PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Jan 31, 1994

Item Metadata


JSON: prism-1.0135331.json
JSON-LD: prism-1.0135331-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): prism-1.0135331-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: prism-1.0135331-rdf.json
Turtle: prism-1.0135331-turtle.txt
N-Triples: prism-1.0135331-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: prism-1.0135331-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

   international  international
Anna M. Nobile
Executive Editor
Vigeland B. Rubin
Fiction Editor
Eden Robinson
Poetry Editor
Barbara Nickel
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Editorial Consultant
Patricia McLean Gabin
Editorial Board
Frank Borg
Shelley Darjes
Mel Gantly
Alan Levin
Margaret Macpherson
Vincenza Micheletti
Gregory Nyte
Patrick Roscoe
Tana Runyan PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1994 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Ulf Enhorning
One-year individual subscriptions $16.00, two-year subscriptions $24.00, library and institution subscriptions $22.00, two-year subscriptions $36.00, sample copy $5.00. Canadians
add 7% G.S.T.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply
Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and then discarded. The Advisory Editor is not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
Payment to contributors is $20.00 per page plus a one-year subscription. PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of Arts' Office at
the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British Columbia,
through the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry Responsible for Culture.
Publications Maii Registration No. 5496. January 1994 Contents
Vol. 32, No. 2 Winter, 1994
Tim Keppel
Urban Renewal    14
Gayla Reid
Passport    52
Bruce Beasley
Prayer    9
Doctrine for the Cessation of Misery    10
Ars Poetica    13
Sean Brendan-Brown
Johnny Kneels On    7
Fish Shop, Pike Place   8
Lorna Crozier
Too Much Brightness   38
The Pearl is a House of Light   39
Fire Breather   40
The Woman Who Has Seen Neither
Birth Nor Death    41
The Red Onion in Skagway, Alaska    43
The Souls of Animals   45
David Hull
A Journey, Reconsidered   50
George Kalamaras
The Fear of Onions    21
Empty Bowl   22
Elizabeth Philips
Life of the River   24
K. V. Skene
The Space Between Two Objects   47
Sue Wheeler
Long Division   48
Tourists   49
Creative Non-Fiction
T.L. Freeman-Toole
The Sight of Dolphins    28
Cover Art
Ulf Enhorning
Rocks of Love
(oil on canvas)
Contributors   80  Sean Brendan-Brown
two poems
Johnny Kneels On
Johnny kneels on
red plastic prayer pad
and thinks how weird it is
a Major is a priest
when Moses said thoushaltnotkill
and Jesus said dountoothers;
but Johnny kneels on
as the Major distributes
consecrated wafers, his hands
stinking of athlete's foot powder
and warm aftershave.
Dog-tags jangle
as Johnny leans forward,
so Johnny bites, earth under
his knees quaking as First Battalion
looses its cannons. INCOMING
Major father screams quickly stuffing
his cassock into his rucksack.
AMEN says Johnny running
to fight, bodyofchrist
in his mouth fortune cookie sweet:
through the black bamboo and mists
staining his high boots red he climbs,
one-two-three concrete walls
separate him from home,
from flags, cloaks, clipped green graves. Fish Shop, Pike Place
Through the parade
fog shadows drunks
fingering gutter debris
for fallen keys
as I march,
undeclaring war:
In this world
you may slip and risk anything.
Fifteen hundred miles hitch-hiking
bankrupt, walking between
lives. I needed birds, dirt,
rain and snow, highway litter.
When you're alone, outcast
a beer or old paper is nice.
In this world
you may slip and risk anything,
curse all the reasons, the people
inside pressure and pus of hatred:
I've believed in everything,
my god is a burning village
you're wrong, don't go,
you're wrong, wait,
let me help you, don't go,
you're wrong, don't go.
In this world you may slip:
the Korean wrapping three pounds of sole
knows this. He has marched under flags,
filthy and shell-shocked. Now he is free. Bruce Beasley
three poems
Pink light on wet snow, the low
yelloworange of the west:
the neon glaze resumes its place, its one
word obscured by halflit sawmill smoke-
Once I named the names of your sorrows,
but when I wrote them, they grew pale,
indefinite, ink-slurs in snow.
You who know them so well, tell me again. Doctrine for the Cessation
of Misery
I don't know if the Buddha was right, if life
is suffering,
or whether, if all appetite for the world of things
were spent,
I'd lie easy
along this lawn studded
with hundreds of cracked acorns, mangled
moles cats dragged from their tunnels—
I don't know if the October morning sun
would touch me then without touching
or the damp cool of its wind
press onward toward another more
vulnerable perceiver—
But I know there's a weariness
dulling me: throb
of blood through the temples,
squeak and scrape of mockingbird cry,
train's rattling jangle behind the creek.
I sit in a porch swing and feel nothing
but languor
for language and hunger,
hundreds of pages blurred meaningless by my eyes.
It's dispossession
10 I want:
bucket's scrape on the dry well's floor,
the tedium
of sentences suffered no more—
This morning in exhaustion I lay down
The Roots of Lyric,
and realize I know nothing
of this seed
before me,
still cupped in its broken shell:
what germinates
when the acorn rots at last into earth,
what purpose
all this seedfulness
could serve.
The oak
stirs its shadows over the shingles,
rattles loose
one acorn drilled with a perfect, tiny hole
I stare into and see nothing,
then crack under my heel
to expose only shallows,
a grainy black sludge...
I don't know if the Buddha was right, if all things
are on fire
with weariness, love, and lamentation;
I only know appearances
my depletion,
as the skin of the cracked acorn
can't be
separated from the rough,
striated wood of the shell;
11 I see only the world's mingled
and suppression: tempered sunlight,
loose lid of cloud.
Wind riffles pages before me:
Chant, Charm, Riddle,
accuse me of disaffection,
the wonder of being dulled
to a world
so lured into words.
12 Ars Poetica
Fat yellow leaves spiral out of the sky,
ushering August rain.
They fall like manna and quickly blacken.
Rainwater flushes the choked gutters
for hours and floods the yard.
The shadows of the drooped magnolia
wade half an inch deep, gilded by floating pollen.
The storm slacks and moths beat at the door;
the moon and the dippers rise, pale and temporary;
and the magnolia blooms curl inward,
tight as shells,
sponging the white seed wrapped at their cores:
a heavy thirst
slakes itself in secret.
13 Urban Renewal
Tim Keppel
When your marriage falls apart, move to a big city. New York,
Boston,   Philadelphia.   Try Philadelphia,   it's cheaper.  You
won't know anyone, but that's the point.
Rent an efficiency apartment in the barrio. This will be your credo-
efficiency. A spartan, that's what you'll be. You won't need the things you
needed before—a car, a house, a wife. You only thought you did. You
were weak and indulgent. It's time for lean and mean.
Choose an apartment above a jewelry store called The Golden Miracle.
Watch kids play in the vacant lot. They make games of discarded objects,
shouting in gleeful Spanish on warm summer nights, bashing TV sets
with baseball bats—the great American pastime. One day watch them
pitch six bowling pins onto a tin roof, one after the other. Assume they're
saving them up there for later.
Go to a bar where women dress in black—make-up, hair dye, nail polish. You'll find this appealing, mysterious, repulsive. Go early and get a
stool. Assume an expression midway between content and morose. Order dark beer. Don't eat pork rinds. This is critical. Women find pork
rinds a major turn-off. It won't matter though; you'll go home frustrated,
inebriated, alone. Turn on music that reminds you of your wife. Turn it
off. Unplug your phone and stuff it in the closet.
Take long walks around your block. Inspect the grime graffiti broken
glass. Hear the cacophony of car horns trolley brakes drunken laughter.
A one-eyed doomsday prophet shouting at the sky. Walk past pawn
shops strip joints storefront churches AA NA YMCA everyone loaded or
recovering or both spare change spare change spare change a group of
entrepreneurs with their car wash/drug emporium hey man toot weed
ice? The trolley screeching by again, metal scraping metal, past a
boarded-up fire-bombed building which reads North Philadelphia Re-
Development Project.
14 Decide your apartment is a bit too spartan. What you need is a nice,
comfortable sofa to come home to. Or preferably to share.
A sign down the street says MUST SELL. A man is being evicted. He
has a sofa for only thirty-five. Even a van to help you move it.
He's a burly Slovack with thick coily chest hair, shirtless and sweating
profusely, lighting one cigarette off the other. Friendly guy with a thick
accent. "You're new in ze neighbourhood? I hope for you more luck
than I."
Heaving the sofa into his van, lavender with a smiling-faced sun stencilled on the side, he says, "I've had a rough time. My daughter died,
then my girlfriend left." His rapid, breathy laugh seems to invite your
participation. Think better of it. On the steering wheel, his fingers are
stained orange-brown, nails bitten to the quick. "I'm going to live in the
van," he says.
Lugging the sofa up your stairs, he throws out his back. You feel bad
for not holding up your end. Grimacing, he gives a long, wistful look. "It's
better you have it than me. When I get depressed I lie on it for days."
That's when you notice the smell: not smoke, not sweat, but something else. Something unnameable. You were vaguely aware of it at his
But now it's at your place.
"Looks good there," he says. You study the sofa from where you are,
then go across the room for a different angle.
"You're going to kill me for this," you say. "But I'm going to change my
"WHAT?" His face ages before your eyes.
Tell him it's the nicotine. You're allergic. You're lying through your
He mashes a cushion to his nose. "I don't smell anything. But I have a
bad sense of smell."
"I'm sorry."
"Listen, you keep it. If the smell goes away, send me a cheque. If
not..." He edges toward the door.
"But I don't have a way to move it!" You hear panic in your voice-
more than you'd intended. Not that you'd intended any.
"Wait," you say. The smell is all around you, clinging to your shirt,
seeping in your pores. "I'll give you the thirty-five if you haul it away."
The guy looks at you. He looks at the couch. He wipes his brow.
"Forty," he says.
The important thing is, don't look back. Don't think about the sound of
her breathing, how she slept with the arch of her foot against your calf.
15 When cooking, avoid the spices you shared: basil, coriander, thyme.
Forget the things she taught you, like: wash onions before cutting so
they won't make you cry; don't break the spaghetti.
Go ahead and break it.
Become a minimalist. Buy small amounts of everything—toothpaste,
toilet paper, salsa picante. Always buy off-brand products, except for
trash bags and razors. Don't be seen carrying leaky trash bags with a
bloody face.
Draw strength from your asceticism. Be glad your worldly assets can
fit into a shopping cart. Know that you're prepared for an emergency
evacuation of the city. Appreciate how little you'll have to leave behind.
Go to the corner market called the Bodega. The new owner is Korean.
But he speaks Spanish. He tells you he's been robbed three times—once
with a gun, once with a razor, and once with a spoon. Later you realize
you confused cuchara with cuchillo—it was a knife.
The shelves are spare, a mouse scurries across the floor. "I like
mouses," the guy says in English. "When you got mouses, you know you
don't got rats."
This comment will stay with you. As time goes by, it will seem more
and more profound, and applicable to many other situations as well.
Devise elaborate ways to mark the passage of time: haircuts, nail clippings, rings around the tub. The souring of garbage, the expiration of
milk. The healing of sores.
Know that time is your enemy; it's trying to take you down. If you
make it go faster than it wants, or slower, you win.
One day in the Bodega you see a woman. Slender and tall, wearing an
army jacket, combat boots, and black leotards with a run. She's young
and innocent-faced, obviously trying to be something she's not. For some
reason this appeals to you. And that face! Hair pulled tight against a perfectly shaped head. Lacquer-black eyes and nut-brown skin, evoking lush
islands, wild parrots, blue waters.
She's over at the canned goods. Just as you look, she does something
remarkable. She picks up a can of SPAM and slips it in her jacket. Time
stops. You glance furtively at the Korean guy—he's watching wrestling
on a four-inch screen. The woman seizes you with her eyes. She knows
you've seen her. She seems to be conveying a message. Then she
dashes out the door.
Suddenly you forget why you came. Why you're in the city. Why you
exist. Nothing makes sense except following the woman with the SPAM.
16 You catch up with her at the street corner, teetering at the edge of the
traffic. She studies your face. "Why didn't you snitch?"
Just beneath her left eye, her cheek begins to twitch.
Ask, "Why would I do that?"
She deliberates a moment, then smiles. Her teeth are crooked, but in a
charming way.
Her fingertips peek out of too-long sleeves, producing the SPAM.
"Want to join me?"
The streetlight changes. You look at her, you look at the SPAM. You
say no thanks and instantly regret it.
At night you hear loud, rum-slurred voices from the tenement next
"Let me in the house, you slut!"
"I have a restraining order, motherfucker."
You lie there sweating on your bedroll, moonlight pouring in the window. It's as hot as high noon. On the power line outside, objects are
illuminated—a Nike sneaker hanging by a lace, a twisted beige bra, and an
angel-haired baby doll, naked from the waist down, with wide, astonished
You see homeless guys everywhere. Asleep on sidewalks, crouched
by dumpsters, shadow-boxing in the middle of the street. You open a
newspaper box and find a stash of personal items—trousers, sneakers, a
disposable razor.
And from out of nowhere, the thin, tinkly notes of an ice cream truck,
making its rounds from project to project, going: "Merrily merrily merrily
merrily life is but... "
To clear your head, go sit in the park. In the daytime it's fairly safe.
Busted swing sets, crumbling basketball court—no nets, no rims, no
See the old, white-haired black man feeding the birds. He stares at the
park as though it's a garden spot. Maybe he can't see too well. Maybe he
can't hear. His eyes are huge behind his paperweight glasses, his ears
are enormous. He carries a tattered briefcase, removing sheaves of yellowed paper, and holding them an inch from his face.
You begin to look for her. In the Bodega, the laundromat, the park.
You watch for army jackets, combat boots, provocative facial tics. You
buy a can of SPAM.
17 Who knows the mysteries of the human heart?
But wait a minute. Don't forget your credo: you have to stay tough.
Don't think about that foot pressed against your calf, those adjacent
graveplots. Forget about having a deep, meaningful experience.
What you need is a lot of shallow, superficial interludes.
Develop a big city strut. Walk down the street as if nothing fazes you.
Ignore blood stains on the sidewalk, ballistic-sounding noises. Assume
cars are backfiring. Pay no attention to suspicious characters lurking in
doorways. Avoid eye contact. If someone looks at you, suspect they either want to rob you or have sex with you.
You're in the park by the old man when she sits down on your bench.
She's not wearing her army jacket and... But you're not thinking about
that. You're mesmerized by her eye twitch. Enchanted by her overbite.
Don't confess about the SPAM in your cabinet.
"I feel bad about the other day," she says. "I'm not like that."
Believe her. Wonder what she wants out of life. Wish you could provide it. Ask her name.
Her name is Dawn. She tells you her life story. "I come from a 'dysfunctional family'," she says in a yes-I've-been-to-shrinks voice. She
spent time in foster homes, a ward of the state. At eighteen, she was
'emancipated'. She was pregnant but lost the baby.
She wants to be a dancer. She answered an ad but they wanted the
other kind.
"What about you?"
Say you're "in between jobs."
Tell her you used to be in a think tank, sort of. An institution. You
were into theoretical matters, deconstruction.
Tell her you're a bum.
Tell her you're trying to put things back together, reconstruct.
Explain the theory you're developing about people's lives. How people
think they have only one, when really there are more.
"I have an aunt in Texas who sends me money," Dawn says. She
glances over to see if you believe her.
The sunlight brightens, then dims. Clouds. You become aware of her
facial tic. You feel you should do something, convince her things will be
Consider telling her about the Slav with the sofa. The Korean with the
mouses. Instead, mention those car mirrors that say OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Convey your bewilderment.
She'll let out a sharp, high laugh and put her fingers to her lips.
18 You look at each other. It's your best moment yet.
The sky brightens. "That's the nicest old man," she says. "Do you
know him?"
"One day he asked me to read to him."
Something pierces your heart. Her eye twitch subsides. A calm descends. Tell her, "You're nice." But it doesn't come out right.
Then she kisses you hungrily, though not to excess. There's a shyness
about her, like someone undressing reluctantly in front of a crowd, at a
place that wants the other kind of dancer.
"I have to go," she says.
Tell her you're above The Golden Miracle.
Observe the city at twilight. Gasoline rainbows, candy-coloured crack
vials, fragments of broken glass glimmering like diamonds. Scraps of paper like tinsel in the trees.
A gust of wind swoops up a plastic bag, carries it aloft like a kite: SU-
PERFRESH! An elderly couple sits in lawn chairs having a picnic beneath
the overpass. The din of car horns turns out to be a wedding procession.
Cars chase the JUST MARRIED's around corners, through red lights, up
one-way streets, unwilling to let them go.
Change your attitude. Go from minimalism to abundance. Buy family
packs of everything—Ziplock bags, Tupperware, Q-tips by the thousands. Stock up. Take the long view. You never know.
You're leaving the Bodega when you see her down the street. You recognize her swan-like neck, her coltish legs. Quicken your pace. Think of
a line. Tell her you're a different person—your cupboard is full, you're listening to music, you've plugged in your phone.
She rounds the corner on Leithgow Street, approaches a van. You
can't see the driver, only his hairy arm. She leans in as if to tell him something, or give him a kiss. The van is lavender with a smiling sun. The sun-
rays are wavy like a lion's mane. The smile is enigmatic. The woman's
name is Dawn. This seems important to remember. She gets in the van
and is gone.
Take a seat beside the old man. Stare with him across the park. The
sun paints the windows of the sponge factory a brilliant orange. The old
man fumbles in his satchel. "Let me show you something." He extracts a
grainy, sepia photo. Two rows of boys in suits and ties. A graduation of
some kind. A commencement.
"Can you tell which one is me?"
19 Of course you can, the one with the ears.
"How did you know?" He reaches back in the satchel, his hand mottled, unsteady. "Can you do me a favour? Can you read me this?"
A faded letter, tearing at the creases. From a former employer, attesting to the old man's character—his honesty, integrity.
"I've got others," the old man says.
You read several more. Each one corroborates the first. The sun is
setting, the man has to go. He hobbles away on severely bowed legs.
You won't see him again. He won't return to the park. But you won't
worry about him. He has good references.
Go back to your apartment and sit by the window. The sunset will be
brilliant. The air will be cool. The street lights will flick on, buzzing like cicadas. Kids will be playing in the vacant lot, shrieking with delight. One
boy will shimmy up a drain pipe, crawl out on the tin roof. Then he'll start
tossing the bowling pins, one after the other, down to his friends.
20 George Kalamaras
two poems
The Fear of Onions
The fear of onions is a fear of empty
space between the paper-thin leaves.
The fear of goats is a soybean's distrust
of air circulating around an alfalfa leaf,
a queasiness in the foam a coconut washes ashore.
The fear of celery, a rational obsession
with the colour red, with the bend of magnolias
in a parrot's voice. A boy holds a sphere
in his left hand, hears the Milky Way
at his mother's waist. A mango tree
is the stance of water about to die.
Does the carp's stroke near the pool's floor,
or does it go gold, then blue? Doesn't coffee
in a half-finished cup always exude something
dark? Thunder remains a liquid wood, a shiver
where two breaths meet. Rain keeps pouring
sound, even a week after it's gone. The emptiness
in dawn has the look of dusk, a shape
like the colour onions become near dark. The sky,
an anaemic green, flies off, somewhere below the rivers
of Bihar. A boy, thirsty, walks the salty stairs
down to slow basement air, holds an onion
in the cup of his hand, hears the floor give way.
21 Empty Bowl
It began with an aspect of ease. A tree
shifted in the shape of a tone and cut
sound. A fossil heard it in a helix
of birth and clawed the still earth.
Within it, centres of birds settled
and glowed as husks. They craved the sun's
slow habit. They heard certitude
in the word, word. They felt its form
watering their gulf. It filled with light
the cavity the jellyfish pawed
in its sac-like shaw All was as it should
be, if space was enough. If the lack
of sound was sight. If rain was rain. Nothing
arrived but what had already been. The still
edge trembled under the weight.
Centuries from birth, the invertebrate
hour longed to song. Three minutes gathered
in cord. Two seconds to breath. Through this
afference rose a filling of wind. A falling
with the colour grass became near dark. There
was no moon to invest a voice. No sound
for the centric mouth to fulfill. No ear
22 to proceed. The soft, dark eggs quieted
the tongues of birds that lowed to pause
and went white and empty near the shore's
shift. Water bruised them. Water became
them. Water softened to heat. With each
sun it brought inland, no breath
offered calm from shell. No sound
for the trembling touch. Tone settled
to chert and left a word, seeking as seed.
Not quite longing. Not quite seed.
23 Elizabeth Philips
Life of the River
This morning, I go down to the river, silver-
green and slow, follow a school of small fish, flurry
of minnows flowing in a long darting line upstream.
Though I seek their source fifty yards back
keeping pace with a slack current, the river
so low, I don't find an end, there's no last fish
beginning this abundance. Sun picks out the shoal
as if the water were not spiked with mercury,
as if the shore were not scabbed with refuse, shards
of brown glass cracking under my feet. Those slips
of blue flesh are a river of their own, going against
the body of the larger water. When I turn to go
I take them with me, a pellucid chain, clear as the waters
of childhood, the full creeks in spring
rolling through the thawing town, across cold sand
and down onto the sinking ice of the still frozen lake.
One day I wear the wrong shoes, two miles down-river
my feet painfully blistered, I turn back barefoot
stepping gingerly over sharp stones and the waiting knives
of glass. I can only glance at the river
24 still polishing its many-jewelled waves, daredevil
swallows diving for the flies that bloom over water.
I am in thrall instead to the dusty paths, the willows
enveloping me in their tender green tresses.
I know another kind of wonder, having been so easily stripped
of my shoes, first conceit of civilization.
When I reach the streets near home, the springy well-fed
boulevards, I'm relieved
to have carried myself this far. My feet are raw
and strained, but they find their way
despite years of half-hearted use, they are the fierce
pink claws of a new animal.
At home, I keep the river
by me, recline
beside the pond, and there
it is, that sweetness
and underneath, decay.
The water lives
because something in it
is always dying.
The pool is an eye
with the river in mind,
it takes me in
whenever I look down.
25 A shy fingerling
flits through my
reflection, flips
in and out of my mouth
a word I can't quite
grasp. All I catch
is the sound
sibilant rain,
swift face of the river.
South of an island of sand, I lie belly down
in the current, my hands anchor me over drifted silt.
Like a water-bird, merganser or teal, I receive
the small waves, the vibrant sweep of fluvial plain.
I duck my head under and water slides
over my face, breaking in two, the river pours
out of my open eyes. The water
purling around me, born of distant ice-fields, wends its way
hundreds of miles west, to empty into the lake
where I swam as a child. Thirty years downstream
I had despaired of that lost gift, innocent
immersion. But now I am once more blessed by water,
braced by the preponderance of the small. For I am no greater
than any other fish—wafer of brightness, shadow
26 between shores. The river bottom gives way as I rise,
stumbling. Familiar vertigo, the inevitable fall
back into my walking body, where I must reconcile the long drop
between the land I traverse
and the rivers flooding my heart, circular
and confined.
27 The Sight of Dolphins
T.L. Freeman-Took
The drive from the L.A. airport to the Long Beach hospital where
my father lies is long enough for my brother to tell me, again, the
sequence of events that have brought my father to the verge of
having an emergency liver transplant. I keep asking for more details, trying to understand why the doctors didn't see this coming. Why didn't they
detect that my father was allergic to Dylantin before the allergic reaction
had damaged his liver? Why had they waited so long to do anything? Taylor tells me that there is no treatment for end-stage liver disease, but the
doctors had assured them that the liver was a miraculous organ, capable
of regenerating itself; all they had to do was wait. So they waited, and
Taylor watched my father's skin take on a yellowish tinge which darkened
with each passing day. But the miracle never happened. My father's only
hope now is a liver transplant. If he doesn't get a new liver, he will die in a
matter of days.
My father is asleep when I enter his hospital room. Against the white
sheet covering him, his thin, thin, arms are startlingly yellow. Beneath
the sheet, his swollen abdomen distorts his outline into unfamiliarity. I
hardly recognize this figure as my father. The father I know is barrel-
chested, dark-skinned, strong. Peter, the rock.
I slip my hand into my father's slack hand on the bed, and feel the wedding band he's worn for almost forty years. The gold band moves easily
with my touch, fairly rattling against his bony fingers. This is the same
hospital where my mother died, three years ago. On the bedside table is
a picture of her in a silver frame. Staring at the picture, listening, gratefully, to my father's steady breathing, I am reassured by my mother's
smile. I realize that the picture is one I took, and that her smile warms
me so because it was directed at me, behind the camera.
Some years ago, my parents ate lunch at an elegant old hotel in Napa
Valley. They told themselves they'd stay there someday, but they never
made it back. After my mother died, my father rode his motorcycle up
the coast, and checked into the hotel. He dressed for dinner, went down
and ordered an expensive meal. Then he pulled out the picture in the sil-
28 ver frame, propped it on the table in front of him and raised his glass in a
silent toast to my mother. He has always kept his promises.
My father whispers, "Hello, daughter."
I turn to look at his face, and I see that the whites of his eyes are not
white, but a turgid yellow. He squeezes my hand and looks at my face for
a long minute. I'm scared and sweating. I'm glad I came.
"You've let your beard grow."
He slowly lifts a hand to his beard, which has grown in almost completely white. "I've got no one to complain about it being scratchy anymore. "
"Who's complaining?" I laugh, bending to kiss him.
The doctor comes in and asks my father to put out his hands as if he
were pushing against a wall. My father is unable to hold his hands still,
and we look at the doctor to see what this means. I see the deep lines of
worry on each side of his mouth, and I think of the oncologist who cried
when my mother died.
"We can't wait any longer for your liver to bounce back," the doctor
says. "It's barely functioning. It's not filtering the toxins out of the
blood." He raises his hands and shakes them in imitation of my father.
"This trembling tells me that the toxins are starting to build up in the
brain. I want to get you to the UCLA Medical Center as soon as they
have a bed available. There's nothing else we can do for you here. The
sooner we can get you there, the sooner you can get on the waiting list
for a liver."
When the doctor leaves, I ask my father if he's sure he wants to go
through with the transplant.
"I have no choice," he says.
You do have a choice, I think. You could give up, like Mom.
"If I want to live," he finishes after a pause.
There is no question in his voice. Giving up is not an option for him.
I ride in the ambulance with my father from the Long Beach Medical
Center to UCLA. The transfer has been arranged for eleven o'clock at
night to avoid traffic. We glide silently along without a siren, down dark
empty stretches of freeway. My father refuses to lie back, but keeps his
head up, looking steadfastly out the window at the back. I ask, "Are you
all right?"
He is watching the exit signs on the opposite side of the freeway
as they retreat behind us—Rosecrans, El Segundo, Manchester, La
Cienega—names, places he's lived with all his life. He says quietly, "I'm
wondering if I'll ever come this way again."
I left Los Angeles soon after I learned to drive, and I have never be-
29 come familiar with the greater Los Angeles area the way my father has.
These street names are just names to me, but to my father they're memories of driving his first car downtown on dates with his high school
sweetheart, my mother, of installing roof-top antennas all across the city,
in the early days of TV when he worked for Dorn's House of Miracles.
At UCLA, I walk behind the gurney as they wheel my father in through
the emergency room entrance. We thread our way through a maze of
gurneys and wheelchairs, dodging nurses rushing between patients. A
doctor is shouting, and behind a screen someone is moaning.
The ambulance driver pushing my father's gurney motions with his
head at the commotion all around us. "Freeway accident. Just in." We
take the elevator to the seventh floor. Here, the hallways are quiet and
empty. All but the most determined visitors have gone home for the
Two young nurses bustle about getting my father settled in the liver
transplant ward. One has an earring in her nose and wears a bracelet
above her elbow. The other one has hair that is shoulder length on one
side, and one inch long on the other side. They both warn me not to walk
out to the parking lot alone.
In the morning, my father is coherent, but only through an act of will.
As the team of transplant doctors introduce themselves, my father repeats the names, making a visible effort to fix their names and faces in his
fading mind. They ask him to hold his arms out in front of him with his
hands fixed. His hands flick rhythmically, and a wave of nausea washes
over me as I see how much more pronounced the reflex is than it was just
yesterday. The doctors tell him that the toxins have reached a dangerous
level in his brain. The transplant must be done soon or it will be too late.
The doctors explain the process of liver transplantation. To me, it
sounds like a series of "even ifs" which progressively narrow my father's
Even if the transplant team accepts him as a transplant candidate, an
organ may not be found in time; the waiting list for donor livers is very
long; about a third of the people waiting for a new organ die before they
get one.
Even if a compatible organ is found in time, the surgery itself carries a
considerable risk; it is a lengthy, complicated procedure, much more
complicated than any other type of single-organ transplant, due to the
number of tiny blood vessels involved.
Even if he comes through the surgery all right, his body may still try to
reject the organ; he has only a seventy-percent chance of surviving the
first year.
30 Even if he survives the first year, he can never be considered cured;
for the rest of his life, he will be dependent on a combination of costly
medications that will work to suppress his immune system, making him
more susceptible to illnesses of every kind.
My mind dumbly follows the progression on to its next logical step—
even if he lives beyond the first year, his life expectancy is...
The head of the transplant team, Mr. Busuttil, says, reluctantly, "We
really don't know how long these patients are going to live. We only
started doing liver transplants five years ago. So we just don't know."
My father struggles to absorb what the doctors are saying. I love him
for how hard he's hanging on, my brave, clever, handsome father. With
slow, trembling hands, he signs the consent form for the surgery.
Outside the hospital room window, a robin lands on the window ledge.
One of the robin's legs is stretched out awkwardly in front of him, and I
see that a piece of string is tangled around his leg. The bird pecks at the
string half-heartedly. Life suddenly seems grotesque in the extreme. I
remember standing in my mother's bedroom as she showed us her misshapen breast. "I don't want to have a mastectomy," she sobbed, "I just
want it the way it was."
An orderly comes in to clean up and my father mistakes him for one of
the doctors he just met. When he realizes his mistake, he whispers,
frightened, "I'm losing it."
He sends breakfast away. "Take it away. I'm dying." The woman with
the tray looks at me with raised eyebrows. I tell her to leave the tray,
though even I know my father is too far gone to eat. I try to reassure my
father but he says, "I feel everything shutting down." His voice is both
resigned and wondering, as if to say, "So this is how the end feels."
Towards evening my father slips into a coma. He is transferred to a
Critical Care Unit, and his name is moved to the top of the nation-wide
waiting list for organs. The transplant team plans to operate in the morning, if they can find a liver in time. I stand in the enclosed room in the
CCU staring down at my father. His eyes, the whites gone as yellow as
egg yolks, roll from side to side and slowly back again, as if tracking an
unseen light. His tongue moves in his mouth like a foreign thing.
I feel profoundly alone. My father has gone somewhere very far from
me, and I don't know if he's coming back.
With my father's key, I let myself into his house. He's left his radio on,
as is his habit to discourage break-ins. As I sit there in the dusk listening
to his favourite classical music station, the light beside me suddenly
switches on. Outside, the porch light blinks on. A few minutes later, the
sprinklers in the front yard sputter to life. The soothing music of Mozart,
31 the soft hiss of the water on the lawn, the life he's so carefully arranged
here, is going on without him. I sink into the sofa, feeling a deep lethargy
overcome me. I can't imagine getting up in the morning and facing that
hospital again. I want to stay right here. It would be so easy, so natural to
just stay, to slip into the still warm hollow he's left in that animate house,
and carry on in his place.
During the night, a liver becomes available in New Hampshire, and an
organ retrieval team flies out to get it. When Taylor and I get to the medical centre in the morning, Dr. Busuttil tells us that the donor liver is not
in good condition, but it's the only one they can find. They are going
ahead with the surgery.
Half-way through the morning, long before the surgery should be over,
Dr. Busuttil calls us into his office. We listen, numbed, as he says, "The
donor liver ruptured as soon as we put it in. We had to take it out again or
your father would have bled to death. He's on a bypass machine right now
but he can only stay on it a few hours." He pauses, allowing us time to
grasp what he's saying.
"What are the chances of finding another liver in time?" I ask.
Dr. Busuttil sighs, "Very slim. We've put the word out, but there's
just nothing out there. Not even a rumour of one. I don't think your father's going to make it. You should prepare yourselves for that possibility."
"But we have a few hours, right?" Taylor asks.
"If we hear of another liver in the next—" he looks at his watch. "Four
hours, we may make it. If not...." He hesitates to spell things out for
us. "If we don't find a liver, you are going to need to give the okay to take
him off the bypass machine."
The transplant coordinator finds us a private place to wait; it is somebody's office, and the fax machine chatters. Taylor and I cry silently until
my father's oldest friend is ushered in. He is shocked at the sight of our
tears, and shouts, "You're acting as if he's already dead. He's alive, for
god's sake!" He digs an old photo of my father out of his wallet and props
it on the table. Launching into an amusing story about the two of them in
their drinking days, he comforts us, cajoles us, forcibly reminds us just
exactly who it is we're so close to giving up. Yet he describes a man I
hardly knew. I realize that the times I spent with my father, the weekends working on the house, the summer camping trips, were a very small
part of his life. His life was working and drinking. I resist the implication
that I, too, was a very small part of his life.
Over the next four hours, Taylor and I look from the picture to the
clock on the wall and back again. We want to hope but don't know how.
Our ability to hope was atrophied since our mother died. And, our con-
32 science asks us, what would we be hoping for if we could: for someone to
die suddenly, cleanly, in the next few hours, so that our father will live?
The four hours pass all too fast, and we still haven't heard anything.
Dr. Busuttil is on the phone. That's a good sign. The transplant coordinator hurries up with the news that they've found a liver here in the area,
and they can start surgery very soon. We are amazed they were able to
find a local donor; the coordinator says wryly, "That's one of the good
things about being in Los Angeles. With all the gang violence, we usually
have a steady supply of organs."
It's past midnight. Taylor and I are lying on adjacent couches in the
waiting room. I stare up at the glaring white ceiling, at the get well balloons stuck in the grating covering the fluorescent lights. When I close
my eyes I feel dizzy and the couch seems to move beneath me. The
drone of the air circulation system sounds like an old V-8 engine. It's the
sound of our old International Travel-All, big and solid as an armoured
car, the sound that lulled my brother and I to sleep in the warm rush of air
from my father's open window. My mother, lipsticked and lovely even on
those camping trips, slept too, her head against her little travelling pillow.
Not long ago my father told me that those years were the best years of
his life.
Close to dawn, we rouse ourselves and start wondering out loud when
the surgery will be over. It seems to be taking an awfully long time. As
light starts to filter in from the tall windows overlooking the courtyard, I
notice Taylor's tired face, his wrinkled clothes, and I am suddenly aware
of how old we've grown.
At five in the morning, our wait is over. A scrub nurse takes us down
to the operating room. Dr. Busuttil avoids our eyes. It's just exhaustion,
I tell myself, he's done two transplants on my father in the past twenty-
four hours. He tells us that the new liver appears to be functioning normally. I find myself staring down at the blood-spattered booties covering
his shoes as he says, "Over three hundred liver transplants, and we've
never had a patient lose that much blood."
"Yes, but..." we say, wanting assurances.
All he'll say is, "Your father's got a chance."
"When will he wake up?" we ask.
"Well," he says cautiously. "It's going to take a long time for the anaesthesia to clear from his system. He's been under for almost twenty-four
hours. It may take several days... if he comes out of the coma."
The word "if" hangs in the air and we realize our wait is not over yet.
33 Taylor and I arrange a schedule for the next few days so that one of us
will be here at all times. Since I have been with my father almost continuously since my arrival, Taylor offers to stay so that I can go back to my
father's house and get some rest for a day or two.
The next day, I drive down to the beach just blocks away from my
childhood home, take off my shoes, and stand facing the steady breeze
from the west. I want the salt air to blow through me, to remove the
sterile hospital smell that clings to me, to work as an astringent on
the rawness inside me. I start walking north along the beach towards the
pier. The grit of the sand is familiar beyond words, beyond memory; the
feel of sand between my toes was one of my earliest sensory impressions. Twenty-five years ago, this beach was our summer paradise.
Now, the children are gone, as young families are forced inland, where
the smog is fierce, but housing is more affordable. At night, the gangs
come down from Compton and Inglewood and congregate under the pier.
During the day, police patrol the litter-strewn beach on three-wheeled
I sit on the beach, watching two tall, bearded men in robes posing in
front of the waves while a passerby takes their picture. Suddenly I notice
the fins of a group of dolphins in the water. I walk down to the shoreline
to get a better look, and a pair of dolphins split off from the rest and zoom
in close to shore. They body surf a wave in tandem, just under the surface of the water. I can see their sleek bodies clearly through the translucent wall of the wave. In all my summers on this beach, I had never seen
such a thing. I walk along the beach, keeping even with the dolphins as
they swim leisurely along. A wave of excitement follows them on the
shore, as people stand up and exclaim, "Look, dolphins!" Despite the
presence of gangs, the pollution, the absence of children, the beach still
offers up wonders.
The next day, I tentatively negotiate the midday traffic on the freeway.
My father is still deep in a coma, and I am in no hurry to see him hooked
up to life-support equipment. The freeway traffic stops and starts, and I
inch along behind a truck filled with a dozen Latino day labourers; they
stand with their elbows folded over the top of the metal pen that encloses
the truck bed, talking and smoking in apparent ease. I can't help seeing
them as accident victims with head injuries, potential organ donors.
On the third day, the nurse is changing my father's dressing when I arrive; the nurse pokes her head out of the CCU and asks me to give her a
few minutes. I walk down to the waiting room, where an elderly man in a
soft rumpled gray suit sits by the window, rubbing his face wearily. He
asks me who I am here to see, and we exchange stories. Then he stands
up and says, "I want to leave you with these words. If you have a pain and
34 the doctor says it's nothing, don't you believe it. Seven years we were
happy down there in Florida, then pow (here he clapped his palms with
startling force), my wife's in the hospital. My son says, 'Bring her to
UCLA. The best doctors in the country.' Well, they missed the boat. Six
weeks she's been here, and they finally did surgery yesterday. Cancer.
It's a terrible disease. I guess they're all terrible. She's got cancer here
and here and here." He touches his body with his fingertips, collapsing
under his own touch as if those parts pained him as well. He turns and
walks out of the room, looking lost and out of place. Of all the foreign
voices I've heard in L.A., this man's New York accent strikes me as the
most foreign of all.
Yes, they are all terrible, but even in the midst of my father's suffering,
I can't help feeling relieved that he doesn't have cancer. I remember how
pathetically grateful my mother was when I offered to brush her hair. No
one wanted to touch her anymore.
I put on a surgical gown and gloves and enter the CCU. My father's
body is curiously devoid of life, the ventilator pumping air into his lungs,
the rest of him unnaturally still. I can't tell by looking at him if he is asleep, still in the coma, or dying. He seems a creature in suspended animation, free from pain. As much as I want him to wake up, I am reluctant
for that moment to arrive.
A blond nurse fiddles with my father's IV, her painted nails glowing
pink through her surgical gloves. When a male nurse comes into the
room, she asks him, "How do you keep your hair looking so great?"
He says, pleased, "I shampoo it with a little gel, blow dry it, and use
some mousse on the sides for a wet look. Then I spray it to keep it in
It is night-time. I get an apple from the hospital cafeteria, then go back
up to see my father one more time before I drive back to his house for the
night. In the CCU, the lights are kept on around the clock, the life-
support machines click and blink, technicians come and go, taking blood
and X-rays, the nurses keep up a loud, cheerful chatter as they move
around their mostly silent patients. How can anyone get well here? I've
heard that some patients in CCU, deprived of deep, dream-producing
REM sleep, go crazy. For a moment the room is quiet, and I can hear the
whoosh of the ventilator forcing air into my father's lungs, the gurgle of
oxygen through a water tank, the hiss and hum of various monitors. I
sway on my feet, eyes closed, floating inside an aquarium. The outside
world seems impossibly far away.
Taylor calls from the hospital to say that my father is waking up and
that the ventilator tube has been removed from his throat. I go to the
hospital expecting to see my father groggy but otherwise himself. When I
35 enter the CCU, I see my father propped up in bed, his eyes open. I move
quickly to his side, but his gaze remains fixed on a certain point behind
me. I turn to see what he is looking at—it's a television that's been turned
on without the sound. Though I find it strange that there is a television in
a Critical Care Unit, I see nothing remarkable about the commercial on
the screen. But my father is staring at it, transfixed. He whispers, his
voice hoarse from the ventilator tube, "Look who's on TV." I look, and all
I see is a person selling used cars. I wonder who he sees. From the look
on his face it could be anyone—my mother, even Jesus himself.
The nurse explains to me that the anaesthesia still lingering in his system is causing the hallucinations, but I can only stand for my father to
look through me for so many minutes before I have to leave the room. I
remember Dr. Busuttil saying that the toxic build-up in my father's brain
may have caused permanent damage. We were waiting for my father to
come out of the coma. I see now that consciousness is not enough; we
must wait now for his full return.
Taylor is held up in traffic and doesn't arrive until after dark. He walks
me out to the car, and I drive through Westwood to get to the freeway.
On one corner of Wilshire Boulevard huge floodlights suspended from
cranes cast a purplish glow over an old Art Deco building. Someone with
a hose is wetting down the sidewalk. Camera crews stand by: a movie
scene is being shot.
I remember when I was in junior high, bicycling up to Palos Verdes to
watch the filming of a movie at an abandoned church at the edge of a seaside cliff. A few years later, I found myself at the same church on a very
dark night with several very drunk young men. We stumbled across the
broken flagstones of the courtyard behind the church until, suddenly, the
pavement fell away and we were standing at its broken edge, looking
down at the phosphorescent waves far below us. One of the boys picked
me up and, swaying drunkenly, held me out over the edge of the crumbling cliff, laughing at his strength. The blackness of the night, the sky,
the sea, was above me, below me, all around me; then, as now, suspended in darkness, I held my breath and waited forever for the moment
to end.
The next day, my father is moved to a regular room on the liver transplant ward. Taylor and I enter the dim, quiet room where my father lies
flat on the bed, his eyes closed. His skin colour is normal once again, and
the swelling is gone from his belly, but his cheeks are sunken and he has
lost so much weight that the contours of his body are scarcely visible beneath the sheets. A white towel has been draped around his head. He's
no longer my father, but a saint, an ascetic bearing the suffering of the
36 world. He suddenly opens his eyes and the spell is broken as he growls,
"Get rid of this stupid towel."
A nurse bustles in and says, "His temp was sub-normal, so I put the
towel around his head to bring it back up. He looks fine now." She bends
over my father and says in a loud animated voice, "You've got some visitors. Do you recognize them?"
Taylor steps up to the bed. My father gives him a blank-eyed look and
says, "I've never seen this man before in my life."
The nurse looks at me in alarm. Taylor bursts out laughing, and so do
I. Our long wait is over.
"That's my Dad. We've got him back!" Taylor shouts.
A small lopsided grin appears on my father's face. He looks over at me
and says my name.
I can go home now.
Before I leave L.A., I drive over to our old neighbourhood to see a
friend of mine whose father recently died. She tells me matter-of-factly
that since he died, things have been moving around—coffee cups shifted,
a teddy bear turned to face the corner of the playpen. She says, "He's
trying to tell us he's still here." I look at her baby, sleeping peacefully beside us, and listen to the distant breaking of the waves. A soaring lifts me
out of myself, out of the bleak oppression that has lingered since my
mother's death. My own father is still here, still with us, after coming
within a knife's edge of death. I recognize that unfamiliar feeling as hope;
it glides, like the seldom-seen dolphin, just beneath the surface, trailing
wonder in its wake. "Right now," I tell my friend, "I'm ready to believe
37 Lorna Crozier
six poems
Too Much Brightness
Morning opens like a crimson poppy
on a leggy stem. Too much
brightness. As a girl I stood
at the edge of a shimmering pool,
guarded the children. I blew
a silver whistle on a chain
to break the spell, the voices
calling them down and down.
On the back of their necks
water lay its strange maternal
hands, heavy, without bones.
I watched the children
bob and bob hour after hour,
my skin burned and blistered.
Now sun finds the lines it carved
from eye to jaw, around my mouth,
above my freckled knees. It seeks
them out like glacial melt
pushing the ancient river beds
closer to the sea. Soon I'll be
all running light and water.
When I dive in to save someone,
the pool a muscled throat
that swallows me,
I'll find a child huddled
in the blue roar at the bottom,
hair waving above the grate
as if to take root in the earth
under everything. This far from the sun I'll cradle
her head in my luminous hands.
With a watery tongue I'll sing,
I'll sing.
38 The Pearl is a House
of Light
The pearl is a house of light
whether it is the one
on the tip of the penis,
or the other, huge as a fist,
made from snow.
To the oyster
the pearl is an irritation,
then a moon, something
to worship in the small
universe of the flesh.
The pearl is at home
in your navel, the folds
of the vulva,
the hollow at the base of your
throat where your bones
join like wings.
When the moon rained pearls
and they scattered
across the grass, everyone
mistook them for dew
except the girl
with no hands
who crawled across the lawns
at night, collecting each
luminous pebble
with her soft wet mouth.
39 Fire Breather
(for Patrick)
When I drank what you gave me I burned
my mouth. So much singing on these lips.
A bowl full of fire. You should have told me.
I was used to tasting your homemade soups
with a wooden spoon, testing the flavour.
The windows steamed so I couldn't see out.
Add more barley, I'd say, or those red spices
from the Nile. You'd save everything,
even chicken feet and you'd suck between the toes.
We could be in Japan, our shoes off all the time.
Under my fingers your flesh gives like grass mats,
Blue-Eyed or Brome. 0 you're a clever one!
Nothing to show, but inside enough heat
to light the tallow candles you bought
from the butcher who gives you soup bones for free.
After I take you in my mouth I can blow flames
across a room. A strange bed for us to lie in,
all these ashes and my feet still cold.
40 The Woman Who Has Seen
Neither Birth Nor Death
I am the crone who comes after,
washes the baby or corpse,
comforts the weeping husband, the mother
with no child in her arms.
My cat bore her kittens
without a sound, brought them to me
only when their eyes were open.
My father's eyes in the hospital
were so blue. That afternoon
he gave me such a look
when I told him I'd be back tomorrow.
He died that night.
A year ago, I was on my way
to Kingston to see a friend,
cancer eating her mouth and tongue.
Her husband left a message
at my hotel somewhere near Kenora.
It's too late. One night I slept
by a barn, waiting for a sow
to give birth, but the pig man
thought I was there for him
and I couldn't stay. The animal smell
of his hands made me die a little.
41 In my dreams children, some
with the plush feet of lions,
the faces of dogs,
push through narrow doors,
not the bone arches of my body,
and tug at me
for what they need to grow.
I remember my own birth,
tumbling forward
toward the light the dying speak of,
and I seemed to be there
in that bright room
everything had happened,
my mother mended,
the smell of blood completely gone.
42 The Red Onion in
Skagway, Alaska
The only thing this town's
got going is the past.
Here the erotics of history,
and vice versa, bring prosperity.
In the Red Onion Saloon
I read what's supposed to be
an amusing tale of the girls upstairs
who worked in "cribs," ten by ten cells,
just enough room to lie
spread-legged. For efficiency
someone built a row of wooden dolls
behind the bar,
an iron rod through their bellies
joining them like paper cut-outs,
below each one
the number of a room.
When one of the girls was occupied,
the bartender flipped a doll
onto her back
and when he righted her
another miner climbed the stairs.
43 The "Red Rock Ladies" they were called
and on the wall a turn-of-the-century
photograph. Four small town girls
open-faced and plump,
look out at you
like someone in an ad for milk
or someone you used to know,
that quiet girl who caught the bus to school
from Olds or Antelope or Manyberries,
the one who ate her lunch outside alone.
They're in their Sunday best,
long skirts, high collars, all
the buttons buttoned up.
One holds a small dog,
another, a spotted cat.
They make me think of the ponies
who never got to leave the mines,
some born blind inside,
so the stories go,
pulling car after car of gold
in numbing dark. The photographer
has made the Red Rock Ladies smile (I hope
his remark was kind)
but they all look pale,
two with their reluctant pets
tucked into the fleshy curve of their arms,
in the Red Onion,
perhaps all they knew
of love.
44 The Souls of Animals
If animals have no souls
it's because they do not need them.
There's something forever about their time
on earth, whether they move on wing, paw or hoof,
or slide with huge, cold bodies
across the blue-green worlds.
Wherever they dwell, their gaze
when they look at you
comes from a great height—
the yellow of hawk, the green of lizard eye—
or so close up
you feel they've slipped under the leaves
of your eyelids and stare from the inside out.
In spite of theology and metaphor,
a cat placing its back paws
precisely where the front have been
is simply walking as a cat must walk
across the snow. A dog winding himself
like a pocket watch into dream
is doing what a dog must do. Still,
in books of the dead the human soul
transmogrifies, becomes bird or butterfly,
or soft-pawed, graceful thing.
45 Grant animals a soul: might they not leave
their bodies in the shape of ours,
assume the best of us, the high forehead,
the shapely arms, the exactitude of
thumb on index finger.
That's what those bright ones are,
those people with a glow about them,
an ecstacy. The souls of animals
crossing from one country to another,
pausing among us
only to rise in glory,
beasts again.
46 K.V. Skene
The Space
Two Objects
side by side
we walk the park
close enough
our shoulders almost touch
feel that fluttering hollow
that old insistent ghost
of a hunger
(a battered crutch
chanting yes
we cling to) sex   need
guilt    sometimes
everything's too clear
we know
we can't change
nothing's out there
it's all in our heads
some people fake it
we make it up
make it work
(it makes sense
it's surreal
as a dream
out of focus
makes sense)
like life in prime time
after you've rearranged
your childhood
wants to happen
in another mind-set
in the space between
two objects smash/pass
(born blind until
we live our terrible death
awake) each naked child falls
free    from thought
from innocence
until hands reach out
to a heartstopping point
grab hours and hours
of emptiness
of memory
47 Sue Wheeler
two poems
Long Division
June is a hot shroud, we can barely
catch our breath. On the edge
of understanding, we bend
at the second graveside
but it never quite
makes sense, like being told
any number divided by zero
is infinity. Remember the grade four
stories? The children whose parents
had gone down in ships at sea?
We find our places in the air-
conditioned limos for the drive
back to town past stooped fields
where in the '50's we watched people picking
cotton, dragging their long cloth bags.
Back then all the plots danced toward
rubies, even for orphans. Who imagined
this ocean of soil, this bottled air?
You have to bring down.
You have to carry.
48 Tourists
From the rented car she calls out
Is the cemetery down this road?
I resist saying it's at the end
of every road. Tell her I've never
been here before. We survive
by whatever strategies we can find.
The skunk cabbage in the ditch
stinks, attracting flies that spread
pollen in their search for the rotting meat.
This afternoon: rain, the claustrophobia
of my motel room, its stingy bars of soap.
Grey light falls through thermopane
thick as the glass in a Mason jar
but what's preserved here, me or this
view of cabins and surf? All day
people offer their stories
like peppermints. The man who clerked
forty years at the Regina Liquor Board
has to give up slow pitch ball,
diabetes choking his reflexes.
The woman on the bus whose dead husband
was born at this beach. How she met him
when he came by her sister's house
during the War. The drawings
on the restaurant wall are feathers
till I look again. Lures.
I'm at eye level with hooks and barbs and I'm
eating local fish.
49 David Hull
A Journey, Reconsidered
Our pace, of course, is trudge.
Maybe muskeg's claimed us,
Digesting will before
Body; lovely. Wetland:
A sop, of mud, of sludge,
Now of feet and purpose;
And dig you may, no floor
Bolsters this near-quicksand.
The fen's alive, they say,
Sucking pastures, hungry
To sink in earth that's firm
One year, shrivelling smaller
The next. You feel the way,
Vacillating, angry,
This muddy matter squirms
Like a chopped nightcrawler.
Our ankles plough ahead.
Furrows, slight wet partings
That seal themselves with ease,
Open, offering treasures:
Precious glint, arrowhead.
Don't stop though—keep marching,
For those who stopped were seized,
Sank past thinking's measure.
And you and I are lost,
Bog-bound and cold. We've wandered
The path of ampersands,
Question marks and colons.
A switchback course we've crossed,
Double-crossed, and pondered.
The map's pulp. Marsh-wood stands
Waterlogged, soft, swollen.
50 We wade through mud and wonder
Just why we came at all.
What was wrong with those meadows?
Leave solid ground for this?
Panic, soon; now, hunger
Impels us, our pace a crawl,
Sinking in wetland. Shadows
Suggest an endlessness.
51 Passport
Gayla Reid
One: Spear Carriers
In 1958, this is what Marion knew about Budapest:
Cardinal Mindszenty.
Sister Agnes had told them about Cardinal Mindszenty. He had
been imprisoned by the Communists. He had been tortured but he had
not given in.
The freedom fighters. Crushed by Russian tanks.
Marion had heard about their final messages to the world.
Help, help, help. SOS, SOS, SOS. Now I have to run over to the next
room to fire some shots.
We shall die for Hungary.
They were devout Catholics, all of them, Sister Agnes said.
They were fighting godless atheistic Communism with their bare
hands. For a few days, they had won.
We have wounded who have given their blood for the sacred cause of liberty, but we have no medicine. The last piece of bread has been eaten.
Sacred liberty, betrayal, martyrdom. Such things (Marion knew) were
not possible in Australia.
There was Reverend Mother at the front of the classroom, come to introduce Magda Szabo, from Budapest. With her shining red hair.
Marion thought competition for her would be fierce.
But the class was, at that time, preoccupied with other matters. If you
drank Coca-Cola at lunch time and put blotting paper in your shoes you'd
be drunk by mid-afternoon.
It's working, they shrieked, giggling with fervour.
Magda, who at home drank a glass of wine and was permitted a little of
the fiery barack, stared.
They took their revenge.
Smells funny, they said.
52 A reffo.
Garlic on her breath.
So it was Marion who walked home, unimpeded, beside Magda. Marion who met Magda's mother.
Magda's mother served little cakes with dark nuts in the middle, and
looked at Marion while she ate them.
Marion's mouth went dry.
It was Marion who sat with Magda and Magda's mother in front of their
first television set. On Saturday nights, Marion explained Leave It to
Beaver, and Sunset Strip.
In Magda's house Marion found herself, for the first time, an expert.
She leaned back; she stretched her arms out along the sofa.
Have some more cakes, Magda's mother said to her.
Thank you very much, Marion said, behaving nicely. Really very tasty.
She smiled at Magda's mother.
Warily, Magda's mother smiled back.
Magda's father was an engineer, down at the Snowy, and seldom
home. (He had a most peculiar name: Bandi, a fact Marion knew she
must, for her own sake, conceal from the other girls.)
Marion's father was buried at Waverley, along with her grandparents
and great grandparents. The whole shooting match, Marion explained, to
Magda had other cemeteries from other shooting matches. Kerepes
cemetery in Pest, for one.
Her brother Laszlo is buried there.
After the second invasion, Magda told Marion, they took the freedom
fighters and hanged them on the bridges, in clusters.
Like bunches of winter grapes, Magda said.
They walked out at night, across the swamp. They were twelve hours
in the swamp.
And at last they were in a hut on the far side. It was cold in the hut. (It
was cold everywhere.) A bare lightbulb overhead.
Magda was sleepy, sleepy.
Behind her somewhere, men were talking in low, urgent voices.
Her mother took her handkerchief, wet it with saliva, and tried to clean
Magda's face with it.
Furious, Magda pushed her mother away.
Magda showed Marion the pictures of the freedom fighters, from the
The freedom fighters dressed in funny old clothes.
53 They looked, in particular, at a girl in a beret. This girl had a big bandage on her cheek and was immensely serious.
She was their own age. There was no doubt about it.
Just think, Magda told Marion. Think of what I could have done.
I could have saved Laszlo.
Even in the classroom, built in double brick to last as long as faith, it's
hot and moist. Out in the garden cicadas are shouting all the way to the
convent walls.
Beyond the walls lies the city. Where tar is melting in the streets and
flies are forcing their way in. Where good Catholic girls like Marion and
Magda are going to be exposed to non-Catholics of a lower moral standard.
Today is the end-of-the-year one-day retreat for the Fourth and Fifth
Years. Not to be confused with the big one, the three-day retreat, in the
middle of winter. This is just a final tune-up before the summer holidays.
In the morning there is mass and confession in the chapel. In the afternoon it's back to the classroom for the annual lecture on chastity.
The purpose of chastity, the Jesuit says, and writes it on the blackboard, is to control sex attraction. There are two kinds of sex attraction,
he says, making two arrows with his chalk: personal sex attraction and
physical sex attraction.
Personal sex attraction, says the Jesuit, turning boldly to face them, is
the fascination a person can have for a person of the opposite sex.
In the realm of personal sex attraction, he says, a young Catholic girl
has a special example to follow, the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For immodest dress in girls provides an occasion of sin to boys.
The serge of her tunic sticks to Marion's thighs. The day is as moist
The priest clears his throat and says: For boys have passions that are
more easily aroused.
The silence in the room is enormous. It billows out into the garden
where the cicadas, abruptly, halt.
Marion is falling from the chapel tower, just like Kim Novak in Vertigo.
Falling is dangerous and lovely and quiet. Kim Novak's eyes are an incitement to sins against chastity, surely? (For boys, who have passions that
are more easily aroused.)
Physical sex attraction, the priest writes next. Outside marriage, he
54 says—turning very swiftly—this is a mortal sin. He turns back to the
board, writes Outside Marriage, and underlines it three times.
It is a mortal sin to enjoy or to desire any sexual pleasure outside marriage, he repeats, tapping at the underlining with his chalk. Whether prolonged or momentary.
(Marion and Magda were in Magda's mother's room, with the blinds
down, trying on Magda's mother's underwear. Magda had on her
mother's best petticoat, apricot lace and something silky. The soft smell
of powder on Magda's skin. Was that prolonged or momentary?)
The priest has fine white hands, with small black hairs growing along
his fingers. Sacred fingers, that have touched the host. Never touching
himself. No, he never.
For any unmarried person any full consent to venereal pleasure, alone
or with others, is a mortal sin.
Marion has seen the word in public lavatories, on little notices made
out of tin and painted with enamel.
Venereal, disease.
Venereal, he says, from the Roman goddess Venus. Meaning pleasure
that is achieved by movement in the sexual parts of the body.
In the garden Sister Agnes is tying up the agapanthus. Sister Agnes
was in Thailand last year, and came back looking yellow.
In Thailand, Sister Agnes said, one can smell the devil.
Agapanthus, Agatha's pants. Huge blue blooms that signal the start of
Agape, love. Anthos, a flower. Will thrive even if neglected. Her father
had told her.
Afterwards, Marion and Magda walk home together, as usual. Magda
kicks at the footpath. Magda tells Marion this:
Her brother, Laszlo, had a girlfriend, a lover. She had been killed in a
big demonstration in Parliament Square, one October Thursday early in
the fighting.
A lover. It was—European.
Magda said, angrily: Were they mortal sinners? Have they gone to
I don't think so, Marion said, to comfort. Although it followed, they
would have gone to hell, wouldn't they? The priest had just spent all afternoon telling them.
What if she said something and Magda went, what? what?
Magda has Laszlo, she has history. (We shall die for Hungary.)
Marion walks along beside Magda.
On the other side of the world, Laszlo is in a dark room in Budapest.
55 He stands at the window. His lover, behind him on the bed, is wearing
nothing but her petticoat.
It is unimaginable, venereal.
Russian tanks clank through the streets.
It was Magda who did brilliantly in the Leaving Certificate. Marion
didn't do as well as everyone expected.
It's not worth going back and doing it all over again, her mother said.
Money doesn't grow on trees, her mother said. Who's to say you'd do
any better next time round?
No, Marion was to do a secretarial course at the Tech.
Then that nice Gerry Connolly had agreed to take her on.
Gerry Connolly was a man who came to their house to say the family
rosary. The rosary, which had been top of the charts all the way through
the Fifties, was by now somewhat out of fashion. But those who valued
the Blessed Virgin Mary weren't going to let themselves be put off by
young fools in Rome who were rushing around throwing open doors and
Gerry Connolly and the others had a blessed statue of Our Lady of Fat-
ima, which they took from house to house. They gathered around it and
contemplated the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.
Marion took the bus and went to type things for Gerry Connolly. On
his desk, Gerry had a big picture of the family: Gerry and Theresa and
the kids—Bernadette, Damien, Aloysius, Kevin, Dominic, Ignatius, and
the twins, Gerard and Paul.
Magda went to Sydney University. She dressed all in black and she
wore white lipstick.
Marion got a black sweater herself and wore it to the uni with Magda.
They sat in the student union and Magda pointed out important people to
They went up to the Cross and drank Chianti with their spaghetti
bolonaise. Marion giggled at the prostitutes. Magda frowned.
Marion had her own room at home. I'm not one to pry, her mother
said, but really she should be keeping the place looking tidy. There was
nothing to stop her, nothing at all, from going to the dances the Young
Catholic Workers put on. On Saturday afternoons, after she'd helped her
mother with the housework, she could have a shower and put on a pretty
56 On Sundays at St. Kevin's—this being by now the Sixties—there was a
lot of talk from the pulpit about the evils of extra-marital sex and birth
control, especially the Pill.
But on Saturday nights, in the parish hall, there was dancing.
In St. Kevin's Parish Hall, there is a big picture of the Blessed Maria
Goretti, who died rather than commit a sin of impurity.
For the obtuse, four statues of the Virgin Mary.
The girls who'd been at Our Lady of Mercy College dance with the
boys who'd been at the Christian Brothers.
Lots of booze. (Nothing wrong with booze.)
One of the boys takes Marion home. Pokes his wet spaniel tongue into
her mouth for a few seconds, then says thank you.
On Saturday afternoons in St. Kevin's parish church, there are weddings. Marion is twice a bridesmaid; she has her hair done in a beehive.
Quickly, quickly, they got married.
The babies began. So many babies, like loaves and fishes.
The young wives Marion had been at school with would see her sometimes in the street, at church. I gave him his son and now—I tell him—he
can jolly well leave me alone. But of course he won't.
No need to leave home, Marion's mother says. She'd be rattling
around in the old place on her own. And for what? To get a flat in Bronte,
just a short bus ride away? To live in the city? Up at the Cross? Ridiculous! Catch a bus out to work in the morning? She'd never heard such a
bunch of tommy rot in all her days.
Then Magda. Even Magda, who always sneered.
Do you want to be a bridesmaid at a shotgun wedding? Magda asked.
He was from the uni, of course. He's a nice boy, Magda said. I didn't
mean this to happen to him.
But Bill was fabulous! He'd gone to Riverview, the poshest school for
Catholic boys in Sydney. He was tall, he was handsome, and he was
brainy, too. He was going to do graduate work at Columbia University, in
Some people, Marion decided, have just about everything. And aren't
even grateful.
Magda invited Marion around to tea.
Marion looked into the bedroom. She saw the double bed.
In the lounge room, Riverview Bill was watching TV. In only three
months' time they were going overseas.
Columbia should be very interesting, Magda said. She was going to do
57 her Masters, she wasn't going to let the baby slow her down.
She'd write, she promised. She'd tell Marion all about it.
On Friday afternoons, at Gerry Connolly's, they have cakes for afternoon tea. Marion buys them at lunch time. She really should go on a diet,
but you need a few little treats in life, don't you? Around three-thirty she
goes into the cubbyhole they call the kitchen and boils the jug. From
there, she can see Gerry, staring into space.
What can he be thinking about? John, the late baby?
This is when The Supremes sing Oh, how I need your love, and Gerry
Connolly rushes over to Marion, grabs her hand, and puts it right on him.
(What would it feel like?) Gerry is wild about her, he can't get any work
done he's so crazy for her. He can't stand his wife, the only thing she
ever wants to do is say the rosary. And all those kids are getting him
down. He's booked a berth on the Southern Aurora, a sleeper, for both of
You must come, he cries out, kneeling in front of her. You must, you
Late on Friday nights, when her mother has to be asleep, Marion
watches TV. She knows all the songs. I'm a man yes I am and I can't help
but love you so.
But is her mother really asleep? Marion can feel an ear, growing and
growing, coming down the hall.
Even later on Friday nights, Magda's Riverview Bill comes and makes
love to her. It was Marion he wanted all along.
Not quite exhausted from the fighting in the streets, Laszlo comes and
makes love to her, too. Soon, she will be dead in Parliament Square.
(And how Magda will cry out; Magda will be overcome.) In his broken
English, Laszlo whispers: sweet little heartbreaker; foxy lady.
Laszlo looks a lot like Magda; they are so very much alike.
Marion reads the women's advice columns. Join a church group they
Ha bloody ha, says Marion.
Magda's letters arrive, from America. Magda and Bill are going to have
an open marriage—no more lies, no more pretence.
Magda joins the SDS: I am burning, truly burning, with life, with LIFE,
she writes.
I didn't know that people could be so very fine, so careful, so tender
and caring about their politics, she writes.
Magda must have a new boyfriend, Marion decides.
It is 1968 and the Tet Offensive; Martin Luther King is assassinated:
58 the buildings at Columbia are occupied and Magda doesn't sleep for a
week. Magda abandons the praxis axis and joins the action faction; she
has a new lover; she is becoming truly herself, she tells Marion, in the
crucible of politics; there is Paris and the events of May; Bobby Kennedy
is assassinated; the Prague Spring continues, defiant; Magda has two lovers at once and sleeps not at all.
Dear Marion:
By the time you read this, we'll be in Chicago for the mobe. As
somebody said last week, If you're coming to Chicago, be sure to
wear some armour on your hair!!! I don't know what exactly will be
going down there but I can tell you there can be no turning back
now; our strategy of resistance to this murderous war has been
As Teddie says, we have become the foco, the small motor that
sets the bigger motor of the masses into action.
Last weekend Teddie and Eddie and I managed to get away for
the weekend together, just the three of us (four, counting little
Laszlo!), to Eddie's parents' place in New Hampshire (they are in
Europe for the summer and oblivious, no doubt). Saturday night we
did some incredibly mellow dope and watched the stars come out
over the mountains. We know we are right on the edge of something big and vast and final—we all three feel it... who could not
feel it these days, in Amerika, and all over the world.
Are you reading about Prague?
Eddie is so good with L.—sings to him, bathes him. Teddie tells
him stories—his favourites are about Che and Camilo in the mountains. Teddie says that L. is one far-out child of the revolution. Of
two revolutions, I remind him. L. calls them both deddie, which
blows a lot of minds, I can tell you.
How is your mother? You really should (a) move out immediately; (b) pick up a guy and have a far-out, dirty, lost weekend; and
(c) get your hands on some dope and blow your mind into a million,
shining pieces.
Take care,
Love and Peace
Marion watches them being beaten and maced in Chicago. The whole
world is watching, they chant.
Typical American exaggeration.
59 Dear Marion:
I scarcely know how to write this, but it is important. I will try to
put it down quietly and soberly for you, dear friend of my heart, so
that you can know who I am, and remember.
On Wednesday, last Wednesday, I am in Chicago while the Russian tanks are in Prague. I am in Grant Park with ten thousand others, at a legal rally. The cops charge us, they begin to beat in
heads, and the blood begins to flow.
The thing is this: I am running in Grant Park. I am running towards Michigan Avenue. But I am also running in the streets of
Prague. And—and this very, very clearly, with total presence—I
am in Budapest. I am home.
I am running with my brother in Rakoski Street, in UUoi Road. I
am running with Laszlo in the crowds in front of Parliament Square,
I am running with him into the alley behind the Corvin Cinema. I am
with him in front of the AVO building on Andrassy Street: I am with
him, hiding behind the overturned train cars in Szena Square.
And even more—and this is just as real, just as luminous—Laszlo
is here with me. The grey gas is tearing up his lungs. Laszlo is running north with me and we are trying to find a bridge, we have to
find a bridge that isn't manned by the Guard with their machine
Marion, I tell you this: he was right here and I was right there.
Do you understand what I am saying?
While Magda is running in the streets of Chicago, Prague, and Budapest, Marion is in Sydney, typing.
She still buys the cakes for afternoon tea on Friday, but on Saturday
nights no longer goes to the dance at St. Kevin's Parish Hall. As her
mother says, she is getting too long in the tooth for the boys at St.
Gerry Connolly brings in a new family picture. Caroline, the late, late
Marion and her mother sit in front of the TV and watch what happens
at those folk festivals. Marion sees them jumping in the mud. Some of
them have very little on.
Disgusting, her mother says.
Who's going to clean all that mess up? That's what I'd like to know,
says Marion.
They watch the marches in Australia against the war in Vietnam.
They should crack down on those youngsters who won't go, Marion's
mother says. Crack down hard.
60 Marion, who doesn't agree with the war, not at all, hears herself saying: Dad went, so I don't see why they shouldn't.
The rosary group is saving up for a trip. Not to Rome, Lourdes, or
Fatima. Not even to Knock.
To South East Asia.
Marion's mother is going. She's got her orange travel bag from
Hopabout Tours.
All the time her mother is away, Marion will have the house to herself.
She could do anything.
She could stay out all night and nobody would know.
This is it, Marion tells herself.
If she doesn't get a move on, if somebody doesn't love her, soon, she's
going to miss out.
It can happen, does happen. You see them at mass, the women who've
missed out. They put on their blue cloaks and go to the Child of Mary
meetings—pathetic, dry old virgins.
Some of them must have been quite good looking once.
How does it happen?
Like this, that's how.
There are other women, the ones Marion watches on TV. They come
from the leafy North Shore suburbs, hoity-toity, completely respectable.
On Sundays they put on their white gloves and go to church. The Anglican church. Anyway, they run this office for Americans who are in Sydney on leave. You phone them up, and tell them what kind you'd like:
height, hair colour, everything. The Americans get off the plane from
Vietnam, go to the office, and they match you up and they call you.
It's like knitting socks used to be. To keep up morale.
Marion sits at her desk and waits for Gerry Connolly to go out for the
Mirror. She stares at the phone. (She took the phone number down when
it was on the TV.) What if Gerry Connolly came back and she was in the
middle of saying brown hair, blue eyes—what was she going to say?
Marion's mother gets shingles. They can't get a proper refund at this
late date so it is decided: Marion is to go on the Hopabout Tour in her
Gerry Connolly gives her time off work to get her passport.
There is a young man on the tour; he is the only other person about
her age. His name is Roy, and he is travelling with his aunt. They are on
their way to Hong Kong and Honolulu. This tour is just a tiny side trip,
61 they announce, putting everyone else in their place. The aunt has a loud
voice. So does Roy. But he's a man.
They go to see the orchids in Singapore and Marion thinks he is going
to speak to her. Not just like everybody else—isn't it hot and isn't Singapore tiny, fancy having to hang your washing out the window, and no Hills
Hoist—but really talk to her.
Roy doesn't come and sit down beside her even though there was a
spare seat and you could tell that people were leaving it, almost inviting
him. When they leave the bus, he helps the older women. He helps her.
She feels Roy's hand in the small of her back. Cold, disinterested, propelling.
For this, one is supposed to be grateful.
They look at the orchids: shameless, languid, flamboyant, shouting
about sex on humid afternoons.
They visit the temples, to see Buddha reclining, Buddha calming the
ocean. The rosary group sit together at the back of the bus. Sometimes,
as they are travelling along, they finger their beads, which they keep, discreetly, in the pockets.
Roy notices. He gets a sing-song going: Jill the dill forgot the Pill and
now they have a daughter.
Making mock.
It isn't nice of him and it isn't funny, not really. Thank goodness her
mother isn't around.
So much for Roy, the straw man.
Marion is sitting in the dining room of the hotel in Chiang Mai, weighing
her chances. There is no other woman in the dining room between the
ages of eighteen and thirty. So she must be, by definition, in the running
(though even that didn't work with Roy).
He's the first interesting stranger to show up at any of the hotels. He
looks younger than she is but sometimes they like you to be a bit older,
don't they? He's drinking coffee and he has his eye on her.
She's sure of it. Her stomach's all clenched up and she wants to go to
the toilet but she can't. If she does he'll think she's leaving. When she
gets back he'll be gone.
Marion forces herself to concentrate on dessert. It's pineapple flummery. You make the jelly with boiling water then let it cool. You put in
condensed milk and whisk it all up. It comes out spongy and springy, with
little bubbles in it. Here, because it's a posh hotel, they've put some bits
of fresh pineapple on top.
He's looking over at her again, she's positive.
Gladly, I will sit here all night, she decides.
62 I will sit here until hell freezes over, if that's what it takes.
What does it take? Dear God, what does it take?
It's early morning and Marion is awake before he is.
She thinks about the low-lying clouds they came through at the end of
the flight from KL (she will call it KL, everybody else does). The sun
came out, suddenly, on the clouds, and it was so bright, it hurt your eyes
to look at them.
She can hear the clatter that's going on down in the kitchens. Doors
opening and shutting. Today the tour is scheduled to go into the country,
to Lamphun. In Lamphun, she read in the guide book, there are temples
from the eighth and eleventh centuries. After the temples, the tour is going to a factory where they make umbrellas.
Well she isn't going. She doesn't care about temples and umbrellas.
She's going to call down to the desk and say she's still got her tummy upset. For the second day in a row, she's going to stay here, beside him.
Today she'll send Magda a postcard.
Dear Magda, she writes in her head, I have met this soldier who is on
R&R from Vietnam.
She can hear Magda saying: It's about time, kiddo.
Dear Magda: He isn't going back to the war.
Magda will understand.
Dear Magda: He has to get away from this murderous war.
He has to get away, to Sweden.
It was a miracle; it was as simple as that. He looked at me and he believed I was capable of doing such things.
This is how she would describe it, to Magda.
Magda would put back her head and laugh, hah!
The bus group has gone (Roy with them). You can tell they've gone because it's so quiet in the corridor. Nobody around except the cleaners.
You can hear the cleaners, with their little trolleys. Going clunker clunk.
He didn't know how he was going to do it, get away to Sweden.
You could tell by the look he got on his face when he talked about it.
If only he could talk to Magda; Magda would know how these things
were done.
Marion lies in bed thinking in a vague, sleepy way.
He sighs and rolls over in his sleep. She can feel him against her.
She's listening to the cleaners opening up the rooms and going in. They
63 leave the doors open when they clean because they have their trolley out
in the hall.
And at this moment she knows what she can do.
She'll be able to tell Magda. They look a bit alike, him and Roy. Really,
they do.
Him and Roy.
Magda and Laszlo.
She is going to get up, go down the hall, and pinch Roy's passport. Roy
won't have it with him on the bus. He likes to wear only his little shorts
and a singlet. Roy's a showoff.
She's going to swipe that passport and give it to him. She can give him
all her money, too. (Well, most of it.) So he can fly away, fly to Sweden.
Down the hall she goes—it's a breezeway, actually—her caftan billowing. She's in Roy's room and she's looking about. She's looking in the cupboards, pulling his suitcase out, finding the key to it in the drawer-
bloody obvious place—opening the suitcase, sliding her hands around it,
and there! in the flap at the top. She's found it.
The passport.
Her hands have lost all feeling; they've gone numb.
As her feet speed along the breezeway, they do not touch the ground
at all.
Swiftly, she is running with Magda and Laszlo in Chicago, she is running with them in Prague, in the streets of Budapest. In front of the AVO
building, into the alley behind the Corvin cinema.
She is with Laszlo in the blood-bath at Parliament Square.
She is with Magda, twelve hours in the swamp.
A bit player in the crowd scene of history. In the show, at last.
Two: Rowing to Sweden
He's on the train and he's thinking about the guy who gives Yossarian
the money. Go now for God's sake and hurry, this dude says to Yossarian.
It had happened to him, just like that. She'd given him some money.
And she'd gotten him that passport. That passport was about to come in
mighty handy.
It must be nice in Sweden now, this other guy says to Yossarian. The
girls are sweet and the people are so advanced.
64 Jungle green green green. It was going by, he was on his way. Green
green, I'm going away to where the grass is greener still. It was going to
be fucking cold in Sweden, he didn't like the cold. But the girls will be
He has to get out to the airport in Bangkok and use that Aussie Passport. Do you have enough baht for the taxicab? She wanted to know.
Did they have an airline that went straight to Sweden? She thought
that maybe they had one that went to Paris.
He'd stay away from Braniff. He'd come to Nam on Braniff. Braniff always pulls out on time, joke. There were these stewardesses handing
out cokes and little bags of nuts and they were taking him to the war.
If he couldn't get a plane that went straight to Sweden he'd get one that
went to Paris. What if they didn't go to Paris? What if they just went to
Germany or someplace like that? He wished he knew the names of some
towns in Germany. He didn't know squat about Germany. He knew the
names of some of the bases but that was the last thing he was going to
need, some gigunda sonofabitch army base.
He was going to keep his cool. He was going to keep his cool, all the
way through.
Travis, Guam, Bien Hoa. Now Bangkok, Paris maybe, Stockholm.
It was freaking weird, man. Before all this he'd been to Seattle twice.
He'd seen the Space Needle.
He'd already finished eating when they came in. He got his coffee and
he watched them.
A bus tour, shit yes. Speaking English, but not English. What would
they be? Australians? Maybe. Arty'd had an Australian chick when he
was on R&R in Hong Kong. Just like back home, he said, shy and pink at
first then all red and juicy later.
He stirred his coffee and checked them out. Old dudes with their
wives. Women on their own, old. Two young kids with their parents.
One young guy, maybe a few years older than he was.
Then her.
She sat down beside two of the old dames on their own. She didn't sit
down at the other table, where the young guy was, nothing doing between them. You could tell by the way she looked at him. He was ordering for his whole table. Loud, she thinks he's loud. Scared by noises most
Arty'd had a picture of this Australian chick. One of those pictures you
take in the little booth in the bus station. Arty kept it in a plastic thing in
his pocket. The big pocket. The big pocket on the right-hand side of his
jungle utilities.
This chick'd sent Arty a PEACE sign. Arty had it in his boonie hat.
65 Arty was short, real short.
Arty and Mike used to shoot the shit a lot. They both came from Idaho,
that was why.
Arty told Mike he'd made this chick in the elevator by the time they'd
got to the eleventh floor. Got her all lined up, anyways, in eleven floors
flat. Was that just bullshit or was it for real?
Just look at her over there, being so polite.
Arty'd stepped on a shaped charge.
Look at her, using her knife as well as her fork.
On some nasty red hill. Blew his ass to kingdom come.
He only had five more nights, and this was one of them. He'd blown the
first two already. Two whole nights of not getting laid, lying on his bed
looking at the ceiling, not thinking about Mike and Mitzie, not thinking
about them.
He hadn't wanted Bangkok, he'd wanted Hawaii. But after what had
gone down he'd just got on the first thing out. Friends in low places.
Bangkok was a downer, nothing doing in Bangkok, he didn't want bar
girls, he couldn't get into bar girls.
And there she was. Eating dessert now. He'd had a shower and everything, before he left the guesthouse, just as well.
He'd gone to the train station in Bangkok and he didn't know what the
fuck he was doing, he hadn't thought it through, he just caught the next
train out and ended up in this place.
Chiang Mai.
Those pamphlet things said the place was full of temples. Wat this and
Wat that. Wat Suan Dork. At first he thought it was Wat Susan Dork. He
didn't want Wats, nossir. Put a T in front of that and you had what he
wanted. And what he wanted you simply could not get. There were
nurses of course but they wouldn't give you the time of day. If you were
some asshole lifer down at Long Binh, then maybe.
Like Mike said, there was only one memorable thing you could get in
the Republic of South Vietnam besides wasted. Heavy shit and plenty of
it any old time you wanted.
At prime time, you could count on finding Mike in the bunker, smoking
spiked weed. When there was incoming Mitzie liked to be with Mike. She
liked to cuddle up.
Mike'd sit on the sandbags and Mitzie'd sit in his shade, going after her
fleas. Mike'd read bits of Catch 22. Mike knew whole chunks of Catch 22
oft by heart. Specially the last bits, where Yossarian is rowing to Sweden,
and goddamn it, making it.
I've got responsibilities now, Yossarian says, I've got to get to Swe-
66 den. It's a geographic impossibility to get there from here, this other
dude says. And Yossarian says: at least I'll be trying.
When he went on R&R, Mike said, that'd be it. Goodbye, KIA Travel.
Mike said he'd go to Hawaii, party some, then fly on to Seattle. Once
you got to Seattle, Mike said, all you had to do was follow your nose. As
soon as he'd got fixed up, Mike was going to let him know what to do and
he'd be gone too. With the Mitz. They weren't going to leave the Mitz
behind, no way.
But here he was, instead. And he was travelling light. No Mike and no
Mitzie. As soon as he'd gotten himself laid he was rowing to Sweden. At
least he'd be trying.
After he'd heard about Mike and Mitzie he'd gone back to the hootch.
He felt so freaking tired. It went through his mind that now he'd paid, he
could hold his head up, he'd paid. But it didn't work like that, even he
knew better than that.
Back at the hootch some fucking new guy was playing Bridge Over
Troubled Water. He wished to christ he wasn't playing that thing.
Still and all he expected to see them, Mike and Mitzie. He looked up
and he expected to see them come into the hootch. He really expected
When he first met Mike, he told him you had to stop them someplace.
Mike just went un huh, un huh, un huh.
He'd told Arty, too: You had to stop them someplace.
Arty punched him, and laughed. It was Arty's first day back at Battalion after weeks in the bush, Arty was goofing off.
Arty was rolling on the ground with him. They were grabbing each
other, sort of wrestling, and laughing. Saigon tomorrow, Spokane the
next, Arty was shouting. The Mitz was charging about, joining in. Mike
started to sing one of his songs. So long mommie, I'm off to get a commie.
Then Art was just sitting on top of him and they were all laughing/barking, feeling pretty good.
He was looking at Arty's jungle boots. They'd gone that sickly orange
Why was it Arty out there in the boonies and not him?
Loudmouth at the other table had fucked off. The old dames were leaving the chick's table. She was ordering some more coffee. Good. Excellent, in fact.
67 She was sitting at the table on her own.
He was going to be in luck for once, he could feel it. It was a long time
since Susan. Back in Spokane, he and Susan had been going together
since grade ten, he could hardly remember how it was when he first
made it with her.
He hoped he wasn't going to blow this.
Go over there and say you'd like to buy her a drink, ask her her name
and that.
Mike used to say: You tell them you want to kiss their breasts. Turns
them to batter, saying that.
But what do you say first? I mean, you just don't lean over and say I'd
like to kiss your breasts. Not straight off.
She looked at me!
I swear, clear as day, she looked right over here.
Yes man, she looked at me.
Tell them they're beautiful, they love to hear they're beautiful. Christ,
they are beautiful.
She was looking over him again. She was.
Nice little breasts, she'd have these sweet soft warm little breasts with
faint blue veins, it made him weak to think of them.
Last time he'd been home with Susan, she'd wanted him to go here, go
there, see family all the time. He told Susan he didn't give a rat's ass
about going on some dipshit picnic with her whole family. I mean, her parents were coming.
And she starts this thing, I feel I don't know you any more, I just don't
know you any more. Jesus H. Christ.
It was crazy, he knew, and no way he'd say this to anyone, but he
knew he was carrying them inside him, Mike and Mitzie. He had them inside him, and he was carrying them round with him. He'd hear Mike talk
to him, he'd hear Mike's voice that clearly. And he'd see the Mitz looking
up at him with those eyes of hers that said, I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad.
Go over to her, man. Smile, act real nice now. Don't talk too loud and
don't swear. Just ask if you can sit down, say may I. Sit down and be sure
to ask her about herself. Where has she been? Did she like all those
Wats? Sure she would, she'd like them.
Tell her about being on base. Say you checked the supplies and things.
You made sure they got out to the LZs. Call them landing zones so she'll
know what you're talking about.
Don't mention your best buddy Mike, over at GR point. She won't
want to know about Graves Registration, man. And can the KIAs. She
68 won't want to be hearing about no KIAs. Tell her you're on R&R and the
Wats are very beautiful although you haven't seen them yet. But the
most beautiful thing you've seen since you left Travis is her. The most
beautiful. She'll like that.
And get a move on man, get your ass in gear. She's been sitting there
and sitting there and waiting for you to get off your butt. Go to it, man.
It wasn't all that hard, really. She looked up and she blushed. Christ,
how long since he'd seen a chick blush real nice like that. And for him.
And she said, yes, she'd like a drink from the bar. Marion, her name was
Marion, he made a mental note. They went to the bar and he said, Marion, what would you like? And she said, white wine.
White wine. He'd forgotten all about white wine. It sat there in its little
glass and the glass went all nice and frosty.
He had a beer himself.
And she asked, Are you a student travelling round?
Travelling round. He couldn't get over it, it was heavy-duty man, it
was so long since he'd had to deal with this kind of thing.
He told her he was on R&R and she knew what he meant.
Oh, she said, I'm sorry. You must think I'm silly.
Oh no, he said. No. And shook his head, and smiled at her.
She smiled back at him. At first I thought you were Roy, she said. You
look a lot like him.
Roy's this guy on the tour. Roy, it turns out, is Loudmouth at the other
She liked him, he could tell. They put out these vibes man, Arty'd said,
and you don't have to say a thing. He could feel them hanging in the air.
He could reach out and take a hold of them. The vibes.
But sooner or later, Arty'd said, they just have to know. They start
squirming in their seats, working themselves up to ask. They don't ask
right out, but you can see them thinking it.
Have you wasted anyone?
This Marion, she squirmed around a bit and she asked him: Were you
in the fighting?
I'm on base, he said. He saw her shoulders relax a little. I mean, she
wouldn't want to go climbing into bed with some horny young murderer,
now would she?
Mike'd say: What if the President, the Congress and the generals and
the colonels and all of them believe, really believe mind you, that they're
69 doing right. And what if it's just the asshole at the end of the line who can
see they're full of it?
About like that.
Mike knew how to say things, he was older. Mike'd done two years at
junior college.
Mike said you couldn't expect the army to know its ass from a hole in
the ground, it was the army. But what about all those fancy folks back
home with their degrees and shit? In foreign relations and everything.
Experts, they were. What about them?
He had to concentrate on the job in hand. At the moment she was just
sitting there drinking her white wine, with her legs together under the
They couldn't sit here drinking all night. See her up to her room? He
couldn't ask if he could come in for coffee. Use the washroom? Maybe.
He'd kiss her at the door. That might lead to something or it might not.
Sure she liked him. That didn't mean she'd haul him into her room and
rip all her clothes off pronto. What if she'd only go for a nighty-night kiss
and catch you tomorrow? He didn't have the time.
Tonight, he had to make his move tonight. Round about now.
She worked in an office in this place called Sydney.
He'd thought he'd heard of Sydney. Come to think of it he was nearly
sure he'd heard of it.
It's a big city, she said. The biggest in the country.
Bigger than Spokane I guess, he said.
They both laughed.
She wanted to laugh, that was good. And she got a deliberate look on
her face and said yes, she'd like another glass of white wine, thank you
very much.
The more white wine the better. You better believe it.
Then she brought her face up to his and—can you beat this—she
asked: Have you lost anyone close to you?
The dark, all around him. The dark it got out there when there was no
moon. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Charlie was out
there. Charlie knew his way around in the dark.
He lived there.
He reached over and he put his hand on her leg. She got a bit red in the
face. Then, carefully, she put her hand on his. As soon as he felt her do
70 that, he knew—she'd decided, yes. And he nearly jumped, even though
he'd been hoping for it. Migod it was going to be easy, he never expected
it would be that easy. All he had to do was reach down and turn her hand
over and rub his thumb up and down that fleshy part.
Wet, ah yes, very wet. But tight. Tight as a mouse hole. He figured it
out. Christ! He'd never had anyone's cherry before. Susan had done it
with Frankie Mankiewicz; with Susan it'd been the first time for him but
not for her.
He was embarrassed. How old was she anyway? Old. Must be twenty-
one, at least.
He'd never done this before. Was he going to be able to do it right?
Give her a fine time, a real fine time.
Gently, taking care, he rubbed his hands across her breasts. He said it:
I want to kiss your breasts. And she liked that, she made a little noise.
Then slowly—no hurrying this, he was just going to have to wait for
his—he moved down her belly, down and down, to get a taste of her. She
panicked a bit and pushed on his head with her hands. So he was quiet for
a while. Just stroked her thighs. Told her she was beautiful. And she
calmed right down. She got into it, and yes, oh yes. When he slipped in
she was out of her mind, or just about.
It wasn't difficult at all. Or not very.
He lay down beside her and she snuggled up under his arm, knowing
how. You're a natural, kid, he said, pleased with himself, pleased with
her. They'd done okay. They'd done quite nicely, if he did say so himself.
He could smell her hair. Her clean-smelling shampoo.
He felt so tired, so very tired, lying quietly there beside her, like that.
He showed her the photographs, Mike and Mitzie. In the first one,
they were in front of Graves, but you couldn't tell that from the photo.
Mike was holding Mitzie in his arms. Then there was Mitzie, playing fris-
bee with the guys. Mitzie at the entrance to the hootch. Pootch and
hootch, Mike had written on the back of that one.
There were two hootches, he explained to her. The bunker was in between. You can get into the bunker from the hootches, but you have to
go into one of the hootches to get to the bunker.
Mitzie had her steak.
She had her shots.
She had her frisbee.
Mitzie had her belly tickled.
Mike got her wormed.
71 She knew all the best places to catch the shade.
All the guys loved Mitzie.
But Mike worried about her, a lot. What if, uh, what if she was left running around with her little guts all hanging out?
Mike worried about that. Then this guy comes back from Long Binh
one day with some jab Mike could give Mitzie if she needed it. If she
needed to be, you know, put to sleep.
Mike'd found her in the dump outside the perimeter, just an itty-bitty
little thing, sniffing around the slops. He'd put her in the flatbed and got
her over to GR point and then he went and got her something to eat. She
was Mike's pootch, really. She leapt that high for him. She went everywhere with him, she sat up in that truck and she looked out, real happy.
Mitz was over at GR point with Mike most of the time. The Mitz liked
to lie by the reefers.
Reefers are these Conex container things. They have a little generator
to keep the bodies cool.
She looked scared.
He shouldn't have explained to her about the GR point, or the reefers.
He shut up fast.
What happened? She wanted to know. He shrugged and turned away.
She moved her hand around to the back of his neck, rubbed him there.
Let's get up and go out, she said. Maybe we should go to the cultural
centre, she said, looking in her guide books. Or to the university. The
roofs of the university are paved with gold, she said. It says here.
They went out walking. For some crazy reason the guest house he'd
booked into gave you a bike, for free. So he walked alongside her, pushing this bike, and it was like he was back in high school again, walking Susan home.
They found a park by the river. The Ping River, she said. But this
other guide book called it the Meping. Like the Mekong, she goes on.
Maybe Me means river, what do you think?
He didn't know. Sometimes he didn't know what to say to her.
Do you have a river in Sydney? he asked. Trying.
She laughed.
He must've said something dumb.
We have a harbour, she said. A big one.
Oh, he said. We have a river in Spokane. The Spokane River.
And she said: The harbour is called the Sydney Harbour.
Very original all round, he said.
At that, they could both laugh.
72 He moved over on the bench, to be closer to her. He put his arms
around her.
Both arms.
She's more interested in this than in small talk, he thought, relieved.
Well, he had plenty of this. He could give her plenty of this.
Let's go back to the hotel, he said.
He told her he was getting out, not going back. At the end of his R&R
he was going to Sweden.
How are you going to get there? she asked.
How was he going to get there?
Go to Tokyo, maybe. Mike'd told him about these sailors who met in a
coffee-house in Tokyo and decided to desert. Mike said some underground group in Japan helped them. They'd got them to Russia, and then
finally to Sweden.
How are you going to find this underground group? she asked.
He didn't know. He couldn't remember the name of the group, it was
some real weird name. He'd have to find that coffee-house first.
He wasn't sure what a coffee-house in Japan looked like. Was it like the
ones near the bases back home? Or did it have Joan Baez playing and college kids sitting around drinking those fancy coffees with the froth on
top? In Japan?
He should've paid more attention to Mike. Anyways, he should've
gone to Hawaii. From Hawaii you could step on a plane to Seattle and in
Seattle he'd know what to do. He was born in Washington, for shit's sake.
He lay on the bed, worrying.
How do you feel, they ask Yossarian, just before he splits. Fine, Yossarian says. Then he says, no, I'm frightened. That's good, this other guy
says, it shows you're still alive.
Well he was still alive, and he was frightened.
Arty and Mike and Mitzie had bought the farm and he was still alive.
Figure that one out.
He'd been in-country eight weeks and he'd pulled guard duty on the perimeter.
Guard duty is fucking boring man, everyone knows that. You're out
there and you're bored shitless. You beat off and you're bored shitless
73 He must've dozed off because next thing he knew the perimeter kind
of exploded. Christ, the noise! He had this M60, and he didn't know
where the fuck or what the fuck but he was firing it man, he was firing it
and firing it.
Next morning there's some guts going loop-de-loop on the wire. The
other one's lying very neat, like he's curled up asleep. Only his head's
The thing was: it was no big deal.
The thing was: after a day or two nobody even remembered.
He lay in the hootch and he stared at the ceiling. If you could call it a
ceiling. Mitzie came in, nosing about.
Mike said: Get on up there with him, Mitzie. Go on, girl, get up there.
And she did. She got up beside him and settled down, cosy. Pretty
soon his hand came out and he was rubbing Mitzie's belly, her tiny pooch
Mike said: Look at Mitzie, she's got that real spaced-out look on her
What they'd have done without the Mitz, he didn't know.
You'll feel guilty, this guy says to Yossarian. Your conscience will give
you a bad time. Good for my conscience, says Yossarian, I wouldn't want
to live without misgivings.
Guilty about getting out?
Mike said "misgivings" was one candy-ass word.
They're at chow one day and these guys at the next table are talking:
His nuts, man. The dink's nuts.
Little fuckers.
You can crank up a lot of voltage on a jeep battery.
The little fucker's little fuckers.
Put your foot on the gas and hey presto.
A 12-volt jeep battery.
Like a charm, my man.
Eat your heart out, Ma Bell.
They say this like they're ordering root beer or something.
She came out of the shower and she was all steamed up and she looked
so pink and naked he couldn't believe it. She was standing right there
with nothing on, smiling for him, and it was too much, he felt like crying,
he really did.
Come over here, he said.
74 He was showing her things. Like how to touch him.
It helped, oh yes, it helped.
They'll bend heaven and earth to catch you, this guy tells Yossarian.
You'll have to be on your toes every minute of every day. Yossarian says:
I'll be on my toes every minute.
Every minute. Get that, Mike, every minute.
And Mike's voice says: Keep it cool man.
And Mike's voice says: I'm running with you, brother.
He wakes up and she's looking at him. I didn't want to wake you, she
Didn't want to wake him. Maybe he'd turn into some crazy and throttle
her. That's what they all thought now, Arty said. They were afraid.
She's full of something, she's bursting with it, you can tell.
Her eyes are big like she's been doing some speed. Arty said hookers
in Europe used to do some drug or other to make their eyes go all big.
Mike said, wasn't any different nowadays, half the time a pro was out of
her mind on some shit or other. How come they knew all about hookers
and he didn't? It never really occurred to him to go with a pro back home.
He wasn't too swift, he knew it.
I got you his passport, she says.
The man on the tour, she says, the one who looks like you. You remember. Loudmouth. He looks enough like you. Really, he does. The
photo would have been taken a few years ago, anyway.
Take the passport, she says. Take Roy Dangar's passport.
I'll give you some money, she says. I've got some money.
You have the money, she says. Take the passport and go.
They won't notice it's missing until after you're gone.
She'd gone into this guy Loudmouth's room when the cleaners were in
there. The rest of them had gone off on the tour, all except her. She'd
stayed behind, to be with him. Called the desk and left a message she
was sick.
It wasn't hard to find, she says. In the suitcase, in the little plastic thing
under the lid.
Serve him right, she says, about this Loudmouth guy.
Loudmouth must've done something to hurt her. What?
Then it was crazy crazy crazy but he knew in a flash that Mike had arranged all this. For her to be there, for her to get him the passport.
He hadn't thought about a passport. He had his ID papers with him.
Weren't they enough?
She looked lovely, with those big hooker eyes.
75 She gleamed.
You're a sweet little angel, he said, and I love the way you spread your
They went back to the guesthouse off Huai Kaeo Road. They had to
keep looking at the map to find it, because the street signs were in Thai.
He packed up and he left the bike, and they went to the train station.
He was grateful. He truly was. He told her so.
But she didn't want grateful.
Already she had begun to look at him with eyes that hoped for things.
Like Arty said: You meet a chick and ball her, both of you having a real
fine time, and next morning you wake up and she's writing her first name
with your last, holding it out in front of her to see how it looks. Next thing
you know she's thinking about furniture. Furniture, man. Tables, chairs,
chesterfields, bedroom fixings. Garden furniture.
But he was going, he was getting out. He felt easier somehow, knowing he was leaving her. In a few hours he'd be gone.
They sat on a bench and he talked about the war.
The war: Ever since he'd got to Nam he'd been so tired, he didn't
know what it was. He was bagged the whole time. Maybe it was all the
incoming, and their own. Mortars and rockets are just so incredibly
noisy, man. You never get a good night's sleep.
The war: Like his buddy Mike said, it was Charlie's own backyard and
as far as he was concerned he could do whatever the fuck he sweet
pleased with it. The war: I mean, this is 1970. For shit's sake.
It was an ordinary day in the Republic of South Vietnam. He was getting some stuff together for the choppers. Mike and Mitzie were down at
GR point, as usual. He had his transistor going. By the Time I Get to
Phoenix, followed by Bridge Over Troubled Water.
By the time I get to Hawaii, he was thinking, I will lay me down.
He could see the big clouds piling on top of the hills behind the airstrip.
It was one of the worst things, he'd decided, the way this place could be
As a kid back in Spokane he'd had this thing about the jungle. He'd seen
it at the movies.
He's going up this river in the middle of the jungle someplace, in a slow
old boat. Brightly coloured birds are flying in and out of the jungle. The
old boat is chugging along, all nice and quiet and steady. The boat has a
76 wide deck with some kind of canvas cover over it to keep the sun off. In
the shade of this canvas thing there's a hammock. There's someone in
the hammock.
It's him. He's rocking back and forth in the hammock to get a bit of a
breeze going. It isn't stifling, like it's really warm but there's a bit of
breeze from being on the water. Just nice. You can hear the chug chug
chug of the motor. You can hear birds going skwark skwark.
He's lying there, floating up the river. There's this haze all round.
And the smell of jungle flowers. Flowers from the jungle, heavy and
sweet. And coming round the bulkhead or the engine room or what-have-
you there's this lady. She's a far-out beautiful lady, she's gorgeous. She's
got this sarong thing on, the kind of thing they just wrap themselves in.
She's coming over and she's getting in the hammock.
Later, she's going to get on top of him. Later, she's going to sit on his
face. But not right now, because they're going to take it slow, real slow.
The Nam ruined all that. Jungle: the smell of shit, burning. He'd been
excited at first. When they landed at Bien Hoa and he felt the jungle, felt
it splash over him like a can of wet paint, he'd thought: Wow, this is it, I'm
in the jungle now. And it turned him on, it really did, even though he was
going to the war.
It was so different from Spokane. It can get mighty cold in Spokane. It
gets so crispy cold you can bite it.
This day, he's loading up Willie Peter mortars, white phosphorus, that
is. He's moving Willie P and A to B. He knows what WP does, he isn't
completely stupid. WP burns and burns and won't stop burning until it's
burned right through. So long as it has contact with air, WP burns.
He's thinking about all this, he's loading up the stuff, he's looking up at
the great big clouds piling up on the hills. Mother-puffers, he calls them.
Big mother-puffers.
In his head he's going blabber blabber blab as usual.
They tell you in school how many yards of guts you've got inside, all
tucked up. When you see that shit hanging out like ropy Jell-O, it's weird,
you can't help but thinking, so that's what it's like inside.
The folks back home were all in favour of sending him over here so's
he could figure out things like that. Well thanks folks. Thanks a whole
Blabber blabber blab.
Round about this time, a chopper crashes into a nearby hill. They
medevac some guys out but for some reason known only to the army-
meaning, for no reason at all—they leave the KIAs behind. And Mike's
NCO over at Graves decides they have to go get them in.
77 So Mike and Mitzie drive off in the mortuary GR flatbed to go get in the
KIAs. Eddie Diaz was supposed to go too but he was taking a crap.
Mike would've loaded the KIAs up on his own. Mitz would have been
out of the truck, running around, checking things out. When Mike got
back in the truck he would've opened the passenger door and called:
C'mon Mitzie, time to move it.
The Mitz, she'd have come right away. She would've gone anywhere
with Mike, and besides, she was crazy about that truck.
Sometimes, when Mike thought no one was watching, he'd bend down
and kiss Miss Mitzie's bony head. Did he do that?
Maybe he just petted her some when he leaned over to close the door.
Driving back to base they hit a mine, one motherfucker, almost 175
pounds. Not meant for some shitty little load of KIAS, meant for the
armoured cav, for sure.
This thing leaves a hole in the ground about eight deep and the size of
your mom and dad's bedroom back home.
The KIAs are blown to shit one more time.
Eddie Diaz has to go out and get them in.
They probably won't know it's missing until they're leaving Bangkok,
she says, for about the twentieth time. He's on the train platform now,
he's just about to get on the train.
One more day left here then three whole days in Bangkok. You'll be in
Stockholm by then, she says. Or Paris at the least, she says.
Over and over, she looks in the passport.
Royden Dangar, the name. Some weird name.
Born, 1945. Older than him.
Chatswood, New South Wales.
It's a suburb of Sydney, she says.
Not that they'll ask, she goes on. They never ask, they just look. Say
yes and no. Say them quietly so they won't notice that accent. You're on
a holiday. Say "holiday" quickly, don't drag it out. Maybe you can whisper. Say you've got a sore throat; nobody has an accent when they whisper. Once you're on the plane, no worries. Call them mate. That's a good
idea. Say, yes mate, no mate.
She says all these things like she's trying to be some experienced
gangster. Though you can tell she's just thinking them up this minute.
All flushed and excited, like she's trying to come.
78 Oh baby, he says. I love you, baby. Christ, how she goes for that. How
she smiles and sobs at the same time. How she waves and waves.
Any dude in Vietnam or with orders for the war zone could be a political refugee in Sweden, Mike said.
He didn't much like the sound of that word, refugee. He hoped he'd get
enough to eat. What do they eat in Sweden, anyway?
He hoped he wasn't going to fuck this up.
He had to be on his toes, every minute.
But he was going to be okay, he just knew it. Now that he and Mike
and the Mitz were in this rowboat. They'd made it to the boat and now all
they had to do was row easy, row easy and watch the jungle going by.
There were two other dudes in the boat. One of them didn't have a
head but he was neat and quiet, no problem. The other one had his guts
trailing out behind the boat, trailing in the river.
They were going to make it, he knew it. It was so peaceful, rowing to
He was going downstream with this haze all round.
Those other two just sat there. He and Mike were the ones doing the
79 Contributors
Bruce Beasley is the author of two books, Spirituals (Wesleyan University Press) and
The Creation, due out in early 1994. He teaches at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
Sean Brendan-Brown has recent works with Real, Printed Matter, Phoebe, Antigonish
Review, Carousel, and the Duckabush Journal.
Lorna Crozier currently teaches poetry in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. Her last book of poetry, Inventing The Hawk (McClelland & Stewart),
won the Governor General's Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Pat
Lowther Award.
Ulf Enhorning, born in Sweden in 1956, is a painter and musician. In both art forms he expresses a sensual surrealism, inviting his audience into his landscapes of light and sound.
T.L. Freeman-Toole's nonfiction has appeared in various American magazines and newspapers, including Alaska, Home Education, and The Spokesman-Review. She lives in
Pullman, Washington, with her husband and two sons.
David Hull is a Toronto writer who has appeared in a number of magazines, including Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, and The Malahat Review.
George Kalamaras' poems have appeared in such journals as Caliban, Sulfur, O'blek,
and in two small collections, Heart Without End and Beneath the Breath. His scholarly book,
Reclaiming the Tacit Dimension: Symbolic Form in the Rhetoric of Silence, will be published
by SUNY press in March. He will travel to India this summer to begin research on another
book on silence, Eastern mysticism, and poetics.
Tim Keppel has appeared or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Carolina Quarterly,
The Literary Review, Seattle Review, Other Voices, Antietum, Grain, and elsewhere.
Elizabeth Philips is a poet, journalist, and editor living in Saskatoon. Her most recent
collection of poems is Time in a Green Country. She has just completed Hunger, a new
poetry collection.
Gayla Reid's story, "Sister Doyle's Men," first published in Prism international 30:4, won
the 1993 Journey Prize and the 1993 Silver Medal National Magazine Award for fiction. She
was featured in Coming Attractions '93 and is currently completing her first collection of
80 K. V. Skene's work has appeared in Canadian Literature, Antigonish Review, and Casleton
Arts Review. Her chapbook, Pack Rat, was published in 1992 by Reference West. She recently moved from Victoria, B.C. for an indefinite stay in Oxford, England.
Sue Wheeler's poems have been published in Arc, Grain, CV2, The Fiddlehead, Poetry
Canada, Event, and will be in an upcoming issue of The Malahat Review. She was the
recipient of the 1992 Gwendolyn MacEwen Memorial Award.
81  Prism international
is pleased to congratulate
who won the 1993 Journey Prize for
"Sister Doyle's Men"
Short Fiction from the Best of Canada's New Writers
!C te.fea ssawj sw?
in fine
$ 16.99 paper
Start 'Mm f r«i ht Be? ft? Gsb&s :tew Wt&«
,%tlE.U/,N0 & 5FWGI
& Stewart Creative Non-Fiction Contest #7
Three winners will each receive $500
Publication in Event 23/3. Other manuscripts may be published.
Preliminary judging by the editors of Event.
Pinal Judge: Stephen Hume, award-winning journalist, poet, and
essayist. He is a columnist-at-large for The Vancouver Sun and one of four
Canadian journalists whose newspaper writing appears in The Canadian
Oxford Guide to Writing. His byline has appeared in periodicals ranging
from Life Magazine to Canadian Forum. He is also the author of three
books and co-author of a recent collection of wilderness photography.
Writers are invited to submit manuscripts that explore the creative non-
fiction form. See Event 17/2, 18/3, 19/3. 20/3, 21/3 and 22/3 for
previous winning entries and comments byjudges Myrna Kostash, Howard
White, Eleanor Wachtel, Susan Crean, Andreas Schroeder, and Heather
Note: Previously published material or material accepted for publication
elsewhere cannot be considered. Maximum length for submission is 5000
words, typed, double-spaced. Please include a self-addressed stamped
envelope and a telephone number.
Entry fee: Each submission must include a $16 entry fee (includes GST).
All entrants will receive a one year subscription (three issues) with each
entry. Those already subscribing will receive a one year extension.
DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Postmarked no later than April 15, 1994.
The Douglas College Review
Creative Non-Fiction Contest #7
P.O. Box 2503, New Westminster, B.C.
Canada V3L 5B2
Telephone (6041 527-5293 °3
Poetry • Novel/Novella * Short Fiction, Stage Plays • Screen & TV
Creative Writing B.F.A.
The University of British Columbia offers a
Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
Students   choose ^ three genres to work in
from a wide
courses, in-
etry, Novel/
Short Fic-
Plays, Screen
Radio Plays,
Children, Non
range of
eluding: Po-
tion, Stage
& TV Plays,
Writing for
Fiction   and
All instruction  is  in  smal
workshop format or tutorial.
Faculty: Sue Ann Alderson
Hart Hanson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write to:
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5
Sujjum • sAe|cJ oipey • sAe|d Al $ uaajDs • sAe|d aSeis 'uojpjj
A Journal of Contemporary Writing and Criticism
is an innovative Canadian journal offering readers
writing • features • criticism
manuscripts • interviews • reviews
"West Coast Line, as the title declares, is fascinated by language: this is a
magazine absorbed by the way 'a few lines' can communicate, disrupt,
intersect, portray, draw boundaries, fill spaces, and illustrate the processes
of creativity; the journal is publishing some of the most interesting avant
garde writing in Canada today."     Bill New, Editor, Canadian Literature
Forthcoming feature:
Colour. An Issue.
A special, double issue on
race, gender and ethnicity in Canada
Spring 1994
Features still available: Quebec sampler (No. 12) • New Zealand
sampler (No. 11) • "Inglish: Writing with an Accent" (No. 10) •
Women writers of the prairies (No. 9) • New York sampler
(No. 8) • "You Devise. We Devise": A Festchrift for Phyllis
Webb (No. 6) • Beyond Tish (No. 4) • Robert Creeley tribute
(No. 3) • New Vancouver Writing (No. 1)
West Coast Line is published three times per year: spring, summer and
fall. Subscription rates: individuals, $20/year; institutions, $30/year. Single
copies, $10. Donors of $35/year or more will receive a complimentary
subscription and an official receipt for income tax purposes.
To subscribe, write to West Coast Line, 2027 East Academic Annex,
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6. Tel. 604-291-4287;
Fax. 604-291-5737. Quarry
** A Quarterly Magazine \J
of Contemporary Writing
Since 1952 Quarry has been publishing new, innovative
poetry and ficrion by young, emerging Canadian authors.
Commirred to discovering new talent, Quarry has published,
in the 1960s, such emerging writers as Margaret Atwood and
Michael Ondaatje; in the 1970s, Susan Musgrave and Leon
Rooke; and in the 1980s, Roo Borson and Guy Vanderhoeghe.
Discover with us tomorrow's
best known Canadian writers.
Rates: $20.33/yr. individuals; $14.24/yr institutions, GST included.
Quarry Magazine
P.O. Box 1061, Kingston, Ontario K7L 4Y5   


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items