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Ml international  BRIAN BURKE
Managing Editor
Poetry Editor
Drama Editor
Fiction Editor
Copy Editor
Business Manager
Advisory Editor
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times a year at
the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. v6t IW5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright ® 1983 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover design and artwork: Derrick Clinton Carter.
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All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or international reply
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Payment to contributors is $15.00 per page and a subscription, PRISM international purchases First N.A. Serial Rights only.
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.   April 1983. CONTENTS
Henry Kreisel
An Evening with Sholom Aleichem
Elizabeth Bartlett
Two Poems
Susan Glickman
Margarita Carrera
Two Poems
Joseph Bruchac
Dennis Gruending
Georgi Djagarov
Luchezar Elenkov
Steven Bush & Allen Booth
Life On The Line (Part One)
Paul Edmund Gotro
Martin Anderson
Gordon Rogers
Two Poems
Andrew Wreggitt
Joan Fern Shaw
St. John Simmons
Three Poems
Robert Mallet
Four Poems
Hugh Hood
We Outnumber The Dead
67  Henry Kreisel
An Evening With
Sholom Aleichem
Dear Mister Sholom Aleichem! No, that's not right. It's like I'm writing
a letter to you. But I'm not writing a letter to you. Because where you
are, there's no post office. I'm talking into this tape-recorder, but I'm
really talking to you. I have a feeling that you just walked in the door
and sat down in the corner there. You look just like the photo I saw of
you once in a newspaper or somewhere. You were standing with a few
others and you had glasses and you wore a hat and you had a big
mustache and you were smiling a little golden smile. Just the way you
look now in the corner there, in the chair.
So, hello, dear Mister Sholom Aleichem! A big hello! Maybe you
want a glass of tea, with lemon and a lump of sugar to hold in the
mouth? The way my grandmother used to drink tea. You know, it was
in my grandmother's house that I first heard about you. That's a long
time ago. More than fifty years ago. You were already dead then, Mister
Sholom Aleichem, but not too long, and they still talked about you like
you were a living man, my grandmother and her friends. To them you
were still alive, a guest in the house. Just like you are to me now.
You're sure you don't want a glass of tea? Nowadays we drink tea out
of a cup, but my grandmother drank out of a glass. You, too, I'm sure.
And where you are now, do they drink tea also? Out of a cup? Out of
a glass?
To tell you the truth, I didn't think about you much after my grandmother died. In her house I used to hear your stories, about Tevye and
about Motel and about the shtetl, I'll tell you about that soon, but when
she died, in 1925, that was the end. I didn't hear any more. And I'm not
much of a reader. I don't have the patience. A kibbitzer, yes, a talker,
yes, but a reader—no.
So I forgot about you, Mister Sholom Aleichem — more or less. For
forty, forty-five years. I was busy making a living, bringing up a family.
Who had time for stories, especially stories that happened such a long
time ago, in a country ten thousand miles away?
Then they made a movie from your stories. A big musical. Fiddler on
the Roof. That's what they called it. A funny name. I don't remember no fiddlers on no roofs in your stories. Maybe you heard about that movie?
Yes, I see you're nodding your head. Good news gets around. Bad news
even faster, but good news, too, thank God, once in a while.
You used to have a saying in your stories that I always liked. Two
people are talking and when one says, "I wish you a long life," or "May
you have good health," or "Don't worry, everything will be all right," the
other says, "Let it go from your lips to God's ears!" I always liked that.
For a while I used to say it all the time. I even got a nickname out of it.
Some of my friends used to call me "God's ears." How do you like that?
Anyway, I was telling about that movie they made from your stories.
Everybody was talking about Fiddler on the Roof, and on the radio they
were playing songs from it all day. I used to listen to the songs and I used
to hum the melodies. Especially there was a song I liked — if I were a rich
man, yabbabababababababa. That was the most popular. Maybe you
heard it?
This reminds me of a story I heard once. There was this melamed, this
poor little Hebrew teacher, he was hardly making a living, and he says,
"If I was Rothschild, I would be richer than Rothschild." How so? they
ask him. "Because," he says, "if I was Rothschild, I would have all his
fortune, but on top of it, I would also have my salary as a Hebrew
So anyway, Fiddler on the Roof was playing downtown, and my wife
wanted to go. I said, sure, sure, Betty, we'll go, but then we didn't go. I
come home from work, I'm tired. I'm a salesman, Mister Sholom
Aleichem. I'm a great salesman, if I say so myself. I sell men's wear in a
store downtown. A specialty store —Mister Big'n' Tall. I'm only middle-
sized myself, but I can deal with a three-hundred, four-hundred
pounder. He's big, he's huge, but I have a bigger mouth. I can talk. He
wants a brown suit, but I haven't got no brown suit that fits him. I sell
him a blue suit. That's the kind of a salesman I am.
So I come home that evening. I feel more tired than usual. Not so
good, to tell you the truth. I'm hardly in the door, my wife Betty she calls
out to me, "Tonight you're taking me to see Fiddler on the Roof. You hear,
Barnie, you're taking me tonight."
She's always complaining I don't take her out enough, Betty, God
bless her. She has a point, I have to admit. She also complains I don't
talk to her enough. She has a point there, too. I talk all day in the store, I
come home I'm talked out. I just want to eat and flop down in a comfortable chair, like the one you're sitting in, Mister Sholom Aleichem, look
at the paper, the headlines, the sports, watch a little TV —I always fall
asleep in front of the tv —it relaxes me. If I go to the movies, to tell you
the truth, I fall asleep, too. So I pay for nothing. So you can see, I'm not
much of a movie-goer.
But she's been bugging me and bugging me, for two weeks already —
Betty, God bless her. And now I didn't have no more excuses left. "All right, all right," I say. "After supper we'll go and see Fiddler on the Roof.
We'll make the nine o'clock show."
We eat supper. The two of us. We have three children, bless them,
but they're all married now. We have four grandchildren already, Gott sei
Dank. We eat. Brisket she had made for supper. My favourite, Mister
Sholom Aleichem. Ordinarily I would give an arm for a good piece of
brisket. But this time it didn't taste so good. I felt like I had a bit of
"Have you got some seltzer?" I ask Betty. "Sure," she says. "It's right in
front of you, there on the table. Are you blind or something?" So I drink
a little seltzer water and it feels better —the indigestion.
After supper I lie down for an hour. I snooze a bit. Now and again a
little bit of indigestion wakes me up. A sort of heartburn. But nothing
Then suddenly I feel Betty shaking me a bit. "It's a quarter past eight.
We better go, Barnie, if we're going to make the nine o'clock show."
I rouse myself up. I go to the bathroom. To tell you the truth, Mister
Sholom Aleichem, I don't really feel much like going out to see a movie,
even if it is a movie about Tevye and Motel and Tevye's daughters and
the whole schtick I remember from when I was a boy and in my
grandmother's house they used to hold ein Abend mit Sholom Aleichem, an
evening with Sholom Aleichem. I'll tell you about that later.
But a promise is a promise. Fiddler on the Roof, here we come.
"All right," I say, and go to get my coat. "All right, Betty. Let's go.
We'll have an evening with Sholom Aleichem."
And just at that moment, at the very moment when I say, "We'll have
an evening with Sholom Aleichem," a pain cuts through me like I never
had before. Like a hot knife cutting through butter. Just when I say,
"We'll have an evening with Sholom Aleichem." It's got nothing to do
with you, Mister Sholom Aleichem. No, no, God forbid. I'm not
blaming you one little bit, you understand, only just when I say, "We'll
have an evening with Sholom Aleichem", the knife goes through me.
I let out a cry. It must have been a kind of a shriek because Betty
comes running out into the hall, and she cries, "What's the matter,
Barnie? What happened?"
But just at that moment, a giant, one of those three-hundred pounders
I try to fit into a suit, puts his arms around my waist and he squeezes and
squeezes. Oy, Gewalt! I can't breathe. I gasp for air. But he squeezes and
squeezes, and the knife keeps cutting through me.
"Barnie, Barnie," Betty cries, "What's happening? Oh, My God,
what's happening?"
I try to say something, but I can only moan, and that roughneck keeps
squeezing the life out of me. I try to hold on to something. I touch the
wall, but I feel myself falling and falling, and with a thump I collapse on
the floor. The next thing I know, I am in the hospital, in an oxygen tent, with
needles in my arms and tubes sticking out all over, and it's a miracle that
I'm alive. In intensive care, that's where I am, and it's touch and go for
three or four days.
But someone must have put in a good word for me. Betty most likely.
My children. My friends. From their lips to God's ears. So maybe some
big shot up there, maybe even you, Mister Sholom Aleichem, said to the
angel who keeps the records, "It's not time yet for Barnie Himmel! Put
him back! Put him back!"
I see you're smiling, Mister Sholom Aleichem. Isn't that how it's
done? Who decides, anyway, that this one should live and that one
should die? God alone? Or does he delegate the paperwork? You know
how it is said, "Oh Rosh Hashonah it's entered and on Yom Kippur it's
sealed —who lives, who dies, who by fire and who by water, who from
hunger and who from thirst."
One thing I learned. Everything you always think happens to other
people, eventually happens to you, too.
But this time I only got a warning. I heard the knock on the door. The
angel of death brushed my cheek.
After a week, ten days, they moved me out of intensive care, just on
the day when I turned sixty-five. What a birthday! All my children were
there. And the grandchildren. And Betty, of course. They brought a
cake and flowers and they were going to have a regular party. But the
chief nurse came rushing in and stopped all this Narrishkeit. "No excitement!" she called out, "No excitement! This patient is still pretty sick."
"So take the cake home," I said, "and have a celebration."
They laughed, and my son said, "We'll drink to your health, Dad," and
I said, "Let it go from your mouth to God's ear."
I stayed in the hospital for another three, four weeks, and now I am
home. I have a damaged heart, but I am alive, and if I am careful, and if
I lose weight, and if I stop smoking, and if I do exercise, the doctor said I
could live another twenty years. From his lips to God's ears. You know
how it is, Mister Sholom Aleichem. You had a lot of trouble with your
lungs. My trouble comes from the heart.
I've already been home for five weeks, and I have to stay home longer
yet. How long? He won't tell me exactly, the doctor. So in the meantime
I'm going nuts. I'm bored out of my mind. I want to get back to the
store. But as soon as I mention it, Betty weeps bitter tears. "I don't want
to be a widow," she cries. She wants me to retire. "We'll go to Florida,"
she says. "Away from the winters in Canada." "I'll die of boredom," I
say. "So you'll be a widow one way or another." "Don't joke like this," she
cries. It's not a joke, Mister Sholom Aleichem. It's the truth.
He won't even let me go out and play poker with my friends, the
doctor. No excitement, he says, no gambling. We never play for high
stakes, I tell him. But he says excitement has nothing to do with money.
10 It's competition, he says. He says I have a compulsive personality. I'm a
competitor. A compulsive personality! A lot of baloney, if you ask me.
But maybe not. Maybe he's right, the doctor, maybe he knows a thing or
two. Anyway, Betty wouldn't let me go out. The doctor says something,
that's it as far as she is concerned.
But she's worried about me. How restless I am. How I am going nuts,
sitting around doing nothing. So she talked it over with my son David,
and two, three days he comes to the house and he brings me this
beautiful tape-recorder.
"You're always telling stories, Dad," he says. "So tell your stories into
the machine. Tell your life story. Then we can have someone take it off
the tape. You don't have to worry about spelling the words or worry
about grammar. We'll hire a secretary and she'll do it. Just tell your
stories, Dad," he says.
And here I am. A great little invention, eh, Mister Sholom Aleichem!
Miracles of modern science. What you wouldn't have given to have a
machine like that! Am I right? I bet you could've told twice as many
stories if you didn't have to write everything out in pencil or with a pen. I
don't even think they had typewriters in your day. Am I right, Mister
Sholom Aleichem?
Ah! Betty's calling me. I'm supposed to walk around a bit. Not too
much. But I'm supposed to get some exercise. Then I'll have some tea.
And then I'll come back and I'll tell you how they used to have an
evening with Sholom Aleichem in my grandmother's house. No big
fancy movies. No stars. No singing. But it was a lot of fun just the same.
So don't go away. Or if you must go away, I'll call you back later.
Well! I never got back yesterday. I walked around a bit. I had tea.
Then my daughter came with the grandchildren. So I was busy.
I was telling my wife and my daughter that I was talking to Sholom
Aleichem on the tape-recorder. I thought they would think I was
meshugge, that I had gone bananas. But Betty says, "Talk to anyone you
want, just so long as you don't go back to the store and kill yourself. I
don't want to be a widow."
I don't see you sitting in the chair, Mister Sholom Aleichem. —I'll talk
to you anyway. I'm sure you can hear me, wherever you are.
You know, last night I had a dream about you, Mister Sholom
Aleichem. A strange kind of a dream. You were sitting on a cloud and
all around you people were sitting, also on clouds, and up above all the
clouds someone else was sitting, on a big chair it seemed. Maybe a
throne. I couldn't see who it was because the clouds were so thick.
Maybe an important angel. Maybe —who knows? —God himself. And
you were reading stories to them. From time to time there was laughter. Sometimes it sounded more like a thunderclap. The clouds shook. But
you went right on reading. Then you stood up —you were standing right
on a cloud, but you didn't sink in.
Ah! Now I see you again. You're back in the chair. Make yourself
comfortable, Mister— . Maybe I could just call you Sholom. But no, that
doesn't sound right. Not respectful. You were such a famous writer.
They make movies from your stories. With big stars. And when you
died, I heard, there were maybe a hundred thousand people that came to
your funeral in New York. A hundred thousand people! Imagine that!
So how could I call you by your first name, like you were my friend? But
actually —you are my friend. I've known you ever since I was a boy.
Even though I forgot about you —more or less —for forty, forty-five
But when I was a boy, I heard your stories every two, three weeks, on
Friday nights after supper in my grandmother's house on Maria Street,
here in Toronto. That's when the neighbors —ten, twelve people, sometimes more, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, even —came
together in my grandmother's living room, and they drank tea and
gossipped and told the news from the old country and how they were
trying to bring relatives over here, and then someone always said, "And
now let's hear a story from Sholom Aleichem," and my grandmother
would bring out a book and someone would read a story, and everybody
listened, and they laughed and sometimes they cried, and they made
comments. They cursed the bad guys and they cheered on the good
guys. It was a regular riot.
The best reader was Sam Rabinowitz. He didn't come all the time.
Maybe once a month. But when he came, people used to go out and
fetch other friends and neighbors. Because when Sam Rabinowitz read
your stories, it was really and truly an evening with Sholom Aleichem.
Oh, could he read —Sam Rabinowitz. With feeling and with tenderness, and with humor and sometimes with sarcasm.
I remember he read about a writer who churns out plays like you
churn out butter. One a month. But are they any good? Does he sell
any? A naechtiger Tag. Don't even ask. His wife turns out babies. One a
year. Healthy, strong babies. He complains. Every year a baby! Genug!
"I tell you what," she says. "I make better babies than you make plays. So
let's switch. You have the babies and I'll write the plays."
Ah, that brought applause. "Good for her!" cried one of the women.
"How does he think the babies come?" cried another. And a third said,
"He won't leave her alone, the pig. So let him provide for the babies. He
should get a job, he should."
But best of all they liked to hear stories about weddings and marriages.
Good and bad. How once seven matchmakers got into the act to arrange
two matches — three and a half matchmakers per match!
12 I see you're laughing, Mister Sholom Aleichem. You remember the
How once there was a young couple, and they were already standing
under the chupah, under the canopy, and the rabbi was just starting the
ceremony, when suddenly two young women come rushing into the
synagogue, screaming and cursing.
"Stop everything!"
"Don't marry him!"
"That scoundrel!"
"That robber!"
"He married me four months ago, just after Passover. He took the
dowry and he left me with a child." And she pointed to her belly.
Oh, the commotion in my grandmother's living room! Talk about
audience participation! To this day I don't know how the story came out.
But if he escaped with his life, that bigamist, it would have been a
miracle, if they had anything to say about it.
Sam Rabinowitz was a small man. He had hardly any hair, but what
he had he combed very carefully. When he sat in a big chair, his feet
touched the floor, but just. He had a little pot belly. And when you
looked at his tie, you could read the menu from the whole week —when
he had eggs and when borscht, when dark meat gravy and when light
chicken gravy. And when prune juice. Prune juice he liked especially
because it helped him with his constipation.
But when he opened his mouth, you forgot everything. How could
such a rich voice come from such a small man? But it could, and when
he read you forgot everything else, and Sam Rabinowitz was like a great
actor and he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Weddings and marriages. Like I said, that's what they liked to hear
most. There was another story I remember —a story about a mysterious
woman with a heavy veil.
A young couple is just getting married. They're standing together
under the chupah. A beautiful couple. The wedding dress cost a fortune.
No expense has been spared. The bride's father is a big shot. And the
bridegroom's father is no piker, either. The guests have come from far
and wide. Reporters are here from the newspapers. And photographers,
too. All is quiet. The ceremony is just about to start.
At this point, Sam Rabinowitz dropped his voice. He waited. To
build up the suspense.
Suddenly she appears. A tall woman. She walks down the aisle as if
she is the bride. Nobody can see her face because it's hidden behind the
veil. Is she beautiful? Is she ugly? No one knows. Who is she? Nobody
recognizes her. But she knows what she wants. She goes straight to the
bridegroom's father and whispers something in his ear. He turns pale.
He takes her by the arm and leads her outside, to a little room.
■3 Everything stops. Panic sweeps over the guests. The bride's mother is
nearly fainting. The young couple look at each other. Nobody knows
what's happening.
In the little room, the bridegroom's father asks the woman behind the
veil, "What do you want?"
"I was your son's mistress," she says. "In Kiev. When he was a
It doesn't surprise the father. Rich men's sons do these things.
"So," he says. "What's the ultimatum?" No fooling around for him.
Right to the point.
"Let him marry me," she says.
"Impossible," says the father.
"Then a monthly payment," she says. "And a sum for the baby."
The baby? Where did the baby come from? Suddenly a baby! He'd
have a thing or two to say to his son. But in the meantime, he had to
make a deal.
He pulls out his wallet. He gives her money. "Tomorrow, come to my
lawyer. We'll complete the deal."
With that, he walks out of the room. The wedding goes on.
In my grandmother's living room they could hardly wait for Sam
Rabinowitz to finish. Then a big debate began. Some didn't believe it
altogether. That the son had a mistress when he was a student, yes, that
they believed. But she wouldn't have barged in like that. Oh, yes, she
would, said others. How else could she hope to get anything? And how
about the young bride? Didn't she suspect that something was not kosher?
Sure, said one of the men, but she figured it would give her a hammer to
hold over her husband's head. And if she ever wanted to take a lover, she
would have every excuse. Her husband couldn't say anything. That's the
way rich people do things.
Then they turned to Sam Rabinowitz. What did he think?
"It's a comedy," he said. And that's all he said.
A comedy! All of life is a comedy. You knew that better than
anybody, Mister Sholom Aleichem. Even some tragedies are comedies.
Now let me tell you about what happened once.
A Friday night again. After supper. Once again they come together in
my grandmother's house for an evening with Sholom Aleichem. Sam
Rabinowitz comes. He hadn't been for a few weeks because he was in the
hospital for an operation. A hernia. That's what he had. They greeted
him like he had just returned from the dead. Like a messiah, almost. He
was just the same. His tie had a few more spots, but otherwise he was the
First he had some tea and a piece of honey-cake. In the meantime,
several people went out to fetch others. They knew that everybody in the
neighborhood wanted to hear Sam Rabinowitz reading Sholom
Aleichem stories.
14 So more people came. The room was packed. Suddenly two new faces
appeared. A mother and her daughter. Mrs. Silber and her daughter
Sonia. They had just moved into our street. They lived in Mrs.
Goldberg's house and they didn't know too many people yet. So they
were introduced and they shook hands with everybody, and when Sonia
shook hands with me and looked into my eyes, an arrow struck me in the
heart, Mister Sholom Aleichem. I fell in love. Immediately. Head over
heels, like the saying goes. For the first time in my life. I was fifteen
years old. I had kissed a few girls, even felt them up a little bit, to tell you
the truth, but never had such a feeling gone right through me, like a hot
knife through butter. Never. Never before and (I'll whisper this to you)
never again.
Sonia's eyes were like a deep blue lake and I fell in and drowned. Her
breasts were small and round, like little oranges, and her legs were long
and beautiful. She was maybe eighteen or nineteen. Maybe less.
She sat down and stretched out her long legs and put her hands in her
lap, and I stood against the wall so I could see her and drink in the
wonder of her, but so it wouldn't be too obvious. Maybe, maybe, I
prayed, she has fallen in love with me, too. Please God, let it be so. From
my mouth to God's ear.
Sam Rabinowitz cleared his throat. Someone rapped a spoon against
a glass, someone else called out for quiet. They stopped talking.
Rabinowitz began to read.
This time it was a story about a girl called Rayzel. This Rayzel was
expecting her first child and she was already overdue. Everything was
prepared. The midwife was waiting. But nothing was happening. Then
suddenly the pains came. Rayzel writhed and moaned. She wanted to
die. Her grandmother was standing by her because her mother was dead.
"Scream, scream!" called out the grandmother. "One more scream
and with God's help you'll make it."
Suddenly Rayzel calls out a name. (I've forgotten the name, Mister
Sholom Aleichem, but you probably remember it.) Anyway, it's the
name of her husband. Where he is? It turns out he left her eight months
ago. He said he was going to America to look for work. But she hasn't
heard a word from him since —not a word. People were already saying
that he was gone for good, that he had probably got himself another
woman in America. But he left a little souvenir, and here is Rayzel
struggling to deliver that souvenir.
"No, no!" she cries out, "he hasn't forgotten about me! He'll come back
to me. Where are you, where are you? God! God! God!" And the
women standing around her don't know if she's crying for her husband
or for God. But why not for both?
Rabinowitz read with such emotion that some people were crying.
Some of the women in the room were cursing the absent husband
because he could at least have sent a letter. Or even a post card.
15 As for me, I can't take my eyes off Sonia. I hear Rabinowitz and his
powerful voice, but my heart is beating and hot flames are shooting
through me.
"Sonia! Sonia!" I want to cry out to her, "I love you, I love you!"
Now that would have been a fine how do you do, eh, Mister Sholom
But meanwhile Sam Rabinowitz is reading about poor Rayzel, who is
moaning and crying and pushing, and calling out her husband's name.
Suddenly Sonia's face turns white. White like a sheet. She puts her
hands over her ears, as if she doesn't want to hear any more. Her eyes
open wide and she stares at me, but I don't think she sees me. Her body
sways. And suddenly she lets out a long, low moan, "Ahhhhhh," and
then the moan becomes a wail and then a cry.
"Mama! Mama!" she cries. "Help me! Help me!"
"Help her! Help her!" somebody cries out. "She's going to faint."
Here is my chance. I rush forward. I take her hand. I stroke her hair.
Her mother starts crying. People start pushing.
"Give her some air!" someone calls out.
"Help her to the bedroom, Barnie," I hear my grandmother's voice.
"Let her lie down. Then bring a wet washcloth and put it on her
I didn't have to be told twice, Mister Sholom Aleichem.
"Come," I say. "Come, Sonia. Lean on me. Come and lie down."
She walked slowly with me, holding on to my arm, and her mother
walked behind us. And I was on a cloud. On cloud seven, as the saying
goes. Or cloud nine. Whatever the number, I was on it.
Sam Rabinowitz started reading again, but I didn't go back. So that's
another of your stories I didn't hear to the end, Mister Sholom Aleichem.
I helped Sonia to lie down and I held her hand — a little longer than I
had to. And then I saw the wedding ring on her finger and my heart
stopped beating. It couldn't be. But yes, it was.
I went out to fetch a wet washcloth and when I came back, her mother
was talking to her in a soft voice and she was lying there very still, with
her eyes closed.
I put the washcloth on her forehead. Then I see the wedding ring
again, and I can't take my eyes off it.
I want to say something, but the words won't come out of my mouth.
My voice is dry and I can't speak. But finally I manage to whisper to her
mother, "Is she married?"
She gave me such a look. I didn't know what to make of it. Then she
pointed to the ring. "You see the ring?" she asked.
"I see it, I see it," I said.
"So why are you asking?"
I didn't know what to say.
"She has a ring," she said. "But where's the husband?"
16 Sonia opened her deep-blue eyes. "Don't, Mama," she said. "Please
What I wouldn't have done to help her, Mister Sholom Aleichem,
what I wouldn't have done for her!
"So what did I say?" the mother said. "Where is he, that no-goodnik? I
always knew he was a no-goodnik, but you knew better."
I was torn in half, Mister Sholom Aleichem. I could have murdered
that guy. I was so jealous. But at the same time I wanted him to come
back because my beautiful Sonia was suffering. And yet — if he didn't
come back, maybe there was room for me.
"Don't," Sonia said to her mother. "Please don't."
"I have to say what is in my heart," the mother said. "I wouldn't mind
so much if he had just disappeared. Good riddance. But he had to leave a
"Stop it, Mama! Stop it!" cried Sonia, and she put her hands over her
ears. She didn't want to hear any more. Then she got off the bed, and
said, "I want to go home. Let's go home immediately."
I was left all confused. Especially about the souvenir. Did that mean
what I thought it meant? Well, in a few weeks there was no doubt. The
secret was out. Up front, so to speak. But she was more beautiful than
I used to hang around Mrs. Goldberg's house, where they had rented
some rooms. I knew when she went to the store and I used to wait for her
to come out and then I went with her and carried her parcels. I was
always hoping that she would say something that showed that she was in
love with me. And then I had a speech all ready. I would leave school
and get a job and we would get married —her husband, if she really had
a husband, was totally out of the picture. And I would accept the child as
if it was my own.
Of course, she never said she loved me, and I never got to make my
speech. She always treated me nice —like I was her kid brother. That
bothered me a lot, but what could I do?
Soon there was a lot of talk on our street. Some said there never was a
husband. And that's why they came here —the mother and the daughter.
Some said they came from Winnipeg and some said from Montreal. I
asked her once and she said it wasn't true, but she didn't tell me any
Then one day they disappeared. She was already very big and her
time was close. Mrs. Goldberg said they had gone to Montreal, where
the mother had a sister. I don't know if that was true. Perhaps you heard
about it, Mister Sholom Aleichem, because that's the kind of story you
used to tell.
I was heartbroken for a while, but then I got over it. But I never
forgot. Over the years I've often thought about Sonia because she
aroused such a passion in me, but this is the first time I'm telling about
17 it. She would be sixty-eight, sixty-nine years old if she's still alive. And
the child would be fifty.
Except —for me she can never be old. She will always be the way she
was when I first looked into her eyes. When I think about her it's always
spring, the sun is always shining, the trees are green and the birds sing.
I'll play the tape back, and then perhaps I'll wipe it off. My son told me
to tell about my life, but maybe he would be embarrassed. And Betty
maybe would be jealous. But to you I can tell it. If you want, you can tell
it when they all get together up there, on the clouds, for an evening with
Sholom Aleichem.
And that reminds me. Fiddler on the Roof isn't playing in town any
more. But it'll come back. And when it comes back to a theatre near us,
I'll take Betty for sure this time. And we'll have an evening with Sholom
It's funny— you were there when I first knew what real love was, when
the hot knife of passion went through me. And you were there also when
the hot knife cut through me and the angel of death brushed my cheek.
Good-bye for now, my dear Mister Sholom Aleichem. I'll tell more
stories some other time. And when you are back there, on the clouds,
put in a good word for Barnie Himmel. So with God's help I should
recover my health and have a few more good years with Betty, God bless
her, and to have joy, to have naches, from my children and grandchildren. From your mouth to God's ears. Amen. Elizabeth Bartlett / Two Poems
Sixty seasons I have sowed, man and boy,
and I tell you, Matthew, that a seed
can not grow in the heart. No, one may
as well throw it away or feed
the chickens with it. For a fact, love
is something that only the devil
understands. I'd rather put my trust
in stones and reap a quick crop, for ill
or good. That way, you have no roots and
get what you can in a few short suns.
Or take cactus plants — at least a man
sees the thorns and expects to be stuck,
unless he's a fool (some choke on wool).
As for good ground, Matthew, that's just luck.
I've seen other fellows' orchards full
year after year, where no one's lifted
a hand or a hoe except to pull
the ripe fruits down. Some men are gifted.
Sand and stars are not enough —
there must be proof,
such as stones capable of love
to raise up children.
A test beyond reason,
in order to move
the incredible mountain
and bring down the sun.
Something uncommon, a sign
of God in man,
not just once, but as many times
as the times demand.
Still nothing satisfies,
human or divine:
the hand that stopped Abraham
drove the nail through Christ's.
20 Susan Glickman
"It's not only his own life that man's body has to endure"
— Charles Simic, Chorus for One Voice
We came by boat and on foot bearing tent and blanket
and some of us were old, and some ill, and all
were hungry
And our hunger ran behind us over the dark hills
and taught us to dig and to build
and everything was new then, and green
In those days the land was so big a man
could part the forest like the opening to his tent
and watch the beasts perform their perfect magic
He could watch and they knew he was watching
and went on all the same, for he was still
of their tribe, though upright and full of language
Language was the first to come
then knife, tent and boat
and the forest itself began to hunger
Forest could not run or sail away
the beasts forgot their magic
the green land learned to speak, saying knife, saying knife.
21 Margarita Carrera / Two Poems
Inside of me
a wild beast
watches without serenity
seethes with furor
with hell's dark blood
talons and eye teeth
to devour your solitude
your world
your thighs
your man's body
as tight-lipped time sneaks away
leaving tracks
and secret breathing
surrounds you
awaits your mortal scraps
your tearful shadow
made for my fire
for the passion that watches. I AM NO LONGER, NOR MY TIME
I am no longer
nor my time
asks the heart that is no longer mine,
asks the wing, the wind,
the absurd dream
no longer, never mine.
I am not sorry for my anger
nor the smile, nor the weeping,
not even my passage of the lost animal.
I am sorry for the wheat
and for the daybreak.
In rags walks the song
of all that was mine,
withered and bent,
all that was mine,
no longer I nor my time.
translated from the Spanish by Leilani Wright
23 Joseph Bruchac
Pulling the first
carrot of this summer
a stone comes up, held in the root hairs
the way a fist
might clench a coin.
The people who lived
this hill before
my feet stood here
traced their lives
in the shape of stones.
Each rock held a pattern,
map of this land
which read right
would lead them home.
In those days,
no one stayed lost forever.
24 I match its lines
to the shape of my palm,
seeking the chart
behind my eyes,
a road the wings
of a red-tailed hawk
trace across the sky.
I hold it until
I begin to feel
my heartbeat entering
its rhythms, then
bury the stone again
uncertain if I
am not yet ready
for that direction it might take me.
25 Dennis Gruending
You send feathers from Canada,
tell me
to ride dreams like white-backed gulls
listen to what birds say
read the flowers.
I see high stone walls
topped with hedges of blue bougainvillaea
and chunks of broken glass in concrete
to protect the parrot
complaining in his cage.
My nights are bruised
by the din of dogs fighting over cans
in dark alleys where stones
break the ground like teeth,
and there are boys in heavy black boots
who ride the backs of trucks
and point guns at the sky.
I dream blue mountains leaning over us
morning streets, hands patting the corn flour
children snug in rebozos, women braiding hair,
and men carrying machetes to a harvest of flowers.
26 Georgi Djagarov
You trampled down the grass, my dear,
and you suppose it's vanquished?
But it's alive on earth right here.
Livelier now than ever it flourished.
Drinking sunlight, and breathing dew,
and though you don't know where it's born,
it's reaching silently toward you,
to prick you with its green and tiny horn.
translated from the Bulgarian by
Jascha Kessler and Alexander Shurbanov
27 Luchezar Elenkov
Foliage, bees and flowers. . . walking alone under low skies.
A bug vanishes out of the air down the pigeon's gaping bill.
Without work, life and thought, you could scarcely
make out even a way forward. Ask the twilight,
ask the ones who know you —how long will you last?
A city of names is raised up on posters like obits for those yet alive.
More and more of them. And you barely glance at the next one's work.
A swelling emotion. The world's almost gone from your mind.
And then —
a tulip seems a sort of bell. And you blare out the news.
Which the neighbors scarcely hear. Go on without them,
to where the dew is fuming over black loam. And in spring or fall
they dig wells, potatoes, turning up punctured skulls.
Start there. Measure yourself against the gods. You'll grow tall
in that other land —the sky above these sprigs.
translated from the Bulgarian by Jascha Kessler
and Alexander Shurbanov
28 Allen Booth & Steven Bush
Life On The Line
(Part One)
A prominent red line transverses the floor of an open black space. In the distance, two
musicians play electronic keyboards and percussion: a pervasive acoustic matte of
new wave, trance-like music. Each scene has its own rhythmic energy and drive.
Occasionally, the music disappears.
A solo actor stands on the line, a shaft of light in the void. The title of each scene
is announced, and he speaks: to us, to himself, or sometimes to the musicians. They
forward his thoughts, singing in chorus (THE UPPER CASE TEXT IN
Bound to the red line, the actor transforms it, redefining it physically within each
scene: tightrope, the ledge of a skyscraper window, kitestring, a bed of nails, an
isolating wall. . . .Heseeks, finally, to walk away.
He shares his story, a series of glimpses into his struggle to cope with the life of the
working person; the man or woman whose survival seems always to be in someone
else's hands, a life always on the line.
29 IF
If I get this job. I hope I get this job. It'll be an
improvement if I get this job. I'll be in a better position
if I get this job. Yeah if I get this job I won't have to
worry for awhile. I can buy some things. I can get out of
town now and then. I can eat as much as I want if I get this
job. Yeah if I get this job I can actually consider becoming
a father. If I get this job I won't have to be here. If I
get this job I'll have a job. I'll have a future. I'll have
a present. If I get this job.
I hope I get this job.
I was standing in the outer office
I was on hold so to speak in the outer office
Waiting for a decision that might never come
And I asked myself
How can I get this job?
How can I win this job?
How can I steal this job?
What position do I have to get myself into
To get myself into this position?
There were other people in the outer office
More or less pretending to read magazines
I noticed that I was more or less pretending to read a magazine
"People" magazine
3° And I told myself
I can do it better than he can
I'm a whole lot more qualified than she is
I deserve it more than any of them
I'm the best man for the job
I'm the best man
I'm the best
Someone was smiling
I realized I was next
I walked through the door
Suddenly I wondered
What if they're waiting for the next big thing to come along?
What if I'm not it?
I started blowing the interview
I'm missing the point
I'm making excuses
I'm justifying my existence
They told me "Hang in there"
31 I've been hanging in now for five hours
for five months
five years
fifteen years
fifty years
I just might be ready
to drop off soon
a few things
coming up
keeping busy
real interest
nothing definite
nice talk
sounds definite
bad time
needs some time to
said he'd call
32 call me back
lunch soon
you know
back burner
up in the air
on ice
at the moment
what about you?
a few things
coming up
keeping busy
What do you think you're doing?
You're walking around
Looking at the pavement
Feeling sorry for yourself
Who do you think you are anyway?
What have you done to deserve a job?
33 You know there's work around
You just haven't tried hard enough
You haven't paid your dues
You haven't squirmed enough
You like to think you're important
"You are an important person"
You're not
Nobody notices you on the street
Nobody knows your name
Nobody remembers the things you've done
If you dropped down a manhole today
nobody would send out a search-party
Why should they?
If you were really the person you think you are
you'd be somewhere else right now
Doing things
You'd be in motion
You wouldn't be sitting around waiting for someone to call
Forget it
Who would want to go out with you?
A loser like you
Let's face it
You've been squeezed out
You should get into a whole new line of work
While you still can
You should start over
34 Cut your losses
Yeah you say you've put so much into this one
So much of your life
So what?
Other people do it
Other people survive
Other people don't have problems like this
Other people don't kick and whine
Many other people have it much worse
Thousands of people would like to be in your shoes
Billions of people have a lot less going for them than you do
But they make it
They make it because they want to make it
If you really wanted it it would happen for you
You must be avoiding it
You must be afraid of it
You must not really want it
Maybe you don't have what it takes
I'm running around
All over town
There's purpose in my stride
I know where I'm going
I have clear answers for the people that I meet
Somebody gave me something to do
My attitude is gratitude
I think I'm coming back to me
Oops    I caught myself smiling
I know who I'm supposed to be
I'm bounding around
This is my town
Look at this face
You know where I'm going
I'll buy you a drink tell you all about it OK
Somebody gave me something to do
My hair's stopped falling out
I got that charley-horse out of my leg finally
Yeeaah My breathing is better too
Now free time means something
I actually like seeing other people
Phone calls from my mother don't depress me
36 BETTER    NOT    SAY    "NO"
I'll stay up all night
I'll get this done
Don't worry
No problem
I don't mind
I'll have it for you tomorrow morning
They think my job is really lousy. My job isn't lousy.
My job is OK. It might not be the greatest but it's OK.
Now Sam. He's the one that's got a really lousy job. That's
ajob I wouldn't do if you paid me ten times as much. That
is one lousy job. But my job, my job isn't that bad.
What did I just eat?
It will go on my record
It will go straight into the computer
It will be there forever
I don't know anybody here. Except Sam. I know a little about
him. He's a hard little worker. He keeps busy. He's a survivor.
He's looking out for Number One. And why shouldn't he? What
do I think I'm doing? What wouldn't I do if it came right
37 down to it? If it came right down to the crunch. If it came
right down to him or me.
Maybe it's better we stay strangers.
Did I pick up my dry cleaning?
Did I feed the cat?
Did I change my snow-tires?
Did I call the fumigator?
Did I leave the water boiling?
Do I know where my chldren are?
(Sound effect: Bleep from pager)
Gotta run
I notice I feel good
I've got somewhere for my energy to go
I don't have to think about things I don't want to think about
Yeah when I'm working I feel like I make sense
Feel good
38 I'm not fighting my machine today
My machine is helping me get things done
Yeah I'm really with it
Things couldn't be going better
My machine and I are getting along
I've become one with it
I've become one with the machine
One with a machine that makes things I'm not crazy about
What is this machine doing here anyway?
I notice I feel
not bad
Am I missing something?
Did I miss something?
Is that my life
Over there
Giving me the slip
Is this it?
Just wondering
I reset the alarm three times
Nine times I tell myself to get up
I catalogue all the good reasons
I remain unconvinced
I stare at a spot on the ceiling for literally minutes
39 I hear the news roll over me but I am not affected
I give myself five minutes more
I realize I cannot get out of bed
I consider staying this way forever
When I was poor I promised myself
when I got rich I wouldn't forget
what it was like to be poor
When I got a job I promised myself
I'd never forget that many many people
don't have one
Yes I promised myself that I'd never
never put anybody down
who seemed to be less fortunate than me
And I just did it
I just did it
Can you believe that bag-lady
in the polyester pantsuit
That man over there
is actually drinking Canadian wine
Don't look now but that woman
is wearing a Barry Manilow button
Did you catch that old guy
in the platform heels
40 I did it again
I can't believe it
Man down the line — bent over double
Woman at that desk — she's going blind
Child on my street — headed for trouble
Old vet on that park-bench — wasted
he's wasted his mind
I did it again
Yes I'm doing it again
I can't seem to stop I keep doing it
I promise I won't ever put people who want work from me on hold
No I won't ever turn my back on people who have to panhandle
I solemnly swear that I never will avoid anybody
simply because they can't further my career
Never no never will I put anybody down for not working
There I did it again
I just can't stop
I'm still doing it
I'm doing it now
She said
Tell me who you are
Without telling me what you do
4i ???????
I looked up from what I was doing
I noticed the other people in the room
I noticed they were busy
I felt we were together
I tried to remember what we were doing
It didn't seem important
I focussed on one pair of hands
Shaping something I recognized
I noticed my hands were moving
I'm going to finish this
I thought
I'm going to finish this
and pass it on down the line
I felt important
42 There was something about the light in the room
I looked up across the room and out the window
I felt I was high up
Looking out that window across the world
Looking at the busy people
I felt we were one person
She has a better job than I have
She thinks my job is lousy
She thinks I should be farther along than I am
She thinks there's no future with me
She told me my furniture depresses her
This could be it
This could be my big chance
I feel good
I know what I want
How can they resist me?
They have to Say "Yes"
It's my turn
Men will respect me
Women will love me
43 My parents will be proud
Yes I'll get a better place
A place that won't look smaller with people in it
I'll buy some new furniture
I'll get it in tortoise-shell to match the carpeting
I think I'll change my hairstyle too
Let everyone know I've changed
My friends will be surprised by the new me
They'll hate my guts
They'll get used to it
It's my turn
It's just beginning
There will be these religious moments
when I lay all that money on the counter
There'll be weekends with Karen Kain in Acapulco
Dinner invitations from well-known personalities
I'll set up a charitable foundation in my name
To help my friends with worthwhile projects
People will assume I'm well-hung
I feel good
I know what I want
It's my turn
They have to say "Yes"
My alarm didn't go off
My aunt died
I was captured by extraterrestrials
I knocked myself out
They said I had to stay home all day
To wait for the phone to be installed
The rcmp were holding me for questioning
Actually what happened was
I had this dream that told me to walk to work
I came home from work
I barked at the wife
The wife hit the kid
The kid kicked the dog
The dog barked at me
I've got to get rid of that dog
on hold?
bad time
45 steady
for now
at some point
yeah I'm still here
lunch soon?
next week
looks bad
No I'm not a worker
I'm an expert
No I am not a worker
I run a Mac's Milk store
I'm not a blue collar worker
I'm a management trainee
I'm not a worker
I'm an artist
I'm not a worker
I'm a professional
I'm not a worker
I've got a career
If I tell them I can't do it
they'll say "He lacks motivation"
46 If I tell them I can't do it
they'll say "Maybe we should get someone who can"
They'll say "He can't deliver"
They'll think I don't believe any more
They'll think I'm a lesser man
I'm not gonna tell them I'm drinking like a fish
I'm not gonna tell them I'm popping five bennies a day
I'm not gonna tell them I've got a heart condition
a perforated ulcer
mercury poisoning
that I've had three accidents on the job
And I'm definitely not gonna tell them I've had a vision
A glimpse of our true condition
And I know
I know this is not what we're here for
But I still have to tell them
I can't do it
I can't get to sleep
I can't stay awake
I'm tightening up
I feel like I'm all used up
I bought it, I bought the whole package, I actually believed
47 that merit and hard work have something to do with success
And I think I'm so smart
If I tell myself I can't do it
then of course I can't do it
If I tell myself I can't do it
that means I'm setting myself up for failure
That means I'm losing my nerve
That means my days are numbered
No I'm not gonna tell myself I can't do it
because if I tell myself I can't do it
I'll think I'm a lesser man
I'm keeping it in
I'm falling apart
I've got to get out
I feel like I'm all burned out
I'm waiting for someone to call
Someone calls and changes my life
On the other side of that door
someone is deciding
whether or not to buy
large pieces of my life
Someone puts me on hold
Now someone places me in competition with total strangers
that I have no other reason at all to hate
48 I notice someone thinking like a thief
It's me
Someone assigns me to replace someone else
Now I'm sitting on top of the world
Now I'm waiting till someone drops the axe
Someone does
Now I'm waiting for someone else to call
If I get this job. Do I really want this job?
If I get this job I'll have to make a decision. I'll have to
change. I'll have to buy some new clothes if I get this job.
If I get this job my time won't be my own. I'll be at somebody
else's beck and call. Somebody I don't respect. I won't be
doing what I know I should be doing.
If I get this job my friends will know I've lowered my expectations.
I'll know I've lowered my expectations. I'll know I've failed.
If I get THIS JOB.
I hope I don't get this job.
I'm out walking
I'm thinking about — what really matters
I'm ready — I've got so much to give
I'm not a spare part — I'm irreplaceable
I'm here talking
I'm asking myself — Who needs this waiting around?
Who needs this — fighting over crumbs?
Who needs me — to enjoy fighting over crumbs?
Who needs me — wasted?
Who needs me — to worry about money?
Who wants us to forget — WE are irreplaceable?
Am I still talking?
I like it up here — Anything can happen
It's a good example — I need to be reminded
words by:    Allen Booth & Steven Bush
music by:    Allen Booth
LIFE ON THE LINE, a play in two acts, was first performed as a
work-in-progress at the Onstage '81 Toronto Theatre Festival.
The current version premieres April, 1983, in Toronto, co-produced by
Mixed Company and Young People's Theatre, with the assistance of the
Ontario Arts Council.
Actor Steven Bush
Keyboards Allen Booth
Drums Ben Cleveland-Hayes
Director: Alec Stockwell
Set & Costume Designer: Janine Kroon
Lighting Designer: Mark Delorme
Sound Technician: Lianne Cleveland-Hayes
Producer: Simon Malbogat
5° Paul Edmund Gotro
These are shapes that swarm the dead hours, swirling.
While the sun's hounds bay all afternoon, these
are the paws of dogs twitching on August verandahs.
These are the broken-backed hands of men, with time
enough left to lay a garden between the cool grey
smallnesses of dusk, exchanging silence for corn.
5' Martin Anderson
At eighteen
on the Canadian
Pacific    bound for
Saskatchewan    he drank
most of his
allowance away in
a fit of depression
'Bottlenecks grew
like thistles'    he
said'   'on that
long track    Everywhere
was desert'    Dog
tailed    he came
back    on Tilbury
dock his father's
eyes flicked
once     and his jaws
locked into an
opposition    Gruff
and lugubrious
always when I
saw him
afterwards in his
orchard    sucking
the wind-falls
with his gums
he sweetened
seldom    Yet
52 years later    through
the drugged euphoria
of a hospital
bed    bad-coloured
and dying    he
grinned at my
"crewcut"    and scoffed
at my father's
derision      As I
preened    his laugh
redoubled through the
ward    and one big
hand burst
from the sheets
to tousle my
quickly withdrawing head
53 Gordon Rodgers / Two Poems
The boxcar is dark
except for sunlight
squared through the door:
Dalton in silhouette
sitting on an egg-crate, leaning forward, arm angled
to his knee, looking out. We have been numbed
by the train sway, the fiat
prairie idleness.
He searches for tobacco, finds it and holds it
between his knees; rolls his smoke.
He strikes a match; cups his hands.
Dalton's face is washed
in that conjured, captured
Here is a meadow   inclined and golden as fine
as fur blown down by wind. Earth's turn stirs
the air; fancy the vortex motions
in the long cannon of sky, my pupils dilate;
the lenses accomodate the distances, discover
focal lengths and focal planes to invert
the sky:    a   vast blue   retina   cataracted by
clouds.    The sun sets field on fire.    Then,
slow night washes down surrendering light:    the
gentle dark rub on the meadow renders stars.
55 Andrew Wreggitt
As a young man, he rode into the bush
to look for a lost horse
the thin poplars leaning their shadows
on the skiff of autumn snow
He rode toward a point in the long prairie afternoon
where a horse stood in a coulee
Cold strips of light hung
in the branches,
the only sound
the fussing of chickadees
the drumming of a blue grouse
In this city
I call up my father from dreams
The years fold on themselves, my broken sleep
a sad measure in the dark
After all this time, I cannot turn aside
my father's face scanning the bald hills
for a sorrel mare
on an afternoon before I was born
I want only to call out to him
shake the frozen tongue out of the prairie sky,
lead the mare out of the poplars
and stand with him in the fading light,
a few words between us
of horses and weather
56 The young man approaches the coulee on foot
collar turned up, his grey fedora
pulled low on his brow
The mare steps once as a chickadee
lights by its ear
Silently, he slips the halter over the horse's muzzle
and leads it out of the trees
He rides back through the long evening,
the sorrel behind him
In this city
a car passes in the street,
light from a streetlamp
leans across the room
The dreamer calls out in darkness
and waits to be found
57 Joan Fern Shaw
I sat on my cousin's bed in the dark, studying the sounds of our parents
in the next room. Four drunken voices, growing louder and more alike
every minute, overlapping, repeating.
"I'm going home, Alice," I whispered. "I've got a streetcar ticket in my
pocket. Did you hear me?" She didn't answer.
Long lights swept across the ceiling and down over the faces of Alice's
dolls, over Alice's face. All their blue eyes were staring at me. Loud
laughter came through the wall. It was easy to interpret.
"They're telling jokes on each other now. They'll be fighting in just a
few minutes. I gotta go. I mean it."
"But you never really go. You always say you're going home by yourself but you never do and last time you brought a streetcar ticket too but
you never went." Alice was afraid they'd blame her.
"Listen, when they come in to get me, just give them this note."
Alice took the note. It was too dark to read but neither of us wanted
the light on at a time like this.
"It just says I'm taking the Bloor streetcar home. I put that you were
asleep when I left so you won't get heck." I pulled on the fur coat, an old
one of Mother's cut down for me. A lot of the hairs had fallen out and it
smelled like a wet dog but it kept me warm. I imagined that some day all
the little animals in it would suddenly come alive and bite me. "Bye
Alice. See you." I tied my Polly-pigtails kerchief with a jerk that helped
to make my decision final.
"You really going?"
"Yeah. Listen." Mother had just called Aunt Jessie a bitch and Uncle
Jack was bringing up the thing about the money my father owed him. "I
gotta go, fast."
Soon they'd be in here, pulling me off Alice's bed, staggering to a taxi,
stuffing me in first. Yelling over their shoulders that they'd never set foot
in that goddamn house again. The taxi drivers always gave me a sad
smile, trying to make me feel better, making me feel worse. Once a cab
driver pulled over and told Mother if she hit me again he'd drive straight
to the police station. My father passed out. She left me alone but when
we got home, I got the beating of my life. And the next morning they
58 had no idea why I was all black and blue. They just said that redheads
always bruise easily. They avoided me for days as if I had a dirty disease.
As I closed her bedroom door, Alice whispered her warning, "They're
gonna kill you."
I shot down the stairs two at a time but I had to pee and someone was
using the bathroom on the landing. I hid in a little dark place by the
banister. A flush. The door opened. It was the old lady who lived in the
flat below. She was still pulling up her underwear inside her nightgown.
She went down the stairs one at a time. Right foot, left beside it. The
way I used to go downstairs when I was a baby. Holding on. Afraid.
You grow up, then you keep on growing until you're back where you
The toilet seat was still warm and the place smelled terrible. I took a
deep breath and held it till I realized that the air I was holding in was full
of the woman's stink. I put my furry sleeve against my nose and breathed
wet dog instead. When I pulled the cord, water came roaring down from
the shuddering tank up near the ceiling. Most toilets terrified me.
Out on Sussex Avenue the air was cold and fresh. I felt released, skipping toward Spadina, watching my shadow grow and shrink from lamppost to lamp-post. Halfway between two streetlights there'd be two tall
faded shadows of me. One ahead and one behind. Directly under a lamp
I was a little fat dot. Baby, bigger, adult, double, smaller, baby again.
Like the old woman on the stairs. I breathed deeply in case I still had
some smell left in my lungs.
Spadina was broad and quiet. I turned toward Bloor. You must cross
Bloor to get the car going west. If you don't cross Bloor, the streetcar
goes east past the museum with the mummy lying there at night. "They're
gonna kill you." I was really doing it. I was really going home by myself.
What if there was a blackout? What if Hitler started bombing Spadina
Avenue and I was caught out alone in the dark? And even if I made it
home they were going to come in a taxi and yell and grab and hit.
Suddenly I couldn't trust the night anymore. Familiar buildings grew
shadowy statues; mummies groaned in the alleys. The streetlights flickered. An icy wind blew me across Bloor.
There was a young couple waiting at the streetcar stop and I stood
near them so I'd look like their kid. The man had his arm around the
woman. She was wearing a smart black coat but something was wrong
with her. Like pieces torn off a paper doll. She hadn't any arms. Her coat
sleeves were pinned to her sides with safety pins. His arm was around
it all.
As she turned toward me and smiled, her shawl slipped off her head,
revealing a mass of beautiful auburn waves and curls, long, gleaming
under the streetlight. The kind of deep red hair I'd always hoped my
carroty orange ringlets would turn into when I grew up. The man gently
pulled her shawl into place as our streetcar drew up.
59 The conductor didn't ask me any questions. I took a transfer from him
because the couple did and I followed them down the car. They sat on a
long side seat and I sat opposite them. I wanted to be near them so I
could look at her beauty all the way home. I remembered something in
an art book. A lovely statue without arms. Venus.
There weren't many people on the streetcar. A few tired women, an
old Jewish man with a little cap and a bristly grey beard, a couple of
soldiers leafing through an address book. The car was very warm and
brightly lit.
The beautiful lady sat close to the man. He had a big nose and thick
glasses and was not nearly as attractive as she was, but I imagined he
was kind and sensitive and played the violin.
Until he dipped his fingers into her mouth and moistened her lips with
her saliva.
He did it again and everyone in the streetcar except the driver stared
at them. I knew my mouth and eyes were wide open but I had to follow
the fingers and try to make some sense out of what was happening.
Again they went inside her mouth, wetting her lips. She looked grateful
but shy, and kept putting one foot on top of the other. If she'd had
hands, I think she would have been wringing them. Still, she smiled up
at him when he finished and there was so much love in that little glance
that I no longer cared how insane the whole thing seemed.
A party of drunks got on at the next stop. Loud, unsteady, they
should have taken a taxi home. Please God, don't let him do that lip
business in front of the drunks.
But he did. And they saw.
In the slow, calculating way of people who drink past the point of
caring about common decency, they began their attack.
"Lookit the guy stickin his fingers in the dame's mouth."
"Why don't he jest kiss her."
"How about I have a turn?"
Their remarks grew more obscene and each was followed by the kind
of laughter I'd escaped from earlier. The old Jewish man began to
mumble and rock back and forth. He knew something that I didn't.
The young man stood up and the woman looked down at her lap. Her
shawl slipped back again and a long copper curl fell over her breast. I
wanted to touch it. She looked up at the man and her eyes pleaded some
kind of message.
The streetcar stopped at a red light and the man cleared his throat. He
was holding two transfers just like the one I held. I stared at mine as if it
were a holy medal.
"Ladies and gentlemen. . ." He had a deep voice with an accent.
Everyone was quiet and the conductor turned around. "... the reason I
put my fingers into the mouth of this lovely human being and moisten
60 her lips is because her lips become dry in warm places. She has no arms
and no tongue because she is a Jew and the Nazis cut them off."
He sat down beside her and she hid her face on his shoulder. He tickled her cheek with her long curl and she smiled into his eyes and sat up
straight. He said something softly to her in a language I had never heard.
The drunks were quiet now, dozing and nodding to the movements of
the streetcar. In the morning they would probably remember nothing
of this.
The old Jew stood up to get off and said something to the couple. He
put his hands on both their heads and gave them a sort of blessing. The
rest of the passengers looked embarrassed.
Bathurst next. My stop. Step down ready for the door to open. No.
You never get a second chance.
I leaned over and kissed the face of Venus. And as I did, one of my
ringlets slid out of my kerchief and fell on her shoulder. For an instant,
the man held both locks of hair in his long musician's fingers. Hers and
mine. Two curls exactly the same texture and colour. Deep, rich
auburn. Blazing together.
I ran across Bathurst Street and cut through the laneway to our apartment. All the way I kept trying to moisten my lips without using my
I let myself into the dark and sat for a long time on my bed, fingering
the curl that had touched hers. Holding the transfer that told the date
and time.
When the taxi drove up and their drunken voices drew near, "They're
going to kill you" tried to sneak back into my mind. But it found no room.
61 St. John Simmons/Three Poems
Simon dreams he is a bird.
The land over which he flies is verdant,
cut by rivers so clear
he sees the steel fish
nosing along the pebbled bottom.
He has never tried to land
in the fir tree
near the peak of the only mountain
that rises from the flood plain.
When he wakes, dark and heavy
in his curtained room,
Simon pretends he has died
and is in paradise
wrapped tightly in his mother's hair;
when he is aroused from that
sleep will split open
like a purple silique
and hang in the sunlight,
a great yellow swallowtail
pulsating, his wings whispering
at the dream he has
of being a bird.
I see someone coming toward me
through the perfect rows.
He calls out.
I see someone coming toward me
through the perfect rows.
He is small
and blond.
He calls out.
I see someone coming toward me
through the perfect rows.
He is small and blond.
He calls out.
It is Simon.
He calls out,
The houses are on fire!
I step from beneath
the tree I was pruning.
The enemy is coming!
I drop the shears.
I see him coming toward me
through the perfect rows.
It is Simon,
perfect and fresh,
always blossoming
in the small, crooked rows
I harvest within myself.
No one pays any attention,
no one bothers to harass.
a boat goes mad
on a sea
without direction
or shore.
The small face goes blue,
slides into the greyness of slate,
bloats to a full moon.
Inside the ache
that was Simon
a salamander hesitates.
64 Robert Mallet
To discover without imperiling.
Do not turn over the mossy stone
that you might know its buried face
the order of lives
will never be known
by means of secrets profaned
If, repentant
you were to think of replacing the stone
in its place
consider the eggs of the ants.
Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per
second, sound at 340 meters per second.
One has to believe his eyes.
What I see I do not as yet hear
I go forth in the clamorous shadows of men
but I am already being questioned
by the silence of light.
65 Dead is the furnace
and its charred prey
liquid vapors of sap
on the peaceful brazier
I expect your veiled ardors
to calm me
and here I am consumed by flames.
The woman stared at length at the patterns
of birds and foliage in the window of the
tattoo parlor. Then she entered.
She entered, yearning for birds
and trees. I imagined her
as bearing wings on some branch
on some scrap of bark of her skin
on one of the buds of her inner secrets
ah, to undress this bird-catcher
to discover the mute song
of her warm nudity
which might be reclothed by caresses
by down in a forest-cage
without shadows, without borders.
translated from the French by Eric Sellin
66 Hugh Hood
We Outnumber the Dead
Bronson was laughing in a dream. He knew that what was happening
was terribly funny because it made his chest heave convulsively, throwing the single blanket and the sheet to one side, exposing his damp
pajama top. But he wasn't sure what was taking place: there was a
shadow over everything and what he felt immediately was the deep
pleasure of the laughter. It was a body event. He felt shaky and weak
from a confusion of nervous impulse, and woke up suddenly still
laughing but unable to recall any of the story of the dream. For perhaps
a couple of seconds the rhythm of his laughter persisted into wakefulness
with the extreme physical delight of relaxed limb, and the cleared mind,
which are conferred by response to the truly comic. He wished that he
could remember what had triggered his mirth but the cue was no longer
in his mind. A good way to start the day.
After breakfast he decided to inspect his bird sanctuary, up back of the
cottage towards the road. There was a plank walkway through light
woods and over a rock shelf, which led to the spot where the family car
was parked, and along this walkway were several vantage points from
which small wildlife could be observed: chipmunks in legions,
porcupines in trees, raccoons, now and then a fox. Bronson suspected
that a few wolves remained concealed somewhere in nearby brush.
There were infrequent barkings and howls, usually at night, which
seemed to come from recesses in the woods where no domesticated dog
would be likely to roam. In the space of a decade he had twice sighted
deer crossing the road in front of his car, once at night, once just before
twilight. There might be many more deer in the wooded area on the
other side of the road, or there might not. Seventy years ago there had
been great herds of the creatures in these forests. From the beginning of
the age of cottaging the hunting regulations had been carefully enforced;
no excessive depredations of the deer population had been permitted.
Where was the herd now? Deeper in the woods? Gone away?
He climbed a short flight of steps and walked slowly along an elevated
part of the walk, below which lay some enormous old rocks, split into
separate chunks perhaps fifty thousand years ago, if the worn edges of
67 the cracks and seams were an accurate indicator of the date of the last
major rockfall. Bronson amused himself in the summers by reflecting
that though the last upheaval sufficiently powerful to toss five-ton rocks
around like ping-pong balls had occurred long ages ago (he had read up
the geological records of the township), there was no reason why another
similar disturbance should not occur in our own time, from one morning
to the next. He realised that very great energies —and extreme heat —
must have been in play the last time that newly-sharded boulders went
hurtling about the ears of the living inhabitants of this acreage. What a
day that must have been, what a once in an epoch morning and
No such natural disaster seemed to impend this morning. The birds
were going about their routine flights with precision, elegance, and a
wholly spurious air of disinterest in Bronson's movements. He had
almost got them used to him; he didn't shoot at them or throw things at
them, and he had rigorously enforced Bronson's Law. No grandchildren at
the cottage before the age of thirty. His little clump of woods and brush was
therefore agreeably tranquil. He hadn't in any true sense made a bird
sanctuary; he had simply refrained from doing very much to disturb
natural arrangements of tree, bush, rock, rainfall. The only thing he had
done just here was the construction of the walk; it had taken the birds
four or five years to forgive him the intrusion. Now, however, they
ignored him as he stood leaning against the railing, looking carefully
around him at certain patches of brush where, he was almost sure, a pair
of American bitterns were living. He knew they must be American bitterns because no other bird he could find in his books had legs that
colour. He had returned to the cottage yesterday around three-thirty
with the papers, two canned soft drinks, a licorice pipe, three chocolate
bars, and two frozen Hungry-Man tv dinners, in a paper sack. He ran
the car into the customary space at roadside and climbed out. He picked
up his parcel from the other bucket seat and turned around, and there,
about thirty feet off on the same side of the road down a gentle slope,
stood this nutty-looking bird with its head way back on its neck as
though it looked at heaven. The bird had a ham-shaped body and a long
neck, which quivered in a swallowing motion as Bronson stood and
stared. The bird seemed to be trying to ingest a whole fish, perhaps to
lodge it in its gullet for regurgitation and consumption at some more
formal meal later on.
It was the colour of his —of her —legs that excited Bronson. They were
the colour of well-chilled, frozen solid, lime popsicles. A clear unmixed
smooth lime-green without any chalky or scaly whitish or greyish tone,
such a green as is only found in one or two kinds of things, lime popsicles
being the first things to come to mind. Where else do you find that
colour? On some 1980 model Lada automobiles. Russian cars; the colour
wasn't used on American makes. Could the lime-green of the Lada be a
68 reflection of profound cultural peculiarities operative near the Urals?
You wouldn't see that almost unique shade of green on anything else that
Bronson could bring to mind. The bird gave its neck a couple of
rhythmic twists and turns, then walked leisurely into the heavy cover of
the ditch, and from there down onto Bronson's lot. You could hear the
heavy chunky body moving in the brush. There was probably a mate
somewhere around, probably close to the water. A nest, perhaps?
Now and then, from this particular vantage point on the little wooden
bridge over the rocks, he had spotted birds that were really out of the
ordinary: a huge pileated woodpecker, which isn't a bird you're likely to
sight from one day to the next. Two summers ago there had been a great
wave of nesting partridges (ruffed grouse, pheasants?) with highly visible
young, passing along the roadside over a stretch of two or three miles.
Several times he or Viv had had to stop the car at the side of the road
where a female partridge (pheasant, ruffed grouse?) had been standing,
eyeing the car, plainly waiting to cross the road in safety. They would sit
there without even bothering to turn off the engine, and the mother bird
would move carefully out of the light cover beside the road, crossing in
front of the idling car. And then, like sentries popping out of their boxes,
as many as six of her young would follow her, one after another
appearing from concealment, forming a line, disappearing onto higher
ground in deliberate parade. For some reason this preponderation of
grouse (grice?) has never repeated itself.
Not more than a week ago, Bronson had sighted a peregrine falcon, a
bird now very rare east of Manitoba. This observation had been deeply
pleasureable to him, because conservationists had been declaring
repeatedly that the peregrine was on the verge of extinction. In the last
couple of years the species has made a bit of a comeback; a few pairs
have even been encouraged to nest and breed in downtown Montreal,
specimens brought into the city as part of a planned experiment.
Bronson's sighting had in no way been effected by his efforts; his peregrine had arrived spontaneously.
He thought he heard the sounds of a pair of large creatures moving
around in the bushes below him, down the glen towards the lake, and he
suddenly remembered what he had been laughing at before he awoke —
the look of the bittern's throat as it swallowed the slithering fish. In the
dream the fish's tail had been clearly visible, flipping back and forth as
the bird ingurgitated it. He was sure he could hear them, and tried to get
a fix on the location of the nest. Crackle, crack, crunch, splitting and
snapping noises, which might come from a pair of nesting bitterns but
were just as likely to be sounds from a fat old porcupine who hung
around in the trees further down the glen, sometimes regarding the
earth and the fruits thereof from fifty feet up —an impregnable fastness,
unless somebody were to take a shot at him.
The sounds below were suddenly obscured by another noise, much
69 louder, the engine of a trail bike in third gear coming along the road
from the deep woods. This was perfect terrain for trail biking, traversed
by nineteenth-century logging roads which had been allowed to revert to
wilderness, so that a faint parallel pair of ruts, which disappeared on the
many bare rock shelves, was all that could be discovered of the original
track. In the last three or four summers, trail bikers had multiplied, not
so as to threaten local peace. There seemed to be about half a dozen bikes
in the neighbourhood, mostly 175s, one or two 70CCS. Kids rode them.
At seventeen or eighteen the trail-biking impulse seemed to desert all but
the most ardent enthusiasts. The bike on the road this morning was
proceeding at modest speed; you couldn't remain long in top gear on
such a trail. There were too many blind curves and short steep rises.
Perhaps the experience with the small, low-powered bikes was good for
these boys. It would show them that high speed wasn't necessarily the
most desirable quality in a powered vehicle. Trail biking was a male
sport, Bronson observed. He had seen no woman biker, not even a
girlfriend on a pillion. Bikers and birds enacted alike instinctual
When the bike had passed, he mounted to the road and stared at the
whirling cloud of dust left by its wheels. The road surface was very dry
and powdery, except where curves had been blacktopped by the property owners' road committee. For most of its course this private road
crossed a series of exceedingly hard rock ridges; there was never any
question of washout in spring, never any potholes. At the same time, the
hard surface was a constant threat to wheel alignment. A summer's
driving usually caused pronounced front-end problems, shimmy, shaky
tie-rod ends, in passenger cars.
So the cottagers clubbed together and gravelled and graded the
roadway twice a year. Even at that, the small amount of traffic was
enough after a few weeks to reduce the surfacing to fine greyish dust,
unless rain came often and hard. This summer there had been scant
rain; the ditches and weed growth along the roadsides were coated with
grey powder. The passing trail bike had laid down a very distinct tread
mark in the dust, which was thick and caked along here. The marks
caught Bronson's eye and he followed the narrow track along the road for
some distance. He was amazed to see how thick the gravel dust was and
how tacky, how firmly molded in the outline of the tread. Sherlock
Holmes would be able to tell you immediately the brand of tire, the size,
the sort of nail which had punctured the casing six months before, the
material used for repair. Bronson fixed his eyes on the impressions,
trying to figure out how much a skilful detective could reasonably infer
from these traces.
All at once he was astonished to see a ghostly grey caterpillar moving
slowly along the tire tracks, sliding its frame over the neatly squared-off
tread marks. Roadway dust gave the creature an other-worldly appear-
70 ance, as if it might be the essence or abstract notion of caterpillarhood, a
Platonic form sent to make Bronson think. Damn' thing ought to be
green, he thought. Would all that dust choke it, damage its respiration?
Would it have some sort of lungs? It was one of those bugs about four
inches long, which seem double-ended like a ferryboat. Unless you look
at them very carefully you can't tell which is the front end. They expand
and contract in the oddest way. Stretched out at full length —perhaps
pulled out in torment by some cruel child —such a creature might be six
or seven inches long. They have the look, and very much the action, of a
self-propelled concertina, if such a thing exists. An accordion played by
a ghost. Bronson began to study the specimen before him with close
attention. How the hell could it expand itself and then contract in that
absurd way? He fancied the strains of minute insectual concertina music
which might issue from such writhings. Did it have feet? It must have
feet. After some moments he began to be able to conclude that it wasn't
backing up; it was headed somewhere, moving forward. The eyes were
up at the front underneath the little horns.
He was at best an amateur field naturalist, had no idea of the entomology involved here. Bug. It's a bug, he thought. Is it an insect? He
didn't know for sure. Insects come in three sections, right? Do caterpillars come in three sections? Too much dust.
Call it an insect. This insect —or bug—was for some reason staying
right in the middle of the trail bike's track, and if it were to remain there
it might very well be crushed to death by the returning biker. Bronson
had often noted that it seemed to be a curious point of honour among the
trail bikers around here to make only one track in the thick dirt. That is,
they seemed to enjoy superimposing their returning track on that laid
down when outward bound. He had often watched some of the younger
riders wobbling in low gear along their own trails, trying to superimpose
new tire marks immediately over old. To confuse pursuit? No rider
would violate the principle of this compulsion merely to preserve the life
of a bug.
He found a twig which seemed to be long and strong enough to bear
away the caterpillar. For several reasons he was reluctant to pick it up in
his bare fingers. Jaws! Bites? They may not bite, but they look alarming
in full-face closeup. He might just poke one with a forefinger but he
wouldn't pick it up. He slid the long twig under the persisting caterpillar,
wishing he knew how to communicate to it that he wanted to safeguard
its life. He angled the twig to the right, so as to fix the bug in the fork
made by a twiglet. He lifted it in the air to the height of perhaps two feet,
when it fell off, landing in the dust with an inaudible thump. It writhed
about a bit, whether in annoyance or mere agony he couldn't tell.
My God, thought Bronson, I've hurt its insides. He was the more
relieved to realise that these contortions were apparently the expression
of the caterpillar's struggle to orient itself and resume forward progress. He had got it turned around when he dropped it, and the horned head
was pointing in the direction from which it had come. Somehow it knew
this. Bronson was amazed. How could a thing that small see enough to
know that it wanted to go the other way? Surely all it could see was the
sides of the tire-tread-moldings. How large a world of vision could it
command? Now it turned itself around, sprawling across the forms of
the treads, and moved forward towards whatever goal it had proposed
for itself. It reminded Bronson of some of the people who had gone to
university with him. It couldn't be allowed to stay there; the returning
bike would crush it. He now began to feel a powerful need or wish to
assist the caterpillar. There could be no question of finding out where it
wanted to go and carrying it there in his pocket, but he might at least
remove it from this track of death.
He shoved the twig under the thing and lifted it high in the air, to
about the height of his own waist. He meant to put it down on the vegetation which abounded at roadside. All at once he felt a shivering motion
in the twig, and then a snap or click. The caterpillar closed shut up on
itself in a snail-like shape as if suffering a seizure or catalepsy. It's died,
he thought. I've frightened it to death, and I didn't mean to. Disappointed, and much in sympathy with the bug's indecipherable goals, he
dropped the twig, the caterpillar wound tight around it, apparently in
the final rigour, and thought bitterly of the need of all the living to league
themselves and take up arms against the opposition.
About the year 1972 he had read a number of popular essays in
various newspapers and magazines which made great play with
population figures and statistical curves tending to either of two conclusions. Either the increase in human population was so rapid and so
great as to threaten disaster to existing civilization, or the same
phenomenon —the population explosion, as they used to call it —constituted a significant breakthrough in health care, a magnificent victory
for humanity. There had been two recurrent headlines, possibly
retained in type ready for use whenever one of these somewhat repetitive articles was to appear:
Population Runaway Threatens Planet
or alternatively:
We Outnumber the Dead
It seemed in the early seventies that the population explosion, like
every other great change in human history, could be given either an
optimist's or a pessimist's reading. We were all going to be buried, by the
year 2000, under great mounds of humans, some alive, some dead. Or
else we were going to share in man's final victory over his mortality, and
would be able to choose whether or not we might live forever, or for an
indeterminate time up for grabs.
72 At this time a statistic surfaced in the popular press which gave credibility to the optimistic reading of human destiny. The huge increase in
the numbers of the living (never mind what sort of life they might be
leading) meant that there are more people alive right now than
have lived and died in all previous history. It seemed in 1972— how
one remembers it — that a count of all those who had died since humans
began to exist on the planet (forget about our ancestors) showed that all
of the vast imaginable hordes of history, and even pre-history, the
vanished civilizations, the cave-painters, the folk who invented the wheel
and discovered the uses of fire, all of them together, including the
peoples of the classical civilizations, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance,
the Enlightenment, the whole kit and kaboodle whom we, uncaring and
unthinking, call "the dead," all those underground, or ash, or lodged in
urns and mausoleums, were taken together no more than a billion in
number (what about the legions buried at sea?) whereas we living,
thanks to modern medicine and sanitation, were in all as many as two
and a half billion. Precisely. There are more people alive today than
have existed in all past time.
Bronson had always known, when he encountered the various avatars
of this tale at that period, that there was something bogus about it. Was
it in any way verifiable? He thought not. The statistics put forward were
never given any close documented support. How much was known for
certain about the population of ancient Babylon, of Persia or Egypt?
Some inferences might be drawn from the amount of land judged to be
under cultivation, the presumable annual rainfall at the given epoch, the
movement of rivers, clearing of forests, introduction of land-drainage
systems, gradual evolution of desert areas. To move from these more or
less checkable observations to accurate statements about the number of
people alive at a given time in the past could only be rough and ready
But suppose it could be done. A large supposition, but just suppose!
Suppose it were true that up until January ist, 1970, say, the sum of
human dead could be put at an accurate total of one billion, or —what
the hell —one and a half billion, what would follow from that? If the
number of living on that date was two and a half billion, if we outnumbered the dead by a billion now vital, what did it mean?
Maybe it meant we were coming out ahead. Winning.
That's what jarred Bronson down to his Adidas. Maybe we've found
something out, he would hint to himself. On the whole, if the contest
between the living and the dead were to be imagined as a game, like a
team contest, some enormous soccer match, he felt a strong prejudice for
the side of the living. He wanted us to be the winning side. Now if you
could draw a curve which gave a true representation of these population
and death-rate figures, showing how the living had caught up with the
dead and then outstripped them, and if—further to that —you could
73 introduce into your plotting axioms the growing preponderation of the
birth rate over the death rate, you might then be able to argue that for
the foreseeable future the numbers of the living would continue to
distance those of the dead.
You might get a curve which would predict when practical immortality is going to arrive.
For it was clear that human longevity was progressing to the point
where life expectancy would be prolonged almost indefinitely. It wasn't,
he thought in bewilderment, that fewer people died. The same number
died. Everybody. But they died slower and slower, and more of them
were born.
At this point in his reasonings Bronson always began to grow confused
about his proposed graph. If everybody continued to die, and yet there
continued to be more and more people living than had died, what
biological conclusion might be drawn from the curve? It could only be
that one hell of a lot of people were being born. He always remembered
the famous Believe It Or Not proposal when he reached this stage. "If all
the population of China were to march past a given point four abreast, at
the us Army rate of infantry march, they would never finish passing,
though they marched forever." Only so many could march past in a
year, and in that year more would be born than could complete the
march-past evolution.
And then, halfway into the decade, a drastic series of economic upheavals shook the entire world, most of them connected with the price of
oil and gas. Mass shrinkage of ambition occurred. People lowered their
expectations, were prepared to settle for a chicken in every second or
third pot, and Chinese marching three abreast, or even two, or maybe
not marching at all. It was ridiculous. How the hell could you ever get all
those Chinese lined up for their march? Where would the women have
all those replacement babies? In field hospitals? Robert Ripley had died
a long time ago, and people didn't care whether they believed anything
or not.
In the latter half of the decade, news stories debunking the earlier
statistics became common. By 1979 feature editors were eager to run
material which showed that, far from beginning to approach the
numbers of the dead, humans now alive barely approached twenty
percent of the total deceased. Different, downwards-turning, curves
appeared with these revisionist estimates, often attributed to exactly the
same sources as had earlier proposed more optimistic extrapolations:
unesco, the International Monetary Fund, other entrenched international bodies.
In our own time, right now, Bronson didn't know what to think. He
was left with a few modes of feeling, which he decided to go with. He felt
74 that recurrent newspaper stories based on long-term statistical records
and predictions were probably best ignored. They should be assigned
the mental status of myths-in-the-making, like those recurrent tales that
the earth's climate was growing colder. Or was it warmer? One or the
other anyway. Or the conflict between the steady-state and big bang
theories. If you can't say anything about something, you should shut up.
He kept his prejudice in favour of the living, and gave his interests to
the others like us, birds, fish, whales and dolphins, thinking to count
them all on the side of life, the biological victory. This caterpillar's stroke
or seizure, sudden yielding, possible heart attack (do caterpillars have
hearts?) unnerved him. He looked at the greyed lump where he had let it
fall, curled in a clamped hysterical knot among small pieces of gravel,
many of which would seem as imposing to the bug twisting between
them as the five-ton boulders under the walkway seemed to him. The
bits of gravel, pebbles really, split and tossed about by the weight of
passing traffic, were each about the size of a cocktail onion or a ripe
olive, much larger than the caterpillar's head. The creature had lodged
between two of them and seemed caught, its rear legs now moving
slowly without traction, a tiny distance above solid ground. The poor
thing had been coated, layered-over, with dust, dropped from a height,
trapped between big rocks. It must be thinking that today wasn't its day.
Very deliberately, Bronson removed several of the small pieces of
gravel which lay in front of the bug, forming a labyrinthine track which,
if followed to its end, would lead to a safe position at the side of the road
near vegetation. He arranged some of the gravel carefully beside a
deposit of sticky mud left over from the last rainfall. He didn't care to see
his friend and ally trapped in a bog. He wished he could spray it
somehow, so as to clear its vision, and briefly considered pissing on it,
concluding that his urine, in no way poisonous to himself, might prove
toxic to other life forms.
As he mulled over this possible tactic, he saw the caterpillar start to
move along the track he had prepared. With infinite caution and sharp
acuity of sight it inched its way along the winding track, curving and
extending its length around the shapes of the little stones. He could form
no estimate of its speed. Was there some way he could give it further
assistance? How far was it going? What was its estimated time of
arrival? Was it looking for company? It was being extremely careful, no
doubt hoping that no further extraordinary adventures would occur on
this trip. In half an hour or so it managed to work its way out of the
gravel labyrinth and onto some dusty leaves at the bottom of a roadside
sumach. It hauled itself up onto the lowest of the leaves and positioned
itself there with a certain air of assurance. The leaf, an inch or two above
the ground, bobbed up and down like a little hammock in a faint air
current. Bronson got the notion that the insect was resting, perhaps
thinking about lunch. This thought made him realise his own hunger.
75 He looked at his watch. He'd been staring at the caterpillar for two hours.
So he turned and walked back towards his own property, taking his
time, considering a light salad and some chicken noodle soup. He
started down the steps and then stood motionless halfway down, at the
sound of the returning trail bike. It was certainly the same bike. He
knew the individual motors of all the bikes in the neighbourhood by their
performance characteristics. One of them had a peculiar high whining
note in second gear; another clearly stood in need of a piston job; you
could smell the contaminated exhaust of a third. This was the same bike
as before, returning from some cruise into the back country, where those
abandoned nineteenth century farmsteads lay open to the sky, walls
fallen in, lilac overgrown above hidden foundations. He wanted to hide
and shrank back out of the biker's line of vision until the boy had passed.
Then he scrambled up the steps and ran back to where he had left the
bug. He was able to identify the leaf on which it had rested. There were
new bites out of the leaf, with ragged edges, almost invisible but there.
He spotted the caterpillar eleven feet further on its way and gave it a
farewell whistle. Bikers have rights too, he remembered, and started to
try to think of what they were.
Martin Anderson appeared previously in volumes 20:4 and 21:2. He lives in Hong Kong.
Elizabeth Bartlett is a widely published poet and the author of Memory Is No Stranger.
Allen Booth is a freelance writer/composer based in Toronto.
Joseph Bruchac III edits and publishes The Greenfield Review, with his wife Carol.
Translator's Son was published in 1982 by Cross Cultural Communications. The same press
will publish his novel about Ghana, No Telephone To Heaven, in 1983.
Steven Bush is a freelance theatre-maker based in Toronto.
Margarita Carrera is a Professor in the Humanities Department at the University of
San Carlos in Guatemala.
Derrick Clinton Carter, a Vancouver-based Art Director/Graphic Designer, has
created the last six PRISM covers, and received an Award of Excellence from the Graphic
Designers of Canada for previous covers.
Georgi Djagarov is currently the Deputy Chairman of the State Council of Bulgaria.
Luchezar Elenkov is secretary of the Bulgarian Writer's Union and co-editor of
Druzhba, an international literary journal.
Susan Glickman recently appeared in the Quadrant anthology The Inner Ear, edited by
Gary Geddes. She teaches at the University of Toronto.
Paul Edmund Gotro has published in Poetry Canada Review, Grain, and Quarry.
Dennis Gruending won the Saskatchewan Writer's Guild Award for Creative Journalism
in 1981. His work has appeared in the anthology Draft, by Turnstone Press, and The Best
of Gram.
Hugh Hood's next book will be the collection of essays Trusting the Tale, from ECW Press,
Toronto, in September 1983. His latest novel, also from ECW Press, is entitled Black and
White Keys.
Jascha Kessler teaches English at UCLA. A new release, The Magician's Garden And Other
Stories, by Geza Csath, translated by Jascha Kessler and Charlotte Rogers, is now
available from Columbia University Press.
Henry Kreisel has taught at the University of Alberta since 1947. He has published two
novels, The Rich Man, and The Betrayal, and a collection of stories, The Almost Meeting.
His story The Travelling Nude was published in the first issue of PRISM, and won the
President's Medal of the University of Western Ontario for the best short story published
in '959-
77 Robert Mallet is a French poet in what the translator, Eric Sellin, calls the "cosmic vein".
Gordon Rodgers received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British
Columbia in 1982. He now works as a clinical psychologist in Newfoundland.
Eric Sellin is a Professor of French and Franco-African Literature at Temple University
in Philadelphia, PA.
Joan Fern Shaw is a teacher and librarian in Toronto. She has published stories in
Grain, Waves, Reader's Choice, and Queen's Quarterly.
Alexander Shurbanov is a Professor of English at Sophia University in Bulgaria. He has
translated the Canterbury Tales into Bulgarian, and in ig82 published a prize-winning
translation of Paradise Lost.
St. John Simmons has published previously in Quarry, Descant, The Fiddlehead, and Canadian
Andrew Wreggitt is the author of Riding to Nicola Country, published in 1981 by Harbour
Leilani Wright lives in Tempe, Arizona, and teaches English at a local Community
78 PRISM international congratulates Jan de Bruyn and Michael Bullock
on their retirements from the University of British Columbia's faculty.
Both were distinguished Editors-in-Chief of this magazine. Professor de
Bruyn was founding editor and Editor-in-Chief from 1959-1962. A scholarship fund is being established in his name by the English Department
to acknowledge his contribution to teaching in 17th-century studies and
his own generous donation of funds to the development of scholarship
prizes. The aim is to raise $5000, to be used for an annual award to a
student in literature. Donations (tax receipts issued) should be sent to
the Jan de Bruyn Scholarship Fund, U.B.C. Alumni Fund, 6251 Cecil
Green Park Road, Vancouver, B.C. v6t IW5. Cheques payable to Jan
de Bruyn Scholarship. During his time as editor, Jan de Bruyn introduced and published young writers who have since become cornerstones
of Canadian writing: Margaret Laurence, Henry Kreisel, Margaret
Atwood, George Bowering and many others.
Professor Bullock was Editor-in-Chief from 1973-1977. He is a distinguished translator, poet, painter, playwright and writer of experimental prose fiction. He extended the international scope of the magazine, presenting Hans Artmann, Hagiwara Sakutaro, Yasunari Kawa-
bata, Kobo Abe and others for the first time to the Canadian reader.
He is a surrealist and founder member of the Melmoth Group. Mr.
Bullock has taught in the Department of Creative Writing since 1968 and
has been responsible for the translation program.
In 1984 PRISM international will be celebrating its 25TH year of continuous publication. A two year subscription of $16.00 will ensure receipt
of the 25TH Anniversary Issue (200 pages). Subscribers can take a second
look at the fine writers these editors published: Atwood, Borges, Butor,
Laurence, Marquez, Brecht, Ryga, & Williams.
Cheque for $ enclosed.
Sponsored by The Canada Council, Ontario Arts
Council, St. Lawrence College and Quarry Magazine. A
week long intensive residential workshop with well
known Canadian writers; sessions in poetry, prose,
journalism, script writing, how to teach creative
writing; lectures on aesthetics, form and style, writers'
personal views on current writing, on markets; panel
forums, editors' and publishers' views on the Canadian
literature scene; introduction to word processing for
writers. Quarry Magazine banquet. Excellent opportunity for contact with other writers.
This is a week long workshop for experienced and
J beginning writers. The emphasis is on DOING.
a If fll to Writers in residence:
*J IA/THX' A1ian stratton. Ken Stange, John Metcalfe, Roo Borson,
IS?     , Doug Barbour, Terence Byrnes, Garry Geddes, Audrey
JT Thomas, Brian Flack, Leona Gom
%"  lAAffCji luly 10 - 17th, 1983.
*'   s
s -MlfUDilD ^'" Lawrence College, Kingston, Ontario. At the head
■&pVVfM5'M5' of the Thousand islan<Js and the Rideau Waterway.
S.D. Harasym,
Upper Canada Writers' Workshop,
St. Lawrence College.
Kingston, Ontario
K7L 5A6    613 - 544-5400 ext. 133 or ext. 197/198
for information, application forms, do write or call
5150 for the full week (includes all instruction,  readings, sessions,
Sri   ^^WV       materials)
Excellent,   convenient,   comfortable   package   deals   tin   food   and
accomodation. Please inquire.  IN THIS ISSUE
Poems by:  Susan Glickman, Joseph Bruchac HI,
St. John Simmons....
Fiction by:  Hugh Hood, Henry Kreisel, and Joan Fern Shaw.
In Translation:  Margarita Carrera, GeorgiDjagarov,
Luchezar Elenkov. . . .
Drama:  Part One o/Life On The Line, by Steven Bush
and Allen Booth.
The winners of our B. C. & Yukon High School Writing
Special Canadian Under 30's Issues 17:1 and 17:2; The Red Devil
Battery Sign, by Tennessee Williams 19:3.
issn 0032-8790


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