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AAJ international  MICHAEL PACEY
Poetry Editor
Fiction Editor
Copy Editor
Managing Editor
Promotions & Publicity
Translations Advisor
Advisory Editor
Business Manager
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times per year at
the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. v6t 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
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Contents Copyright © 1985 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover design and artwork: Brenda Borrowman
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Payment to contributors is $20.00 per page and a subscription. PRISM international
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Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and the University of British Columbia.
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British
Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery Revenues.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. June 1985. CONTENTS
Eric McCormack
Knox Abroad
Brian Bartlett
Three Poems
L.A. Whitt
"Listening Figure"
Robert Eady
Three Prose Poems
Toni Sammons
Bill Gaston
Ralph Gustafson
Two Poems
Derek Robinson
Kay Ryan
Two Poems
Elaine Perry
"Jenny and Stella"
Don Domanski
Three Poems
Gregory Cook
"The Family Cannon"
lei Dumbraveanu
Two Poems
George Bowering
"Bushy Considerations"
Patrick White
"On the Day That You Were Born"
Keath Fraser
13 Ways of Listening To a Stranger
53  Eric McCormack
Knox Abroad
The voyage is over. John Knox stands, sways a little, with Clootie, his
cat, on the forest-ragged banks of the river (more like the shore of the
ocean), on land at last. It is October, and this is an alien place. He looks
around and smiles. Nothing has changed, even after a wilderness of sea.
His shoes touch dead leaves, the discreet vomit of the trees. He observes
the paralysis of the rocks. The winds still blast down from directly above,
threatening to hammer him, like a stake, into the ground, drive him
under, bury him alive. Every night of the voyage, he saw (he has seen
the same thing for twenty years of nights) the planets and the stars
desert, rush centrifugally away into the outer universe, as though fleeing
a plague. In the mornings, as always, the sun searched him out, singed
his ever so delicate gray skin. Again he smiles. Even amongst the trees,
there is no refuge. He bends over and lightly strokes Clootie's black coat.
Together, they turn and walk along the beaten path, fade into the forest
"An etymological footnote on the name Canada. John Knox, the founder
of Scottish Presbyterianism, was apprehended in 1547 by the French and
sentenced to serve as a galley-slave in the French navy. After eighteen
months, he escaped. A Breton legend, however, suggests that before
escaping, he served some months on an exploration ship to New France.
This is not impossible. A less reliable tradition, however, supplies the
information that, many years later, after his return to Scotland, one of
his disciples asked him for his opinion of the New World, which had now
become a refuge for the persecuted. Knox is said to have replied, 'I canna
dae wi' it, I canna dae wi' it,' thus, albeit inadvertently, giving the country
its name." M. Gobert, Memoires des Ecossais, (Geneve, 1897).
In the galleys, he was supposed to be the slave, but he was master, he
knew it and they knew it. The same on the expedition ship. The mate
lacked the nerve to make him holystone the decks alongside the others,
for fear of his tongue. No ears could endure the monstrous words
(predestination! election! reprobation!) he could hurl against them. Still,
he was no burden: when the barber-surgeon drowned in a storm, two weeks out of St. Malo, Knox took his place —no one else had the stomach for the job. Though he loathed the unbearable closeness of other
living bodies on the ship. Give him solitary confinement, a narrow dungeon, and he would have been more content.
The captain, knowing his prowess as a controversialist, tried often, on
this tedious journey, to entice him to his cabin for dinner, to dispute on
matters theological. Knox spat at him as an idolator like all the others,
and refused the bait.
Knox jettisoned the statue of the Virgin. It was on a Sunday, and the
crew assembled for the weekly statue-kissing, a good luck ritual. Knox
grabbed the statue from its perch by the mainmast and hurled it, head
over tail, halo of stars over serpent's head, out into the ocean. Where it
sank like a stone. The sacrilege horrified the French sailors, but they
kept their hands off him. He joked to his cat: "The Queen of the Sea
cannae swim, Clootie." But they kept their hands off him.
Physically, Knox was scrawny. He was an aggressive talker, except to
his cat, Clootie, a black creature, sleek, with wicked eyes. It was a
growler, a hisser, and in the minds of the sailors, was Knox's familiar
demon. Knox, too, was a growler, but never to Clootie:
"Well, Clootie, my wee man, did you ever see a country so naked of
churches? It won't do. I can already imagine a forest of steeples along
this riverbank. Churches could make this obscene river a lovely thing"
(Knox could speak perfectly good English, ungnarled by "ach's" and
"dinnae's", whenever he felt like it).
The cat would purr its admiration of his voice, winding itself around
his narrow shins. The man would squint about. If they were alone, he
would allow the rubbing to continue, melting into it. If not, Knox would
boot the cat out of his way, its tail swishing angrily.
Thank Christ I am off the ship at last. That fat pig-wife of the captain's
spying on me everywhere with her pig eyes. The only favour I ever did
for her was to tear the dead baby out of her by the feet. Now she wants
me. The black sows farrowing on my father's farm sickened me less. And
thank Christ to be out of that stinking fo'c'scle. Filth and corruption
everywhere. Men opening their breeches to show off the size of their
organs. Ship's boys acting as their fancy-women.
But during the storms, the truth flared up in them. Fear bulged in
their eyes, and I taunted them all, every single one of them, with the
burning fires of Hell. I was on deck during the great storm in mid-ocean,
admiring the fury of the waters. They were trying to lower sail, when a
boom snapped, the sail ripped, and sheets flogged everywhere. A young
sailor, the worst balls-strutter of the lot, caught his arm in the grip of a
ratchet. The bone was half-broken, like a sappy branch, and all the flesh
torn, the muscles severed. I took the surgeon's saw and sawed the arm
away from his jerking body, then I carried him below and dipped the
8 stump in boiling tar. For days, I was the one to bite off his rotten flesh
and suck out the pus. I even swallowed it if they were watching. They
couldn't match me. As long as I can remember, death and sickness,
sickness and death have been my allies.
Now the voyage is over. This was a good place to land. All around
me, beautiful sites for churches, plain churches, with plain cemeteries,
no flowers if I can help it. I have planted already the men nobody else
would touch, who died of cholera on the voyage. I've manured the soil
with corpses the way we did with the dead cattle on the farm. I buried
their sad priest, sick since we left France. Only Clootie and I attended
his funeral. We commended his body to the devil. Back on the ship, I
cleaned the shit and the vomit of the sick from the decks. It gives me an
advantage over them all, they are so concerned about staying alive.
The sailors presented the natives with pieces of coloured broken glass,
brown wooden beads, pieces of rope, and scraps of cloth. The natives
seemed uninterested. One gift, an iron knife, they all admired. The
captain insisted it go to the chief, Quheesquheenay, to win his favour.
They offered the natives pieces of Breton cheese, quite rank after the
voyage, which the natives, in turn, gave to their dogs; fried chicken legs
(chickens had been kept aboard), which the natives relished; boiled
chicken eggs, which they spat out. Wine, they treated as contaminated
water, and could not understand why the sailors drank it when there was
so much fresh water around. They munched cautiously on some lumps
of black bread from the captain's pantry.
The natives gave little in return, no gold or silver, which was really
what the sailors hoped for. They did give them amulets full of rats' giblets and bones. The sailors objected to the smell and threw the amulets
into the river while the natives looked on. They invited the crew to eat a
sort of stewed beef that smelt very appetizing, but the sailors were afraid
it was made of human meat. Some of them vomited spontaneously at
the very sight of it. The natives watched all this impassively.
The chief's council offered, finally, as a special treat to the captain, a
bowl full of fresh assorted testicles of forest creatures, from the huge
rubbery testes of the moose and the bear to the tiny soft beads of rats and
rabbits. The captain hid his nausea and diplomatically accepted the gift.
He took it back with him aboard ship, and, after dark, flung the testes
overboard. They caught in an eddy, and floated around the ship for
days, swelling grotesquely till they burst and sank.
The male natives were tall, for the most part, well-muscled, dressed in
neatly-stitched animal skins. Sickness was unusual amongst them.
There were no wenns, no leprosy, no bloody flux, no stopping of the
stomach, no gout, no strangury, no fistulas, no tissicks, no spotted fever,
no headmould, no shingles, no rickets, no scurvy, no griping in the guts.
There were no congenital deformities. There were no pest-houses. The skin of the warriors was bronze and clear, except for battle scars.
They had flashing dark eyes, and they all seemed to be superb athletes,
capable of feats the puny Bretons could only envy. They could lope with
ease along tangled forest paths, hurl their spears gracefully, paddle their
bark canoes at amazing speeds. They wrestled with ferocity, not hesitating to break an opponent's limb if the opportunity offered.
The natives had heard about the French from neighbouring tribes
who had been visited by earlier ships, but this was the first time they
themselves had seen the strangers. Clearly they were disappointed, for
they found it impossible to respect men whose physical prowess was so
defective. But they did respect the power of the arquebusses and the
ship's cannon, which the Frenchmen quickly demonstrated.
The French sailors learnt to be careful in their approaches to the
native women. A warrior's wives were private property and it was death
for a stranger to tamper with them. All the other women were available
to all the tribe, and were quite free with their sexual favours, even widows and grandmothers. Which was as well for the Frenchmen, since the
young women, golden-skinned and lithe, would have nothing to do with
them. They had the bodies of dancers. Their clothing was provocative,
their breasts dangling loose, their nipples erect when excited, which was
often. Their skirts were split to the waist. When they ran, their hairless
crotches were visible. Often, while they were relaxing, or were just
sitting down, they would finger their groins unconsciously, or sometimes, consciously if they saw the Frenchmen squinting at them.
At night, the warriors would flit around their bonfires, whooping
fearsomely. Or they would stretch on beds of skins moodily sucking on
their tobacco pipes with glassy eyes. If the visitors were present, there
would be an air of tension. The chief of the tribe, Quheesquheenay,
would sit there on his deerskin mat, making no effort to communicate,
staring intently at the Frenchmen. The solemn beat of drums would
resound, echoed by other drums great distances away across the river.
10 I have the heathen under control. They despise the others but they fear
me. I notice the young braves, showing off to each other throwing their
spears at targets, grow silent even when Clootie appears amongst them.
Their shaman is terrified of the cat. I am sure he has tried all his curses
against me and Clootie in vain, since the time when the daughter of the
chief, Quheesquheenay, developed a terrible fever and was clearly going
to die. The shaman couldn't cure her, he could only make things worse.
The chief was desperate and asked if I could do anything. They believe
that those who are indifferent to death have great power over life.
What makes John Knox tick? A question he sometimes asks himself. He
tells himself this story:
Once upon a time early in the sixteenth century, a little Scottish boy
lived on a farm near Edinburgh. He was a quick-witted little boy, too
smart by half for his schoolfellows, who hated his guts. He possessed
certain time-honoured schoolboy traits: he liked to pluck the legs and
wings from insects to see their reactions. He possessed too, certain other
traits not so time-honoured: with an axe, he enjoyed cutting the legs off
live rabbits and chickens. From time to time, he would take pleasure in
dropping a dead mouse into his mother's stew. On such occasions, he
would play sick, and reap the double benefit of watching the others eat
the stew, and of being himself considered rather delicate. This gained
him additional attention. In short, that was the kind of boy he was. A
practical joker.
He had many sisters, some of them quite attractive, and no brothers.
His attitude towards his sisters was somewhat ambivalent. He hated
their guts and would steal their makeup and pinch their arms quite
cruelly. But, he liked to peep at them before bedtime, through a crack in
his bedroom wall, admiring the various breasts and pudenda in their
various stages of development. Yes, he found that rather a stimulating
part of his day.
His mother and father, it should be noted, were honest-to-goodness
farmers, and regular church-goers.
(John Knox always likes the story to this point.)
One of the practical jokes the boy liked to play concerned rats. He
would capture rats in a wooden box. Then, when no one was around, he
would head on over to the pigsty, and call out the pigs. There was a
small round hole through the wall beside the feed-troughs. The boy
would chase the rats out of the box, into this hole, and right into the
mouths of the pigs. The pigs had grown fond of such a regular treat.
This was one prank the boy really enjoyed.
One thing leads to another. It happened that he was looking after his
littlest sister, three months old, while his parents were making jams
inside the house. As he wandered past the pigsty, carrying the baby, he
wondered how the pigs would deal with a tiny pink infant, rather than tiny pink rats. He gently laid the baby on the muddy floor of the sty, and
called out the pigs. Well, who knows what goes through a pig's mind?
Did they even notice the different proportions, the different texture?
Four huge porkers seized the baby-limbs, and ripped her to pieces, regardless of her screams, and swallowed her in great slobbering gobbets.
The howls of the baby and the snorting of the pigs attracted the attention of the honest father and mother, and they came running down from
the farmhouse to see what was going on. What they saw horrified them.
They saw the bloody mess on the sty floor. They saw their little boy
looking at them apprehensively.
At that very moment, just then, quite as if by design, the boy found
religion. As soon as he saw the genuine anguish on his parents' honest
faces, he began to shout, as if by instinct, "O Jesus, O Jesus," and,
jumping in amongst the pigs, kicked and slapped at their snouts, shouting, "Begone, Satan, begone," an expression he had often heard from the
preachers at the church to which his honest parents took him each
Sunday. His father grabbed him by the coat and pulled him out of that
sty. The boy said, "I was takin' the babby doon for a walk, when a great
hairy black beastie wi' fire comin' oot o' its mooth and its ears pulled the
bairnie oot o' ma airms and threw it ower the wa' to the piggies."
He could see that his parents already half-believed him, certain that
no human child would be capable of feeding his baby sister to pigs. The
boy understood then that all the quirks in himself he had misguidedly
thought to be unnatural and perverse were really, if properly perceived,
signs of a religious disposition. And so he decided that, as soon as he
grew up, he would become a Reformer. And he did. His parents
became, in due course, very proud of his achievements, though he sometimes thought he could see a skeptical glint in their eyes. But they all
lived happily ever after.
Such is the tale John Knox tells himself: he knows it doesn't cover all the
bases, but it is generally quite pleasing. One thing still surprises him
after all these years: when alone, religious matters never enter his head.
He wonders if the other Reformers are the same, but hesitates to ask.
With my pussycat, Clootie, I went to her tepee. As we entered, a sweaty
young man left, hitching up his loincloth. The tepee was all shadows
and foul smells, the shaman's smoke. The girl lay on a frame bed of
stretched skins staring at the roof. She was naked, and she too was
covered in sweat. Her legs were parted and her hand was at her crotch,
fingers stroking. The chief, two of his councillors, and the shaman, stood
beside the bed. He is a mouth-shaman, and was leaning over her spitting
some green mixture into her mouth. I saw her spit most of it right back
in his face, and vomit up the rest. The shaman looked fierce with his red
and white stripes, but his eyes were anxious. He shook his rattles and
12 howled, but they all knew, and he knew, he had failed. The girl looked
over at me and smiled, the shreds of vomit around her mouth. She lifted
her hand from her crotch, and stretched it out to me, her fingers
She had sweated out her disease, her furor uterinus for days, and she
would die soon, for they did not know how to save her. All they could
think of was to supply her with men to satisfy her deadly appetite and to
trust in the shaman's superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
"That hill, over there by the sacrificial stakes, would be a good spot for
a church."
"Ah, yes."
"The long-house would be all right as a temporary church, but they'd
have to strip away those ornamental scalps and skulls."
"If we burnt down the whole forest on the peninsula and ripped up the
weeds and the flowers, and anything else alive, we could build a whole
set of churches, one for every day of the week. Nothing fancy, no ornaments or any of that kind of thing, just plain seats and a stool for the
preacher. Cats would be welcome. We'd have plain cemeteries with
picket fences for each church."
"How about a church under that waterfall? Made of fieldstone, very
plain. You'd have to carry an umbrella for going in and out. A nice
"Quite so."
I told them I must have absolute freedom in the treatment of the girl or I
would do nothing. I ordered the shaman out with his barbarous cures.
He mumbled at me, cursing me no doubt, in his heathen way. I
wouldn't let him away with that, but I replied moderately, damning him
only according to the Scriptures. Clootie, as ever, snarling at him with
hunched back, terrified him, and he hurried out of the tepee, along with
the chief and the others. I called in two of the older sailors to help me
begin this holy work.
First we forced her hands away from her groin. We lashed her hands
and her feet to the sides of the crib to stop her thrashing about. She
sweated even more and began screaming. I opened my Bible in my left
hand, and from under my coat, I unsheathed my whip, which I had
brought with me on purpose.
Everything was ready. I ordered the sailors to stand outside the entrance of the tepee, and allow no one to enter. I began to read from the
Book of Psalms in a loud voice, uncoiling my whip slowly before the
patient's eyes. Clootie jumped onto the bed and rubbed himself against
:3 My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my
For my loins are filled with a loathsome
disease: and there is no soundness in my
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.
The heathen are sunk down in the pit that
they made.
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fires
and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this
shall be the portion of their cup.
Then did I beat them small as the dust before
the wind.
And I smote his enemies in the lower parts:
I put them to a perpetual reproach.
I began to read the verses a second time, more loudly. But this time,
after each verse, I lashed her naked body. She screamed as the skin
lifted, the welts rose across her breasts. Then I aimed lower on her body,
across the thighs and the open vulva. She stopped screaming. She gave
great gasps and whimpers, and it was my turn to roar. I shouted the
verses and lashed harder and harder. Her body convulsed, and, at last,
the demon rushed out between her legs in a liquid gurgle. Clootie, who
had been rubbing himself against her all through this, howled, and his
hair stood on end. I myself was roused by that evil in her. To ensure it
was completely gone, I lashed her several more times. Then I put my
hand cautiously towards her groin, fearful of the bite of the beast. With
my fingers I could feel nothing at the entrance, so I slid them into the
round moist cavern. Still nothing to be afraid of. Unsatisfied, I inserted
the long sweaty handle of my whip, turning it, moving it in and out, in
and out, the sure way to scrape any remnants of the demon away. Her
eyes glazed as she looked up at me, thankful for my precautions. I jerked
the handle up and down rapidly, she convulsed again, sighed, and immediately fell asleep. I too was drained by my exorcism, but well-satisfied. I knew that all was well.
I sat for a moment to catch my breath, then I opened the tepee flap
and let the chief and his men back in. I sensed their revulsion as they saw
on her body the stripes of the lash. Yet she was in a deep, untroubled
sleep and her fever was broken. I expected no thanks and received none.
The shaman untied the ropes, and covered her sleeping body with skins.
I told the chief that somebody must administer the same cure to her each
time she fell into that fever. I told him, though I am not sure he understood, that he must build churches, churches, churches, in memory of
her cure.
14 "You tell us we should not eat our enemies, yet the captain says that in
France, he and his men eat Jehovah daily. Explain this."
"Filthy heathen, spare me your quibbles."
"Before original sin, did men still fart and shit after they ate?"
"Filthy heathen, you do not understand."
"What good is heaven if all our tribe do not go to heaven? What good
is heaven if my wives and my sons and my dogs are not in heaven with
me? What good is heaven if my enemies are not there so that we can all
reminisce together in heaven about old battles?"
"Filthy heathen, cease your blasphemy."
"How can you hate the women and yet desire them so much at the
same time?"
"Filthy, lying heathen. You are one of the damned."
How ugly the aliens are, their skin is wormy white, and marred by
scabs. Boils sprout on them overnight like forest toadstools. Their
clothing is clumsy and heavy. Their minds are a mystery. They adore
their Book, a collection of dead words. We would have annihilated them
long ago, but for their guns. We have never before faced enemies who
were contemptible as men, yet could defeat us in battle because of their
Their shaman, the little man, Knox, is the living death. He has made
a few converts amongst our people, even my own daughter. Pain was his
gift to her. The captain, a simple man, admits that many like Knox will
come to our hunting grounds in the future. Our own shaman has
dreamed, for three nights, the end of the world.
"I am curious about the function of your shamans across the ocean.
Here, our shaman prays for good luck, curses bad luck, sings songs and
tells good stories at our feasts, blesses the penis and vagina of the newly-
weds, teaches the children how to bind arrows well, how to be brave in
battle; he defies the demons of darkness; in times of famine, he fasts and
moves his tepee to the forest so that the rest of us may eat well and live in
company in the village; he weeps for all the dead, he rejoices at births; he
loves the river, the trout, the moose, the eagle, the pack-wolves, the
muskrats, the morning sun, the snow in winter; he is the friend of our
friends, he admires the ferocity of our enemies; nothing that exists
disgusts him."
"He is a filthy heathen fiend and is already damned."
Their stay amongst us has lasted only two moons. They must sail away
before the winter storms. They have wiped out all game within six miles
of the village — we will now face a hard winter. Some of our children
have died of a cough we have never known. As a final gesture, the aliens
15 say they will kill, for us, with their guns, a village of our neighbouring
enemies. I have thanked them and refused their offer. Our shaman is
glad they are leaving, but he still whispers to me that he sees only death
in his omens.
One night around midnight, while the village fires were still flickering,
two huge marauding bears came barging out of the forest. Knox's cat,
Clootie, fur on end, charged at them screeching from deep in his throat.
The bears, startled, turned and ran. For days afterwards, Knox would
wheeze with laughter at the memory. "Ach, Clootie," he would say, "ane
wee Scottish cratur is mair than a match for a' the beasties in the New
Some thoughts on a brief code of behaviour to be followed by converts after I am gone
A. Sexual Matters: strict monogamy is a must, even bestiality is a lesser
offence than adultery; sexual intercourse only for breeding; cover the
flesh: shirts and trousers for men, underwear and breast-bindings for
women; absolutely no kissing, cuddling, or touching of the body of the
other sex before marriage; the menstrual abomination to be dealt with in
complete secrecy by the women.
B. Other: Hunting needs to be organized on a less seasonal basis to keep
the men from being idle for lengthy spells; rites of passage for the boys
should not be discouraged, the pain being a valuable discipline; likewise
the practice of torturing enemies: it teaches contempt of the flesh (much
of these heathens' behaviour may be turned to good account).
C. Build churches, churches.
The French captain (his wife was party to it) coaxed one of the older
native women to be his mistress. She would then gossip with the other
women about his fat paunch and his stinking breath. And about how,
with his wife looking on, he always made love to her from behind like a
dog. Whenever the captain appeared in the village, afterwards, Knox
would trot in front of him, barking as loudly as he could. All the village
dogs would join the chorus. Some of the native women, inspired by this,
would squat on the ground and urinate, as the captain passed, their
tongues dangling like hounds'.
We will root out the shaman Knox's followers after he has gone. Even
my own daughter. We will saw off their heads with the iron knife they
gave me, then we will throw the bodies and the knife into the river.
Nothing of him will remain. He longs to return to his homeland where
his enemies are more like him. We are too innocent and we are too
devious. This alone is certain: we are our only friends.
The day before they were due to sail, a native guide led a group of sailors
16 through the forest and showed them a mound of earth in a clearing.
Knox and his cat Clootie went with them, as always, when there was the
prospect of some hunting. The sailors began digging in the mound,
hoping to find some of that elusive treasure. Instead, skulls. Hundreds
upon hundreds of human skulls. They presumed they were in some kind
of traditional tribal burial place. But the skulls, belonging to men,
women and children, all seemed recent. Perhaps some disease was responsible. Then they noted that many of the skulls had been split, pierced
with sharp objects. They saw too, that the bone had not been picked
clean by worms and ants. The guide told them the mound was the top of
a shaft, hundreds of feet deep, and that it was the place where they had,
for generations, buried the heads of enemies who had been decapitated.
Their heads were boiled, he said, their brains eaten. In the last three
moons before the sailors arrived, he said, Quheesquheenay's people had
beheaded in this way at least one thousand enemies, and had filled the
pit to overflowing. On the basis of that good omen, the arrival of the
aliens had been welcomed. Some of the men were appalled, but Knox
laughed heartily. They lacked faith, he said: it was clear from the Bible
that Providence frequently operated by means of a timely massacre or
two. Knox secretly suspected that Quheesqueenay had arranged the
"discovery" to deter the Frenchmen from ever returning to the New
The coastline of France looms in the distance. Knox alone, of those on
deck, does not need to be there. He relishes the ferocious cold, the thin
snow falling in a gusty wind. The coastal hills are dappled with it, like
leprosy. Or is it, he smiles, heaven's vomit? Clootie would have purred
at the idea. Clootie who is not with him. Clootie who had to be left behind, prowling, he imagines, those forest thickets, terrifying man and
beast for years yet, especially that old heathen shaman. Reminding them
of something they would not easily destroy. He thinks of Clootie with
fondness but with no regret. The New World was child's play. Now, the
battle will be amongst professionals, like himself. He breathes deeply,
fills his lungs with the chill air sweeping over the water from all the chill
regions of the Old World. His home. Brian Bartlett/ Three Poems
"To be the ears and whiskers
of this questioning
silvery beast, no sunbather
under my round lamp
asleep on the desk, no dreamer
of small-boned warblers
struck down in the grass."
A rough tongue touches
ink. Poised sentinel
shifting its limbs at the least
scent in the room,
the least nod or nicking
on the wires out there.
Now, more phrases traced
close to those claws, that
body of blood and muscle
breathing on the page —
the world's presence, all
io lbs. of it
1U   IDS.    Ul   It
parked at my fingertips and
my trail of wandering ink:
"The desk is a harbour, I
a middleman busy
with whistling arrivals and
embarkations, here
where a cat paces the dock,
eyeing the two-way traffic . .
This is the moment kicking and gliding
become as easy as breathing on the trail
or as stopping.   Shadowed by spruces
he chases brightness born in the sky,
light rolling around in spring snow —
poles light as wings, skis light as air.
The mood in his room last night was an air
played on a hoarse fiddle (no dancers gliding
across his bare floor, just darkness and snow)
but today his eyes and skis make a trail
new as an infant.   Quiet props up the sky.
Old frowner, bellyacher, smell the spruces!
Hear the tapping of the dripping spruces!
His pace could be speech —tongue, mouth, air,
a sure rhythm under a cowing sky.
Composing, his mind already goes gliding
around the curves of a poem's trail —
until, toppled backward, he sinks into snow.
But even this is good: a field of snow
turns upside down, and under the spruces
lies blueness perfect but for a jet trail.
Far from his lost coat, his lachrymose air,
his Montreal shuffle, kicking and gliding
he wears a wool sweater the colour of the air.
19 Who cares about a home in the sky?
He'll be a skier in infinite snow,
blue amidst green.   Three syllables gliding
lightly, once heavy as fallen spruces,
"momentum" breezes along like the air —
slow words fleet down his tongue's trail.
His five senses leap, like rabbits, off the trail.
Laughing at the dwarfing sky,
he curses his bosses and all their hot air —
but at twilight he'll see the infant snow
turned grey, while wind whipping the spruces
freezes his dream.   Shivering, gliding
to trail those five rabbits white as snow,
gliding home, he'll hear a fiddler's air—
dark as the sky —approach through the spruces.
Brahms can wait tonight.
Nothing fine, nothing sublime
tempts me to the concert hall.
Other men's poems, other men's stories,
Dolphy's flutes and saxes,
Celtic reels and hornpipes, bicycles
tracing a blue river's
curve, reckless talk with friends,
walks through snow to buy French bread.
now I turn my back
on them all.   The watcher's turn to dance,
the listener's turn to speak:
Flinging aside the last clawing branch
he stumbles into a sunlit field.
Thistles stick to his pants, leaves to his hair.
His backpack cuts into his shoulders
with the weight of all he loves.
He breathes the odour of wheat and says:
"Bless French bread, bless pumpernickel bread,
raisin, pita, rye, and five grains."
(The truth is, tonight I went to Brahms.
This is a story, but a good one.)
Many-faced scribbler, busy fool, sleep soon
in some calm, distant valley
where everyone grows only one tree.
21 L. A. Whitt
What betrays its self-containment
is the ear
bent to a stillness so stubborn
it brays and digs in
stupid with resistance
over this gesture
strains of Dvorak's New World passed
something vast
receding. . .
but now
it is mimesis
a mere summoning of sound
where a listening figure
leans into whiteness
and waits
(Once there were words which
welled up
softly, in resonance
then spilt over,
22 now there is only
the figure and the
welded together
like the patient prongs
of a tuning fork —
for a certain fixed tone
to be struck)
23 Robert Eady/Three Prose Poems
Flaras were once a breed of intelligent, deer-like creatures. They developed exquisite feminine tastes and built elegant castles of mica and
bone. Their idea of time was based on the rate of the cooling of the
earth, which they'd learned to measure precisely. They were deeply religious and melancholy in outlook, believing the moon to be god and the
stars and planets, his sons. Endless holy wars broke out amongst them
over disagreements concerning lunar eclipses and the succession of
kings. Their bones sprouted new sets of antlers, much as a young tree in
spring sprouts new limbs. After several million years of battle, their
bodies became antlered from hoof to crown and were locked together in
a deadly embrace from which there was no escape. The last great herds
of flaras resembled forests of leafless briar.
Made of garbage bag stuff and of no particular rank, they aim bent
rifles, swing grenades the size of hearts.
Their fatal sin, a maddening courage, bland resilience under fire. No
hurled stone causes injury. Firecrackers simply blow them over, not to
Till some bored kid squirts lighter fluid and strikes a match. But even
in flames they refuse to flinch. I've found them in little green puddles,
stretched like taffy and curled on sticks.
Once the bovine head has been removed, the carcass is the same as the
body of a decapitated man. It is considered immoral to eat of the torso or
The creature however, is still useful to mankind. The brains are a
delicacy and the hide is used to make seamless gloves, shirts, slacks and
body suits.
25 Toni Sammons
So you scoot out
of the lap of this country
into another
and it's no business of mine. I have
my own face with its print
of distance to get through customs, my own
inadequate passport. And everything
anyone loves
has always been revocable
but in summer I'm not resourceful. Bones settle
more deeply in the flesh, like rocks
in an untilled field, while the child inside
stamps off toward a city morning: damp
sunlight and cold cement
and the cool air full of tricks
and waxy new leaves
because in your presence or absence
valves disconnect and water
begins to rise: an entire system conspires
toward loss and recollection,
a memory detached from time or primitive
as the fish that swim
through my knees; or
when I sink, the bloody wavelets
that push me upright:
I conclude
that we struggle for unity
and settle for balance
and I become
the specialized kind of coward
in love with facts: you reserve
26 your flights and I
keep to the waiting room and think
of magnolias throwing their red hands
on steep Himalayan slopes
of a small white falcon flying toward Tibet
of tulips growing wild in the Crimea
and finally I bear myself
toward a hot shoulder of land
vineyards crowded with leaves and shadows
on both sides of the white road: stands
of lavender nudged by yellow bees
and myself taking myself
every day into the sea
resinous pine with its lightning slash
healing like a seam
alone at night, I welcome
the loaned heat of the house, of stone;
my own stored questions: does
slow motion make
the shoving continents graceful? that giant face
lifting from the ocean, spitting shells
something near the midpart of my head, that
stubborn affectionate ridge, closes my eyes:
I watch the sea floor spreading, spreading
is this original? You and I one
continent, and breaking
27 Bill Gaston
The Literary Death of a
Latin American Man
for C. Montague
I've met my destiny,
my final South American destiny.
The manifold labyrinth steps
wove through all these years since childhood
has brought me to this ruinous afternoon.
— Borges
Eight-year-old Jimmy Mayer regarded the tiny nugget there in the bottom of his glass. The trace of milk at the bottom would not adhere to this
thing which glinted yellow and clean. Jimmy Mayer knew he had found
something special. He knew it was connected somehow to the accident
with the big car below his apartment window. He even thought he knew
what this thing was, but he didn't, not really. No one north of Latin
America knows the true nature of gold, nor would Jimmy Mayer ever
come to know it, even after his hoarding of it had stopped and his rise to
political power was complete. Years later, when he was rich and elected
Mayor of Vancouver (his name's quaint homonymy was a help not a
hindrance), people assumed these two successes came of his being Jewish
and knowing gold. But they were wrong. Jimmy Mayer was in fact
aided and doomed in life by none other than what he had this day found
at the bottom of his glass of milk.
There are few assassinations in Deep Cove because not many
foreigners come to live here. So the assassination of The Honourable
Jorge deGarcia was the first assassination anyone in Deep Cove could
28 Whenever foreigners did come, they brought their foreignness with
them. And every story told about them, even the smallest lie, carried its
expected foreign ring, like the gaudy scent you expect when you put
your nose to this or that ripe flower, for instance the cliched smell of
rose. All accounts of the deGarcia family —all the police and newspaper
reports —read like a Spanish cliche.
The deGarcias were the only Colombians in Deep Cove. They lived
in the biggest, newest house, a mansion perhaps (though that term
doesn't apply to modern cedar and smoked glass split-levels, no matter
how large) and before they moved in they'd had the builders add a
faintly Spanish brick arch and gate at the head of the driveway. Neighbours assumed them Italian, and expected at any moment the cheap
plaster statues of lions and nymphs to appear atop fenceposts.
As if to help the forthcoming cliches, the family had brought with
them a widowed great aunt, who always wore black no less, and had her
installed in the attic. There she tacked funeral shrouds to the insides of
the modern bubbled skylights, and rumour had it she kept boxes of
crucifixes, or perhaps an aleph, which she fed with her daily mourning.
The Honourable Jorge deGarcia, the patriarch, drove a Rolls.
Though he drove such a car he was not very rich, the car being but an
extension of his office with the Colombian consulate. Yet in the wake of
his assassination the police whispered "cocaine boss" to one another as
they lifted blood samples from the car's rich leather seats. Carefully
weighing the corpse's rings, watch and wallet in their hands, they
imagined they were now privy to an inner sanctum of money the like of
which they had never seen.
The inquest into deGarcia's death took weeks, because how can a
member of the Colombian consulate be shot in the head with a golden
bullet through bullet-proof glass in a car whose windows were closed
tight and which he himself had been driving? The police sergeant
nodded "suicide" again and again until it became clear that they could
search the car for years and still not turn up a gun. "Impossible," the
sergeant said now.
How had this foreigner been shot? There were no bullet holes anywhere in the car, and no holes large enough for a bullet to pass. Though
this was the first Rolls Royce he'd ever been allowed in life to touch, the
sergeant well knew that such a car would be famous for its airtight
The facts were these. The Colombian politician had been shot once
through the head. They'd found a hole four inches above his left ear,
another hole in the roof of his mouth, and a channel clogged with coagulated blood between the two. The direction the bullet took —up, or
down —was uncertain, but one thing about the bullet was clear. At both
points where it had smashed through bone, traces of gold were found.
29 This one wonderfully exotic fact almost blinded the police to remaining
facts. That is: no gun, no bullet, no holes nor avenues a bullet could take
to enter the car or leave it. It appeared The Honourable Jorge deGarcia
had died instantly.
The police were understandably baffled. Though they suspected
rightly that the Colombian's death could be explained by his very for-
eignness, they were at a loss as to where to begin asking questions. To a
man, this murder made them feel inept, woefully provincial, whitely
Canadian. The chief of detectives delegated the duty of solving the
puzzle to his deputies, who in turn passed the job on to their own underlings. Everyone from the mayor on down played hard at nonchalance.
Had any of them met The Most Desirable Woman in the World, the
case would have been quickly solved.
They collected evidence instead. They found that, as always, the people of Deep Cove had paused in their affairs to watch the impressive car
glide sedately down the main street on its way home. Witnesses had seen
the Rolls suddenly shoot forward, then slow to a crawl and finally bump
to an embarrassed stop against a fire hydrant. One shopkeeper bragged
that he'd for a moment thought the Honourable deGarcia had been
seduced to a distracted halt by his display of glossy oranges. But then like
the other onlookers he'd seen the Colombian slump forward onto the
steering wheel, causing the elegant bass horn to sound until a garage
mechanic pried open the door and drew the dead man back. No less than
five witnesses exclaimed that the slumped-man-on-horn was "just like in
the movies."
Eight-year-old Jimmy Mayer too had heard the horn. He interrupted his
glass of milk to look out the window. As he did so he thought he heard a
faint buzzing near his head and then a 'plop' in the milk. He didn't think
much of this, for too much was going on below on the street. But when
he finished his milk, there it was: the innocent, astonishing gold.
The police knew immediately what was wrong. Assassination, of course.
Then, suicide. Then a drug deal gone sour. But finding neither drugs,
bullet, money, gun, nor text book leads of any sort they decided again
that they knew an assassination when they saw one, but one that
involved a power, a foreign power, beyond their ken. They were right,
but not in the way they thought.
The Honourable Jorge deGarcia had in truth just returned from the hospital, the maternity ward, where The Most Desirable Woman in the
World had delivered her first child, a girl. Within that event and no
other lay the mysterious cause of Deep Cove's most famous death.
The Most Desirable Woman in the World was not the world's most
beautiful. No, what The Most Desirable Woman lacked in beauty she
3° more than made up for in tools. Not tools, exactly, but a way, an odour
almost, for instance that most surprising scent of rose.
She looked of vaguely Spanish descent. Her hair was a warm, midnight lair. The fine blood of Eros waxed just beneath every inch of her
skin, which glowed faintly Mediterranean. When she selected a peach or
grape in the mirror-lined groceteria (first lifting then easing her teeth
into it to test), the fruit could not help but think it had been given a gift.
Her walk promised that the innermost urge of human history would
satisfy itself in her next step, her next step, her next step —but The Most
Desirable Woman in the World never allowed fruition, never let the
urge leave its eternal edge. On she walked, her full limbs swinging like
the Venus de Milo's would have, while the machinery in her hips turned
a great, slow gear in the soul of every gender-fixed male in the area,
though perhaps none had even seen her pass.
deGarcia had left the hospital where he'd seen mother and child, the latter for the first time. He'd been allowed into her private room, and up to
her he'd strode, sweating and nervous. She lay there on her bed calmly
smiling, a bit haggard-looking but nonetheless desirable, with swaddled
daughter at one breast. deGarcia bent and kissed the woman's cheek,
and as he did so his most urgent juices rose to the edges of his lips, swelling them and making them burn where they touched her.
He could not speak. Though he could turn at will to either grand
poetry or wit to keep his own family wide-eyed or helpless with laughter,
he could never speak to this woman, his mistress. Around her he felt like
a boy who knows at any moment his worst dream's secret will be discovered and made public.
He did manage to nod to the child. He forced a smile to his grossly
swollen lips. With the air of centuries of casual motherhood, The Most
Desirable Woman reached across her breast and drew the blanket from
her newborn's face, revealing it. deGarcia bent to kiss. When he did, his
lips shrank back to size, and cooled. The baby started to cry.
He returned to his car, carefully sealing himself in against the world to
begin his short trip home. He turned the radio to what he called "the
businessman channel" and got a subdued string version of The Days of
Wine and Roses. Though he didn't care for such bloodless music he listened to it anyway, searching for a clue into the peculiar Canadian soul,
which he saw to be both transparent as water yet opaque as snow. There
was something peasant-like in their naive good humour.
deGarcia lit cigarette after cigarette. He saw he was trembling. It was
odd and contradictory to tremble in a Rolls Royce. What was wrong?
He knew he didn't want to go home to his wife, four children and
mourning great aunt (though her attic did remind him of his homeland
enough to make him run to its bosom at times when he was troubled).
No, he wanted to return to the hospital, to sit by her side for as long as
31 they let him, prodding her smoothness with a finger, then hide in the
closet all night watching her through a crack, listening to her breathe.
Why should he want to do this? Senior politicians didn't do such
things, especially here in Canada. In his own country the suit he
wore — charcoal grey flannel — was the inarguable uniform of a very important man, and even in his own country no man who wore such a suit
would hide all night like a teenage boy in a lover's closet.
In a surge of what felt like poetry deGarcia realized what it was his
lover gave him: she gave him back his teenage blood.
A honeyed voice shouted a great deal on gold-plated serpentine chains, fifty
percent off. deGarcia turned down the radio. He trembled still. His self-
analysis had taken him further now, further than he ever went into the
labyrinth of his heart. I am Latin, he often told himself with pride, and
as such I don't think, I do. Now, his thinking told him why he wanted to
return to the hospital. He wanted to return to the hospital and sit by his
lover's side and hide in the closet because this was precisely what she did
not want him to do.
That was it. deGarcia began to tremble at greater speed. He could
hardly drive. Suddenly a voice just behind his neck began to drone lines
of his long-forgotten favourite poet, flooding the car with the tone of
deGarcia's lonely boyhood:
God moves the player, he, in turn, the piece.
But what god beyond God begins the round
of dust and time and dream and agonies?
Approaching Deep Cove now, an odd, displaced suburb which lay at the
convergent feet of two dark mountains, he saw how much his new neighbourhood resembled a cave, a dismal Canadian cave.
He eased the grand car down the curving hill which led onto the
Cove's main street. Then he slowed, cautious. Something was not right.
No, something was dreadfully wrong. The sky pulsed a foreboding
orange colour. So did the air of the street. So did the elegant air within
the confines of the car. His body began to throb. What was. . .?
It happened in one second, perhaps less.
deGarcia had recalled the child's face. Crying when he touched his lips
to its flesh. That crying face! Why did it cry! Yes. Because it was not his child!
His mistress, his woman, his beautiful, beautiful. . . .
In the next second he was dead. The car bumped the fire hydrant, the
horn sounded, people stared, and eight-year-old Jimmy Mayer looked
out the window.
Perhaps only The Most Desirable Woman in the World suspected the
true mind of gold, which is aligned to blood, not thought. Perhaps
32 deGarcia had been wrong, perhaps the child belonged to him after all.
But to gold that fact would be of no consequence, gold's lone food being
that one much stronger fact: the pulse of belief in the human heart.
Perhaps at death deGarcia did see for an instant the true nature of gold
as, cooked on the fires of jealousy, his blood boiled and surged and gave
life to the gold filling in his lower molar. When the gold tore through
bone and the grey pudding of his left hemisphere, perhaps deGarcia's
face was that of a conquistador killed on a livid, gold-tipped spear.
Perhaps he did come to know gold, and at that instant of understanding
his soul was the half-ravaged, half-blissful soul of a virgin tossed to the
fires of the bowels of the golden god.
Luis Cruz Fierro, last living Brazilian alchemist, describes the true
nature of gold:
Related more closely to body than to mind, more closely to woman
than to man (which is why men seek it), prodded to life when bathed
in hottest blood, gold takes to the air in search of a fresh, goldless
humanity. It seeks a tantalizing lair: the veins of inhospitable mountains, or a cache, rife with ghosts and curses, hidden under the stones
of a dead culture. Or it will fly to the tawny milk of a woman's throat,
on her birthday. . . .
Or, one can well see, to the utter innocence of the bottom of a child's
glass of milk, to wink at him, as through clouds, like a promising holiday
Once given life, gold will touch nothing not human on its flight to its
lair. If it does touch something—a car window perhaps —it will burst to
glittering dust and be lost. deGarcia's filling took the easiest route in
departing from its host, which was through brain and bone rather than
through the inside of a jealous, jaw-clamp grimace. Free, it paused one
inch above the dying Colombian's head. Then, wildly, it buzzed within
the car like a fly, desperate but touching nothing, its omni-helicopter
spin keeping it atoms away from death-dealing surfaces. Buzzing,
seeking its destiny, the gold tried empty ashtrays, under seats and dashboard wires, around pedals and the loose cuffs of deGarcia's flannel
trousers. Finally, its vigour draining, the gold found the sole exit. Entering an air conditioning vent to the right of the radio, the filling
coursed a series of linked conduits, broke into the open blackness of the
engine compartment (deafening now with the steady bass horn), and at
last slipped through the ornate Rolls Royce grille to find the world of its
arch-brother, sunlight.
Up it shot. Almost drained of life, three stories high, deGarcia's filling
veered drunkenly through the Mayer's open window.
33 In the maternity ward of Lion's Gate Hospital, a woman lay suddenly
tense, perplexed.
A child at the woman's side whimpered still. In fact it hadn't stopped
crying since being burned by the lips of a man.
Ten miles away, the police arrived at the scene of an assassination.
In the kitchen on the third floor of a Deep Cove apartment, Jimmy
Mayer swirled the trace of milk around and around in the glass, coating
the odd object which would not carry milk for long and soon glowed
yellow again.
At the exact moment Jimmy picked the gold out, when he studied it
and then loved it and felt for the first time that his life had a purpose, the
tawny girlchild in the distant hospital stopped crying at last, sighed from
the deepest part of its throat and went to sleep.
And at that same moment the mother felt strangely drained of allure.
She glanced to her right, at a child who appeared to be almost smiling in
sleep, who wore now on her tiny face a glow and a knowledge that the
woman herself had once known. The recent Most Desirable Woman in
the World suffered surprising visions of one day becoming a grandmother.
34 Ralph Gustafson/7it>0 Poems
And the Trento farmer washing his grapes,
Each side the spray washing.
Across the earth the trellis holding
Notable for honey-combs. Midnight
Floods the northern Cape with sun.
The bending wader plants his rice;
Temple-bells where the Chao Phya
Flows, slanting, touch. Hot,
The lonely sands at el-Amarna
Are hot.
Nine hours it took to save
The world, no more, a woman
Dying happy, two men
And there, was a November moon, enormous,
Exactly round, flat, pasted
On the evening sky, low down,
Held immense before me east
Along the road between two banks
Of slanting snow to the turned end,
The near lake steaming in zero;
South were hills, the valley changing,
One long streak of grey through the red,
One star, above, increasing;
Oh a thousand aggregations
Made impact on me as I walked
But one notice only, halfway
Up the hill, remains as it was:
Where two fir trees are,
Tied to a strand of wire, on the fence,
Marking importance, ribbon, forgotten.
36 Derek Robinson
Even in Canada, where expansive landscape is what we have
And breathe, poets are still alchemists of the interior
Garden, where the lumps of ore lie buried in the loam.
They will always be sorting through themselves, the inner constellations
Of identity, before committing the stones and trees to paper;
Piecing together the broken reflection in the icy stream
To see themselves smiling in the plumbeous clouds,
And listening for the startle of crystal sap
In spring, as to a tentative poem. Therefore, I may be heard.
This masterful stamp of Fisgard Lighthouse, pastel
Sea-blue in the distance beyond the tall snow tower
Emitting signals of light to ships in the strait
(As if it took the pulse of the sea or counted the stars),
Proud of its tiny island encircled by immensity:
Both a final destination and a starting point,
A pinnacle of power, rootedness, yet freedom;
Something solid from which to step off into savagery,
A physical means of transporting the poet and his poems
To affirmation within the sky. That is, Fisgard Lighthouse
Pictured on a thirty-two cent stamp, the oldest lighthouse in B.C.
37 Kay Ryan / Two Poems
An average looking child
by the standards of the world,
fed, bicycled, groomed,
a fenced yard,
a room,
a family not given
to atavism.
Why then
the blind touch —
the search
beneath tables
and chairs,
the small fingers
combing and combing
the dog's fur
as though something
visible to others
were hiding there?
The camel knows he is
a humped animal
because his neck swivels.
The turtle doesn't know this
and is incurious
about his surface
his legs, or the likelihood of a tail.
Anything not directly before him
is an internal organ.
Thus he concentrates upon his desires
and wills himself toward them,
convinced it is his powerful intellect
that moves him to the succulents
or the succulents to him.
If he is stuck, he is not
a helpless helmet teetering on its crown;
it is some temporary and discoverable error
in reasoning that's got everything
upside down.
39 Elaine Perry
Jenny and Stella paint each other's nails red
Drying takes forever when they want to hold hands
Those long school days when they can only smile or
Write notes and fold them into tulips
Jenny likes the word tulips
Stella says together they have four lips
They predict the future with the pleats in their skirts
And drape them like backdrops for the dreams
That turn the colour of Stella's hair
Stella with her red hair luring men
If she were still a child she'd close her eyes
And make them disappear
Jenny plays Chopin on Stella's shoulders
And watches her fall asleep
While the world turns into a prelude
40 Don Domanski/TAr^ Poems
it's always the same there
white arms fading into the table
fireflies perched on all the chairs
evil dogs living in the forest
I sit down at her table
to hear the kettles sing softly in the trees
"Just a little music," she says
peeling away the rabbit's
beautiful dress
and we eat the rabbit
throwing the dress
into the fire
soon it rains
as it always does
the skyworks turning the clouds
in heavy circles above her house
she looks up
as she always does
and says, "When it rains, I think
of your grandfather in the doorway
wearing his blue overcoat. Do you
remember it? The one with the little
bloodstain just above the heart?"
I never remember it or the grandfather
watching her hand pour the tea again
and the tea falling each time
like dark corners from a great height
into thin yellow cups.
she was made in the shape of Rome
that city of spiders and the gods of spiders
and the spidery light of dead things
drifting down to paradise
how beautiful she looks
beside the broken world
and how graceful
drinking a moth or a fly
drinking the blood of the lamb
and the fortune she has
she has always had
in owning a home
that barely rises out of the shadow
of time or place
in owning a body
that lacks the sadness of a body
that lacks the hesitation of a body
made from a year of rain
and a burnt glove
from a pin
and the spiral heartbeat
of dust on water.
in the barn there are
two hogs hanging
from black ropes in the air
they are the old weights
the old judgments against us
in the kitchen there's a wife
I don't know whose wife she is
but in the dark grass of her body
an animal moves
to the swaying of her voice
in the well there's a moon
with its song of seven letters
the moon of the inner world
no one knows what it thinks
or what it will finally do
in the apple tree
there are the four gods
the moth the cloud
the dead child and the wind
with its blue mouth pressed
urgently against the leaves
as if it could speak
as if it could speak to anyone.
43 Gregory M. Cook
Year after year I took my three children to her
to show off the miracle of the blood come back
in the slow way only greatgrandchildren can love
Stories began on the threshold from the back porch
continued at the kitchen stove where she kept warm
with one large potato potted opposite for callers
From pantry to family rogues' gallery she led
past the coat room, along the hall, to the parlour
where all, like memories, was born and bathed for burial
First she marked time by "that was your father before
he went overseas." She never said, he was killed
Her canary, too much to care for, became a toy
Her husband died. She called me by my mother's name.
My children understood, even the day she said
"Sit down here Grandpa, in your chair by the window."
Accepting my beard for my greatgreatgrandfather's
— "I nursed him to his death right here in my bed, there,
and his son; Grampa too, he died in that chair you're in there.
"I nursed them. Your grandfather and his fathers. In my bed.
That cannon on the lawn, looking at the river,
past where the barn used to stand before the big fire
"Captain Francis. (He wasn't really a captain.)
He said, there, on his death bed, 'whatever you do,'
he said, 'don't you let them move that cannon,' he said.
44 "I guess he would be your. . . your greatgreatgreat Grandpa"
she told my children; called me Grampa
and asked had I seen her mamma when I came by
I said, "no, not since she knit in your same stove chair
there," keeping the memories warm as mittens
she made for thirteen children and their offspring
I asked her permission to photograph my children
astride the family cannon of a sea coursed
in history lengthened with each shot snapped
into the abyss of the cannon's aim
in the direction opposite the women who will nurse
all of the mute gun's lucky owners to death
45 Anghel Dumbraveanu / Two Poems
I've often told myself that it is late,
That time has snatched the candor of my speech,
That somebody keeps coming night after night
To steal my woman
And carry her into oblivion. I've had
To keep looking for her. Mostly I've been alone
On the river bank, carving the adored visage
Out of the wood of a word.
And I can't cry out any longer. "Apparition,"
I'd say, "man or bird, if you're real
Come out on the bank to talk.
This is my fortune: my will to walk,
To see and give my thought a name,
Take my walk, if you will, and my sight,
I'll give up my speech as well,
For, while alive, I'll still see and walk,
And I'll talk with my thought, in symbols unknown to you.
And leave alone my woman —don't spread on her face
A shroud of gloom, do not plant sorrow in her eyes,
Let her walk divinely among my things
And bring me a pitcher of water from the world's end."
But it is much too late, dusk is falling
And I've lost the candor of yesterday's speech
And I sit on the shore of a day, muted,
Carving in the wood of a word
The face of a woman gone
To fetch me a pitcher of water.
To Nichita Stanescu
Petre Stoica, Adam Puslojic
Srba Ignjatovic
We're almost all seated at the table
Peter sheltered by his beard of withered grass
Nichita watching his angel with his two patches of sky
Adam who has just locked up God in a bachelor flat
and Srba amazed by the calm wisdom of his own dream
and I instead of complaining that they've sunk all my ships
in the accursed straits of a day
remember how I chased the sun with my hoop
everything would be fine, muses one,
could we still meet
once a century
a piece of cheese is still lain by the bird
in the Carpathian Mountains
and the well bucket still draws out
a green pepper and an onion from Serbia's fountains
and we still can purchase
a fiddler and a boatload of wine
putting verse to verse
even if the moon no longer kisses us on the mouth
when we return at dawn
from the bed of a song redolent of woman
the table is spread on the river
and we don't see one another any more
47 all would be fine, muses one,
could we still meet among ourselves
even like this
once a century
translated from the Romanian by Robert J.
Ward and Marcel Pop-Cornis
48 George Bowering
fr Anselm Hollo
What smokes a pipe
shoots a deer, didn't high-tail it over that deadfall
fast enough, blood on the snow,
black on white in the moon
What smokes a pipe & says
this is not a pipe; we infer
a riddle, bones scattered on a roof.
Up to now it's been easy, too easy for thought,
too loud for the wildlife.
On the Isle of Wight there is no wildlife,
only the strange flesh underground,
the other we all feel reluctant kin to.
has an inhalation it wants us to exhale,
if we imagine all that rising & falling
as somehow human.
What smokes in a pipe is nature,
& some fool has it in his mouth. He
wants to be a deer, see how fast
he can jump.
I saw him beside the road, feet up
on an apple box. What you selling?
Smoke, he says, smoke & pronouns,
they'll keep you alive.
49 Patrick White
for Devora Sugarman
the sky was polished glass
clear blue above
the brittle silhouettes of the leafless maples
the light
was a clean needle and the air
cold flowers in our lungs
did not enter with a cry
closing the door behind you like
a quiet choice
stepping out of your mother
softly collapsing
an empty tent falling into the lake of itself
an orchard feeling the weight of its harvest
drop from its boughs
your birth
your being now
someone who can come to the window when it snows and
the clouds are having a pillow fight
were you called
did you hear your name
searching you out among the stars where
you sat to have your hair combed
comet Devora
blowing like a scarf across the dawn before
you answered your parents' calling
to a habitable planet and
opened your eyes
an infant moon
upon the Earth that holds you
you adorn the humanity you have put on
50 the sun
adds your shadow to its vocabulary
floors wait
and stairs for you to climb
an entire lifetime of shoes readies itself like a fleet
special hearts are being selected that
will break like fine goblets
for your beauty's sake
the wind has started feathering the soft arrows that
will fly from your lips
gathers its elders and plots how to dazzle you on
short notice
runs to tell its flowers
the far kingdoms
of next summer and autumn
hang the news
on their ripening bells
dreams awake in the bed of your blood
and the spirit
stirs in the first shock of your body
God the Vintner pouring Himself like
young wine into a new bottle
letting you sleep
under your mother's breast
a swallow under
the eaves of a warm mansion while your father
anxious on the long wharf of his waiting
his love
of your mother perfected in your being
51 returning from the hospital
too nervous to eat
buys himself an egg-sandwich in the restaurant and
sits down before me
his smile
and the joy that softens his face
wider and deeper than a harbour that's just spotted its first sail
52 Keath Fraser
13 Ways of Listening
to a Stranger
So who CARES if he's a recidivist says Howard so long as he respects the TV
News Hour and isn't responsible for the SMELL in this house. Howard won't
lock his door. He says Kerby's a shoplifter, not a thief.
What's the diff? Andrew asks him.
Lots says Howard. Thievery is anti-social.
Here comes the whale you guys so can it. Old Gerry asking for quiet so we
can find out more about whales landing dead on beaches in White Rock.
Yesterday we got only part of the story and a full twelve seconds of
footage. Lookit says Gerry. Goddamn WHALE.
Around here we're conditioned to lifting words above TV.
Gerry's divorced and a laid-off sawmill worker in his fifties, too one-
stroke he says to do anything else. He's never had a holiday, outings hardly.
The beach, he confided once, he remembers for a memory of his son as
an infant. Gerry was tending him in the sand at a picnic like a small fire
in the wind. He cupped his hands round the cheeks, banked up the
blankets, he didn't know what all he didn't do to keep his son warm in the
ocean breeze. He's the only man I've heard admit nursing mothers aren't
the only ones who feel sexual twinges breast-feeding babies. Nursing
fathers feel it too, bottle-feeding. Boy, I don't want to sound like a PERVERT
said Gerry. Just a fact. You feel twinges in your organ. And he said You can
really love a baby. He guessed his son would be somewhere in his twenties
now. Could barely remember the little boy. Gerry could hardly veil the
sorrow coming back to him from a distance, when he listened.
More shots of the dead whale on the beach. Jesus says Gerry. Greenpeace has asked an American biologist from the Marine Animal Resource Centre to come across the border to perform an autopsy. He's attacked the whale's carcass with a Japanese flensing knife. Spectators on
the pier, on the beach. Guts tumble down the mountain of carcass to hill
up in the wet sand. Lookit the tongue lolling says Gerry. The whale's tongue
is French-kissing the sand and the mouth, like the end of pleasure, curls
up in a little smile. Gerry whistles.
53 Seven or eight of us are boarders here, men without families, taking
our supper after the News Hour from Mr. and Mrs. Carlin. Mr. Carlin
has muttered he thinks the smell might be a dead mouse, caught between
studs in the wall, joists in the floor, rotting. Keep it under your hat he says.
The Missus is after him to call in The Pest People and not ignore what's
getting worse. We all agree with Mrs. Carlin. Call in The Pest People,
the Marines, anybody to figure out what the matter is. It's a question of
having to breathe shallower and shallower every day now.
On TV Tony Parsons is saying officials fear it's likely too late to matter if they retrieve the liver or not. The whale's been beached five days.
Enough time for vital organs to deteriorate.
What was it says Howard an ALCOHOLIC whale? He'd be surprised
says old Gerry. If he wants to hear the dope just listen to what he's being
told. Howard watches. We all watch. The American biologist cuts and
saws the washed-up grey whale for blubber, blood, and lymph gland
samples. In its last two hours of ignominy says Andrew. B-lub-ber says
Howard, popping his lips. This isn't the first whale. Two or three dead
whales have washed up at Mud Bay and Boundary Bay in the past
month. A helicopter camera shows an aerial view of driftwood on a
shoreline, then cutting lower, of bones like a wrecked ship's ribs. Then
back to the sawing biologist in White Rock.
When we're watching him who should wander in but Kerby, the
shoplifter. He does a long take at the carcass. That is a DEAD PARROT
he says. What d'you mean it's a dead parrot? he answers himself. It's DEAD!
he screams. Is NOT he answers that parrot is just sleeping.
Choke it, Kerby growls Gerry. Kerby falls backwards into the pink armchair in a frozen bow.
The autopsy is intended to find out if these whaling casualties might
be related to toxins from a rumoured spill at a paint and chemical plant.
Shit says Gerry. Should see what sawmills pump into the river. Incredible there
ain't salmon dead stiff from here to Yokohama. It's them chemicals, I know it.
Chemicals in the water, chemicals in the air, chemicals in our goddamn food.
Goddamn chemicals every place. These guys says Gerry. Whadda these guys in
factories care? They don't care. He says he feels cheesed off, browned off, and
hoofed out. Hoofed out because he got laid off when the lumber markets
collapsed. Thought you were talking about whales says Howard. / am says
Gerry. The pissing factories are poisoning us.
We might find something says the biologist. But it would surprise me.
Andrew doesn't disagree with authority. Another beautiful mammal down the
tube to pesticides he says. But Kerby is back for an encore. PLUMAGE! he
screams, rising from his chair. LOOK AT THE PLUMAGE! IT'S
WILTED! Kerby can boil up his face like John Cleese.
Gerry glances at him. Boy, what a jerk.
Say what you LIKE! shouts Kerby. / know a dead parrot when I see one\
When this joker leaves us to wash up for supper, Andrew turns to
54 Howard. I'd lock my door if I was you.
Gerry would like to know where Andrew gets his info and fancy
words. ReciddaWH AT? he says. Sounds like somebody who does sumpin to
little girls in the holly. Howard thinks we should all gang up on Kerby the
next time he wants to watch a Monty Python re-run. But Andrew is cautious. Let's wait till we're all here and take a vote. Howard snorts. Piss on the
vote, Andy. Man wants to watch limey fags being funny when they're not deserves
Three's Company. WhatEVER. Old Gerry won't believe Kerby's got a
criminal record and even if he does he wouldn't steal from us. Howard says
Andrew is a worry wart. I'm telling you says Andrew. Lock your doors.
Nobody does and everyone squawks when a thief visits our boarding
house one afternoon a week later. Most of us are out doing the little we
do when it isn't raining. The sun keeps us in the streets and little parks
longer than usual. Stuff is stolen and Mr. Carlin doesn't know anything
about it. TOLD you Andrew reminds us all. But even his own door was
forced, locked or not, and he has lost some spare change. Howard says it
couldn't have been Kerby anyway, Kerby was working he says. At least he
thinks he was working. Kerby is a sales clerk in Men's Wear at Woodward's, where Andrew claims he does his shoplifting as an inside job.
THIS had to be an inside job says Mrs. Carlin. / don't let in strangers, we keep
an eye out.
So there it stands. Thief at large, mistrust, the loitering smell getting
worse. Old Gerry says Imagine if it was a WHALE rotting. PeeYOU.
We're not encouraged and don't breathe deeply anymore. In our rooms
we've closed the rads and opened windows. It really is a disheartening
smell and bespeaks putrefaction. Mr. Carlin has called in The Pest
People and they can't find the stink's source. They suggest he hire a carpenter to do a little prying behind walls.
Oh sure says Howard tear down the walls, turn us into a dorm. DoRKKm
echoes Kerby, rolling his R's like Eric Idle mimicking a Dorset farmer.
Howard, who lost a fountain pen from his unlocked room, says to Kerby
You'd like that wouldn't you, a dorm. He's just as mad at Kerby as the rest of
us in the absence of anyone else to blame. Howard is a lapsed Catholic
who retains belief in the obligation of guilty consciences to act guilty.
If we was all WIMMIN says Gerry we'd of stood up and demanded the smell
be got rid of when she first cropped up. He's serious. When somebody or sumpin
raises a stink we're willin' to put up with it till it's too late. I'm thinkin' of moving
but I can't afford it. I can't afford to even THINK about moving right now.
He says he doesn't miss the sawmill so much as a paycheck. His hands
have softened since he used to roll hemlock boards onto piles off a
greenchain. He shows us his leather apron, worn bright as glass, he even
straps it on for old time's sake. And you wore these oven mitts that smelled sweet
on your hands. Afterwards like.
Not that this takes our minds off our noses. Colin, the womanizer so-
called, comes closer with a tale about the peach he's dating. He skins her
55 fuzz right in front of our eyes, before eating her up and leaving us a
scarred red stone when he's through the door for a night on the town. Boy
says Howard / didn't smell this place AT all when he was doing it to her. He's
shaking his hand as if he just touched the stove. And forgotten he's late
for his workout at the Y.
Colin, for all his good fortune with women, is a straightforward man
of twenty-six who designs greeting cards, hoping to copyright his own
line. He is usually asking Andrew to take his picture, outside on the
porch, or in the Park with a nice backdrop in the rose garden, for his
dossier. His real prey are distributors. Andrew does his best to oblige.
Colin poses, Andrew clicks. Andrew tells us the snaps of Colin all look
good, as good as he can expect, but Colin's never happy. He won't believe he
isn't better looking than what his Polaroid spits out.
It's his spitting image says Gerry when Andrew shows him a snap Colin
has rejected. He's never happy shrugs Andrew. Mrs. Carlin observes It's
always the prettiest girls who worry and primp.
This is wisdom we appreciate, can use to justify our own lack of much
lasting success with women, pretty or otherwise. Women want to be considered EQUAL says Howard and still think they have to paint their lips and
eyes and cheeks. They're bloody clowns sometimes.
You sound like a misogynist Andrew tells him. Howard looks at him like
he wants to swat Andrew in the chops. Kiss off, Andy he says. Doesn't
know what a misogynist is but knows enough to know it isn't somebody
who gives you a massage. Sounds like a new-fangled word for dame says
Gerry. Starts with Ms.
We're all sitting around the parlour the Carlins haven't refurnished in
thirty years. Everything is worn down and nearly out. Not like the smell,
it's smelling stronger and stronger. Howard keeps wondering if Andrew
has insulted him. But Andrew as the most sympathetic of us all is unlikely to hurt anyone. Just the reverse. He helps Mr. Carlin with chores
when he doesn't have to, brings Mrs. Carlin flowers, which he picks
illegally from the Park, an act of exceptional daring for Andrew, who
respects rules and would never even walk against a red light. It's just that
he can't afford a bouquet any other way.
Howard says to him That dictionary of yours is a compensation for something
Hey says Dale. Knock it off. Mrs. Carlin excuses herself to start dinner.
Dale is our latest addition by eight months. More mature and better
educated than most men in reduced circumstances, he gives the impression he would be generous if he was better off. He has travelled the
world, taught school in Australia, and dodged a war in Vietnam by coming north to Canada. Don't forget he calls to Mrs. Carlin / love raisins.
He turns to us. / love raisins in ice cream. God, I would probably love them in
meat loaf.
As if we don't know says Mr. Carlin. Yeah Howard says. Last week it was
56 raisins in our cookies. I personally prefer chocolate chips.
So do I says Andrew. Howard looks at him. If Colin and Kerby were here
says Andrew we could get up a petition and take it to the cook.
But Dale is shaking his head. When you can taste raisins as big as nipples,
guys, the chocolate chip is a zit on the backside of a monkey.
Howard guffaws. He's laughing at Andrew, whose nostrils flare a little
to suppress a smile. Dale can be one of the boys when he wants to be.
Andrew would like to be, notwithstanding his books and love of order.
On Saturday afternoon I find myself outside Colin's door upstairs
watching him rub himself against a men's magazine. Hey he says,
turning towards me in the hallway. C'mere. When I walk into his room
everything is tidy, the bed made, his mirror on the wall trimmed with
snaps of girls and even one or two of himself. His draughting board sits
under the window's light. Look at this he says. Smell it. He hands me the
magazine, a perfume ad for something called L'Homme. I study the
advertisement. Try L'Homme Right Now it says. Open flap and rub on wrist.
You'll love it! I sniff the scented fold Colin has been rubbing on his wrists.
For a moment the smell in the house vanishes. Order now it says and begin
your L'Homme adventure today. I wonder if L'Homme adventures aren't
what Colin enjoys anyway. Smells nice I say. Colin sniffs his wrists. Not
bad. I'll get Kerby to pick me up some. Beggar owes me.
Seems he's on his way out to celebrate the acceptance of a set of
Father's Day cards by a major chain of drugstores. It's a start he shrugs
with false modesty. Well I say that's fan-bloody-tastic, Colin. You told Mrs.
Carlin? He looks at me. Her father still alive?
She might cook you a special meal to celebrate.
Jesus he says. I'd rather eat at Burger King. I'm on my way out with a chick to
the Keg.
Big deal says Gerry, when he hears where Colin's eating. Listen, this
calls for a SPECIAL celebration. I'm gonna tell Mrs. Carlin to lay out a nice
supper for the occasion. On Father's Day he says. Wild says Kerby, arriving
home from work to learn of Colin's success. Last time anybody besides me
around here made money was when Howard opened a cheese shop. Let's hear it for
free enterprise]
What's he talking about? says Howard. Bloody CHEESE shop now.
Maybe says Dale he's getting it mixed up with when you tried delivering fliers.
Howard thinks the biggest rip-off in his life occurred when Unemployment stopped coming and he got ink in his skin for peanuts. Eff
all is what fliers pay he advises anybody tempted by a route. He'd rather
hoist dumb bells at the Y.
Kerby says You guys'll go on living off Welfare long after this SMELL drives
us all into the streets. I'm getting T.B. as a result of this stink.
Old Gerry doesn't say so but you can tell he likes the idea of a Father's
Day celebration, and not just to celebrate Colin's success. He excuses
himself to go to the toilet. My kidneys. Chemicals or sumpin on the lumber over
57 the years. Gerry's become an environmentalist.
Poor old Gerry says Dale. He's got bad pipes. Then he says Makes you think
what the plumbing in the late Glenn Gould's brain must have been like. All of a
sudden bursting.  You know.
What? says Howard.
What? mimics Kerby, unknotting his tie. Typical American, Dale, you
trying to throw dirt on our national genius?
Who's Glenn Gold? asks Howard.
The smell in the house isn't any better, in fact it's getting worse, and
The Pest People have come back and still can't locate it. Mrs. Carlin has
begun to worry what if we can't locate the smell, what if it's part of the
wood in the floors and walls and ceilings? Don't be ridiculous, woman Mr.
Carlin has told her. But the house is old, a boarding house at the turn of
the century, still a boarding house today. A lot of men have passed
through here. Turrets, gables, some gingerboard left where the weather
hasn't eroded it away, the place from the outside looks like the ark.
Kerby's theory is a dead pigeon. You betcha says Howard. Seriously, Howard he says. Rotting in the attic. Infested with lice. Mr. Carlin informs him
smartly everything is wired tight against pigeons under the eaves. Well
says Kerby, wheezing. How come I HEAR pigeons every morning in my
room? On TOP of my room. In the ceiling someplace.
That's a can of worms says Mr. Carlin / ain't interested in. Kerby acts
surprised. Mr. Carlin he says you don't believe me?
Nope. There's a stink all right. Not pigeon stink though.
Parrot maybe?
When Gerry comes back into the parlour buttoning his trousers he
turns on the TV. News Hour he reminds us. Kerby glares at him. Just
when we're having a philosophical discussion, Ger. Howard here was saying he'll go
back to Mother Church if only Glenn Gould would play his organ. Right, How?
Howard yawns.
Dale must be wondering if Kerby's flair for smart-ass talk is any
different from being a thief. He's always robbing the house of sensible
direction, his selfish ego. Dale decides he's had enough of Kerby's nattering and asks him point-blank if he stole an electric shaver from his
Dead quiet. Except for Tony Parsons talking to us, only we're not
listening. Even Gerry wants to hear out Kerby. Nope says Kerby. His
lack of surprise at being challenged disturbs Dale, as if Kerby expected
it. No? asks Dale.
Nope he repeats.
Let's watch the News says Gerry.
Wars, famine. More shutdowns.
After the News Hour comes supper. It's a long time to wait for supper,
and only Kerby approves since it gives him time to get home from
Woodward's and freshen up. He never bothers to watch the News anyway. At twenty-one who's interested in news? asks Gerry. Makin'FUN of the
58 News is news. Mrs. Carlin doesn't say so but serving the meal after
instead of before the News makes her feel superior to the ordinary
landlady, although her food is definitely ordinary. Maybe she hopes her
silver and china will help us forget the bland taste of the food. These
heirlooms from her mother are nothing less than exalted, and she keeps
them sparkling, watching us hunkered over her Chantilly forks with a
sureness that sooner or later some transformation of our manners will
occur. This is no more likely than a metamorphosis of her cooking.
Sausages, hamburger, greasy lamb chops, stews, boiled chicken
. . . Blubber food remarks Howard, worried about cholesterol. What's food
anyway shrugs Andrew except fuel? Andrew eats little. What OUGHT to
begin in the stomach mutters Colin is romance. Usually Mrs. Carlin, who sits
at the head of the table, is too busy explaining to Dale why there're no
raisins in the casserole, or complaining to her husband about the smell,
to hear dissension about her cooking. We wouldn't know how to
Even together we are not interdependent like women in a group. We
are irritable having to stand in bank and bakery line-ups on Altamira.
We don't trade easily in gossip with strangers, don't value it much
among ourselves. Most of us are still young, without prospects in a
world that expects us to work and worse, to judge ourselves by what we
have. We have the false freedom of the idle. Having to live together
gives us a washed-up feeling. And this smell in the house just more or
less reminds us of our futures. We don't breathe deeply for fear of
forgetting what the past had promised. We've learned to get along on
U.I.C., and when that runs out, Welfare. After we pay for Room and
Board what's left over is busfare to look for jobs. As if there was someplace left to look. Colin, it's clear, has initiative. He is always saying I'm
getting out of this place when I get a few bucks in the bank. Andrew is the one
who doesn't seem to mind the house. He likes us to depend on him for
little things, like Colin for his photographs of himself, Mrs. Carlin for
his setting the table and helping serve the meals, Howard for someone to
bully. He's the one who supplies womanly sympathy, in place of Mrs.
Carlin you could say, at least you can trust Andrew not to ignore your
complaints. Kerby doesn't like him much, that's because Andrew doesn't
trust Kerby. Andrew is stubborn when he believes he has the right.
Andrew believes Kerby's out to sabotage our house from the inside.
Kerby's like the smell we can't put our fingers on says Andrew. Elusive and
insidious sort of. Andrew worries about losing his small but he claims
valuable collection of first editions. Sea stories he treasures. Old Gerry
who has never had time for books and big words thinks it wouldn't be a
bad thing if Andrew was to lose a couple books. But he's joking. Gerry
who's lost a wife, a son, and a job is tired of losing and wouldn't wish the
same on anybody. He never talks about his wife, and only says he used
to have his own house.
It was there in the back yard a crow once attacked his son in a baby
59 carriage under the pear tree. / trapped the bird inside the buggy and bust its
wings with my bare hands claims Gerry. / think the baby thought he'd been jolly-
jumpered to death.  The buggy had axle springs.
Gerry says he remembers Saturday mornings because his son
resembled a dolphin. Gerry climbed the stairs to his crib. He'd find his
son rocking on his stomach, making little squeals, fat, white-skinned
cheeks shining and his mouth turned up in a gummy grin. He had this
bulgy forehead says Gerry and this bald head.
Gerry's still in favour of a celebration to mark Colin's success. So is
Andrew, who has talked to Mrs. Carlin about a party in June. Mrs.
Carlin is too worried about the smell to think that far ahead and thinks
we could be driven out by then.
Don't worry about the smell, Mrs. C. says Dale it'll take care of itself. Smells
No one is so confident as Dale, who goes out every morning before
breakfast, to roam the city looking, we guess, for work. After supper he'll
leave for the library downtown or go to a movie or walk to the beach. He
only has to sleep with the smell. And he claims it doesn't affect his
dreams. He just says happily / escaped Nam and killing Asians. But that was
years ago. What is his story since? Dale is always holding something
back, aloof at times, a man who commits himself to parlour life, such as
it is, just so far, because he needs a buffer zone to think. A demilitarized
zone Colin calls it.
Those of us who hang around the house are beginning to worry about
the debilitating effect, in Andrew's parlance, of a smell we can now smell
when we're away from the house, downtown, or else in the forest in the
Park. We agree it isn't in our clothes so much as in our memory of it.
This rotting smell, it seems to penetrate and lock itself into our brain
cells, if you can imagine says Howard those cells as microchips. Gerry says he
imagines them as jails. Mexican jails. It's putrid and depressing. A mouse
has died, maybe a rat, and the smell from its small carcass has filled the
entire house and infected our brain matter.
Sometimes, Mr. Carlin's feet can smell like rotting salmon if he's been
cutting the grass or pruning the holly. But that's a smell we understand
and can avoid by leaving the parlour. It's local. When you lose control over
the environment says Gerry that's when you get desperate. Andrew wonders
What's the diff?
A carpenter has begun prying behind places in our bedrooms, trying
to trace the smell without tearing down the walls. But there is no centre
to pinpoint. He'll lift a floorboard and sniff between floors. Howard's
theory is the smell could just as easily be downstairs someplace, in the
furnace even. It smells bad everywhere. Smells bad everywhere he says. We
could die from lousy ventilation and lung bugs.
Meanwhile things are happening for Colin. Women, publicity. A
wealthy Chinese girl is after him, picks him up in a sports car that we all
60 gaze at him slipping into. He tells us Hey, I ask her to listen to her knees, she
does it, eh? And he's still skinning Peaches, as Howard calls her. Kerby's
envy rises. By the time he's Colin's age he'll have a TR of his own he
swears. Dale is the one who spots Colin's photo in the evening paper, in
a column called We Asked You, about rezoning the West End. Do you
agree or disagree with the city's proposal to preserve the present character of remaining
residential houses? The caption beside Colin's photo reads, Colin Downs,
age 24, 1497 Bartholomew, President and Chief Designer of Concord
C ards. / don't see the point of it. If developers are willing to put up new highrises,
why not? Too many people are out of work. Those old buildings are rotten anyway.
Dale reads Colin's words out to us in the parlour.
Who took your picture? Andrew asks Colin. Some guy took it when I was
talking to a reporter says Colin I don't like it. Gerry looks at the photo. It ain't
bad, Colin. Kerby says Makes him look punk. Then Howard says to Colin
What're you going around saying they ought to tear down the roof over our heads for?
Colin's answer is that as soon as he gets his bearings in the field he's
OUTTA here. Get Well, Good Luck, Happy Birthday, Congratulations, Happy Easter, Be My Valentine: funny cards on recycled paper
are where it's at for Colin.
/ like the name of your company says Gerry. Concord Cards.
The big CC says Kerby. Day comes when we can say we knew him when's the
day he's living in the British Properties looking down on us scrounging a living in
the city. Dale looks at Kerby. Or pilfering a living? he asks him. Kerby isn't
Colin asks Gerry why he wants to celebrate the selling of his first
greeting card? / already celebrated at the Keg he tells him. Gerry says he
thought it would be kind of nice to celebrate on Father's Day, kind of
appropriate, given the nature of the card. But Colin just excuses himself.
/ can't stand the stink he says Sundays least of all. He disappears upstairs to
sprinkle himself, I imagine, with L'Homme before venturing out, like
some earl from a mouldering castle.
Howard has finally started locking his door. The anti-social element in
this place is beginning to get on my case. Socks of his have disappeared. And
cuff links. My old man's. Nobody ever saw them 'cause I never wear 'em. I kept the
box in my dresser.
The heat's on Kerby to own up and he won't. He won't even admit to
Andrew having once had a problem with the law. I'd like to know why you
think that. I'm no con. Hey, I pinch the odd tie off Chunky Woodward but listen. It
stops there, eh? But Andrew has hold of Kerby like a cat shaking a mouse.
/ KNOW he says what I know. Says he's seen him writing with Howard's
fountain pen. That right? Howard asks Kerby. Hey, mate Kerby says to
Howard in Cockney your shirt's on fire.
After this the pilfering drops off, Howard's pen reappears in the
kitchen, though not his cuff links. Dale is still missing his shaver. Then
nothing's changed warns Andrew. Keep your door locked. He sniffs a little,
61 simpers. Andy, you got to let the smell escape says Gerry. Howard looks at
Gerry. ESCAPE he says shit. Andrew tells Gerry to keep his window
open. / do says Gerry we all do.  This smell just wears you down.
It'll go away repeats Dale. We accept his voice as one of wisdom and
general experience of the world. And have a good laugh just the same.
Go out he advises us, smoking his pipe. Sit on the beach and smell the wind.
Clean out your mantras. Howard snorts. Howard always snorts. Jesus he
exclaims. Dale came of age in the sixties and subscribes to the wreckage
of their ideals. Howard says it's all right for him, he can probably afford
to move out whenever he wants. He's got family in Philadelphia sending
him money. Irregardless says Gerry we like him.
Everybody likes Dale, he has his hand on the key to some inner
strength that eludes the rest of us. He's tranquil Andrew says. Deep
sometimes. Howard says For all we know HE could be the house thief. Confidence
men run deep.
Smell runs deep.
What's food anyway asks old Gerry but thought? Hey? He's trying to come
up with a menu he thinks might interest Mrs. Carlin for Father's Day
and he's biting the end of Howard's pen he's borrowed. Thoughtfulness,
does he mean, or planning ahead? Maybe he means fuel. Fuel for
thought. Gerry is putting a lot of thought into the celebration and
Andrew says it's touching to watch. Poor old Gerry says Kerby the guy who's
lost a son, cooking up an excuse to celebrate Father's Day.
When a silver fork, then a knife go missing on different evenings,
Gerry is the one to rush to Mrs. Carlin's cries of alarm. He is outraged,
to put it exactly, as if this kind of pilfering is more contemptible than
bedroom stealing. This is SERIOUS he says. Mrs. Carlin's silver's what
keeps the likes of US alive. He sounds silly, refusing to turn on the News
Hour till he lectures us on our responsibilities to our hosts. Howard
snorts. HOSTS! Old Gerry lights into that remark. He lights into
Kerby, he lights into all of us for complaining so much and doing
nothing to contribute to our own order and well-being. Next afternoon
Mrs. Carlin discovers her knife and fork in the garbage bag Andrew is
about to carry out to the dumpster. / must of swept them into the garbage
cleaning up she says. And we nearly threw these treasures out\ Tearing eyes
attest to the importance she attaches to these baroque heirlooms.
Don'tya see says Gerry, unashamed of his hectoring behaviour. We're
FAMILY. / believe that.
His support during her two-day ordeal makes Mrs. Carlin a little
keener to encourage his Father's Day party for Colin. That's real nice,
Gerry says Colin, bored to death by Gerry's proposal. But I don't need any
party. In fact he doesn't even know if he can come to a dinner in his
honour. Dale looks at him. You'll make it, Colin he says. Colin looks at
Dale in a puzzled way. He's got no intention of coming to dinner on a
Sunday when he's never here anyway. Peaches cooks for him. Or else his
62 wealthy friend from Hong Kong takes him dining in the sky somewhere.
Colin leaves the room to attend to his sketches. He shows me one he's
working on at the moment, a birthday card on the cover that says I
KNOW IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY ... and when I open it, says . . .
'CAUSE A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME!! The sketch inside is of a
muscular eagle smashing a tennis ball with his racquet across a net.
Under the net it says MANY HAPPY RETURNS!!! It's a jock card says
Colin. For a jock. Got the idea from our pigeons in the eaves. He wants to know
what I think of it.
Nifty. How'dyou get an eagle to look happy?
May then June. Trees on the boulevard outside are umbrellas in full
canopy. Fulla crows says Gerry somberly.
Dale's RIGHT Mrs. Carlin exclaims, sniffing the parlour. It IS going
away. And she hugs us right through the News Hour one evening, before
we've begun to notice for ourselves we aren't locked so much into the
It seems unnoticeable at first, maybe because it's stuck inside the way
we think of this place every time we come back, so we just close our
minds and try not to smell what we think is still here. But it is fading. It's
going away. Our terrible smell is going away. Mrs. Carlin can hardly
contain her happiness, for what's happiness but relief? says Andrew.
R —O —L says Kerby A —I —D —S. Nudge nudge, wink wink.
We settle down. We dare to breathe more deeply. Compared to the
regular News Hour, the Saturday News Hour is more retrospective and
the Saturday before Father's Day, Pamela Martin, who's substituting for
Tony Parsons, summarizes a Greenpeace report blaming a spill of wood
preservatives at a local paint factory for the deaths of at least nine grey
whales in the inland waters north and south of the international
boundary, between March and June. Holy crow says Gerry. NINE.
Listen. They're showing old footage of the same whale as before, lying
sideways on the beach in White Rock. It's sick what things can happen says
Mr. Carlin. It's chemicals says Gerry. Hear? He's right.
Authorities estimate forty-three tonnes of pentachlorophenols and tetrachloro-
phenols from the Cloverdale Paint and Chemical Company Ms. Martin
articulates were dumped into the Serpentine River and washed to sea, where they
settled into pools and ravines on the ocean bottom. Gerry doesn't like the
beautiful Ms. Martin so much as he does Tony Parsons. Still, his
attention is glued. The whales come along like vacuum cleaners she says to feed
and end up sucking toxins into their systems. Cut to a genetics professor at a
news conference, who guesses surviving whales will end up with liver
damage and immune systems unable to resist disease. Or to repair usual-
type wounds and injuries he says. Plus it will probably impair their ability to
Gerry listens. And he listens when a forensic toxicologist from Oregon
predicts nine deaths are just the tip of the iceberg,  maybe several
63 icebergs. Didn't I tell yd? cries Gerry. Goddamn. It's the dyin' of the LIGHT.
For sure.
He means it. Deaths of these animals have moved him deeply. Howard thinks Gerry is moved too easily. Andrew says Gerry is probably
worried about dioxins in his own system. A fear is piercing him he says.
Dale wonders aloud where Gerry's son might be. No one has ever asked him,
right? Howard would like to know the difference between dioxins and
When we finally sit down to dine on Father's Day Mrs. Carlin generously tells us Gerry has bought the shoulder of lamb out of his own
pocket and prepared it with a mint sauce and roast potatoes. She looks
on approvingly. Colin has shown up, as Dale predicted, and graciously
consented to be our guest of honour. It's my pleasure he says like a good
businessman. Kerby has contributed four bottles of dry red wine,
Howard the avocados, Dale the dessert, and Andrew orange blossoms in
little urns. For some of us this is a first taste of avocado pears. We toast
Colin, young Colin, as old Gerry calls him with some pride. He wishes
him continued success with his greeting-card business. We all drink to
that, and eat up the avocados, the lamb, the potatoes, the sauce.
There's no occasion says Gerry that food can't IMPROVE it. And we drink
to that too. Food is delicious] we all say. Food is wonderful] Food is life] And
eating this heavenly food we believe fervently in what we say.
After Dale's big chocolate cake, with RAISINS he says, after my
coffee, when we're all sitting around the lounge smoking Colin's cigars,
there's a ring at the front door. Andrew comes back bearing a telegram.
It's for Gerry. Mr. Gerry Turner he reads.
Old Gerry stands up and acts like he receives telegrams every day.
There is dignity in the way he stands there. Telegrams are always bad news
he says calmly. Nobody disagrees with him. His dignity in the face of
inevitability seems quaint. The TV is on, flickering soundlessly in lieu of
the boarded-up fireplace, something we can turn to if the conversation
goes cold. We all turn politely to watch a car chase in California it looks
Then old Gerry is standing in the corner by the door jamb weeping
softly and studying his telegram. This makes the whole room uncomfortable. Probably nobody has seen a man as old as Gerry crying before.
Our fathers never cried. Mrs. Carlin stands up and says she'll bring in
some fresh coffee. Mr. Carlin gets up to turn up the volume. Engines
whining. Only Andrew goes to Gerry, he's the only one who knows how.
It's from my son Gerry finally says. Lookit this. He hands Andrew the
telegram to read. It's from his son says Andrew. Andrew looks it over.
Hey, Ger that's great] says Howard. The rest of us stand up and form a
64 circle of gentle back slappers, congratulating Gerry and Gerry is crying
unashamed tears as he looks at each of us with real joy in his heart. His
wrinkled skin just glows.
It couldn't have ended better says Mr. Carlin, happily. It's like Gerry arranged
his own Father's Day, eh Ger?
Gerry says Colin. You didn't tell us your son's name was Marlow.
All Gerry can say, in a glad tremulous voice, is I musta mentioned it. I
musta mentioned it.
We go to bed happy that night, feeling good that someone among us
has thought to send this telegram to Gerry. His room is next to mine and
in the middle of the night I'm aroused by a muffled sobbing. It's muffled
in the way pigeons coo roosting when night falls.
I get up and put on my dressing gown and go into the hall to tap
lightly on Gerry's door. My knuckles rap the old varnish. Gerry? His light
is on and he's sitting up in his bed with the telegram on the blanket. He
wipes his eyes.
Neither of us says anything. After a while Gerry takes some deep
breaths and calms himself. I ain't sad says Gerry. I ain't crying 'cause I'm sad
or nothin'. I'm just real happy.
He blows his nose with a hanky he pulls out of his pajama pocket. 7
know you meant well. All of you he says sending me a telegram and all. He
sniffles. Thing is my son died real young he says from meningitis and the reason I
guess I'm mewing is on account of the sheer, I dunno, love I feel for the bunch of you
and for some bugger in this place who was NICE enough to send old Gerry a
telegram on Father's Day. I don't think it was a mean trick at all. I think it was real
nice.  You guys are family.
What's the matter with Gerry? asks Andrew, waiting outside the varnish.
Sssshhh I whisper. He's just happy.
These men, I think after, lying in my bed, their voices in my head. An
ambulance is travelling up Bartholomew to the hospital, carrying a
heart-attack victim through our tunnel of sycamores. And the other
sounds, the shunting on distant wharfs of the North Shore, ships leaving
one continent in darkness for another. Letting go, I breathe deeply and
smell the old plaster and worn carpet thread. I listen. I value these
sleeping men. I love them just as Gerry does. God, none of us knows the
source of a thing like smell, or where kindness comes from, or where evil
dwells. No more than we can fathom the vanishings of these.
Brian Bartlett teaches a course in Composition at Concordia University and is pursuing
a Ph.D. at the Universite de Montreal. Earlier this year a chapter of his novel Fearful
Children appeared in Fatal Recurrences: New Fiction in English from Montreal, an anthology
edited by Hugh Hood and Peter O'Brien.
Brenda Borrowman, a recent graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design, exhibits
in her hometown of Vancouver.
George Bowering is teaching this summer at The Free University of Berlin and working
on a long poem entitled "Delayed Mercy". His latest book of poems, Kerrisdale Elegies was
published last year by Coach House.
Gregory Cook lives in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where he is the Executive Director of the
Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia. His latest book, Love In Flight, is set to appear from
Ragweed Press.
Don Domanski also lives in Wolfville. These poems are from his latest book, Hammerstroke,
to appear shortly from Anansi.
Anghel Dumbraveanu has contributed a dozen books to the much-discussed "lyrical
renaissance" of recent Romanian Poetry. He is currently editor of the Romanian literary
magazine Orizont.
Robert Eady lives in Kanata, Ontario. These pieces are from his just-released book of
prose-poems The Blame Business (Ouroboros Press).
Keath Fraser is the author of Taking Cover (Oberon, 1982), and Foreign Affairs (General
Publishing, later this year). This Vancouver writer has two novellas featured in the current issue of Canadian Fiction Magazine.
Bill Gaston, also of Vancouver, has fiction soon to appear in The Malahat Review and
poems in Ariel and The Wascana Review. Gold won second prize in PRISM international's recent fiction contest.
Ralph Gustafson lives in North Hatley, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. His most
recent collection, Directives of Autumn, appeared last fall from McClelland and Stewart.
Eric McCormack lives in Waterloo, Ontario. Knox Abroad is from a collection to be
published in the near future, Inspecting the Vaults.
Elaine Perry lives and works in New York City. Her poems will appear in upcoming
issues of Visions, Poetry Motel, and Earthwise Poetry Journal.
Marcel Pop-Cornis is associate professor at the University of Timisoara, Romania. He
is currently Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Northern Iowa. Derek Robinson of Victoria has published two chapbooks: Child in 1975 and Twelve Poems
in 1980. He now works part-time as a practical nurse to support the "real work" of poetry.
Kay Ryan of Fairfax, California has recently had poems appear in Poetry (Chicago) and
The Kenyan Review. A book of her poems, Strangely Marked Metal, is due out this year from
Copper Beech Press of Brown University.
Toni Sammons lives in Goleta, California. "Travelling" is from an unpublished collection
of love poems, Dancing in a Bear Garden.
Robert J. Ward, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, has had poems and articles published in America, Canada, Spain and Romania. He is co-translator with Dr.
Pop-Cornis of Eleven Romanian Poets of the Past Decade (Micromegas, 1984).
Patrick White lives in Ottawa. His most recent collections include The God in the Rafters
(Borealis Publishing) and Seventeen Odes (Fiddlehead Press).
Laurie Anne Whitt, an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets, lives in London, Ontario. She was included in the recent anthology, New Voices: A Celebration of New
Canadian Poetry. PRISM international is holding a poetry
writing contest open to anyone except
students currently enrolled in the Department of Creative Writing at UBC.
There are no restrictions as to the length
of the poems, but all entries must be
original, unpublished material available
for publication in a future issue of
PRISM. PRISM international will purchase First North American Serial
Rights for all work it accepts for publication. All entries must be typed double-
spaced on 8'/2 x 11 white paper. Entrants' full name and address must appear on the first page of the manuscript
and all entries must include a stamped,
self-addressed envelope with sufficient
return postage. Entries from countries
other than Canada should include International Reply Coupons.
$500    1st
$250    2nd
$100    3rd
$250 special prize for a
poem in translation from
a non-official language of
Canada. Original poem
must be written by a
living writer. Note:
translations from the
French are eligible for the
main prizes.
Send $10 plus $1 for each poem entered to:
Department of Creative Writing,
University of British Columbia,
E466-1866 Main Mall,
Vancouver, B.C.
v6t 1W5
TO THEIR SUBSCRIPTION. Results will be announced early
in 1986. Judging will be done by the PRISM editorial board and
by two established poets. A winners' list will be supplied upon request.
This competition is made possible by the continued support of
The Canada Council.  


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