, smell seal breath.
Hesitate. Seal go back down. Hear noise, see Foxy. No seal bits, sorry. But still
friends. Decide to look for different ice hole, maybe better luck. Walk for long
time, see thing in distance. Maybe seal? Sometimes seal sits on ice, rests. This
Sneak up on seal behind snow drift, Foxy following. Get close, quietly peer
over drift at seal, ready to attack. But, not seal. Not look like seal, not smell like
seal. Get closet: shit. Own shit from different day. While walking away to find
ice hole, see Foxy go over to shit pile. Foxy eats part of shit. Good adventure.
After that, at ice hole waiting for seal breath, thinking of Bud. Miss Bud.
Bud miss me? Not know.
Miss own dad. Dad was good dad. Showed how to wait by ice hole, kill seal.
Remembet Dad giving water rides. Would hold onto Dad's neck/back, then Dad
would swim around in watet between Old Ice Kingdom and New Ice Kingdom.
Didn't go to New Ice Kingdom, though, because Dad made frowny face and
pointed paw at New Ice Kingdom, meaning: There not good. Old Ice Kingdom
good. Though, now that in New Ice Kingdom? Not so bad. Except for hungry.
Not good at killing seal in New Ice Kingdom.
Want Bud back, but Bud maybe not want back. Because messed up. Did bad
thing, now Bud not happy. Wish own dad hete so could show about being better
dad for son. But Dad not here, so have to be bettet dad on own.
While thinking of Bud and own dad, smell seal breath. Hesitate. Seal go
back down.
Sun go away. Thank Sun for day, thank Sun for Foxy. Dig small pit in ice,
Today, desperate. Hungry. Almost did bad thing.
When sun came, went to ice hole. Foxy in distance, waiting for seal bits.
Waited, smelled seal breath, hesitated. Seal go back down.
Went to secret spot, dug up secret thing. This not good. Should not dig up
secret thing. But hungry, so did. Secret thing still there, buried deep in snow. Still
same as was: bite marks on head, but othetwise good condition. Very hungry, 31 but want to be good dad to Bud, so put back. This very hard to do, because of
hungry, but did. Own dad was good dad; even though not here, taught me to be
good dad, so did not eat sectet thing. Put secret thing back in secret spot, went
to ice hole.
Wait at ice hole, no seal breath. Foxy watch, then go away.
Sun go away. Thank Sun for day, thank Sun for Foxy, thank Sun for Dad
who taught to be good and not eat secret thing. Dig small pit, sleep.
Today not good day. Hungry. Do not leave pit. Should probably go to ice hole
with Foxy, but tired. Sun looking down like, "Why still in pit? Why not go to
ice hole and try again?" But still not get up.
In pit, thinking of Old Ice Kingdom. Miss Old Ice Kingdom. Miss Bud.
Remember being cub, Bud's age, playing ice hole game. So much fun, when
cub. Would go with friend, find two ice holes near each other. Would dive into
first ice hole, swim in water under ice until come out of second ice hole. Scary,
because if couldn't find other ice hole. But always did, because smart. Learned
ice hole game from Dad. Dad was good dad. Later, taught ice hole game to Bud,
so good dad as well. Except ice hole game, though fun game, how bad thing
happened. So maybe not good dad now?
Thinking about bad thing, feel bad for Maury. Although feel bad for self—
because miss Bud—at least Bud still here. Maury's son not here. Because of bad
Remember was waiting by ice hole in Old Ice Kingdom. This was before,
when good at killing seal. Bud nearby, playing ice hole game with Maury's
son. Bud and Maury's son best friends. Was waiting, then heard noise in ice
hole, smelled breath. Did not hesitate. Reached down with paw, grabbed what
thought was seal, bit head.
Not seal.
Thought was Bud for moment, very scary, but not Bud. Thank Sun. But, was
Maury's son. Not good. Bud runs over, sees best friend with blood on head. Sees
Dad with blood on mouth. Bud cry. This very bad. Bud runs off—scared of own
dad? Not chase after. When Maury find out son dead, maybe Maury try and kill
one who bites son's head. So, take Maury's son in mouth, run away. Swim across
to New Ice Kingdom, bury Maury's son in secret spot. Not good dad like own
Sun go away. Thank Sun for day, even though whole day in pit. Hungry. Bad
Today good? Today bad? Hard to say.
Today good because when Sun comes, leave pit, make decision. Go over
options: Since not good at killing seal in New Ice Kingdom, will die if stay in
New Ice Kingdom. Because hungry. And since killed Maury's son with head
bite, will die if go to Old Ice Kingdom. Because maybe Maury want revenge. So,
stay in New Ice Kingdom and go to Old Ice Kingdom are same thing. Will die.
But, come up with plan: if go to Old Ice Kingdom, can bring secret thing.
Dig up Mauty's son from secret spot, bring to Old Ice Kingdom, then Maury
32 PRISM  52:1 and Bud see: he dying because hungry, but he not eat Maury's son. Even though
hungty, even though dying. Still not eat. So he good, he accident, he sorry.
Maybe everything good?
Today bad because when go to secret spot, secret thing already dug up. See
Foxy eating secret thing not far from secret spot. Angry. Chase Foxy. Foxy fast,
but Foxy stop to throw up and then catch Foxy. Snap neck. Snap neck of only
No Foxy and Bear. Just Bear. Today bad.
But, today good again because of new plan: even though hungry, not eat
Foxy. Good decision. Foxy not Maury's son, but can still bring Foxy to Bud and
Maury. Bring Foxy and show how did not eat thing that ate Maury's son. Even
though hungry, even though dying. Plus killed thing that ate Mauty's son. So he
good. Can come back to Old Ice Kingdom, be with Bud. Miss Bud.
Hopefully, after Maury and Bud see dead Foxy, they let eat Foxy. Because
hungry. But maybe should not eat friend, even though mad at friend for ruining
first plan.
Walk long time, see Old Ice Kingdom on other side of water. Tired because
hungry, but jump in water anyways. Make halfway across and drop Foxy. Foxy
sink. Dive down because need Foxy for plan, but can't find. Also, can't find watet
surface. Plan not going well. Feels like Sun go away, even though Sun still there.
Tired. Thank Sun for day, even though day not ovet. Where is Foxy. Close eyes,
even though not in pit. In water. Not good.
Wake up: having water ride on Dad's back! Best feeling. Favourite thing in world
is water ride on Dad's back. Then remember: Dad gone. So, not Dad. Someone
Sniff neck fur: Maury. Having water ride on Maury's back. Confused.
Remember swimming to Old Ice Kingdom. Remember dropping Foxy. Was
drowning. Means Maury saw drowning, came to rescue. So Maury not want to
kill? Because if want to kill, why rescue? So Maury forgive. This very good.
Holding on to Maury's neck/back, see Old Ice Kingdom shore. See Bud on
shore. Maury swimming towards Bud. Bud not scared, because not running
away. This very good. Maybe get to live in Old Ice Kingdom again, where good
at killing seal. Where get to be with Bud. Will take Bud for water rides, which is
fun for Bud—has good dad like own dad.
As ride to shore, thank Sun, but then remember Foxy. Foxy have son? Not
know. Feel bad about Foxy. Best friend, now in boundaty water.
Go back for Foxy later? Will go back for Foxy later. Will bury Foxy in secret
spot, not dig up. Good plan. Thank Sun for plan. Thank Sun for Bud. Bud
getting closer. Almost there. 33 Leonard Neufeldt
Either the wind or some animal's
distress. Even if one knew,
what difference would it make except to remind you
that too much knowing is earthbound,
that winter has come to live with you like a son
newly divorced, his life spread out in every room?
Numbness buoys you, but you still feel
the anger. It's here, you tell yourself,
relief from the damn night, although
you always chose your words more carefully
in your writings and with students,
"a style sweet as honey on the lips," they said,
"like Solon's lyrical verse but more eloquent,"
and less edgy than Socrates, the voices
rinsed free of bitterness like grape leaves
picked in the morning for the evening meal.
Nonetheless, no matter how innocent,
how slight, your errors may just tuin
everything you meant
Strips of clouds hang heavy between
the window shuttets open as always,
and you hear the rain begin with an equilibrium
of soft sound. When the night maid leaves
and the young man arrives for the usual dictation,
he will bring more food and wine
and stronger medication for the night,
and he will ask again whether there is feeling
on the right side. Because he loves his ways
more than wisdom you will try to explain
yet again that any feeling on any side is for
the unfinished Dialogue, and you will search
for words he understands. Your voice
will be Socrates's asking if what is real
in a poem or politics or the wind-hatp's wild hum
comes from this wotld moving in on all sides,
flush with feeling, comfortless
as your good side
That is what you fear
more than dying
34 PRISM  52:1 A. Whitfield
I sit up, startled.
The CO stands in front of the cell, his baton resting on the bats. "They want
you in the lobby... now!"
I ease a warm, naked foot from under the covets and place it on the cold
terrazzo floor.
"Hey," he says, "Better get a move on."
I look up. His eyes are dull and red and sore. His nose is covered in spidery
purple veins. He curls a wafer-thin lip exposing a row of misaligned teeth, then
evaporates into the morning.
My cell is on the third floor of honor block, a unit reserved for the bettet-
behaved among us. The planners and builders of Attica never thought to include
an honor block. In 1932, no one thought that men whose deeds watranted
caging might deserve better cages. The remodeling and conversion occurred after
the '71 riot. Somebody finally realized that even the bad sometimes need to
escape the worst.
I was admitted so recently to the block that I haven't even unpacked my
underwear and razor, and already my stay is in jeopardy. The day prior to my
admission I received a minor institutional infraction that resulted in the loss
of my job in the mess hall (I tefused ro serve a pan of chicken that had been
dropped on the floor). I've had many jobs during my long incarceration: license
plate maker, dishwasher, painter, janitor. All menial. All boring. None that I
regretted losing, until now. An inmate must maintain a job or participate in an
educational program to remain in honor block, so I feel compelled to accept the
first job offer that comes my way: yard porter.
The honor block is very different from the othet blocks in Attica. It offers
a lot of freedom of movement whereas in general population an inmate stays
locked in his cell much of the day. An inmate in honor block has opportunities
to cook, use the telephone, play cards, or watch colour television in the dayroom.
For many like myself, convicts who have been doing "hard time" for most of
their bids, it's a real boon just to have access to running hot water and daily
Working as a yard portet will be okay as long as it keeps me in the honor
The yard porter is responsible for the maintenance of the honor block
recreation yard and rhe vocational building's evacuation yard directly opposite
it. Although I've walked the corridor separating the two yards many times, I've 35 never actually seen the evacuation yard. Like many windows in the prison, those
in the corridor are painted over with a thick layer of enamel. It creates a dark,
ominous atmosphere and prevents prisoners from gazing in or out.
For three dollars a week I am expected to keep both yards free of trash, their
walks and steps free of snow.
As the gate rattles open I gulp down the cool remains of a cup of instant
coffee. It tastes more bitter than usual. Grabbing my coat and cap, I trudge down
the company towards the stairs, passing cell after cell and the rhythmic breathing
of sleeping men.
"Hey," whispers a voice. I stop. "You might need this." I reach for the crimson
scarf, dangling in the murky light.
"Now get the hell outa hete, it's freezin'." I watch as both head and hand
slip turtle-like back under the covers. At the bottom of the stairs, I pause in the
doorway waiting to be acknowledged by one of the lobby officers. One of the
first lessons I learned after arriving at Attica is never to enter or exit an area of
the prison without first receiving permission. In Attica, bright yellow lines on
the concrete floot signal to prisoners where they must halt and await petmission
before continuing. You don't want to cross these lines.
The steam pipes hiss and sing above my head and I begin to sweat in the
tight-fitting thermals.
"Report to Officer Kinski," commands an obese CO sitting toadlike behind
a stack of pancakes and sausages. As I pass the desk I inhale the sweet aroma of
maple syrup and fresh-brewed coffee. It reminds me that I should have placed
my name on the morning chow list. And for a moment I consider asking if I can
be added, but then the CO lets out a belch: "What, you waitin' for me to say,
excuse me?" He jerks his head in the direction he wants me to go and teaches for
another link.
Crossing the lobby to Officer Kinski's post, I wrap the borrowed scarf around
my neck, zip my coat, and pull my brown knit cap down tightly over my head,
making sure it covers my ears. I notice a new red-handled snow shovel propped
against the wall by the evacuation yard door. After slipping my hands into a
pair of new Thinsulate gloves—a recent gift from home—I reach for it. It feels
strange, unfamiliar. Born and raised in Virginia Beach, I've seldom experienced
any snowfall, and certainly none remotely comparable to western New York's.
The hall-captain, so called because he's the ranking officer in the block,
approaches me as I wait for CO Kinski to finish his plate of pancakes. Most
guards and a few inmates call him Mac, but his name is MacCIeary, an old Irish
drinker and brawler. He greets me with a solid punch to my upper arm.
"I got you this job, so don't let me down," he says.
Wrinkling his brow, he raises his fist, and I give an exaggerated flinch. He
chuckles and slaps my shoulder with an open hand.
"See me when you get done and I'll get you a cup of coffee and a couple of
This draws some cold stares from the guards gathered in the lobby. Shovel in
hand, I wait. A cold draft creeps in under the door. With his sticky fingers CO
Kinski fumbles thtough the ring of large brass keys. I stare through the lone,
36 PRISM  52:1 slush-encrusted pane and watch a whirling snow devil spin wildly across the
powdeted landscape. I'm overcome with childish wonderment and I almost say,
"Wow, look at that!" But one glance over my shoulder at the faces staring back
at me from the lobby and I'm glad I didn't.
I step outside. My boots disappear into a drift. The wet cold of melting snow
penetrates my socks. The door closes behind me. Its thunderous boom powders
my cap and shoulders with a flurry of snow from the ledge above.
I stand motionless, ignoring the cold biting at my ankles. I listen. I can't
recall the last time I experienced such quiet. I've lived in the din of angry, hating,
screaming men for the past twenty-something years. I am unaccustomed to
silence. I look about. All is still and white but for the sparrows perched in the
leafless, snow-covered branches of an overgrown lilac.
Reluctantly, I press the black blade of the shovel into the snow and push.
It makes a tinny, grating sound against the concrete steps. The little brown and
gray mottled birds take flight.
Not long after I begin my shoveling I realize I have underestimated the tenacity
of the snow. Yeats and yeats of pumping iron in the joint should have better
prepared me. A novice at snow removal, I load as much onto the shovel as possible
and toss it over my shoulder, creating my own blizzatd. The sweat rolling down my
face mixes with my breath and forms a salty matting of icicles on my mustache and
beard. My arms begin to ache. My mouth becomes dry. Pain and stiffness unlike
any I've ever experienced spread thtoughout my lower back. I continue. Mouth
agape, chest heaving, and head pounding.
I've cleared very little snow and feel near exhaustion befote I realize that all
I need to do is push the snow from the steps. After a brief rest, during which I
lean on the shovel and hungrily breathe in the sweet, crisp air, I easily clear the
remaining snow. The quiet and the sparrows retutn. They look on as I speckle
the frosted walk and steps with salt.
I sit on the cleared stoop. Tired, but not weary. It's like an athlete's exhaustion.
The sun is bright and warm on my face. It radiates all around me, carving frosty
shadows of loose papers and Stytofoam cups that dance and play in the bteeze
across what seems like an endless plain. Like glassy appointments to the building's
shadowed facades, giant icicles hang in uniform display. Even the sharpened coils
of the perimeter fence ate lost in a clinging white mantle.
I begin to imagine what this yard might look like in the blush of spring.
Gazing at the craggy, twisted limbs of an aged bush, I wondet what lies beneath
its snow-covered bed. Who planted this old lilac? Was it a bird's dropping, or
could it be a memorial, some long-forgotten con's attempt to venerate this place?
I wonder how many prisoners have stood where I am standing, over how many
winters, feeling the same emotions, thinking the same thoughts.
"Cold yet?" Asks CO Kinski as he inspects the steps.
From the lobby I hear a CO scream, "Shut the damned door!" Brushing
away loose flakes from my cap and coat, I step inside. Only then do I feel a bone-
chilling cold.
As the door bangs shut, hot, stagnant air rushes into my lungs; I can smell 37 smoked pork and stale cigarettes. Behind me the rattle of the turning key echoes
down the vacant corridor.
Before entering the lobby, I remove my cap and gloves. Any forgetfulness,
like not removing one's hat or gloves, gives the COs an opportunity to unleash a
litany of invectives. Loosening my scarf I move slowly, deliberately, scanning for
Mac. I don't see him. The same four guards remain in the lobby, folded into soft-
cushioned chairs, legs crossed and extended, feet resting on the desks, their faces
hidden behind newspapers. One's huge head lolls to the side, eyes closed and
mouth gaping, emitting an occasional snort and sputter. I pass quietly, pausing
at the entrance to the stairs. I steal a quick look at the coffee pot. Empty. I am
If thete were any fresh coffee, I might be tempted enough to ask for some.
And disturbing a sleeping CO, or one that's reading: that's asking for it.
I reach for the handrail and pull myself onto the gray stairs. Above, the door
to the third-floor dayroom flies open and a blurry form scrambles out. The door
is left ajar, allowing raucous chatter and blaring television to flood the narrow
Ducking inside the dayroom, intent on making a dash for my cell, I find my
way barred by a group of inmates waiting for the rec yard to open. They are in
the middle of the Sunday afternoon football argument. "Motherfuck" this and
"Motherfuck" that. I want to scream, "Why don't ya'll shut the fuck up?"
Unnoticed, or ignored, I move through the crowd, just another green-clad
figure. The shift has changed and a new company officer is posted in front of
his television. Steam billows from the company showers. Groups of prisoners
gather around the cooking stations, slicing onions and stirring boiling pots. The
sharp smell of cilantro petmeates the air. Others are milling about, shouting
conversations with those cleaning their cells. Radios and tape players are blasting,
adding a street corner quality to the scene. I stop.
"Hey, here's your scarf. And thanks."
"Keep it. You'll need it again before long," says the first cheerful face I've
seen all day. Ironic, we don't even know one another. Old cons have simpatico,
something unknown to the new generation of prisoners.
Finally, in the telative warmth and quiet of my cell, I sit and stare through
the bars and into the bank of little glass squares. Towering, cauliflower-like
clouds chase the sun across a cobalt sky. A wisp of steam escapes the spout of
my hot pot. I open the jar of Folgers, spoon a measure into my cup, and add the
boiling water.
There are times when I gaze about the yard and recall that wintry day five years
ago when I first was sent out here to shovel snow. I'm always amazed by the
transformation—not only by the changes I've made to the yard, but also by the
changes it's worked on me.
Briefly I watch a bumblebee move from flower to flower, sampling first a
purple cone flower, then a shasta daisy, then over to the monatda. She eschews
38 PRISM  52:1 the nectar, dedicating herself to the collection of pollen, passing it from forelegs
to rear, where the fine, powdery yellow grains are packed onto great saddlebags
for the tetutn to the hive. The bee is a ttue socialist—nothing matters but the
survival of the hive.
This yard has not always been a place of peace and beauty. In '71, it was used
as one of the staging areas for state police and prison guards preparing to retake
the prison. Where there are now rose bushes and apple trees, lilacs and iris, candy
tuft and lilies, once lay the boot prints of vengeful men, driven to a religious
fervor by fabricated stories of atrocities committed against hostages.
The linear brick and iron edifice of D-block's cell-house extends along the
entire length of this narrow yard. In winter months it casts its long shadow
ovet much of the garden. The roof, where the sparrows nest and a pair of crows
frequently perch to heckle me with their crackling laughter, once served as the
parapet from which a collection of New Yotk State Police and prison guards fired
rifles and shotguns into the mass of prisoners and hostages gathered in D-block
yard. The governor had ordered that no ptison guards were to be patt of the
attack, but a small numbet armed with their own hunting rifles took part in
the slaughter. Explicit orders were given that only those inmates located on the
catwalks wete to be fired upon, but once the carnage got underway, the officers
fired on everyone in the yard indiscriminately. The massacre ended the four-day
standoff and established Attica's reputation as one of the most brutal prisons in
It's only 10:30. I have almost an hour to complete my circuit of the beds.
I'm headed towatds three apple ttees. Each is surrounded by a small round bed
of white, pale blue, or dark purple German bearded irises. It has taken me four
years to segregate these thtee beds by colout. There ate three more identical beds
in this line, but with a rose rather than an apple in the center. One bed has a
white and purple bi-coloured iris variety, but the other two beds have withstood
my best efforts to isolate a single colour variety in each. The more than fifteen
flowering beds contain hundreds of irises, and when in bloom they infuse the
entite yard with their fragrance. Some say the scent reminds them of vanilla,
some say citrus, and others describe it as spicy.
Once this kid pulled up on me, and said in a not too pleasant tone, "What's
the smell out in that yard?"
"Iris," I said, "Why?"
"At night, like aftet it rains, the smell fills the whole company and keeps me
from having to smell these motherfuckers."
"I'm glad," I said, meaning it and relieved that my iris's smell wasn't going to
get me punched in the eye.
The next spring I move a section of the old lilac from the evacuation yatd to
the honor block yard to replace one that was uprooted and destroyed when new
sewer pipes were installed. The lilac that was uprooted had served as a backdrop
for prisoners' photographs taken during the spring and summer months. I asked 39 and received permission from the block sergeant prior to moving the bush.
It takes me and another con all day to dig up a section for transplanting,
muscle it across the corridor, and get it planted in the honor block yard. For
weeks it thrives in its new location. But then a few inmates come to me with
concerns that the foliage is yellowing and dropping off. I tell them to water it
more often, but it does no good. I take a look and notice that the trunk has
been chewed or clawed at the base. Because groundhogs and skunks are prolific
within the walls of the prison I assume one of them has attacked the bush. I get
down on my hands and knees. After brushing away some dried leaves and dirt, I
recognize hammer marks all along the trunk's base, and soon discover the heads
of several copper nails pounded deeply into the wood. I can't believe it. Who the
fuck... who could have driven nails into the bush? For what reason?
I ask Mac if he knows anything about it, and he seems as surprised as I, even
coming to the yard and taking a look for himself. A few days later Mac pulls
me aside and, in confidence, tells me that he learned CO Schultz is responsible.
Schultz said the bush was an obstruction and that no one had asked his permission
to move another bush into the yard. He brought the hammer and nails from home,
knowing that when the copper reacted with the sap it would turn into copper
sulfate, an acidic salt that kills trees and shrubs. Day after day I look on as the
beautiful lilac withers and dies. I would gladly move it back to its original spot. But
that wouldn't provide the satisfaction this hack is seeking.
It makes me recall the actions of those guatds who snuck back into the
institution in '71 with their own rifles and took their places on the wall with
the State Troopers. As they fixed their scopes on the unarmed men in that yard
and pulled the triggers, what type of satisfaction did they receive? The anger I
feel comes less from compassion for the tree, or from bitterness for my wasted
labor in moving it, but from a feeling of helplessness. Mac urges me to let it go.
I want to make this hack accountable, to go to the block sergeant from whom
I'd received permission to move the bush, but this would only put my life in as
much danger as the lilac's. And it would still be dead.
On the street, as we say of the time before incarceration, I was an outlaw biker,
an enforcer, a tattooist, a drug dealer, a criminal—but nevet a gardener. I never
cut my own lawn. I never even bought flowers for my wife. As a matter of fact, I
hated gardening as a boy. I lived with my parents in a middle-class neighborhood
where the houses were all constructed on one or two tanch models. It was left to
the individual owners to differentiate theit homes. Some did it with garish paint
schemes, some with fencing and statuary, and almost all with trees, shrubbery,
and flowering plants. My parents planted azaleas, and by the time I was an
adolescent they had grown into a hedge that encompassed the entire front of
the house. You would have thought they planted crabgrass at the same time.
The hot, humid days that Virginia Beach is known for are perfect for going
swimming, or playing a game of ball, or tramping through the woods with the
guys, but I would be seized by one of my parents and forced to spend my day
40 PRISM  52:1 in a weed-infested azalea bed. I quickly learned to hate weeds and azaleas and
eventually all botanicals. Though I garden now with a passion, I have never
developed an affinity for azaleas.
The smell of freshly mown grass is buoyed across the yard by a cool summer
breeze. When the wind rustles through the apple trees it exposes the pale
undersides of their leaves, carrying me back to my childhood and the silver
maple that stood outside the den of our house. When my younger brothets or I
misbehaved my mother would make the errant son go to the tree and pull two
switches from its limbs. Now that I reflect on it, it seems so cruel, making a child
fashion his own scourge. We knew we'd better not return with unacceptably small
switches ot mother would retrieve her own, which looked as big as buggy whips.
I didn't get a lot of switchings, but those that I did get are memorable. I
vividly remember the red welts, topped with fine silvery-green powder. Mother
aimed for the backs of naked legs and woe to the willful child who attempted to
block the blows with his arms and hands. Mother is a large woman, and seemed
even larger those forty-some years ago, and an accomplished switcher. She would
gather both of our arms under the vise-like grip of one of hers, and then go to
town on our legs, always reciting the mantra, "Are you going to do it again?"
Dancing to the music of the switch, we would sing out the same refrain with
each sting: "No ma'am! No ma'am! No ma'am!"
Some of the side shoots on these apple trees would make for switches to her
I realize that I probably caught a glimpse of this very spot almost forty years
ago. I came running in from school or play to find my parents in our den,
standing in front of the colour television my dad had won in a raffle at his fire
station. They were watching a building burn. At first I thought it was more
footage of Vietnam. (Mothet always watched closely to see if she could identify
my cousin.) She asked my father if that was the prison near his hometown in
northern Pennsylvania. "No, that's the boy's prison in Elmira. This one is closer
to Niagara Falls." That was 1971. The burning prison was Attica. I watched the
helicoptet view briefly and then went back outside.
I escape into the garden. It sometimes leads me back thtough the tunnel of
time, to an underappreciated childhood. But more often than not, it carries me
to that imaginary future, somewhere in Virginia, in that imaginary place that's
my home, my yard, my garden. Sometimes I'm building a small greenhouse
in my parents' backyard—sometimes I'm redesigning and landscaping the
flowetbeds of my brother's newly purchased home. My grandchildren dance in
the dewy grass nearby, asking me how the flowers feed the bees. I'm convinced
I'll have a garden of my own when I go home—always when I go home. But
with a life sentence, it's more if than when.
These are my proving grounds—it's here that I'll correct my mistakes, pet feet
my cultivation techniques. I'm working to atone for my mistakes, wotking to
cottect my behavior, planning to re-enter society able to flourish, to grow.
The garden is not a place whete I delve into the mysteties of why I committed
the crimes that led me here, or how I allowed myself to stray so far from the moral
pathway that my parents placed me on. Those questions, seemingly telentless 41 and unanswerable enigmas, occupy the time when I'm not in the garden. That
time and those thoughts are among the realities that I come to the garden to
The unmistakable tapping of the CO's baton on the door pulls me from my
musing. I gather my tools and prepare to leave my sanctuary, to move back into
the small expanse of crowded humanity, back into my own crowded mind, back
into the inescapable guilt, frustration, loneliness, anger, and despair that's Attica.
Over the years I've developed an intimacy with the garden that's difficult to
explain. The whole yard has a soul, and a portion of it is my soul. I think that
only those who have experienced it can understand. Much like prison.
During the time I've been in Attica I've earned two college degrees and
completed many therapeutic programs, but my greatest learning experiences
have come in this yard. I've learned things out here that can't be taught by books
or in classrooms.
Few visitors ever venture into the gatden without asking a host of questions.
I found this discomforting at first. I've learned to cope. Some of my uneasiness
results from the shame and guilt a prisoner must own. And I've lost the language
of free people. Prison has a language of its own. Convicts become inured. It's
how we learn to communicate experiences uniquely ours.
One of the questions I'm often asked is, "Did you do this before you came to
prison?" Some ask from curiosity; some to break tension. But others, I believe,
ask with a hopeful anticipation that I'll answer "No." They seek assurance that
there is some rehabilitative value to the garden and my efforts in it, that beyond
its appeal to the senses it holds some transforming power to relieve the suffering,
remove the criminality, redirect the lost soul. Or maybe these are the reassurances
I seek.
As much as I enjoy gardening, the quiet, the fresh air, the solitude, much
of my pleasute is derived from walking about the beds with a welcomed visitor,
answering questions, accepting praise and appreciation. I've come to tealize that
during these times my humanity is restoted. The us/them evaporates, and it's just
a couple of people breathing the same fragrant air.
Occasionally I'll catch that look, that quizzical expression of cognitive
dissonance. This convict, the bearded, tattooed, behemoth with the shaved head,
who looks so dangerous, so irredeemable, is talking about his fall crocus, his rose
bushes, his apple trees. They're unsettled. I just don't fit their schemas of what a
convict should be.
An explosion of rapid gunfire reverberates within the forty-foot concrete
walls surrounding the prison, halting my mowing, ending my reflections. Thete's
a firing range just outside the prison. How close, I don't know, but in such
proximity that it gives the unwary a start when the volleys begin.
Listening, I think about what the explosion of gunfire must have sounded
like on that September morning over forty years ago. The scene of "The Turkey
Shoot" is less than fifty feet from where I stand. As the firing continues, enveloping
42 PRISM  52:1 me in thundetous echoes, I imagine what it must have been like standing in that
D-Block yard, looking up to those uniformed men covering the walls and roof.
How terrifying it must have been to look into the face of your murderer as he
trained his rifle on you, lined you up in the crosshairs, and pulled the trigger. It
makes me consider how my victim must have felt. Damp grass has collected on
the wheels and blades of the mowet, making it difficult to push. As I'm freeing it
of its grassy mat, the echoes fade, and my thoughts return to the gatden.
"I don't have allergies."
More a plea than a statement.
The nurse looks at me across the desk, her hazel eyes and pursed lips fixed
on me with a stern, reproving glare. "With the exception of the diarrhea, your
symptoms would indicate you do have an allergy. You know," she continues, her
look now softened, "people develop allergies as they age. I did. I'll put you in to
see the doctor." She begins writing in my file. "Next."
For more than three weeks I've been expetiencing a constant sore throat,
burning eyes, and a runny nose. The diarrhea came and went. These symptoms
are most severe after I spend the day in the garden. I can't imagine anything wotse
than being allergic to my flowers. Another con suggests I try Benadryl. It knocks
me out for about thtee hours, but has no noticeable effect on my symptoms.
I am more concerned with problems in the gatden than with a runny nose.
Since I've returned to my daily work in the yard I've discovered what I believe to
be a fungus, bacteria, or insect attacking the plants. Flowers are withering and
foliage is becoming discoloured and falling off. I'm not having any luck finding
out why. I go from cover to cover in the Burpee's Complete Guide to Gardening.
I don't find any malady that resembles what is affecting my plants. Visitors can
only commiserate.
With every passing day the crisis takes on greater urgency. Even if I can
discover the cause of the problem, I have no access to pesticides or anti-fungals.
The COs that I've gone to in the past fot such things—I once had to combat
an infestation of flea beetle—have retired. I recall an episode of PBS's "Victory
Garden" in which a concoction of vegetable oil, dish soap, and water is sprayed
on some plants to rid them of whitefly. I try it. Nothing. Each morning I just
stand helplessly in the midst of the dying plants. One motning I'm met at the
bottom of the stairs by the yard officer.
"Follow me," he says. He ushers me through the lobby as a director would
a late atriving mourner to a funeral. Once out the door, he stops abruptly on
the stoop. Sweeping an open palm before him, he says, "What happened to the
I gaze past him to the botanical carnage that lies before us. Lilies, iris, roses,
all are wet and wilted, dying or dead. Slack-jawed, I look at what's left of the
plants and flowers, most of which I've cultivated from seeds my mother sent me
and nurtured for many years.
I look back at the CO. My horror is mirrored in his expression. "What 43 happened!" He repeats. I can't answer. I'm numb.
I stumble down the steps and cross the narrow strip of grass to the closest
flowerbed. I reach for the discoloured leaf of an oriental lily and rub it gently. A
viscous, chemical-smelling liquid oozes onto my thumb and forefinger. I move
to my iris, my daises, my roses. The same. Bed after bed. I turn to the CO who
has followed me. "Why?" I ask.
I realize there is no fungus, no bacteria, no insects—for weeks someone has
been poisoning my plants. The yard officer and I might never have known the
plants were being sprayed if the CO responsible had not become so impatient.
The satisfaction is not so much in killing all of the plants and flowets but in
letting me know they ate being destroyed intentionally.
For several days I try to wash the poison from the wounded and dying. The
water gushes in a supple arc from the glistening hose, and with it a reservoir of
hope. But they continue to perish. I often think about the destruction of the
lilac. An all too familiar feeling of helplessness wells up inside me. Anger begins
to mix with my grief.
Heedless of the warning Mac gave me when I thought to report the killing
of the lilac, I act. I write to the Superintendent, and directly to the Inspector
General's Office in Albany. It is bad enough that someone brought a herbicide
into the prison and sprayed the flowers, but they did it without regard for the
health of anyone who ventured into that yard. I think that surely some action
will be taken to discover what chemicals we were exposed to, even if there is little
concern to discover who inttoduced them into the facility.
I do not receive a response from the Inspector General's Office, nor do I hear
directly from the Superintendent. But at his behest the block sergeant summons
me to his office. He orders me to take a seat, then asks brusquely, "Did you
forget where the fuck you are?" I sit silently and stare, more through him than
at him. "This is Attica!" Pointing towards the door, he says, "Now get the fuck
out... and that yard is now off limits to you." He returns to the papers on his
desk. I return to my cell.
It's been over a year since we discovered how the plants were destroyed. I have
not been back to the garden. I miss my time there. It was my refuge. But it's still
there. It survived after all. Knowing it's being cared for by other men provides
me with a great deal of satisfaction and some consolation. I knew that at some
point I was going to have to leave the garden behind. I just wasn't prepared for it
to be so soon or in such an unpleasant manner. Sometimes, when I pass through
the corridor, the yard door is open. I catch a glimpse of the flowers or a whiff of
their spicy fragrance. I don't despair. I take the scent along with me.
PRISM  52:' Garth Martens
He flew, yes really. He jumped from the unfinished parapets and flew, his
hammer a weight he'd cut free of, shooting off like a helium balloon some
kid let go, and then, like an arrow, scutting out of line, the construction site
a clearing in the forest. For a moment, he wheeled in space, like an idea, dove
head-first to the aspens, leaf edges sharpening his sight, and it was like angels,
it was like a patty, the raindrops a parachute or a cape, his hands grazing the
leaves, the leaves tickling his palms, lift, lift, with the changing weather. On the
veined cuticles he could smell diesel floating over from the skidsteet, dust the
raindrops kindled as they hit, and the cooling heated temperature of a damn
good pour coming on.
His brother says take the stairs, so he does. His dead brother, but that doesn't
faze him. In the dark, he opens the steel door, turns onto the landing, and
every time, its floor slithers away and he flops into the lull, speeding to the
south side of the building so he can boom a cart of scaffolds. A green and
yellow can of corn bounces up out of a trench and strikes him in the face. His
driver's seat is a chait in the trailer and he's eating from that cold can three
times a day. Then he's counting cabinets through fout hundted tooms and the
numbers blur on his sheet at the prod of a pencil, he has to count them again,
what was he counting? Hinges? Glides? Knobs? He's under a sheet of poly in
one of the rooms, a painter's brush and the paint walloping the plastic over
his chest. Then he stirs in the elevator shaft, plummeting. He stirs, face under
plastic, his body rigid from the free-fall.
With his earbuds jacked in he listens to the iPod. To keep from getting caught
in the closet asleep he suspends a pair of pliers that will jar him when they
fall. If he wears earplugs instead, he hears a great volume of space caving at
either direction, parentheses or corridors pointing to the scent of vanilla, to
the cleaning girl who vacuums furnished suites. When he found her sweater
yesterday in the north-wing he brought it to his nose and inhaled. He last felt
like that when he unplugged a water pump in the tain, the hum of it through
his limbs. Clogged with perfume, he felt his neck and groin prickle, as they ate
doing now. He kisses her little wrists in the darkness, wrists he'd like to bite
and taste marmalade. In her floral uniform, then her sweater, then undressed,
she eases him to the ground, now a bed. Pears are tumbling out of her shirt,
which becomes a gown, high-ridden. Together they swim, they sweat, along
the corridor to the basement. She rocks violently ovet him, thighs like oiled
fur, the curled ends of her hair brushing his chest. Sometimes she has charred
stumps extending from her shoulders or she glistens not with sweat but an arid 45 nakedness. Then he sees she is not human at all, but first a river otter, carrying
the river and fetid with fish, and then a silvet bear with sick sad eyes. Now
she is human, and from the taut line of her body, smoother than concrete, he
meets the unguarded tremors of her face. As he comes clumsily, she tells him,
It's okay. She says, Sleep.
It comes from the highway to the house,
from the frost on the seeds
and the station and the dream.
It comes from the bus
and the strangers in their sleep,
aspens like wicks in a flame.
It comes from the bird and the bitd's chain.
It comes from a country singer's voice,
ashes in the air.
Are they ashes, moths?
You can't say.
Everything that's yours,
a jar of receipts, the yellow ceiling,
a scale that counts your weight.
It comes from oil on your plate,
a streak of gristle you cut
away and cut and cut.
It comes from your son's mute steps
through the house.
From the neighbour's truck
and the cuffs of his eyes.
From the window overnight. 47 It comes from the purge
at the sink.
Ceramic tiles, the next drink.
It comes from the chattering needle
of a sewing-machine.
The radio at the prompt.
Does your hand roll in
like a snailshell? Like a sickle?
It comes from the bath and the candle,
the woman and the cloth,
steam as it curls from her skin.
It comes before a question.
Are her eyes made-up
or what?
Is it you we're talking about?
It comes from someone else's hand,
the drugs that let her sleep,
just go to sleep.
It comes from the understory of a ring,
the name on a knife,
from the horse in the yard and the horse before light.
Is it a tool for digging? A freewheeling hinge?
PRISM  52:1 It comes from God in the oven,
panic in the sky.
It comes from the horse asking, When?
From spokes of a wheel, cigarette filters,
your son or the window asking.
It doesn't come from you,
it can never come from you,
the trees are burning
and the other hand, reluctantly,
takes the weight. 49 THE CLEANING GIRL
The vacuum's suck and crackle
drew his ear across the dingy corridor.
He carried a tray of paint, a fresh
brush for a touch-up on the door-frame.
"Hey-o," he said, knuckle at the pine.
"Careful of the frame, eh?"
She nodded. Glanced, charcoal dark,
noted his mud-caked tread.
Sometimes his face was just a routine
tremor solidly held, his eye's
twitch a tell he was nervous,
closed in with weariness.
Broom aslant on his shoulder he entered
uncarpeted corridors loud and echoey
with a weldet's torch, the shunt of a drill's
give-out and the requisite swearing.
"How's she going?" the Foreman pressed.
"Round and round," he said. The stairwell
wavered like a watery pool, reflective,
underlit, by the gleet of a distant bulb.
At second coffee he laughed with the rest
as the Pentecostal Cape Bretoner
weighed-in on Fort Mac, "City's
full of lego ladies, man.
Fake hair, fake lips, from tit to the tail.
You wake with a greased
peg-legged midget, breath of a goat.
Not some smoke-show like your girl."
50 PRISM 52:1 Whetted, they traded doubtful tales
of this or that girl, harelipped settled-fors
or trophied encounters with a boss's daughter.
What mattered was polish. Sweep in the telling
They went quiet when she walked by,
dressed, not in the usual pastel
uniform, but in street clothes
above the neckline, milk-pink, hale,
a trailing daub of perfume trim
belt about the ribs a jacket
neatly awning her waist,
discreet, impervious to the bait.
"Have a nice night," he said,
overlapped by the Cape Bretoner,
"You too," she said, chrome-clean,
hastily legging it to the parkade.
Soon, the back-and-forth of who it was
she said words to. Proud gmbbing.
Private image made public sleeves
flared tightly at the wrists, the play
of hands in tresses she unfastened by a pin
intetpretations of fractional
contact a keenness in the crotch
as they clipped their belts, went back to it. 51 W.Mark Giles
Once upon a time, Dwight is ten years old. A stick in his hand. A half-strip
of shiplap prised from the side of the house with a hatchet his brother Darryl
left buried in the stump. Go out and play, his mother says. She sits in the front
toom with Laugh Jack, the bather. They are planning Dwight's father's funeral.
In the front toom, where a clean square on the bare pine-board floor marks the
absence of the tug that has been taken up and—and what? Whete is it? Where
is the carpet my father bled to death on? Rolled up, taken away. To the dump?
Where coyotes and strays from across the tracks can nose at it, tear it, suck my
father's blood? Dwight sits in the middle of the clean square but doesn't ask these
questions. Go and play, his mothet says. He goes outside to the waiting hatchet.
He takes the hatchet from the stump, hefts it. The day is grey. A porridge of
clouds is drawn across the sky, trapping the summer heat, obscuring the
mountains, flattening the light into sticky, shadowless blankness. Somewhere
up beyond the clouds, beyond atmosphere, across a light-second of space, three
men in a spacecraft prepare to orbit the moon. Dwight paces off ten steps; with
each footfall grasshoppers bound away with the clack of carapace. He thtows
the hatchet, attempting to send it end-for-end the way Darryl and his friends
can, a flick of the wrist, a flashing arc, occasionally the satisfying thock! of blade
fixing into the soft meat of the cottonwood. Dwight's throw skews and skids to
a stop thtee feet short and a foot wide. He fetches the hatchet and walks to the
back door.
He listens through the screen to the cadence of Laugh Jack's tenor voice—he
can't heat the words, only scissored speech patterns. Then his mother—voice
raised. I don't cate, she says. It's my decision. Then softer, words lost.
He strikes the hatchet into a seam of wood cladding just to the right of the
door. It holds fast. He wiggles the handle, then torques it down with steady
ptessure. The crack widens and he torques it some more. With a sharp snap the
boatd splits. From inside the house: Is that you Dwight? Yes, mom, he calls. He
drops the hatchet. I told you to go and play, she calls. Yes, mom, he says. He
pulls at the sttip of wood. It comes away in his hand. Are you still there, she calls
again. No, mom, he says. He has a stick. Go and play.
He goes. He walks towards the river, lopping the heads off brown-eyed susans
that gtow in the ditches beside the road. Father's dead, he says as he swings at
each flower with the stick. Father is dead. His esophagus ruptuted. Esophagus,
he says out loud. He swallows spit so he can feel his own esophagus. Three days
ago he wasn't sure what an esophagus was. Dwight slinks through the hole in
the fence around the generating station, scrambles down to the river and stands
below the control room building. He watches water churn from the spillway of
52 PRISM  52:1 the dam. He follows a rough path downstream along the brow of the bluff until
it peters out. He climbs to whete bare rock slants toward water, then drops off in
a twenty-five foot cliff. This is where Darryl and the older boys come to jump.
The river is deep here, not too swift, gathering irs volume in a lazy sweep before
it entets the sluice to the lower dam. He stands on the rim of rock, where he has
never ventured before. He spits into the river, then pisses into the river, holding
his penis in his right hand while he waves his stick back and forth in the stream
of his own water. My fathet is dead, he calls to the river, and he is suddenly very
scared and he takes a step back, which causes him to stipple his pants and shoes
with urine. Funeral shoes. They drove into the city earlier that day and got a pair
of new shoes. He turns and makes his way back to town, eschewing the path.
He swings his stick like a machete at the bracken of willow and scrub alder.
Crows caw. Jays screech. He comes out of the bush onto the service road that
leads from the plant to the lower dam. A company truck bumps past. The man
in the passenger seat looks over. When he sees Dwight, the smile on his face
dissolves into a grim expression, and he touches the peak of his hat as if in salute.
From the direction of town, a small dog skews toward him at a canter, its rear
end not quite aligned with its front. That girl's dog, Amy's. A Heinz 57, terrier
and othet things. Hello, dog, Dwight says. My father is dead. The dog bows. His
esophagus ruptured. I don't feel like crying. The dog's tail swishes back and forth,
back and forth, and it barks, once, twice. We're going to have a funeral. The dog
falls in beside him, snapping at the grasshoppers that rise from Dwight's feet.
You can't come, Dwight says. Mother says no one can come to the funeral. Just
us. Dwight walks. The porridge sky thick across the roof of the world.
Dwight and the dog arrive at the baseball diamond. The foul lines radiate
from home plate, the lime mostly erased between home and first and third bases,
smudged from half-a-summer's play. Dwight toes the rubber on pircher's mound
with his new shoes. I live here, he says to the dog. His shoes are scuffed and
marked with dirt. Over there. He aims the stick beyond the concession shack
behind the bleachers. The dog tenses, alert, expecting the stick to be thrown.
As Dwight waves the stick, Darryl steps from around the side of the shack, as if
conjured by a wand. Darryl points at Dwight. I found you, Darryl yells. I always
find you.
Somewhere in the world, a clean square on a bare pine-board marks the absence
of a rug. Somewhere in the wotld a red-drenched rug marks the absence of blood
in a body. Somewhere in the world a pale body marks the absence of a fathet.
Once upon a time Darryl stands in front of his younger brothet Dwight in the
middle of the field, flexing the fingers on his too-large-for-a-teenage-boy hands,
already calloused and nicotine-stained, hands transforming from turtled fists to
open-fingered butterflies, butterflies to turtles, turtles to butterflies. The dog trots
between them and around them. One of the butterflies flies forth and wraps itself
around the shiplap stick; with a deft flick Datryl tears it from Dwight's grasp. He
cuts the air between them, once, twice, then taps Dwight on one shoulder, then
the next, like a duke be-knighting a squite on the plain of battle. It's my stick, 53 Dwight says. Why did you want to find me?
Darryl points the stick over his head, examines its length as if checking its
plumb. Where'd you get the dog, Darryl says. Dwight shrugs. It's nobody's dog.
That Amy girl's, maybe, Darryl says. He raps Dwight on the thigh, just enough
to make him jump. The dog bows, wags its tail, growls, barks. Follow me, Darryl
says to his brothet and the dog, and they do.
Behind the concession, Datryl points to a patch of ground where the grass
has been beaten down. Sit, he says. Dwight sits and settles against the wall. The
plywood is warping, drawing the nails from a corner. When he looks up, he sees
Darryl haloed by the porridge sky. The dog snuffles in the dirt where a small
animal has excavated a hole to buttow under the shack. Darryl swings the stick
and claps the earth next to the dog's snout.
I'm the man of the house now, Darryl says. Without letting go of the shiplap,
he pulls a package of cigarettes from the front pocket of his pants. Buckingham's.
Filterless. Father's brand. One-handed, he manoeuvres a smoke into his lips and
re-stows the package. From his shirt pocket, he digs out a wooden match and
uses the edge of his thumbnail to spark it. He puffs the cigarette alight, then
holds the match head down so the sliver of wood burns brightly. He tosses it
into the grass at Dwight's feet. A few stalks on a tussock flame briefly before
fading. Darryl takes a drag of the cigarette, then taps Dwight on his shoe. You're
gonna have to do what I tell you. To show yout loyalty. No matter what. Dwight
scans the dirt for hot spots in the blackened grass. He reaches for the dog, but it
skips away. He pulls the palm of his hand over the plywood, brushing flakes of
alligatored paint. Darryl picks a piece of tobacco from his lower lip. The three of
them are like subjects in a Norman Rockwell painting on their day off. Darryl
sucking on a smoke purloined from his dead father. Dwight sunk in the dust,
stripping paint from a wall. The stray dog pissing on the corner of the building.
Under a sky not blue.
Darryl squats on his haunches as easily as settling on a stool. Does Mom
know you stole them smokes, Dwight says, looking up. I won't tell.
The old man don't need them now he's dead, Darryl says. I'm in charge now.
You can't tell anybody anything. It's you and me.
Darryl flicks his cigarette into another patch of grass. He chops with the
scimitat shiplap—then cracks it across Dwight's shins, arms, head. Somewhere
on earth, a teenage boy rains blows on his brother, smacking the stick against
flesh. I won't tell, Dwight says in a whisper. The dog runs to and fro and barks.
Aftet a spell, Darryl stops hitting Dwight. He leans against the wall of the shack.
A thin sheen of sweat dapples his upper lip among a suggestion of whiskers. He
breathes hard through his nose and Dwight does too. Dwight lowers his arms.
The dog stills and approaches the boys. That's a stupid dog, Darryl says. He spits
at the dog, but his mouth is cotton-dry, and the small bolt of spittle falls short
and rests dull in the blackened wad of burned grass. Come here, you stupid dog,
Darryl says. Come on over, I got something for you. Grab that dog, Darryl says
and nudges Dwight with his foot. Dwight scrambles to the dog and holds out
his hand. The dog sidles over and Dwight skritches the wiry fur. The dog licks
the salt in his palm. See Spot run, Darryl says. Run, Spot, run. A slice, a thump,
54 PRISM  52:1 a whimper. The dog skips toward the bleachers, then comes loping back.
Can we go home, Dwight says. He stands up and dusts off his pants.
C'mon, stupid dog, Datryl says. Come here. He slips a match from his shirt
and holds it in the tips of his fingers. He mimes nibbling at it then holds it
out. The dog ambles forward—stops—edges back—inches closer. Darryl begins
to sing, matching his Jim Morrison t-shirt in a lullaby voice: This is the end,
beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end. The dog comes over.
Darryl grabs the scruff of its neck and clubs it between the eyes with the
Darryl, Dwight says. What'd you do that for. Darryl hits the dog again.
Dwight tuns at his brother but the older boy is bigger and stronger. Darryl
sidesteps the lunge and uses Dwight's own momentum to drive him to the
Watch this, Darryl says. He arcs the stick high over his head brings it down
in the middle of the dog's back. The sound of a latge bone snapping. He lets
go of the dog. See Spot run, he says. The dog's back is broken. It struggles to
its forefeet, drags itself a step, stumbles. Blood drips from its lips. Other than
laboured breathing, it doesn't make a sound.
Dwight is crying. Get up, Darryl says. When he gets to his feet, Darryl
thrusts the stick at him. Your turn, Darryl says.
No, Dwight says. He wheels but before he can get away Darryl grabs him by
the back of his pants. He delivers a tap to the top of Dwight's head.
I'm in charge now, Darryl says. You have to show your loyalty.
I won't tell, Dwight says.
Take the fucking stick, Darryl says. He has Dwight by the front of his shirt
now, and shakes him. The dog has managed to drag itself a few yards away, but is
stopped again. It coughs. Pink bubbles froth from its nose. Dwight has the stick
in his hand. Hit the stupid dog, Darryl says. Dwight closes his eyes and turns his
head and flails the stick, cutting the air. Darryl slaps his face with an open hand.
Do it, he says.
Dwight shuffles to the dog. He hits the dog in the hindquarters, a glancing
blow. The dog grunts, but doesn't yelp. It has no feeling below the point where
its spinal cotd is severed. Harder, Darryl says.
I'm sorry, Dwight says. He slams the stick into the dog. I'm sorry. He lifts his
arm high. As he beats the dog to death, he cries. I'm sorry. Stupid dog, Dwight
says. Stupid stupid dog. Somewhere beyond the atmosphere, three men in a
spacecraft. Somewhere in the world, a clean square. Somewhere in the world, a
boy rains blows on a dog. Fuck dog fucking stupid, Dwight says. He stops when
his arm tires, when he pants for breath, when his tears dry. The dog is bleeding
and broken. Yet still its rib cage rises and falls. Die, you stupid dog, Dwight says.
Do it, Darryl says. He stands, leaning slightly fotward on the balls of his feet.
His mien is glum, his brow furrowed, like a consttuction foreman watching a
labourer dig ditches. His hands: turtles to butterflies, butterflies to turtles, turtles
to butterflies.
Dwight grips the stick in both hands, draws it high and swings with all his 55 might to crush the dog's skull. The dog twitches then goes still, a hidebound bag
of meat and blood and bones. Dwight doubles over and throws up in the dirt.
His funeral shoes now splattered with gore and vomitus. Dog's blood speckles
his trousers.
Darryl hasn't moved, his stare transfixed on the dog. Dwight swings the
stick, still in both hands, from his crouch. He connects squarely with the side
of Darryl's head. Darryl falls from the knees, going all the way down face first,
raising a cloud of dust as his chest thumps the ground. He shakes himself to all
fours. With one hand on the wall of the shack, he wavers to his feet.
OK, Darryl says. I won't tell. He probes at his temple. The curl of his ear is
bleeding. I don't think you cracked my skull, Darryl says. I got a hard fucking
head. Remember that the next time you pole-axe me.
Darryl smokes a cigarette. He offers one to Dwight, who declines. They pile
grass and twigs and Darryl puts the dog on top and then lights the pyre, but the
flames won't catch and Datryl finally runs out of matches. They work in silence.
Darryl takes off his treasured Jim Morrison t-shirt and ties up the sleeves. By
the time they stuff the dog's corpse into the makeshift sack, blood has streaked
Darryl's totso. They kick at the dirt to obliterate the stain on the ground. Then
they retrace the toute Dwight has taken earlier that day, down the service road.
The same truck passes them, this time going from the town to the lower dam,
and the same man tips his hat in salute. If he notices the boys ate cattying a dead
dog wrapped in a shirt he doesn't let on. They use the stick to crash through
the scrub until they arrive at the cliff. They piss into the river. Darryl picks up
the shtouded corpse. One tough dog, Darryl says. He heaves rhe dog, and they
watch as it desctibes its parabola thtough the air, cartwheeling end over end,
up to the crest of its apogee then falling to the water below. The current slides
it away around the bend. Won't it get stuck in the turbine, Dwight says. No,
Darryl says. Dwight makes to throw the stick but Darryl stops him. Keep it, he
They scramble down the rocky ledge, heading upstream away from the dog.
At the river's edge they stop to clean up. Darryl splashes water on his torso and
laves his eat. Dwight cleans his shoes. They wash theit hands, using the coarse
river silt to rub theit hands until they are red and cold.
They crawl thtough the hole in the fence. They go to their house where their
mother will have already gone upstairs to lie down.
Tomottow they will attend a funeral for their father at a funeral home in Caxton.
Only Dwight, Darryl, and their mother will be there. Laugh Jack will drive them
in the station wagon, but will stay outside. The boys will discover their father has
been cremated. Back home, all of them—Dwight, Darryl, mother, and Laugh
Jack—will follow the bushwhacked trail to the cliff. Mother will take the lid
from the simple white ceramic urn. Laugh Jack will doff his hat, and mother
will say, Oh for God's sake, Jack, leave the damn thing on. It will be a windy,
sunny afternoon, the porridge sky having given way to the blue dome. Mother
will shake the ashes from the urn and the wind will take them and flatten them
56 PRISM  52:1 and spread them into the river. Dwight will notice that some of the ashes are
fine and blow a long way, while other bits are bigger and fall like pebbles. Then
she will smash the urn on the tock. No one will cry. Back at the house they will
eat sandwiches carved from the ham that some of the ladies have brought over.
They will sit in the front room by a clean square on a bare pine-board floor. On
television, they will watch a signal from up beyond the blue dome now gloaming
in the dusk, where a man will set foot on the moon.
Yeats will pass. Dwight and Datryl will tell no one. 57 Judy LeB lane
JTiona watched the Jap emerge from the Willard building. Her dad said
Matsubuchi thought he was better than any white man and here was the proof:
his photography studio three floors above the dust and clamour of the stteet,
a fedora topping his head, and a bow tie springing from the neck of a white
shirt that puffed between the lapels of a black jacket. Above polished shoes, his
trousers folded into neat cuffs. Any man without coal stained into the seams of
his hand was a dandy, according ro her dad, and an Oriental who put on airs was
worse than a dandy. Fiona didn't have a quarrel with Matsubuchi on the basis of
his racial origin or because he was a sharp dresser with clean hands, as most of
the white men in Cumberland could do with a little tidying up. No, her issue
with him was that he had stolen her grief; at least that's how she'd come to think
of it. How he'd managed such a thing seemed a supernatural act and fear that he
was a conjurer of a kind made her hesitant about approaching him.
One year ago to the day, she'd stood in het steamy kitchen squeezing Charlie's
dungarees through the ringer washer, cursing the ground her husband walked on
because he'd gone off to work with the tobacco. She had been looking forward
to sitting on the stoop with a cigarette in the misty Febtuary morning after
she'd finished the washing. Though the company forbade smoking in the mines,
Charlie liked a smoke before going down and aftet coming up the shaft. She
didn't wotty about him because she had married him for what she consideted his
indesttuctible natute. So when the sound of the bell calling for the dtaegatmen
clobbered the morning's peace, and the hairs rose on her arms and a chill went
through her body, she thought not of Chatlie but of her dad. She pulled the plug
on the washer, grabbed her coat and joined the women in the street where word
had spread rhat the explosion was a bad one.
Later that day, the fire bosses hauled Charlie and many others from the
nether regions of Mine Number Four. She didn't recognize rhe charred body,
with skin ragged and hanging off it, as the tall hatd-muscled man who'd been
sleeping next to het in her dad's house for a year and a half. In the following days
and months she sometimes set three places at the dinner table for her husband,
her dad, and herself, half-expecting Charlie to come banging in the back stoop,
black-faced and cocky with a smoke dangling from his mouth. Sometimes when
she couldn't sleep, wild thoughts swam in her head, like that Charlie was still
alive, down deep in the mined mine and not coming out because he loved that
dark place better than he loved her.
Now a year from the accident it had come to this—watching the Jap from
the opposite side of the street. He hesitated, adjusted his hat, and sniffed like
an animal taking a measute of his surroundings. Keeping her head down so he
wouldn't notice, she continued on Third and followed him along Dunsmuir
58 PRISM  52:1 until he turned into the bank. His foreign looks and gentleman airs frightened
her, as if the distance between them were not a street but a chasm, strange and
At the grocers, she picked up corned beef and a can of peas, and then walked
on to the govetnment liquor store. She spotted Jimmy, her dad's old friend,
shuffling in her direction. The stoop in his back forced him to crane his neck
and he caught her eye before she could sneak past. He'd been the bartender at
the Cumberland since an accident in the mine some fifteen years before. He
tipped his hat and asked after her dad, exposing the dark hole of his mouth and
a solitary pair of yellow teeth.
"It's like he's got knives clanging in his lungs," she said.
Jimmy shook his head. He'd lost many a good customer to Black Lung. As
he spoke, his moustache bounced above his chin. "You might take him up to the
hospital. They can ease the pain a little with a special breathing apparatus they
"I know about it and when the time comes I'll do it, but it's nowhere near
time. Meanwhile he could at least leave the whiskey alone."
"Let a dying man have his pleasute, Fiona." His smile intensified the veins in
his cheeks.
"It's taking food off the table, Jimmy."
He shrugged as if the liquor itself were life sustaining. He and some of the
other men gave money to her dad and her now and then. They looked after one
another that way, though there would be nothing for the widows or the kids
once the men died. She turned without a word and stepped into the liquor store.
"Say hello to the old feller," Jimmy called after her.
On the way home, she felt embarrassed at how she'd stalked Matsubuchi
down Dunsmuir. It was best to forget about him and besides, how could
she rely on her memory from that day. The whole city had gone crazy with
women wailing and sobbing in the streets—thirty-two of their men gone in
one afternoon. It was like the Great War all over again, only a different kind of
savagery on their very own soil. She'd left the undettaker's office in a daze, the
same state she'd seen many times in other women: the stagget in the gait and
the eyes as buggy as the old miners. She wouldn't have anyone around her—that
hadn't changed in a year—and she didn't remember walking, how she'd gotten to
the Willard Block. Her body crumbling against the building, her back braced by
its cold bricks. Tears finally—rising inside of her with such force it seemed they
might unhinge her very organs.
Then there had been a sound, a soft and barely audible explosion of air,
which brought her back to herself and the awful scene she was making in public.
When she wiped her tears, she faced a small box with a round glass window
like an eye. A gentleman dtessed in a black suit and shiny black shoes held the
camera in his hands. He lowered his small brown eyes and bowed, and before
she could say anything he disappeared around the corner of the building. It
happened so quickly it might have been a dream, the kind in which a stranger
sees you in your nakedness. After that day her tears dried up and ever since a
steely-eyed resolve pressed like stone against her days. She found it best not to 59 think of the days gone ot of those to come, only to move doggedly through the
day at hand.
She walked the few blocks home through the spitting rain, opened the door
to the cottage and her father's voice. "Where you been? The stove's out and I'm
He conserved his words and when he strung together more than two or
three she felt bad for his suffering. He'd never been much of a talker except
when he and Charlie drank and then they'd rant about the company and the
union. They'd forget Fiona was even there, though sometimes when her dad
wasn't looking, Charlie would slide his hand under her dress and circle her knee
with his palm. If she let him, his hand would creep a little higher spreading his
warmth on her skin.
It was likely a blessing Fiona's mom never met Charlie. She died when Fiona
was twelve and she would have objected to his uncouth manners: chewing with
his mouth open, burping after every meal. Her mom, who had not married
one herself, had wanted a gentleman for her daughter. She, who'd come from
England, couldn't have seen that what drew Fiona to Charlie was how he would
have one day taken her to his home in Ireland, away from Cumberland and back
across the sea.
Fiona hung her coat at the door. "Ran into Jimmy," she said to her dad.
"Did you get the drink?" The house srank of her dad and liquor, a trace of
sulphur from the stove, and the mould that grew around the windows every
winter with the heavy rains.
"I'll make your dinner," she said. He was like a baby, helpless and sucking
on Mama's nipple; she handed him the bottle on her way into the kitchen. She'd
accepted that it would likely kill the both of them if he quit now. As uncivilized
as such honesty looked, she and her father no longer pretended anything. He
unscrewed the cap and swigged from the bottle's mouth.
In the kitchen, she shook out the ash in the stove, snapped some twigs,
stuffed them through the opening, and struck a match. It wasn't like her to let
the stove go out. She'd been distracted today. If het dad remembered the date,
he didn't let on and she wasn't about to bring it up. She'd come to despise the
cloud of black dust that rose in her face when she poured the coal into the belly
of the stove, and how the flames sptung at her like prongs on the devil's fork
and resolved into a slow burn that left the lingering stink of rotten eggs. When
she complained, her dad would tell her to be grateful, that coal put food on her
table, that if it weren't for coal's magical properties she wouldn't have her fancy
stoves and washing machine, her phonograph player. He said this as if they were
living the high life, her and her old dad in this rotting shack with its peeling
linoleum, a motherless home with the ghost of one man lost to the mine, and
another with his shredded lungs and crippled back, rhapsodizing about coal as if
it were the second coming of Christ.
She fed her dad and helped him to bed, knowing she should have washed
him first, but not having the energy, not tonight. She shut the door to his room,
ignoring the coughing that tore out of his chest.
60 PRISM  52:1 While she did the dishes, Charlie came into her mind, pushing her to notice
him, wanting to dance like they used to after her father was in bed. He was a
good dancer, taught her the steps to the foxttot. He liked the new fast jazzy
music, but she liked the sad stuff about longing and loneliness and heartbreak
and how it made suffering an elegant thing. He knew that and on one of his trips
into Courtenay, he broughr her back some Marion Harris:
Take Me to the Land of Jazz.
There is music in each breeze
Even trombones grow on trees
The words came back to her and she hugged herself and spun on her heels,
imagining such a place. Dropping into a chair, she regretted that she'd sold the
Victrola only a few weeks before. She'd put the money aside, told her father she'd
spent it on food.
Out on the stoop in the dark, she had her last cigarette of the day. She tried
to make out the shadowy shapes in the impenetrable night: the tall evergreens
across the street, the house next door with a low light that pushed thtough a
blind in a front room window. If there were any pleasure in her life, this is what
it had come down to: the taste of smoke on her tongue and her mind lulled into
a warmish bleak swamp. And, of course, the knowledge of a little money put
Later in the tiny bedroom she'd shared with Chatlie, she stood naked,
shivering in front of the mirror. She had lost weight since Charlie had died.
Her hipbones jutted out and her breasts were even smaller. "All a man needs is a
cupful," Charlie would say. "My milk maid," he would call her, and once he said,
"You're skin, it's like moonlight." He'd run his hands through her fine white-
blonde hair. When they made love, his blue eyes, like a miner's lamp, would
bore into hers and, afterwards, he would trace his fingers over the contours of
her body as if he were drawing a sketch.
By spring, her father didn't get out of bed. The women brought casseroles, and
to ease his bedsores the men came and helped turn him over. His pals sat by him
and chatted idly—sometimes her father smiled between dozing—or they sat
wordless, the thing they waited for hanging between them. Fiona took advantage
of these times to leave the house.
One day she walked to Japtown and from the road watched the women
preparing the ground for a garden. They were strong women—she often saw
them hauling bags of cabbage and potatoes to the grocers—smooth-skinned,
and they looked as pleased with the spring sunshine as she was herself. One
of them had a sling with a baby in it looped over her shoulders. She nodded
her head at Fiona and Fiona smiled. She thought the woman might be the
photographer's wife, but the Orientals looked alike to her. She told herself it
was the spring flowers that grew along the roadside that made her walk in that
direction: lupins, goldenrod, fireweed, and yet she found herself looking for the
photographer, as if she might catch him without his fine suit and with his hands 61 in the soil. Somehow, she felt that if she could see him like that she'd concern
herself less with the photograph she was certain he was coveting.
The day after her walk to Japtown, Fiona spotted an ad in the weekly posted
by the photographer in which he requested a model. He specified that she
must be white. He was known throughout the city for his photographs of the
Otientals, and as he was the only photographer in town and, all agreed, a good
one at that, he photographed the weddings of those whites who could afford
him. The women speculated in hushed tones why he wanted a "white woman,"
and what sort of loose woman would respond to the ad.
No matter how much Fiona cleaned around her father the stink from his
room hung between the walls of the house, and at night he would call out for
her mother with a voice that was not a human sound. She couldn't bring herself
to go to him. During the day when she walked to the grocery store, the buildings
stood in sharp relief against a violent blue sky. It was as though all her senses
were amplified while the normal order of her life was about to collapse. She felt
panicky with a sense of urgency that couldn't be reconciled. She believed she was
capable of doing any foolish thing. Fiona was the only woman in Cumberland
who responded to the photographers ad.
She wore a skirt that she had bought on her last trip to Nanaimo with
Charlie. It came to her knees and clung to het hips and thighs in the new style.
She remembered Charlie telling het she looked "smarty." Now, as she'd lost so
much weight, it hung off her, but it felt good to get out of her mother's flowery
house dresses. Her friend Irene cut het hait to just above the nape of her neck.
"You look smashing, honey, but I don't know why you're doing it," said Irene
referring not to the haircut, but to the photographer's ad.
On her way to Matsubuchi's studio, Fiona imagined the photographer looking
at her through the small window of his camera, what he might see, how it would
feel to have a man's eyes on her again.
She walked up three dim and stuffy flights of stairs and through a doot
into a room washed with so much light it gave the wooden floors a golden hue.
Photographs lined the walls. Families, mostly Oriental, stood in clusters before
the camera, or sat upright. She knew these to be hard working people, like the
women she'd seen in the garden, most with little money, and yet they were like
aristocrats before the camera, their chins up and wearing the finest clothing.
She'd heard that the photographs were sent home as evidence of the good life
they were leading in their new country. Closer scrutiny hinted at otherwise:
the slight tilt of a head as if there were a heaviness there, the light touch on a
shoulder or arm as if to reassure the other that they were not alone.
She sensed that someone had stepped quietly behind her and felt the Jap's
eyes on her back. She looked over her shoulder and he shifted into her line of
vision. It was the first time she had seen him without his hat. Flattened against
his head his black hair shone. His skin was smooth with a shade of amber, like
the women in the garden. He did not wear a coat and the sleeves on his white
shirt were rolled up to his elbows.
"May I help you?" No sign of recognition, his mannerisms stiff and polite.
62 PRISM   52:1 "I've come about the ad."
He smiled. "I thought no one would come." His eyes washed quickly over
her. He spoke a precise, educated English.
"I need the money." She held out het hand and he took it. "I am Mrs.
"I am Mr. Matsubuchi. I can explain my tequirements to you, if you will be
seated." He gestured toward a desk and two chairs. He settled into a chair behind
the desk and waited for her to sit down. "I am perhaps an overly-ambitious man
and I may be faulted from learning from the coal barons. I am held in almost the
same contempt, though for different reasons." He laughed and looked out the
window into the sun. "But I am also an artist."
"I know nothing about art." She dug in her bag for a cigarette, but when he
made no gesture of supplying her with a light or an ashtray, she thought better
of it.
"It's not important." He leaned his elbow on the desk, his chin in his hand.
"I only want you to model for me. It may involve two or three sittings and you
must sit very still. I assume you have not modeled before."
"No. I care for a dying father and I was briefly a wife. I've not been employed
He nodded.
"Why," she said, reaching again for a cigarette and a match, this time lighting
up, "do you specify a white woman?"
"Because I know Japanese women too well and I have photographed them
many times." He observed her inhaling the smoke as if he found this action
interesting. His eye followed the rising smoke from the tip of her cigarette.
"Are white women so different?"
"On the surface, of course they are. The rest I will discover." He stood up.
"There is a practical reason, too. I would like to submit my work to magazines
or galleries—some are taking photography now—and they are not interested in
Oriental women. Take off your hat."
Her father was right—he put on airs. An artist, indeed. Still, she removed
her hat slowly, shook out her new haircut. He walked around the desk, around
her chair, and then with a thick finger brushed a strand back from her face. She
pulled away at his touch. How dare he? Indifferent to her reaction, he crouched
to examine her face and neck.
She returned the next day in the early afternoon when he said the light would
be best. Immediately upon her arrival, he handed her a long string of pearls and
a shift of slippery pale yellow chiffon with a plunging neckline and split at the
sides, so as to reveal her legs. It was a style not seen in Cumberland but seen
rathet on likes of those in the Ziegfeld Follies. Charlie had promised that one
day they would go to New York to see them live, though she'd never believed it.
"A little risque," she said with a laugh.
"If you'd rather not, Mts. Braithwaite."
She sighed and went behind a curtain, where she slid the dress over her
head and draped the pearls around her neck. When she returned to the room, 63 he directed her to sit on the edge of a small table facing a larger camera than
the one she temembered. Perched on a tripod, it was a strange creature with
a huge eye fixed on her. She sat still with the back of het head held steady
in a headrest, hands folded in her lap, as though she were at peace. For each
photogtaph—he took half a dozen—he slid a square sheet of glass in and out
of the camera. Between shots, he asked het to turn her head this way and then
that, to lean with her hands behind her and her front thrust forward, to smile
a little but not too much. She held a mirror, and then a comb, a cigarette. She
revealed a thigh, her cleavage. The light flowed into the room, and she found
herself mumbling—he admonished her if she became at all animated and at
times forbade her to speak—about her mother's death, het life with her father,
and finally about Charlie and about how much she hated the mines, the town.
She supposed what made it easy for her to talk was that he said little and yet she
could feel his desire to know.
On the last day, he had her sit on a bench surrounded by pillows. She wore
the same dress, but this time he'd told het to leave off the peatls. The air was
cool in the studio and she shivered. He handed her a shawl, but stopped her
from putting it around her shoulders. He stood close enough to her that she
could smell his skin's muskiness. His eyes were hard black stones off which light
refracted. He leaned close to her face and she felt that he didn't look at her but
through her. She blushed and leaned away from him. He reached for the thin
straps of the dress, slid them off her shoulders. He turned his back to her and
went to fiddle with his glass plates.
"You have lost weight, Mrs. Braithwaite, and you are very pale. You look as
if you could break in the wind. We should ask my wife to make you nuka and
salted salmon." He spoke with his back to her.
"How would you know that I have lost weight?"
"Because of the photograph I took of you right after the mine disaster." He
turned to look at her.
She pulled up the straps of her dress. "Tell me how you had the gall to take
my photograph without my permission." She flushed with a long-held rage.
He bowed slightly in the manner she'd seen him do with the other
businessmen in town. "It was wrong and I apologize." He sat next to her and
pulled the shawl around her shoulders. "Of the few photographs I was able to get
that day, it was the one of you that told the real story of the disaster. The anguish
in your face, Mrs. Braithwaite. It was art."
"Art? I lost my husband. You could never understand how that feels." She got
to her feet and looked down at him. "Give me my photograph now. What have
you done with it? Why isn't it on the walls with your pretty families?"
"They are cowards, unlike you." She felt the weight of his hands on her
shoulders. "You will see in the finished plates."
"Did you destroy the photograph?"
"I have kept it. Like a story, it was unfinished." He tutned her around to
face him. He eased her on to the bench, pulled the shawl off her shoulders and
looped his fingers through the straps of her dress, dropped them down. His eyes
64 PRISM  52: traveled over the folds of her dress to her lap and he tugged the fabric slowly up
her thighs.
At first she thought to slap his hand away, but she hesitated. Next to her
skin, his was golden-hued and it revived in her body an old want. His eyes would
not meet hers. He dropped his hand and retutned to his camera.
At the end of the afternoon, she went home to an empty house except for Jimmy.
"He's at the hospital, Fiona. You should go, quickly."
Jimmy's face was redder than usual, his eyes puffy. He left her alone in the
house for the first time in many years. She would go to the hospital in the
morning. She rolled the ringer washer to the sink, washed her father's linens and
hung them on the line. She opened the doors and windows, scrubbed the walls,
the linoleum, and the cupboards with lye. Coal dust turned the water black and
lye bleached the walls white. When she finished, beyond the tiny yard and street
the sun dropped behind the mountain in a fury of oranges and yellows. She
smoked four cigarettes.
The next morning Fiona tidied up after breakfast and went directly to
Matsubuchi's studio, where Matsubuchi's wife gteeted her. She was not the
woman Fiona had seen in the potato patch. She was older and a small-boned
woman, her ebony hair flipped into tiny curls at her cheekbones. She had a
quick cool smile and the trace of an accent. A shift of silk clung to her tiny body
with the hem gathered at her knees. They spoke of the fair weather and the
coming summer.
"Will you visit our little teahouse on the lake?" Mrs. Matsubuchi said.
Two summers ago, Fiona and Irene had walked past the mines and into the
trees to the Japanese teahouse on the lakeshore. There, they had sat in a makeshift
pagoda with cushions on the floor beside low tables and been served by heavily
made-up women in ornate kimonos with their hair piled high on their heads.
The two friends had giggled at the prospect of doing housework in such get-ups.
They had eaten sour pickles and dainty slices of salmon beneath paper lanterns,
and sipped from tiny china cups. The women had bowed to them and Fiona saw
now that it was the photographer's wife who had taken their money.
"Possibly," said Fiona, fiddling with a bracelet on her arm and glancing at her
The woman turned toward Matsubuchi, who came out from his darkroom
smiling and speaking in Japanese. He and his wife exchanged a few words and
both laughed. Mrs. Matsubchi picked up a small handbag, bowed to Fiona and
left through the door. The sound of her footsteps retreated down the stairs.
"Good morning, Mrs. Braithwaite. I am more than pleased with the plates,
and I'm sure you will be, too."
He laid them out on the long table in a row.
The first one was of a woman folded into hetself against a brick wall, a pretty,
blond woman with her face buried in her hands. She realized with a start that it
was herself; the photograph that she had imbued with so much meaning for over
a year, and yet it was an image only, a mete point in time. She laughed out loud.
She did not understand what Matsubuchi saw in it. 65 He directed her attention to the one at the end of the row. "This one is
the best," he said. In it, the body was relaxed; the eyes crinkled much like her
mother's. The lips were not exactly smiling and yet they suggested a feeling of
pleasure. The face was full of light and this surprised her. "She's a pretty girl,
whoever she is," she said with a smile.
He nodded, watching her.
"You've tampered with it."
"A little," he said. "It doesn't mean it isn't you. It's the photographer's art to
manipulate light. I would like to make one a gift to you."
She went back to the first photograph, the one of her against the wall, and
examined each one. She saw that he had placed them deliberately in a sequence.
The grief was there, as he had said it would be, and yet in each photo it seemed
less. "I think you must be something of a conjurer after all," she said. She tried
to explain to him how looking at her own image was somehow healing and he
"I am a photographer, not a healer, Mrs. Braithwaite."
"Keep them all," she said. "This teal self is burdensome enough."
She went home with her pay in her purse and added it to the money she'd
received for the Victrola. She sat for a long time and smoked the last of her
cigarettes. If she went to the hospital, she might lose her nerve. She gathered
most of her belongings into a single trunk and she was on the late train to Union
Bay, where she had booked a hotel room for one night. What else was she to do?
In a few hours her father would be dead if he wasn't already, and all of her known
family gone. She came from parents who went elsewhere and she suspected it
was in her blood to do the same. At 4:00 a.m. the following day she embarked
on the S.S. Princess Mary for Victoria. On the deck, she filled her lungs with
the sea's clean-flowing breezes and with her eyes followed the sun's sparkle on the
water's wide surface. A hazy line in the distance marked the horizon. She felt for
the first time what it might be like to be a miner—at the end of the day tising
from the datk into the light.
She had never been to Victoria though her mother had spoken fondly of
it: said it was a fanciful place with streets lined in flowers and all manner of
dandies. In reality, she was certain it was a place like any other with its dirt and
its meanness, but one in which she might at least imagine hetself into a finet life.
66 PRISM   52:1 April Buhner
Selected from the series "Violet Littlejohn "
Wayne's tongue like a root in the datk hole of my mouth. My heart a bloom.
Tuesday night, we waltz in the parish hall.
Imagine Jesus, his heart a full moon waxes in his chest: light; skull.
He holds the sexton's broom to his swollen breast:  graceful.
Barefoot, his white soles despite dust. Small miracles at St. Michael and All
My poems in a leather bound book. Wayne and me. My heart, a stone in
winter, warms for I dream of sweet cups of coffee, loaves of soft bread and a jar
of strawberry preserves in a bag.
But Wayne's truck in snow moves like a black nag. A mechanical beast slow on
gasoline. The broken barn. The Holy Ghost blows. Wayne, my red hand in
his, remembers communion. The host now a shadow. Solstice. The memory
of light.  Pyjamas are curtains drawn against the night. Wayne, pious, on his
knees, speaks to a candle: so fat and white.
The winter solstice. A full-moon lunar eclipse.
Outside, I imagine angels pace like cow dogs: a pack of animals, blood on
their lips. Dumb in the datk. But heart, snow and breath.
Morning, my belly shrouded in bed. Wayne lifts the white blanket: a cloud
I bathe in pomegranate and fig. A thin blue soap wanes slowly in my fist. 69 DADDY CHARLES
He wears a white tassel cap and dirty buck boots.
Eggs over easy at Jimmy's Lunch.
The shell of his mind broke as a boy. I imagine the hat, now perched like a
gull on the fragile egg, warms the wounds.
The men at the dinet listen to Daddy as he talks. Mostly about money and
how much things cost. Women:  a butden of bone and blood. The only
daughter, not a son.
My father, the soft toque, his strange squawk. Perhaps I desire an angel, his
smooth dark coif.  His wings so wide and heavy with feather, they brush the
dust from his shoes.  His tongue a beautiful red fish in the bowl of his mouth.
How silent it moves.
Wayne, a burlap bag of seed.
The sun crawls on his soft, biuised knees.  Perhaps he gives thanks for the
wind, the way it wipes his brow, as though with damp rag.
My man sows and I bear a bucket of watet:  communion to the Eatth.  She
opens her dry lips and receives.
My hands tremble with the weight of the sacrament. Clumsy, I pour and bless
and bless my dusty feet. 71 HYMN
Wayne, his eyes bloodshot with drink. His mothet has passed. Her hair so
frail and white I imagine it will tise, too, like a wildflower gone to seed.
We pray and weep. We remember her before the cane:  kneeling before a cow,
her buckets of warm milk, or the saviout, his cups of sweet wine.
Wayne, his heart a red bird, beats in the dark, knowing flight will come to
him, too. The blood, the wings, the song.
Wayne tears flesh from the bitd. A knife in his steady hand. Bowls of watm
potato, squash and tutnip.
I nutse Chuck, his soft mouth on my breast. The blue milk like a vein.
My nipple a shade of blood. A little red bloom. Tender and moist.
Outside, a cold winter rain. The sun a memory: a morning moon. It waxes
like a woman who has made love in the datk. Or Mary: a slow grace, a
swollen womb. 73 CONTRIBUTORS
April Bulmer's newest book, Women of the Cloth, will be released this fall from
Black Moss Press and will be available at Chapters and othet bookstores. She
holds Master's degrees in creative writing, teligious studies, and theological
studies and often writes about feminist spirituality. The poems in this issue of
PRISM international are excerpts from a small series called "Violet Littlejohn."
It focuses on themes of paganism and Christianity. April lives in Cambridge,
Ontario where she writes a column on spirituality and religion in The Cambridge
Citizen, an alternative newspaper. Contact her at
Sarah de Leeuw is a creative writer and human geographer. A two-time recipient
of a CBC Literary Prize for Creative Non-Fiction, she is the author of three
books including Geographies of a Lover which, in 2013, won the Dorothy Livesay
Award, a BC Book Prize granted annually to best book of poetry by a BC author.
With a PhD in cultural-historical geography from Queen's University, de Leeuw
is an associate professor in the Northern Medical Program at UNBC and the
Faculty of Medicine at UBC, where she teaches and undertakes research in the
areas of medical humanities and health inequalities. Her literary and academic
work appears widely in journals, anthologies, and textbooks. She lives in Prince
George, British Columbia.
Eric Freeze is the author of Dominant Traits (stories, Oberon, 2011) and the
forthcoming Hemingway on a Bike (essays, University of Nebraska Press, 2014).
He has published in a variety of periodicals including Boston Review, The Southern
Review, Harvard Review, and Prairie Fire. An Albertan, he currently teaches
creative writing at Wabash College in Indiana.
W. Mark Giles writes fiction and poetry. His book Knucklehead was awarded
the WO. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Award. His work has appeared in many
journals in Canada. He splits his time between Calgary and Halifax. "A Man
Will Set Foot on the Moon" is excerpted from a novel, Seep.
Peter Harding (b. 1933) is a versatile and prolific German author best known
to English-language readers for his accounts of his own life experiences and his
creative biographies of cultural figures such as Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert,
and the poet Holderlin. A freelance writer since 1974, he has roughly ninety
published volumes of prose, poetry, essays, dramas, and children's literature to
his credit. His many literary prizes and othet honours include the prestigious
German Book Prize (Deutscher Biicherpreis), which he received in 2003.
Judy LeBlanc was longlisted for the 2013 CBC short story prize and placed
first in the 2012 Antigonish Review shorr story contest. Her work has appeared
in Grain, Antigonish Review, Other Voices, and The Coastal Spectator. She lives on
Vancouver Island and her website is
74 PRISM  52:1 Garth Martens won The Bronwen Wallace Award in 2011. His work is published
or forthcoming in Poetry Ireland Review, Vallum, The Fiddlehead, Grain, and The
Malahat Review. For the past eight years he has worked in large-scale commercial
consttuction. His first book will appeat with House of Anansi in 2014. He lives
in Victotia, British Columbia.
Leonard Neufeldt's work has appeared in a dozen anthologies, in many creative
writing magazines, and literary journals in Canada and the U.S. His poems have
been read on the CBC, National Public Radio, and the Public Broadcasting
System, and some of his shott lyrics have been set to music by several notable
composers. Born and raised in immigrant Yarrow, BC, he currently resides in
Gig Harbor with his wife Mera. His seventh volume of poems Trees Partly of
Wood is cutrently under editorial review.
Sam Shelstad is from London, Ontario, and is completing an MFA at the
University of Victoria. His short fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly,
McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Feathertale, Keep This Bag Away From Children,
and The Rusty Toque.
Mallory Tater is a third-year creative wtiting student at the University of Victoria,
originally from Ottawa, Ontatio. She has been wtiting from a young age and her
work has appeared in Island Writer, Bywords, The Danforth Review, and Ascent
Aspirations Magazine. She is also a poetry editor for This Side of West literary
journal in Victoria.
Susan Thome has translated German fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and historical
documents, including travel literature excerpts of Jurek Becker and Wolfgang
Koeppen, among others, for four volumes of Oxygen Press's CityPick seties. Het
translation for Jossey-Bass/John Wiley of The Manager and the Monk: A Discourse
on Prayer, Profit, and Principles appeared in April 2013. For her translation of the
Markus Orths short story "Small World" ("Kleine Welt") see the Two Lines website: Resident in Kingston, ON,
Canada, she also transposes and translates documents in Old Getman Script.
A. Whitfield was born in Tidewater, Virginia, became involved in an outlaw
motorcycle gang at a young age, and has been incarcerated in Virginia and
New York for almost thirty years. He has earned undergraduate degrees from
Canisius College of Buffalo and Indiana University. His essays have appeared
in The Minnesota Review, Stone Canoe, Central New York Magazine, The Good
Men Project website and will soon appear in the book Fourth City: The Prison in
America, edited by Dotan Larson, PhD. 75 Writing in the Margins
Creative Writing Contest
Briarpatch Magazine is now accepting submissions of original,
unpublished writing in the categories of short fiction (judged
by SHANI MOOTOO) and creative non-fiction (judged by
MARCELLO DICINTIO) that bring to life issues of political,
social and environmental justice.
$750 in cash prizes. Deadline for entry is December 1, 2013.
See for full contest details.
suDscriDe to
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LCj The Creative Writing Program at U.B.G.
The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.F.A. degree may also be taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen 8e TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics &? Libretto.
Steven Galloway
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Annabel Lyon
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Timothy Taylor
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Joseph Boyden, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner, Terry Glavin,
Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe, Stephen Hunt,
Peter Levitt, Susan Musgrave &? Karen Solie
Faculty PRISM
1st prize: $1,500
1st runner-up $300
2nd runner-up $200
DEADLINE: NOV. 28, 2013
1st prize: $2,000
1st runner-up $300
2nd runner-up $200
DEADLINE: JAN. 23, 2014
1st prize: $1,000
1st runner-up $300
2nd runner-up $200
DEADLINE: JAN. 23, 2014
All entrants receive a one-year subscription to PRISM. All first-place winners will be
published in PRISM. Please visit our website for contest entry guidelines:
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