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 PRISM international
Winter 2003
Contemporary Writing from Canada and around the World  PRISM international
2002 Maclean Hunter Endowment
Award For Literary Nonfiction
Grand Prize - $1,500
Marcello Di Cintio
"Lion Hearts"
Paige Haggard
"Five Minutes"
Marie Shields
Janet Trull
"My Life and Times"
Marika Deliyannides
"The Promise of Snow"
Tessa Dratt
"My Brother's Keeper"  PRISM international
Billeh Nickerson
Executive Editor
Mark Mallet
Drama Editor
Sherry MacDonald
Advisory Editors
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Bryan Wade
Associate Editors
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Marguerite Pigeon
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Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
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Bobbi Macdonald
Teresa McWhirter
Colin Whyte
Monica Woelfel
Editorial Assistants
Anar Ali
Jill Boettger
Larissa Buijs
Shannon Cowan
Sandra Fillipelli
Sarah Leach
Matt Rader
Sam Warwick
Trish Awai
Samara Brock
Catharine Chen
Kim Downey
Arlene Kroeker
Rob Martin
Eric Rosenberg
Andrew Whitehead
Wiebe PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
four times per year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of
British Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T
IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann
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E-mail: prism(S)
Contents Copyright ® 2003 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: George, by Andrew Pommier.
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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
($18,700) and the Government of British Columbia through the Ministry of
Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. February 2003. ISSN 0032.8790
The Canada Council   j  Le Conseil des Arts 1fr"*^^n       ARTS   C^OUNCIL
for the Arts       du Canada Supported by the Province of British Columbia Contents
Volume 41, Number 2
Winter 2003
2002 Maclean Hunter Endowment
Award for Literary Nonfiction
Judge's Essay
Mary Schendlinger
The Adventure of Narrative / 7
Winning Entry
Marcello Di Cintio
Lion Hearts / 9
Kim Trainor
I Am Calling You / 18
James Marshall
Everybody Knows Jesus Was Just Joking
When He Said Stuff Like That / 33
Andrew Binks
Johnny Rocket / 54
Jay Dolmage
AU Right. Okay. / 63 Poetry
Sharon McCartney
from Karenin Sings the Blues:
A Suite Around Anna Karenina / 27
Gordon Mason
Virgin and Child / 32
Michael Kenyon
Heart Room / 44
Jan Zwicky
Study: Disciplines /45
Study: Garden Gate / 46
Study: July / 47
Cornelia Haeussler
Outlanders / 48
Jack Illingworth
Pan, Posing (for the Pan Painter) / 50
The Great Rendezvous / 52
Contributors /74 Mary Schendlinger
The Adventure of Narrative
Great narrative has certain requirements: it must provide the reader
with enough background to understand what is going on; it must
present characters (including the narrator) who we can believe
and care about; it must tell a story in which something inevitable occurs.
Very few stories manage to do all these things well. "Lion Hearts" by
Marcello Di Cintio, winner of the 2002 Maclean Hunter Endowment Award
for Literary Nonfiction, is one of them.
Here is a narrative that moves us, fills us with despair and urges us to
think again about things we believe. Di Cintio is in control of his craft and
knows what he is writing about, but he does not claim the material. To read
"Lion Hearts" is to accompany the narrator on an adventure. No one, not
even he, knows how it will turn out, but he goes with his eyes open and his
feelers out.
His subject is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, but he
doesn't say so. His story is how he comes to meet, grow fond of and learn
from two people-Ali, a Palestinian man in Jerusalem, and Shiri, an Israeli
woman in Cairo-but he doesn't say so. During his visit there, he experiences all possible human feelings, but he doesn't say so. (Well, except for
once or twice.) All is revealed in the particulars that Di Cintio chooses to
include, and not to include, about what happened.
One of the tools of Di Cintio's trade is his use of simple, unadorned
language, a lens through which the reader can see right to the story. Another is his dialogue, a mix of direct quote and reportage:
I tell her about the falafel stands in the Muslim Quarter... "I understand," she says. "I cannot go there." I ask her why. "Because I am Israeli."
This is conversation as we experience it and as we enhance its meaning
by telling someone else, and it sounds much more "real" than a scrupulous
reporting of every word that was said. Another of Di Cintio's tools is his
habit of knowing his place. "I scan my own memory," he writes, "my own
privileged life." Period. No breast-beating, no dutiful confession of lessons
learned, no claim of special sensitivity to people's pain.
Di Cintio compliments his readers by trusting us to make our own
connections and draw our own conclusions. At the same time he assumes
no prior knowledge on our part, except when he is absolutely sure: toward
the end, for example, when he writes to Ali and Shiri again after Septem- ber 11, 2001. Nothing has changed and everything is different, and the
spectre of the event looms over the story, yet Di Cintio's text is free of the
terms "September 11," "9-11," "New York," "Twin Towers" and "terrorist
Because Di Cintio uses plain language, writes without an agenda, and
knows how to tell someone about something that happened, this is a deluxe
nonfiction story: gripping, compassionate, unsentimental, and a darn good
read. Marcello Di Cintio
Lion Hearts
In 1968 Ali Jiddah was walking in Jerusalem's New City eating a banana. He had a brown paper bag in his left hand. When he passed
Bikur Holim Hospital, an Israeli medical centre, he placed the banana
peel and the bag into a trash bin. Then he walked away. He was nearly
home by the time the bomb went off. The explosion injured nine Israelis.
He was seventeen years old.
In 1998 Shiri Lev-Ari was in the midst of her military service with the
Israeli Defense Force. She was in officer's training, and was stationed in
Hebron. One afternoon a demonstration of angry Palestinians threatened
to turn violent. She was called to the scene. Tear gas didn't disperse the
mob, and she and her fellow soldiers had to escalate their response. There
were children in the crowd, and Shiri remembers them running from her
rubber-coated bullets. She was twenty-one.
In 1999 I had Millennium Fever; I wanted to be somewhere exciting when
the clock turned on 2000.1 took a December flight to Israel from Calgary
and got the first bus to Jerusalem, the swollen womb of Armageddon
madness. I met Ali just inside Jaffa Gate. It was two weeks before the New
Year and a group of Americans were crowding the plaza and handing out
pamphlets declaring "Earth's Final Warning." Ali walked slowly around
them. He wore dark sunglasses and a full-length black leather jacket. His
hands were behind his back fingering a string of Muslim prayer beads. I
recognized his face from a photocopied news article pinned to a hostel
corkboard. "Are you Ali Jiddah?" I asked. He nodded. "I am going on
your tour today," I said.
Ali spent seventeen years in Israeli prisons for bombing Bikur Holim.
Now he is a tour guide.
Ali leads his charges-myself and a collection of American tourists-
through Jerusalem's Old City. We make the rounds of all the "important"
places, but Ali's tour frustrates those who want to linger at the holy sites.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the spot where Christ died and was
buried, Ali barks, "We are leaving," to a tourist who spends an extra minute at the shrine. At the Western Wall, the holiest site in all Judaism, Ali
instructs "Go ahead and touch the wall, but be back here in five minutes."
Ali's briskness and severity, though, are somehow charming. He would
rather pause at a sweets shop to offer us a taste of honey-soaked pastry, or
give us a spoonful of creamy sahlab from his favourite vendor outside
Damascus Gate, than line up with pilgrims to touch the stone where Jesus
was crucified.
The tour is unashamedly political. Ali shows us Arab businesses that
have been closed by Israeli authorities, Israeli soldiers hired as bodyguards for Jewish settlers, and homes of Palestinian martyrs. He points out
a house owned by Ariel Sharon. The roof is topped with a giant menorah
and the Israeli flag drapes out of a third floor window. "You see? This is
the Muslim Quarter and he puts these things on his house. This is blatant
The tour ends in a souvenir shop on King David Street. Ali tells us that
the artifacts in the store are of higher quality and better price than elsewhere in the souq, but he doesn't bother with the souvenir hard-sell I expect from him. Few of us buy anything. The shopkeeper is disappointed
but Ali is not perturbed. We pay him for the tour and he disappears into
the narrow streets.
I spend nearly two months in the Old City. Within a week or so I visit
all the major sites: The Dome of the Rock, The Al-Aqsa Mosque, churches
belonging to dozens of Christian faiths. Some nights I go to the Western
Wall to enjoy the serenity of the continually-lit plaza. Most nights, though,
I visit with Ali.
I meet Ali in front of my hostel and follow him through dark Jerusalem
streets to his home near Al-Aqsa Mosque. I make this trip a dozen times,
but always get lost unless Ali leads the way. He lives in what he calls the
African Quarter where over sixty Muslim families originating from Chad,
Nigeria and Sudan live. Ali's father, a local mufti, travelled to Jerusalem
from Chad on a pilgrimage decades ago and settled in the Old City. Ali
was born soon afterwards and calls himself an Afro-Palestinian. Ali is
close with his mother-she still prepares his meals-but he and his father
are estranged. "He doesn't agree with my politics," he says.
At his house Ali orders his cousin to make coffee and we sit in his
living room like we've done almost every night. We are friends, somehow,
and I am proud that while other travelers are passing out on foul Israeli
wine I'm visiting with Ali Jiddah. Ali appreciates the attention, I think,
and smiles when I start picking up his mannerisms, like the way he asks
for a short cup of Turkish coffee by holding his thumb and forefinger two
inches apart, or the way he answers boring questions with "Ya, ya." I chat
with his three serious daughters and play with his mischievous son Mohammed, who Ali calls a "little terrorist." But mosdy we talk politics.
10 "When I was released from prison-Amnesty International helped me—
I told my family to bring me to the top of the Mount of Olives. I stood
there and looked at Jerusalem, and I cried.
"I was a bomber for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,
the PFLP It is true, but now I know that violence is not the way to achieve
anything. I know a woman who lives in the Deheshieh refugee camp. It is
near Jericho. She lost her home in 1948. A few years ago her son was shot.
The bullet didn't kill him right away. He suffered in hospitals for two
years before he finally died. We called him "The Living Martyr." His
name was Mohammed, and I named my own son after him."
I travel with Ali and another group of tourists to the Deheshieh camp to
visit the woman. We walk through the refugee camp until we find her
house. I am surprised that Deheshieh looks more like a town than a camp.
I expected tents and people lining up for food and clean water but the
residents have lived here for over fifty years. They've had time to build
houses and raise a generation of children who know no other home. There
is a tragic permanence to the place.
The woman, who Ali calls the "Mother of the Struggle," welcomes us
into her house. We sit in her living room, drink tea, and pass around the
iron key to a home she has not seen in over fifty years. Ali translates for
her. "I watched my son suffer and die, but I do not hate. I know there are
Israeli mothers, too, who have lost their sons in the struggle. I cry when I
see them on television because I know what it is like to lose a son." I leave
her house shaken but naively optimistic.
Before returning to Jerusalem Ali brings the group on a tour of Hebron.
He shows us the Ibrahimi Mosque, the resting place of the prophet Abraham
and the building where, in 1994, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein sprayed
machine gun bullets into the backs of praying Muslims. I touch the bullet
holes that still scar the marble walls. Our tour ends at sunset when all of
Hebron seems to disappear behind closed doors. The streets are empty,
except for Ali and his group, until flashing lights and sirens break the
stillness. From the top of Malik Hussein Road an Israeli armyjeep speeds
towards us flanked by a dozen sprinting soldiers. Before we know what is
happening they take up positions around the square, draw their guns and
shout at each other in Hebrew. I ask Ali what is going on. "Something is
happening," is all he says.
I am surrounded by soldiers and half-expecting gunfire. I am terrified.
For all my fascinations I don't want to be this close. This is not my struggle. I want to be safely on the fringes. I think of bullets and tear gas and I
don't know whether to run for cover or drop to the ground. Instead I pull
my camera from its case and start taking pictures. I filter the moment
through my lens to make it less real.
11 I am in Jerusalem for most of Ramadan. For one month each year devout
Muslims refrain from eating during daylight hours. When the sun goes
down Muslims pile into restaurants and kitchens to break the day's fast.
Twice I join Ali at his favourite restaurant in Beit Jala, a village near
Bethlehem in the West Bank. Ali is observing the Ramadan fast this year.
"But I do it for the good of my body, not my soul," he says as we tuck into
a feast of roast chicken, hummus, Turkish salad and fresh pita bread. "I am
an atheist. I spent seventeen years in prison. I watched friends die in front
of me from hunger and bullets. I have already seen hell so I do not fear
Allah." He holds up his prayer beads. "These are just a habit."
On the night before New Year's Eve I go for a walk outside the Old City
walls with Carlos, another traveller. It is late and the streets that are usually thick with traffic are nearly deserted. The full moon shines with a
deep yellow-inspiring Doomsday predictions among some guests in my
hostel-and we pause to take a photo. A car with Palestinian license plates
drives up on the opposite side of the street and stops in the middle of the
road. Inside are four men. They shout at us from the car windows. "Hey!
What the fuck are you doing!" They sound drunk.
"Nothing," I say. "We're just taking a photo."
"Get over here!"
Carlos and I don't move. The men yell again. "Get over here you son of
a bitch. Come here or we will fucking kill you." Another car comes up the
road behind the red sedan and honks its horn. The men wave for the car to
go around. Then they resume swearing at us. "You fucking assholes are
Carlos and I start to run. We head down the hill toward Lion's Gate
where Israeli police are always stationed. We know if we can make it there
we will be safe. When we start to sprint we hear the sound of the sedan
speeding up the road and the screech of tires as they turn their car around.
They are coming after us. I can hear their screaming engine get closer but
I don't turn around.
We make it to the gate just as the Palestinians catch up to us. We shout
for the police and two officers come running with assault rifles in their
arms. "These men are after us," I yell, pointing to the sedan. The men stop
chasing us but don't drive away.
To our surprise the officers grab Carlos and I, press us against the stone
wall, and begin searching us for weapons. "No," I say. "What are you
doing? The men in the car. They were chasing us.'"
While we are searched, another officer walks to the car to speak with
the Palestinians. A moment later the sedan drives away and Carlos and I
are hauled into a police van and brought to the police station. "They
threatened to kill us," I say, but nobody says anything to me.
12 In the police station a curt Israeli police captain questions me. She asks
why we were walking late at night, how Carlos and I know each other, and
why I don't have my passport with me. She never asks about the men in
the red sedan. Then she opens a thick binder filled with criminal dossiers
and spends a half hour trying to match my photo with the photos in her
file. I sit quietly next to another prisoner, a drunk Palestinian, until I am
set free.
The next day I tell Ali about my arrest. He is very interested. "Tell
me," he says. "Can you identify them?"
"The Palestinians who were chasing you."
"No. I don't remember what they looked like. Why?"
"They are collaborators. They work for the Israelis. They bring suspicious men to the authorities, and in exchange the police look the other
way when they rob tourists." He drags on his cigarette. "Are you sure you
cannot identify them?"
"Yes, I'm sure," I say and hope Ali doesn't bring it up again. Even if I
did remember I wouldn't tell him. I just want to be a tourist.
One evening Ali and I visit his mother in the hospital. She felt ill and Ali
insisted she be admitted to make sure it was nothing serious. "She is an old
woman," he says, "and having a son like me is hard on her heart." Afterwards Ali takes me to another hospital, Bikur Holim, the hospital he bombed
when he was a teenager. "The garbage container was over there," he says,
pointing to a stretch of sidewalk. He recalls that day in 1968, how his
mission was part of the PFLP's "Night of Bombs," retaliation for an Israeli
attack on Jordan. Ali tells me about the banana peel and the brown paper
bag, and mimes how calmly he placed the bomb in the trash. He is smiling
and sharing the details with great relish. For the first time I can see the
terrorist in his smile.
I want to ask him how many people he hoped to kill but I don't say
anything. He is my friend and I am afraid of the answers.
I leave Jerusalem and travel south to Cairo. I find a copy-editingjob at an
Egyptian magazine and a cheap bed in a downtown hotel. I meet Shiri
there. I am chatting with a pair of Israel-bound Aussies about where to
find cheap food in Jerusalem. Shiri and her two friends are eating burgers
out of McDonald's take-out bags and eavesdropping from the next table.
Shiri leans over and taps me on the shoulder. She has curly black hair that
hangs to the middle of her back, a tiny green jewel in her nose and a
sesame seed stuck on her chin. She speaks with a thick Hebrew accent.
"Excuse me, but I heard you say you can eat falafel in Jerusalem for 5
13 shekels. That is impossible. You are lying."
"No I'm not. I never spent more than 5 shekels when I was in Jerusalem."
"Where do you eat?"
I tell her about falafel stands in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City,
and in Arab East Jerusalem. Shiri nods and leans back in her chair. "I
understand," she says. "I cannot go there." I ask her why. "Because I am
Shiri and her two friends, Naomi and Maya, are art students from Tel
Aviv. They are studying a unit on Islamic and Egyptian art and decided to
spend a week in Cairo visiting the museums. I ask her if they experienced
any problems as Israelis in this blatandy anti-Israeli city. "Sometimes we
worry," she says, "and we never speak Hebrew when we are on the streets.
We have to talk English to each other and this is difficult because our
English is not good. Yesterday we went to Islamic Cairo to visit the old
mosques and marketplaces-the architecture is very beautiful-but Naomi
made a mistake. She started talking in Hebrew. Everyone around us stopped
and stared at us. And they pointed and whispered 'Israelis, Israelis.' So we
"Most times we tell people we are Italian. Do you think I look Italian?'
I tell her she does. "But I need an Italian name."
I suggest my mother's name, Rosalina. "It means 'little rose,'" I say.
Shiri frowns and snarls, "I'm no little rose."
"What does'Shiri'mean?"
"It means'My Song.'"
"That's very pretty."
She shrugs. "It is also the first words of The Iliad, when translated to
Hebrew. My last name is Lev-Ari. It means 'Lionheart.'" She sips on her
Coke. "I am no little rose."
She has a black-covered sketchbook next to her. "May I see your drawings?" I ask. She shakes her head and says she never lets anyone see them.
The television in the Cairo hotel is fixed to CNN, but few of the guests
pay much attention to it aside from catching up on football scores. One
afternoon a news anchor reports, "Today in the Middle East, seven Israeli
soldiers were killed on the Lebanon-Israel border..." Shiri rushes to the
television and leans toward the speaker in order to hear the news over the
noise of the hotel lobby. I can tell she is crying. "Children in Israel grow
up fast," she says to me after her friends have gone to sleep. "Palestinians,
too. We grow up too fast. I am twenty-two years old. When you were
twenty-two you finished university. You had a degree already but I am just
beginning. Instead I know how to load and fire a submachine gun. I worked
military strategy in a war room. You studied Shakespeare while I shot
rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds. I know people who are dead from
14 bombs.
"I've seen Palestinian police stand back and do nothing as their people
riot, and I know that there are Israelis, too, who work against peace instead
of for it. So we fight, people on both sides die and sometimes I wonder
why. Is it because Jewish settlers want to build their homes in the West
Bank? Is it because of what the Germans did to us? I will never leave
Israel. But I want peace. I hope it happens soon.
"Part of my life has been stolen. I'm only twenty-two, and already I'm
so tired."
She looks up at me, tears in her eyes. I ache to give her comfort, but I
say nothing. I scan my own memory, my own privileged life. I have nothing for her.
"Would you like to see my sketches?" she asks.
Her book is filled with figure drawings and sketches of flowers and
buildings. The work is rough and unskilled. A soldier's drawings. I feel
disappointed. Part of me hoped she would be a gifted artist as well as a
warrior and a beautiful woman. I want her to be everything.
Later I show her some of my photographs from Israel and the West
Bank. She finds my photos from Hebron. "What is this?" she asks.
"That is in Hebron," I say.
"I know it is Hebron. What is happening here?"
"I got stuck in the middle of military maneuvers. It was pretty scary
until they told us it was just a drill."
Shiri points to one photo in particular. Two soldiers are taking cover
behind a wall. One is cradling an assault rifle, the other is speaking into
his radio. Shiri holds up the photograph. "You are a very good photographer," she says. "This is very beautiful."
The next day is Shiri's last in Cairo. We drink coffee and smoke sheesha
in a dusty Cairo coffeehouse. "I've read the Koran. In translation. I thought
it was very beautiful. The poetry is very beautiful. I read the New Testament, too. I didn't like it. It was too dull. I liked the ending, though. The
Revelation. That was exciting."
We have dinner together in a tacky tourist restaurant. She is returning
on the early morning bus to Tel Aviv and since I have to work through the
night at the magazine I will not see her off. I hold her hand in the restaurant and tell her I'll visit when I pass through Tel Aviv. She promises to
leave her address and phone number for me at the hotel desk on her way
out. I hug her good-bye and she holds out her palm to me. "Khamsha," she
says. "It is ajewish blessing. Protection from the evil eye."
When I return to the hotel late the next morning, I inquire at the desk
for Shiri's message. The curt Egyptian manager says there is nothing there.
"Are you sure?" I ask. "I was expecting a message from one of the
women in Room 14."
15 "No. She left this morning early. And she left you nothing." He pauses,
then adds, wagging a finger, "And those people are bad people."
"What do you mean? They're not bad people. They are my friends.
They are good people."
The manager swears at me in Arabic and kicks me out of the hotel.
When I return to Israel I go to see Ali. It has been several weeks since my
last visit, and there are a few new items on his television. Next to his medal
of service from the PFLP there is a photo of his son Mohammed that I
took, and, most surprisingly, a framed photograph of Ali shaking hands
with Yasser Arafat.
I point to the photo. "When did you meet Arafat?"
He laughs. "That was two weeks ago. Arafat was visiting the neighbourhood and wanted to meet community leaders. Some people came to me
and said 'Will you meet with Arafat and represent Jerusalem's Afro-Palestinians?' I told them I had no love for Arafat, but they said I was a community leader and should go. So I went to see him and shake his hand and
somebody takes the picture." He takes a long drag of his cigarette. "My
friends saw the picture and they joked 'Who is this man shaking Arafat's
hand? It cannot be Ali.' They made fun of me.
"Arafat will not bring peace. He is weak. But I believe that peace will
come. I don't know how but I have to believe it for my children. I do not
want my children to live in a world of hate. Look at all we have in this
country. If we can learn to live together we could live like kings."
I tell Ali about Shiri. He is very interested. "I would like to meet this
woman," he said. "I will give her a tour of the Old City. Show her places
she has never seen."
I reach Tel Aviv the day before I fly back to Canada and visit Shiri. She
had left her phone number for me before she left Cairo. I found it on my
pillow. She didn't trust the hotel manager to give it to me. I meet her in the
bus station. When I see her, she is sitting on the floor and yelling at a
smirking young man staring down at her. She turns, sees me, and grins and
I wonder how many people ever get to see her smile.
"What did that guy want," I say, pointing to the man she just rebuked.
"He told me he liked my ass. I told him he cannot even see it when I'm
sitting down. Then I told him to fuck off. Israeli men are jerks."
We walk along the beach to Jaffa. Shiri is not fond of seaside strolls-she
equates walking with marching-and it takes some effort to talk her out of
hiring a cab. We pass a former dolphin aquarium. "They are turning it into
a disco," Shiri says.
16 Later, we say good-bye in the main bus station next to a group of young
female soldiers. They wear army uniforms and have guns strapped across
their shoulders. One has her hair dyed purple. They sing Spice Girl lyrics
and take pictures of each other with a disposable camera.
I hold out my palm to Shiri. "Khamsha."
In June 2001, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up the "Dolphinarium
Beach Disco." Seventeen Israelis, most in their late teens and early twenties, were killed. Images of their bodies, some still in shimmery dancewear,
flashed on television screens everywhere.
In June 2002 I wrote my third letter to Ali and my second to Shiri. I don't
know what to say when I write. I want to tell them about my life in Calgary,
but I know their world does not have room for me. I want to ask them
about suicide bombers and Israeli incursions and whether or not they still
hope for peace. I want to ask Ali if he stills calls his son a "little terrorist."
But I am afraid of the answers to these questions, too.
Instead I write: "I hope you are well. I am thinking of you. Please stay
safe. Khamsha." I still haven't heard back.
17 Kim Trainor
I Am Calling You
Our Lady, oh mystical rose, to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of
tears... (concentrate on your desires)
I don't know when she started keeping notes on the Virgin Mary. It
must have been in the fall, around the time when reports began coming in of the escalation of the civil war in Rwanda, rumours of genocide. The international community was stalled on technicalities and
refused to act. I'm sure the two were connected—the civil war, the note-
book-but it didn't seem that way at the time. She used a cheap black
cardboard notebook with a red spine, and she'd leave it lying around the
small apartment we shared. I'd come in after a late shift at the hospital and
look to see what she had written, turning on the desk lamp that scattered
blue light across the cramped handwritten entries and the smudges of ink:
"Since June 24, 1981, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, has
been appearing to six young people in the remote mountain village
of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina... The events are currendy under
investigation." 8 March. New York Times.
3 April. Washington Post. 'Janet Helmsley of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a 27-
year-old mother of two, claims to have received the stigmata-the
marks of Christ's passion—upon praying repeatedly to the Virgin
Mary. Observers confirm wounds have been seen on her hands and
feet that bleed at regular intervals. The case is currently under investigation by the Vatican."
17 April. At an anarchist demonstration on the steps of the Art Gallery: a man walking back and forth on the periphery of the crowd,
carrying a large cardboard placard with a message in crayon: "Hear
Her Words! Call 1-800-348-MARY"
18 April. "A woman claims to see the Virgin Mary in the Mojave
Desert on the 15th of each month. Although an official who spent a
year investigating the desert case says 'there are no apparitions, and
18 people are to be discouraged from going there,' Marian devotees
still come from around the world to Our Lady of the Rock. There
have been reports of a dark blue halo appearing around the sun, and
of rose petals falling from the sky." Georgia Straight.
There was a grainy newsprint photograph of Janet Helmsley with her
hands raised to show dark wounds on her palms, and another of a woman
in the desert next to a tall white cross. The notebook had a certain weight
and texture that appealed to me, so that I would sometimes sit in the dark
and hold it in my hand, or slowly turn over the thick pages, stiff and wavy
from the glue and the damp West Coast air.
When I asked her why she began keeping the notebook she couldn't
say, only that there had been an unusual number of sightings, or at least
reports of sightings, everywhere she turned, like eyes staring back at her
from the pages of newspapers and books, and from the streetlamps plastered with notices which she passed on her way to and from work. Was she
drawn to the tone of the radio reports and newspaper articles, of a sorrow
of being in the world? Or to an unarticulated longing, embodied in the
wounds and eyes of the witnesses? She didn't say. But she continued the
meticulous work, adding the handwritten notes and gluing in articles as
they came to her.
I didn't see much of her for a while-I began working graveyard on the
desk at St. Paul's emergency room, recording the overdoses, the battered
women brought in by the police, the psychotics who had been turned out
onto the street. I would come home exhausted and fall into bed at dawn.
Her notebook was my only contact with her during this time. In its densely
marked pages I could see what she was doing, where she had been, what
she had read.
The woman who saw apparitions in the Mojave Desert became the focus of her attention, and I read the fragments of the story as Jane collected
them. The first report had been brief, coming from a column of news
briefs in the Georgia Straight. By then the story was already several years
old. She researched back issues of San Francisco and Los Angeles newspapers, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times. A vision was said to
have come to a Latina woman, a vision in which Mary appeared overhead,
a veil draped over her face, and told a woman, Constanza, to go to the
desert to pray to her. This was several years before Jane had begun keeping her notebook. Constanza found a site on the northwestern edge of the
Mojave, and each time she went she received a vision of the Virgin Mary.
At first only a few friends and family members went with her, but slowly
over the first year, as the rumours spread, more came-until as many as
several hundred people might show up. Vendors came with rosaries, miracle-fold umbrellas to keep off the desert sun, Virgin Mary T-shirts. The
19 church stepped in to investigate and proclaimed after a year that Constanza
was misguided—there was no vision. Rumours still circulated that people
had been healed; that one day a dark halo appeared around the sun and
turned the desert light blue-grey and granular like the effect of an eclipse;
that rose petals had fallen from the sky, the scarlet stains absorbed by the
yellow earth.
I started to realize how deeply she had immersed herself in documenting the sightings. At first I thought it was only an unusual cultural phenomenon she studied, something she might use in one of her art projects.
But it slowly consumed her. It was as if she were trying to learn a new
alphabet, a new language, collecting the individual words and phrases as
they appeared-eyes staring back at her-and learning to speak them. She
charted human suffering the way radar stations track the covert flight of a
military jet over the Arctic, the way one traces the movement of whales
through the Pacific by listening for the echo of their long, complex songs.
The more time she spent on the notebook, the more she withdrew from her
daily life, from her work, from me. I saw less and less of her until I had
only the notebook and its record of her constant search for some kind of
redemption or intervention.
I ran into her by chance on Granville Street. Headlines in all the papers
were about a massacre in Rwanda that had just been uncovered. Soldiers
rounded up all the children of a village in a churchyard and cut off their
heads with machetes, then signed the foreheads like trophies. Their blood
formed a reddish brown mud in the yard. It was the first time Rwanda had
been mentioned prominentiy in several months, after those first rumours
of genocide.
Jane was soaking wet from wandering around snapping photographs of
street scenes, her latest project. We stood in the pouring rain and exchanged
telegraphic messages—the phone bill needed to be paid, we were out of
cereal, had I seen the library book she'd misplaced. She kept looking
around and as we talked she took a photograph of a newspaper box, the
headline on Rwanda prominent behind the wire-cage window.
She asked if I had heard about Rwanda. The rainwater streamed down
Granville, mixing with rainbow slicks of oil and gasoline. Up ahead, between the pavement and the opaque grey sky, a narrow band of oblique
shining light sliced and made the wet street gleam. Everything look newly
washed, like the beginning of the world.
"Why don't you come home with me. You're soaked through." She
shook her head and rummaged through her camera bag.
"Here. Will you take this home with you?" It was her notebook, the
pages wet and curling. "I forgot I had it with me in my pocket and it got
wet. The ink's running. Could you put it by the radiator so it can dry out?"
20 A triangle of light lay across her face. I asked if she was okay. She
wiped the rainwater from her eyes, blinking. Then she said, "I think I
might be sick. Maybe it's the flu. I feel so heavy, like I've been dragged
back into my body, my flesh. I can feel the blood heavy in my veins." She
looked directly at me and her eyes were dark and still, like slate. I hadn't
heard her talk like this before, as if talking from a great distance, not
talking to me directiy. I asked her again to come with me, or at least go
into the Ichibankan for some hot green tea, a bowl of miso soup, just to
warm her up a little. She was shivering from the damp cold. "No, there's
no time. I should go. I want to finish off this roll of film before the light
changes. I won't be long." She turned in the opposite direction, away from
the shining golden light, down Granville, until the pavement cut off the
thin horizon and there was only the heavy rain.
One night when I came in the notebook lay on the kitchen table, held open
by a stone I'd picked up on the beach. Jane had underlined in thick red
marker a quotation from one of the articles on Constanza: The Blessed
Virgin told me to come here. She said the desert is wide. So I came. I imagined far
to the south the desert rapidly cooling as the sky dissolved into the dark
emptiness of space, the spiral galaxy we're caught in scattering a few glittering blue sparks onto the desert floor. Reconnaissance satellites passed
overhead, recording the land in binary code, transcribed and scrutinized,
locked away in alphanumeric files. I remembered a photograph I saw of
the Mojave Desert taken from space: a concave ochre bowl crisscrossed by
delicate cracks bound by dark mountain ridges to the west. You could
almost see the land scarred by sorrowful narrative lines, the stains of military installations and decaying radioisotopes.
I thought about Jane. Was it the heat that called to her, the desert, the
wide-open sky? Maybe the notebook itself drew her imagination south, to
find the original of this blueprint of human longing, the elusive language
she pursued page after page, with each handwritten entry or glued-in report, as if by gathering together all of these multiple observations from
around the earth she might articulate what she couldn't say in a single
voice, and find the language that might lead her to salvation. She was
drawn to the land, looking for an embodiment of the stories and fragments
she'd collected in the notebook, something she could touch, like a child's
red-stained handprint found on the wall of a prehistoric cave.
The apartment was silent and dark except for the scattering of blue
light across the kitchen table. Jane wasn't home. I removed the stone and
picked up the notebook, feeling its solid heft in my hand, and flipped
through the dense pages to the most recent entry, but nothing new had
been added now for several weeks. It was as if she had disappeared. I
turned back the pages to the marked article. Papery flutter of moths. The
21 Blessed Virgin told me to come here. She said the desert is wide. So I came. I
turned out the light and sat in the darkness until my eyes adjusted. It began
to rain, soft, tentative, then a steady downpour drumming on the balcony,
the window frames. Were they still down there on the edge of the Mojave,
the crowd of onlookers and pilgrims and tourists, snapping Polaroid pictures in the stillness when Constanza paused, as if listening to some ethereal voice, and then said to them in a half whisper, "She is among us?" I
thought of them standing there in the heat, with strings of plastic beads in
their hands, hoping that if they hadn't been able to see anything, perhaps
the camera had caught an impression on film, the outline of her sorrowful
body slowly appearing as a dark bruise in the grey liquid matrix of a
Polaroid. I placed the stone on the open page of the notebook and went to
my room, falling asleep to the sound of the heavy rain.
When the sun rises orange and viscous in the east, the heat flicks on,
instantly hot on skin. I still feel the heat that soaks you to the bone and
clings to the body like a second skin. I look at our old roadmap-its orderly grid of latitude and longitude casting a net across the ghostly Sierra
Nevada like the spine of a marine fossil embedded in the dry land, the
creased yellow and blue-scored terrain now tattooed with small black print
slashed through ochre hollows-and see beyond to the vast stretch of silver-green creosote and crippled Joshua trees that slip in and out of focus
through the wavering heat. I see the hand-made signs, black on white,
black arrows pointing further down the road, the words "OUR LADY" in
careful, block print, glimmering signs that proliferate on telephone poles
and fence posts, nailed to the trunks of Joshua trees, until I'm no longer
sure in which direction I'm heading under the white midday sun.
We crossed the U.S.-Canada border a few hours before midnight and drove
through the night, always south, following the stream of red taillights. We
stopped only twice for food and coffee, switching turns at the wheel, driving through the dawn and then the hot grey air of the freeway that seemed
to loop every few hours, repeating the same monotonous fast-food ghettos,
information booths, gas food lodging signs, until somewhere near the Oregon-California border, exhausted, we stopped at the next rest area to
spend the night. Jane slept rolled up in a quilt across the backseat. I stayed
up front, with one of my coats as a blanket, waking every hour or so
confused at finding myself in the ghostly interior of the car, disturbed by
the light cast from the shallow street lamp of the rest area and by the sound
of the freeway so close by, like a powerful river. I kept dreaming of motion-dreaming we were still driving south with an unexplained urgency
along with all the other cars on the highway, their taillights receding in the
22 distance, the steering wheel gripped in my hands, so that each time I woke
up I felt a sickening, jerking sensation as my sense of urgency and speed
collided with the stillness of the car.
I must have slept at last, heavily, from exhaustion, until the sun came
through the rear window liquid orange, spilling over onto the faded vinyl
interior. Jane lay sprawled across the back seat looking vulnerable and
skinny, unprotected, as the orange touched her face, soaked into the hollows of her eyes. By the time I had tried to scrub my face and arms clean
with cold tap water in the washroom, the information booth was open,
handing out free coffee and doughnuts. We sat on the bumper of the car
and ate in the warm orange light before getting back onto the freeway,
already heavy with traffic.
Towards the end of the second day of driving the land changed. Sometime in late afternoon I'd turned off onto a smaller highway that took us
east, towards the Mojave, and slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the
land changed, felt different-hotter, drier, pressed closer to the sky that was
white with reflected heat. Around sunset an electric singing began, as the
light turned a delicate rose in the warm, dry air. Jane had been quiet and
withdrawn all day, hardly speaking except to suggest we trade seats, or to
ask if I needed water. But when the cicadas began that high electric humming she seemed to come alive again and she turned to me and said she
felt as if she could drive all night. She was wearing a cotton dress crumpled from two days of travelling and had dark circles under her eyes but
the delicate light softened the darkness, and the land that stretched out
around us felt expectant with the humming, chirring song. We had crossed
over into the high desert, into the scarred, political landscape of the Mojave.
We stopped at a diner on the side of the highway. The waitress served us
lukewarm watery coffee in chipped mugs, plates of the dinner special, a
casserole drenched in gluey white gravy, and then returned to the counter
where she sat smoking a cigarette, watching CNN broadcast live from
Rwanda. The U.N. had finally decided, too late, to intervene. Images flickered across the screen: still photos of bodies with gaping wounds and
strewn body parts, blood-encrusted machetes; American marines storming
a government bunker; malnourished refugees behind barbed wire; the arc
of tracer fire in a dark sky. Over a constant wailing of sirens reporters
excitedly detailed possible targets, the techniques of precision bombing,
kill ratios. I remember stepping from the chill air saturated with tracer fire
and sirens, out into the warm desert night, and feeling released from the
oppressive gloom. Jupiter shone overhead, and we drove for hours with
only the distant glimmer of the stars and our headlights illuminating a
brief stretch of the dark road ahead, seeing small blurs and brief flurries of
movement at the edges of our vision. Jane drove through the night.
I had taken a Polaroid of her when we stopped at the diner. I think I was
23 trying to record the difference that we both felt, the through-the-looking-
glass quality of the dry humming land, as if the world had tilted a few
degrees off its axis. I wanted to make a visual record of something I couldn't
even see, but felt or heard-the closest I can come to describing it is to say
it was the sound of the electric humming all around us that came from the
land, carried on the wind that rose as the sun began to set. The photograph
didn't turn out; only the outline of her body and her face, without features,
just an oval, a blob of pale flesh, the blue of her dress seeming to dissolve
into the twilight and the ochre land. She was only half there in the dis
tance, dissolved in blue. I took it into the diner and placed it on the table
to see if the image developed more detail over time, but the blue only
darkened, removing even the first faint outline of her body, as if she'd
chosen to walk out of the camera's sight at the last moment and left only a
trace of her presence.
"It feels abandoned," I said, as we stood on the edge of the slightly raised
section of land that had been cleared of shrubs and desert bushes. At our
feet was a small wooden crucifix no more than a foot high that had been
planted inside a circle of rocks. A small plastic Jesus was nailed to it, a
thorn crown on his head and black drips of blood oozing from his wrists
and face. Plastic roses lay scattered around the base of the crucifix. Jane
crouched down to touch the feet of the plastic Jesus, the tiny metal nails in
his wrists. "It doesn't look like anyone's been here for a long time."
"Maybe you're right,"Jane said.
It felt to me like a museum diorama, as if people had set up camp for a
while-for how long? weeks? months? a year or more?-and then vanished
as suddenly, without warning. As if something devastating had happened,
a drought, a massacre, a neutrino bomb, and the sun had reclaimed the
bodies, leaving behind only the plastic remains and the scorched votive
jars, glass shards.
"What are you looking for? What did you think you would find?" She
looked up at me but the sun was in her eyes.
"Do you think we should try taking a photograph?" she asked, then
took the Polaroid camera out of her bag and snapped three pictures, aiming over my head towards the tall white cross in the centre of the clearing.
She laid them down to develop inside the circle of rocks.
Blue sky. Blue sky. Blue sky.
"I don't know what I'm looking for. Do you ever have a feeling that
you're falling? Like you're swinging through the air and suddenly realize
the net is gone, or when you're going down a flight of stairs and you think
you've reached the bottom so you step forward to walk away but there was
one more step, and instead of your foot touching the ground where you
thought the ground was, you go right through the floor? That's how I've
24 been feeling, only magnified a hundred times, a thousand times. It comes
on all of a sudden. I feel like I'm falling. The world's falling." She put two
of the photographs into her camera bag, and placed one at the foot of the
crucified god. "I feel so heavy, I can feel every ounce of blood in my
body." The sun lay directly overhead. No shadows.
Jane looked up at me again, and said, more of a question than a statement, "She must have believed in the possibility of redemption, she must
have, to come here and create this shrine. She saw something, a vision, a
sign. She believed in what she saw."Jane looked out across the grey-green
plain, crisscrossed by a network of dirt roads, and in the distance, some
kind of glass dome.
"But you don't believe," I said.
"Someone has to keep looking."
She crouched over the scorchedjagged pieces of glass like an archeolo-
gist reconstructing an ancient burial site. I left her and walked over to the
tall glossy-white cross that stood in the middle of the clearing. It was
covered in pieces of paper from its base to eye level-petitions, prayers, in
pencil, ink, crayon, photographs faded in the sun. A photograph of a frail-
looking man lay inside a clear plastic bag, an embryo in its caul; someone
had nailed it to the cross, with typed words pasted along the bottom of the
picture: "Please save my father." The hot white sun poured down overhead
and the plastic bag fluttered in the incessant wind that blew across the dry,
stamped land. The sun burned down in straight lines. No shade, only the
sun overhead, burning.
Jane looked distant, impossibly distant and small, her thin dress whipping around her bare legs in the wind. She stood alone, a dark body on a
white plain. I couldn't reach her, a blotch of ink soaking into a white page
or a bruise on skin. Concentrating on the flatness of her dark trace, I lost
myself in the plain's geometry, becoming part of the unbounded grid, no
longer able to block out the light with my own solid form. A jet roared
past overhead, black, razor sharp, cutting through the shimmering light. It
disappeared. The sound followed, a crushing roar that snapped me back
into an awareness of my body, waves of sound travelling through the dark
liquid flesh, pulling me out of the light. I looked over at Jane. She had one
hand raised to shield her eyes, her neck arched to the north, towards the
vanished jet. I could see the thin bony curve of her arm raised, then dropped
to her side. She turned to look at me, and the light shone through the
cheap fabric of her dress, and she looked translucent, shining, as if she'd
turned to walk out forever into the scouring, burning desert light.
That night, in a hotel in Mojave, I dream that I am parked on the shoulder
of the highway in the middle of the desert. I am standing next to the car
but I am alone. In the distance, far down the highway, I can see the reced-
25 ing taillights of a car and I know with the clarity that sometimes comes in
dreams that Jane is in it, leaving me behind. It is twilight—the sun has just
set and a grey unnatural light, almost a blue light, suffuses the air. I cross
over the ditch at the side of the road and up into the desert that spreads out
around me. I am surprised that the bushes that seemed so small and evenly
spaced from the road are as high as my waist and some as tall as I am, and
scattered unevenly so that it is impossible to walk in straight lines. Far to
the horizon he dark mountains, low, like cutouts, and then an incandescent
turquoise light shining above them that imperceptibly merges into black
sky. The creosote and Joshua trees darken; slowly the blue-grey light is
absorbed into the darkening forms as I walk further into the land which
pulls me in like a gathering current, a sea tide, until I am so far in I can no
longer see the highway, until I stand there in the warm darkness and know
that all around me the desert is coming alive with the ticking and chirring
of insects, the creaking of hollow creosote in the wind, the papery flutter of
moths. I feel the invisible signals of the desert: radio isotopes in our bones,
traces of plutonium, flesh pierced by radio waves, sequences of genetic
code, imprints of an ancient sorrow. Just before the dream ends, I look
down at my hands and see patterns of pale blue lines tattooed across the
skin, luminescent in the darkness, that grow as I watch and cut across my
wrists and along the insides of my arms, then draw my eye up to the jet
black sky scattered with stars so that I can no longer distinguish between
my body and the land, just as a satellite crosses by overhead, so close that
I can see every detail of its intricate design like a liquid silver eye shimmering in the blue light of the distant sun.
Later, as Jane sleeps, I turn to a blank page in her notebook and quickly
write these words before I forget: "There is a prayer for intercession that is
never granted. There is a wish for an embodiment of meaning. There are
jet streams overhead, a bright planet low on the horizon, the sound of the
desert in the night. The sound is unfamiliar, compressed, the world seems
knocked wide open. This is what remains. The desert is free of apparitions.
The sky is black and presses down with distant stars. The desert is wide."
26 Sharon McCartney
from Karenin Sings the Blues:
A Suite Around Anna Karenina
Levin's Complaint
(Levin, a wealthy landowner and long-time friend of Stiva, falls in love with
Kitty, Dolly's sister, and proposes to her. Infatuated with Vronsky, Kitty rejects him
at first but, eventually, Kitty and Levin marry.)
Alone in the vastness, I sleep in a haystack,
awake to confusion, a couch-and-four passing,
happenstance, my unaware wife-to-be dozing
on cushions inside. She startles, parts the curtains
precisely the moment of my wondering,
my lifting my eyes.
Now how probable is that? Yet you rely
on such twists, coincidence, tricks of the cheapest
hacks, my steward's wife, for instance,
so amiably settled, snug cottage, able sons,
an income secure and sufficient, happy,
her husband tells me, as she never has been,
then you strike her with irreparable illness,
damage her, a boot in the slats of a crate.
Do you delight in such irony?
What makes you so bitter?
You missed your mark with Madame Karenina,
Instead of indictment, a bite at unfairness,
she's an addict, a weakling, narrow, to blame.
How much truer to show her as she would be
had Vronsky failed her, his love or loyalty
transferred, Anna abandoned, humbled,
a hanger-on, a whore.
27 Vronsky deceives you. You wanted him shallow,
a privileged bounder, merciless rake, pursuing
Karenina as savagely as Laska, my setter bitch,
after a grouse. But his passion, his perplexity,
becomes him—how he puzzles over Anna's
despondence, his helplessness. In the end,
he's the victim we pity, the tragedy, flung
on the dust heap of the Serbian war.
My own character? I cannot thank you for that.
You might have made me less awkward,
more generous, more like Stiva, not his profligacy
but his poise, his understanding, his delight
in all kinds of company, of misfits and morons,
of jackasses like me.
Have I the capacity to change, to rewrite
what is written? Perhaps suffering is the point.
Observe how Kitty reads and reads the same
sad story, how it pleases her to cry. Are we
your proxies, your agents, in the estates of pain?
What I still cannot fathom is why, having constructed
all this, the years you took to plot and plan, to tinker,
why, when it would be so simple, a mere stroke of ink,
you could not have inserted one iota of truth,
even a clue, if not a hackneyed bolt from above,
then a character, a Christ-figure perhaps, a visionary
who sees beyond doom, the blue dome that mocks us,
who could tell us why we stumble so clumsily,
why we hope without hope, why our children must die.
A ladder, a footbridge, a stile to ease our way
over the barrier, the paradox: the end so infinite,
so incomprehensible, yet a life without end,
equally so.
28 Anna in the Afterlife
Believe me, you don't want to be here,
this ballroom of desperation, of defeat,
the unending waltz of we who declared
ourselves too tired, too weak, too poor,
too put-upon to suffer another breath.
Our hubris, our bitterness lend an unpleasant
air to the orchestra. Each new arrival
is announced with disdain.
Judas is here,
carping about preordination-no way
but the highway, the leap from the overpass,
the bottle, the needle, big toe on the trigger
of the shotgun in your mouth. He rants,
"It was already written. Betray the man.
Put my neck in the noose. Without me,
he'd be nothing."
If only I believed him.
That's my fate, foreverly doubting
my last drink of it's-never-too-late,
how I crouched by the rails
like a linebacker, muscles clenched,
failed to straighten, to reconsider,
to amble away.
Don't let me see you here. Don't listen
to those who preach resignation-
that's a shovel of dirt on your grave.
Life isn't a gift, it's a dare.
Think Scarlett O'Hara, not Anna Karenina.
A small dose of denial can go a long way.
29 Anna's Morphine
(Toward the end of the novel, Anna Karenina becomes more and more dependent
on a liquid medicine that is said to be primarily morphine.)
I am the fat tongue unlocking her lips,
booted knee scything her snug thighs,
gloved finger that orbits her pursed nipple,
breath on her nape, engine, engendering-
no, I am better than that.
I am the good news that nothing matters,
a break in the weather, a spanking breeze
after torporous heat, ajanuary thaw,
illicit warmth, as if she could ingest
the diamond of sunlit macadam on which
the ebony cat snores.
I undress her tenderly,
a pastime as we commiserate in the drawing room,
each day tedious to stupefaction, box within box
of disappointment, a nest of frowning dolls.
Do not blame me. I am as much a victim
as she, an illusion, an idol cast to satisfy
her fancy, not mine. I find the exercise taxing,
her kittenish demands, a greater draught
each day, her resistance whelming
exactly as my respect for her wanes.
Irritant, she sets me on edge, fawns
her shoulders into me as we promenade,
tilts too close when she speaks, insists
that I tarry with her over coffee and petit fours.
30 Everything she says sounds ridiculous,
thick-headed, dim-witted, solipsistic.
I hear myself snorting and am appalled,
but can't help it.
She thinks nothing
of my burden, of what it means to be paradise,
mortar and pesde, warp and weft of another.
When she departs, decamps, vanishes
into the effervescence of evening,
I am not sorry she is no more.
31  James Marshall
Everybody Knows Jesus Was
Just Joking When He Said
Stuff Like That
You know when you eat corn on the cob, and you get a bunch of
stuff stuck between your teeth, and you lick at it, and you suck at
it, but no matter how hard you try, you can never get it out? Guilt
is a lot like that. So is Heidi Henderson. I haterlei&i Henderson. I hate her
I hate her I hate her. She's going out with my best friend. Matt. Matt looks
exactly like Jesus Christ. He's got the long, flowing, wavy brown hair and
the beard and the sad eyes and everything. It's wild. When he goes places,
people nudge each other and point and whisper, "There'sjesus." I don't
look like anybody.
Sometimes when I'm bored, and Matt and I are out in public, and nobody seems to be noticing him, I yell out real loud, "Look, everybody! It's
Jesus Christ! If you can catch him, you get three wishes!" I think it's pretty
funny. Matt? Not so much. Once I yelled it out in a mall. A couple of kids
started racing toward us. Matt bent his knees and squatted down a bit. He
put his hands out and shouted, "I'm not really Jesus! I'm not really Jesus!"
But those kids kept coming. So Matt turned and started running for it. It
was one of those days when I was fed up with everything I'd seen, and I
was pretty sure I'd seen it all. Then I saw a couple of kids chase Jesus
Christ through a mall.
Matt is terrified of kids because they remind him of midgets, so he was
hauling some serious ass. His long legs and skinny arms were totally
pumping. His wavy brown hair was bouncing, floating, and falling behind
him. I cupped my hands around my mouth and called after him, "Run,
Jesus! Run!" He didn't talk to me for a couple of days after that. I said it
wasn't worth it, when I called him up to apologize. But it was totally worth
I don't know if the world has always been like this. But these days,
people are always talking about choices. Accountability is this huge thing.
We all have to accept responsibility for our actions. No excuses. When I
was a littie kid, I walked in on my dad cheating on my mom. All I did was
33 open a door. But that was a long time ago.
Right now the phone is ringing. I was sound asleep a second ago, but
now I'm wide-awake and freaking out. I always freak out when my phone
rings. It could be anybody. Calling about anything. I stub a finger on the
bedside bureau, reaching for the receiver. "Son of a. Hello?"
The voice on the phone says, "Steve?"
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"This is Jesus Christ. Your Lord and Saviour."
For the most part, Matt digs it when the boys and I call him Jesus. He
plays it up. He knows when we're not calling him that we're calling him
Grungy Bath Matt and Worn Out Welcome Matt. He's got a history of
letting people walk all over him. "Oh, hijesus," I sigh. I fall back into bed
and close my eyes. "How's it going?" There's a pause. Some voices in the
"Not that well, actually."
When my friends and I are hanging out, and we've got nothing better to
do, sometimes we chase Matt into the kitchen and push him down on the
linoleum, and we kick him. We don't do it hard or anything. Nobody wears
shoes when they're doing it. It's all sock-footed. But we call it "Taking the
Boots to Jesus." It's good times. Even Matt likes it. A little. He gets to be
the centre of attention. When he starts freaking out, we stop. Usually.
"You're not calling about my sins, are you, Jesus? Because I've totally
been meaning to ask for your forgiveness, right? I just haven't found time,
what with all the sinning and all. But now that I've got you on the line,
listen. I'm sorry. About everything."
"I'm not calling about your sins, my child."
"Oh, well, that's good." I rub the back of my hand over my forehead.
"Hey, Jesus? You know when I said I was sorry?"
"I wasn't really that sorry."
Matt believes life is a series of humiliations. He's always saying that.
"Life is a series of humiliations."
"Steve? Can I come over?"
"I'm a liar,Jesus. A big fat liar." There's another pause. More voices in
the background. Heidi Henderson. I even hate her name.
Once when Matt said, "Life is a series of humiliations," I slapped him
right across the face. It was a pretty good slap. Caught him totally off-
guard. Turned his head to the side. Bent him down a bit. When he straightened up, he put his hand on his cheek and looked at me. There was a really
hurt look in his always-sad eyes. "What the hell was that?"
"Normal," I said. He thought about it for a while, rubbing the side of
his face. Then he started to smile.
"That's so true." He rubbed his face some more. "So damn true. Hey,
34 you guys! Did you know Steve is some kind of Zen Master or something?"
Matt is pretty smart. But he kind of missed the point that time.
My ear is sweating. I lift the phone straight up in the air for a second
and shoulder-wipe the wetness away. "You want to know the truth,Jesus?"
He sniffs some snot up his nose. "I don't even know anymore."
"Most of the time, when I say I'm sorry, I'm not. I mean, apologies are
like commercials in the TV show of my life. I don't believe in the products, but I sell them. To keep the show going." I lick and suck at something
that's been stuck in my teeth since last night or I don't know when. "But
you probably knew that already."
"Steve," he says. "I've been walking around all night. Can I come over?
I really need to talk to you."
He's crying. I don't know if he just started crying, or if he's been crying
the whole time. He's definitely crying now. I fight with the covers. I swing
my legs out and sit on the edge of my bed. "You're not hurt or anything,
are you?" He doesn't say anything. He just sniffles. "Where are you?"
"At the college. I can be at your place in fifteen minutes."
"Do it then."
"All right."
He hangs up. So I hang up. And then I get up and start to get dressed.
I guess the boys and I are pretty hard on Matt. It's not because we don't
love him, or he's not our friend, or anything like that. It's because he never
sticks up for himself. I mean, if he ever said, "I don't want you guys
pushing me down and kicking me anymore," well, I don't know, we'd
probably keep doing it. But if he ever said, "You guys do that again, and I
swear to God, I'll kill every last one of you," we'd stop. Not because we'd
be scared of getting hurt. It's sort of hard to be scared of a guy who looks
exacdy like Jesus. We'd stop because that's the attitude you've got to have.
That's the attitude Matt needs to get.
Maybe life really is a series of humiliations. Maybe it isn't. I don't
know. But I know it can get rough. And your friends can't always be there.
To kick it in the nuts, grabs its hair, and knee it in the face for you.
I take a good long look at Matt as soon as he opens the door to my
apartment. He's not bruised or bleeding or anything, so I relax a little.
He's wearing sandals, blue jeans, and one of those ribbed, cream-coloured,
turtieneck fisherman sweaters.
What kind of clothes would Jesus want me to wear? What kind of TV
would Jesus want me to buy? What kind of car would Jesus dream about
getting? I'm always encouraging Matt to ponder questions like these.
When he reminds me thatjesus told us to sell what we own and give the
money to the poor, I say, "Come on. Everybody knows Jesus was just
joking when he said stuff like that."
If Jesus were a one-man cover band, what song would he open with?
35 Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."
"Come on in," I say. "Smokes are on the table. Beers are in the fridge."
Matt shakes his head. He's not crying anymore but it doesn't look like he's
left the tears very far behind.
"Let's go for a walk." He's standing in the entryway. "I know I said I
wanted to come over. But." He sticks both hands in his hair and leaves
them there. "Let's go for a walk." He pulls his hands and his hair back
hard. "I've got to keep walking. I don't know why."
A minute later, we're outside and walking. Side by side down the middle of the street. Past a shirtiess guy mowing his lawn. Green garbage bag
hanging out of his back pocket. Past a black dog running from side to side
behind a chain link fence. Barking a warning. Past a little boy on a little
bike. The picture of potential. One foot on a pedal. One foot on the ground.
Matt says, "Last night I walked in on Heidi and some guy." I stop dead
in my tracks. I don't say anything. I just stop dead in my tracks. Matt keeps
walking. He's got to keep walking. He doesn't know why. It sounds like all
he did was open a door. Get out of here! All I did was open a door. Get out
get out get out! When you open that door, it doesn't matter if you turn
around and leave right away. It really doesn't. Close the door! Close the stupid
door! You're locked in there for good. And it's like you've got corn stuck
between your teeth. Only it's not corn, and it's not your teeth.
I jog and catch up. "Who was it? You know him?" Matt keeps looking
straight ahead.
"Never seen him before in my life."
I nod and look away. I let a few seconds pass. I look back. "You actually
walked in on them?"
I nod and look away again. I let a few seconds pass again. I look back
again. "They were, like, in the act?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"For sure. I can understand that. Totally. It's cool."
This is huge.
The real reason my friends and I call him Worn Out Welcome Matt and
Grungy Bath Matt is because of Heidi. Nobody walks all over Matt like
Heidi. Once a bunch of us were hanging out at Nick's place-we always
hang out at Nick's place, I mean, the apartment his parents rent for him,
because it's massive, one of those two floor jobs, it's even got furniture-
and we were listening to a little Hip, and some Sarah Harmer, and smoking and drinking and talking, and out of nowhere and for no good reason,
Heidi started telling us, in a really loud voice, about what she and Matt
had done the night before. She'd talked him into putting on one of her
outfits, a pair of her shoes, and some of her makeup, right before bedtime,
36 if you know what I'm saying.
Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a guy dressing up like
a woman. There isn't. Well, maybe there is. A little. But nobody gets hurt.
Except for Matt. When Heidi talks about him doing it. In front of all his
She went on and on about what they'd done that night. Gory details.
Graphic images. By the time she finally shut up, she had all of us thinking
maybe chicks really do write letters to porno mags. I felt so bad for Matt.
He just sat there the whole time. Trying to smile. Totally Put In His Place
Matt. Sometimes we call him that, too.
When you believe life is a series of humiliations, there isn't a whole lot
you can do. Other than look forward to dying.
I got up and went to the kitchen. I grabbed another beer. When I came
back, Heidi started in on me. She said, "Did all of that sex talk make you
uncomfortable, Steve?" Everybody got quiet again. Some conversations
started up when she finally finished embarrassing Matt, but everybody got
quiet again.
"No," I said. "Not at all." I twisted the top off my beer. I got it between
my thumb and middle finger and snapped it into the kitchen.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah I'm sure." I took a drink. "Thanks for asking though."
Heidi uncrossed her legs, got up, and walked over to me. She made a
real show of it. She knew everybody was watching. She was holding her
hands behind her back. She was looking down at the carpet, smiling to
herself. She was wearing a pair of black heels with thin black straps that
coiled over her feet, and up around her ankles. She was wearing a short
black skirt. A white button-up shirt. It wasn't buttoned all the way up. I
remember. Part of the problem with Heidi is, she's hot. And normally I'm
a big fan of hot girls. But when it comes to Heidi, I'm not. The problem
with Heidi being hot is, she knows it. And it makes her ugly. It looked like
she was going to walk right into me. That's how close she got. She was still
smiling. Still looking down. "You know what, Steve?" She looked up at
me. A perfect blond curl fell in front of her face. She brushed it away with
one finger. "I think I make you uncomfortable. In general."
"Yeah, well. If you want me to clear up all of your misconceptions,
Heidi, I should probably take a nap first. And have a sandwich or something."
Heidi doesn't hear what she doesn't want to hear. Ever.
"I think you're attracted to me," she said. She started staring at my lips.
"Intensely attracted to me." Her mouth was open a little, and her tongue
was rolling around in there, just behind her teeth. "And I think it makes
you very, very uncomfortable."
Sure. Heidi is attractive. But so are black holes. In a way.
37 "Look, Heidi. I don't want to be cruel or anything. But if you were half
as good-looking as you think you are, you'd be a lot better-looking."
"It's not that you want me." She still wasn't listening. She put a finger
on my chest and started tracing it around, watching the wake it made in
my t-shirt. "I think you need me. Biologically."
This was in front of everybody. Matt. All his friends. Everybody.
"You know what /think, Heidi?" I took her hand away from my chest
and held it. Not rough or anything. "You know what I think you need? Real
"No," she whispered. She whispered, "What?"
"I think you need a real good.. .psychiatrist." I let go of her hand. I took
a step back and a drink of my beer. "Professional help, Heidi. Seek it out."
Heidi was the only one who laughed. Everybody else was freaking.
Matt was right there. His girlfriend was flirting with me. I was burning her.
None of this was supposed to happen. Ever.
Heidi took a step toward me. She took my hand in both of hers and held
it. She shrugged. "Maybe I'm wrong." She smiled up at me, playfully.
"Maybe you're just not used to being around liberated women."
Whoever liberated Heidi must've yelled out, "You're free! Go find someone to oppress!"
I said, "I've been around plenty of people like you. Believe me."
"You can't stand feminists. Is that it?"
If Heidi is a feminist, then feminism isn't about equality. It's about
"No, that's not true," I said. "I like feminists. I think they'"
She laughed again. The black hole part of her blue-gray eyes twinkle-
twinkled littie stupid stars. "I think you're sexy, Steve." She brought my
hand closer to her. Closer. It was so close it was, you know, there. "Why
can't you just admit that you think I'm sexy, too?"
"I think maybe it's the loathing."
Her smile changed. It didn't disappear. It just changed. She'd finally
heard me.
"You know what, Steve?" She squeezed my hand and dug her nails in.
Hard. It was probably as hard as she could. "If you didn't have that gigantic pimple on your forehead, I'd think you were really sexy."
I laughed and laughed. "Pimples come and go, Heidi. But there's no
anti-acne soap for the soul." I jerked my hand away from her. "There's no
anti-acne soap for the soul"
Matt and I have been walking in silence for a long time now. Past Augustana
University College, where we both go to school. Through Jubilee Park,
where we go to get drunk between classes sometimes. Past St. Mary's
Hospital, where we were both born. "Cowboy boots and a cowboy hat."
38 That's what Matt says, totally out of nowhere.
I look over at him, all confused.
"What?" I have no idea what he's talking about. "What about them?"
He's frowning, but in a sad kind of way. "That's what this guy was
wearing," he says. "Nothing else."
"You're kidding."
"No." He wipes his hand over his mouth. Over his mustache and beard.
"You know what she was wearing?"
Heidi does modelling work when she can get it. For catalogues mostly.
Too short for the runway I guess. Anyway. Sometimes she talks them into
letting her keep the clothes. Exercise outfits. The suits businesswomen
wear. Nurse scrubs. It could be anything really. "I'm not sure I want to
"Ropes," he says.
"Just ropes," he says.
"Wow. That's rough. That's going to take some time to forget. But hey.
You know what they say: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Unless it's that flesh-eating disease. I hear that messes you up for, like, a
Matt says, "Was he a real cowboy, or just a guy pretending to be a
cowboy? That's what I'm wondering now."
"I can see why you would. For sure." That's what I say. But I can't see
how it matters. One way or the other.
"I heard them before I saw them. And I knew what was happening, but
I still had to see. I don't know why." He runs a hand through his hair.
"When I walked in, and they got themselves untangled-I mean, Heidi was
still tied up and everything, but when this guy rolled away from her—he
ended up half sitting up and half lying down. And he put his hand on top
of his cowboy hat." Matt looks over at me, like he still can't believe it.
"And he kept his hand on top of his cowboy hat. The whole time I was
there. Like there was a strong wind a-blowing."
I want to be supportive. I want to be a good friend. Those seem like
good things to be. Especially to Matt. But I'm having a hard time keeping
myself from laughing. Matt really helped me out a while ago, when I was
having a hard night. It was right after a girl I loved, and still love, and will
always love, told me she didn't like me "like that."
"Chloe? Are you there?" Pause. "If you're there, pick up." Pause. "I
just. I just wanted to." Pause. "I mean." Pause. "Chloe, all I ever wanted."
Pause. "All I ever wanted, Chloe." Long silence. Click.
I still leave messages like that on her machine sometimes.
Anyway. I was drunk and depressed and downstairs at Nick's place.
Everybody else was upstairs, having a good time. I could hear their voices.
39 I could hear their laughter. It didn't make any sense to me. Their floor was
my ceiling. My ceiling was their floor. It was the same thing. The same
difference. I was in a bad place. And Matt came down and found me. He
sat next to me. He started listening before I even started talking. I told him
I was sick of everything. Mostly myself. I hated the way I felt and the way
I kept making myself feel. I told him, "I don't even know who I am
He said, "Steve, you are who you are."
"Yeah," I said. "But who are you, when you don't know who you are?"
He shrugged and said, "Frank?"
I must've laughed for half-an-hour.
We're walking past Spaceship Park now. Spaceship Park's claim to fame
is that it has an exact replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The one from the
original Star Trek series. Only the replica has a couple of slides sloping
down from the big saucer-like thing on top. And it's pretty big, but it's way
too small for a starship. Plus it smells like piss inside, from all the kids
who can't hold it and don't want to go home. And it's just there. There's no
explanation for it. There's no plaque or anything. It's just there. A replica
of something that never really existed.
"You know whose fault this is?" says Matt.
"God's?" I say. "Is it God's fault?"
"Is it Satan's fault? Society's fault? Your parents' fault? Your teachers'
If he wants to play, I can think of people and things to blame all day.
"No. It's my fault." He sighs. "It's all my fault."
"Come on. You can't blame yourself." That's what I say. But it's not
true, because you can. And you do.
"Heidi is gorgeous, right?" He's not asking. "She's smart and funny,
and she's crazy gorgeous. But she's always pretending. Always trying to be
someone else. Anyone else. She's dressing up. She's role-playing. She's a
nurse, a lawyer, an aerobics instructor..."
"A calf."
"Yeah," he says, almost to himself. "Heidi is always pretending."
"A calf."
"I was never pretending." He scrunches up his forehead. "What are you
talking about? A calf."
"The ropes," I say. "The cowboy," I add. "She pretends she's a calf"-I
see the hurt bubbling up in his eyes and I trail off-"sometimes. Appar-
He nods and bites his lower lip and looks away.
"Sorry. But hey. It's over now, right? You can put all this stuff out of
your head."
40 "I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"When I walked in, and I saw them there, I didn't say anything. I just
looked at them. I really looked at them. And they looked back at me. Heidi
started crying. She called after me. I didn't even realize I was leaving until
she called after me. I didn't go back." He pauses. He shrugs. "I called her
up later. We talked. And now I don't know."
"When your girlfriend cheats on you, you break up with her. That's
what you do. It's, like, the law."
"You don't know what she's been through," he says. "In her life."
The problem with Matt is, he had a really good upbringing. Maybe a
little too religious. But other than that. I mean, he never got shipped around
like an unclearly-marked parcel, from relative's house to relative's house.
His mom never went through a whore phase, a total slut phase, a "forget
my son, I want to get married again, now, to anyone" phase. She didn't
give up on that, like she gave up on everything else. She didn't try to fill
the emptiness with smoke and booze and bingo balls. His dad never disappeared. Forever. And ever. Amen.
Sometimes I think I'm lucky.
When you've had a really good upbringing, you can't see the world
right. You can't see the world the way it really is. Or maybe it's when
you've had a bad upbringing. That you can't see the world the way it really
is. I don't know. Whatever.
"It doesn't matter what she's been through," I say. "Who cares? Nobody.
Look. You're my friend, and I love you and everything, so I don't want to
hurt you..."
"Say it," he says. "Just say it."
"Heidi has always been pretty open about her fetishes. And when I say
pretty open, I mean painfully, embarrassingly open. And you look exactiy
like Jesus Christ. Now tell me. Tell me there was never any of that when
the lights were off."
"I never thought she was just using me. If that's what you're getting at."
"Yeah. Now say it like you mean it."
"It doesn't matter. I don't care. I love her."
"She cheated on you."
"You know what's weird? If she'd been upfront about it. If she would've
asked me."
I grab his shoulder and jerk him so he stops. When he turns to face me,
and I see his always-sad eyes, I just about lose it. I just about punch him in
the throat. I think it's because I want to be him. I don't know. Maybe I just
want to kill him. "You know what your problem is?" I'm not asking. "You're
too forgiving. Too accepting. God, man. You're just too damn.. .good." I say
it like it's disgusting. Like it's repulsive. I don't know why. "If you want to
41 live until you die, and I think you do, you've got to"-I shove him in the
chest so hard he has to take a couple of steps hack~uchange."
We're still walking and talking two hours later. And I never actually
manage to talk him into breaking up with Heidi, but I talk him into a trial
separation. He calls her from a pay phone, to tell her what he's decided.
And without asking me first, he tells her that I'm coming over. To pick up
some books and CDs he's lent her, just in case they never get back together.
Matt and I walk back to my place. He crashes as soon as we get there.
And then I'm over at Heidi's. She's getting undressed and cursing me,
and I'm locking the bedroom door, saying, "This is the last time. I swear
to God."
She makes a sad face. "This is the last time," she says. "No, really." She
rubs away a pretend tear. "This time I mean it." She curses me some more.
"Who was he?" The bedroom door is officially locked. I'm propping a
chair up under the doorknob anyway. "The cowboy."
"You mean his name?"She's unbuttoning her jeans. "You want to know
his name?"
"Okay, yeah." I kick my shoes off. "Never mind." I pull off my shirt,
ball it up, and whip it at her head as hard as I can. She ducks. It misses her.
When she straightens up, she gives me the finger.
There are five things I like about Heidi. Two of them have nipples.
I say, "Not that I care or anything. But just so you know. One of these
days, you're going to get yourself killed."
"You think?"She's shaking her hips from side to side, pulling her tight
jeans down. "You think it'll be soon ?"She leans down and gets her pants all
the way off. Then she straightens up and pulls off her plain white T-shirt.
"I only mention it because it'll be a hassle. For me. Talking to the cops,
I mean." I lean down, lift my leg, and yank my sock off. "Explaining
our"-I yank off the other sock-"relationship."
She stops undressing and starts staring at me. She's just standing there,
stripped down to her underwear. Breathing hard. Hating me. She's still
holding her shirt. For a second it looks like she's going to say something.
Something important. But she doesn't say anything. She sighs and sits on
the edge of her bed. She drapes her shirt over her bare legs and starts
smoothing it out for some reason.
I almost feel sorry for her. Seeing her there. Mosdy naked. Looking at
that shirt. It's such an ordinary shirt.
She says, "I love him, Steve. I really do."
The feeling passes. "No you don't." I unbuckle my belt. "You just think
you do." I undo my fly. "You're incapable," I say, dropping my pants. "Of
loving anyone."
She balls up her shirt and throws it at me. "Are you talking to me or
42 yourself?"
I don't know. My pants are around my ankles, and I caught her shirt, so
now I'm holding it, and I really don't know. "God, I hate you."
She laughs and falls back flat on her bed. "Are you talking to me or
"I'm talking to you," I say, tossing her top in the corner. "Just you."
43 Michael Kenyon
Heart Room
When does monogamy become celibacy? When
the skies have been grey for days and you stop
losing things. When the robin strikes the window
and stands panting on the ground
for longer than your anxiety to know
the outcome. As soon as it's clear. (To the bushes
to die. Into the air to test his wings.) As soon
as you forget. When does
celibacy become unfaithfulness? When
the child returns home to a gaunt house
in the shade of full-leafed trees. When
the wind sighs its way
along a city street and gives
you a sore throat.
When the smell of earth wakes sadness,
and your frantic self contracts with this dark cousin
to share the day if she will share the night.
As soon as it's clear. (To sit
on the house steps. To go in.) As soon
as you forget. There is mercy
in love but you are not patient. Pebbles
in the pocket. Count them. The iron bed. Tap.
Tap. Squeak of the woodstove door at dawn.
44 Jan Zwicky
Study:  Disciplines
For instance, logic—which would overwhelm him
sometimes, like a sickness
or the impulse to remove the chair,
to let the floor
strike out unhindered, pure stretch of lino
three feet wide right to the baseboard.
Or politics, the racket of collapse
like steering with a flat, mind
veering constantly toward abstraction,
useless, unable
to rescue anything, because forgetting
how to praise:
the mouldings, their made-from-woodness
in the winter light.
45 Study: Garden Gate
You are swinging on the garden gate,
a hoop of dark green pipe
trellised with wire. Its creaking
as you sweep across the walk, the thud
as it falls to, a complete
seventeenth-century satisfaction.
You will never again
know sweet peas in such profusion-
even with their squarish stems packed tight,
more than will crush into a single hand.
What happens next? Why can't you remember?
Some scent, the colour of its eyes.
46 Study: July
The house of childhood has
white siding and red
window-frames.  Mounds
of mashed potatoes every night.
A confetti of arrivals. But only men
depart, and no one
waves goodbye.
Van Gogh in the hayfields, the clanking
as the baler drifts away, then
toward us; then away.
Or it rains.
Every evening bees gather
in the grape leaves by the porch.
Lightning to the south.
47 Cornelia Haeussler
We brought only enough flour to last the winter
and hardware: cutlery, axeheads, the stove you carried
on your back across the pass. All rust now.
We dug a pithouse from the ground,
blofi wie echte Indianer.
There were small animals to trap
and tea made from the underfur of leaves.
We came to the gold fields
for adventure and to carry fortune
home with us. But what little we found
of that bright metal cost us more
to extract than it earned us in return.
Not enough even to purchase passage home.
We left behind our old village, the streets
so narrow my grandmother begged us
to close the window or the whole town
would whisper of our politics. The last
I saw my young sisters, they leaned over the balcony,
their white nightgowns billowing
in the morning sun. Write often,
they called after us, and for a time, I did.
Childhood friend! How far away
from home we've wandered
into a wilderness so barbaric
we had to bite our breath
our desire was so strong.
48 In time we took our wives from the daughters
of the land. And they made good wives,
hardworking, your Annie and my Susanna,
Old William's silent girls, bright- eyed
and blushing. Our children were born
brown-skinned and smelling of salmon.
What remains of the precious cargo
I bore next to my skin all that long voyage? Cufflinks,
a fountain pen (and not the coin now
to purchase ink), the silver baptismal spoon
presented by my Godmother. Useless in a new world.
We are here for good. We make the best of it.
We beat the stick against the drum,
offer rough bark as sacrifice to bears,
concoct a salve to wipe the lifelines from our palms,
mark our skin with willow and pledge ourselves
reborn under the moulting moon.
We sweat, we roll in carrion, we wax our beards
with last September's tallow, wash and wash.
Over mountains, across an ocean, we carry with us,
in the folds of our being, a persistent odour
we can never wash away.
49 Jack Illingworth
Pan, Posing
(for the Pan Painter)
This obligatory graven image:
gleefully mugging for the keen
panographer, hips, tumescence
always pivoting toward presumed
eyes. It was said that to see Pan
was certain death, that wine, ardour,
fervid terror, could not deter
the mortal panic of matted haunches,
vermiform lips, daggy buttocks.
Never mind this—he knew well
his stories were rustic farce,
that to bugger a quaking shepherd
was more conquest than most poets
would allow him. He called it envy,
killed new birds for breakfast
each and every day, muted
those humiliating folktales
with his bloody, clangorous routine.
50 Pan knew, though, that someone
had to see him, that modeling
paid better than living off the land,
that if he was seen drinking
with satyrs and bearded, horn-
handed loggers, herming their
women with his rigid crook,
then that time he slid up Heracles'
frock might well be forgotten.
Poor superstitious hick: Pan
had no idea that pictures
are not quite of this world,
that even the glibbest of gods
can't blackmail himself
into conjugal bliss. Once
a chump, always a chump,
as the costumed satyrs say,
which brings us round to Marlis.
51 The Great Rendezvous
was a deductible junket for voyageurs
and clerks, half of the Northwest Company
paddling in for drink, talk, and trade.
Now it's a family event for diverted drivers
and airborne re-enactors, keen to enjoy
three long July days of cannon and caroling,
drinking songs chanted by the lustily sober
and covertly wasted, the perennially arrested
blacksmith reprieved from his lines for the nonce,
sent to stand by the river and huzzah the arrivals.
The blackflies were waning, the mosquitoes
were close as steam, the gun-salutes frightened
the children, who wanted the stacks of beaver
pelts to be kitten-soft, not firm, dry props.
False MacGillivrays paraded in pomp; it ended.
Then came the piss-up: enough Blue, vodka,
and Canadian Club to fill an oxbow lake,
real gas barbeques, and no goddamn tourists.
Pan found Marlis at the canoe dock, drinking
a litre of Bull's Blood, cursing the anklebiters
and explaining to some well-meaning boys
just why she wouldn't go see their blues band
play at the Inntowner, when she'd seen Stevie Ray
at the Elmo, and wasn't about to hear "I'm a man"
sung by someone who quite obviously wasn't.
52 She took a pull on her wine and stared at the river;
three birds quickly rose against the last light.
Woodcocks, muttered Pan. Really? Yeah.
Hm. Pan grinned. Wanna see a lynx?
Where? Over there. Ten bucks says that's what
scared 'em up. You sure? Yeah. Well...
Soon they were on the water in a staff
boat, rowing to avoid attention. Pan
beached it on a sandbar, left his flashlight
off, whispered a come on, and led her
through a stand of ash. They had not
gone twenty feet before Pan nudged her
thigh- There-anA stepped behind.
Somehow his hand on her hip led
her gaze, darkened shade, quickened white,
and she saw a great airy paw, gloved in thick
ghost's fur; then a loose peaked shoulder;
an ear tuft, silhouetted; and two eyes,
lichen yellow, blinking glacially,
alert and almost unutterably vacant.
Pan kissed her neck, ignoring the familiar
rasping taint of deet, breathing cool air
on her mosquito bites. Marlis closed
her eyes, forgot the lynx, the ashes,
the actors' hubbub, forgot about Pan.
53 Andrew Binks
Johnny Rocket
On a rooftop in an alley behind Rue St. Denis, the exhaust fan
from a lesbian bar, feet from my window, fumes until early morning, expelling the odours of food kept warm far too long. My
fridge smells as well when I slam its door; fumes that permeate the clothes
held at an angle by the narrow wardrobe. Too close to the fridge, a gritty
hot plate sits on a yellow plastic cover that has been stapled to a table
decorated by tiny faded snapdragons singed with cigarettes, and dented
pots that have been too hot to hold. For a few minutes every afternoon hot
sunlight glares through the grease onto the table. I must keep the window
shut. Beyond it, the exhaust fan rattles.
I am slick with sweat. Sueur, the French say. They also say Suer la
misere: Reeks of poverty. The white jeans have been too confining. Though
sufficiendy revealing, I'm starting to feel like a poached sausage. I choose
a loose tank-top, and the blue and white short-shorts. Peel off the jeans.
Hang them at the foot of the bed. Shorts sans underwear calecons. Slip on
my flip-flops. I love summer.
Angelique's door is wide open. She sits, hand under chin. Cigarette, the
root of a fine thread of white smoke. She is staring out the window. I
knock. She inclines her head. Grins. I hand her my rent, forty-five dollars.
Mostly she's a shaky drunk. She can't keep track. She doesn't even recognize me. Sitting there now in her hot little room, half the size of mine. A
mobile home after a twister. But it has a view of St. Denis and the little
patio in front of the Lesbian bar.
Beside her room and across from my own, lives Louie-Marie, a fat old
Frenchman who tried to sell me his cap before, when I was in myjeans. He
does this when he needs more beer and his welfare cheque has been spent.
He always offers me that goddamned greasy brown and white cap for five
dollars, (one-ninth of my weekly rent). "I see you coming down da street
der all in white and I say, boy he would look smart wit dis white cap on"
like that, in his Quebecois accent. Alas, the stains on it would clash with
my skin-tight white jeans, I want to tell him.
There is a picture of his son, whom I remind him of, in an army uniform. He always says he is coming to visit, "tomorrow, maybe next week."
He never comes. Too bad. I would love to meet him.
But now, because of an almost empty jar of peanut butter from which I
54 manage to scrape even less, and a puddle formerly known as butter, which
is being absorbed by the sleeve of a frayed silk shirt I had carelessly tossed
over the back of the chair, I need to hit the pavement in my flip-flops. (I
defy anyone to say they know the pavement of any town as well as I).
I still have five dollars—the remains of a return bus ticket from some
guy in Chicoutimi who wanted me to visit him. Wisely spent, five dollars
can buy two days of groceries or it can buy an evening of distraction. Fuck
wisdom. Some would say it's more than food I'm after.
I waft down the stairs. On the other side of the door to the street sit my
intense hot lesbians in leather, wearing hair on their ankles, drinking beers.
If it were earlier, the cleaner, a bony guy with a shoebrush moustache,
would be jabbing at their butts, scrubbing the ground, wiping sweat off his
nose, and scowling specifically at me. As if I'd harmed him. And my dykes
aren't much better, rolling their eyes now as I slip past in my skimpy tank-
top and these striped short shorts. It's my neighbourhood. I'll go out in
tinsel and shower curtain (which some of'mes voisines' do), if I want.
But now I walk through early evening light similar in its yellowness to
early morning light, but tarnished like my window. Like booze or weed,
the heat leaves us shiftless. And the cumulonimbus are brooding bags of
hot water on a glass table top, waiting to spill their contents. It's too hot to
think. My armpits slurp with sweat. Likewise slides my enlarged scrotum
against my thighs.
St. Denis is midsummer melancholy. Gone are the well-dressed
promeneuses. The heat finally gotten the better of those who wear pounds
of foundation, rouge and lipstick, under dark bangs or black hair pulled
tight. Faces taut against the bone. Absent are their blase husbands or lovers, who lean against shiny cars while the women run in to pick up that
must have "petit quelque chose" and disappear for hours, the men looking
like plump fashion models in their pleated pants and stonewashed silly
silky shirts. On their feet, espadrilles or perhaps a smart pair of sandals
showing tanned pedicured toes turned fat. Gone they are to northern New
York, Europe or maybe even South America to cool off in the duty free
shops of airports. And they do not materialize until sometime in September when they can think of buying something for the cooler weather.
I have wandered down this sultry trottoir of Rue St. Denis, in and out of
the same knick-knack shops and card stores looking at things I have seen
a million times, and each time I decide that I will buy when I have enough
money, but I end up with less and less, as if I have to do penance for desire
itself, through poverty and vanishing means.
The bath shop, the paper shop, the fine luggage and men's things store,
all with doors shut, occasionally someone sitting or lying drugged on the
steep steps. I consider a foray into these cool oases, yet the paper shop
bores me and the man who sells calecons pour les hommes has had his
55 hands on my calecon one time too many. He owes me some briefs. My
pulse races at the dirty thought of what I've let him do. Still, I toss my
head proudly and strut by in my sluttish summer outfit. God, I'm horny
and this heat leaves me no option. Sun on a man's back is stronger than
any Spanish fly. It will take more than a hand job tonight. I do one circuit
of the familiar junque in Persian Paradise to breathe in the sweet incensed
air and recover from rushing past Monsieur le calecon.. My cock has painfully erected a circus tent.
I exit and the Persians glare as if I have shoplifted. I am innocent.
Where would I put a lumpy leather thing with bits of broken glass glued to
it? Perhaps that is what they think is in my shorts.
After passing the Carre St. Louis (a small square for the recreation of
we, the less fortunate) I find what I am looking for: a cute college number
at Les Frites de Joe. (Le "cheep wagon," as we Anglophones call such
things, squeezed into a parking space between two buildings, grass growing around the tires. A callus on the tumour of lower St. Denis).
I sidle up to the college boy. Him in runners with brown socks. Definitely straight. Possibly curious. An ass like a honeydew melon and probably just as sweet. I feign an appetite for food. I must order to keep from
looking obvious. After many visits I am still treated with a distance as
long as Josephine's short fat arm passes the frites over the counter. She is
small, part native, part French, (aren't they all), with ajammy complexion
on a round face and eye-enlarging glasses. Does she do it all by touch?
The glasses can't help. She announces the college boy's order "poutine",
more like poo-taine and shoves them where she senses he might be and
then opens her fat palm for him to pay her. Fresh haircut him, he obviously works out or plays soccer with those thighs and butt. Most likely
bathed in sweat, en nage. Obviously Anglais. Ignores me. He'll learn. I
chuckle smugly. He makes an opera of this transaction. Is he flustered? I
try to catch his eye but a large transistor radio chatters in Franglais in the
back, while a three-times-as-large and twice-as-old version of Josephine
shadows the background, playing referee to two little papooses.
I watch Mr. Adida-ed-butt to the corner. Where are my frites? He's
getting away. Look back! Look back! I ESP. But he's gone.
For one dollar and seventy-five cents I must partake not only in a generous helping of frites, but of frites sickeningly covered with melted curds
and thick gravy. Is this not substantial? Is this not treat-like? Crunchy yet
soft. They snap when bitten. The frogs know how to do this.
I take my dinner to a bench in Carre St. Louis and pull fries out of
melted goo and gravy and hoist them over the edge of the bag and into my
mouth, all to try not losing a drop of precious, calorie-filled fat. Ah poverty; the one time when calories are a commodity. If I can't fuck I'll eat.
Day sounds change to night. Traffic sounds fade and are replaced by the
56 clang of pots and dishes. Food smells and laughter lazily tumble out of
windows and into the square. Strong smells too. Smells that remind me of
a place or a time or of a whole season.
The heat keeps the park parasites in suspension, to the ground, to their
benches. I do not want to share my little feast of the brown paper bag with
anyone. Wait. Someone watches. I uncross my legs. Scratch my crotch.
That's the signal. But I recognize him. He's a thug. A pimp. Straight, but
cute. Perhaps bi, but too dangerous. Meanwhile, the birds suspire in the
cool trees in an odd dispute but will not flitter forth. I bury my face in my
I waltz back up the other side of St. Denis, past tiny cafes with Barbie
Doll patios where Americans conspicuously eat under the watchful eye of
the rest of us, wealth free and on foot. Searching for my reflection now in
the windows of these places. I don't look that bad.
One restaurant is frantically busy, a place I've dreamed of finding a
sugar daddy. It's all glass with black tables, black and white tiles on the
floor, a high wooden bar and very nasty looking waiters. These are where
the ones who have not gone to Rio dine. All of them. Behind glass, a
veritable Diorama of the world as it should be. Wearing thongs they do not
sweat in. Happily delirious, drunk and drugged on their own superbness,
poking at bits of artfully arranged peas and penne and fruit purees with
morsels of chilled whatever and smoked whatever else. Sipping Pinot Blancs
or Pimm's. No patio here. Patios are definitely for plebs and turistas. These
mannequins wait from air conditioned penthouse to climate controlled
Corvette to chilly tiled restaurant. Afterwards, with the lid down and the
elan and energy of the Queen Mother doing her walkabout, they retreat,
windblown, to their crystal castles in the sky. And I complete this perfect
scene in my slutty street wear, turning more than one head, while looking
for my image in the window. Unfortunately these men are all heteros or
homos not interested in a piece of street trash. Maybe? Oh fuck that.
Besides who can really get excited wearing beaver or mink to keep the
goose bumps off her transparent flesh in the summer?
Air-conditioning just shrinks your dick.
I smile. I still have three dollars and twenty five cents and I am full-
full of cheese and potatoes and gravy, all doing their best to keep me
feeling alive, from the pit of my stomach right up through my stinging
post nasums. It's time for something to sweeten this boy up and cool him
On the next block, I walk up wooden steps to a counter that sells soft
creme glacee twisted in a spiral with chocolate or just plain, simple. I'm
guessing white doesn't have any flavour. Actually, I'm not sure I know
what real vanilla tastes like.
For a dollar I get "un medium twiste" which is gigantic, but average as
57 ice milk products go. I lick it in a fashion that might excite a voyeur,
forcing me to slow and zig-zag. Finally I cross the street and toss the gluey
remnants into a planter. At my front doorstep by the patio of L'Exit, I see
that tonight's street life is a definite downer, leaving me with nothing more
than a rancid poutine taste mixed with sugary glop.
The interior of L'Exit is dark. It is certainly too early to go up to my
squeaky bed. I still have some change, so I venture in for a drink. Mind
my own business. Clamber on a stool at the big dark bar. A chalkboard far
to my right announces I can order a glass of Mere enfutiov one dollar fifty,
which I do, with enough left for an ungenerous tip.
A dim reflection in the mammoth mirror bears down on me from behind rows of liquor and liqueur. The tan on my shoulders shiny and smooth.
My waist bloated. And further up the mirror, out of view, directiy above
me possibly, is my filthy little room, void of oxygen, full of nothing but
stale carbon dioxide from me and the many old men who have died on the
bed-of-nails springs which poke and prod at random.
A glass of draft slides into view. I will have to nurse this baby.
My eyes continue to rove over the reflection in the gigantic, ship-like
mirror. Light from the street brings small tables and chairs into profile as
little red lamps reflect their flat surfaces. There are gold-lameed pillars
around which the tables and chairs congregate. Lush. Anything unattractive disappears into the darkness, like an impressionist painting. All shadows and light.
Something else catches my eye, below the mirror, in a plaid shirt stretched
across a wide back. A head appears and becomes part of the pleasing
vision. I glance up to the mirror again and the reflection of the eyes of the
shirt-dweller looks back at me. Eyes wink. I look down into my tiny beer
and take a dainty sip. I glance up again and the reflection smiles. Holding
the line of the gaze, my heart becomes a hard lump of fear in my esophagus.
I continue to sip. The barman turns and swipes the coins into his palm and
grins a friendly grin, not the grin of a predator. He is as much at a loss for
words as I. My pants may explode.
When you're walking on a fall or spring day shielding your eyes from
the dust the wind blows up into your face and you lean against the tugging
of it and suddenly a gust catches you from behind and hurries you along
for a few steps, or when you wait to see the tide change but you never
really see it , you only notice that now it isn't coming in. You become
aware of the game nature plays with our own nature, tossing us, teasing us
and sometimes drowning us if we aren't aware of the undertow or where
the wind is coming from.
I grin. I smile. I verse vice-ah. I cough a bit because of the beer or a
bubble of oxygen in my throat. Not with nature's grace do I unstick my
thighs and stumble from the bar stool to a recentiy vacated-by-lesbians
58 table underneath the chalkboard. I sit secluded from general view, but
with full on view of the bar keep. With nine tenths of a beer still at my
disposal, I nestle into the lumpy, stuffed red alcove. I watch Monsieur le
barman from a safe distance. His wide shoulders betray his slim waist and
thighs tight in his jeans. I can only imagine the rest, and I do.
He performs likewise with a grand floorshow full of humour, machismo
and Frenchness as he takes orders from the waitress, butchly splashing
shots of poison into glasses of ice and banging beer bottles onto the bar.
In the meantime, I grace the corner with my shiny shoulders and knees
crossed tightly. I play hard to get, but he is harder to ignore.
Halfway through my beer a candy-coated waitress brings me another
beer, a pint this time. She leaves without a word. As he wipes glasses from
his consol he winks me-wards again. I coquettishly toast him, still on my
first. He nods. Drink up.
I am now in the game. Timidity cowers tighdy behind bravado, which
rears itself as a painful boner. I lean forward and uncross my legs.
The beer washes minutes and hours away. I continue to play with this
Chevalier, this Aznavour, this classically French, balding, big-nosed, cleft-
chinned lumberjack. The scene sweetens to a kind of pleasureable pain,
myself semi-drugged thinking of the times when I had a life, a friend, and
sadly dreaming of when I will again. Sooner, I hope, than later.
Exhausted from this and three big beers later, I rise and tilt toward the
Hoping for at least a phone number from this encounter, I extend my
hand, which is immediately seized by one bigger, firmer, thicker, rougher
and perhaps friendlier than my small-boned English one.
"Merci pour les bieres monsieur," I say in my scholastic way.
"Qa me fait plaisir," He says with exagerrated politesse. "Ou vas- tu?"
I point ceiling-ward, ciel-ward, je suppose. "I live upstairs. J'habite en
He frowns. Is he familiar with the squalor to which I am subjecting
myself? "I will come to get you tonight."
I want to believe that he might actually do so, and on a white stallion.
"I'm in room three," and trying not to sound too desperate I add, "if
there is no answer continue to buzz, continue a presser le bouton." (I press
the air with my thumb). Again we shake hands, this time sex surges down
my arm igniting the underside of my balls.
Outside, a hot wind now blows. The lesbians have long abandoned the
patio, but the dark street is alive with lights from passing cars and glowing
shop fronts. Sheet lightning flashes up St. Denis without a sound. Other
restaurant patios are now crowded.
My stagnant room has taken on the climate of a tool shed. I take my
damp towel and head for the bathroom around the corner at the other end
59 of the hall from my own room and beside the bedroom of a strangely
pious (to this protestant boy) woman. Mademoiselle Murielle Dupont is, I
think, a plain-clothes nun. She leaves her apartment every day looking
painfully scrubbed and powdery with skirts and blouses pressed crisp. She
keeps the adjacent bathroom looking equally proper, yellowed, but clean.
After a cold bath, I walk to my room hoping none of my neighbours
will be in the hall to engage me in light conversation or sell me things.
Other creepy crawlers await me in my room under the light of the twenty-
five watt bulb that, fortunately, makes them impossible to see before backing into closets, bedclothes and yes, the refrigerator. Still wet to fight the
heat, I flop, hoping that the three or four hours until my suitor's arrival
will pass with great haste.
A knock pulls me from a damp dream, rolling me from the lumpy
mattress onto the floor. I take the two steps to the door, opening it to see
my prince's rugged face and feel his breath. He gives me a quick kiss on
the lips. "Come with me." He says.
Ooh la la!
I slip on the white jeans and the tank top knowing I have caught, but not
yet netted, this one. The old silk shirt is now entirely buttery.
My door squeaks and clicks shut behind us and then we fly down the
linoleum edged-with-metal-to-damage-the-shins-if-you-slip staircase. The
white horse is nowhere, but this knight will do.
"I am Jean," he says in his broken English, which he insists speaking
'Jean Rochet."
"My English friends call me Johnny Rocket."
He is big, a big coureur de bois.
"C'estpas loin, I don't live far."
The warm wind blows, lamps swing madly, and there is faint thunder
now, after the white flashes, but still no drops of rain. I feel as though we
have just crossed enemy lines in this deserted city. We pass my favourite,
and completely unaffordable, croissant cafe at the corner and head one
block over to his street and then back down to his flat.
"You must be quiet, Gilles is a light sleeper."
With my hand touching his back we tiptoe down the hall, Gilles's room
on the right, living room on the left, and into Jean's room, which is off of
the dining room. A hot breeze plays in and out of the room. He disappears
past the dining room leaving me on the edge of the bed. I look at my feet.
They are still clean.
He comes into the room, smelling of sweet cologne, shirt off his hairy
torso and he pushes me down onto the soft unlumpy large very comfortable bed which I can't help appreciating although afraid that I will fall
asleep instantiy from the total of all the nights of bad sleep added up.
60 But his hands are on me and my hands are on me, peeling at my tight
jeans. He slips off his own pants with the frankness only a Frenchman can
possess. This done in darkness. But I can feel he has everything, round
chest, hard shoulders, everything firm that isn't completely rock hard.
And finally pulls off my pants, tickling my feet on the way. His hands on
my hips heave and pull me about on the bed. I see myself a lean loose slut,
not like the frite-eating-ice-cream-cow I have become. He pulls my hips
up off the bed and presses my groin into his own. He is being a true
Frenchman, my knight in shining armour and I'll just have to lie here and
take it, like a man. I can't touch his body enough, running my hands along
his huge thighs, pulling at his ass, making him topple onto me, to smother
me in his solid masculinity.
He kneads my torso (and squeezes my love handles). "Women, they are
all like dis," he says as he slaps the back of my thigh.
Does he find me womanly?
"But men are this." He presses his large hand into my front, below my
sternum, above my crotch, and I regain my composure.
He obviously appreciates my body. I too appreciate having his large
hairy hands squeezing, groping, holding and pinching. I grab his breasts
and pull on his nipples as hard as he pinches me. Does he know how long
it has been?
And after, we lie in a soaked clump. Not sweaty. Sweat doesn't come
from this type of activity. It's a warm dampness of body fluids that seals
you together and doesn't leave you gasping for coolness, the heat grows
and becomes more and you relish it with your flaccid appendages folded
into each other.
And the ground shakes.
"That is the last metro, the only one with metal wheels," he tells me.
And its metal wheels role underneath us.
The storm has come closer and, as we lie, the monsoon fades our view
of the homes across the alley. A sharp crash brings a wave of cooler air in
the window and over us. The storm does its best to hold our attention but
somewhere between its ebb and departure we fall into a light sleep interrupted by his soft kisses and caresses, annoying snores, and another heated
round in his tangled nest.
I open my eyes when the door of the room bangs shut to see Jean climb
onto the bed, croissants balanced in one hand and two mugs in the other,
still naked, hairy like I remembered, his thick warm penis flopping from
side to side.
"Cafe au lait Monsieur."
I pretend to care that he is seeing me, hair askew, face puffed and
wrinkled, teeth unbrushed. Poutine breath.
We eat and dip and from time to time he pushes at me or squeezes my
61 skin or ruffles my hair and growls. In the daylight I can see his body has a
natural tan, all one colour, except for the undersides of his big soft feet,
which are a pinkish white. He is perfect, I think. He is kind and strong and
sexy as hell.
"Today I leave for P-town," he says.
"Mmmm?" says I.
He shakes his head, "I 'ave ajob as a cook."
"For the summer?"
"Maybe longer. Would you like to live here."
"No, 'ere in dis flat, in my room, when I am gone."
"How much?" I ask.
"One 'undred forty five a month."
"But what happens when you come back?"
"I won't be back."
Quickly calculating that my precious forty-five a week adds up to more
than that, I accept. "When?"
"Today, Tomorrow, I will talk to Gilles. 'Ee will be your flatmate. He
cleans at L'exit."
"I think I've seen him."
I look straight ahead and out the window at two blue nuns (like the ones
on the wine bottle) in the alley arguing over who will drive a little car.
Love's like that, isn't it? It takes longer really. But eventually someone
goes away. Somehow. God, how hot they must be, clammy white skin
under those robes. I shiver at the thought. Then I recognize one is Mademoiselle Murielle Dupont, my neighbour.
"Maybe les soeurs would like this," he says grabbing my cock. It takes
me a second to realize he is referring to the nuns.
He takes the mug of coffee from me and puts it on the floor; grabs my
shoulders and pushes me into the bed. I feign a struggle, but let him have
his way. He doesn't mind my poutine breath. He nibbles at my shoulder.
Bites. I close my eyes and feel the sweat, sueur, being licked away.
62 Jay Dolmage
All Right. Okay.
He pedals. His knees buckle in and out as his legs churn round and
round. His tires squeak from their newness, their rubber still
knobby and pitch black. He coasts. He pedals. He coasts. He
rolls down the neighbourhood streets, his hair wild in the wind, his part
blown left to right, a little scraggly ducktail trailing from the back of his
head like a flag. He pedals. In this neighbourhood, parked cars sink into
lawns, into the road, their axles busted, their tires soft, their engines rusted
out or gone for good. When he swerves around a corner, he swings wide to
avoid these dead things, these husks of machines. In the car windows that
aren't smashed in, he sees himself, briefly, a boy with a bony knee poking
out of a rip in his jeans. He catches a glimpse of the spinning spokes, the
beautiful shimmer of rapid movement, a whirl of light. He flies like a kite
without a string in a sky full of wind. He rides all day. Okay.
On a brown lawn, a woman yells at her son and her husband yells at
her, but their voices blur as he pedals away, as he turns another corner.
Other kids stand on their lawns pointing plastic guns at one another, pretending to kill or die. They spin to aim at him as he passes, but too slowly.
He speeds away, cruises through an intersection, pulls into a skid, stopping just to leave a smear of rubber on the pavement. He stands straddling
the bike, his feet on the ground and his elbows resting on the handlebars.
He spits, wipes sweat from his forehead, then twists around to admire his
skid mark. Cars rumble and backfire, pull out of driveways. Doors open,
slam to. He gets back up on the seat. He pedals. He rides. Up to his school,
past his school, its doors locked for the summer, the playground windswept and empty. He's thankful for summer, for that final bell that freed
him from grade three. He spits again and the long string of saliva flies
over his shoulder, hooks around his face and lands on the back of his T-
shirt. Then, he spits again and it lands on the lawn outside the front doors
of the school as he accelerates away.
He pedals towards his own driveway, zig-zagging from street to sidewalk
to lawn to street. As he gets nearer to his house, a big black car pulls up to
the curb. The driver-side door opens. The boy slows, bites his lip, stops
pedaling. He watches the car with nervous eyes, swerves over to the other
side of the road, up onto the sidewalk, glides past his house then away
again. He turns back to look only after making some distance. He sees a
63 big figure strut up his walk, a man with his jacket half-zipped, chains
gleaming round his neck. The boy pedals. He pedals away. Coasts out that
day, and the next, and the next, from warming dawns through clear, sunny
afternoons and into the slanted and enchanted light of early evening-he
coasts out the first shiny weeks of summer. Then one morning the bike
goes missing.
He walks the streets of the neighbourhood, slow and sad. He spits.
Everything he sees, he wants to break. Everyone he sees, he wants to fight.
His parents tell him that there's nothing they can do. All right.
One night, the boy's uncle Mike visits his house and he brings beaver
pelts. He's been up North, trapping, hunting, fishing; collecting dead animals. Uncle Mike and his dad sit around in the living room looking at the
pelts. They let him look too. He holds one in his lap and smoothes the fur.
His dad holds a bong so big that it comes up to the boy's hips, a bong so
big that it looks like furniture. But furniture that the boy is not allowed to
touch. The bong is passed between brothers and the boy's uncle holds it
between his knees, puts a lighter to it. It gurgles-a sound like water trying
to get down a hair-clogged drain. It's purple. As far as he can see, you put
your mouth on a part and your finger on another part and it makes smoke.
It's like an engine with two mufflers. You turn it on and hold a flame to it,
like the barbecue out on the front porch. He's not allowed to touch it. His
uncle Mike blows smoke out of his mouth and nose. He talks about how
beavers are the worst pests, screwing up all the good fishing lakes. As he
talks, his eyes look smoky, gray, full of dark water, like he's crying or
laughing really hard.
The boy looks at his uncle, at his eyes and his big hair, how it sticks up
on top like long grass and then falls down his neck and forehead unevenly.
He looks until his uncle sees him looking, then he looks away. The boy's
eyes stare at the bulge in the breastpocket of his uncle's camouflage jacket-
the knife pocket—and then he turns his head away. He sits and listens to the
stories about fish and beaver. He watches the adults drain and crush cans
of beer. He takes a sip when it's offered.
"What does it taste like there, Chopper?" his uncle asks.
The boy thinks for a second and then, because he's pretty sure he knows
the answer, he says, "Beer."
The men laugh like this is the funniest thing they've heard since they've
been on earth and he smiles a bit, but nervously, because the laughing is
very loud.
"Beer," he says again, and they laugh again, even louder, like violence.
But they don't laugh when he says it a third time. Later, he washes his
mouth out with water to lose the tinny taste. Later still, after the adults fall
asleep on the couch and the boy is alone, he feels the pain of his bikelessness.
It aches like after stubbing a toe, but bigger, unlike any pain on the body.
64 He comes up with a plan. All right. He decides to put up a sign. He puts
down the pelt that he's been holding and he springs into action. He gets
some markers and he looks around for paper. He opens drawers and cabinets. But, nothing. Okay, he thinks, no paper. So he just goes down to the
telephone pole on the corner by the intersection and writes right on it with
marker. On the street it's dark, quiet, aside from some vague strains of
guitar music and yelled lyrics muffled behind closed doors. The street is
empty, except for hunched and broken cars and trucks leaning on the
curbs. The telephone pole is lit only by flickering streetlights, so he can't
see so well. He draws a picture and prints out the word "Stole" above and
below it. He writes his phone number down too. And then "Call." Call
about a Stole bike. The picture he draws is supposed to be his beautiful
blue bike, with its gleaming metal, in all of its power and perfection, but it
looks like two circles and a stick. Okay, really, it looks like a skinny dick
with great big balls. "Call," it says, above a picture of a dick and balls,
written on the telephone pole in between signs for Lose Weight Make Money,
Lost Kitten, Learn English and Puppies For Sale. But, he thinks—it'll do.
Okay. And now, all there is to do is wait. Wait, and hit trees with sticks.
Wait for the adults to wake up. Wait and maybe ask his mom for money
for candy or for a Fudgsicle or a pop. Ask until she says no in a different
voice than all the other nos and then get out of the house and sit on the
curb by the intersection. Waiting: this is all there is. This is what he does.
He waits. Waits all day. Stares at his shoes and tosses pebbles. Watches the
other kids in the streets jump rope, shoot one another, yell, kick balls, kick
one another, kick. He waits. Until the streetlights start coming on again
and he finally says "screw it" and walks home, into the house, past Dad on
the porch, sitting in silence with the broken bits of his boom box that,
earlier in the day, busted into pieces, and past his mom in the kitchen,
whispering into the telephone. He leans in to see if the call is bike-related,
but he can't really hear anything—and when his mom sees him she flips the
back of her hand at him-go away. And so he does. Right into bed, into
All right, he thinks, when he wakes up in the morning, who could be
that evil? Who could be so crappy as to steal the bike? Maybe one of the
kids from school. Maybe one of the kids from school who lives on his
block. One of those kids he watched the day before. He walks up and down
the street and peeks into garages and looks on lawns. But the bikes he sees
aren't his, are nothing like his, nowhere near as cool, nowhere near. He
walks and walks and when he sees kids he says-Seen My Bike Seen My
Bike Seen My Bike? At the edge of one yard, a girl stands attached to her
litde brother by a long skipping rope. They each have an end tied around
their waist, but the brother is lying almost in the road, blubbering, bleeding from a knee, while his sister stands on the grass. The litde boy is
65 wearing a big foam hat and his face is red with crying.
"Seen my bike?" he asks the sister.
"Get off my property," she says, even though he's standing on the
sidewalk. She stares at him hard, her eyes like the darkest marbles. She
kicks at a dandelion with a flip-flopped foot, the thong jammed up between
her long toes. The boy steps off the curb towards where her brother Hes on
the pavement, a skateboard overturned beside him, holding his knee and
sounding like he might never stop crying. The sister steps between them.
"Get up," she says to her brother, "and try to stay on this time." She kicks
the skateboard along the sidewalk. It spins around upside down and hits
her brother in the ribs.
"It's blue, it's blue and new, I just got it," the boy tries again, trying to
get the girl's attention.
"Shut up," she says, and steps towards the boy threateningly, pulling
her brother a few inches along the sidewalk by the waist as she moves. So
he walks away, but slowly and with confidence, knowing she'd have to tow
that dead crying weight behind her if she really wanted to get him.
"Fine," he says, when he's a few feet further from her. "Fine, but if I find
out you took it, I'll tell my dad." He spits, but his mouth is too dry for an
impressive loog. "Shithead!" he adds, moving quickly away.
"Come back here and say that," she yells, straining against the rope and
scraping her brother along the pavement a bit more. But the boy is gone.
He jogs away, down the block and around the corner.
For the rest of the day, he has similar luck. No one has seen the bike. Or,
at least, no one is talking. And all he gets for his efforts is no, no, no, and
no signs of anything suspicious. And he sees other kids mounting their
own rides and pedaling their own rides. It saddens him. He bites his tongue,
tries not to cry. The other kids pedal off into the brightness of the day,
leaving him with the taste of blood in the bottom of his mouth, some tears
near his eyes. Okay.
Out front of every house he's lived in, his dad has set things up on the
porch or the patio, or beneath a set of stairs. There's always been a litde
barbecue and a boom box that his dad tunes to Rock. There's big, tall, beer
cans piled up against a wall out there and a big chair, a lounger, that he's
not allowed to sit in. And fifteen-pound weights that his dad lifts when he
cranks up the tunes. Here, at this house, in this neighbourhood, like in all
the neighbourhoods he's known before, his house is set up a certain way,
distinguishing his yard from the others. He's allowed to be out front, with
his dad, but not on the big chair and not near the cans—don't knock the
cans over. When they get high enough, his dad'll bag them and walk them
over to the recycling machine at the nearest beer store. He'll claim his
change and buy more beer and start the stack again from ground up.
Now, after this day's search for evidence fails, he stands in front of his
66 house, amid all this stuff, and he looks at the busted pieces of what used to
be his father's boom box. But he doesn't worry about this loss. He walks
over to the car in the driveway of his house, an old Camaro that hasn't
started since it brought his family to this town. He sits on the up-curve of
the back spoiler. He thinks bike, bike, bike. He thinks, he wonders, he
puzzles, he reasons, he imagines. All right, he asks himself again—who
could be that crappy?
And he thinks, hey, it must have been that guy with the trucks. The guy
from down the street who parks three trucks on his lawn, the trucks that
get taken apart and put back together, but all seem to work, and never get
left in the road or the driveway to die. The guy, this truck guy, that his dad
wants to fight. The guy who's gonna get a pounding. The guy whose wife
comes down and sits with Dad and Dad gets out the weights and cranks the
Rock and they have a couple beers. Or they go in and make the bong
smoke. Then the guy drives by in one of his trucks, and he sees them out
front and he stops right there, stopped in the middle of the street and he
gets out and yells—Motherfucker! Or—Bitch! Depending on who he's looking at. And he takes his wife home in the truck. And then his dad doesn't
say anything, he just lifts more barbells and more beers. Later, when his
mom gets back from work, Dad will rub her butt by the fridge and whisper
to her. Or Uncle Mike will come over and he and Dad'll heat the bong up
again and they'll light the barbecue and cook hotdogs. And it'll smell like
those hotdogs and propane and weed. And his dad will swear about that
guy with the trucks and seem like he's going to go down the street and
start something before he sits down in the chair and later passes out.
Eventually, after the Rock is switched off, in the dark, in between snores,
there will just be a smell. Then, the boy will lift his short legs to step over
the adult limbs. He'll be brave enough to go over and stare at his dad's
face, at the chin moving up and down as he breathes, and he'll think about
the clench he gets in his jaw when he's mad, when he looks like he might
pound somebody. The boy will wander around the bodies out front on the
porch and he'll catch a whiff of something. The food and the barbecue and
the drugs and nightfall and all the little pools of beer in the bottom of all
the stacked cans out there-all these smells will mingle and create a new
bad scent. A smell like armpits, feet, the stuff that's been in the fridge since
Christmas. A disgusting smell that matches the way he feels about being
So it was him. The truck guy came down and took the bike and put it in
the back of one of the trucks and Dad got up off the chair and he said-Hey
motherfucker! And they fought for it. His dad fought for the bike but the
guy was just too much for him or had attack techniques and got away with
the bike and hit his dad so hard that he forgot any of it happening. So to
him it's a mystery too. That's why he didn't mention it. That's why he
67 doesn't talk about the bike.
But, the boy thinks, if there was a witness they could say what really
happened. They'd tell him that it was the man with the lawn full of trucks.
They'd finger him. The witness, his dad, his mom, his uncle, everybody,
they'd get together to get him. They'd all march down to his house, to his
lawn, past the trucks, up to the front door. And that guy would get an uncle
and dad combination beating. And they'd get the bike back and twist his
arm and then get the belt out and make him count each smack as they
whipped the buckle off his bare sorry ass.
He needs a witness. So he goes to ask the lady across the street if she
saw anything. Her house smells like the flowers in her garden, but also too
clean, like new shoes. Nothing like his house. He walks right up her front
steps, opens the screen door. He knocks twice, then two more times, and
stands on her porch until she comes to the door. But she keeps the chain on
when she opens it, she eyes him through a narrow crack. And she won't
open up for him past that.
He asks around the neighbourhood again, but none of the kids have
seen anything. And he knows, now, that he won't be able to expect help
from kids or old ladies. Okay, he thinks. There's no witnesses. There's no
bike. And, really, there's not much chance that the guy down the street
took it. Because who needs bikes when you've got trucks? You can't even
use bike parts on your truck or truck parts on your bike. He realizes this;
he gets mad. He spits on the sidewalk.
Back in his house, he picks up a beaver pelt that's been sitting on a
couch cushion on the floor. He remembers that at Uncle Mike's own house
they've got one in the freezer. A Beaver. He saw it—it was the only other
time he'd seen one, dead or otherwise. His uncle has a freezer the size of a
fridge laid sideways, all full of food. Full of frost and things in boxes and
meat from lakes up North and stores down here. And the beaver in it is all
together, it's not just the pelt. It has beaver meats and parts frozen on the
inside, under the fur, and a gash on a litde short leg from a trap and a look
on its beaver face like—Oh Damn. It's on some steaks and its tail is stuck
between some frozen fish and it has its lame litde webbed foot up on some
bag of chicken drumsticks. He recalls the frosted furry thing, the cold
eyes, there in the freezer.
And suddenly, he is struck with an idea. If a beaver really is a pest,
really is as bad as Uncle Mike says, that beaver could do some serious evil.
And he knows what happened to his bike-the beaver stole it. Stole it and
rode it up north, up to the good fishing lakes, to ride around with its fur
bristiing in the wind, showing off for other beavers, ruining things more
quickly, with a cool set of wheels. He thinks-we need to get some traps
around here for the safety of bikes.
He realizes he's still rubbing the pelt. It's warm on his lap and he keeps
68 touching it and then, suddenly, he hates it. It isn't nice now, it feels like hot
badness in his hand. He hears yelling outside, but it is too far away for him
to tell which voices are raised. The room is filled with the smell of dried
hide and old smoke. And evil. He throws the pelt and he lies on his back
and, ever so slowly, falls asleep, dreaming of thieving beavers.
He wakes up in the early early morning, in the dark, on the couch
cushion, and realizes that his parents have returned, are sleeping on the
cushion-less couch and in an armchair. He tiptoes out of the room. He
grabs an old green mesh tank-top from a pile of clothes in his room, for
camouflage. He steps outside, out front of the house, out into the night,
looking for the beavers that lurk in the shadows. He lies on the lawn as the
dew falls. He lies in wait, ready to snag the legs of passing rodents. But,
then he falls asleep again, snoozing until dawn when he gets up, wet with
dew, and returns to his bed. He tiptoes back through the living room, past
his sleeping Mom and Dad.
By noon, he has woken again and scrounges up a breakfast of pop and
bread. He realizes something. Okay. So it really couldn't have been a
beaver. Because a beaver's legs don't reach long enough from its crotch.
Even the big ones. The size of the pelt that he has handled makes this clear
and his memory of the freezer beaver makes this obvious. The beaver legs
were short as the chicken drumsticks they were perched upon. You can't
ride a bike if you can't reach the pedals with your feet. So it wasn't a
beaver. All right.
He has the house to himself, so he sits out front in his dad's chair,
careful to look around the block first, to make sure no one sees him sneaking a seat in the lounger. He picks up some pieces of boom box, but he
can't make them fit together. They seem to have all come from separate
machines. He chucks a bowl-shaped speaker out into the yard and it spins
unevenly before skipping off the lawn and onto the sidewalk. All right.
The bike must have just taken off. Must have just left. Yeah. Got up and
got out of town. Sometimes he called it the Blue Bull-because, vaguely, it
looked like the cartoonish bulls on the sides of his dad's stacked beer cans.
And, to him it was a Bull. He would wrangle with the handlebars like they
were horns, and pop wheelies like they were a violent bucking. So it is not
such a big stretch to think that this thing might have actually come alive
and galloped off. It could've gone off to find some lady cow.
Okay, but that's the stupidest idea yet, he thinks. The bike is like a bull,
yes, except very very different. Like, it's made of metal. Like, it isn't an
animal. Like, come on. He gets mad at himself enough to go and throw
some rocks up in the air and try to karate-kick them. Then to hit some
trees with a stick.
After that, he spends the rest of the day as he has spent the past handful,
wandering, worrying. He feels slow on his feet and trapped by the rows of
69 houses, the rows of dead cars, the blocks of streets. At one point, he sees
the girl, the one who he called a shithead, walking along the sidewalk
towards him, a rope tied round her waist, again, but with no brother on a
skateboard attached to the other end. Where the one end of the skipping
rope used to be attached to another waist, it now dangles, torn, trailing
along the sidewalk as she walks. She has the skateboard in her hand. He
skips between two cars and towards the other side of the road, wondering
if maybe the girl's brother is lying in a ditch somewhere, covered in road
rash and crying, the rest of the rope still attached to his waist. He imagines
the girl running, pulling her brother behind her, then the little boy falling
off the board, again and again, until finally being left behind.
And right then, she sees him walking and she skips across to the other
side of the road too, to cut him off, so he skips back the other way. She
switches direction again too, and is now getting closer and closer to him,
so he fakes one way and runs the other, away from her. He thinks about all
the things he might yell, but says nothing. She stands in the middle of the
road, silent as well, but with menace, and flips him the bird as he runs
away, turning her body to face him with her threatening eyes and her
skinny finger as he moves down the street. He says nothing. He just keeps
moving. He wanders the day away and falls asleep early that night, fitfully.
When he wakes up, he finds his mom in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards.
"Where's the fucking coffee?" she asks, and he doesn't answer because
he doesn't know. He waits for a full minute, until she gives up looking and
sits down, then he grabs a box of cereal and pours himself a bowl. He
jumps up and sits on a counter. His mom gets up and goes to the fridge.
"Any good news?" he asks.
"What?" she asks with a snap, like the sound of small firecrackers. And
she pours milk into the bowl of cereal in his lap.
"You know, phone calls or anything," he says.
And she says, "Fuck no."
He rubs one eye hard with one fist, the other one holding his bowl so
the milk doesn't slosh out of it.
"No one called about my bike," he says, and it is not a question, just an
empty statement, hollow-sounding, with feeling dug out of it. She says no
again, now without the swearing, without the frustration of tone, in a completely different voice than the one she used to answer his first question.
And she rubs his head and messes up his hair and tries to give him a hug
and moves to get him a spoon that's not burnt. She brings it over and sees
the red in his eye from rubbing and she makes this little noise and goes to
touch his face. But he's already out of there.
Outside, the sun is just above house level. His stomach feels as though
it's been slit, all his guts taken out by the bad luck that's been cleaning him
70 like a fish. But he collects himself, jams his guts back in. And he's okay.
He's not down, despite everything. He's up. He has hope. He has a new
sunny day. Okay.
He ends up at his school, sitting on a swing, twisting the chains that
support him around in one direction, then the other. All right. So it wasn't
a beaver because of size. And that's stupid. It's totally not an actual bull
and it totally didn't run off on its own. Because that's even more stupid. It
wasn't that his father had been punched so hard that he'd forgotten taking
a smack in defense of the bike-because it wasn't the guy with the trucks.
There's no witnesses. He stands up, grabs the seat of the swing and throws
it. It flies for a second, pulling the chains taut, and then catches, falls,
swings back at him with a heavy jangle. He walks away. Okay.
He shuffles back towards home. He can see his front porch as he approaches it, but his dad isn't out there, he's gone. And the spot on the lawn
where he used to leave his bike, the back wheel still spinning, there beside
the dead Camaro and in front of the porch—this spot is vacant. Who could
be that evil? he thinks. Who could be that crappy? Then, out of nowhere,
he knows. He isn't hit with the realization, it doesn't strike him, it just
wiggles up next to him. It was the guy with the big black car. The Man.
The guy who wears matching jump suits. Jump suits that are expensive-
looking and sort of shiny, but also soft. The kind that zip up the front,
though his only gets half zipped, to let these gold chains hang out in his
chest hair. This is the guy who usually comes around to his house like he's
on a mission. Like he's a cop, except with a different uniform. Mean like a
cop. And, like cops, he's not from the neighbourhood, he sticks out and
people notice him, pretend to keep doing whatever it was they were doing,
pretend they're not watching him out of the side of their eye. This is the
guy who came last week and then again this week. The guy who, now,
when he comes, the boy's mom answers the front door and his dad goes
out the back. And the boy knows to stay away. This is the guy who is The
Man. The Man who, if he's angry, breaks something before he leaves their
house. Like when he came over last time. When he picked up his dad's
boom box and smashed it down and it blew up, the Rock coming out of it
all the way to the ground and then, when it hit, coming out like the singer
was a backfiring engine for one chorus worth of sound.
He can see him. The Man visits him sometimes in his mind. He knows
that The Man has rings on almost all his fingers and that they shine like
the spokes on a new bike or Uncle Mike's hunting knife. He knows that
The Man drives up slow and he walks back to his car slow. Leaves in the
silent wake of busted things and people hiding out back. Walking away,
taking big slow strides, the legs of his jump suit rubbing together and
making a slick shifty sound. His chains sliding back and forth across his
chest, his chest hair and his half-zipped jacket. Slow. The man's car hum-
71 ming deeply as he pulls away, his mom standing there shaky and big-eyed
on the porch. All right, so it was him.
And he doesn't know how to ask his dad about it, or his mom. No one
talks about The Man. And he knows he definitely can't just go up and
accuse him. He wouldn't go near him without having weapons or knowing
how to take him down hard. The Man could decide the something to break
is him. He thinks about maybe talking to Uncle Mike about getting the
hunting knife and then going up to the guy with it and saying "Hey Ass."
Waving the blade around saying "Hey Ass Give Me My Bike Back." Or,
getting some of the beaver traps to set up around the yard to clamp down
on the guy's leg and hold him there while the boy searches the big nice
black car, looking in the trunk and the back seat for his bike. But he does
nothing. He knows he can't do anything.
All morning he tries to concentrate on anything and then tries to ignore
everything. Eventually, he gets hungry so he asks his mom for money and
she actually gives it to him. But once he has the money, he doesn't really
feel like buying chips or pop or Fudgsicles. He just looks at the change,
stares at the beaver on the back of a nickel, the tops of his shoes. He sits
down on the sidewalk in front of his house. He fingers a hole in the knee of
his jeans.
Then, before dusk, his dad comes home with a brand new old boom box
and there is Rock again. The radio has hardly any dings in it, is fairly
shiny without looking like it just came from a department store. His dad
calls it good as new and half the price. And his dad walks the empty old
cans to the beer store in a big garbage bag and gets some new ones with
the money from the machine. Uncle Mike comes over with full fish, half-
frozen, and they cut them open with his knife and throw the guts at the
dead Camaro in the driveway. And then they get the barbecue going. They
start the bong up too, and when his mom comes home from work they all
sit out on the front porch and set the cans in a new bottom row for a new
stack as they finish them.
Soon enough, his mom takes off down the street and it's just the guys.
His uncle and his dad talk about getting out of the city for a while. Going
hunting, trapping, fishing. The boy asks if he could come along, if he
could hunt, trap, fish-could get away, get out of the city for a while. But
then the men get quieter and the music seems to get louder.
One day soon, maybe the next day, maybe a week away, some time in
the middle of that summer, he will walk in the neighbourhood, still looking around for the bike, but now just casually, when he hits him in the side
of the head. A sponge football. He turns, and the girl with the skipping
rope around her waist is standing right beside him, too close for him to
escape. She has him.
"Hey," she says, "loser."
72 And all he can think to say in reply is "hey," as well. Once again, the
skipping rope is wrapped around her waist. She backs him into the middle
of the road and stands there, in front of him, her eyes sparkling with
something. He waits for the pounding, tensing his muscles for the first hit.
But, instead, she hands him her skateboard and turns her back to him. He
uses his hands to push his hair over to one side of his head, nervously
brushing at it with his fingers while she looks the other way. Then he sets
the board down in front of him, steps on, grabs hold of the frayed end of
the skipping rope and says, "Go."
She starts to run, dragging him behind her, and he bends his knees
deeply and rolls, the wheels bumping along the sand and the small rocks at
the edge of the street. He holds tight, keeps low, and she picks up speed,
moves to the very middle of the road, where the pavement is flat and clean
and the wheels start to spin smoothly. She runs, he coasts. Her flip-flops
flip and flop like the drumming at the start of a rock song, before the
guitars. When she turns around a corner he arcs out, leaning over to maintain balance, and rolls up beside her. Then, letting go of the rope, he flies
off on his own, catapulted, his hair blowing, his duck-tail waving like a
little hairy flag. He rides. When he starts to slow, he uses one foot to push
off the ground and propel him further, faster. He flies like a kite with no
string. Away. Okay. All right.
73 Contributors
Andrew Binks is a graduate of Queen's University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and has performed across Canada. He
has studied writing at the Banff Centre and UBC. "Johnny Rocket" is one
in a series of short fiction entitied French Stories. Andrew's recent novel,
The Boy in the Ice, is about the erotic turmoil of adolescence.
Marcello Di Cintio has had his travel non-fiction appear in Event, Prairie
Fire, and the Cairo Times. He is also a two-time delegate to the British
Columbia Festival of the Arts, now sadly defunct. His first book, tided
Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa, was published in 2002 by Insomniac
Jay Dolmage, a student, lives in Ohio and Toronto. Some of his stories
are in magazines like Kiss Machine, The Gingko Tree Review, Tart and The
New Quarterly. He sings in the band Finishing School. He rides a bike-a
red one-so fast.
Cornelia Haeussler lives in Williams Lake, BC, where she works as a
water technician for the provincial government. She has published poems
most recently in Grain, The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, and Other Voices.
Jack niingworth was born in Crooks Township in northwestern Ontario,
although he now spends too much of his time in Toronto. He is a contributing editor at Maisonneuve and a regular contributor to Books in Canada.
Excerpts from Panography have appeared in Matrix and Grain. His newest
chapbook is The Writings of Noah Job JAMUUNDSEN on the Passenger Pigeon, which was written with Melissa Weinstein of Albuquerque, New
Michael Kenyon divides his time between Vancouver and Pender Island.
His first published story was in PRISM 20:4. His latest story collection is
Durable Tumblers (Oolichan Books, 1996). He's currently working on a
novel and a sequence of Samurai poems.
James Marshall lives and writes in BC. He is currentiy working on a
collection of short stories.
74 Gordon Mason was brought up in the West of Scotland. His poems have
been published widely and won international prizes. His forth collection,
On Stony Ground, is due out shortly from Peterloo Poets. Work-in-progress
is the collection Sailing on Glass. He has taught high school in England and
America and advised teachers in India and Nepal.
Sharon McCartney's work has appeared previously in PRISM international (most recently in 39:3 Spring 2001) and in The Malahat Review,
Event, Queen's Quarterly, Queen Street Quarterly, sub-TERRAIN, Geist, Prairie Fire and elsewhere. Her second collection of poetry, Karenin Sings the
Blues, is forthcoming from Goose Lane Editions.
Andrew Pommier currentiy lives in Toronto with a girl named Tiffany
and a dog that goes by the name of Raina. He draws and paints. He shows
his paintings around town. In Febuary he's showing in Munich and San
Francisco. Andrew has done graphics for Momentum Wheel Co. and Atticus
Scout clothing.
Mary Schendlinger is a Vancouver writer, editor and illustrator. As Eve
Corbel, she is the illustrator of Guests in Your Garden, and author/illustrator of The Little Greenish-Brown Book of Slugs and more than thirty short
graphic narratives in various periodicals and anthologies. She is senior
editor at Geist and has served as editor on many projects, including the
Encyclopedia of British Columbia. She is also a sessional instructor at Simon
Fraser University.
Kim Trainor, originally from Vancouver, moved to Montreal three years
ago to study at McGill University. She is currentiy writing her dissertation
on feminist poetics. She is also working on a collection of short stories and
a work of creative non-fiction called A Book of Belonging. "I Am Calling
You" is her first published story.
Jan Zwicky's most recent collection of poetry is Songs for Relinquishing the
Earth. Wisdom and Metaphor wi\\ appear from Gaspereau Press this fall.
75 Creative Writing B.RA. at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers
a Bachelor of Pine Arts degree in Creative
Writing. Students choose three genres to
work in from a wide range of courses,
including: Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Play, Screen & TV Play Radio
Play Writing for Children, Non-fiction and
Translation.All instruction is in small
workshop format or tutorial.
;: eve-:
Lynne Bowen
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Bryan Wade
For more information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T IZl
Or check out our website at: MACLEAN HUNTER
$1500 Annual Prize
Maximum 25 pages per manuscript,
typed and double-spaced. Please
include a cover page—the author's
name should not appear on the
manuscript. All work must be
previously unpublished.
Entry fee: $25, plus $5 for each
additional manuscript; includes a one-
year subscription to PRISM international. All non-Canadian residents,
please pay in U.S. dollars.
Contest Judge: T.B.A.
Deadline: September 30,2003
Mail entry fee & manuscript(s) to:
PRISM Non-fiction Contest
Creative Writing Program
Buch. E462 -1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T1Z1 CANADA
For details on our writing contests, go to: subTerrain's Annual Literary Awards Competition
(we've rolled all our contests into one exultant frenzy of activity)
"Nothing stinks like a pile
of unpublished writing." j
—Sylvia Plath
FICTION: maximum 3,000 words
POETRY: maximum 3 poems per entry, maximum 45 lines per poem
CREATIVE NON-FICTION (based on fact, adorned with fiction): maximum 4,000 words
Entry fee: $20 per entry (entrants may submit as many entries in as many categories as they like)
The winning entries in each category will receive a $500 cash prize and will be published in our Fall 2003 issue.
First runner-up in each category will be published in a future issue of subTerrain.
SEND ENTRIES TO: Lush Triumphant, subTerrain Magazine, PO Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, BC   V6B 3X5
All entries MUST be previously unpublished material and not currently under consideration in any other contest or
competition. Entries will NOT be returned (so, keep a copy for yourself). Results of the competition will be
announced in the Summer 2003 issue of the magazine. All entrants receive a complimentary one-year subscription
to subTerrain. Enter Arc's Poem of the Year Contest
First Prize $1000
Second Prize $750, Third Prize $500
Winners' poems published in Arc and posted
on Arc's web site
Two Honourable Mentions and up to seven Editors'
Choices also published
Authors and titles of the final 50 poems posted
on Arc's web site
A one-year subscription to Arc for entering
Entry fee: $ 19 for up to 4 poems
each poem 100 lines long or less
Send your entries to:
Arc, Box 7219, Ottawa, Ontario, KIL 8E4
For complete rules, consult
Deadline: June 30, 2003 (postmarked)
new e> established writers
Three winners will each receive $500 plus payment for publication in Event 32/3.
Other manuscripts may be published.
Final Judge: TBA. Our past judges include Myrna Kostash, Eleanor
Wachtel, Andreas Schroeder, George Gait, Sharon Butala, Tom Wayman,
Di Brandt, Terry Glavin and Karen Connelly.
Writers are invited to submit manuscripts exploring the creative non-
fiction form. Check your library for back issues of Event with previous
winning entries and judges' comments. Contest back issues are available
from Event for $5.35 (includes GST and postage; US$5 for American
residents; C$9 for overseas residents).
Note: Previously published material, or material accepted elsewhere for
publication, cannot be considered. Maximum entry length is 5000 words,
typed, double-spaced. The writer should not be identified on the entry.
Include a separate cover sheet with the writer's name, address, phone
number/ email, and the title(s) of the story (stories) enclosed. Include a
SASE (Canadian postage / IRCs /US$1). Douglas College employees are
not eligible to enter.
Entry fee: Multiple entries are allowed, however, each entry must be
accompanied by a $25 entry fee (includes GST and a one-year subscription; make cheque or money order payable to Event). Those already
subscribing will receive a one-year extension. American and overseas
entrants please pay in US dollars.
Deadline for entries: Postmarked April 15, 2003.
The Douglas College Review
P.O. Box 2503, New Westminster, BC
Canada V3L 5B2
Phone: (604) 527-5293   Fax: (604) 527-5095
Visit our website at
College  r
Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Nonfiction
You know when you eat corn on the cob, and you get a
bunch of stu ff stuck between your teeth, and you lick
at it, and you suck at it, but no matter how hard you
try, you can never get it out? Guilt is a lot like that.
—James Marshall, Page 33
Andrew Binks
Marcello Di Cintio
Jay Dolmage
Cornelia Haeussler
Jack Illingworth
Michael Kenyon
James Marshall
Gordon Mason
Sharon McCartney
Kim Trainor
Jan Zwicky
2002 Maclean Hunter Endowment
Award for Literary Nonfiction
Judge's Essay:
Mary Schendlinger
Cover Art:
by Andrew Pommier


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