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 PRISM international
Summer 2009
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international
PRISM Short Fiction Contest
Grand Prize - $2,000
Laura Boudreau
The Dead Dad Game
First Runner-up - $200
James Phelan
Something Fierce
Second Runner-up - $200
Devina Bahadoorsingh
Mama Dglo's Lullaby
Third Runner-up - $200
Julie Booker
The Geology of Motion
Fiction Contest Judge
Lisa Moore
Fiction Contest Manager
Shana Myara
Readers
Stephanie Chou Roger Pylypa
Adrienne Gruber Lenore Rowntree
Chistine Leclerc Colin Throness
Rachel Parent Shannon Woron PRISM i
PRISM Poetry Contest
Grand Prize-$1,000
Michael Eden Reynolds
Aleph-nought
First Runner-up - $300
Michael Eden Reynolds
Upon the Conversion of Stephen Harper
Second Runner-up - $200
Catherine Owen
Coney Island in October
Poetry Contest Judge
Karen Solie
Poetry Contest Manager
Shana Myara
Readers
Adrienne Gruber
Jeffery Hsu
Elena Johnson
Christine Leclerc
Sandra Pettman
Roger Pylypa
Lenore Rowntree
Shannon Woron
Michelle Wright PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Michelle Miller
Poetry Editor
Crystal Sikma
Executive Editors
Krista Eide
Kristjanna Grimmelt
Assistant Editors
Rachel Knudsen
Nadia Pestrak
Elizabeth Ross
Dan Schwartz
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Ian Bullock
Lindsay Cuff
Dina Del Bucchia
Elena Johnson
Alex Leslie
Erin Vandenberg
Sonia Zagwyn 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: prism@interchange.ubc.ca   / Website: www.prismmagazine.ca
Contents Copyright e 2009 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Art: ok people by Betsy Walton.
Subscription Rates: One-year individual $28.00; two-year individual $46;
library and institution one-year $35; two-year $55. Sample copy by mail is $11.
U.S. and international subscribers, please pay in U.S. dollars. Please
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
Serial Rights for $40.00 per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other
genres. Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM also purchases
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per page. All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address.
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Translations should be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original
language. The advisory editor is not responsible for individual selections,
but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality and
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For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
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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. June 2009. ISSN 0032.8790
A
Canada Council    Conseil des Arts
BRITISH COLUMBIA    <3P>   for the Arts du Canada
ARTS COUNCIL
Canada Contents
Volume 47, Number 4
Summer 2009
PRISM Contest Issue
Interview with Short Fiction Contest Judge Lisa Moore / 7
Interview with Poetry Contest Judge Karen Solie / 20
Short Fiction Grand Prize Winner
Laura Boudreau
The Dead Dad Game / 9
Runners-up
James Phelan
Something Fierce / 28
Devina Bahadoorsingh
Mama Dglo's Lullaby / 43
Poetry Grand Prize Winner
Michael Eden Reynolds
Aleph-nought / 22
Runners-up
Michael Eden Reynolds
Upon the Conversion of Stephen Harper / 23
Catherine Owen
Coney Island in October / 36
Fiction
Cathleen With
Ging's Selling Up Sharks on Karon Beach / 55 Poetry
Mary Romero Ferguson
The Tablecloth / 24
Nicholas Matthews
Advance Praise for This Book / 26
Jane Goodwin
Teal Doesn't Exist Anymore / 27
Sonnet L'Abbe
The Trees Have Loved Us All Along I  37
Tree Watchers  I  38
Hue   I  39
Trails   I   40
Andrea MacPherson
Medical Inspection (Rue des Moulins) / 41
Bathing / 42
Sue Sinclair
Fear of Wasps  /  49
Cherry Trees  I  50
I Am My Body I   51
Le Cathedral Notre Dame  I   52
Priscila Uppal
The Delicate Synthesis  I  53
In the Library  I  54
Jacob Scheier
The Bus Ride that Became a Horror Movie I  62
For Dave in Istanbul I   64
A Love Poem   I   65
Vanessa Lent
Eleven I  66
On not leaving the house I   69
Stephanie Yorke
[From a long poem set in a short town] I  71
Contributors / 75 SHORT FICTION CONTEST JUDGE
Interview with Lisa Moore
On What Makes Beautiful Fiction
I want every word to be unexpected when I read. I want to hear the
voice, I want to taste, feel, smell and see the world of the story. It's
great if there's some humour. I want to be engaged emotionally. I'm
looking for strong characters. And the ending has to be inevitable and
unexpected. I think short stories can do the work of novels, only faster.
Characters have to change, go through something altering. I want my
world to slip away, and I want to be surprised when I finish reading, to
see that I'm still sitting on my own sofa and my rooster coffee cup is still
cradled in my lap, coffee gone cold.
I really enjoyed reading the shortlisted stories. Every one made me
think: Oh, this is the winner—they're all so different. And "The Dead
Dad Game" gripped me right from the beginning. Strong characters, humour, big emotions, all beautifully rendered. This story is about people
who are out of the ordinary, but thoroughly authentic and convincing.
The writing is sensual and vivid. There's humour in it and also deep sadness.
I loved despising the narrator in "Something Fierce": sexist, drunk
and profoundly full of himself, this narrator is someone I've met a thousand times in real life but haven't seen made quite so flesh-and-blood-
present in fiction before. How concrete the slurred and soft-walled world
of the setting is here. A bar full of drunken academics. A wicked sort of
satire.
The language in "Mama Dglo's Lullaby" is unexpected and electric—
a story about childhood friendship, class, magic, girl power and it brings
the Caribbean to life on the page. This story is music.
On Reading and Writing
If you want to have a career in writing, you have to read and write every
day. It's boring advice because everybody says it, but everybody says it
because it's true. Also, write what grips you, what you know in your gut
is a good story, write with your nose and ears and eyes and finger tips.
Keep a notebook on a string tied to your finger like a yo-yo and write
prismmagazine.ca every single thing down. Think like a painter. Think like a musician.
Think like a surgeon. Don't think, just write. Don't think about building a career, just write. And then send your stories out for publication
because you can't help yourself. Because you're desperate to share them.
Because you feel gleeful about them. Because you're pretty sure they will
touch the people who read them.
I think stories come to us with the length already determined. Some
stories have to unfold over the length of a novel and some must be told
in a few condensed pages. It's hard to know what determines this. But I
think it's like drawing breath, sometimes we need a lot of short breaths—
when we^re frightened, when we're excited—and sometimes we need
long, deep breaths, when we're relaxed, when we are struck with a hard
earned insight—and I think, similarly, stories have a sort of pre-deter-
mined length too. I read everything I can get my hands on, no matter
what the length.
On Your Bookshelf
I'm in love with Jessica Grant's book Come Thou Tortoise—I'm reading
that for the second time. I'm reading George Eliot's Middlemarch again
for the density of language and ideas and the subtle wit and feminism.
And I'm reading Elizabeth Bowen (also again) because her imagery is so
vivid. I can't wait to read Michael Crummey's new book (coming out in
September) called Galore.
8     PRISM 47:4 Laura Boudreau
The Dead Dad Game
I liked the way Nate told the story. He was happy to reel it off, starting with the part where Genevieve, his first mother, collapsed on the
kitchen floor with a blood clot in her lung. "It only took a second or
two for her to die," he said, slowly lowering his hand in a side-to-side
motion as though his mother had been a piece of windblown paper. "She
probably didn't even feel it." Nate was a baby when it happened, and
he had almost cried himself to death by the time the landlord unlocked
the apartment door. His father—our father—lived with my mother by
then. The day Genevieve died, my mother was busy giving birth. "But
don't feel bad, Elaine," Nate said to me. "You almost died, too. You
were early."
It seemed obvious to us that Genevieve's death was a lot better than
our father's. It was definitely faster and there were no hospitals or operations, and Genevieve didn't have to lose her hair or spend a lot of
time throwing up into stainless-steel bowls. My mother agreed with us
on principle, she said, catching our eyes in the rearview mirror, but either way it wasn't appropriate to make a sport out of it. "Death isn't a
contest, you know. Everyone gets the same prize." She lifted one hand
from the steering wheel to make the point as we drove through the cemetery gates. Genevieve and our father were in different sections, but my
mother said it was still very convenient for visiting, even if the traffic in
this part of the city was hell.
We remembered our father a little, Nate more than me because he
was older. Our mother encouraged us to ask all the questions we wanted,
which helped us make up a few more memories. No topic was off-limits
when it came to our dead parents. My mother didn't want us to grow up
feeling guilty or resentful about things we didn't understand. "Fear is the
source of all disease," she said as she made our kale breakfast shakes. She
wasn't sure what our father had been afraid of, and we knew the theory
didn't apply as well to Genevieve, but Nate and I bought into it anyway.
We had a lot of questions.
"Did he walk with a cane?" Nate asked.
"Yes," our mother said, scraping the clogged blades of the Cuisinart
with a wooden spoon. "He tried, anyway. He didn't want a ramp out
front. We'd already spent a lot of money on the landscaping."
prismmagazine.ca    9 "What colour were his glasses?"
"He didn't wear glasses, Nate. You know that."
"And what about his eyelashes?" I asked. I felt left out because I mostly remembered him as a shadow that smelled like Vicks VapoRub. "Did
they fall out in clumps?" Nate said that our father had pinkeye a lot and
sometimes wore sunglasses to watch television.
"This blender."
The more questions we asked, the more my mother's face went strange.
The bones in her jaw looked like they had softened and stretched. It was
uncomfortable to watch her when she talked like that. I felt like we were
scaring her, which was the worst thing you could do to a person, in my
book. Nate was going on about radiation therapy and its scientific connections to superpowers, and my mother's face kept shifting, like I was
looking at her underwater. She rested the spoon on the stovetop and
rolled up the sleeve of her dressy black sweater to pick at the blades,
and Nate kept firing question after question: Was our dad ever a Cub
Scout? Did he drink kale shakes? Which one of the three of us did he
love most?
Nate had once told me that mothers, as much as you might love them,
were all the same. He said that if anything happened to my mother, another lady would adopt the two of us, maybe one of our aunts in Philadelphia or Newark. Women loved babies most, he said, but we were
still little enough to be okay. "It's fathers who are the tough ones. Much
harder to come by."
Nate was living proof. I heard the way my mother tucked him into
the bunk above me, telling him to close his eyes, sleepy bird, and dream
of flying over all the green places on the Earth, but he still had to play
the Father-Son Scout Baseball Tournament with Mr. Crisander. Mr. Cri-
sander did up all the buttons on his polo shirts and parted his hair down
the middle. At Halloween he gave out toothbrushes. He said Nate could
call him Captain as a kind of nickname, but Nate stuck to Mr. Crisander.
Mr. Crisander lived alone next door with his pot-bellied pig, Mickey,
who had been starved by her previous owners to make her small. It had
worked, to a point. Now she was about the size of our Aunt Jennifer's fat
beagle, and she came if Mr. Crisander called her, but Mickey was a lot
heavier than a dog and had stumpy legs. She couldn't catch a Frisbee to
save her life. She also had a bad skin disease. Her raw, scaly hide showed
through her black and white bristles. Sometimes she scratched against
the stone pillar near the bottom of our driveway and her back oozed.
Still, none of our friends could say they knew a pet pig, and she seemed
to like us. Nate and I felt like we had to pet Mickey if we saw her.
"I found Mick through the SPCA," Mr. Crisander said as Mickey
plowed her snout into our limp fingers. "People buy them and think
10     PRISM 47:4 they'll stay piglets forever." Mickey seemed like a good enough pig, but it
made us uneasy that she rubbed against our legs, shimmying and squealing. She also had a bad habit of rooting in my mother's garden. "Leave
that thing for long enough," my mother had said, throwing out what was
left of her tulips, "and it'll dig up the dead." It didn't help Mickey's case
that our mother told us to wash our hands after we touched her. It made
us think certain things about Mickey, and about Mr. Crisander. Nate
had recently mentioned he didn't want to go to Scouts anymore, and my
mother said she had been thinking the same thing. "I mean, a father-son
baseball game? What are we, Republicans?" Nate went to Science Club
now, and he was collecting cans to save money for his own microscope.
My mother didn't mind that Nate kept a picture of Genevieve taped
to the ceiling above his pillow. Genevieve had a big pink flower behind
one ear and her nose was sunburned. He didn't really miss her, he said,
because how could you miss someone you didn't have space for? I felt
like I knew what he meant. This was why we didn't have questions about
Genevieve, why her death sounded like a grocery list of events and why
we never played the game with her. It was our father who was the hole
in our lives.
"Did he die in the morning or at night?"
"Morning."
"How did you know he was dead?"
"He stopped breathing."
"Did his heart stop beating, too?"
"After a minute, yes."
"What happened then?"
My mother's face was sliding out from under her skin. She whacked
at the blades with the spoon.
"Fucking blender," she said.
She flung the spoon across the counter and it smashed into Nate's
shake. We jumped as the glass hit the tiles and the spoon clattered under
the dining room table. Gobs of kale splattered onto Nate's suit pants as
the glass broke apart with a barely audible click. The three of us looked
at the mess on the floor. I started to cry.
My mother quickly picked up the biggest pieces of glass, the clink of
them in her hand like a stunted wind chime. "He was dead, Nate. Nothing happened then." She wrapped the shards in a sheet of newspaper
and threw the package in the garbage. "Don't cry about the glass, Elaine.
If we were Buddhists, we'd already think of it as broken. Now go put
your shoes on and wait for me in the car. And don't pet Mickey if she's
in the driveway."
The drive was quiet, just the sound of Stevie Wonder from the tape
deck. When we got close, our mother sang along softly. Nate and I didn't
prismmagazine.ca    11 look at each other. Instead we watched the people on the sidewalk and
tried to guess their names. Nate said the woman with the puppy in her
bike basket was a Shirley, but I thought she was a Tory. We agreed that
the man with the bundle buggy full of wine bottles was a George. We
couldn't quite decide on the woman with the fabric shopping bags and
bunches of sunflowers. A Rebecca, we thought, or maybe a Donna.
"A Genevieve," my mother said. "You can always tell a Genevieve.
Nate, do you feel like telling Elaine the story?" We knew this was her
way of asking us to forgive her, which we did right away. It was just a
glass.
"She had a blood clot in her lung, which is also called a thrombus,"
Nate had started, and the story went from there.
The cemetery roadways were narrow and our mother drove slowly in
case a car came from the other way, which it almost never did. The grass
was neatly mowed. Any fresh mounds of dirt were covered with strips
of bright green sod, making it look like the newer graves had more life
in them. Some of the headstones, usually the ones with carvings of angels or inset pictures of Jesus, even pictures of the person who died, had
lots of flowers around them. There were carnations in sturdy vases and
votive candles everywhere. Our mother told us that people paid extra
to have the cemetery staff come and leave those things once a month,
once a week, if you really wanted to, but she said it didn't matter how
many flowers there were, it was the love you left that was important.
"Cemetery workers are paid to care," she shrugged. "Dead people may
be dead, but they can still tell the difference. Not that we're judging."
We parked the car and Nate got the beach towel out of the trunk. The
ground was a little soft and our mother's high heels sunk into the grass,
kicking up lopsided cones of dirt as we headed over to our father's grave.
She started walking on the balls of her feet, knees bent. "God," she said,
"I feel like a praying mantis." She took off her shoes and hooked one
finger into each heel, the toes dangling.
"Praying mantises eat each other when they mate," Nate said.
"Actually, that's not true." My mother tapped the toes of her shoes together. "They only do that in laboratories when people are watching."
"But we saw them do it in the wild, on TV," I said.
"Well, somebody had to be holding the camera, don't you think?"
I helped Nate spread the beach towel lengthwise over our father's
grave. It was yellow and it had a hot pink flamingo wearing pineapple-
shaped sunglasses. Our mother bought it on sale. She said that most
people probably found it a bit loud, even for the beach, but that's what
the graveyard needed, wasn't it? A little colour.
"How would you like to live with only grey furniture?" she asked us,
pointing at the gravestones. But it didn't really matter. All the towel had
12     PRISM 47:4 to do was keep our graveyard clothes clean.
Our father's name was carved into a large polished piece of granite,
and then below that it said, "Son, Husband, Father, Caregiver." When
Nate was younger, he had asked our mother if our father worked in
schools or office buildings.
"That's a caretaker, Nate. A janitor. Your father was a doctor."
"So why couldn't he make himself better?"
"Why can't pigs fly?"
"They're mammals."
"So was your dad."
When Nate and I were done smoothing out the towel, my mother laid
out a framed picture of us as a family, me in my mother's arms and Nate
teetering on one tiny running shoe with his fists around my father's fingers. Beside that she stacked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She
thought the game worked better if we didn't have low blood sugar. She
brushed the dirt off the bottoms of her bare feet and tied her hair back
with an elastic band. "Okay, who wants to go first this time?"
The game wasn't the kind that Nate and I played with our friends.
The kids we hung out with were mostly into four square and dodgeball
and a kind of football that we made up and called Astronaut. Those
games had a winner and rules, teams, but the Dead Dad Game didn't
have any of that. All we did was lie very still on the beach towel and listen, and to make our mother happy we sometimes made things up when
she asked us, "What do you hear?" In a lot of ways it wasn't a game at
all, but there was nothing else to call it. My mother said it was a game. It
was just something we did.
"Nate, why don't you go?" My mother passed him a cookie. "Take
your shoes off before you get on the towel."
Nate undid the laces of his stiff black shoes and lined them up beside
my mother's high heels. He sat down and took a few deep breaths. My
mother and I moved closer, perching on the edge of the towel to save
our skirts, and Nate closed his eyes. My mother held out her hand to me
and then we each took one of Nate's hands in ours, closing the circle. He
wriggled in his suit.
"Wouldn't it be better if we just wore regular clothes?" I asked.
"It's more respectful this way." My mother squeezed our hands. "And
people won't bug us as much if it looks like we came from a church. Now
let's be quiet so Nate can listen."
My mother said that when bodies broke down and turned into grass
and soil, there were vibrations. That's all that talking was, vibrations,
so being dead didn't mean that you stopped talking, even if it wasn't in
the same language. Nate had asked his science club teacher what she
thought about that, and she said she hadn't heard the theory before, but
prismmagazine.ca    13 there were a lot of things that still needed to be discovered in the world.
That was the point of the club. Nate was convinced, or said he was.
"I hear," he paused, "I hear humming."
"That makes sense," my mother said slowly, but I didn't think it made
sense at all. Why would our dad's body be humming? Was there that
much to hum about when you were dead? Maybe he was just happy to
see us, I thought. That was possible. Or maybe Nate was faking. That
was possible, too. I faked.
"Can I have a cookie?" I asked.
"In a minute, Elaine," my mother said. "What else do you hear?"
The three of us closed our eyes and listened hard. I saw our father's
vibrations crawling up like earthworms, tickling Nate's back with secret
messages about how much he missed us, about the things that had made
him afraid and sick. Our mother said that visualization was an important part of the game, and she always seemed to hear things, grunts or
mumbles. I just needed to visualize harder, and then I would hear it too.
Faking wasn't lying, it was practicing. Nate was about to say something
else, but we heard a car door slam. We dropped our hands and opened
our eyes.
It was the red cemetery maintenance truck. Two guys in matching
windbreakers and baseball hats were fishing around in the flatbed. One
of them grabbed a rake, and the other one hugged a giant bag of garden
fertilizer.
"Shit," my mother said, and the game was over.
Nate balled up the towel and shoved it under his arm. He squashed
his feet into his shoes, breaking down the backs. My mother shook out
her hair. I packed the picture and cookies into her purse. My mother
waved to the men as she hustled us to the car, and the one man raised his
rake to us while the other one slit the fertilizer bag with a packing knife.
We didn't play the game while other people watched. It didn't work
that way, and there had been problems before. My mother told us that a
lot of people had pretty un-evolved ideas about things. She had written
letters to the cemetery's managing director about the behaviour of his
employees.
"Let's not worry about it too much," she said, pushing play on the
stereo. "It's not like your dad won't be here next Sunday. Seat belts." We
drove past Genevieve's grave on the way out. Nate waved.
We were almost home before I asked about the humming. My mother said that the whole universe hummed, that if we heard everybody's
heartbeats, all at once, it would sound like the buzzing of a beehive.
"We're all connected," she said.
"But what if you don't have a heartbeat?" I asked. "What about all the
dead people?"
14     PRISM 47:4 "I watched a show about bees," Nate said. "If you put a box of them
in the freezer, they clump around the queen to keep her warm. After a
few hours, you have this pile of dead bees."
"Were they killer bees?" my mother said. "Good hygiene is as important as a clear conscience."
My mother spun the steering wheel with the flat of one hand and
leaned over to pop out the Stevie Wonder tape as we turned into our
driveway. Nate was already unbuckling his seatbelt when my mother—
"Oh shit," she said—swerved and jammed the brakes. The car lurched,
hard, and Nate slammed into the back of the passenger seat. There was
the hollow thud of metal hitting something softer than itself, and then
right away a kind of shriek that at first I thought was Nate, and then I
thought was my mother, my mother who wasn't like any other mother,
no matter what Nate said, but then the shriek came again, from outside
the car, again and again, until it died away and became softer, deeper,
more like a humming.
"Oh shit," my mother said again. She took the keys out of the ignition.
We got out of the car.
It wasn't actually a hum at all, once we heard it better. It was more of
a phlegmy growl, a snuffling, and it was so steady that it didn't seem to
matter if Mickey was breathing in or breathing out, and for a second I
didn't think she was doing either. Her back legs were bent towards her
tail and her feet were bleeding. Part of one leg was skinned. The muscle
was pink and twitchy and looked like the kind of thing my mother refused to buy in chain grocery stores. Our front bumper was fine, but
there was a strip of skin hanging underneath the car.
"Nate, get the toboggan," my mother said calmly, bending down and
stroking Mickey's head with two fingers. But Nate stood there, fiddling
with the car door handle, staring at Mickey as she groaned and licked
my mother's wrist. "Nate." He slammed the door and took off for the
garage. "Elaine, get the towel out of the trunk."
Nate ran with the toboggan scraping behind him on the asphalt. We
lined it up beside Mickey and I laid the towel out over its wooden slats.
My mother grabbed Mickey around the chest and hauled her up, letting
her legs hang. 'Jesus," she said, doing a power squat. Mickey shook as
my mother lowered her onto the toboggan. Mickey's tongue hung out of
her mouth. She was shivering and panting. I wrapped her in the towel
and her legs felt like bags of loose marbles. The blood leaked through
the pink flamingo and turned it orange.
My mother dragged the toboggan to Mr. Crisander's and Nate and
I walked beside, each of us with a steadying hand on Mickey to make
sure she didn't fall off. Mickey made squeaking noises when we tried
to tilt the toboggan up the steps, and we decided that was a bad idea.
prismmagazine.ca     15 My mother went up on the porch to ring the doorbell and I sat beside
Mickey, keeping her company and whispering in her ear that she was a
good girl, such a good girl, while she pawed at my arm with one of her
front hooves. Nate got a stick and went back to the car. He started poking gently at the swinging skin. My mother rang the doorbell again and
we waited. Then she knocked.
"If he's not home," she said, "we're going to have to take care of this
ourselves." She watched me stroke gently under Mickey's chin with one
finger. "Look at her."
I patted Mickey, pressing on her chest softly until I felt the fluttering
of her heart and she let out a little grunt. This was taking care of her, I
thought, wrapping her in a beach towel and keeping her warm so she
might stop shivering.
"Elaine."
I was never going to let her go.
Mr. Crisander opened the door with an apron on and a checkered
dish towel over one shoulder. His house smelled like burnt sugar. He
patted his belly happily when he saw my mother.
"Natalie, I was ju—" He eyes flicked down to me and Mickey and
he stopped. His mouth kept moving but I didn't understand the words
that came out. He held his arms out and Mickey snuffled, closing her
eyes. The towel was soaked. The words from Mr. Crisander turned into
something that sounded like, "Mickey Mick-Mick, Mickey Mick-Mick."
He said it over and over as he drifted down the stairs with his arms out to
her, like I was invisible and it was just Mickey he saw, begging for him to
hold onto her before she disappeared like a dream he didn't remember.
I draped one arm over Mickey and hugged her close.
"Elaine," my mother said again, more sharply. Mr. Crisander's arms
kept gliding towards me, saying, "Mickey, Mick-Mick," until I felt Mickey shift under me. She made a noise that was almost a honk as Mr. Crisander picked her up. He moved effortlessly, like Mickey weighed nothing at all. He climbed the stairs and went inside without saying anything
to us.
"John," my mother started, "if there's something—" but the door was
already closed. Nate crouched by the tire. My cemetery blouse had pig
blood on it, and my mother held her arms out in front of her, her wrists
limp.
"Let's go wash our hands," she said.
It was a surprise to all of us that Mickey didn't die. She was back a few
days later, lying in the bay window of Mr. Crisander's living room on a
new and very plush white bed. Her back end was wrapped in gauze and
an adult diaper with a hole cut out for her tail. Mr. Crisander changed
her diaper every few hours, and it must have hurt her for him to do it;
16     PRISM 47:4 as soon as he started to unfasten the sticky tabs at the sides, Mickey's
mouth opened and closed and we knew she was crying. My mother told
us that she heard Mr. Crisander had taken a leave of absence from his
job at the Veterans' Hospital. She tried phoning him, but he hung up as
soon as she said, 'John, it's Natalie." Nate and I left cards on the front
porch, addressed to Mickey, but we saw them unopened in the recycling
bin on garbage day. Mr. Crisander fed Mickey with a dinner spoon out
of a large bowl and gave her water with an eyedropper. He did that for
weeks, but Mickey's legs didn't seem to get any better.
On weekends Nate and I sat on the sidewalk outside Mr. Crisander's
house and watched Mickey blink at us erratically. Sometimes we blinked back. Mickey didn't seem all that bad, we said. My mother agreed.
"Some of the patchier parts of her skin look better," she noticed when
she came to get us for dinner. Mr. Crisander ignored us, but he talked
to Mickey a lot. Sometimes he turned her bed around so she was able
to see the television while he watched old westerns. He even hung a cat
toy from the ceiling for her, and Mickey batted it around and looked
happy.
It was July before Mr. Crisander let us apologize. We were playing
outside his house in our cemetery clothes. The sidewalk was cool, even
though the sun was starting to steam the dew off the brown grass. It was
getting hot and soon it would be scorching. Our mother was going to
stripe our noses with neon green zinc, no matter what we had to say
about it. If we didn't want skin cancer, she said, we were just going to
have to put up with looking like idiots once in a while.
Nate leaned back on his elbows and watched Mickey blink. I drew
pictures of pigs with sidewalk chalk. I made dozens of Mickeys, some
with legs and some without, but all of them with big smiles on their faces
and little noise lines coming off of them like they were alarm clocks. I
was working on a very large and purple Mickey when Nate tapped my
arm with his foot.
"Elaine," he said. "He's looking."
Mr. Crisander stood in the window and crossed his arms. He was
wearing a bathrobe, and he had Mickey's bowl in one of his hands.
Mickey was stretching her leg out at the food, but Mr. Crisander just kept
staring at us. We had been waiting for this. We were sorry. My mother
said that acceptance was the last stage of grief and we couldn't rush Mr.
Crisander. We could only make offerings to him, and to Mickey. "Sidewalk chalk is good," she said. "If he's only made it as far as the anger
stage and he flips out, I can just stretch the garden hose over. Sometimes
guys like him flip out."
Nate and I stood up and waved to Mr. Crisander. He didn't wave
back. Nate shouted, "Our thoughts are with you and Mickey at this
prismmagazine.ca     17 difficult time." I pointed to the Mickeys on the sidewalk, their smiling
faces like blue and green and purple suns, glowing, and their sound lines
speaking to me: Hi, Elaine. I see you.
Mr. Crisander drew the curtains.
"Anger stage," Nate said.
I drew a few more chalk pigs and Nate watched the Mickey-shaped
shadow behind the sheers. We were hopeful.
Mr. Crisander came out onto porch. He had changed into bright blue
jeans and a white T-shirt with sleeves that went past his elbows. He started for the sidewalk. Nate buttoned his suit jacket and I brushed the chalk
off my hands. Mr. Crisander stood on his lawn and studied the upside-
down chalk Mickeys.
"Do you know where pigs like Mickey come from?" he asked.
We didn't.
"Vietnam," he said. His eyes paused on the giant purple Mickey. "My
son lives there."
"You have a son?" Nate was surprised. Mr. Crisander was terrible at
baseball. "What's he doing in Vietnam?"
"Does Mickey ever get homesick?" I asked.
"Let's have some Kool-Aid." Mr. Crisander said. "Mickey misses you
two."
We had never been inside Mr. Crisander's house before. My mother
drove us to and from the baseball games and sat in the stands and read
a magazine. She said that the baseball diamond was one thing but a
person's house was another. If Mr. Crisander ever invited us in, we were
supposed to check with her first. "All I'm saying is, better safe than on
Geraldo," she said. But Mr. Crisander had never asked before and he
might not ask again. Nate and I wanted to see Mickey. We followed him
up the front walk.
His house was the same as ours—the living room was to the left of
the front door, and on the other side there were twisty stairs to the basement, and down the middle, a hallway that led to the kitchen—but Mr.
Crisander's house seemed bigger because it was so empty. In our living
room we had a sofa that turned into a bed, a loveseat, a bookshelf, and
a big coffee table that my mother buffed with Pledge before my aunts
came over. Mr. Crisander only had a rabbit ear TV and a VCR, and an
olive green wingback chair that was rubbed down to beige on one side.
Mickey blinked at us from her bed in the window seat.
"Look who's here, Mickey," Mr. Crisander said loudly. We stood in
the alcove and waved. Mickey blinked back.
"She's doing a lot better," Mr. Crisander said more softly to us. "But
the vet says she's a little heavy from the lack of exercise. I'm thinking of
making her a wheelchair she can power with her front legs."
18     PRISM 47:4 Mickey's front legs looked like spindly little toothpicks that had been
jammed into her giant watermelon body, but we didn't say anything.
"We'll be in the kitchen if you need us, Mickey," Mr. Crisander shouted. "Her hearing's going," he said as we walked down the hallway.
Mr. Crisander dumped two packets of Kool-Aid powder into a big
blue pitcher, but he filled it to the brim without even measuring and he
didn't stir for long enough. The Kool-Aid tasted like water but looked
like pale blood.
"Would you like to see Mickey's room?" he asked.
"Mickey has her own room?" I couldn't believe it. Mickey was the
luckiest pig in the world.
"We have bunk beds," Nate said as Mr. Crisander took us back down
the hall.
"Well, pigs aren't very good with ladders," he said.
Mickey's room was painted light purple. She had a wooden scratching post drilled into the floor and a large rope with big knots that was
probably a toy. There was a giant teddy bear losing his stuffing from a
hole in his face, and a beanbag chair with a Mickey-sized depression still
in the middle of it. In the corner of the room there was a large dog house
in the shape of an igloo. Inside it we saw a fluffy pink comforter. Mickey
also had a radio. It was set high on a wooden shelf near the top of the
window, and it was tuned to the same station my mother liked.
"What do you think?"
Next to the radio was a small picture in a gold frame. The photo was
blurry and old, the corners of it yellow and blotchy. It was even harder
to see because it was up so high, but we could tell it was of a woman with
long dark hair and tiny eyes. She wore a funny-looking pointed hat that
cast a big shadow over her face, but I still saw that she had a hand over
her mouth. She might have been smiling.
"Is that your wife?" Nate pointed. Suddenly it seemed possible that
someone like Mr. Crisander might have a wife.
"No," Mr. Crisander said, "she's not."
Nate and I finished our drinks. "Thanks for the Kool-Aid. It was really
good," I lied.
Mr. Crisander told us we were welcome any time we liked. Any friend
of Mickey's was a friend of his, and bygones were bygones.
"Maybe on Friday night you guys can come over and watch a movie,"
he said as we made our way to the front door. "Give your mom a break.
I'll make popcorn."
Maybe, we said, but right now we had to go. It was Sunday and we
were already late.
prismmagazine.ca    19 POETRY CONTEST JUDGE
Interview with Karen Solie
On Good Poetry
Given the seemingly endless possibilities of style, form, content,
voice, diction, tone, syntax—you name it—and the potential
that lies in innovation, hybridization and tradition, I'd say that
there are as many possible characteristics of good poems as there are of
bad ones.
Generally, I think a good poem reflects attention. The larger sense of
it, the noticing and thinking-through, as well as the attention to detail that
can manifest as hours spent removing and replacing a single comma. In
the best poems, nothing is arbitrary, unnecessary, settled-for. There is a
productive, suggestive tension produced by techniques and elements in
concert that makes, in the first place, the poem a poem, and that creates
something more than the sum of its parts. It resonates outside its boundaries. Something about it sticks.
A good poem is not a second or third-hand experience for the reader,
someone else's description of what's happened and what they think or
feel. A good poem is first-hand. It creates an experience, happens, generates thought and feeling in the reader. I suppose, if I was looking for
anything in particular, I was looking for this, the way one always looks
for it.
On the Winners
In "Aleph-nought," the treatment of an intensely abstract—indeed, infinite—concept is facilitated with admirable linguistic and syntactic control. Control which, as in the higher maths, makes a music of it.
Animated by subtle echoes and an engaging, slightly psalm-like momentum, the character and pointed comment of "Upon the Conversion
of Stephen Harper" are delivered in vivid and gently funny images.
"Coney Island in October" stood out for its facility with the line,
which swings the poem through its colourful details, landing nicely on
full stops.
20     PRISM 47:4 On Your Bookshelf
Since finishing Pigeon, my new collection of poems, I've been reading
a lot of fiction, mostly novels. The most recent novels I've read are by
Roberto Bolano, Per Pettersen, Damon Galgut, Thomas McGuane and
Tom McCarthy. I'm pretty constantly re-reading, too, and have open
right now books by Denis Johnson, David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, William Gass and W.G. Sebald.
On Your Influences
The above, among others, are influences. Several have been for many
years. Though I'm not working on poetry right now, I've always been influenced by novels while writing poems. I've learned a great deal about
everything from atmosphere to syntax from novels, and it's helped me
to think about what I want from a poetic line, and, more generally, what
I think is, and can be, accomplished by good writing. Travel, the little I
do of it, is always an influence, even if it's in a place where I've spent a
lot of time. I'm looking forward to some of that in the near future. And,
of course, where I live and what goes on is a constant influence, whether
I like it or not.
prismmagazine.ca    21 Michael Eden Reynolds
Aleph-nought
When time at first began to slip there was,
among the extra-sensitive, the sense
an extra beat sustained each act.
Where some relaxed, stretched, basked,
others cramped as if their footing spanned
a micron-width of bottomless crevasse.
By month-end it was the common talk: the lazy
second hand, the way July (so fair) had stretched
so long this year, the way even the water'd slowed
out of the taps—she laughed, It took so long to run the bath
I thought I'd have to put the kids to bed without.
At last I toweled them off, my watch read half of five!
I sent them out to play in their pajamas.
A national emergency was called on August first.
A mathematician live on CNN evoking Zeno
spoke about the cardinality of fractions in a second.
A government initiative on clocks was launched: ignore
the sun, set forward fifteen minutes every hour, curtains
drawn by eight, but by midweek you couldn't find
two clocks alike in town. The curfew was abandoned.
Thing is, the majority are lost to this sprung time.
Kids of course do well, and many of the formerly demented.
It's certain the economy will crash,
when is difficult to pin. A handful weave between the slack
double-time intent to squirrel away the savings—
twelve bells, it's noon or midnight somewhere.
I take a walk to clear my head.
Halfway back I feel myself:
it hinges from your point of reference,
where I stand, things go on as ever.
22     PRISM 47:4 Michael Eden Reynolds
Upon the Conversion of
Stephen Harper
Taking on the pallor of the poet in the thin dawn light
he stands alone from breakfast, steps outdoors
without shoes, in undershirt, cuffs of his pajama slacks
cupped under-heel. The mountains and most distant fields
turn beneath a charge of thunderclouds. A pumpjack
in its steady thoughtless prayer is swallowed in a foam
of rain and wind-whipped flax.
From the stillness
of the nearer field a riffle threads its way onto the lawn,
as if a giant wing was trailing on the earth.
The hairs upon his feet and up his legs are lifted,
his pants like tandem windsocks billow—
Inside the storm, feet bloodied on the lichen-covered rocks
and climbing, his clothes and skin translucent and alive
with light: Sweet lord, he cries into the broken sky
if only you will have me, I will be true this time!
prismmagazine.ca    23 Mary Romero Ferguson
The Tablecloth
(a tribute to Sarah Crowley)
There was a time when everyone used tablecloths.
Every table stood robed and ready
to sing grace with the guests,
gilded and glowing in the evenings.
In the home of the bankers and businessmen,
crimson weaves decked with goldenware.
And in the homes of farmers and carpenters,
blue gingham and checks,
topped by casseroles and roasts.
Even in restaurants and for hillside picnics,
squares quilted lawns, coloured rooms,
collected crumbs from lazy hands
and lent them to the hungry floors.
Now, many dining tables stand naked,
cold on skinny legs, with hardened edges,
and, now and then, a placemat at each
chair, separate and easily replaced.
Except for one. Your table,
like your Thanksgiving turkey,
is always appropriately dressed.
Decked for the saucy and the seasonal.
It is an ancient map
charting isles of grease and stain,
past escapades from plates
of Stroganoff, Caesar and Benedict,
even the crumbling casualties of Napoleon.
24     PRISM 47:4 It is a record of all spills—
from wine that loosened tongues
to soups that opened mouths
and kept them humming in the candlelight.
It is a curtain for the legs,
a cloak for the shivering,
a spread for the hungry,
and for your self alone,
sweeping crumbs at heaven's gate,
it will be a robe of glory.
prismmagazine.ca    25 Nicholas Matthews
Advance Praise for This Book
Not everyone will like every poem. Think of la vache.
Liking it often depends on what part of the animal is on the
plate. Flank steak? Ribs? Tongue? Brain? Some people, of
course, refuse to eat even a bit of the animal, preferring to
forget that someone somewhere is probably going to
devour it with a side salad and barbeque sauce.
—Mad Cow Magazine
A reviewer's dream. Rarely an unmangled cliche, never
a work truly human, a valuable contribution, a triumph.
Instead, a monstrous joyride, an abstract-art million-dollar
money pit, an almost total lemon. It will be read and be
recycled. It will prevent the flooding of the sea.
—The Dyke Auto Miser
The book buys into my consumer sensibility, my I-gotta-
have-that-shrunken-head shopping urge, my curio-market
tokenism for exotic stuff dispossessed of pre-colonial
cultural value. And I love it. The thing is, the curio market
is not much different from the generic trough at any store
with a small country's share of asphalt parking.
—The G-Gulp Economist
I can tell that this poet never hangs out in front of brick
walls, graffiti or chain-link fences with all the other serious
writers. He probably stays at home in agony because of
tendonitis and a mild aversion to natural light.
— Vampire Strikes Back
The sense of fear for my own life never really left me.
—Placidity Now
26     PRISM 47:4 Jane Goodwin
Teal Doesn't Exist Anymore
You left your freckles on the kitchen counter
and your nose in the sink.
The curtains lifted to look for you,
the green beans stopped growing,
the garage sighed.
The kitchen clock is so tired
of hearing the minute hand tick into empty rooms.
The teacups rubbed all their paint off,
so now they're just white.
Those small spoons you loved
threw themselves in the garbage,
they only looked back once.
The carpet curled into a ball
and rolled into a corner.
The pillows ate the feathers,
the kettle won't open its mouth,
the mirror keeps jumping off the wall, arching its frame,
to see if it's you coming through the door.
The tiles are mad at the grout.
The dining room table blames the lemon oil
and I'm always on the phone with the oven,
asking questions about you, trying to get a lead,
trying to find out where you went
and to tell you all that's happened
since you've been gone.
prismmagazine.ca    27 James Phelan
Something Fierce
I pretended that I had read every book he mentioned so that in the end he said:
—Ah, I can see you are a bookworm like myself.
—James Joyce, "An Encounter"
""▼"mean, fuck me, it wasn't my face, but I sort of liked the way her nose
I was before. Appealed to the philosemite in me, you know? Kind of
JLcrooked andjewy. Cute. And, how to put it...significant, somehow.
A real signifier. Made you think of history and Israel and all that. The
shtetl and Saul Bellow, 'beautiful tradition.' You know. A nose to spring
boners in the yeshivas. Plus, all due respect and everything, you had to
think it would make her easier to lay. Probably did, I don't know, back
then she was always with that guy, Jonathan? Jonathan. Not a threat, of
course, he was gay as the hills, but still. That's not just me saying so, mind
you, mere ahem conjecture. I mean, I never saw him bugger anybody or
anything, but when you talked to him he really played it up. Told dick
jokes you'd have to be a gay guy to get away with. Or a bigot, I guess,
but somebody would've called him on it, it's the English department for
chrissake, equity iiber alles, so that's out. Anyway, he was always there,
you could never get her alone."
You're at a bar with your Irish Lit TA. He liked your paper, he knows
your sister, of course you'd let him stand you a beer after the exam. The
girl he's talking about, one Sarah Rick, is an old friend of your sister's,
a familiar face from years of birthday parties and staying over for dinner. Picturing her now, you find she's fixed in your mind at age sixteen,
her age when the thought of her captured your erotic imagination, just
as you started to have one, for a few formative weeks. You were, what,
eleven? Your TA, please just call him Dan, pours half of half his third
pint into the glass from your fourth one and turns to look for the barmaid. Is she, Sarah, still a familiar face? That's to say, does she still have
one? You haven't seen her since the surgery. Though can you really be
sure? You wouldn't have seen her unless you met by chance. She was
always friendly but you were never friends, not really, and your sister
moved away for grad school last September.
"It's funny, I was at a record launch thing a couple weeks ago and I
28     PRISM 47:4 saw him, our man Jonathan that is, with another girl. With her, I mean.
Outside for a smoke whenever she went, up to the bar with her every time. They were hardly watching the band, not that they missed
much, mind you, just talking and talking, squeezed into one of those
little couches they have in the back at Lux. And this girl, god, she was
perfectly, just agonizingly cute. Not my type exactly, a real Hipster with
a capital H. Or, you know, with a foam-mesh hat with a capital H on
it, an ironic H. Still, she was just...I'd go so far as to say delectable. A
dish. Except there he was the whole time, Cock Blockula. I don't get it.
That, ah, archetype. Queer as a concrete parachute but always at some
girl's elbow. I can see why girls might go for it. Men are dogs and savages and all the rest, so whatever wards them off, but what's in it for the
gay dudes? There's got to be a good sociology paper in that...'Bearded
Ladies and Mustachioed Men' colon something something."
Your barmaid comes into sight and Dan smiles her over. He orders
another IPA and what'll it be for you? The same thing, thanks. He's still
buying. You think: He must be loaded, then: Christ, I'm loaded. And
you laugh. Dan's laughing too, though you're positive you didn't say that
out loud. The place has filled since you got here. Two guys in hoodies
are huddled over the jukebox. For the third time tonight, the guitar intro
to "Purple Rain" rings from the speaker above your table.
"I used to like Prince, I really did. Every year the assholes take a new
hostage. Last time it was Johnny Cash." He downs the final inch of his
pint. "They could pick a different song, at least. Though to be fair, this is
one of the great value selections."
When the barmaid comes back with your beers, you make a point
of thanking her and then thanking Dan, that being the kind of guy you
are.
"No worries, mate. To all the unloved, the unchosen noses out there
in the world tonight."
You clink his glass a bit too forcefully. As you sop up the spillover
with a wad of napkins, he makes a joke you don't quite follow, about
bedwetting maybe, or premature ejaculation. Your barmaid swoops in
with a rag and is gone before you can say thanks. You notice, drinking
again, that your cuffs are soaked.
"You've got to wonder where they all go, those abandoned noses.
You can just imagine them, millions, all piled together. An embarrassment of noses, cut off to spite their faces. A huge fucking landfill shaped
like a fucking huge nose. Turned up. Sniffling. Or out for revenge, a
Gogol nose gone Godzilla—"
Having quietly gathered force this last half hour, the need to pee seizes your attention all at once, like a repressed memory bubbling up to tell
you something important. You ask Dan could he hold that thought and
prismmagazine.ca    29 stand with a wobble. He smiles—knowingly, it looks to you, but knowing what?
"Don't fall in."
You pivot and squeeze through crowded tables to the other side of the
bar, feeling graceful, nimble. Your heart swells as you move your body.
Bounding up the banging stairs to the John, you feel the blood glowing
in your limbs. At the top it's quiet enough to hear your ears ring. The
upstairs bar is gated off and dark. Slow for a Thursday. Only the side corridor with the washrooms is lit. You pause there. On a poster between
the two doors: TUESDAY NIGHTS OPENEST MIC ON CAMPUS. The
ideogram Gent looks distinguished—maybe you should start wearing a
bowtie. A pair of laughing girls spill out of the Ladies, holding each other
up. You slink by, standing aside as they pass, and press through the second door. Someone's in the stall, but all three urinals are free. You pick
the last one. Leaning into the corner, eyes shut, you become the trill and
wash of a draught pint filling a glass.
There's a rustle from the stall and the toilet flushes. You see your
reflection in a condom ad under plastic. ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO
NEED TROJAN MAGNUMS? Upon consideration, you concede: No. A
regency mirror of a rolled-up condom frames your face. The wildness
of your eyes excites you. Scowling makes your cheeks and forehead feel
gorgeous. At last, you think, here's real life. There's a fierceness in you, a
ferocity. You're young and adult, at ease in the city after hours, cutting a
swath, knocking around. The stall door thunks and you watch one of the
hoodie guys leave without washing his hands. If you shake it more than
twice you're playing with it. Your dad's been saying that as long as you
can remember, since long before you knew what playing with it meant.
Taking your time at the sink, you remember the cartoon they showed in
sex ed: a disembodied hand floating around and around, but never over,
an undifferentiated pubis, as a big-sisterly voice assured the young viewer it was all perfectly natural. In another scene, everyone's favourite, a
guy narrator explained that penises are like noses, they come in every
shape and size, as schnozz turned to schlong on an array of male faces,
leaving a gallery of toucans and aardvarks, Cyranos and Ganeshes.
On your way out the washroom, the bar seems louder than it was, belligerently loud. You press on into the noise moving more cautiously than
before, sliding your left hand along the stair rail, still feeling dope-warm
and limber, steadying yourself lightly against chairs and tabletops as you
weave your way back to Dan. A girl bearing three pints, the middle one
secured against the drumhead of T-shirt between her breasts, winces theatrically as you step towards her, then smiles when you look up and let
her by. Does she roll her eyes as she passes or, just maybe, give you the
eye? You can never tell. The singer on the PA sings "Space travels in my
30     PRISM 47:4 blood," or "Space travel's in my blood." Probably that, but you like the
other way better. A soccer team standing up good-byeing halts you till
your barmaid appears and opens a path through them, then on to your
table.
"XYZ, buddy." You don't follow. Dan lifts his glass. "May all your
zip-ups be...without incident. There you are. So where were we? Right,
yes, noses. The nasal diaspora. Our friend the rhinoplastee." He takes a
long pull of beer. "Let me tell you I would've fucked that nose. But, you
know, all that is solid. You can never go home again. Anyway. Enough
about my best-planned lays. Are you sticking it anywhere interesting?
You nailing anyone I'm grading?"
Um, well, alas. You say something about having a dry stretch—yes,
you're afraid, quite literally—trying not to let on that the drought stretches from the present moment back to the first stirring of puberty, before
which your fields were fallow, so to speak, or you weren't thirsty, or
whatever—that at nineteen you're a virgin's virgin, volcano bait. Dan
makes commiserating noises. When he asks how long it's been you tell
him too long and he drinks to that. You shake your head as world-wea-
rily as you can manage, which feels great.
"It's unjust, a dashing young intellectual like yourself going unlaid.
Somewhere, clearly, the culture's gone wrong. Though you may just be
holding out for better than you should expect from a school that doesn't
offer any of the classic cute-girl majors: art history or drama or medicine.
I mean high standards are fine, laudable really, but there's also something to be said for reaching between a pair of legs and not finding your
own prick." He empties his glass. "What about the sort of Patti-Smith-
looking chick with the lip ring and the lisp, the one who's always late for
seminar? Don't get me wrong, I've got all the proper contempt for sexual
harassment in the academy, or anywhere, honest, but god's truth the
Harold Bloom in me would love to get his hot boneless hands on her. To
get his jowls caught in her crack. You really ought to take a shot at that
one. She did her paper on 'An Encounter' and, ah, 'Nauthhica,' even
quoted the letters to Nora. There's no telling what she'd be up for."
He stands and scratches a ten-dollar bill from his wallet. "My turn.
Get us another round while I'm up returning the last one, would you?
You're a prince."
Once he's gone you down the half pint left in your glass, spilling
some on your face and wiping it away with your cuff. The beer lands
in a lump. Your stomach raises an eyebrow, then shrugs and lets it go.
You wait a while. The guy at the next table is telling his date how East
Germany still exists: He read about it today. In the seventies Cuba gave
them a tiny island on the Bay of Pigs, a fair-sized rock really, uninhabited
except by some iguanas, so the DDR could have a colony overseas—just
prismmagazine.ca    31 as a symbolic gesture, Castro's way of flattering some Commissar on a
state visit, there was nothing they could do with it—only the Germans
forgot about the island when they did the reunification treaty and Cuba
never took it back, so technically. He's your age or younger, dressed up,
with unruly hair. She's older, pale and mousily pretty. The more restless
she looks, the harder he sells the anecdote. Your barmaid keeps passing
but you can't seem to catch her eye. Soon Dan's back downstairs, across
the room talking to a guy with a beard, and you elect to go up to the
bar.
Standing takes, not effort exactly, but resolution. On your feet you
move between the tables as ably as before, but the fluid feeling is gone.
The pleasure warming your body is also a heaviness now. It's a relief to
lean against the bar. You remind yourself: two IPAs. The bartender is
down the other end mixing cream-pink novelty shots, a tray of Footjobs
or Hurricane Katrinas. On the stool to your left there's a treacle blonde
bent over her cell phone, texting. Her face looks avian in profile, or
like the PBS logo. She's beautiful, you decide. But how strange her ears
are—are everybody's ears, all ears, if you really look at them. Is the word
"ear."
"Can I get you something?" the bartender asks, it sounds like not the
first time.
Yes, right. He can: two IPAs.
As he pulls them, you squirm your shoulders and toes, wringing a bit
more pleasure from your bloodstream. You notice the mirror behind the
shelves of bottles and scowl into it, then stop at once. You're looking too
much like D.H. Lawrence—it's time to slow down.
"That's eight bucks." Your beer is before you.
You uncrumple Dan's ten and hand it over. The bartender feigns
reaching for change till you tell him it's good and he nods and turns
away. You stand there a moment holding the pints. They're wine-dark,
dark as fuel, heavy and cold. They feel dense. As you guide them back to
your table, everyone it seems is moving in time with a new wave record
you know you know but can't place, dancing just enough to get in your
way. You square yourself and advance step by step, waiting after every
few for the next person to notice you're trying to pass. When at last you
regain your table, Dan's there with the bearded guy and three more
pints.
"There's our man."
"The star student in Connelly's Irish survey, I hear, and brother to a
dear old friend. A pleasure, young sir."
"I was just telling Sheehan here about the barebacked skull-buggering
you gave Vichnar's 'Araby' article in your paper."
"Vichnar, pff. She truly wanted that...that golem, I say let him have
32     PRISM 47:4 her. I was only looking for a last-night-of-the-conference thing."
Dan and Sheehan then exchange some shoptalk you can't really follow, something to do with plenary sessions and pairing off for casual sex.
As they do, your attention withdraws from the table to your body. The
luscious feeling that saturated it when you sat back down has already
dulled to wooliness and weight. You sense vaguely a shift in chemical, or
maybe it's spiritual, balance. The gallant in you, your cocksure, smashing better self, is getting worn down. You take long slow sips from one
of your pints, relishing not so much its taste as the tactile pleasure of the
glass against your lips and the beer on your tongue, admiring the con-
tinuousness of the unbroken unit of beer.
Sheehan is talking to you: "Of course that's fine, though you needn't
worry, neither of us is a protege of his or anything. I'd just be curious
to hear your read on him. Or what you thought of the lectures. Your
considered judgment, as an undergrad who's a cut above the usual run
of boneheads and grade grubbers."
You make a face to show you're ambivalent, which may be more than
your face is up for. What did you think of Connelly? What should you
think of him?
Connelly? He was, eh, you know. Solid enough on most things. Certainly had his moments. Not your favourite, though you think you liked
him better than a lot of people did. Though mainly you were in it for the
readings.
"I hear you," Sheehan says. "It's always nice to have an old-school
prof, even if he's not one of the bestest and brightest. You get to actually
read the books on the syllabus, while the Vichnars of the world are off
theorizing them." He says "theorizing" like a judge naming the sex act
that, he wants it made perfectly clear, the court is only decriminalizing
as a matter of legal principle.
"Theorizing," Dan allows, "or bone-jumping the Jess Jowitzes of the
world. As the case may be."
Sheehan looks stung by that. Then, gamely, he manages: "The Jess
Jowitzes, or would it be the Jesses Jowitz?"
"The Jesses Jowitz, definitely." Dan turns to you. 'Jessica Jowitz, we
should explain, is a lovely girl, really truly, but also the type Mencken
was onto when he wrote, 'If he's beneath her, you can bet she'll have him
on top of her.' A specialist in pricks and nitwits. She could've had our
Sheehan, a gentleman and a scholar, hung like a hotel vacuum cleaner,
but instead she went for the po-mo bozo. It boggles the mind right in the
ass."
Everybody drinks to that. Dan adds, "Of course, if getting laid were
a meritocracy, we'd all of us be too shagged out and busy to ever get
drunk together, so—" and then Sheehan lofts his glass and reels off a
prismmagazine.ca    33 great stretch of declarative gibberish. He sounds like an LP of Kennedy's
inaugural played backwards, revealing no intelligible satanic message:
Gaelic, you figure, or Finnegan's Wake. Whatever it is, you all drink to it,
too. When you wipe the beer off your face, your cuff is cold. You look
over and see the hoodie guys gunning Heinekens. Sheehan goes to get
himself another pint while you and Dan start in on your second ones—
your fifth or sixth, or maybe seventh ones total.
"Bit of a knob, Sheehan, but he's okay in small doses. He's got the right
idea, you know? Not of course when it comes to whether one should or
shouldn't be a knob, but otherwise generally. If, ah, knobdom can even
be called a lifestyle choice. If we're even allowed to call it one. By now
there must be Knob Lib, Knob Pride. We have to be careful what we say.
Anyway. If ever he got Jess Jowitz undressed, in the unlikely event, he'd
need a map to know where to put it, but I wouldn't say no to a round
from the guy. And didn't." Dan stands. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm
one-quarter racehorse." You tell him no worries. He looks back as he
makes for the stairs. "Grandma was disgusting."
Then he's gone. Alone again, you find it difficult to go on ignoring
your stomach, where a tender, dubious feeling has been asserting itself.
When the beer meets your mouth now, something in you resists it a
little. You're tired. "Pop Life" fades out on the PA and the new Arcade
Fire comes on. It's rousing, it's a hit. You hate it. You want Leonard Cohen being sonorously callous about a dead ex-girlfriend or Thorn Yorke
bullshitting doom. You're unfit for uplift. Whoever would rouse you can
fuck right off. In rebuttal to that thought, the song rallies to its chorus.
People are singing along: enemies. You notice the guy and girl you were
watching before, the East Germany guy and his date. They're cuddled
together on the booth side of their table talking close enough to kiss, lush
with delight and recognition. You wonder which of them made a move,
and how.
There's a hand on your shoulder. It's Sheehan. "You alright there,
friend?"
It takes you a moment to bring yourself into focus.
You're—yes. You're sorry, your mind was somewhere else, but yes.
You're fine, really and truly.
Sheehan shakes his head. "Say no more, I read you. It was only that
you looked out of sorts, kind of, but a man can have his reasons for that,
I know as well as anyone. Tell you the truth, I know it all too well. But
let's not let 'em bring us down, hey?" He swings his pint up to eye level
and, in a fraternal, defiant tone, makes another Irishly inscrutable toast.
It could be the Crispin's Day speech translated into Leprechaun. You
nod along with his emphasis.
As you and he drink to who knows what, Dan reappears, placing a
34     PRISM 47:4 flame-coloured shot beside each of your pints. He says, "I figured a bit of
Irish, seeing as we're getting all toora loora loora tonight."
"You're a good man," Sheehan says, and lays a hand on Dan's shoulder, "a real mensch." When he looks away Dan rolls his eyes, then flashes you a look of oh-come-the-fuck-on. You arch your eyebrows and nod
back, you hope, conspiratorially. Johnny Cash comes on the PA. You
look at Dan knowingly and he looks back smiling. His eyes have the
colour of a Heineken bottle held to light. You take a deep breath and feel
the intelligent part of yourself drawn up. You think how rich the blood
in your head is, how right it is to say your head is swimming. Cash sings
about being in the arms of his best friend's wife and the prisoners cheer.
You say to yourself: Better.
Dan turns to Sheehan: "I was talking with our man here about Sarah
Rick before. The, ah, sorrows of her changing face. Strange to think one
of us knew her when he was a child and she was a child. And not only
her. I mean, that's to say nothing—" Something in Sheehan's face seems
to stop him. He takes a drink of beer. "To have been so close to them, I
mean, that cohort. Our unrequited lusts back in the day. The fly on the
wall, the fox in the henhouse. What I wouldn't have given for that...
access when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty. 'My burning youth.' Ha.
There's something in that, though, I burned for her something fierce. For
them, I mean. Several of them. Not least of all poor Sarah Rick." For a
moment, he looks caught out somehow. Then he takes his shot between
his thumb and forefinger and says, "Anyway, anyway. I talk too much.
To this!"
For the first hour or so, you lie on your side, holding yourself as still as
you can. Something toxic is swelling in your stomach, overflowing it at
your slightest movement. It wants to contaminate the rest of you, which
is merely rotten, but you can wear it out, outlast its half-life, if only you
keep from moving. That includes the numinous sort of movement thinking involves. You try to leave your mind blank, then when that doesn't
work, you select orange juice as a single, static thought.
Orange juice, cold and purifying, all vitamins and acid—as luscious
and annihilatingly healthful a substance as you can imagine.
Sitting up, at last, takes only a few minutes to survive. The onslaught
of bad feeling soon resolves into an exquisite stomach cramp and general aching. You open a window. As cool air sharpens away the last residue of sleep, you sit on the edge of your bed and try to remember what
you can't remember, waking to the certainty that you have betrayed
someone.
prismmagazine.ca    35 Catherine Owen
Coney Island in October
The Shoot the Freak neon zizzes
and sparks, slung in its weary marquee
between a poisonous night cafe
and the boarded-up jazz of ball tosses,
pricey fried oysters. The sanitation workers are bored;
slump by the privy with plastic
bags of buns and all the leftover summer gulls.
A man hawks Obama condoms on the swept
lengths of the boardwalk where spires of bamboo bob
past the metal palm tree, commemorating Sukkat.
Ah ya shoulda been here two months ago when it was
cotton floss and onion cakes the last vendor
of the season cries out but for us there are
no glory days, just the Wonder Wheel's
hush, the shushing of the saltless ocean beyond
the ghost of Madame Twisto—
her beautiful, convoluting limbs.
36     PRISM 47:4 Sonnet L 'Abbe
The Trees Have Loved Us
All Along
That trunk there is alive. Up out of a paved patch in the concrete
sidewalk at Main and Broadway and strung with blue lights in the
middle of summer, that trunk there is alive. I'm in its space. It doesn't
give me a hard time about it. Putting my smells into its air, lifting my
arms or not lifting my arms there is always still the crook from where
my limbs branch from my trunk, the crevices and what moss gathers
there. Fragrances. That trunk there is smelling everything, tasting
everything through its body. Leaves like tongues, salivating, tasting
my cunt right through my cotton underwear, my cotton denim skinny
jeans, my crevices all hot for him and only the fibres of plants between
all our nakednesses, his and mine and the trees', whose love filled me
up enough to be able to breathe it out through the porous bark of my
defenses. Hard on the outside, raw pith in here, that trunk hears all
the plants in our local designers' industrial looms and in the aching
polished skins of our flirty shoes, all the fibres and minerals making
bodies of themselves and loving themselves and standing there rough
and unremarkable and plain green-leaved between the parking meters,
knowing us, knowing us so well.
prismmagazine.ca    37 Tree Watchers
I wanted to give you the consciousness of a tree. Once in the final
moments of the World Cup—the home team having made it to the
finals, the whole country draining itself of red inks to wear on the
day—I went outside to see who wasn't watching the game. Outside
were the lost teenagers, sitting in a defiant circle on the swingsets and
benches, pimping each other to each other, and the trees, who lined
the empty roads from their brick-ringed patches of exposed earth. The
trees like sentinels over the vulnerable moment, the whole corpus of
the human colony rapt at the screen, the trees could have pulled out
their own roots and waved them nakedly in the street, and no one
would have seen them, no one except the pimple-faced boy staring off
and the girl clinging to him, the girl with the Korean characters carved
into her wrist.
38     PRISM 47:4 Hue
In many languages hue is not separated into blue and green. It is all
blue, greenish. The body sits like a greenblue stem under the sun.
Human, all its greenness is inside, flowing back blue rivers from its
extremities. Tides of green sky come in, move out of the lungs. The
system sips clear green water. Mouth tears up at the taste of lettuces.
Who can know even all the blue leaves on the tree outside my
window? How many monks sit writing in the walled city of the cell?
Every breath a kind of autumn, the little green platelets reddening
again.
prismmagazine.ca    39 Trails
They had outlawed the public digestion of meat the summer before but
people still met in their homes and sat outside in their backyards eating
meat and breathing their cell toxins right out into the atmosphere. In
the end, you can't legislate what people do to their own bodies. So
you just felt sorry for them. You could smell a meat-eater when one
sat down next to you. They might try to hide it with perfumes, or by
drinking lots of water, or by constantly brushing their teeth, but their
diet was in their pores. They sweated and breathed the scent of flesh
decomposing in their organism. It was a rusty, bloody smell. It got into
their clothes and when you walked into even the well-ventilated home
of someone who still ate meat there was always that faint oxide odour,
as if the woman of the house had forgotten, somewhere, to close the
lid of a bucket full of menses cloths. Claude had an ancient cultures
licence to grow clean salmon but, he said, the licensing business was a
shitshow and the money was starting not to be worth it anymore. His
girlfriend Lake said she didn't care if he stank, but Claude knew that it
was more that she liked her livefeed vivid and omniband. And I like to
see a Three Oeil girl walk tall among the haute sinocracy, he told me,
sighing, as he lit up a leafshred and took a long drag.
40     PRISM 47:4 Andrea MacPherson
Medical Inspection (Rue des
Moulins)
(taken from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's oil on cardboard)
It's the thighs that make them vulnerable.
Skirts hitched to waist,
black stockings keeping kneecaps modest,
and the creamy back of thigh,
unfamiliar with sunlight or rainstorms
now revealed:
each crease, freckle or flaw—
red path of wild cat's scratch,
raw, round marker of burning tip
of cigarette—
doubled in the light.
This is why they only look forward,
the past an open palm,
an elderly nurse's dirty fingernails,
an unknown man's breath.
(Instead the innocence
of the spine—look where it meets collar,
where it still hides.)
prismmagazine.ca    41 Bathing
(on the drawing for Children's Bath in the Garden, Suzanne Valadon 1910,
crayon & pencil on paper)
If you imagine the tree swaying,
you might hear the wind:
see how the leaves shiver,
lean low and consider.
Perhaps the woman bent over the tub—
steel, certainly, the scrub of it
in the wildgrass—
reminds you of your mother:
she, too, knew the intimacy of bathing,
of someone else's pale shirts and underpinnings,
washed and scrubbed them
until her hands were red and raw.
She has positioned the tub
away from prying eyes,
under this tree in a grove;
she does not look up, does not remind you
that her hands once bathed you
your small shoulders,
that spot in the small of your back
you could never reach
once scooped errant leaves
from your bathwater:
held everything clear.
42     PRISM 47:4 Devina Bahadoorsingh
Mama Dglo's Lullaby
Leonie tell me, down by the river that day, not to touch she rucksack or she would turn all my babies into douens. Leonie had
some bad, bad maljeux in she head. She once tell me that her
great-great grammy, Mama'Desta, was a' obeah woman in she village,
and when that old-old woman fished Leonie out from her mama belly,
Leonie give the old woman such a cut-eye that the old queen slapped
the obeah-magic straight into she bamsee. For truth. I once sneak a look
when Leonie dropped pants to wee in the bushes on the way down to
the river and saw a big black mark on she bamsee shaped like a hand,
fingers and all.
On days that Leonie push me too far, I tell she that the old woman
must'a slapped she hair curly and knock out her common dog sense.
Leonie jealous a' my hair—long, straight and greased in fresh coconut oil
at least once a week by the maid. Leonie had a mess a' hair. Her mammy
was lazy fuh so, and let it grow into a big tangle on top a' she head like
a giant, sugary tamarind ball. One day, the ball a' tangle dropped into
dreads. Leonie then tellin' me she was a rasta like her papa, but I know
that she have many papas. Maybe so many papas made a confusion of
her hair that it turn out just so.
I always take my hair out of its plaits and let it hang long when I sneak
away to play with Leonie, just to make her look at it. It make me feel
good especially on days when Leonie have a nasty mouth in she head,
and I sure it make her feel vex.
"Mama'Desta had hair like yours..." Leonie would say, touching it
with she crackly finger-skin. "Her hair silky-smooth, so-so long."
Mammy knows I play with Leonie when I come home with a head like
a vagabond. She usually gives me a real cut-arse and makes me promise
not to keep company with that poohar child. I be good for a while and
play with my school friends in their sharp uniforms. But Leonie would
soon arrive by the fence when she knows it is just me and the maids at
home, with a sweet, ripe guava or Julie mango in she hands, and I would
follow her, yelling to the maids that I gone. They can't say nothing to me
and suck their teeth and go on with the ironing. I the boss when mammy
gone.
prismmagazine.ca    43 I would follow Leonie and her chicken legs and white knees down the
road and climb down the river with she. She strong and have no fear,
and she help me down the bank if there was a monsoon and the sides
turn into loose, red sand. Leonie breath smell bad like cow mess, and her
teeth brown. She say she brush she teeth with twigs but I wonder if she
find them twigs in a cow mess. Leonie make me take off my shoes when
we walking down to the river. She didn't like shoes and say it make her
deaf, and that she couldn't hear the ground for spirits. She tell me not to
say she name out loud in case the douens call she into the forest forever
and turn she feet pointing backwards. Once in a while, Leonie shows up
with bruises and scratches on she face and arms, and tells me she was
in a fierce battle with the duppies and lived to tell the tale to only me. I
lived to hear the tales from her.
But today, Leonie make me vex. She act so-so secret with she beat-up
rucksack that she only take off when we reach the river. We squatted
on the side of the water, toes in the bright orange dirt, fishing for black
tadpoles with an old Milo can. She put she rucksack under she skirt, and
I give she a cut-eye and look at the sky, sucking my spit. She know I was
vex and tried to talk important with one a' she stories again. Listening to
her, I usually forget why I vex anyway. I lean back and sit with my feet in
the river, letting the tadpoles swim around and feast on my toe jam. The
hot-hot sun make me black like a dougla, like Leonie, but I don't care.
"See that tree there?" she said, nodding at a giant, wild pomerac tree
bursting with baboon-bottom-red fruit. "Mama'Desta had a tree like that
on she land, and would use it to bind any forest spirit that would make
trouble for she. She see things with she whole forehead, not just she
eyes. When she was a girl, she take a knife and cut a hole in she forehead
shape' like an eye. For truth. She say she mind was shoutin' loud-loud
to bust out a' she head so she cut sheself to let it out and wouldn't you
know, she could see more clear! Under the night of a full moon, her
mama forget to tie she with a' old nightie to the bed for sleepwalking.
She walked to this here-same river in a trance and cut she head open
like so. Leonie made a sawing motion in the middle of she head with
her dirty, crackly finger. After that, no spirit could sneak up on she. Her
obeah magic was strong-strong as she could see them things coming and
put them in their place.
"One time, a sugar cane worker's wife went missing. This poor man
look high and low for his wife, cutlass in hand. He convinced she run off
with he best friend and he go crazy in his head and cut down and burn
a whole field of his boss-man's dry cane, rats and snakes and all, looking
to find them.
"Only Mama'Desta knew what happened. This woman had come to
see her before she gone missing, asking for some obeah and wanting to
44     PRISM 47:4 pay for it with she gold wedding bangles. You see, every time this cane-
man's wife would go down by the river to fetch wash-water, she used to
see a head a' long hair flowing in that river. No body, just a head a' long
hair like yours. Flowing in the opposite direction of the river. For truth.
A voice which sounded sweet-sweet asked she to touch the hair, it was
so long and pretty. It look smooth and velvety like sea moss. The cane-
man's woman was scared out a' she mind. She go to her priests but they
laugh at her, and tell she to stay out a' she man's rum stock. She go to
Mama'Desta and beg for magic. Mama'Desta didn't do no charity, and
she didn't want no gold wedding bangles so she send the woman away.
You see, them wedding bangles have too much Hindu puja-words say
over them when that woman wear them on she wedding day. Those
prayer-words strong-strong and would interfere with Mama'Desta's
own-self obeah magic.
"Now when this lady gone missing, Mama'Desta know what happen.
She feel so-so bad that she cause this woman a misery. One night, she
went down to the river and make like she was taking water for washing
in she washbasin when, lo and behold, a head a' long dark hair appeared
on the water! Wouldn't you know, the very same sweet-sweet voice call
out to she, asking she to touch the hair.
"Well, Mama'Desta was prepared. For truth. She take out she iguana-skin conjure bag full a' protection. From it she took a string of red
jumbie-beads and put it on she neck and ankle. She hold a handful of
rock salt in one hand, and a cocoyea broom made from a coconut tree
branch from she own land in the other hand. She throw the salt into the
air and hit it with the broom into the river like a bat and ball.
"Let me tell you, there was one big confusion. This head a' hair pop
up out a' the water to take a look around to see who burn her with the
salt. Lo and behold, the hair belong to the one and only Mama Dglo!
She ugly snake body rise out a' that water and her tail made a crack on
the river like a cannon boom. Whaddap! Whaddap! Crack!
'"You burn me!' The thing scream at great-great grammy. It twist
around like it shedding it snake-skin. It scream and scream so long and
so hard that all the forest spirits and jumbies and duppies come out to see
the show. Mama'Desta take out a bottle a' dark rum from she bag and
give it to those duppies and jumbies to keep them quiet.
"'Where is the cane-man wife!' great-great grammy yelled. 'I ask you
for the cane-man wife! You have no business with she. She have a belly
full a' baby. Give she back!'
'"I can't give she back!' yelled Mama Dglo. 'I lonely.'
'"Where is your man, Papa Bois?' yelled Mama'Desta at the hag. 'Papa
Bois make your company and you can let the cane-man wife free!'
"'Papa Bois can take he hooves and shove it up he arse!' shrieked
prismmagazine.ca    45 Mama Dglo, 'That old goat disappear and the forest dry up dead. I
looooonely!'
"Well, let me tell you what my great-great grammy did. She make a
deal with Mama Dglo! For truth! Her own body to Mama Dglo in return
for the cane-man's wife! Mama'Desta put she hands deep into that hag's
mouth down to she armpits and pull out that woman. Then she climb in
and settle down in Mama Dglo's belly and go to sleep, curling up like a
little tattoo.
"The villagers found Mama'Desta's conjure bag down by the river the
next day and a' empty bottle of rum...but no sign a' she."
We were silent. I watched the tadpoles wriggle like naked babies in
the mud pool I made for them as the water slowly leaked out. I didn't
bother asking Leonie how she knew all of this as Mama'Desta was never
found. She just knew these things. It was her birthright. This knowledge
flowed through the web of white scars that painted her body.
"Leonie..." I asked, "does your mammy know this obeah?" I don't
normally ask Leonie about she mammy. It is quite well known in the village that she mammy a jagabat, but only because she lazy, and the men
stupid enough to pay she what they could get for free from their wives.
That is what my mammy tell me, anyway, whenever she try to stop me
from being with Leonie, right before she give me a fresh cut-arse to drive
home the point. "Leonie mammy dotish and loose," says my mammy as
I nurse my behind and feel sorry for myself. "She brings home any man-
jack she find in the road long enough to give her rum and cigarettes.
She don't even wash she clothes...she pile it all up in the middle of she
lawn and set it on fire. She lucky she get clap and can't have no more
babies."
Leonie leaned in to me, her hot breath stinking so that I held mine,
making my heart dance. "My mammy and my great mammy was cursed
after Mama Dglo take Mama'Desta. They can't make obeah any more.
But," she paused, "I hear my great-great grammy call out to me from
Mama Dglo's belly, from this here-same river. She teach me things."
My eyes fell out of my head.
"You speak to Mama'Desta?" I asked, ready to vomit. Or scream. Or
both.
Leonie nodded, then put her finger to her lips. Then she ran her finger across her neck in a sawing motion.
"Mama'Desta teach me obeah from Mama Dglo belly. Never tell anyone or else they beat me for the secrets. One of mammy's men could
read my mind. One night when mammy was asleep and I was making my bed on the floor he come over and get on top of me and try to
squeeze it out of me, but I bite his face and make a hole in his cheek. He
pelted me once on the head with his shoe before I run away. He knew
46     PRISM 47:4 black magic. He wanted my secrets. I could tell by how he look at me
when he come in the door."
"What does Mama'Desta say to you, Leonie? I not tell a soul." I meant
it, too. Leonie's magic was too strong. I could feel it. I could smell it.
"Great-great grammy wants me with she. She lonely. Mama Dglo
lonely. Papa Bois gone again. No water in the forest, the river running
dry. The tadpoles dying. Mama'Desta want to teach me, her true blood
kin who can see she and hear she. She calling me, every day, every
night. She in my dreams. I hear her talk, talk. She busting my head with
she talking," Leonie whispered. "She want to sing to me," hugging she
knees and looking at the river.
To this, I had nothing to add. I sat bursting with the knowledge of
something profound and holy. A primal need to go home.
"You my friend, right?" said Leonie, suddenly serious. "I need you to
help me get to Mama'Desta."
"Leonie... any thing. What do you need?" I asked.
She paused. "I need your hair."
"What? What is this madness? You mad in the head, girl," I said, and
sucked my teeth. I squatted, also looking at the river.
"I have never been more deadly serious in my life. Look at my hair.
How can I be with Mama'Desta in dreads? She not recognize me."
I pondered the possibility. "Leonie, if I do this, will you come and talk
with me by the river when you sleeping with Mama'Desta?"
"Yes. Of course. You like my blood sister."
I re-braided my glossy hair. It took a while for Leonie to saw off my
plaits with the small cutlass she produced from her secret rucksack. With
a bit of effort, I chopped off her own heavy dreads and we buried them
in a small hole near the river bank.
"Now help me wear this hair. Mama'Desta has to know me as kin."
I dressed Leonie in my hair, tying the stub of hers to the elastic holding the top of the braid together, then opened the plait at the bottom. She
was radiant with the mane of clean, freshly oiled hair flowing down her
shoulders.
"Now help me get ready before craupaud starts to sing his song,"
she said. I didn't like the bulbous frogs that populated the river at night,
hungry for revenge for us killing their children.
From Leonie's rucksack she produced a long strand of bright red
jumbie-beads and I dressed them around her neck. She looked fierce.
She close she rucksack before I could see anything else.
"Okay, now go home and do not tell anyone anything or Mama Dglo
will have her way with you." She paused. "I love you like blood." She
hugged me close, and I turned and left her on the riverbank.
Of course, I got a ripe cut-arse from mammy that evening. She did
prismmagazine.ca    47 not buy the excuse that I found some queen lice in my hair and tried to
treat the situation myself. I stood at my window that night staring up at
the pregnant moon, wishing Leonie along her voyage.
By the time the incident hit the newspaper, focused on the Svengali-
like effect Leonie had supposedly had on me, an innocent child from a
good, upstanding family, I had been thoroughly interrogated, harassed
and lectured-to by policemen in dull brown uniforms. Then reporters.
Then neighbours.
"Madness, child," they told me. "She was mad in the head like her
mammy. Her great grammy. It runs in the family. Her great-great grammy spent time in St. Ann's Madhouse, sayin' she seeing spirits and running around drinking, throwing curses on every man-jack she fell over.
You're lucky you got away with your head, if not your hair."
I went down to the river for the first time since I left Leonie, several
months later. The rains had come and green life stretched out underfoot.
I sat on the banks, leaving the tadpoles to an altogether different destiny.
Leonie's little body had never been found, but what lay at the side of
the river was a bloody cutlass and an empty bottle of dark rum. Leonie
whispered to me in my dreams and in the rushing of the water, daring
me to touch her now-flowing hair, her body washed clean, curled up like
tattoo in Mama'Desta's arms.
48     PRISM 47:4 Sue Sinclair
Fear of Wasps
He tried to explain it to me,
how his friend fell off his bike
and broke his clavicle after a wasp
flew up his shirt and stung him
repeatedly, continuing to sting him
even after he had fallen
into the ditch and lay in the dirt
howling, while my friend laughed
at him, doubled over, unable
to clasp his friend's outstretched hand.
The story told me almost nothing
about wasps. But his failure
to grasp his friend's hand puts me
in mind of Adam's finger
almost but not quite touching god's.
And perhaps the wasps are somehow
the embodiment of the space
between those two hands, that inch
of not-being. They are the gap
my friend fears in the world—flying zeros,
buzzing nihilists—their carrion-loving bodies
a lacuna carried from one day into the next.
It's not a fear of being stung but of being stung
and reaching out and finding nothing there,
for he loved his friend
but despised him in equal measure,
and the gap between these things
he cannot account for.
prismmagazine.ca     49 Cherry Trees
A blur of white, pre-photogenic.
Ships bound for distant shores.
A hint of nostalgia
that isn't an escape—or if it is
we escape only into the here and now,
only into this same place
cast in another light.
The trees stand unblinking,
pull down so much sunshine they seem
finally to disappear into it, become
a deficiency, pale, forgetful.
They gather absence around them
and are strangely increased by it
in a way I envy.
It feels like someone has put their head
on my shoulder. And it weighs
nothing at all.
50     PRISM 47:4 "I Am My Body"
(a response to Maurice Merleau-Ponty)
Perhaps. But what happens
when you're lying in bed, barely able
to lift your head to a glass,
barely able to wet your lips
on the rim of that glass, and
the body—indeed the whole bodily world—
grows suddenly strange, loses its noumenal
flush and glow, alien now as the light
from an eclipse, the distance brought nearer
but not to touch, no, not that.
What happens when the world is not
your world, when it seems sunken,
immersed in some trouble
that doesn't concern you,
and your body is part of that sinking?
A strangeness can creep in that your body
has trouble shaking, like someone falling out
of love and unable to stop themselves.
The body pales and shudders. And as it fights
its losing battle, the mind surreptitiously
withdraws, steals back over the shadowed bridge
between them: you once shared a name
with your body; now you aren't sure
what that can have meant.
prismmagazine.ca     51 Le Cathedral Notre Dame
The flashes going off every few
seconds, pale moths fluttering
in the hundreds, battering
the pews but disappearing before
they reach the ceiling's high arch.
A kind of migration, echoed
in the rustling of thin pages, guidebooks
in a dozen different languages
talking together, trying to understand
why history is not enough,
why we cling to our dreams of heaven,
for each flash releases
such a dream. Our faces are pale
and uncertain: death wanders through
them like a tourist, even here,
where our heads tilt back in wonder
as we listen to the rustling pages
and all the other noises we try
not to make (squeaking
rubber soles, crinkling Gore-Tex)
rise, lifted to the domed ceiling
and transformed into prayer.
52     PRISM 47:4 Priscila Uppal
The Delicate Synthesis
Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time
a big-haired woman with clouds for a dress
opened her mouth & rocks rolled out.
Giant rocks tumbled onto giant rocks &
thus were hills & mountains formed.
Then these hills & mountains in turn
opened their mouths—to sing the big-
haired woman's praises, of course—&
more rocks tumbled out & thus cities
& temples formed.
Look out: one day, a soreness
will grab you, a heavy-headed ache,
& you too will open your mouth &
a giant rock will tumble out:
For millennia, this big-haired woman
with clouds for a dress has been
lovingly planning your tombstone.
You will sign it with a cough &
the story will begin all over again.
prismmagazine.ca    53 In the Library
In the library
in the map room
a new civilization is surfacing.
Out of the drawers
a sun spills into a sea
a tower flies past a spaceship
a car gurgles a park.
If you would like to join us
we are meeting at midnight
at the microfiche
where our souls will be squeezed
through a viewfinder, photographed,
printed and catalogued, just so
no one forgets we were here
(before we disappear).
54     PRISM 47:4 Cathleen With
Ging's Selling Up Sharks on
Karon Beach
Hopped up, messed up, clear sharpness, cerulean blue Andaman
Sea churning up, low island season Poo-ket, Phuket, fuck-et, no
one's on the buy here on the Karon Beach, don't got many Germans, Danes over for the Pure Blue Speed, I'm outta that shit-ass Bangkok Catholic International School before their straight-necked, straight-
jacket, wannabe American type high school dance, they can't do a real
thing like they think they got in actual America, those diplomat kids and
embassy snots, I am so done with them, woulda had my high school diploma, woulda had it at sixteen, not for the Blues got strung up Bangkok
with Sylvie, but she's gone and I had to run here, way way away from
my dear ol' embassy daddy, momma's a long time gone, goodbye dear
ol' kidfucker pops, Phuket, drug running on Karon Beach.
What do those tourists know back in their Euro-dollar jobs, scrimping
and saving and buying some cafe lattes every day, dreaming about their
little Andaman Sea vacation in their little cubicles of work what not,
and then here, fondling their little wooden motorcycles bought from the
greasy-faced little Thai kid who ran off with their money before they
could realize five hundred baht was way to much to pay for that factory
model piece of shit, I'm still here, kid/adult/some-kinda-lost boy/girl
in-between, sampling, selling the best pill-based speed this side of the
Andaman Sea, you on the buy?
You on the buy? That crap they got up Koh Phi Phi, Krabi way,
mostly good shit down here on Karon Beach, Phuket, twenty baht a pill,
can crush it, shoot it, or do out nice and clean, mean, steady the way I
like, just pop some pills and follow with a sweet glass of Cabernet Sau-
vignon, pretend I'm back in Bangkok at some lame-ass daddy embassylike party, beach-like scene without daddy's friend, Fat-ass, staring you
down, "You looking for an older man, sweetheart?" Fuck you, I have
daddy, had daddy, real daddy giving me some money and putting me
up in supposedly the best Catholic International School this side of Asia,
not now not now...dontcaredontcare—don't care, now on the beach,
some Thai lobster caught out sea-fresh, monsoon tides jibbing, Blues
in my pocket and in my gut, and Ging's in the restaurant grilling shark
prismmagazine.ca    55 steaks up with garlic and pepper and lemongrass, oh to be high Thai
Momma Mai Tai.
Doesn't matter how it started, you wanna know, you wanna know,
I'll fuckin' tell ya, yeah, I read The Beach hiding with flashlight under
my covers in that Catholic International School, only fun bits about that
school was the girls but they were so straight, no one on the downlow,
damn The Beach, some type living it up in a sexed-out, jazzed-out private
gecko colony, every Thanon Khao San residence dream: fucking, smoking, swimming, but the author's private resort now in real time taken
up on Sim's tours, resorts, some cutesy seventeen-year-old Thai hottie
quit selling the plumeria and stained blue orchid gig to peddle tours to
Phang-gna bay and Man With the Golden Gun, James Bond 007 massive rock, now, I can see her out there on the beach, can you hear her:
Hey, you wanna go see where Leonardo di Caprio got screwed? We
take you, only 350 baht, we take you see Leo Beach,
Those tourists whacked out all for another 500 baht in the pocket free
sunset meal on the way back, the waves kicking at ya, hottie Thai girl
winking at ya all sexy-like, whisper, you like jiggy-jig? And the stirred-
up sand too smoky to see any good fish, kids running naked, big bellies
to feed, Daili on the tuktuk drinking Singha Beer to keep the boredom
away of bootin' the whiteys, their titties hanging out on the beach, fat
Euros wrecking the shocks of Daili's rented jeep, as they step into the
back of the cab,
You want taxi? Daili say, We go Patong Beach 150 baht,
Their Billabong, Oakley, Nike decked out like kids in a fucking South
East Asian sweatshop candy store, teens from some real school like they
make them in LA or New York, waxing bored with the Ma and Pa,
no surfing allowed for junior in the monsoon season, no parasailing for
Sara, the riptides jerking their white asses up in waves, rescue lifeguards
yelling, Tourist Authority Thailand guards whistle blowing them back,
wanting no more foreign deaths on the Andaman Sea, hush hush the current record of five deaths just in this monsoon season alone, yes, name
it, say it, manta rays spray, just the wicked riptide, harsh dude, and the
bloody tourists ignoring the signs, massage women screaming:
You come in now!
They don't want your un-manicured hands, feet and un-massaged
body, just you out of the waves so their brother-husband-son doesn't
have to risk his ass saving your stupid pearly white one. Jealous I'm not
jealous, their mothers running after them, Johnny, come back in, let's go
back to the hotel, I'm not jealous, momma's dead baby, momma's dead,
my Thai nanny, Shanva, says, in my head, her voice ringing through our
teak furnitured out Bangkok apartment, momma's dead, baby, so long
ago, so long.
56     PRISM 47:4 I'm bleeped out on the memory bank, can't get away from it, trying to
eat my Ging's special Thai shark meal and just trip out from five blueys
on Ponderal speed on the tunage, but,
There's Sylvie, she's seventeen, and we're just getting ready to go to that
lame-ass high school dance, Chulalongkorn Catholic American International School, Bangkok, Thailand, Earth, World, and she's drinking
Singha Lite because she's been losing more weight, and she's smoking
those long kind Thiana menthol, the same kind of cigarette she taught
me to smoke on a year before, when I met her, behind the school putting on lip gloss I stole from the Siam Square, and she looked at me, and
her lashes, and I loved her in the first puff, and I want to take the long
menthol smoke from her fingers and suck in without coughing, like she
taught me that day we walked along Soi 27, trying to hitch it to Siam
Square in downtown Bangkok, trying to scare up some drinks. I tell her
smoking: it feels like long ago in my little preschool near Rama IV road,
mushing my face in a plumeria full of dew and breathing in pungent,
crisp, air-like menthol.
And she knows because she's also an embassy brat, long from Vientiane and Phnom Penh and she remembers being little and the fallen
flowers on the streets, white and dirty. But now we're at Siam Square,
blow school, blow school, and Sylvie is drinking a Singha Lite (because
of the diet), and she tells me she's started these pills, diet pills, and I'm interested, god why was I interested, and her daddy's some big ass ambassador and she's got the foreigner laws to watch out for, and so do I, but I
don't give a fuck, not anymore, house all brown and Buddha sculptures
and daddy doesn't come home much anymore, because I don't want to
say it, I don't want to see it, but when I look in the mirror, I know it's
because I am becoming too old for him, fifteen and too much a woman
for him already, and Sylvie knows I'm loving the crap food, the International School kids call it the Bangkok bulge, how we all get fooded
out and fat, homesick, what's homesick when you don't know where's
home?
Been in Thailand for so long, only know the khlongs and Chao Phaya
river taxis, tuk tuks, and hot hot traffics, the anytime street satay, cool
touch of Shanva, my Thai nanny, and the way the teak fan turns and
turns in my room, makes the gauzy curtains swish, Sylvie knows I get
caught out in school, just last week in French class, ol' Frenchie teacher
says, you high?
Nope
food-ed, Blue-d out, gonna come crashin' down soon, sugar dump
coming, Big Rock Candy Mountain crashing.
prismmagazine.ca    57 Andaman Sea. And a man sees. Not far to fill in the blanks, chilling on
shark meat, cheap wine, and those little blueys of Ponderal, oh dear,
sleep never come my way, gotta wash them with some Xanax when
I wanna close the winkers, all the day, getting in with the sarong sellers, planning another foreigner rip off. Easy to do, easy to spot the UK
tards who just got off the British Airways, first stop Phuket, never been
stamped past Hong Kong before.
Picked off an Irishman today, good good score, immigration lax in
Ireland, mostly the U.S. gives a hard time over passport sales, checking
the bloody pictures and scanning it through the scan device that just
about kills every one who's on the make with the passport sales. I take it
off his strewn backpack, he's dancing the waves and I sidle up, pretend
I'm his girlfriend to the other whiteys, but it's only Jon-see who sees me,
and she knows I'm on the make, slowly comes over with her hand out
and I palm her a 500 baht bill to keep her quiet, who is this guy? Flip
open the passport, let's see, John Michael Prance, yup, he's prancing
the waves, and I nick it, am off the beach and down at Ole the master
forger, some Swede who has got gorgeous half-Thai, half-Scandinavian
children, especially the little boy, sandy hair, dark skin, Ole's watches
him good, keeps him safe, keeps him safe, when the pedos come sniffing
around.
There's a pulse that starts at the neck where I'm getting ride out of the
pills, maybe the carotid artery, who knows, seeing that little boy makes
me want to weep, makes me think of Sylvie and me high, out back the
Chulalongkorn Catholic International School, talking about family, how
we could make us some kind of family, adopt some of the poor Thai kids
we pass on the street to school every day, just us and our babies, and her
eyelashes, and I can't get the weepies here at Ole's trying to make some
cash so I can get the pill flow going again, gotta get up to the main dealer
guy at Patong, gotta get some mail-outs to the pillheads in Bangkok, can't
think of the little kids, can't think about my lost faerie family.
I could blame it all on that old doctor, maybe he's the one who started
me on it, flying out with Sylvie, my number one love, the kind of love
that leaves you slothing on a jungle branch, never want to wake up, never want to see the real, that kind of love. Wanted to have Sylvie and me
just together, baby, just girlfriends and happy/easy under the stupid haze
of the Bangkok sky, why not why not, we got money from our daddies,
we could buy anything, be anything together, like the beautiful trannies
tell ya at Nana Plaza: Baby, anything's can happen Thailand.
Sylvie is dancing withjorhi, they are so lovely together and I'm sitting
back, loving it all, drink in hand, my girls, old Bangkok pharmacy man
has set us up good, gives us the Ponderal blue, Phen-fen. And I'm the
one who keeps the hook-ups for me and Sylvie, how could I not, we can
58     PRISM 47:4 party every night, so awake, and kiss till dawn and still make school, and
my marks are not in the toilet and people like me more at that school,
Hey bright eyes, they say, and daddy, who cares I don't care about daddy, where he is anymore, what he does anymore, what little Thai girl he
might be sneaking home, I find her underpants in our laundry basket,
now no Thai nanny, where is Shanva? You don't need her anymore, do
you darling, daddy says, and I mumble, I guess not, I guess not, but my
heart needs her, my only momma I remember, now I have Sylvie, now
all I have is Sylvie. Every Tuesday I skip second period Socials at school
to take the BTS to Phonburi road to the old pharmacy man's office and
the pink-framed glasses receptionist girl, she just hands me over the bag
and charges me some baht and I take out the envelope Sylvie and I put
together and grab it, put it in my school-girl satchel.
And me grinning inside heart racing, nothing to it, and then I don't go
there anymore, because thirty pounds have now come off and ol' pharmacy doctor won't give me the damn script anymore, have to boot it up
in the street near Patpong to some far out pharmacy that's not getting
any computer net news about Phen-fen and how it's destroying heart
muscles, but by then it doesn't matter,
by then the car accident out on Thonburi has happened and every
morning I wake up with the bone scattering silent scream of it in my
mind, try to go to school, daddy, I try to go to school, but no Sylvie, six
months on Percodans for the pain, not of shattering the legs, not the pelvic fracture, not the left lobe concussion but the blocking blinding pain
of sitting crumpled for two hours waiting in a death grip off the meridian
near the long drop to Thonburi canyon, the green the green of the nun
kapok and ngiew trees sucking out my air, watching my Sylvie
oh Sylvie no
rattle her last little gulps of breath, and the snow of chaba flowers on
her face, the white melting petal-snow that I want to reach out and wipe
away from her bangs, her blonde hair rusty with blood and her quiet
lips, hours.
But that was before before before, can see the blue waves trembling
off my eyelids, come the fuck off it, Phuket, and got the insurance money
from the driver, daddy, thank you daddy you did one good thing by your
little girl, all the best lawyers for my crumpled little girl, let me sleep, let
me go, when I could walk and then crapped outta that international
school, and fucked off to Phuket, fuck-et, and I've got the shit down now,
how can a person, what does a being do with that shit, that death, but
don't matter, don't think! And I got the system, no worries, it is down,
down like heavy rain. None of that messed up FDA crapped out Phen-
fen that they finally took off the Bangkok market, the North American
lines, nope, here in Phuket I got the pure strain, got my medicine Pharm
prismmagazine.ca    59 man on the make at Patong Beach, daddy sends his letters, daddy tries
to save his little girl, writes the letters, the telegrams the emails, Come
home baby girl, but I am not his baby anymore, was I ever?
He sends me money at the guesthouse, daddy's good to his little
messed up girl, don't have to worry about these little babies wrecking
the heart muscle, they are Pure Blue Speed. A system, a systematized
sty-stematic (some skinny assed white kneed Brit just knobbled his way
down with a complete set of every Phuket tourist pamphlet imaginable,
gotta get on him, okay, Ging says he stays at The Yellow Gecko, know
the management well, got half the cleaning staff connected on the sell
for me, my own set of keys to the safety deposit boxes, "Buffalo Soldier"
good ol' Marley singing "why-yo yo")
I look in mirrors, try not to, no, no, remember when Sylvie and I decked
it out at school, only one year ago, only one year, I can see her, all pretty-
girled-up, mascara even got down at the Boots, god, then Sylvie and me
in a bad spot waking up with pavement in our mouths down Thonburi
road way, morning traffic rushing by us, we ditched out eating Bangkok
exhaust dust, me not remembering, why were we there, why are we on
the road? Thinking some fucked up British dudes Rohipnol-ed us, or
gave us the GBT, and Sylvie's looking at me, outside of herself, whispering to my head on the pavement, I can't see the speaking her, only her
face, eyes closed and her breath rattling says, "fuckers, damned fuckers, can't remember what they looked like, fuckers, come on, we gotta
shower them off, go to the dance, we're going to be late, come on,"
and her blonde hair rusty with blood, her breathing gone with the
whistling flower-snow.
The sarong sellers are back selling it up at Ging's restaurant, and they're
Thai men, not so bad, it's when the kids come with their sweet smelling
plumeria and brown eyes, seeing them makes a big ache as big as Sylvie
and the babies we were going to adopt, the big Bangkok apartment on
Soi 85, near the Chao Praya, lots of clean full baby bellies, strong teeth
and laughter, good schools, bread dinner talks, children from all over
Thailand, me and Sylvie's kids, our big family dream, neighbour kids
over to play, friends, all in the house, dancing.
I could end it today, the race of it, take a load off down Karon Beach
way, one two three a.m., no one there, blank faced sun chairs egging me
on with their winking umbrella faces torn with the Andaman Sea wind,
through the waves, caught in the riptide, pulled and pull the air out of
me. But the Thais would find my body, bloated, swollen, they would
smell the pathetic piss of me, and they would laugh for years.
60     PRISM 47:4 Those two guys that walked into Ging's just now, some tourists, they
seem slimy, or into brown kids, these two guys that just walked in with
their guts and butts hanging out, oh, yup, pedos—there's the kids that
do it on Karon Beach coming up to them now, hungry for some money,
wanting to get the sex over with, selling flowers, and sliding their little
hands down the fat man thighs, the one little girl is smiling and she's
toothless in the front, alls I want for Christmas is a space for a blowjob
and a hundred baht to give to mummy to make her proud of me.
She's got brown eyes, almond eyelids, clear skin, dirty feet, and I hold
down an urge to run and pick her up, run, get her away from the sweaty
faced pedophile getting the hots. Take her to Disneyland, watch her walk
through the Fairy Princess Castle. Some American bullshit dream, like
the satellite TV I used to watch at daddy's house in Bangkok, dreaming
of going home, what home, how home? Instead the little girl leaves with
the two tourists. It's two o'clock in the afternoon, and I am Percodan-ed
out with the depression, lows are lows, hate this fucking place, stinking
seedy hovel Phuket, where's my fucking pills, my pharm man whipping
them up late, it's high time for some goddamned pills.
If there's an end to this it's with the Chulalongkorn Catholic International School, Bangkok Thailand, Earth, World, chicks who've never
had a lovely girl with
long eyelashes that
brush you right in the small space
tell you, you are beautiful, one girl yes, one yes, dead on a Thonburi
street, Sylvie, coming home with Sylvie, sitting at Siam Square, laughing, coffee shop after a kick-ass high school party, just down the street
from Chulalongkorn Catholic International School, in Bangkok, Thailand, Sylvie who whispered, you're lovely, mine, us, in the half-moon
light without asking for anything after, without wanting to jack up, speed
up, stone out, or get dreads, surf the Andaman blues, and smoke the
Thai bong all night long. Ging's trying to serve up all the sharks she can,
and marinate them sweet with ginger and Thai lemongrass, without dark
vans, this dagger death shame washing out in the waves, the dancing
Andaman Sea, and the same moon that's mocking me now in Thailand,
that was shining on her face, flower-snow, Thonburi.
prismmagazine.ca    61 Jacob Scheier
The Bus Ride that Became a
Horror Movie
It's 98 km to where, more or less, the incident occurred. You
probably read about it for weeks. Remember that first day
when it was a tragedy, before it unravelled into punch line?:
a man walks onto a bus and saws another man's head off
for (drum roll) no reason. My American friends sent me emails like:
"I hear they're beheading people in Canada now." You get it?—
we're one of those countries. Add it to the list
of what Americans know about us: everyone
plays hockey, they have socialized medicine, and
once in a while slice each other's heads off, because
it's really fucking cold there, I guess. And here I am
taking that route and thinking about the Saturday
Globe last summer where the reporter rode from Edmonton
to Winnipeg as though the landscape could reveal
or explain anything, as though this highway was haunted
now (as though it wasn't before). Thinking
this is how we approach trauma in this country—with headlines
like The Bus Ride that Became a Horror Movie
or A Quiet Ride then Carnage. And I watch
the passengers. Mostly young guys, sitting alone,
like me. The man across is the one
whose head I might just chop off, then eat his face.
Isn't that what happened? The murderer spitting his victim's
teeth out like watermelon seeds. Who remembers
62     PRISM 47:4 the details now, as we depart, driving through the prairie-scape,
driving into spring, ice patches melting all around,
barren shrubs half-submerged in water, the tall grass still
a dull yellow, its colour sucked out like blood. A deer
half-flattened by the side of the road, bloodied ass
mooning us. Quickly approaching Portage, passengers
hooked into iPods and dreams, anywhere but here
and a sign reading "Various Positions Available" and everything
on sale. Right here, approximately, just hacking and hacking,
how many times till a head pops off? Watching
the parking lot fill, the line up growing inside the Tim Hortons
like they were selling indulgences in there, translates
into an argument for various acts of violence. But doesn't
mean anything, really. That's what causes us,
maybe, to play so much goddam hockey and forget
every route in this endless country
is a passage through death,
as we arrive in Winnipeg. Sunlight a golden sludge, thick
as blood, oozing off the warehouse facades, glorious and utterly
un-newsworthy.
prismmagazine.ca    63 For Dave in Istanbul
Night after night, in a pub we could almost mistake for one of our
locals, basement walls drowning out the evening call to prayer.
Except the names of everything, especially the women, remind us
we are foreigners, the yabancilar referred to in the menu,
whose drinks cost double the price. We are Adams in reverse,
arriving the very last bloody creatures on the scene.
The animals already named, the earth fully decorated. And Eve
already fallen and fallen and fallen. While we drink our way
to the bottom of the Bosphorus, where we might just find
the nails our gypsy mothers took from the cross. Yours left,
you tell me, to play guitar for other people's children,
while mine stole her body to nothing, vanishing
like prayer beads inside the palms of old men or beneath
the blouses of the curious girls in Taksim Square. And now we ascend
the pub steps into the softening sky, and the streets barren
as our pasts. We stumble across the half-toothless grin
of shoddy cobblestone roads, and the skeletal remains of a cart:
a birdcage, a sack of cashews, some piece of crap
with a picture of Ataturk. We arrive where we started from,
though have forgotten it again: the kokorec stand like a mythic tree
waiting for us at the place where the roads part. And we eat
lamb intestines, obeying the only law binding our lives now—
not to look inside the bun. In an hour the muezzin will call the faithful,
and I'll feel pious for being awake at this time. And a little later
will wake to men taking sledgehammers to a brick house
across the street, and see you asleep on the sofa,
clothes soaked in spilt beer, and think this is my life now
and am alright with that. And I keep thinking it until
I awake one morning in Cairo, then another in Jerusalem,
then once more in Toronto, and sit down, finally,
to write this poem about something that happened, it seems,
when I was quite young, feeling a closeness to you matched
only by the distance of the continent and years between us.
64     PRISM 47:4 A Love Poem
I know how I change in Kafka-esque ways,
when I get what I long for. So, I am pretty alright
with keeping our romance as is,
the exchange of letters and poems, a coffee once a year-
the subtle flirtations that may all be in my head,
or that you weave, like a web in the night,
in the minds of nearly every man you talk to.
I am okay with that, since I am in love,
most of all, with the way we fall in love.
The burial ceremony of old skins
and sound judgment. Glorious—
how un-platonist I feel at the thought of you
drying your hair. And I do not write this
with any delusions of it showing you something
you cannot already see. Poetry can't
substitute for the absurd currency of attraction
the way someone winces when they sneeze
or stir their coffee.
I write now from the place of good love poems,
the ones that have no intent;
seek to change nothing,
and live alongside the prayers of desperate secularists,
formed simply and only,
because there is nothing else left to do.
prismmagazine.ca     65 Vanessa Lent
Eleven
Seventeen aces.
Carlo found seventeen aces,
seemingly from different decks,
throughout the day.
When he awoke
he found the first one
sticking to his drool-encrusted cheek
and when he'd pulled it off
it made the sound of cat-tongue on silk.
The second ace was shimmied
behind the bathroom mirror
where only the top right hand corner was visible.
The third he found
inside the Tupperware container
that contained the previous night's dinner,
half of which he was scooping
(aceless)
into a smaller container for his lunch that day.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth
fell out of Carlo's wallet
when he paid for his coffee.
Seven came to him virtually,
appearing as a Screensaver
on his office computer.
Eight was taped
to the back of the bathroom stall door
and he stared at it
the whole two minutes of his shit.
66     PRISM 47:4 He refused to be surprised at nine and ten,
which were paper-clipped
to the back of a report in his inbox.
But eleven,
nestled in Mary-Lou's ample bosom,
eleven took even now-seasoned Carlos by surprise.
Twelve (or was it three?)
made a (repeat?) appearance
in his lunch container.
He was ready for thirteen,
floating in the clogged drain of the water fountain.
Likewise fourteen, firmly attached
to the sunvisor of his Tercel.
Carlos wasn't sure if fifteen even counted,
existing only as an unfamiliar, smoky voice
on his answering machine
breathing the word ace between beeps.
He waited hours for more cards to appear.
He spent the evening
in a constant state of readiness,
pacing from room to room
opening drawers and jumping in front of windows,
trying to catch either the card or the card-layer.
Finally, minutes before
he finally switched off the television,
sixteen appeared for a moment on channel seven
before being replaced by an advertisement
for toothpaste.
prismmagazine.ca    67 This relieved him
and he went to bed surprisingly calm.
Right before he drifted off to sleep
Carlo reached underneath his pillow
and rubbed seventeen between his thumb
and his index-finger knuckle,
the image of Mary-Lou's evasive bosom
fading in and out of his dream-vision.
68     PRISM 47:4 On not leaving the house
Richard has been challenging his grilled cheese expectations.
It started by mistake; one day there was no cheddar.
About to give up on his craving
he palmed the container
of feta as he shifted it to look behind.
Bringing it up to his face, so he could
examine it through both the top
and bottom portions of his bifocals,
he tentatively ran his tongue
over his bottom lip
and two-day chin stubble.
The rest of lunch was prepared hastily,
as if any pause would cause reconsideration
and defeat.
Frying pan warming, bread buttered,
he mashed the feta onto the unbuttered
side of one of the slices,
making sure it spread over the surface
but did not touch any crust.
About to place the top
piece of bread on his creation,
his hand,
raised unconsciously,
opened the fridge as if divinely inspired
and blindly pulled out a bag of basil,
most of which had shriveled and turned black.
prismmagazine.ca    69 He plucked a few choice leaves and,
giggling, eyes slightly bugged and shining,
placed them atop the feta
before resting the final piece of bread
and dropping the sandwich into the frying pan,
where it began to sizzle immediately.
Never had he watched anything more intently in his life.
70     PRISM 47:4 Stephanie Yorke
[From a long poem set in a
short town]
The elm trees, tall in their kingdom, died
before James was born, so the Lion's Club
put in ash and maple saplings
along the Esplanade and Inglis Street—
cut half-circles through the elevated sidewalk
and installed iron-alloy tree-guards.
They hoped to stop
i. dogs
from rubbing up and up
or getting tied to the little trunks
while their owners shop—it's not allowed.
Not enforced, but frowned upon.
Frowns concede nothing to the small white
dogs of the frenzied elderly who consult
the Inglis Street jeweller, his roughened face
inset with the jeweller's loupe, busy periscope
sunk in a two-tone watch,
steeped, as it turns out, in battery leakage.
—No, I'll keep it. The strap's still good.
The tied white dog has an axe to grind
against every pant leg; and then manic white teeth
in the rearview window, above a sticker with
—My Boss is ajewish Carpenter
or
—Don't like my driving?
Call 1-800-FUCK OFF
prismmagazine.ca    71 ii) parallel misdemeanors,
ends of mini-vans easing
over the curb, eyes all the while
on Margolians' Department Store or Tim Hortons;
the "Indonesian" treatment in the "international"
shop window; the Ho Ho Wok Chinese.
hi) boys.
On foot or on wheels. Jason, Jack. James.
Today, at the school, they inoculated James
on a stackable plastic chair, turned backward;
his arm over the headrest like an open
car window, latex strip cordoning off
the big vein, when the nurse finally
introduced herself as Ms. Just Count to Three;
he didn't count, and got his comeuppance—stab!—
with her already reading the next surname.
—Zwanepol, please.
Afterward, they showed the class a Hepatitis C
slideshow, just so they'd know what they'd missed.
The nurse said they might feel sick.
James wishes he were sick, home, indulged, apart
from the rush for the school buses, grades one through six flapping
jackets and backpacks
clump clump up the tall bus stairs,
and the dash for the parking lot, parents' cars
waiting to take their kids to matinees and restaurants,
and James' mother giddy for the Friday rummage sale
72     PRISM 47:4 where long-breasted women rummage and shake
out sweaters, Archie comics, ice skates like softened
wine skins; the slippery church basement,
fold-out card tables; the sales lady in her change apron,
sagging with quarters.
—Lookit James. Would you wear this?
Afterward, James and his mother drive down Prince Street,
past the two still-dying elms
with their brown medicine rings
like the foam belts toddlers wear swimming.
—How do those work?
—Slows the disease.
Between the belted elms and the old Normal College
(recently converted to a YMCA) the library
is urban renewal pink
with a flat cement top, long tinted windows
like cool-guy sunglasses, wheelchair ramp
laden with skateboarders, boards flying
through the air like tongues.
—What do you want for dinner?
He knows she means the grocery store.
Okay. French fries. Kilo frozen. Hogshead of ketchup.
They park outside the Cash and Carry, and inside,
under the numbered aisle lights
Aisle 1 Candy and Confectionary
prismmagazine.ca    73 Aisle 2 Crackers and Condiments
everyone meets. Dilapidated teens, amnesia-stricken
men, ill-advised mothers with mis-aligned hips. The family
stooping and sweating in zippered winter coats
Aisle 3 Canned Goods
checking the price on a tin of fruit cocktail,
army-sized, five percent cherries guaranteed;
checking the shopping cart's trick wheels
and calling back wayward toddlers,
tightwad wives, overspent husbands;
calling back soft outsourced grandparents, who murmur
about their watch straps.
James' mother counts exact change, and pays
while he half-nelsons the frozen fries.
In the car, he pushes down all four locks.
74     PRISM 47:4 Contributors
Devina Bahadoorsingh immigrated to Vancouver in 1984, spending
the first 12 years of her life being lulled to sleep by the ocean waves of
Trinidad and Tobago. She has Master's degrees from both the University
of British Columbia (Social Work) and the University of Toronto (Urban Planning). She has worked with First Nations communities, abused
women and children and families in crisis. She now works as a front-line
social worker and manages the needs of her two young daughters, husband and overactive imagination.
Laura Boudreau's short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary
journals and publications, including Grain, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly and online atjoyland.ca (Toronto). She is a graduate of the Creative
Writing Master's Program at the University of Toronto. She currently
makes her living as a freelance writer and editor.
Mary Romero Ferguson's poetry career began at the auspicious age
of eight when she won a prize with the prompt, "If I had one wish it
would be..." Since then, her wish has been to continue that love of crafting words, and more recently, she has received the Luci Shaw Prize in
Creative Writing upon completing her Master's thesis in poetry. She currently resides in Vancouver.
Jane Awde Goodwin is a soon-to-be graduate of York University and
lives in Toronto with an arthritic schnauzer named Schmidt. Dreams for
the future include swimming with sharks and renting lakeside property.
She has been published in Room and received an honourable mention in
the 2008 International 3-Day Novel Contest.
Sonnet L'Abbe is the author of two collections of poetry, A Strange Reliefand Killarnoe, both published by McClelland and Stewart. She is a
regular reviewer for the Globe and Mail and has taught writing at the University of Toronto. She is currently completing her doctorate in English
Literature at the University of British Columbia.
Vanessa Lent, originally from Edmonton, has followed her studies from
the Okanagan to Winnipeg to Halifax. She is currently living, breathing and
sleeping all things Canadian modernist literature as she spars with her doctoral thesis, which is less "David vs. Goliath" and more "Tom and Gerry."
prismmagazine.ca    75 Andrea MacPherson is the author of four books: two novels, When She
Was Electric (Raincoast, 2003) and Beyond the Blue (Random House, 2007)
and two poetry collections, Natural Disasters (Palimpsest, 2007) and Away
(Signature Editions, 2008). Andrea teaches Creative Writing at the University of the Fraser Valley and Douglas College.
Nicholas Matthews is a traveller, freelance writer, occasional editor,
contract teacher, post-professional musician, hobby gardener, engineer
of elaborate plant-watering systems, enthusiastic cook, etc. He lives in
Montreal but counts Germany and France as second and third homes in
no particular order.
Lisa Moore is the author of two collections of short stories, Degrees of
Nakedness and Open, and the novel, Alligator. She recently selected and
introduced the Penguin Anthology of Short Fiction by Canadian Women and
co-edited with Dede Crane, Great Expectation: 24 True Stories About Birth.
Both Alligator and Open were nominated for the Giller Prize and Alligator won The Commonwealth Prize for the Canadian Caribbean Region.
Lisa's most recent novel, February, is forthcoming in June 2009.
Catherine Owen's work has appeared in periodicals such as The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead and Poetry Salzburg. Titles include: Somatic—
The Life and Work ofEgon Schiele (Exile Editions, 1998), nominated for the
Gerald Lampert Award, The Wrecks of Eden (Wolsak and Wynn, 2002),
shortlisted for the BC Book Prize, and her new collections, Shall: ghaz~
als (Wolsak and Wynn, 2006) and Cusp/detritus (Anvil Press, 2006), both
longlisted for the Relit Prize. Her poems have been translated into Italian and Korean. She has a Master's degree in English from Simon Fraser
University and collaborates with multiple artists, including serving as
bassist and singer in the bands INHUMAN and Helgrind.
James Phelan is from Montreal. He is a graduate of the Liberal Arts
College at Concordia University and a Master's student in English at the
University of British Columbia.
Michael Eden Reynolds lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, with his wife
Jenny and their two children. His poems have won the Ralph Gustafson
Poetry Prize and the John Haines Award for Poetry. He was a finalist for
the CBC Literary Awards in 2005 and The Malahat Review Long Poem
Contest in 2007. A poem published in PRISM in 2007 was selected for
inclusion in The Best of Canadian Poetry in English 2008 (Tightrope Books).
Michael's first book, Slant Room, will be published by Porcupine's Quill
this fall.
76     PRISM 47:4 Jacob Scheier is a poet and journalist, originally from Toronto and currently living in New York City. His debut poetry collection, More to Keep
us Warm (ECW Press), won the 2008 Governor General's Award. The
book was also named amongst 2008's "Best in Verse" by the Winnipeg
Free Press. Jacob's poems have appeared in several literary journals and
aired on CBC radio. He is the former head editor of Existere. He is also
a regular contributor to Toronto's NOW magazine, and NYC progressive
newspaper, The Indypendent.
Sue Sinclair's latest collection of poems, Breaker, has been nominated
for the Pat Lowther Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Sue currently
lives in Toronto, where she is studying philosophy.
Karen Solie was born in Saskatchewan. She's served as Writer-in-Res-
idence for the University of Alberta and University of New Brunswick,
and has been on poetry faculties for Sage Hill and Banff Centre. Her first
collection of poems, Short Haul Engine, won a BC Book Prize, and was
shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, ReLit Prize and the Griffin
Prize. Her second, Modern and Normal, was shortlisted for the Trillium
Poetry Prize. A third collection, Pigeon, was published by House of An-
ansi Press in April. She lives in Toronto with poet David Seymour and
their cat.
Priscila Uppal is a critically-acclaimed Toronto writer and professor
at York University. Among her many publications are five collections
of poetry, including the Griffin Prize shortlisted Ontological Necessities
(2006); and two novels, The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002) and To
Whom It May Concern (2009). Her works have been translated into several
languages.
Betsy Walton makes fantastical portraits of imaginary moments shared
by a diverse crew of characters, creatures and natural phenomena. Meet
them all at morningcraft.com.
Cathleen With, author of the story collection Skids (Arsenal Pulp, 2006),
has worked as a writer and teacher in the Far North and the Far East.
Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison, her first novel, has recently been
released by Penguin Canada.
Stephanie Yorke has been published in PRISM, Grain, The Fiddlehead,
Prairie Fire and QWERTY. She is currently editing a very, very long
poem about her home town of Truro, Nova Scotia. She lives in England.
prismmagazine.ca     77 -
The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
**■
The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Pine Arts degree and a Master
of Pine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.P.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 &? Libretto.
Meryn Cadell
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Faculty
§        i k A
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-
Dargatz, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner, Terry
Glavin, Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe,
Stephen Hunt, Susan Juby, Peter Levitt
8e Susan Musgrave
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca Good Reads
Book Club
Buy 10 General
(non-course) Books
at the regular price and get
20%
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
www.bookstore.ubc.ca
or at any in-store cashier.
(604) 822-2665
UBC BOOKSTORE
www. bookstore, ubc.ca
Pt. Grey Campus
6200 University Blvd.
Vancouver, B.C.
Robson Square
800 Robson St.
Vancouver, B.C. CBC literary Awards
Prix litteraires Radio-Canada
> Short story > Creative nonfiction > Poetry
2009
Win
$6000 first prize and $4000 second prize
in each category.
■:.:::^:'r
Deadline: November 1st 2009
cbc.ca/Iiteraryawards
Radio-Canada.ca/prixlitteraires
1 877 888-6788
CBC <«•{> Radio-Canada
9«?    Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
f"TP~>    for the Arts du Canada
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Inside the Short Fiction & Poetry Contest Issue
Short Fiction Winners: "The Dead Dad Game" by Laura Boudreau,
"Something Fierce" by James Phelan and "Mama Dglo's Lullaby"
by Devina Bahadoorsingh. Interview with Contest Judge Lisa
Moore.
Poetry Winners: "Aleph-nought" by Michael Eden Reynolds, "Upon
the Conversion of Stephen Harper" by Michael Eden Reynolds
and "Coney Island in October" by Catherine Owen. Interview with
Contest Judge Karen Solie.
And new work from:
Mary Romero Ferguson
Jane Goodwin
Sonnet L'Abbe
Vanessa Lent
Andrea MacPherson
Nicholas Matthews
Jacob Scheier
Sue Sinclair
Priscila Uppal
Cathleen With
Stephanie Yorke
GENUINE
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by Betsy Walton

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