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 PRISM international
46:3 Spring 2008
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Claire Thcon
Poetry Editor
Sheryda Warrener
Executive Editors
Jamella Hagen
Kellee Ngan
Assistant Editors
Krista Eide
Kristjanna Grimmelt
Michelle Miller
Crystal Sikma
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Emilie Allen
Brianna Brash-Nyberg
Mike Christie
Dave Deveau
Laura K. Fee
Ria Voros
Meghan Waitt
Michael John Wheeler
Brandy Lien Worrall PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY. The
magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
Email:   / Website:
Contents Copyright © 2008 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Art: Pnsm by Stacey Hamilton.
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note that U.S. POSTAL money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable
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Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American
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Translations should be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original
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but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality and
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Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the
University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial
support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts
Council, and the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance
Program (PAP), toward our mailing costs.
PAP Registration No. 8867. April 2008. ISSN 0032.8790
BRITISH COLUMBIA      &§$     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL Oh    *>'the Arts du Canada
Canada Contents
Volume 46, Number 3
Spring 2008
The Music Issue
Editors'Notes / 7
Heather Jessup
from After the Lightning Field / 9
Aaron Shepard
Strangers / 20
Matthew Hamity
The Unlucky Few / 47
Colleen Thomas
The Little Musician / 40
Heather Jessup in conversation with Anne Simpson / 58
Rolf Klausener & The Acorn
Llold Your Breath /  16
Glory /   17
Lee Henderson
Search & Discover / 38 Poetry
Anne Simpson
from Book of Beginnings /  12
Stephanie Yorke
Fighting the Music / 18
Anna Swanson
The Patron Saint of Bagpipes / 19
Nick Thran
Coastline Variation #38 / 36
The Good People of Newmarket and Aurora / 37
Fumiko Hayashi
Excerpt from Prologue to The Song of Wandering Years / 41
translated from the Japanese by Mariko Nagai
Sue Chenette
The Wild Parakeets of Pans / 45
Jen Bills
Legerdemain / 46
Jesse Patrick Ferguson
Carillon / 57
Sound Advice
Eden Robinson, Bryan Webb, Alison Pick, Lawrence Hill,
Chris Smith, Nick Thran, Pasha Malla, Adam Lewis Schroeder,
Lee Henderson and Rolf Klausener / 31
Contributors / 72 THE MUSIC ISSUE
Editors' Notes
In his essay "Lives of the Bohemians" Jonathan Lethem opens with
the line / learned to think by watching my father paint. This notion of
how one art rubs off on another is the inspiration behind PRISM'S
Music Issue. We kept the rules of play as loosely defined as possible,
allowing contributors to link their piece as tangentially as they liked to
the theme. We assured ourselves of only one thing—a variety of voices.
This dialogue, composed of fiction, poetry, question and answer, lyric
and illustration, offers a range and scope broader than we had hoped.
From the rhythms of Fumiko Hayashi's 1930s Japan to Lee Henderson's
admission to Completist tendencies to the sound of a warthog grunting
to her piglets—music in all its forms is brought to light.
What we didn't expect was that, while music strikes up between the
pieces themselves, another important idea surfaces—what's music or art
without silence?
—The Editors
I started writing at fourteen, the same year my mother's house in the
Bulkley Valley of northern BC first got electricity, and I bought my
first stereo—a JVC ghetto blaster with a three CD-changer and two
cassette decks for recording tape to tape. The musical backdrop to my
first forays into writing included Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes, Nine Inch
Nails' Pretty Hate Machine, and Nirvana's Nevermind. Ah, the grunge days.
Times have changed, but for me, the link between writing and music
remains strong.
What do I listen to now? To get started: Suzanne Vega. For poetry:
PJ Harvey. To work a tough spot: The Doors. To access my multilingual
side: Manu Chau. For energy: Path Smith. For darkness: Joy Division.
For fun: Sheryl Crow or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. For the Blues: Ndidi
Onukwulu. And for everything, at any time, still: Tori Amos. Set that
piano on fire.
-Jamella Hagen My parents listened to some pretty cool music when I was growing up: Boney M., Elvis Presley, The Platters. Their old records
were part of my wood-panelled, rec-room-in-the-basement
dance club, along with stuff my brother and I picked out from Michael
Jackson, Culture Club and the Pet Shop Boys. While my musical taste
has expanded since those days, I still love to dance around in my living
room to the songs I grew up on. I feel the same way about the stories
from my family's past—they're what inspire and inform my writing now.
It's like looking through my parents' vinyl collection, dusting off the old
records and finding the right groove to dance to.
—Kellee Ngan
I prefer writing in public. Yes, it's a cliche to write in a coffee shop, but
when I'm stuck, nothing beats a latte and a window bench. There's
something fertile in the cafe's collected sounds—snippets of conversation, mugs clinking against tables, the espresso steamer whistling into
the milk. Not even the horrendous Muzak arrangements of top forty
songs dissuade me. It's a social symphony that I can observe and discard
at will.
The music that inspires me, however, is music that's impossible to
ignore. A few favourites are: Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit," Lotte
Lenya with her husband's "September Song," David Bowie's anthem,
"Rebel Rebel," Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay," "Here Comes Your
Man" by The Pixies and Vusi Mahlasela singing "Kuzobenjani Na?" The
influence, however, is tangential. Listening to these artists pushes me to
work harder, to create something worthy of being heard.
—Claire Tacon
My French Canadian grandmother's refrain, C'est Froid! C'est
Froid! C'est Froid! (or Cochon! Cochon! Cochon! when I ate like a
little piggy) or the rhythm of the train I would take back and
forth to work every day in Japan—music reminds me to recognize these
innate patterns, to revisit them over and over. And just as quick, it asks
me to break them. I know music intervened when Charles Simic wrote
the line My mother wore a cat-fur collar which she stroked until its sparks lit up
the cellar. I try to accept music's dare—discover, discard, reinvent.
-Sheryda Warrener
8     PRISM 46:3 Heather Jessup
from After the Lightning Field
The boys parked their sturdy bikes at the side of the road on kick-
stands. They had pedalled their way along the back roads all
morning to find the field and to see the Desoto in the ditch with
its fins and shiny hubcaps, its slick white stripe down the side.
The driver-side door was open like a wing. No one was in the car.
The road ahead of the Desoto stretched off toward what they couldn't
see. The road behind led back to the house. The weather was bright and
clear now. No cloud-gatherings. No storms. The leaves of the birches
were golden in the sun.
The boys carried notebooks and magnifying glasses. They wore
brown and white saddle shoes and matching argyle socks that Lucy had
laid out for them on their beds that morning. Standing at the side of the
road, they did not know why she had stopped here, but they were clever,
and they were just kids back then, so they used their imaginations and
saw what the adults wouldn't talk about with them at home.
The car was pulled over because she had wanted to stretch her legs.
She had either wanted to stretch her legs, or she had wanted to dance to
a good song playing on the radio, or she had wanted to turn around because she had forgotten something—like that powder she used for dusting her nose, or her autograph book, or the cheque she was supposed to
bring for the baker that morning. The boys could not be sure why she
had stopped, so they decided on these reasons because if they didn't
decide on a pretend reason, there would be no real reason, and that was
much worse. No reason for something this bad happening was just not
an option: so it was something forgotten, or a good song. And there Lucy
stood at the side of the road with a hand over her eyes: their mama. She
wore a crisply ironed dress and a matching autumn coat, navy blue with
small white polka dots. Her red hair was up in a chignon, which she wore
for especially fancy occasions, and red lipstick was painted in a heart on
her lips. Freckles. They imagined her freckles. Scattered like constellations across the slope of her nose. Her scent. Kier imagined her scent.
Chanel No. 5. Like a secret door.
The boys moved closer to the car and looked at the dashboard clock.
Its tiny metal hands had stopped ticking down time. Andy took note of
this in his notebook. Clock. Stopped. They circled the car, investigating the details. Kier saw a map flung into the backseat. Toronto and Townships.
She was often getting herself lost driving from Malton into the city for
an afternoon of shopping at Eaton's. Kier remembered how they would
hide in the coat racks while their mama tried on shoes. (Fortresses of coat
racks! Fungs of the coat racks! "Boys! Come over here. You'll knock that
Kier looked at the passenger seat. He saw, resting there: an unopened
umbrella, Lucy's favourite navy purse with the thick gold clasp, a piece
of notepaper in her handwriting that read Hawthorn's Fine Cakes and Pastries. Queen Street West. Near Dovercourt. North Side, and a blue chiffon scarf
that sat on the white vinyl seat like a pool of water.
The radio was on. But to what sort of station? Andy imagined Jazz.
Kier agreed. She often listened to Jazz when she took the Desoto for
drives, a station she picked up from over the border in New York somewhere. Andy thought it might have been "Take the A Train" she was
listening to when she pulled over to the side of the road that day. Kier
suggested "Moon River." Andy said, "Definitely not 'Moon River,'" and
so they agreed on an instrumental piece that she would have hummed
along to. "Ornithology." Charlie Parker. Good 'ol Bird, they imagined
her saying.
Kier imagined how Charlie Parker's saxophone would have sounded
with the rain falling. Andy thought about the birch leaves, brittle and rattling. Yes, the saxophone and the rain and the wail of the wind through
the autumn leaves.
Andy and Kier stood side by side by the open driver-side door looking toward the field. Their eyes scanned past the wildflowers in the ditch:
the last of the fireweed, purple aster, goldenrod. They didn't see footprints because the rain had washed them away. The long grasses were
bent heavy with water. They looked at the open field and climbed down
the ditch, careful not to get their shoes dirty in the gully's fresh mud.
They walked farther into the field and eventually spotted the tree in the
distance. The black bark. But first, they almost stepped in something.
"What is it?" Andy asked.
Kier looked closer. "Puke."
"Eww." Andy moved his toes away. Was mama car sick? Kier didn't
think so. Was she allergic to something? No. Shellfish? No. When was
she sick? In the mornings. Oh. They both realized now. Sick in the
mornings. Woman things. She was pregnant. With Rose. Rose was making her sick. They both took note in their notebooks: Mama sick. Rose's
fault. Andy wanted to use his magnifying glass to figure out what their
mama had eaten for breakfast but Kier said, "That's disgusting. Look
up ahead," and he pointed his finger at the tree, still smoking slightly,
poised like a charcoal hand.
10     PRISM 46:3 In the long grasses they saw her body. Her milky limbs burnt with
river-lines. Ashes from the fruit tree floated down beside her and she
was a map. Like the soft folded paper of Toronto and Townships in the back
seat, there were a series of roadways and byways on her. Tributaries
where the lightning had been. Beneath the crinoline of her dress, which
was crushed now and singed, was a journey. Her hair had come undone
and her cheeks were pale as Ivory soap.
The boys stood and looked at their mama's body in that field. They
pretended that they knew she was still breathing. They imagined that
her heart hadn't stopped. And then they remembered that they had to
get out of the field because the real-life priest would be coming down the
highway any moment in his blue beat-up truck to really find her, and to
take her to the hospital where their Dad, Peter, would bring Kier and
Andy to visit—her body motionless for weeks before she woke up and
eventually came home. They stood and looked and took in every last
detail, and then they heard the truck coming. Andy stood listening for
the distance of the truck's motor. He wanted to go to her body, quickly,
before they left. He wanted to find her pulse like he'd been shown to do
at Scout camp. Andy wanted to find the convergence of veins under his
mama's thin pale skin and press his fingers softly and feel that her heart
would be okay. Kier tugged on Andy's shirt. "Come on. We have to
The boys took one last look at her thoughtful, sleepy face, turned and
ran back through the field, up the slippery bank of the gully, back along
the shoulder of the road to where their bikes stood. They kicked their
kickstands hard and pushed off, leaning firmly into their handlebars,
pedalling fiercely into the long stretch of road ahead. And it wasn't until
they both looked back over their shoulders that they realized they had
lost one another. Kier was pedalling hard toward the distance and Andy
was pedalling equally hard back in the direction of the house.
11 Anne Simpson
from Book of Beginnings
all undone and unmade thick and ancient furred by weather not yet
weather creased and lined rock and water linen-thin water and rock
unseamed bulky dense and smooth not birth not death both icy and
steamy sounds not yet sounds darkness before darkness and light
before light beginning and ending ending and beginning woven and
braided and wood-smoke fragrant and not wood-smoke fragrant
shot through with glistening and murmuring unmurmuring cloud of
murmuring also glistening linen-thin water and rock rock and water
unseamed furred by the weather not furred lined creased steamy and
icy smooth not birth not death all undone done made and unmade
12     PRISM 46:3 After
Day is divided from night, night is divided from day, minute from
minute, hour from hour. Time begins, divided into parts. Now divided
into then, and meanwhile, and later, so a story can be made of it.
This story will have other stories inside it, but one story, the familiar
story, will separate itself and become a plot, full of convoluted and
meandering sentences, and other stories will become indistinguishable
subplots, so that telling them apart will be the same as separating
water from water, or separating water from air, or air from water, or
separating the waters of the firmament from the waters below.
13 The First Night
I wasn't always what I am now. I was streaming and pooled, fluid and
solid, light held by darkness, darkness held by light. Only gliding,
without was or will be. Now there's dark inside the dark, and within
this dark, intricate contraptions of darker darkness. A sense of dread.
A sameness that is repeated, enhanced. Things have their places—my
place is behind everything else. But my wish is to soften things, call
them back to what they were, what they could have been. This is what
I try to say as light begins, grows, diminishes me.
14     PRISM 46:3 The First Day
At dawn, so much has slipped through. So much has vanished. It's
necessary to keep up appearances, though there's something to one
side that needles. I do my work, exposing dust in the corners. Each
moment is elaborate with pulleys. But surely there was a time before
this? The windows weren't always polished, the shutters weren't closed.
There was a time before as, before like. Before the smear on the mirror.
Before tinkering. Before the ululation of a siren, bringing the injured
body closer. Before scarlet. Before latches. Before eyes. Before opening
and closing. Before the pecking of this, this, this.
Rolf Klausener & The Acorn
Hold Your Breath
There's a river that parts the valley of this town, following the road
up to your father's farm. Your rosy lungs were empty
on the day that you were born,
and no one thought you'd make it past the morning.
Your brother said your mother was the firefly you buried in the earth.
And every night, the firelight warms the tender bits of skin beneath
your shirt. The climbing constellations move in semi-tones, and set
behind the county line in a melody of gravitation.
Calling on the colours of the road! Sleep amongst the mango trees and
poison toads. A flood for every footprint, and every mile you forgot.
And though your hands were little, they always gave a lot.
Hold your breath...
The sanctity of soil, wandering roots and living oils.
Reunions underground, sunlight surfacing, and all around, mountains
like diaphragms...the rhythm of a landscape that is breathing.
16     PRISM 46:3 Glory
Burning rock, in the palm of your hand.
Treat this place as you're wont to, but I will make my land,
to comfort you. Arch precision. Pull the ropes with a dry hand, soaked
in scenery painted by brushes of hair I pulled from your head.
Don't make this difficult. I can't wait for the morning sun.
Oh, the morning sun has come and you're not there.
Petals encircling newspapers crumbling. Turn the TV off and wait for
the writing in the sky, it could be bad, it doesn't matter 'cause those
words will just melt into the clouds. Don't be mad, my name was
I've known glory all my life.
17 Stephanie Yorke
Fighting the Music
I love it when my hip knocks the bureau
and makes the CD player skip, as if
I'd caught Jack Barstaff in a headlock
and tacked his four-four shoulders to the mat
for half a measure, maybe. My arms
can't match his honed and oiled clock hand,
and my full-nelson isn't championed
by that Newtonian heart. Still,
there is an arrhythmic hiccup
as I jab his diaphragm with both thumbs.
He winces—poor old guy. Or patient
victor, who claps my flimsy biceps
and pins me for a beat, a round,
breaking quarter notes over my ears:
spherical dings in the floor.
18     PRISM 46:3 Anna Swanson
The Patron Saint of Bagpipes
The patron saint of bagpipes and the patron saint
of concerned parents are having at it
at last. Gathered around, cussing and cheering,
are the patron saints of adult acne, late periods,
of slot machines, locking the keys in the car, of calling
out the wrong name in bed. And, of course,
the patron saint of trying to fall asleep
when you're lonely. These are the lesser saints
in their lesser heaven, blessed only with the power
to hold back your hair while you puke
in your private stall. They gather round,
waiting, as Our Lady of the PTA
threatens to get all fisticuffs with Bagpipes.
Bystanders become a crowd, and the crowd
starts to circle. Perhaps, I tell myself, perhaps
this is why they can't hear me. Tonight, when I've called
everyone in my book, when I've asked that thin thread of faith
to show itself like fishing line against the dark lake.
No matter what small thing I ask for—waiting poised
to close myself over any flash or morsel—no one answers.
So, as I drift into that place which isn't sleep,
I lay my money down and buy Pipes another pint,
sidle up behind PTA and whisper loudly—
Thinks he can intimidate her. I know, and especially
after how he's been eyeing her daughter.
Then I join the crowd.
19 Aaron Shepard
When the sound of engines echoed up the valley and off the
slopes of the looming Badshot Range, malicious bits of clockwork turned inside Billy Langdon. He'd felt this before—
every autumn was a season of stretched nerves and paranoia—but those
vehicles were gunning straight for his hiding place. Against his ribs,
prickly cogs and wheels marked the turn of different times: another year
of his so-called adult life, a rain-starved summer winding down and, on
the quickest, most relentless wheel, his luck turning to the bad.
He grabbed his binoculars, ran to the edge of his marijuana plantation
and crouched behind a stump in the upper corner of a clearcut, where
clusters of mountain ash and birch hid his crop from the skid road and
landing two hundred metres below. Way down the valley, a cloud of dust
rose from where the deserted Red Horse mining claims lay close to Pool
Behind him, his plants grew in scattered rows like sunflowers beneath
a thin canopy of aspen. Under a camouflaged tarp lay a thermos of coffee, two machetes and a pile of gloves with torn fingertips. Kerri went
from plant to plant, a pair of pruning scissors in her hand, a magnifying
lens sticking out of the ass pocket of her jeans. She did what he called the
pre-work, clipping the fan leaves off the stems and checking the colour of
the pistils for ripeness. Look for a deep orange like rust, he'd instructed
her. Not that it really mattered. They would harvest the crop today, perfectly ripe or not, because they were tired of waiting.
Pot leaves caught their palmate, serrated edges in Kerri's blond hair
and drifted onto her tank top. She noticed him watching her and gave
him a reassuring wink. He turned back towards the road. Across the
clearcut, fireweed sent white fluff like goose down billowing across the
slash piles and into the blue sky.
"Hunters, maybe?" Kerri's voice was calm. It steadied his hands.
Billy's older brother had told him that in this business, never have a
partner. Run a small operation, smaller than you'd like. Then you won't
have to worry about what's fair or who to trust. But if he had listened to
his brother, Billy would be by himself watching the two vehicles crest
the hill and head towards the landing. Alone, his nerves wouldn't have
held up. There would be nothing for him except flight. This threat to his
20     PRISM 46:3 investment—his very means of survival—did not give him courage. He
needed Kerri to anchor him, and that made him wonder.
An hour before the vehicles came, Billy had dropped his best pair of
pruning scissors on a stone and chipped the blades. "Oh, come on," he
had shouted to the tree branches above. "Man, I'm sick of this shit."
"No, you're not," Kerri said. She looked exhilarated, her face and
willowy arms flushed and damp as though she'd been mountain biking.
The sight might have aroused him, like earlier that day, except the pot's
resin had seeped into his skin and fogged his brain. And those Fiskars
cost forty dollars.
In any case, she wasn't thinking sex. "Look at these buds," she said.
"This is so fucking wicked."
"Wait until you've been doing it for years, like me."
He said that a lot, always with the tired voice of a veteran, though he'd
been at it for only six years. He'd started right out of high school, taking
over for his older brother, who'd fallen in love and quit growing to drive
a courier truck in Prince George. At the time, Billy'd had a good laugh
about that. His brother the thug, with a clipboard and a name tag.
Then Billy met someone too, last winter after he'd sold his harvest.
They were introduced through friends he had treated to dinner and drinks
at the Mexican restaurant in town. Kerri never said much about herself,
but that was okay. They'd spent the winter in the bar or in bed, and he'd
brought her into his operation. She'd been a treeplanter before, a regular
wood sprite. Kerri had never grown pot, but she had an affinity for plants
and a natural green thumb. She'd coaxed giant, potent buds from the
Durban Poison strain when he'd been ready to rip them out of the ground
back in July. She would be a pro by next year. He'd agreed with her that
there would indeed be a next year, and some years after that.
Unlike his brother, love drove Billy deeper into the pot business because Kerri was ambitious and she had a five-year plan that involved a
villa in Mexico this winter, and some prime real estate in the Shuswap
the next. He'd never given his future boundaries. Billy didn't know much
about history, but a "five-year plan" sounded like something doomed, if
not for failure, then for hard, perhaps cruel, times.
In a way, he was sorry he'd gotten Kerri so excited about growing.
Maybe she understood the long haul of the summer, but not the grind of
the seasons, the toll that prolonged uncertainty could take. She worked
and held nothing back—she thrashed through the bush with the boundless optimism and the sweet, gutsy grin he'd fallen in love with. Sometimes he pictured her doing this three years from now—was he wrong to
imagine her burnt-out and cynical, her face creased by exhaustion and
constant stress?
21 Still clutching the blunted Fiskars, he sat on a stump and stared out
over the Pool Creek valley at the distant gleam of the Incomappleux
River. He blew his nose clear of skunky resin until he could smell valerian and snow on a glacial breeze. That's what he really liked—the
creeks, late summer berries, the sweet-scented air. The money was okay,
too. Money was the watchword, the rainy day motivator.
"Hon?" said Kerri. "You're daydreaming again."
His brother told him to go treeplanting and make good, legitimate
money. But he was too slow, too lunky. Not fat, but couldn't spring up
the hills like Kerri. He had enough imagination to recognize the limits of
his fragile occupation, but not enough to see his way out. He was a person without an exit strategy, who had lived year to year without much
hope of change.
They might be thieves, but at least the two men were definitely not cops.
The first looked like a pot grower himself, short and wiry, grubby with a
goatee and a dark, greying ponytail beneath a Nepalese cap. His van, a
brown Westfalia ringed with an orange stripe, sat in the shade of some alders. He slid open the side door and pulled out a tattered canvas pack.
The second man was clean-cut, solid and muscular. He wore a beige
Stetson hat and vest well suited to his moustache. His truck was shiny
black with a white camper on the box, country music blaring from speakers. He held a map out in front of him and turned it around clockwise
and back again.
"Looks like they've seen our truck," said Billy. He'd parked his rusted
white Toyota behind a slash pile on the landing. The two men scanned
the clearcuts above and below. Billy saw their lips move but heard nothing over the stereo. The loud music was a good sign, and the fact the
men weren't carrying guns—just some hammers and large plastic pans.
Not the tools for ripping off someone's plants. They weren't trying to be
sneaky. After more chatter, the two headed towards a creek at the far end
of the landing.
"Our pipeline," Kerri said. A black PVC hose, set in an eddy above a
waterfall, snaked through the woods into their plantation. Billy was supposed to coil it up this morning but forgot. "If they see it, they'll follow it
into the middle of our patch."
"Christ," Billy said. Again, he felt the urge to cut and run. "What do
we do?"
Kerri chewed at a dirty fingernail, then spat. She stood and brushed
the leaves off. "Better we find them than they find us."
He felt the warmth of gratitude, and a flush of shame as he followed
her down to the landing. How different things had been in spring, when
she looked to him for answers, and not the other way around.
22     PRISM 46:3 "We'll come up behind them," she said, "so they don't wonder about
the clearcut."
At the creek, they tried to scrub off the resin's smell. Cedar and hemlock bordered the stream's flexes and curves like fences that led them
upstream. A hundred metres off the road, still some distance from the
waterfall, the sound of the men's voices drifted down to them, baritone
notes in the water's childish chorus. Stetson Man had his arms crossed
over his chest, his feet scuffing at the gravel. The other pointed up the
creek with his black pan. They didn't look surprised to see Billy and
Kerri, but didn't look welcoming, either.
"Goddammit," said Stetson Man. He twisted his light brown moustache between two fingers. "Everyone read the same book? Guess you're
up here for it, too."
"Don't worry, man," said the other. He had a thick French-Canadian
accent and a face crinkled with deep laugh lines. "You're the only one
who's ever read that book, for sure."
"Screw off, Yves," the other began, and kicked a pebble into the creek.
He looked disappointed about something, but also like he was trying
hard not to grin. Billy groped for words. Who were these clowns?
Beside him, Kerri smiled brightly. "Not sure I'm following you
"A book," said Yves.
Stetson Man shrugged, a wary look in his eyes. "Just a history of West
Kootenay mining towns." He stared hard at Kerri. "You don't look like
the prospector type."
Kerri didn't miss a beat. "We're wildcrafting. Chantrelles, huckleberries.
Antlers for carving. Whatever we can find."
"Strange business."
"Got to live somehow."
He let out a breath. "So you're not looking for gold?"
"I'm telling you," said the amiable French-Canadian. He held up his
pan. "Doesn't matter. There's no fucking gold in this creek."
Stetson Man was Earl. He had a wedding band on his finger, but he didn't
talk about home, except to say he was from Calgary and built houses.
He made a small fire on the landing, and from his camper hauled out
lawn chairs, two cases of beer, a metal grill, smokies, steaks and a cast
iron pan. Yves had popped the roof of his van and placed a welcome
mat outside the sliding door. Billy and Kerri had pitched a tent beside
their truck, not far from the others, and now they joined the men around
the fire. Kerri wore a polar fleece jacket and wrapped her arms around
her chest. She gave him her cheeriest pixie smile, which meant that she
was extremely pissed off about all this wasted time. They should have
23 finished harvesting by now. They'd never even made it back to their
Billy wondered what to do. He sniffed the air for the frost that might
come tonight to ruin the plants, but smelled nothing except smoke and
sizzling fat. He accepted a flask of whiskey that was passed around, then
opened a beer and flicked the cap into the coals.
"Last few summers, I've come out to the Kootenays to go panning
with Yves," Earl said. "A hobby. Nice break from work."
"You look like a serious prospector," said Billy. The guy's camper was
full of sieves and filters, vials of different acids and something Earl called
a backpack dredging unit with a three-stage sluice, whatever the hell that
meant. But it was Earl's face that spoke of dedication, hard lines like the
cracked veneer of dried mud, all furrows and sandy grit. Hands roughened by stone and cold morning water. Billy pictured himself becoming
a middle-aged outdoorsman, but knew he wouldn't weather like that.
He'd just slump and fade, a dumb old sack of meat.
"Yves looks for all kinds of things—garnet, quartz, anything that glitters." Earl flipped the meat in the pan, added butter and sliced-up onions. "Me, I love it all too, but I'm after something particular."
He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a little leather pouch. He
carefully opened the drawstring and poured something into his hand. It
shone in flashes, elusive. Billy leaned in to see. In Earl's palm, little gold
nuggets rested among black sand.
"Panned from Pool Creek. About two hundred dollar's worth, but just
a couple hours' work."
Billy blinked. Two hundred dollars in two hours, right from this valley. Of course, he had thousands of dollars planted on the hillside. But
this was different. The gold had been just lying there. And it was legal.
"Old mines everywhere," Earl said. "Last year I went through the
archives in Kaslo and Nakusp. I read that book."
Yves was rolling a Drum cigarette. He chuckled. "I know where this
is going."
Earl ignored him. "This one guy—must've been ninety-three when
the author interviewed him. He had a brother, in 1899, went up into
the Badshots. Him and two fellows. Late fall, later than now. After a few
days, they strike a vein near a creek. Weather gets bad, clouds stacking
against the mountains. But they're filling sacks with gold. More than they
can load on the horses."
Yves shook his head, took long drags from his cigarette. His grubby
fleece was pocked with old burns. Billy glugged his beer, riveted to Earl's
"When the clouds burst, snow's coming down. Still, the men don't
stop. Like the vein would disappear if they left it alone. Pretty soon, the
24     PRISM 46:3 snow's up to their knees, and above them, the rumble of avalanches.
Trees snapping. They pile everything into their mineshaft—or maybe
an old cave—and they decide to wait it out. But the brother, he sees
how low they are on food. So he makes a dash for town, get help for the
"Or maybe he took some gold and ran—so long suckers," said Yves.
"Yeah, exactly—fuck 'em. That's what I'd do," Kerri said without a
trace of laughter. Her fingers drummed quiet but fast on her bottle. Billy
dug into a smokie, warm oils and salt oozing between his teeth, and
cracked another beer.
"When he hits the Incomappleux, he loses his horse in a slide," Earl
said. "Finally stumbles into Thompson's Landing—Beaton, nowadays—
half-frozen and starved...."
"It's a Kootenay tall tale," said Yves. "The same story from Kimberly
to New Denver. Two skeletons in a cave, surrounded by gold. People
search all the time. Maybe even buddy here and his wife."
Earl shook his head. "But the location—I've narrowed it down. Geological maps, assessments from the gold commissioner's office. Cross-
referencing, triangulation, you ever hear of that?"
"Someone would have found it by now," said Kerri.
"No way. In this wilderness? It could hide anything. Anything. That's
why people out here believe in the Sasquatch."
"Yeah, the fucking Sasquatch," Yves muttered.
"Hey now, what about those stories you tell me?" Earl asked.
Yves threw up his hands. "Sure. I seen lots of weird stuff here. You
watch, tonight, at the bottom of this valley—lights glowing. Serious. But
I know what's animal and what isn't."
"Ghost lights," said Earl.
"There's a cave," Billy said. "Near the waterfall, further up the
He hadn't thought of the cave for months. They had been searching
for the best spot to lay their irrigation system, no patience for distractions. Kerri gave him a hard stare, but it was too late. He had the two
men's attention, so he went on.
"We didn't go inside, but looks like it goes back a ways." It lay below
their waterline, too, so there was no harm in telling them.
Yves and Earl looked at each other. "Cave or mineshaft?"
"Wouldn't know."
"I tell you," said Earl. "This is the place. This creek or the next over.
Sure of it." He took a slug of whiskey. So did Kerri, with an angry snap of
her wrist. Billy drank his beer, savoured the looks on the men's faces.
"It's worth checking," said Yves. He turned to Billy with a grim chuckle. "Sneaky bugger, you held out on us."
25 Earl nodded. "I gotta see this. Hard to find, where you said it was?
You'd better come with us, point it out."
"Not hard," said Billy. "I can show you in the morning. I mean, why
Why the hell not. Things could wait another half-day. He raised his
beer and saluted the flames in front of him. He felt Kerri's glare, but his
eyes were caught by the ember worms burrowing in and out of the grey
Each Thursday in Nelson last winter, the theatre had shown a foreign
movie. What the subtitled films lacked in action, they made up for in
mood, most of it heavy and depressing, with long takes of troubled
Frenchmen staring out windows. Except one. The Crazy Stranger had
been about gypsies, or a man searching for something among them, and
it had been filled with wild music, dancing, drinking and sex. What had
struck Billy was the fierce sense of abandonment, the songs that made
the characters weep as they tossed back vodka, the way the hero and
heroine tore each other's clothes off by a riverbank and clutched the
mud like it was life itself. He and Kerri left the theatre intoxicated, determined to imitate this spectacle by going to the bar, getting drunk, then
returning home to screw.
This hadn't gone well, mostly because Billy threw himself too passionately into the role, two-fisting gin and then rounds of tequila and Jager-
meister. He bounced around the dance floor and howled with the raw
simplicity of things. How crude and yet mysteriously vast, the night's
possibilities. When they left, Kerri was wasted and she staggered against
his shoulder muttering to herself. Naked before the bed, Billy felt his
body fail him, the fire in his mind fizzling, numb and empty between his
He had a similar problem now, in the tent and drunk, where images of
gold and new adventure had turned him on. What was that old joke—too
many dead soldiers and the flag only flies at half-mast? Kerri didn't offer
much help, her hands listless on his back, and they had to be quiet in
case the men were still outside. He pushed and worried against her hips,
his knees and feet scrabbling for grip on the slithering nylon sleeping
bags, until he finally achieved something for himself. His beery breath
collected in the nape of her neck as he slumped onto her. Crickets and
wind. Kerri hardly breathing.
After some time, he whispered, "It'll be cool, just to go see, huh? I
mean, no harm in it."
"You go. I have work to do. Lots, obviously. Don't even know what
the hell I'm doing. Chop? Pick buds like apples?"
"No big deal. It's easy, babe." He rolled over. "Tell the men you're off
26     PRISM 46:3 to gather mushrooms. I'll take them to the cave, and I'll join you after."
"Could be done and back in fucking town by now."
He stared at the dark fabric above. Yves' radio had played bluegrass,
but it was silent now. "Do you like it out here?"
"Here. The Badshots."
For a long moment, she said nothing. Her jaw clicked. "Sure."
"Then what's wrong?"
"I don't get you. We've worked all summer for this day. And you
waste our time following some bullshit story?"
"Who cares, bullshit or not?" Difficult for him to form the words, all
dopey and spent. The pungent scent of cow parsnip blew through the
tent, replacing the warm musk of semen and damp pubic hair. "It's just
something—I'd like to do this. Don't know why."
He waited, but she gave no reply. "Anyway, no choice now. It's bad
timing. Have to roll with it." He reached to touch a breast, but she turned
He went outside in his underwear and boots. A light wind swished
the tops of cedars, chilled him beneath his boxers, teased his belly hair.
Somewhere in the woods above, a twig snapped. The creek muttered
cold alien words. He felt sad about the lousy sex. If it had been better,
she might've been more relaxed about everything.
He looked down the Pool Creek valley as he urinated. Sure enough,
lights. Not the thin violet band of horizon above the mountains, or the
stars above, but a soft presence where the Spider and Red Horse claims
rested and decayed in the forest. A greenish luminescence, nebulous
orbs like giant fireflies through the trees. Not campfires, flashlights or
headlamps, the glow too fuzzy and undefined. The lights ebbed and
pulsed, drifted and dimmed.
Nearby, Earl's camper and Yves' van lay dark and silent. Billy stumbled back inside the tent. Kerri's breath made a rasping noise as she
slept, pissed off even in her dreams.
After coffee, Earl repeated his disinclination to leave a girl alone in the
woods. Yves lent Kerri a silver whistle. "If a bear or something happens,
you blow this hard, three times." Before Billy could kiss her for good
luck, she scampered up the clearcut, straight towards their hidden crop.
The prospectors threw on their backpacks loaded with headlamps, ropes
and gold pans, and the three men headed up the creek.
She'd been cold and silent all morning. Earlier in the tent, Billy had
whispered rapid instructions. "Cache the hose and the tarps under that
stump, you know the one. Harvest the whole plant and leave everything
on. Except the big leaves, clip those. Don't do all the work," he told her.
27 "Or any of it. Just wait for me." He'd slept poorly and woke with dread
and regret, but now, grateful for the reprieve from Kerri's spite, he
savoured the cool air and the men's purposeful stride.
He followed the prospectors and mimicked the way they stared into
the creek and brushed their fingers against stones. They swished water and sediment in their pans and scrutinized the leavings. Apparently,
flecks of grit and pebble indicated what other things might be there, as if
each mineral were companion to another. If there was black magnetite,
then there might be gold. The prospectors' talk began with the tiniest
speck and grew outwards into flakes of mica schist, cobbles and boulders
of quartzite and greenstone basalt—and then into the geomorphology of
the entire valley. Paleozoic terrane, volcanic breccias. The magnitude of
the words stupefied Billy.
He hadn't told them about the dancing lights. He didn't want to put
his memory up against whatever Yves and Earl might suggest—ghosts,
or a drunken vision, or some barometric phenomenon he'd never heard
of. Last night haunted the way he saw the forest, the spectral gaps between the trees. It spooked and delighted him.
"Ah, tourmaline, tourmaline," said Yves quietly, working the words in
his mouth like a lozenge. "It's always possible."
"I'd even settle for more garnet," said Earl. "Tell you what. This is
some valley. Bet you don't make any money picking mushrooms and
antlers out here," he said to Billy. "And I'll bet you don't care, neither.
That's how it is."
At the waterfall, a narrow cascade thirty feet high, the prospectors'
ramblings were muted beneath the wild spray that pounded slabs of rock
and dissolved into mist.
"It's up there," shouted Billy, pointing to the left. On the slope, nestled in a small rocky outcrop, was the cave. They scrambled up the scree
and moss-covered boulders. Here and there, Billy slipped and fell into
gooseberry or devil's club.
Fox fern hedged the cave's entrance. "Headlamps," said Yves. Billy
didn't have a lamp, only a crappy flashlight he'd grabbed from his truck.
The bulb flickered until he smacked the plastic base. Inside, there were
no skeletons nor sacks, nor anything other than rock. Their beams of
light ended where the tunnel took a turn to the right.
"Wait," said Yves. The little man took a biscuit wrapped in a paisley
handkerchief out of his pocket and laid it on a flat rock inside the entrance. "Superstition." He shrugged. "Don't ask."
"To each his own," said Earl, but he crossed himself on the way in.
The air was stale, an iron stench, cold and stark compared to the rich
smell of soil and vegetation Billy was used to. The walls were planed and
squared by human tools. Yves and Earl tapped the stone with hammers,
28     PRISM 46:3 rubbed their fingers against the chalk. It took them a long time to reach
the first corner.
"A strange mineshaft," said Yves. "It wanders, and doesn't go down."
Earl nodded, a bobbing light. "I think this cave existed before the
miners. They carved it up, hoping for easy veins."
Billy startled at a sparkling patch on the wall, but it was only, as Earl
told him, a pocket of green sphalerite and pyrite.
"Fool's Gold," he said. "But it's gorgeous for all that." With a great
deal of delicacy and time, he and Yves chipped out pieces of the wall
and pocketed them.
Further on, the tunnel split in two, one route quickly leading to a dead
end, the other continuing on into the darkness. Behind the two prospectors, Billy crouched and stooped beneath the low ceiling which pressed
and weighed upon him. At times, the passage narrowed so that he had
to shimmy through sideways and scrape his cheeks across the limestone.
He chewed on his jacket collar to suppress the almost overpowering
need to run. He wiped his moist palms across his jeans, his skin clammy
in the lifeless air. He thought of the blue sky outside, the warm sunshine
that had shrunken to a ragged "O" behind them and then vanished. Now
light was just a fallible tool in his hand. And the spare batteries—where,
Come to think of it, where the fuck were his keys? In the truck?
What time was it? How long had they gone from one hollowed chamber to the next, transfixed by tarnished blotches of chalcopyrite, royal
blue streaks and washes which Billy, again, had mistaken for some precious stone? The image of gold-stuffed sacks, clear in his mind last night,
wavered and broke. There was no quick and easy fortune to be made in
here. The cave had suckered him in with its mystery corners and shiny
"Tabernac," hissed Yves up ahead. Billy hurried forward, and Earl
threw an arm across to stop him.
"Easy. Tunnel drops." It wasn't too steep a slope, at least as far as they
could see. Yves began to inch his way down. Billy opened his mouth,
closed it. He looked behind him at the way they'd come.
"You worried about Kerri?" Earl asked.
It felt like hours since he'd thought of her, as though he'd been in a
trance. He'd been prepared to deal with a little hostility, but what if right
now she was scared? Was the frosty, venomous look she gave him this
morning a facade? He imagined her in tears, scissors clutched in her
trembling hands.
Yves swore again, this time a muffled shout. Earl spun and scrambled
down after his friend. Alone in the dark tunnel, blinking away the purple
spots Earl's headlamp left swimming in his eyes, Billy tucked his flash-
29 light in his belt and crab-walked down the tunnel like a boy, his hands
and feet searching for ruts and ridges.
The ground levelled off and Billy stumbled forward. The two prospectors stood paralyzed. Caught in their light beams was a band of milky
white brilliance thick as his leg. The quartz vein ran across the wall and
then down a pit at the back of the chamber. The drop was a! r. but
there was no telling the depths—the chasm jutted and angled in defiance
of their lamps. "Beautiful, man, beautiful," Earl whispered.
Yves picked up a stone and tossed it into the hole, and the three men
listened to the clack and clatter diminish into echoes like water drops. It
didn't tell them much. They hovered around the edge, no longer speaking. With their lamps, they traced the path of the quartz vein over and
over, the translucent facets reflecting the light.
Beneath everyone's quiet breathing, Billy thought he heard other
noises, a soft rumble from far below or within the stone walls. Though it
wasn't anything mechanical, or perhaps even real, the sound reminded
him of a vast engine propelling something forward. It frightened him in
a way the constricting tunnels did not—it was the sound of the world
turning, of life racing ahead while he daydreamed. He was on another
planet, too far from his own. It wasn't Kerri he should worry about. It
was Billy who risked losing everything.
A great deal of time had passed. If she hadn't bothered clipping the
leaves, just bundled the stalks, Kerri could have the entire crop loaded in
the truck by now. She could be a few miles down the road if she wanted.
He imagined explaining himself to the prospectors—Say, Earl, might need
to bum a ride off you later....
Then again, these two men might understand better than anyone, especially here in this impossible place, why a person might live the way
Billy had lived, and why he might now throw himself upon the mercy of
an angry woman for a simple vein of quartz.
Side by side with Earl and Yves, he stared down at the vein's mysterious plunge, not with false hope, but genuine awe. As sure as he'd seen
the lights dancing in the forest, he knew there weren't bags of gold at the
bottom. But there would have to be something down there, something
he'd never seen or even thought of before. And he couldn't imagine
leaving until he saw what it was.
Earl pulled a coil of rope out of his backpack. When he and Yves
finished securing it around a boulder, Billy finally stepped forward. He
tested the rope with a firm pull and then threw the loose end down the
chasm. Whatever was happening up there, on the sun-facing slopes of
the Badshots, let it wait until he returned. He was too deep in the earth
and, anyhow, he wasn't sure he knew his way back.
30     PRISM 46:3 Sound Advice
I used to tell people that I wrote the torture scenes in Blood Sports
while listening to Metallica's Saint Anger, but mostly I was listening
to Enya. Specifically, her A Day Without Rain album. I'm not sure
why, but I found her tracks "Wild Child," "Only Time" and "Lazy Old
Day" conducive to dismemberment. Any of the intense sections of any
of my writing are usually written to froth. Madonna was especially helpful when I was having difficulty with my first novel and some of the most
wrenching scenes in my first collection were written with The Backstreet
Boys bouncing in the background.
—Eden Robinson
In Montreal, near my home, on a street full of old, classic two- or
three-floor walkups straight out of St. Urbain 's Horsemen, is an ultramodern, geometric fuck-you of a house, belonging to a geometric
fuck-you of a poet named Leonard Cohen. It's this playful awareness
of context that really floats my boat in poetry and music and everything—how does what you're saying relate to the language you're using,
or the time and place you're in? Does James Tate consider himself an
Anti-Poet? Probably not. Just a man who sees contemporary words,
situations and sentiments as things to play with. You can re-arrange the
materials that surround you—especially the ones that seem constant and
most reliable, to reveal possibilities—or possible ways of seeing, hearing, and feeling. Paul Muldoon in the Irish countryside, Ogden Nash
among modern poets, Robert Service in Dawson City, Rodney Mullen
on a city street.... What do you you see from where you're standing at
the moment?
This from Ogden Nash:
/ think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.
—Bryan Webb, The Constantines
31 Like anyone, the music I listen to changes. Right now I'm obsessed
with Jacqueline du Pre playing the Dvorak cello concerto, and
with Jim Bryson's album Where the Bungalows Roam. But I'd be
hard-pressed to call these influences, at least literary ones. I live with
a musician, and I adore him for his impeccable taste, but am forever
turning off stereos and putting in earplugs. I can't seem to hear my writing voice through someone else's playing, even if—especially if—I am
moved by it. The sounds that inform my work are the hum of the dishwasher and the cute little beeps my printer makes at the end of a print
job. A close second to the sound of nothing at all.
—Alison Pick
The books that I ate up as a teenage reader stay with me to this
day, and music plays out along the same lines. Since writing is all
about splashing one's energy down on the page in a way that is so
attractive and compelling that a reader says, "Hey, let me have a piece
of that," I have been inspired by music that has the same kind of jump.
I grew up listening to jazz vocalist Joe Williams belt out "Every Day I
Have the Blues," and feigning disgust while my parents boogied to it in
our living room. I still love it. It still lifts me. And it still makes me want
to write.
—Lawrence Hill
I've found as much influence in the great songwriters as the literary giants—lessons on clarity and grace from Amy Ray, Beck, Don
McLean, Chris Smither, Ani DiFranco, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon
and many others. Ironically, I can't listen to lyrics while I'm writing
because they distract me, so I find inspiration in the jazz gods—Dave
Brubeck and Herbie Hancock when I'm feeling playful; Parliament,
Funkadelic, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra when I'm cranked to eleven;
and, of course, miles and miles of Miles. The only exception to the rule
is R.E.M.—Stipe is singing lyrics, but I'll be damned if I can understand
a word he's saying.
—Chris Smith
32     PRISM 46:3 Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnolia Electric Co., Bonnie "Prince" Billy,
Smog, Silver Jews—I'll take their company over even the best
kinds of silence. I like % time, long, ridiculous titles like "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed," and the way melody seems like the sort of
weather in which sincerity thrives. On the most basic level, the tambourine during the second chorus of Radiohead's "Fog" gives me as much
pleasure as Derek Walcott's line "Below their feet the surf/hisses like
tambourines." I try not to think about the connections too much, and
return to them both as often as I can.
—Nick Thran
I'm inspired most by music I've never heard. Most often I find myself
imagining Mike of Mike and the Mechanics doing a solo version of
"The Living Years." No big choral background vocals, no high-end
percussion, no Mechanics—just Mike, alone in a cathedral, his soaring
voice accompanied by the gentle whisper of rainstick. Man! That really
gets me going, I'll tell you. It got me going enough to type this, at the
very least.
—Pasha Malla
I defy you to put on your headphones, crank up "The Charleston" by
James P. Johnson and not have your fingers start hitting keys. You
may think it was composed in Harlem in 1923 as a dance tune, but
no, it was written for typing. I'm sure of it.
—Adam Lewis Schroeder
Paper Route Recordz from Alabama, including the rappers and
producers Mali Boi, Dawgy Baggz, Nikky 2 States, Money Addict,
Big P.O.P.E., Mr. Marcellus. Paper Route was the sound of 2007
for me and my friends, and probably the best unknown rap group in
America. LiF Wayne is an incredibly creative lyricist. The whole first-
gen Diplomats crew, Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, Freakey, that
was a good look. Of course Outkast, Killer Mike, C-Murder, Soulja Slim,
Three 6 Mafia, Gucci Maine and Youngjeezy. I've been listening to the
Dirty South ever since the decline of the Wu-Tang Clan and the rise
of Master P and Cash Money. That whole Dirty South scene is really
strong, vibrant, funny, innovative and at times frightening. Picture Lil'
33 Boosie biting into a giant stack of hundreds in the video for "Wipe Me
Down." LIT Boosie is a role model. His Trill Entertainment team, including Webbie, Foxx, Big Head, LiP Phat, and others, are probably some
of the meanest block beataz in the game. LiP Boosie iW^feDVD, very
inspiring. I'm excited by what I'm hearing from JungleBaby and the Fam
Only label, also out of Alabama. I also like the DSR team out of Dallas, including Big Tuck, TumTum, Fat Bastard and others. They've got a
really good sound, a slightly more insane version of the Houston screw
sound. Houston: UGK, definitely one of the greatest rap groups of all
time, Rest In Peace, Pimp C. Speaking of fallen giants, 2007 also saw the
loss of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the great German modernist composer
who got his break thanks to the CIA-funded postwar German art scene
(according to Alex Ross, chronicler). Likewise, in the vein of experimental music, I host a regular evening of it here in Vancouver called Father
Zosima Presents, which is curated by Jeffrey Allport, a local percussion
improviser whose music has been a big influence on my writing. Likewise, local sound artist Ken Roux has been a huge influence creatively.
Shayne Ehman's various music projects here in town, as well as Joshua
Stevenson's experimental work. I got into experimental music through
listening to Boredoms, Steel Pole Bath Tub and Milk Cult back in the
nineties, and as I began to look and hear the huge history of that kind
of sound experimentation, it became something I gravitated towards.
At the same time as I was picking up John Cage records, I was buying
A Tribe Called Quest. Now it's me going out and listening live to a local composer like Stefan Udell or Lee Hutzulak or checking out Joshua
Stevenson DJing his weekly Psych Night at the Anza (where I first saw
Sun City Girls and Omoide Hatoba and Nimrod and Ruins!!) and then
getting in my car and cranking Shawty Lo or B.O.S.S. or Untamed or
LiP Jon or Cool Kidz. My ringtone is "Hustlin"' by Rick Ross.
This is like asking me to look in the mirror and describe how the
music affects my face.
—Lee Henderson
My music listening habits all seem classifiable by the spectrum
of mental illness: obsessive/compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, et cetera. I either rifle through a bunch
of new records, never listening to them in their entirety, or I become
focused on one record in particular, listening to it ad nauseum. When I
was writing Glory Hope Mountain, I really tried to avoid listening to too
much music—I'm a huge music fan and all too readily put my favourite
artists on pedestals. Not very cool, but it's the truth. That said, there were
34     PRISM 46:3 a handful of records that I happily referred to when I was writing the
album. Not so much to study their style or delivery, but to bask in the
feeling I get from listening to them. Briefly, Paul Simon Paul Simon, for
the song "Peace Like a River." Toronto's Andy Swan, because he's pretty
much the most original, narrative songwriter I know. Ottawa's Flecton,
because of his ability to write free-form poetically while dodging cliche.
The Microphones' Phil Elvrum, because he somehow manages to use all
those tired, naturalistic metaphors, wielded so poorly by depressed high
school students, with sincerity and aplomb. Arthur Russell's 1986 al
bum World of Echo—Arthur, with his trusty cello and some effects pedals,
improvising lyrics and melodies. It's not mind-blowingly experimental
by any means, but it stands as my personal reminder that music can be
I'm a terribly picky reader and, as a consequence, don't read as much
literature as I'd like. When I'm writing music, I rarely get inspired by
other writers, notable exceptions being Henry Miller, David Berman
and Greil Marcus. However, I'm a rabid self-educator and have a massive pile of university text books and reference books stacked precariously by my bedside. Most dear to me are:
Psychology: The Science of Behaviour (Canadian Edition) by Carlson, Bus-
kist, Enzle, Heth
Understanding Human Sexuality by Hyde, DeLamater, Byers
The Elements of Style (illustrated) by Strunk, White, Kalman
The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
—Rolf Klausener, The Acorn
35 Nick Thran
Coastline Variation #38
Enough about the "Blue Period."
Maybe Picasso's "Old Guitarist" was actually playing
for as long as he could hold his breath
under water. And those weren't the walls of the Parkview Arms
behind him, but the hull of a great ship,
one of those oil tankers that you can travel aboard
as a tourist, provided you don't mind the food
and stay out of the ship crew's way.
"Blue" is just one way of saying "submerged."
It's been a decade since we last heard from Jeff Mangum
and I'll wait for the next record for as long as I have to.
He had to come up from giving all of himself
to that depth and that wreckage.
"Silence" is digging your feet into white sand,
extra ice please and a cocktail umbrella.
While they unload the oil-drums
you can wile away time by just breathing.
You wouldn't believe the fresh air!
36     PRISM 46:3 The Good People of
Newmarket and Aurora
It's not easy for her on the phone to describe
the whales who breached metres from her off the shore.
I used to freak out at these pauses, just her breath on the line.
I used to need booze and loud music to sleep when she left
for the coast. Now, just some steady rain over the roof.
Bass shakes the windows sometimes when a car drives by.
A car drives by. Then a deep calm descends on the house.
37 Lee Henderson
Search & Discover
It's about the search. The discovery of gold among the shale. The
curiosity, what's under that rock. The obsession. Among music collectors there is even a designation for the obsessive audiophile: The
Completist. I began my search for music at an early age, starting with my
parents' record collection, and then after buying Run/DMC's Raising
Hell on cassette in 1986, I was hooked. From then on, I started buying
many thousands upon thousands of dollars' worth of cassettes, vinyl and
CDs. Now with the Internet, I listen to even more music but I spend
much less. I learned early on that the more diligently I searched, the
better the results. By allowing myself to follow my curiosity, I believe
I became more open-minded. Once I'd bought a Boredoms album, I
was invested in the effort to understand them, and so even before I fully
understood them I was on my way to buying everything I could find by
By being this curious, I find the effort very often pays off. After a
few years of obsessively searching for music, your taste can sometimes
broaden and, just as often, can narrow. A narrow focus can mean you
are more critical, knowledgeable, elitist, but it can also mean that you
get more pleasure out of the small miracles within a genre—the surprising adaptations between artists and from year to year. I also find I enjoy
less and less music the more actively I pursue the music I listen to. The
qualities that make for great music are distinguishable, and once you
get an ear for the good stuff, nothing else will do. Amazing music exists
everywhere in all genres at all times throughout our entire history. It is
a daily requirement, like bran, water and dark chocolate. I often search
for years within a very narrow focus. Tiny European labels. Well-organized American indie rock. Local stuff. I am not so dedicated as some
Completists, who must own everything. But I like to own a lot. I always
listen to all types of music, but when I'm focused, I'll search for years to
understand a particular genre.
A girlfriend and I were in Chapters and she asked me a multiple
choice question from a quiz in a magazine she was reading. "You love
music that makes you feel...."
I thought for a moment and said, "Scared."
She looked at the options and said, "Scared is not an option."
38     PRISM 46:3 But this remains true—I like music that scares me. I want to find the
scariest of the newest, the most brave of the previous. A lot of people like
music to make them feel sad, or pumped up, but I like to be frightened
by music. When the music sounds so unreal that I don't know what to
think, and I didn't expect anyone to make music like what I'm hearing,
then I am extremely curious. Professional pop artists don't fascinate me.
I want to hear difficult music. I want to hear music from Indonesia. I
want to understand, even if it means giving up my idea of what music
is and being faced with the possibility that music is also something else.
Music is four minutes long. Music is five seconds long. Music is one hour
long. Music is a hundred years long. Music is made by humans. Music is
made by nature. Music is made by machines. Music is made by transmission.
When you listen to a genre of music very closely, with great attention to detail, you can have that feeling of fear and discovery within
the smallest fraction of innovation. Many times people are turned off
by new music because they fear that music is changing too fast, and the
bands they know and already like are good enough, and new discoveries
aren't welcomed, new artists are trashed, hated, resented. Resented for
succeeding, for dethroning. As a listener, music is a very geographical
experience—you can stay in your own familiar lands, or seek out new
experiences, curious like Columbus. Any music that scares me when I
first discover it is already invariably very familiar and beloved by another group of people. I'm never the first person to discover a new sound,
because there's no such thing as a first discovery, not for a listener, an
enthusiast. It is a constant game of catch-up. For instance, I still have not
listened to enough Giacinto Scelsi.
39 Colleen Thomas
The Little Musician
40     PRISM 46:3 Fumiko Hayashi
translated from the Japanese by Mariko Nagai
Excerpt from Prologue to
The Song of Wandering Years
I am a born wanderer. I do not have a home. My father was born in Iyo,
Shikoku and was a peddler of cotton and woolen goods. My mother
was the daughter of a hot spring inn owner in Sakurajima, Kyushu. She
was outcast from Kagoshima because she fell in love with an outsider.
My parents eventually settled down at Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where I was born. Since they could not turn to their respective
homes for support, they chose to live a nomadic life. As their child, I can
also find my home only by travelling. Destined to become a wanderer, I
have mixed feelings for this song expressing a longing for home. My father had amassed quite some wealth auctioning silk goods in Wakamatsu,
but we would not savour the sweetness of success for long. When I was
just about eight, a gale swept away the harmony in our little family. My
father brought home Hama, a geisha who had run away from Amakusa
near Nagasaki. My mother and I left home right after the snowy Lunar
New Year. And Wakamatsu was a place that you could reach only by
41 The sky over Nougata was charred and dark day and night. The town
was like its sand-filtered water, rich in iron, curling the tongue with its
bitterness. It was July when we settled down in a boarding house called
Umaya, the Horse Inn, in Taishomachi. As always, I was left behind. My
parents went away in a rented cart piled with wicker trunks full of knitted
cloths, socks, new muslins and bellybands. They pushed the cart around
to peddle their wares in coal mine and porcelain factory towns.
Taishomachi was a new and unfamiliar place for me. With three sen
tucked in my sash, I went to play in town every day. It wasn't bustling
with life like Mondo. It wasn't a beautiful city like Nagasaki. It wasn't
even a town of beautiful women like Sasebo. It was a town where sooty
roofs yawned indistinguishably on both sides of the road uneven with
charcoals. Sweet shop, noodle shop, junk shop, rental bedding store—a
town almost like a cargo train. At the entrances to these shops, unhealthy-
looking women with sharp eyes paced. They seemed very different from
the women on the streets who, under the hot July sun, wore dirty petticoats and sleeveless undershirts. In the afternoons, they could be seen in
groups of three and five, carrying shovels or empty mats and chattering
all the way toward their flat houses. The traditional song of Oitokosoudayo
was popular at that time.
42     PRISM 46:3 When I couldn't sell fans anymore, I began to sell sweet buns for one
sen a piece. I used to walk the short, four-kilometre road to the mine,
resting a while and snacking on these buns. At that time, my father got
into a fight with a miner over some thing, and sulked about in the inn
with a bandage around his head. My mother hawked bananas at a stall
right near Taga Shrine.
My mother did a good business selling banana bunches to the countless
miners coming out of the station. After I was done with selling sweet
buns, I would leave the basket with my mother and play inside the shrine.
Along with many men and women, I prayed to the bronze horse statue
for good luck. It always rained during the Taga Shrine Festival. Hawkers
travelling from the station would look up at the sky as they walked.
43 My mother suffered from neuralgia in the fall, so she stayed home for
many days and my father brought back only forty yen from the sale of
the farm. With that money, he bought some porcelainware and went
away to Sasebo, leaving us behind. "I'll call for both of you soon," he
said as he got on the train with only a faded work cloth on his back. I
was still the sweet bun seller who couldn't take any days off. When it
rained, I went from one shelter to another all over Nougata, hawking
sweet buns. I will never forget this time in my life. It wasn't bothersome
for me to sell. As I walked from house to house, my handmade wallet
became heavier and heavier—five sen here, two sen, three sen there.
And I looked forward to going home to hear my mother praising me
for my smartness. We lived for two months, selling sweet buns. One
day, when I came home, my mother was sewing a beautiful light-green
coloured sash for children. "Where did you get that?" I stared in awe.
My mother said that Pa in Shikoku sent it to us. Soon afterwards, my
father came to pick us up, just like he promised. The three of us packed
up and got on the train to Oriso. I had walked along that road every day.
I felt sad as the train crossed the bridge over Onga River, watching the
white road along the embankment hued with sunset. A misted ship was
going upstream. The entire landscape was very dear to my heart. A man
hawking knickknacks like gold chains, rings, balloons and picture books
talked for a very long time with my father. Pa bought me a ring with a
pretty red glass.
Getting off at the station at the end of the world
Following the snow-lit road
I enter a sad town slowly
It's snowing. Remembering this poem by Takuboku, I feel something
close to homesickness. When I opened the window of the toilet, the
gate lamp lit dimly in the twilight, so beautiful, reminded me of the red
rhododendron I saw in the mountains of Shinshu long time ago.
44     PRISM 46:3 Sue Chenette
The Wild Parakeets of Paris
It's said their talons are keenly sharp,
a danger to children and pets. That their songs
at dusk are cadenced
like Piaf, or Georges Brassens. It's good luck,
or bad, to spot one in foggy weather.
If you find a jade feather
you'll fall in love in seven days.
Reports are heard of sightings
in the clipped chestnuts
that hedge le Jardin Marco Polo, or,
in le Jardin des Plantes, emerald flare
through the dark-needled canopy—though
no one has managed a photo, not even alert
jeunes hommes with digicams in their portables.
Some say they've migrated from Iran,
see in their Persian brilliance a warning,
sign of global warming.
Others claim they descend
from Ur-parakeets who darted
through an open window, leaving cuttle bone
and millet, calling the caged life quits.
The sightings are chancy as lightning,
as meteorites, or other random acts
of a god. Each stirs the debate
over what their presence means.
But those who see them sigh with delight,
the moment startled open—
a burst of green.
45 Jen Bills
I lost half my leg in the war but now I just attach my flute to my spring-
knee; walking home drunk I just pull out my flute and pee into it.
My ficus was dying so I stuck my flute in the soil and wrapped the stem
around it. Now it's doing fine.
I didn't learn the tunes for marching band so I just twirled my flute
with the baton corps.
My brother snuck into my lingerie drawer—saw a lace strap under his
door—so I beat his ass with my flute.
When I died I lay on the floor for seven days. My fluids soaked through
the floor. My flute stuck two of its keys on my eyes instead of quarters.
46     PRISM 46:3 Matthew Hamity
The Unlucky Few
Mother falls in love with a warthog on TV, a short round mother,
the perfect motherly shape.
Look, Kayla, Mother says. She's me with tusks.
Mother likes the way the warthog protects her piglets, always placing
herself between them and the danger. She smiles as the mother backs
into the burrow, blocking the entrance with her huge shovel of a head.
No enemies will taste the sweet hog-flesh of her children, not tonight.
I want to go to Africa, Mother says, the land of the true mothers.
I glance at her and then back at the TV. In the morning, the mother
summons her piglets from the burrow with a soft, low grunt. They follow in single file, prancing, stringy little tails erect. After a short journey,
they reach the grazing ground, where they dine on delicious tubers and
rhizomes. The camera pans to a pack of wild dogs lurking close by, half-
hidden in the high grasses. The mother fails to see them. She is too busy
eating, a momentary lapse into thoughts of her own need.
Mother screams, Watch out!
The chase does not last long. The wild dogs tear two of the piglets
apart, feasting on the entrails while the piglets still tremble and breathe.
I look at her and I say, Africa huh? I even let out a quiet laugh.
Someday, she says, you will make a terrible mother.
Ronny, Mother and I have flown only once, years ago, before the
divorce, when Father's best friend died in California. Father vomited
twice on the way there. We rented a car for the trip home.
I am missing three basketball games to go on this trip. I lied to my
coach. I told him that Mother was dying, that flying to Africa was her
final wish. But Mother is not dying. She is strong, healthy and pretty
(looks nothing like a warthog), and pretends to be desperate because
she's bored. She claims the trip is not such a big risk, though the airfare
alone is more than three thousand a person. She assumes Ronny will
earn a full ride for his brains, which I don't dispute (at thirteen years
old, he's already bussed to the high school for trigonometry and Modernist literature—classes I won't be taking until my junior year), but
she's crazy for counting on me to manage a basketball scholarship. She
47 doesn't listen when I explain that I'm not even the best freshman on the
team, that Carly Kaiser is better with her left hand, that I freeze up in the
And anyway, I don't give a fuck about college, I tell her. I just don't
want to go to Africa.
You're going, she says, because I need you to. Because you love me.
Oh, shut up.
You're going.
Because I don't have a choice.
Pressure swells in my ears. Mother is warthogging the armrest.
She interrogates me about the animals, about which ones I'm most
excited to see. Her breath reminds me of seaweed.
The pain in my head is thick. I pretend I'm underwater. I want to sink
away from her.
I can't hear you, I say, pointing to my bloated eardrums.
She asks me again about the animals, louder this time, and I shake
my head. I refuse the gum she offers. But a half hour later, while she's
absorbed in a romantic comedy, Ronny asks me to play Twenty Questions and I say, Sure.
One in the morning local time. A step outside the Kilimanjaro airport
and I can feel the sweat coming. The air itself is sweating.
There are no lions, no acacia trees, but there is a Pepsi vending machine. A pink-skinned guy with a Burberry safari hat is eyeing Mother.
She asks him where he got the hat and he says, Here, take it. I interrupt
when I spot a car with our last name in the windshield. Mother leaves
The road is a wide swath of concrete with no lanes. I have to shield
my eyes because everyone's driving with their brights. A white cross
looms and glows past. Our driver wears a leather jacket. He says, Jambo,
and nothing else. He has the radio turned on low. A man and woman are
speaking something that sounds to me like Hindi. I think it's Gujarati,
Ronny says.
I'm relieved when Mother decides not to bother the driver with small
talk. On roads like these, a driver needs to concentrate.
It seems my instinct for self-preservation remains intact. If I had any
courage, I'd be rooting for a crash.
48     PRISM 46:3 I sleep through most of our first day. Mother wakes me up to go meet
our guide in the Serena Lodge dining room. Sweetie, she says, kneading
my shoulders with her fingertips. Aren't you tired of being cooped up in
our dwelling?
Our dwelling? I say. Dwellings don't have indoor plumbing. Or televisions. This is a room.
There are some lovely papyrus-fringed ponds right outside, she says.
I'm pretty sure she's memorized the whole brochure.
She has young hands. Too smooth. On the tops of them, you can
barely see her veins.
I spring out of bed just to be rid of her touch.
And then she's knocking on the bathroom door, telling me to hurry
up. I brush my teeth an extra three minutes to fuck with her. She bursts
in and turns off the faucet. What are you doing? she says. She thrusts a
bottle of water in my hand. You know you're not supposed to drink the
How come this bathroom door doesn't lock?
I told you about the water.
I didn't swallow any.
Doesn't matter.
So am I gonna die?
Of course not.
Then what's the big deal?
You want to get sick? Is that it? You want diarrhea?
Yes, that's exactly what I want. How'd you guess?
In Tanzania, Ronny calls out, people die of diarrhea.
That sounds like a poem.
Just stay away from the tap okay? Mother says.
If I die, then can I go home?
His name is Hilary, he tells us, and his zoological specialty is birds.
None of us like birds, not even Mother, but she makes an "Ooh" sound
anyway, as if she came all this way to see vultures and blue-cheeked bee-
eaters (Hilary's favourite species).
He goes on and on about birds. Then he stops and looks at me.
You do not like birds? he asks.
What? No, birds are fine.
It is okay. I know about other animals also. What would you like to see?
I can't wait to see a lion, Mother says.
We will see lions, Hilary says.
And zebras, Ronny says. The zebras are plentiful.
Yes, Ronny, thousands of zebras. Hilary looks at me again. What
49 would you like to see?
I don't know.
Mother laughs. She's very shy, she says.
I want to say, How about a dead baby warthog? Maybe if Hilary
weren't staring at me, I would.
I'd like to see a rhinoceros, I say.
Well, they are endangered, he says. But for you, Kayla, for you I will try.
I can feel that I'm blushing. I try to hide my face with a napkin.
Mother places her hand on mine.
That's my girl, she says.
Ronny and I stay up late into the night. He says our circadian rhythms
are to blame.
The mosquito net around my bed is a giant wedding veil. I need to go
to the bathroom. I stay in bed, afraid of being bitten.
I want to ask Ronny what he thinks of Hilary, but I'm worried that
Mother is feigning sleep, that she'll suddenly open her eyes and laugh
and say, Well, I know what you think.
Our first time out in the Jeep, a zebra challenges me to a staring contest.
I last six seconds before my gaze drifts toward its swollen belly. I scan the
other zebras grazing nearby. Each has a similar bulge.
I imagine the fetuses inside them. I see them pushing and clawing at
the womb, doing somersaults that go nowhere, fetuses in washing machine stomachs. I wait for them to burst forth, drenched in placenta and
squealing, the plains littered with wrinkly striped mounds.
I ask Hilary where all the father zebras are.
He gives me a baffled look. Fathers?
If all the zebras I see are pregnant, I say, then there must be fathers
around somewhere.
Pregnant? He shakes his head and laughs. They are greedy, not pregnant.
I don't understand.
They are full of grass, he says, not babies. They eat and eat. He goes
so far as to make a munching noise.
Oh, I say.
Still, it is a few days before I learn to stop looking for the fathers.
50     PRISM 46:3 I am always sweating. I wear black to hide my pit stains. The sun punishes my vanity.
When we discover that zebra penises are black, not striped, we are all
disappointed, but it is Ronny who takes it hardest. Something must be
done. Mother spots a leopard in a tree. Look Ronny, she says, it is a miracle. My God. Such wonderful spots! She hands Ronny the binoculars.
Can't you see his penis? she asks. It's small, but it's there. Stare with all of
your might. I'm trying, Ronny says. His voice sounds like he's looking at
something dead. I take the binoculars from Ronny. I do not see a spotted penis. I do not see a penis at all. Mother pinches me. Why can't you
leave me alone? I ask. Please, she whispers, for Ronny's sake. Fine, I say,
it's the most beautiful penis in the world. Ronny takes the binoculars.
We sit and wait. After a half hour has passed, he finally says, I think I see
now. He lays the binoculars down and kisses Mother on the cheek.
On the third day, we see our first kill. Two lion cubs chase each other
around a zebra carcass. One of them holds what looks like an oblong red
ball in his mouth. I ask Hilary what it is.
That is the liver, he says.
Where? I don't see it.
It's right there, Mother, I say.
Mother is fidgeting with the new camera she bought for the trip.
Where's there? she asks.
There, I say.
I will take you closer, Hilary says.
Hilary drives us within ten feet of the pride. The adults lay pressed
close together, licking each other clean, their muzzles pink with dried
blood. The remains of the zebra are strewn beside them, the head intact
except for a missing eye, small chunks of meat still hugging the ribs and
spine. Having managed to rip the liver in two, the cubs now crouch on
the other side of the carcass, slapping their respective halves from one
paw to the other, a carnal crossover dribble.
The adult male sits up and stretches, back arched and rear end elevated, mane swaying in the breeze. He looks at us a few seconds. He
starts toward the Jeep.
Maybe we're a little too close.
Hilary brings a finger to his lips and shushes Mother. The lion is sniffing the tire directly below me.
Kayla, Mother whispers, move your face back a little.
Do not worry, Hilary says. The lion is only curious.
51 The lion begins to purr, a seismic vibration. He rolls his tongue over
the yellow points of his teeth.
Unlike humans, Ronny says, a lion can't afford to bite his tongue accidentally.
I am wondering if the lion has ever wounded himself in such an embarrassing way. I guess it'd be karma.
The lion glances up at me and opens his mouth wide.
Mother places her arm between me and the lion.
He's just yawning, I say and shove her arm away.
I move my face a bit closer to his jaws and a bit closer and a bit closer
until I can see the eyes of the flies on his face. Hilary pulls me back. His
hand is so warm on my shoulder.
Mother begins to cry.
I'm sorry, I say.
But she will not stop.
I'm sad, but not for her. I'm sad because he's let go of my shoulder.
I'm in love with the contrast of his arms and palms. I want to see the
bottoms of his feet.
Can a person help the smallness of her mind?
When we arrive at the hippo pool, Hilary says we can leave the car and
take pictures up close. The hippos are only dangerous when out of the
water. Mother stays in the Jeep, still sore with me from the day before.
You've already wasted your savings and two years' child support, I tell
her. Might as well enjoy it.
Go away, she says.
The pool reeks of feces, as you'd expect with forty obese animals
shitting out of forty gaping anuses in the same small body of water. Still,
the heinousness of the odour is impressive. I venture to stand a few feet
from the edge, and with Mother's camera, I take a good shot of a hippo
Hilary explains that the yawn is a demonstration of dominance, a
brazen invitation to battle.
A second hippo yawns back, his jaws open past ninety degrees, his
tusks thicker and sharper. The first hippo retreats, sinking his head entirely underwater except for his twittering ears.
Excuse me, Hilary says. He goes back to the Jeep. I watch him lean
against the door.
He is talking to Mother.
I try to think about the yawning, all of this yawning, lion-yawning and
52     PRISM 46:3 hippo-yawning, yawns of fatigue, yawns of anger, yawns of machismo. If
you're not familiar with the code of yawns, you'll end up dead.
What if they yawn because they're tired? I ask Ronny. You think the
other hippos could get the wrong idea?
I can hear Hilary saying something in falsetto and Mother giggling in
Ronny does not answer my question. He's looking behind us, where
an elderly couple is being led toward the pool by their guide. The man
wears a suit and his wife has on a lavender dress. I move aside while the
woman poses for a picture, the hippos snorting behind her, enormous
bubbles of flatulence rising to the surface. Ronny pinches his nostrils
shut. The woman does not smile, instead parting her lips slightly and
placing her hand, palm open, a few inches below her chin, a look of
wonderment on her face. Her chest inflates with a great inhalation just
before the guide takes the shot.
I am determined not to look back at the Jeep. Mother is still giggling.
Why can't she laugh like an adult? Like a mother?
Then it is the husband's turn, and he poses in exactly the same manner, the same expression on his face. The guide offers to snap a picture
of the husband and the wife together, but they decline. He takes several
more photos of the couple, one of them always off to the side, patiently
waiting, while the other stands, mouth open, breathing in deeply before
the flash. Finally, they return to their car.
I steal a glance. Hilary is pointing at the horizon, elephants silhouetted against the gold sky. Mother is quiet now.
He turns away from her to chat with the other guide. Mother pretends
to stare into the distance as she eavesdrops on their conversation. She listens for tone. But it's useless. They could be calling her a stupid Yankee
cunt and she'd have no idea. I'm glad to see her struggling again.
The elderly couple sits in their Jeep, the husband in front and the wife
in back. They are both waving goodbye to the hippos.
You know, I say to Ronny, if our parents had been more like that
couple, I bet they'd still be together.
With finger and thumb still squeezing his nostrils closed, Ronny says
in a voice exaggeratedly nasal, I'd prefer parents who get the hell away
from each other at the first whiff of dung to parents who just stand there,
sucking it in.
But that couple did seem happy, I persist.
Seemed, he says.
Of course, in all likelihood, Ronny is right.
53 Hilary meets us at our room with a baobab flower for my mother. She
places the flower behind her ear and touches his hand. The flower is
enormous and virginal white and makes her face look small and, for the
first time, old. No. I'm lying. She looks beautiful.
Hilary says, Madame, gives her his arm, and they head out for a drink of
refreshment, as he calls it.
I decide I will wait up all night. This has nothing to do with my circa-
dian rhythms.
Mother returns four hours later. I pretend to be asleep.
If we see two animals mating today, I will call them whores.
There is lust lurking behind every single kindness. I am not naive.
Outside of a Masai village, I find a dog. I refuse to pass through the
thorn-tree door to the kraal. I will stay with the dog. We play fetch with
a stick while Mother and Hilary and Ronny visit the clan. I can hear the
children singing inside. I can see Mother with her bag full of goodies,
doling out pens and pads of paper and sticks of sugarless gum to the
children, patting their heads and remarking on the wonderful texture
of their hair. I can see the smile on her face, the smile that comes from
finally living out this maternal fantasy. Is that why she dragged us here
halfway around the world, so she could mother children with more conspicuous needs?
Each time I throw the stick, a part of me fears the dog will not return.
Each time that he comes back, I rejoice anew. Fetch is a game of great
risks and rewards.
Later, when Mother calls me a selfish brat, I will tell her this: I needed
to be with a familiar animal for a while.
Mother wears the baobab flower again tonight, though it's already wilting. Hilary brings her a fresh one, which she slides behind the other
You know bats pollinate those things, I say. Ronny told me.
So what, Mother says. I don't mind bats.
Oh right, you're a huge bat fan. Come on.
I like bats, says Ronny.
Me too, Hilary says. Of all mammals, only bats may fly.
54     PRISM 46:3 I am watching a herd of wildebeests stampede off of a cliff.
Contrary to popular zoological belief, they do not follow blindly one
after the other.
One jumps because it never knew its father, one jumps because of a
lover lost long ago, lost to a more fertile partner, one jumps because of
God, cursing Him with its last breath, and one jumps because it knows it
deserves to die. Each wildebeest has its reasons.
Soon a pile forms in the valley below, wildebeests falling upon wildebeests, building something together, the foundation strong as death.
The pile grows and grows and grows, so that when it comes time for
the very last to make their final jumps, something terrible happens: cushioned by the most mammoth pile of broken bodies this world has ever
seen, these unlucky few survive.
One night, while Ronny's in the shower washing off the bug spray and
the sunscreen that Mother makes us apply so generously every morning
and afternoon, Mother decides she cannot hold it in any longer.
I wish Hilary could come back with us, she says. She sits on the bed
hugging her knees to her chest like a girl.
I can picture them parked in our backyard, cameras shuttering as they
marvel at the chipmunks. Hilary nearly wets his pants at the sight of a
blue jay on the branch of an evergreen.
He is such a beautiful black man, Mother says.
Yes, for a black man, I say, it's remarkable how civilized he is.
He could almost pass for white with those exquisite manners.
Forget it. I don't know why I thought I could—
Guess what. The fruit on the baobab trees, it's called monkey bread.
Can you believe that?
Does everything that comes out of your mouth have to be ugly?
I don't know. Hey, did you take pictures while he fucked you?
Oh my God.
He'll look great mounted on the living room wall.
Just stop. Please.
We could even put him opposite the window so that on sunny days,
his black skin would shimmer.
Ronny and I shoot pool in the lodge's game room. He's stripes and I'm
solids, or as Ronny says, he's zebras and I'm zebra penises.
I chalk up my cue while he shoots. I close my eyes and listen to the
sound of the balls clicking against each other.
55 Sorry we never saw any rhinos, Ronny says.
That's okay. I've seen them at the zoo a bunch of times.
The zoo isn't Africa.
You're right, I say. The zoo's way better.
When it's my turn, I've got several point blank shots, but I cut one of
the zebra penises in the far corner pocket instead. I am good at this game
and prefer it to basketball. Upon getting home, I will quit the team, and
then Mother can go scrounging for billiards scholarships.
I ask Ronny if he thinks Mother and Hilary are fucking goodbye.
I hope so, he says. Intercourse has its health benefits.
I'm being serious, Ronny.
So am I, he says.
I pocket another zebra penis in the corner and lay my head on the
blue felt, watching as the cue ball draws back toward me. It stops just
short of my nose.
Don't worry, he says. You'll get laid eventually. Everybody does. It's
like dying.
Yet I can't imagine either happening to me.
56     PRISM 46:3 Jesse Patrick Ferguson
An isosceles triangle
nips and flits
audibly in the aspen boughs
above my opened book,
reproaches the loose
geometry of greening buds.
Nothing but uncanny
angularity of sound
(as far as I can see).
Now laying-to in earnest,
it wrenches the cadenza
of known song inside out,
a familiar clarion
inverted like the dry snake skin
I found by the trail's mouth
in Odell Park.
This bright new carillon
writ small and skewed—
untarnished coins tumbling
into the mind's cup.
Heather Jessup in
conversation with
Anne Simpson
g'ki), *.; pi.
Any one of
of animals; es-
f the smaller,
is. Monkeys
animals, found
jpical forests of
, Africa, and
Their food con-
leaves, insects,
— a. To act as
This interview took place over a weekend in November at Heather's kitchen table
in Halifax. Anne's daughter Sarah was also present. We listened to music and
drew and collaged while we talked. The musical selections and drawings that accompany the interview are a part of our conversations.
Trio de Guitares de Montreal (Glen Levesque, Marc Morin, Sebas-
tien Dufour)—Garam Masala
AS: I was walking early in the morning with my friend not long ago,
telling her I had finished my novel, Falling, and that the characters had
stayed with me, because I liked them and didn't want to let go of them
quite yet. She said, "It must be the adult version of having imaginary
friends." And so, while we were walking, I began to think of writing
fiction as a kind of play that we do, so we can have imaginary friends
to keep us company. No wonder we are so solitary—we have our imaginary friends. And then I thought, "Oh—is that all it is?"
HJ: But imaginary friends get to be so much more adventurous than we
do. You can imagine an imaginary friend in all of these terrible circumstances that you might not want to attempt, but then it's a little bit safer,
because they've attempted them.
AS: Yes, they've done it for us. One of my characters in my novel is a
daredevil at Niagara Falls. And so I have him doing things I would never
58     PRISM 46:3 dream of doing. But it's more about wanting to know why somebody
would do such wild things.
HJ: What kind of tricks does your character do? Does he go over
Niagara Falls in a barrel?
AS: He does. And he lives. It was just so interesting to research the history of the daredevils at Niagara Falls. One was called The Great Blondin.
He did all sorts of things on the tightrope. He didn't just walk across the
tightrope, he would take a little stove and in the middle he would cook
an omelette. Cook the omelette. Eat it. Then continue to the other side.
Do you have characters in the novel you're working on, After the Lightning Field, doing things that you've never wanted to do or that you've
always wanted to do?
HJ: I suppose I'm imagining what building a plane would be like. But
I've never wanted to build a plane. I'm writing more for the sake of
understanding a person—my grandfather, who I don't know very well.
He helped build the Avro Arrow during the Cold War, and has always
spoken about that time in his life with an excitement and sense of possibility. I want to know why. I love the research, too. The part of me that
spread all the picture encyclopedias out on the floor as a kid gets excited
by new words like "vortexing" and "oblique shockwave."
How does it feel for you to be done Falling, aside from missing your
imaginary friends?
AS: Towards the end of the editing process, McClelland & Stewart invited blurbs for it, and those people who gave endorsements had to read
the novel. I found their responses to it were helpful because so few people—besides my agent, my editor and another writer—had read it.
HJ: Was this deliberate? Did you have a lot of people reading your first
novel and decided on a different approach?
AS: No. It's just that I had a great deal more trouble getting this one written, though in the end it became a much more compelling book for me
to write. I had to ask what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong,
and be very critical about it and throw out all that was wrong. Then I
started again with this very lean bit I'd saved, and I kept going.
HJ: What kept you going?
59 AS: I said to my husband, "I'm going to throw this in the garbage." He
said, "Don't. Hang onto it. For six months more, just hang onto it. In six
months if you really think you need to throw this out, well then do it, but
not now. See what you can do." And that was very helpful. Have you
ever had that sense yourself? Have you ever had a period of time when
either you could not write or the work wasn't doing what you wanted?
HJ: Absolutely. I usually take two approaches. I either force myself to
write so many pages a day no matter how terrible they are, or I stop writing. Because sometimes it's useless. Sometimes forcing myself to write is
doing more harm than helping. I know a lot of people say, "Keep writing through it, just keep up the practice of writing, write through those
silences." I think that's important to a point, but then I also think that
sometimes, when you're having a really bad day or a really bad week,
it's actually better to go plant tulip bulbs or cook a lot of food.
AS: Or do a laundry.
HJ: Yes! Do a laundry! I think that's actually more productive, for the
reason that, I think, if you're obsessive enough to be a writer, you're
thinking about the writing anyway, whether or not you want to be. Even
at the Laundromat, it's at the back of your head.
AS: I do think that novels are happening in our heads. Often they're happening for years before we ever get anything down on paper. Sometimes
it's a miraculous thing that a novel actually gets put down on paper. But
it's also a miraculous thing that we get to carry worlds around with us,
bear these worlds in us, and then make them into books.
HJ: The other day I was doing the dishes. I was standing there thinking,
I should be writing, and then I had this image of my characters as if they
were in a dollhouse and I had been playing with them earlier and they
were just lying in the same position that I'd left them in. The one in the
kitchen is in the middle of taking an axe to the table that her husband
had built for her. There she is, loose in this dollhouse with an axe, sort of
now frozen halfway to the kitchen floor.
AS: And you left here there?
HJ: I left her there.
AS: How old is she?
60     PRISM 46:3 HJ: In this scene? Thirty-five, maybe forty. It's interesting what you were
saying about bearing these worlds in us. Sometimes I think about the fact
that I've been working on this project fairly steadily for six years, on and
off, interspersed with working and teaching. And it occurs to me that I
could have had a child six years ago and then I'd have a six year old! But
I've been working on this novel for six years and I have nothing! Well,
I certainly have something, and I've sort of nurtured these people along,
and disagreed with them, and had clashes with them. Is there something
to the Imaginary Friend Theory? Is writing like a birth of some kind?
AS: One thing is, when you're pregnant and about to give birth, there
is no stopping any of that process. Whereas writing a book—you can
stop it, or you can start it. It's like the person in the dollhouse with your
fictional characters, making them do this or that. So much of becoming
a mother had nothing to do with me. So much had to do with biology
and the way things happened.
HJ: Like you were being written instead? Sort of like when you're a
writer, you get to do the writing, but when you're a parent, you're being
written by your children?
AS: My daughter is sitting right here, listening to every word we say!
Yes, being written upon. And it's true that even when your children are
very young, it's not as if you can shape them. They write themselves.
They are exactly who they are.
HJ: Canterbury Beach, your first novel, is sort of about this. There's the
mother and the father. The pilgrimage to the family cottage. And the
children not doing what their parents had imagined for them.
AS: Acting out.
HJ: Even as adults.
AS: In fiction, it's the relationships between people that fascinate me.
How does this person respond to this person, when one of them makes
a mistake, for instance?
Gypsophilia—Minor Hope
HJ: What would you say is the difference between poetry and fiction,
having written both?
61 AS: Poetry is not as intricately bound up in relationships, in the sense of
seeing a relationship through, say, from beginning to end, or from characters meeting each other to separating or parting from each other.
HJ: Is poetry only moments of pure grace or beauty? Sadness, elegy?
AS: Poetry can be those things, yes—its range is vast. And there s often
a clear argument going on within a poem, in the sense of the idea. It's
a way of revealing or illuminating things—Louise Gliick does this very
well. In some of her poems there's an ominous sense, a quality of foreboding. You think, "What will happen to these two? I don't know how
it will go."
HJ: Like her gardener and flowers in The Wild Iris!
AS: Yes. The poems in that book are developed out of a sense of tension
between voices—the push and pull of tension—which we think of as being quite a fictional thing.
HJ: What is happening when two voices are brought into a poem?
AS: Voices often help to drive something through. But how do you drive
it through? It's easier when you have one voice against another voice.
And then something comes from these two voices set against one another. The poet Paul Celan says that poetry "intends another, needs this
other, needs an opposite, it goes towards it, bespeaks it." (Celan is quoted
as saying this by Gerald Bruns, in his book, Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal
of Philosophy). Poetry, well, all literature, seeks another person—it's seeking out the other.
HJ: So poetry can be dialogic?
AS: Yes, I think so.
k.d. lang—Hymns of the 49th Parallel
HJ: You mentioned to me that you've recently been thinking about metaphor and spatial imagination. Could you say more?
AS: I've been writing this piece—a short essay—about one line from
Jan Zwicky's Wisdom and Metaphor. It's the line, "Both a metaphor and a
geometrical demonstration say: 'Look at things like this.'" This was the
62     PRISM 46:3 line necessary to be able to discuss spatiality. A few years ago, I had been
mulling over this question: "What shape would metaphor take if it took
a shape?" And so I began to think, Well, it could be a Mobius strip. It's a
two-sided figure, and yet with the half-twist in it, it appears to have only
one continuous side. Oh, that's such a great figure for metaphor. I began
fiddling with what a Mobius strip might be if it were written in the form
of a continuous strip, and then that evolved into an actual
poem in Loop. But later I thought about it some more, and I
began thinking in terms of the Klein bottle, which is a structure in topology. It looks like a bottle, but a bottle that sort of
twists around. It's strangely shaped, but oddly beautiful.
HJ: So the Klein bottle is sort of a three-dimensional Mobius
AS: Well, if a Klein bottle was cut along its plane of symmetry, you'd
see two Mobius strips—one with a right-handed half-twist, and the other
with a left-handed half-twist.
Again, what I saw in the Klein bottle was an image for metaphor—I
wanted to be able to see it. So I wrote a letter to Jan Zwicky, all excited
about it. But then, you know, a while after that, my interest (in trying
to see metaphor three-dimensionally) diminished. Still, for that time, I
thought I needed to see it spatially. I was trying to find a metaphor for
metaphor. And you can't do it. Metaphor is any number of shapes; it's
really protean in the sense of being many. It's multiple—its gesture is
multiple. So you're never going to find some three-dimensional image
that fits it.
HJ: Zwicky has the image of the duck-rabbit. It's
two shapes at the same time, there's not any separating them, it's just a trick of vision. A gestalt image,
I think it's called.
AS: And the face and the vase.
HJ: Yes.
AS: What's interesting too is that it takes time to go from
one shape to the next. It takes a while to go from the faces to the vase
and back again. The experience is not just happening in space, but in
time as well. But again, it's a picture that makes a gesture in the way
metaphor makes a gesture.
Illustrations on this page by Colleen Thomas.
63 Feist—The Reminder
HJ: Do you think all writers think so meta-metaphorically about what
they're writing? Do you find it useful? Because I find that thinking about
writing is very different than getting down to the writing itself. When you're
writing a metaphor, are you thinking, Does this metaphor take a Mobius
strip shape?
AS: Most of the time I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, I
just do it. Don't you?
HJ: When metaphor happens for me it is more like a form of attention. I
have spent a long time looking at something and then all of a sudden I see
it differently. It becomes two things at once. Like the images we've talked
about, I suppose. But I do find my brain is divided. I love thinking about
what is happening when metaphor happens, and I love when a metaphor
graces me after I've been still for a while, but I can't do both at once. Do you
think that thinking about writing and metaphor is connected to when you
sit down and do it?
AS: All I know is that I like to think about the process of writing. So if I
write essays about the process, I can examine it. I can think about how, for
instance, if metaphor comes up in fiction it's different than when metaphor
comes up in poetry. Do you find that?
HJ: I feel that when I read a metaphor when I'm reading fiction it's like finding a good rock or a sea shell, it's like "Oh yes!" But in poetry it's more like
the cornerstone to a building. Without metaphor would you have a poem?
It seems more central to the way of thinking...
In A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory, where you have the essay "Orpheus Recalling Eurydice," Jan Zwicky has an essay in that collection too—
"Lyric, Narrative, Memory" I think it's called—that speaks, in her beautiful
aphoristic form, about the difference between narrative and lyric thinking.
And this is a debate I've had often with many of my good friends. I would
like to think that good fiction is a sort of metaphor as it's happening.
AS: Yes. Fiction's wildly different than poetry, because it runs along a continuum. And, as Jan says, narrative has to do with "and then, and then, and
then," as opposed to "this, this, this." But the interesting thing in fiction is
that what you do is create an extended metaphor, in that you create a whole
world as opposed to something sharper and more explosive, as you might
have in a poem.
64     PRISM 46:3 HJ: I have to concede that, yes, there is a difference between narrative
thinking and metaphorical or lyrical thinking. I think that lyric thinking
is somehow more condensed. It has ferocity. Intensity.
AS: Because of the compression?
HJ: I think because it's so compressed. Or a distillation somehow? It's a
potent liquid compared to narrative. Although I know in writing fiction
you still have to consider every single word. And books that don't consider every word bother me. People say, "Well, if you're writing a novel
you can get away with blah blah blahing for a bit." But you can't. I don't
want to read blah fiction. I notice when a book blah blahs.
AS: I know what you mean exactly. Everything has to have a reason for
being there. And something has to be at stake. It's also true that narrative depends more on story, and if it works well, as Aristotle would say,
it has unity—it's all of a piece, with a Tightness to the beginning, middle
and end. I think that it's because poetry doesn't happen in the same way
that its potency is created. The lyric line is vertical and slices through
time, whereas narrative is horizontal. We're used to that horizontal line
because our lives run in that way. We go from Sunday to Saturday. Poetry takes us by surprise—it doesn't have to happen between Sunday
and Saturday. It doesn't depend on chronological time, or a sequence
of events, in the same way. So what we're seeing in poetry's distillation
or condensation of things, its compactness—it may be because poetry is
outside time.
Gonzales—Solo Piano
HJ: I have a question about the connection between music and reading
for you. And perhaps this is also a question about silence. I heard you
read the first poem in Quick, "Clocks of Rain," and I remember the entire
silence of the room changed when you started to read. The content certainly had people's attention—it's about a car accident—but it was the
rhythm, the quickness, the timing, the breath, that made people buckle
over. I remember people talking afterwards and saying, "You got a car
accident completely right. That was exactly how it felt. The pausing,
stopping, starting, speeding up; all of the different times happening all at
once." And I think there is this connection between poems and music.
Do you have to practice reading, like practicing piano? Do you have to
find the pauses or does the music come naturally with the words you
65 AS: I think the white spaces between stanzas, or just the white spaces
that are created in a poem, however you do it, are important. It's good
to stop, when you're reading, to give weight to those silences that you've
actually put in the poem. It's doing an injustice to the poem if you don't
give that space all around it. And people will sit for a long period of time,
because they know you'll start talking again. You can count the beats of
the silence. And they're waiting, waiting for you to go on—so when I
read this poem out loud to people, I'm aware, in a certain sense, of what
it might be like to play a piece of music to them if I were a musician. In
this poem I wanted to do justice both to the silence and the words. The
words all come in a rush and then the silence is very stark by comparison. But the poem was hard for me to write because I didn't know how
to get a sense of shock into it.
HJ: How do you convey shock in a poem?
AS: For me it had to do with repeating things, or perhaps it was more
like circling, in order to go in a different way, to veer off. And in novels
too, I've noticed that this same strategy has come up. In Falling, my
main character Damian, who is an artist, has a time of breaking down,
and so everything changes in the novel. It's almost as if there are shards
on the page in one section, like poems. And his mind is also fragmented
and different than it was before. It's an indication to the reader that he
is different.
HJ: And the space on the page, too, indicates this?
AS: Yes, the space on the page. In Yann Martel's novel, Self there's a
scene, if I can call it that, in which a woman is raped. The pages at that
point are divided in a particular, visual way—it's very compelling. Another strategy was used by Damon Galgut in his novel, The Quarry. There
are two main characters in that book: a police officer and a fugitive. At
a certain point, one is chasing the other. The words actually chase one
another. And I thought, That's a wonderful way of marrying form and
content, in the way that poems do. I think there are possibilities like this
in the writing of the novel. Of course, you still have to tell a story and
make it powerful, but there's no reason we can't use some of the techniques we employ in poetry when we write novels.
HJ: It's strange, though, how we still have to use words as writers to get
across these silences. But in using words we're also automatically breaking the silence.
66     PRISM 46:3 AS: I wonder, though, if there is a novel wherein I've felt a kind of silence. I know in Virginia Woolf's The Waves there is a kind of silence. Of
course it takes the shape of words, but there is a silence. I don't know
who is thinking it.
HJ: Bernard? On the train?
AS: Yes. Do you have a copy?
HJ: [Gets up and finds her copy of The Waves]
AS: Oh, look. You have the same passage underlined: "But how describe
the world without a self? There are no words. Blue, red—even they distract, even they hide with thickness instead of letting the light through.
How describe or say anything in articulate words again?—save that it
fades, save that it undergoes a gradual transformation, becomes, even in
the course of one short walk, habitual—this scene also. Blindness returns
as one moves and one leaf repeats another."
HJ: And this silence is something you have attempted in both your poetry and your fiction.
AS: Well, when this character of Damian begins to break down in Falling, I needed to create silence. It might have been an attempt to create
a kind of stoppage, or a series of stoppages, in the novel. This is nothing
new, of course. The section in which Quentin is about to commit suicide
in The Sound and Fury is impregnated with silences. Lots of things happen, but there are stoppages too.
Oliver Schroer—Camino
HJ: It's interesting that you employ space in your novel, similar to the
space around a poem, to indicate silence—and that you have also been
thinking of the Klein bottle as a shape for metaphor. A lot of your thinking around writing is connected to the spatial or visual, wouldn't you
AS: Well, I spent a few years doing art before I settled into writing.
So maybe that's why. But I'm curious about how we think in spatial
terms—I was thinking about it today while I was on the bus. The man
across the aisle from me was blind. And I'd written about a blind man in
Falling, and at the time I wondered about whether the blind think in the
67 same spatial terms as sighted people, or whether they consider space in
a completely different way. Yesterday I was re-reading Touching the Rock
by John M. Hull, a memoir about a man who goes blind as an adult.
I was looking for what he had to say about spatial imagining. He has
a passage about how if you're blind and it's a sunny day, it doesn't do
much for you, but a windy day has more dimensions. And a rainy day
has more dimensions again because you might hear the rain on the roof
of the house opposite. The world would be enlarged—it would have a
different shape. But snow is a kind of fog for the blind, because everything changes. There's the potential to become lost, since all the known
landmarks are covered.
HJ: What made you want to write from the perspective of a blind man?
Was it partly because you think so visually?
AS: It must be the question of, If we have to deal with things in our lives,
things that would challenge us, how would we respond? Don't you think
fiction is a kind of imagining the world for yourself and others if it were
like this?
HJ: The sense of possibility without danger or worry?
AS. Yes.
HJ: Like writing about your Niagara Falls stuntman.
Camille—Le Fil
AS: Do you use visual elements to get into your novel as you begin to
write? Do you ever put up photographs?
HJ: I've had various images up while I write. One is of a postcard of
the plane that I'm writing about. It's a black and white photograph of a
crowd gathered around the plane. Colour has been added to the image
afterwards, almost a technicolour wash. And this is actually how I'd like
people to see the book coloured, if that makes sense. Another image
is on the wall behind me. It's an old sepia photograph that I found in
a history of photography book at a church bazaar. There's a woman, a
ballerina, standing on a bareback horse, galloping around a circus ring.
I saw it and thought, That is how I feel when I'm writing! So, that stays
on my wall because it helps me remember, Okay, it's okay, just stay balanced on the horse!
68     PRISM 46:3 AS: Is that how you feel when you're revising? Do you still feel like the
woman who's up on the horse with her arms outstretched?
HJ: Yes, revising is definitely about balancing and hanging on. Although
I think revising might feel a bit more like a fancy occasion if I was dressed
in a tutu like she is! What do you put on your wall? Do you have images
up when you write?
AS: With this book, I went to the town of Niagara Falls and saw certain houses that made me think, Oh, so-and-so would live in this house.
There's a really beautiful old mansion right near the Niagara Gorge, for
instance, and I thought, That's the house where Ingrid and Roger grew
up. There was another derelict house on Stanley Street, and I thought,
That's the kind of house that Jasmine, the young girl who comes from
Saskatchewan, would rent. And so I took pictures—surreptitiously—of
these places, and then it was so much easier to write.
HJ: Did you take photographs of the Falls?
AS: Yes. And I had maps of the city and the region.
HJ: Yes! Maps! Maps are so important when you're writing about a town
where you've never lived nor spent much time in, because you have to
sound like you've lived there—that your characters have lived there. I
have come to love maps through writing.
AS: What about music? Is there music that has helped you in the writing
of After the Lightning Field? In a way that is integral to it?
HJ: There are pieces of music that I've listened to over and over while
writing. But I need music to be in the background. I can't listen to music
with lyrics while I work. Gonzales' Solo Piano I have had on repeat again
and again while writing this book. The disc is beginning to skip. Erik Sa-
tie is another composer I love writing to. For the more intense moments,
Arvo Part. And a choral piece that I heard in a church once and have
never ever gotten over: Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere Mei Deus." Is there
a piece of music that is important to you? To any of your books?
AS: Oh, that's so interesting. Allegri's "Miserere" has been really important
to me too—when I first really heard it, it was at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it was part of an installation, Threshold to the Kingdom, by
Mark Wallinger. The music was combined with a film of people coming
and going at an arrivals area of an airport, but you couldn't hear what
69 they said—all you could hear was Allegri's music. It was a poignant juxtaposition.
HJ: I love thinking of that image! Of you, a poet, in an art gallery, finding a piece of music through a film installation. What a wonderful combination of artistic mediums all at once. I can see this broad range of
inspiration in your writing. You explore ekphrasis in your poetry fairly
often—you reference art as diverse as altar pieces and sculpture, willow-patterned plates and paintings. Have you ever tried to write about
music? Can it be done?
AS: The poet David Seymour wrote a fugue, "Fugue for the Gulf of
Mexico" in his book Inter Alia, and when I heard it read out loud, with
several voices, it was a revelation. I was aware of musicality in poems,
but I hadn't realized how it could give a poem structure. It could give a
poem both form and content. In the last six months, I've been thinking
about the Brandenburg concertos—just fiddling with the idea of how a
poet might approach the Brandenburg concertos as a sequence, a long
sequence, of poems. I like to think about it, but, you know, nothing has
come of it so far! But there's another composer, like Arvo Part, who has
been important to me—Gorecki.
Henryk Gorecki—Symphony No. 3
HJ: Can you describe what it is Gorecki is doing for you while you write?
Is the propulsion between the music and the words something that can
be explained?
AS: I'm not sure I can answer that question except in a roundabout way.
The first time I listened to Henryk Gorecki's music, I was staying for a
few days—to do some writing—in a Trappist abbey in New Brunswick.
When this CD, Gorecki's third symphony, was loaned to me, I was told
that I should concentrate fully on it when I had a chance. So I did. I
listened to it in the dark, in my small room in that abbey, with the moon
rising. It was winter, and very cold outside, and the moonlight on the
snow was brilliant. The music in the first movement has a slow, powerful
way of rising up. It captures yearning in a way I'd never experienced,
musically, before. I thought it could have cracked the world open.
I listened to the third symphony after that, on and off, as I wrote the
poems for Quick, and I also listened to it as I wrote, and revised, Falling. I
listened to lots of other kinds of music during that time, especially things
by Bill Evans, but there is something particularly haunting about the
70     PRISM 46:3 third symphony. You ask what Gorecki is doing for me while I write—
the best I can say is that his music returns me to the question of yearning.
Why do we desire, or yearn, especially if we don't know what it is we
long for? And how can we write about it? The very fact that these questions come up when I listen to this music is important to me, because it's
similar to what I'm trying to do in my writing.
HJ: Oh, Anne, thank you. Can we keep this music on?
71 Contributors
The Acorn is the on-going musical project of Rolf Klausener, Jeff De-
butte, Keiko Devaux, T.Jeffrey Malecki and Howie Tsui. Anchored by
vivid songwriting and eclectic instrumentation, The Acorn produces an
original brand of experimental, popular folk music that effortlessly marries modern and traditional forms. Recent albums: Glory Hope Mountain
(Paper Bag Records, 2007), Tin Fist (Paper Bag Records, 2006), Blankets!
(Kelp Records, 2005), The Pink Ghosts (Kelp Records, 2004). More at:
Anna Swanson lives in Vancouver where she works as a librarian and
occasionally still pays for her groceries with poetry money. She studied
creative writing at the University of Victoria, and her writing has appeared in anthologies and journals including CV2, Prairie Fire, Grain and
The Malahat Review.
Jen Bills is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and currently lives
in Chicago. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast,
POOL, The Malahat Review, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, The Pinch,
Puerto del Sol and others.
Sue Chenette won the Canadian Poetry Association's 2001 Shaunt
Basmajian Award for her chapbook, The Time Between Us. Her first full-
length collection, Slender Human Weight, is forthcoming from Guernica
Editions. A classical pianist who performs and teaches in Toronto, she
grew up in northern Wisconsin and has lived in Canada since 1972.
Jesse Patrick Ferguson is a poet who studies literature and currently resides in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is the author of four chapbooks,
most recently phoney phonemics (No Press, 2007). He is on the editorial
board of The Fiddlehead and plays the guitar, mandolin, pennywhistle,
bodhran and fiddle with varying success.
Stacey Hamilton's true love is illustration, though she does occasionally
sneak around with a little graphic design on the side. Her work includes
mostly portraiture and urban scenes. You can view more of her work on
her website:
72     PRISM 46:3 Matthew Hamity is a recent graduate of Columbia University's MFA
program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, Opium, Heeb and Knock. He currently works as an adoption counsellor at the
Humane Society of Silicon Valley.
Fumiko Hayashi (1903-1951) is considered one of the most important
writers to come out of the modern Japanese era. Her debut book, The
Song of Wandering Years, a roman a clef, is composed of poems, diary entries and letters that portray a woman struggling to make a living. When
this came out in 1927, it became an instant bestseller. As she writes in her
essay, "The initial feeling why I started writing The Song of the Wandering
Years was to create a sort of a shelter for my soul. I found consolation in
writing. At that time, I kept changing from one job to another and was
busy from working, I didn't have time to sit in front of a desk and write.
I wrote this in a diary format, writing when I had a moment, and they
slowly accumulated. In 1929, The Song of the Wandering Kara Volume 1
and 2 were published by Kaizo Publishing House."
Lee Henderson is the author of the award-winning short story collection The Broken Record Technique and the novel The Man Game. He is a
contributing editor to the art magazines Border Crossings and Contemporary
and has published fiction and art criticism in numerous periodicals. His
fiction has twice been featured in the Journey Prize Anthology. He lives in
Lawrence Hill's latest book is the novel The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins, 2007). He can be reached through his website: www.lawrencehill.
Heather Jessup teaches literature at Dalhousie and Saint Mary's Universities in Halifax. Her poetry, fiction and reviews have recently appeared
in The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire and Grimm Magazine.
This is the first excerpt of Heather's novel to be published, as well as her
first interview. She would like to thank Anne Simpson for the inspiring
conversations on Cascade Mountain and at kitchen tables.
Pasha Malla was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, grew up in London,
Ontario and now lives in Toronto. He is the author of The Withdrawal
Method, a book of short stories, the forthcoming poetry collection All our
grandfathers are ghosts, and about sixty gazillion emails.
73 Mariko Nagai, a graduate of the New York University Grad Creative
Writing Program, was the Remarque Fellow in Poetry. Her stories, poems and translations have appeared in New Letters, Gettysburg Review,
Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, 13th Moon and other journals. She's received Pushcart Prizes both in poetry and fiction. Currently, Mariko
teaches creative writing and Japanese literature at Temple University in
Tokyo, Japan.
Alison Pick was the winner of the 2005 CBC Literary Award for Poetry,
the 2003 National Magazine Award for Poetry and the 2002 Bronwen
Wallace Award for most promising poet under 35. Her second poetry
collection, The Dream World, has just been published by McClelland &
Stewart. The Sweet Edge, Alison's first novel, was a Globe and Mail Top
100 Book of 2005 and has been optioned for film. Alison Pick lives in
Toronto where she is at work on several new projects.
Eden Robinson is a Haisla woman who grew up near Kitimat, BC.
Her previous collection of stories, Traplines, was awarded the Winifred
Holtby Prize for the best first work of fiction by a Commonwealth writer,
and was a New York Times Editor's Choice and Notable Book of the
Year. Monkey Beach, Robinson's acclaimed first novel, won the BC Book
Prize for Fiction, was a finalist for the 2000 Giller Prize and the Governor
General's Award, and was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary
Award. Her latest novel is Blood Sports.
Adam Lewis Schroeder completed an MFA in Creative Writing at
UBC and has since travelled widely and published stories in more than
a dozen journals and anthologies. In 2001, his short fiction collection,
Kingdom of Monkeys, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award as the
year's best first collection by an English Canadian. His novel, Empress of
Asia, was published by Raincoast in 2006, and was a finalist for both the
Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and in Canada First Novel
Award. Adam lives in Penticton, BC, with his wife and sons.
Aaron Shepard graduated from the University of Victoria's creative
writing program in 2007. A former punk/funk drummer, fisheries technician and bush worker, he's now morphed into a birder and a bibliophile.
Currently, he's tidying up a short story collection.
Anne Simpson's novel, Falling, came out this year. Her third book of
poetry, Quick (2007), followed her second collection, Loop (2003), which
won the Griffin Poetry Prize. She lives and works in Antigonish, Nova
74     PRISM 46:3 Chris Smith makes things up and writes them down.
Nick Thran is the author of Every Inadequate Name (Insomniac), a finalist
for the 2007 Gerald Lampert Award. His poems have appeared recently
in Geist, Grain, Geez and the National Post.
Colleen Thomas lives in Vancouver, and is currently studying animation at Capilano College.
Bryan Webb is the guitarist/vocalist for Toronto-based band The Con-
stantines. Having toured extensively through the US, Canada and Europe since their Juno-nominated self-titled first album was released in
2001, The Constantines have earned a loyal following from music writers and music fans alike. Their fourth studio album, Kensington Heights, is
due out in April.
Stephanie Yorke lives in Fredericton. She has published poems in The
Fiddlehead, PRISM, Grain and QWERTY. She enjoys long walks on the
beach, complaining about the rock in her sandal. Seeks...
75 f
The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers
both a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and
a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative
Writing. The M.F.A. degree may also be
taken by distance education. See our
website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres,
including: Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Play, Screen & TV Play,
Radio Play, Writing for Children, Non-
fiction, Translation, and Song Lyrics &
Meryn Cadell
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Brian Brett, Sioux Browning, Catherine
Bush, Zsuzsi Gartner, Gary Geddes,
Terry Glavin, Wayne Grady, Sara Gr-aefe,
Stephen Hunt, Glen Huser, Peter Levitt &
Susan Musgrave
Faculty Good Reads
Book Club
Buy 10 General
(non-course) Books
at the regular price and get
of their value
off your next purchase of
regular priced General Books.
No time limits.
No membership fee.
Includes books in-store
and online.
Join at
or at any in-store cashier.
(604) 822-2665
Pt. Grey Campus
6200 University Blvd.
Vancouver, B.C.
Robson Square
800 Robson St.
Vancouver, B.C. D)>
One Winner will be awarded
CAN $1000;
Two Honourary Mentions will
be awarded CAN $250 each;
additionally, the chosen poems
will be highlighted in an
upcoming issue of Descant
Oct. 10 / 08
• Postmarked, and mailed to:
2009 Winston Collins /
Descant Prize Competition
P O Box 314, Station P
Toronto, ON / M5S 2S8
Feb. 20 / 09
• Winner & Honourary Mentions
will be announced Feb 20, 2009
2009 Winston
Collins / Descant
Prize for Best
Canadian Poem
Descant is pleased to announce the
2009 Winston Collins / Descant
Prize for Best Canadian Poem
This annual prize is awarded in
memory of Winston Collins, writer and
enthusiastic teacher of literature at the
universities of Cincinnati, Princeton and
Toronto. The prize will perpetuate his
remarkable talent for encouraging self-
expression through writing.
• Maximum entry length is 100 lines,
typed, double-spaced;
• Note that jury process is blind: the writer
should therefore not be identified on the
entry: include a separate cover sheet with
name, address, email & phone number,
and the title of the submitted poem;
• Previously published material, or material
accepted elsewhere for publication,
cannot be considered;
• Include a 5.A.S.E. (with appropriate
Canadian postage/ IRCs/ USD $1);
• Descant employees are not eligible to enter
• The judges for this year's competition are:
Nora Kelly and Eric Wright
(full Bios available at our website)
Entry Fee:
• $29 (includes GST + a one-year subscription;
make cheque or international money
order payable to: Descant):
• Multiple entries are allowed: however,
each entry must be accompanied by its
own entry fee;
• Note that current subscribers will receive
a one-year extension to their subscription
1 Winner: $1000 + 2 Honourary Mentions: $250 each is mignt put a
simile on your face
Enter Arc Poetry Magazine's
Poem of the Year Contest Now!
1st Prize $1500, 2nd Prize $1000, 3rd Prize $750
All award winning poems will be published in Arc and posted
on the Arc website, including Honorable Mentions and Editors'
Choice awards. Entry Fee includes a one year subscription to Arc.
Entry fee:
$23 for up to 2 unpublished poems
(maximum 100 lines each), plus $5 per
extra poem. See for
complete entry rules.
Send your entries to:
Poem of the Year Contest,
Arc Poetry Magazine
Box 81060,
Ottawa, Ontario
Deadline: June 30, 2008 I UBC Creative
' Writing
7 Program
Online Writing
Expand your horizons.
Broaden your scope.
Challenge yourself.
The Power ofMentorship
Booming Ground, Western Canada's pre-eminent online
writing studio, offers innovative, professional creative writing
mentorships in a variety of genres for writers of all levels. The
non-credit program of UBC's prestigious Creative Writing
Program, Booming Ground takes pride in matching some
of North America's best writing instructors with students all
over the world.
Manuscript evaluations
Receive a constructive written report from one of our
instructors evaluating your manuscript and providing
concrete suggestions for revisions and corrections.
New Courses!
We're pleased to now offer three new options, allowing
students to work in narrative non-fiction, creating a book
proposal and exploring poetic forms.
UBC Creative Writing
Booming Ground PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T1Z1
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T1Z1
Canada Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $46.00 (GST included).
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not accepted. Please make cheques payable to: PRISM international.
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Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $46.00 (GST included).
□ One-year subscription (4 issues): $28.00 (GST included).
Residents outside Canada please pay in U.S. funds. U.S. POSTAL monev orders are
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Province/State:  Postal/Zip Code:
□  Payment enclosed □ Bill me later
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Signature:	  PRISM is Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Translation & Creative Nonfiction
Inside the Music Issue
Sound Advice from Eden Robinson, Bryan Webb from
The Constantines, Alison Pick, Lawrence Hill, Chris Smith,
Nick Thran, Pasha Malla, Adam Lewis Schroeder,
Lee Henderson and Rolf Klausener from The Acorn
Heather Jessup in conversation with Anne Simpson
Illustration by Colleen Thomas
Lyrics by The Acorn
and new work from:
Anna Swanson
Jen Bills
Sue Chenette
Jesse Patrick Ferguson
Matthew Hamity
Fumiko Hayashi
Lee Henderson
Heather Jessup
Mariko Nagai
Aaron Shepard
Anne Simpson
Nick Thran
Stephanie Yorke
Cover Art:
by Stacey Hamilton
7 ' 25274 " 86361   7


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