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 PRISM international
THE CANSEX ISSUE  PRISM international  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Catharine Chen
Poetry Editor
Amanda Lamarche
Executive Editor
Brenda Leifso
Associate Editors
Amber Dawn
Benjamin Wood
Business Managers
Zoya Harris
Robert Weston
Advisory Editor
Andreas Schroeder
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Amy Dennis
Barry Grenon
Janey Lew
Nancy Mauro
Clea Young
Readers
Brad Duncan
Cameron Gilley
Kathryn Hepburn
Harmony Ho
Kimberly Mancini
Erin McShane
Susan Olding PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
four times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of
British Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T
IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann
Arbor, MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY.
The magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
E-mail: prism(§)interchange.ubc.ca
Website: prism.arts.ubc.ca
Contents Copyright © 2005 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Stay Gold, by The Clayton Brothers.
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Please note that all money orders must be in Canadian Funds Only.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights for $40.00 per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other
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per page. All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address.
Manuscripts should be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and then discarded. Translations should be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original
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Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the
University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council
for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. April 2005. ISSN 0032.8790
Conseil des Arts     Canada Council JK\.      BRITISH
<£)P)    du Canada for the Arts 1AU     COLUMBIA
ARTS COUNCIL
Supported by the Province of British Columbia
A Contents
Volume 43, Number 3
Spring 2005
The CanSex Issue
Editors' Note
Catharine Chen & Amanda Lamarche
Even Educated Fleas Do It / 7
Fiction
Pasha Malla
Pulling Oceans In and Pushing Oceans Out / 12
Julie Booker
The Tree Man / 26
Saleema Nawaz
Mother Superior / 29
Kevin Chong
Ten Albums I Love About Her / 36
Joonseong Park
The Broken Umbrella / 43
Craig Boyko
The Problem of Pleasure / 61
Poetry
Nancy Lee
Dog Love / 8
/ Walk You / 9
warren heiti
agriope to persephone / 10 Sharon McCartney
Pa's Penis / 24
Roger Nash
On the Proper Pruning of Husbands / 25
Sioux Browning
Dreams Usually Unkind / 28
Joelene Heathcote
Nothing Says Love Like a Needle / 34
Say None of This / 35
Steven Price
Houdini Considers his Wife / 40
C.B. Burgess
How to Change from a "Woman" into a "Man"
in Eight (Not So) Easy Steps / 55
David Maelzer
Thanksgiving, 1989 /58
Mark Cochrane
Open Letter / 59
Utah / 60
Brian Swann
Watch Yourself / 79
Catch / 81
Contributors /82 Catharine Chen & Amanda Lamarche
Editors' Note:
Even Educated Fleas Do It
Sex is the drive behind every human interaction. It can be base or
sublime, unpacking its little suitcases and leaving us pleasure, longing, guilt, loathing, fear, contentment, and occasionally love. In
CanSex, Canadian and international writers explore this beast with many
backs. Response for the CanSex call for submissions was enormous. We
received over three hundred pieces, easily enough to put together this
broad spectrum of sexuality. Hopefully, it'll be as good for you as it was
for us.
Sexily yours,
Catharine Chen & Amanda Lamarche Nancy Lee
Dog Love
Remember the night we drank wine
out of water glasses in that stinking club
and tried to seduce the same woman?
You, so eager and complimentary,
your chair sniffing hers, wet nose to the question mark
of her brown ear. Your eyebrows humped with surprise
when you caught me across the table,
a polite smile, the burrs of my teeth
chafing your collar.
In the parking lot, opening the car door, you declared,
"I'm half in love with that girl," as if no one
had noticed. "I think she likes me better," I tried,
sulking back in my seat.
Your laugh between a bark and yowl.
Later, parked outside my parents' house: you,
panting, snarling, eyes closed, foot quaking
on the brake pedal, shuddering a warning signal
into the night. The car, ripe with your scent;
your cloudy drool in my mouth, I stared at the flat metal seatbelt buckle
and waited for you
to wake from that twitchy dream, the one
about chasing a bird around a lake. I Walk You
forjaine
Growling with the street cleaner
and other brave nocturnals, shoulders rolling,
head dipped, short legs stalking ahead,
the pad-click of paws as I stumble
to follow, feet slapping sandals, tears slapping
asphalt, dizzy, soppy, dragged by your
brawny pull.
Ears perked, huffy breath, you haul us
to prickly hedges, smears of wet Kleenex, skunk
trails, lost bones to be snapped up, ground for marrow.
Heedless, you glance back, eyes like varnished
stones, tongue puffed with friendly spittle,
the fleeced corners of your mouth turned up,
smiling.
Across town at an emptying office party,
your master sweetens some girl's drink
with his words, does tricks, shows
how he can sit,
beg, roll over,
but you are content to know
he brings his straying lips home
to your muzzle, shares the bed and rests his anxious hands
on your ribs, his furry beloved, his constant,
never a doubt whose life he would save first,
whose departure he would mourn.
You trot, impervious to night, to dark thoughts. Curious
for cats and bells, our man's returning scent, you scour
sidewalks, alleyways, legs cantering, nose down, slim
hips teasing, muscled flanks parading.
A confident, love-sure bitch. warren heiti
agriope to persephone
from the metamorphosis of agriope
October
thrake, Ontario
herakleitos says, water's death generates earth, red leaves falling through
the lead bars on the window, igniting the floor, ants sparking around a
honeyed spoon, a smashed cup, bones of bone china shining around the
ants, i have not touched the piano since i met orpheus. last night, a
blackout in this hall, built from stone in 1913, choked by the quartz-
barked climbing vines, i am writing to ask about petrifaction.
he argued, monogamy is anathema to him. his axiom is many and mine
is one. i need not to need him. he said a word and watched the world
contract like an iris around it: her. my body does not argue, but it burns,
i heard my voice arguing with itself, arguing about a fever which he has
never felt, i felt the rain throbbing hotter at my throat and wrist, he
kissed me, quickly—wind skinning stone.
this afternoon i woke and couldn't move, the sky bruised my eyes with
rain's azure weight and my body was a held breath, my nerves tore
through his fingerprints, stripped themselves like copper wire, stretched
into the room and scraped against things, a notebook, a thread, the ragged
edge of a letter—every thing ten thousand amps.
and this evening my nerves flick electricity into the sheets, i force
myself to the bathroom where i bathe the nerves burning at my wrist,
the tapwater hits them and turns to steam, in the mirror, i see the glint
of silica on my lips, my ghost goes for refuge in the sarcophagus of my
skull, the body does not argue.
10 last night, a blackout in this hall, he is here with me. he touches fast,
thirst in his fingers, his saliva scalding my throat, my shoulder, there is
never enough time, he turns away from me and i move my hand over
his side, slow, thinking hard about what i am touching, how i love each
rib and the breath bending each rib. but these bone ribs are the lead ribs
on the window, his flesh is as smooth as the stone wall, his saliva is as
hot as the hatred of rain, the rain cooling to the temperature of the lead,
the world becoming one.
the piano, lock-jawed, the violin scarved in silks, its case shoved under
my bed. i can hear the slack strings slackening, the wood getting hard in
the humid dark, every day i wake inside the knowledge that i am wrong,
and that knowledge is the geology of this body, its fossils of frayed
copper wire.
herakleitos says, out of earth originates water, my friend, you have lived
through this: is he lying?
11 Pasha Malla
Pulling Oceans In and
Pushing Oceans Out
It's April and the world is opening up like a hand with something
secret in it. The world is all, Hey I've got something to show you, so
you lean in and go, What? You go, Show me! And you look and the
fingers peel back and then whammo there it is, green and muddy and fresh
and dripping wet with rain.
The world is melting but it's almost all water, anyway. The world is like
seventy-five per cent water. It's a ball made of water and some mountains
and other stuff, some trees and hills and deserts. Buildings and roads.
People walk around on it and we're like seventy-five per cent water too.
My dad Greg is two hundred and thirty-six pounds, which makes him one
hundred and seventy-seven pounds of water, like a hundred thousand
glasses of water, maybe more. He's a bathtub full of water—bigger than a
bathtub; a kiddie pool—enough water to drown a baby or sail a little boat.
Anyway, my dad Greg is a whole lot of water.
You learn all this water stuff in Grade Five Science. The units are called
The Earth and The Human Body. And in The Human Body we learned
about vaginas and wangs. Big whoop, though, right? Vaginas and wangs,
big whoop.
***
It's springtime and you've got to make sure that Brian wears his rubber
boots because of all the mud. Like Granny says Brian's slow and only
seven and my dad Greg'll forget if I don't do it. But my dad Greg calls me
Big Gal or BG for short because I'm responsible and mature for my age
(nine).
Brian crapped his pants four times in class already this year so one of
his teachers called home to see if maybe he needs diapers and my dad
Greg said no so they said well okay make sure he wears pants with elastics
around the ankles. Get it?
But one time he came home with a diaper on anyway and my dad lost it.
He called them up at Brian's school and said fuck and everything, I heard
12 him. He said, Are you telling me how to raise my fucking kid? And then
after he went and sat on his bike in the garage for like thirty hours or
something.
Today's Wednesday, April 8, 1988. That's the first thing you do when you
get to school, write the date in your workbook at the top of the page.
You're supposed to do cursive but I print because cursive looks messy and
in my printing all the letters are the same size. It looks like a typewriter if
I do say so myself. Then I sit for a bit and start to pinch my eyelashes and
pull away, and sometimes you get a few little curls of eyelash and you
sprinkle those down onto your book. You keep doing that and eventually
you have a little pile of black eyelashes, and you organize that into a
perfect square on the empty page. But I hide it with my hand when Mrs.
Mills comes walking by.
There are some things you just have to keep secret. Like for my birthday last year my dad Greg bought me a diary with a lock and everything,
and he told me I could write whatever I wanted in it, about my day or if I
was mad or whatever, and I could lock it up and they would be my secrets.
But you write things down and they can get found. People can read it and
know everything. It's better to keep your thoughts in your own head; you
have them there for a second and then they're gone and you're the only
person who will ever know what they were. You think things to yourself
and they're safe.
So anyway it's the last day before Easter weekend. Because it's the last
day I haven't done too much work, just wrote the date in each of my
workbooks (le 8 Avril, 1988 enfrancais) and did the eyelash stuff and then
didn't do anything else because this year I'm going to help and hide the
eggs. I've been planning all day where I'm going to hide them—places
that are easy for Brian but not too easy. This year it's me in charge of the
egg hunt because last year SOMEBODY forgot where he put them and
then like a month later all this chocolate melted into our TV.
Easter's about Jesus or something? We don't do religion at my school.
Oh—anyone calls Brian a retard, I'll kick their ass.
Another thing we learned in The Human Body was about periods. Girls
get their period and blood comes out of their vagina. Not me though, even
though it can happen as young as ten. I've been making sure to keep my
legs tight together or cross them so nothing's getting out. If I have to pee
I hold it to make the muscles stronger so my vagina will never let out any
13 blood. It'll be the toughest one in town, not like all those other wimpy
ones, dripping all over the place like one of Jared Wein's nosebleeds.
You get your period and you also get boobs. Some of the girls in Grade
Six have boobs. Like Kelly Sanchez (she's already twelve, though). They
stick out of her shirt. She looks like she's hiding Easter eggs, ha ha ha.
What I remember most about Mom was when she came back from the
hospital and only had one boob. They cut off the other one and gave her a
special bra to make it look like she had two boobs but sometimes around
the house she didn't wear it and her shirt just sagged and went all limp on
the one side like it was a sail with no wind in it or something. But that's just
what I remember, I was only four. She was tired and they'd shaved her hair
off. She just lay in bed and my dad Greg made me be quiet around the
house, all the time, right until she went back to the hospital and then it was
the end.
FINALLY at 3:15 the bell rings. Everyone goes running out into the hall
and it's Easter. I get my bag at the rack and I'm putting on my jacket and
Jared Wein comes up and goes, Wanna walk home? Because we're neighbours. Jared's okay, he wears glasses that are always falling down his face
and he has to scrunch his nose to move them back up. I go, Yeah. Also he
usually gets a nosebleed.
On the way home from school Jared and I go down to our fort in the
woods to check if it's okay. There's a path with trees that grow over from
either side and make a tunnel. The branches bend in and touch overtop
and you have to duck when you're walking along. Then it opens up and
that's where our fort is. We call it The Inner Sanctum and it always needs
fixing because teenagers come down and drink beer and light fires and
mess everything up.
It's been raining so today The Inner Sanctum is wet and sort of cool,
and dark, and it smells like worms. There's a log to sit on so Jared goes
and sits there and he pats the log beside him like he wants me to sit down
too, but I get a stick and I start whacking the ground until it breaks. It
breaks into a smaller piece, and then I whack that on the log, and it breaks
even smaller, and I throw that piece into the woods. There's a beer cap on
the ground so I pick it up and sniff it: pennies and sugar.
If we stayed late enough it'd get dark and we could lie back and look up
at the sky and see the moon up there through the space in the treetops,
white as a bone, full or half or waxing or waning (part of The Earth was to
learn about the moon) and we'd lie back and I'd maybe let Jared put his
head on my stomach and we'd both look up at the moon and I might tell
him, That's my Mom, Jared, that's Mom looking down. Then I'd wave at
14 the moon: hello, goodnight! But I wouldn't cry. I wouldn't cry, or anything.
But we can't stay that late because I have to get home for Brian. Besides,
if Jared Wein gets a nosebleed we don't have any Kleenex.
We fix up The Inner Sanctum and Jared goes to his house and I come
home but Brian's not there yet. My dad Greg usually gets in at 5:30 from
his job. If he's not home for dinner you've got to make hot dogs, one for
you and one for Brian. Sometimes my dad Greg'll leave you a note and
sometimes he won't.
Ingredients to Make Hot Dogs for Dinner:
2 hot dog wieners (in freezer)
2 pieces of Wonderbread
2 Kraft Singles slices
French's mustard
Heinz ketchup
2 paper towels
1 microwave
Okay. You take the hot dog wieners out of the freezer. You take a paper
towel. You put one of the hot dogs on the paper towel and you put it in the
microwave and you microwave it for 1:10. You take the other hot dog and
other paper towel: repeat. Then you put the hot dogs in the bread and a
piece of cheese on the wieners and you can even do them together at the
same time, and you microwave them on a paper towel for forty-five seconds. I put mustard on mine, and ketchup, in two straight, even lines.
Brian has them plain. If they're too hot, make Brian wait because if not
he'll just stuff them in his mouth and burn himself and he'll cry and then
you have to hug him and rub his hair and stuff.
Oh, I forgot to say to WASH YOUR HANDS. Before and after making
hot dogs, with hot water and soap. There are germs everywhere and if you
get them in your mouth you could maybe get, I don't know, cancer or
leukemia? Not really, I'm not an idiot. But kids get leukemia all the time
and then they have to get bones from their brothers or sisters. I'd have to
get bones from Brian. Or give him some of mine.
It's 4:06 and I'm washing my hands when the bus pulls up outside. It's
always the same: it sounds like Granny when she gets all wheezy, then the
doors open and you can hear all the kids screaming inside the bus, and
then the doors close and it roars and goes away, and then it's quiet. Brian
comes in the front door with his backpack and he sees me and yells, Hi!
15 and he gives me this big hug and yells Hi! again, and then I tell him to
wash his hands.
Sometimes Granny comes by to see if we're okay before my dad Greg
gets home. She's his mom and smells like cigarettes and old people. He
doesn't have a dad.
But today it's just me and Brian. We play Trouble. We eat Fruit Roll-
Ups—me, grape; Brian, orange. Sometimes I let Brian win Trouble, sometimes I don't. I have to help him move his men. He's always red. I'm
always blue. Today though he wins by himself.
I let Brian watch TV at 5:00, but only for half an hour. After last Easter
when the TV got ruined my dad Greg bought a new big-screen one and
put a satellite dish on the roof. There are lots of satellite channels that are
inappropriate for kids. We're only allowed to watch Channel 2—my dad
Greg's rule. He watches TV a lot, now. Not me. TV rots your brain! (TV
rots your BRIAN, ha ha ha).
I clean up. I make sure the games are all square on the shelf. The edges
have to be even and matched up equally, which is called symmetry. We
learned it in math.
And then I wash my hands. Sometimes I wash them too long and they
get all pink and sore, but that just means they're clean.
Hey, I almost forgot: it's Easter, almost. Moron!
At 5:34 the garage goes up and the bike comes growling inside like always, and then my dad Greg is in the kitchen in his security guard uniform
and he picks me up under one arm and Brian under the other and spins us
around. I sometimes forget how big my dad Greg is—he's like four of me,
maybe more.
We sit at the table in the kitchen while he makes beans and toast and
eggs for dinner. He sings, Beans, beans, the musical fruit, and makes fart
noises and stomps around like he's crazy, and the whole house shakes.
Brian laughs but then he does that thing where he starts rubbing his face
with his knuckles, so my dad Greg has to come over and put Brian on his
lap and hold his hands for a bit. Wanna stir the beans, BG? he says to me,
so I go over and do it.
When everything's ready my dad Greg puts the beans out on plates
with the toast and eggs. He puts mine down and he points at it to show me
the toast is cut in triangles and there's an egg on one side and the beans in
a little neat pile on the other, how I like it. Symmetry.
After dinner he tells me to go do my homework while he gets Brian
ready for bed, but I don't have any homework (because it's Easter) so I go
up and clean my room, make sure everything's straight and lined up and
there's no dust anywhere. I have my own Handyvac but I'm only allowed
16 to use it once a week and I already used it last Sunday.
Then it's almost bedtime. I put on my pyjamas and go brush my teeth
and wash my hands. After, I go into Brian's room to say goodnight, but
he's already asleep with this big smile on his face, so I lean over the railing
and whisper-yell, Goodnight Greg! to my dad Greg who's watching TV
and he turns down the volume and whisper-yells, Goodnight BG! and I go
into my room and wait until it's exacdy 9:00 so I can get in bed.
For a bit I lie there thinking about Easter andJared's egg hunt and I run
my hand over the pillow, feeling for feathers sticking out. I pull them out
with my fingernails and drop them behind the bed. One time my dad Greg
moved my bed to put up a shelf for my books and he found a big pile of
feathers and asked me, Are you taking feathers out of your pillow? I said
no. It felt weird, but my dad Greg just smiled and said okay.
Lying in bed, through the window I can see the moon. Almost full, only
a sliver missing, almost perfect. All around the world Mom the moon is
busy pulling oceans in and pushing oceans out. Tides. And all us people
are basically water too and at night the moon sings us lullabies and pushes
us into sleep.
11:38. I've been lying staring at the moon and planning the egg hunt for
like three hours. I'm going to have to make a list, write it down so I don't
forget, so nothing happens like chocolate getting into the TV again. I keep
imagining Brian going around with his little basket and finding eggs, all
smiles and laughing and happy.
But maybe I have insomnia? Insomnia is when you can't sleep. My dad
Greg has it, sometimes. You just stay awake forever. You can die from not
sleeping. Yeah, I think I have insomnia. I should count sheep.
One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen
fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty twenty-one twenty-two twenty-
three twenty-four twenty-five twenty-six twenty-seven twenty-eight twenty-nine
thirty thirty-one thirty-two thirty-three thirty-four thirty-five thirty-six thirty-
seven thirty-eight thirty-nine forty forty-one forty-two forty-three forty-four forty-
five forty-six forty-seven forty-eight forty-nine fifty fifty-one fifty-two fifty-three
fifty-four fifty-five fifty-six fifty-seven fifty-eight fifty-nine sixty.
Nothing. Sixty seconds is a minute. Sixty minutes in an hour times
sixty seconds equals three thousand, six hundred seconds. Twenty-four
hours in a day equals?
Hold on, I need to write this down. I just have to turn on the light and
find a paper and pen.
Twenty-four hours in a day equals one thousand, four hundred and forty
minutes, equals eighty-six thousand, four hundred seconds. And that
makes.. .six hundred and four thousand, eight hundred seconds in a week.
17 How many seconds in a year? Whoa, hold on.
Thirty-one million, three hundred and thirty-nine thousand, six hundred seconds.
The other thing you can do if you can't sleep is have some warm milk.
So I wait until exactly 12:00 midnight and get up to go to the kitchen. I
stop on the stairs. My dad Greg is still up. I can hear the TV. I lean over the
banister and look into the living room, all quiet. Like a spy.
The TV's on. There's a lady moaning, like she's being hurt or something. My dad Greg has the sound way down, but I can hear it. He's sitting
on the couch, I can see him, just his lap and his feet sticking out from
under a blanket. He's sort of twitching or something and the couch is
going CREAK CREAK, and the lady on the TV is going UH! UH! and
he's making noises too, like grunting. Creak creak, uh uh, grunt grunt.
And so I take another step down on the stairs and lean even more over
the banister so I can see the TV and there's a lady with her boobs shaking
and flopping around, like slapping up against herself, and the blanket on
the couch is shaking in time with the boobs and I can see my dad's face
and his face is different, it's like a secret side of him, mean and hungry and
weird, and the couch goes creak creak and the lady with the floppy boobs
goes uh uh and my dad Greg goes grunt grunt. But then something in my
tummy goes gloop and I have to pull away from the banister because my
head is all funny, and I turn away and run upstairs to the bathroom.
And then I'm washing my hands. I didn't even turn the lights on so now
I'm washing my hands in the dark, hard, with hot water and lots of soap.
One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen
fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty twenty-one twenty-two twenty-
three twenty-four twenty-five twenty-six twenty-seven twenty-eight twenty-nine—
The door opens but I don't look. I hear my dad Greg go, BG. He leaves
the lights off and comes over, so he's right behind me. I still don't look.
—thirty thirty-one thirty-two thirty-three thirty-four thirty-five thirty-six thirty-
seven—
He reaches over and turns off the tap. My hands are sore, my stomach
still feels weird and like gurgly. BG, he says again. I don't turn around. We
stand there in the dark. Then he reaches out to put his arms around me but
he sort of stops, and even though he's not touching me, from the way I can
feel his body shaking, the way his breath comes short and sort of gasping,
I can tell he's crying.
The next morning I wake up at 7:47 but it's not really waking up because
I didn't sleep very much, obviously. I have to wait until exactly 8:00 to get
18 out of bed, so I just lie there for thirteen minutes thinking. The curtains are
closed now. My dad Greg must have come in during the night and closed
them. Through the curtains the light comes in grey and I can hear the rain
hissing outside. It'll be an indoor day.
At 8:00 I get out of bed and go into Brian's room and he's just lying
there. He looks at me and smiles and goes, Hi! I lift the covers and crawl
under with him. He hugs me and he's warm.
Brian it's almost Easter, I go. Are you excited for the Easter Bunny?
He kicks his legs and goes, Yes! Yes!
That's cute, how he still believes in the Easter Bunny. I put my arm
around his chest and I can feel his heart beating. Bub bub, bub bub, says
his heart. I rub my hand on his chest and he kind of purrs like a cat. And
then I slap him on the tummy and he laughs, so I do it again. I leave my
hand on his tummy and it's like round and I can feel the dent where his
belly button is. And then, sort of quick, I move my hand down a bit and
touch his wang, just to see: it's small and weird, a little rubber tube.
Brian's gone all still. I smack him again on the belly. Wanna get up? I
say, and he goes, Yes! Yes! and nods his head so hard he nearly shakes me
out of the bed.
Top Secret List Of Easter Egg Hiding Places! (so far):
1. Kitchen - between the Wheaties and Sugar Crisp boxes
2. Kitchen - in the handle of the silverware drawer
3. Kitchen - on top of the breadbox
4. Kitchen - in the fruit bowl
5. Kitchen - under the kitchen table (stuck with tape!)
6. Den - between the couch cushions
7. Den - on top of the VCR
8. Den - under the lampshade
9. Hallway - on the frame of the picture of me and Brian
10. Stairs - one egg on every stair, in the corners
My dad Greg spends the whole day in the garage working on his bike,
which is good, because at lunch (1:20) when he comes in to heat up some
Chunky for me and Brian he's weird and doesn't look at me really. He puts
our bowls of soup down and coughs and just stands there for a minute
before grabbing an apple and going back into the garage. Then at 4:09 he
sticks his head into the kitchen where me and Brian are playing Trouble
(I'm winning—two men in my Home versus Brian's none) and says, Hey,
stopped raining, taking the bike for a spin. I just nod okay. He's quiet for
a bit, then he goes, You okay holding down the fort? So I nod again.
19 Granny's coming tomorrow to make us Easter dinner. At 5:45 when I'm
setting the table (my dad Greg is still out) she calls and says, Happy
Easter! and tells me about the great ham she got. Ham? Grody. But I don't
say that. I say, Yum. I say, Sounds good Granny. She asks if we're okay. I
say, Sure. Then she wants to talk to Brian. He gets all excited and takes the
phone and yells, Hi! and Yes! and then just laughs a lot.
When Brian hangs up I notice something sort of smells so I get down
and sniff his bum. Yup. He crapped himself. This is one thing I can't
handle: crap. So I tell him to just stand in the middle of the kitchen until
our dad Greg gets home, not to touch anything. I open the window and sit
there watching him. I'm glad he's wearing pants with elastic ankles.
My dad Greg gets home at 5:58 and smells Brian right away and goes,
Woo-wee Buddy! He picks Brian up over one shoulder like a fireman and
carries him upstairs. The tub goes on. From my spot at the kitchen table I
can hear them both laughing, and the water splashing around while my
dad Greg washes the crap off my brother.
After dinner (fried baloney, Tater Tots, hot V8) we watch a movie on
satellite. My dad Greg tries to get us to all sit on the couch together like
usual, with a blanket overtop, but I tell him I'm okay and sit on the floor.
The opening credits come on and I can feel someone like nudging me in
the back with their toe, but I just stare at the TV as if I don't notice.
The movie we watch is The Parent Trap. My dad Greg is all excited
because it's a movie that was out when he was a kid. At dinner he told me,
It's more for girls than boys—you'll like it, BG. When he said the name I
thought, cool, a parent trap, what an awesome idea. You'd dig like a hole
and cover it with sticks and leaves, maybe put a case of beer on the other
side for dads. Something else for moms? Then dads would come along and
be like, Oh great, beer! and when they went for it they'd fall through and
into the hole. A parent trap. Then you could study them and stuff, poke
them with sticks, do experiments and tests.
But it turns out to be Disney and sort of gay. There's this girl and she's
got a twin sister but she doesn't know, or something, and then they try to
get their parents married. There's no trap, really, just a plan, and not even
a good one. I squirm around on the floor a lot and my dad Greg keeps
going, You want to come up here with us? But I don't say anything to that.
The movie gets done at 8:58, kind of late, so my dad Greg hustles us off
to bed. And then he goes back downstairs, so I'm left lying there wide
awake, thinking about what he's maybe doing down there under the blanket with the groaning ladies on the TV. But I guess I'm tired from the night
before so after not too long I forget about my dad Greg and start to get
really sleepy and before I can even check out the window to see the moon,
20 I fall asleep.
I wake up and I feel like swampy and slow but I have this idea there's
something I should be doing. It's—4:17 a.m. There's something, but everything feels cloudy and my brain is only just winding up, still maybe half-
asleep. I roll over and then I'm drifting off to sleep again, before it hits me.
Easter.
The egg hunt.
In like three hours Brian is going to get up and go hunting for eggs and
I forgot to even finish my list let alone hide any eggs. I wait until 4:20
(which isn't perfect but this is an emergency) and get out of bed, swing my
legs over the side and it's like slow-motion, all heavy and weird, and in the
dark my room is sort of blue from the moonlight through the window.
I move out into the hall, still feeling sort of underwater, swimming,
looking around, trying to adjust my eyes to the dark. Wait. There's an egg
on the floor outside Brian's room, a little dark lump against the carpet. I
lean down and it's like I can't believe it, and for a second I think maybe the
Easter Bunny really did come. But then I realize who would have put it
there, who knew it was my job and went and did it anyway.
I pick up the egg. The foil around the chocolate is starting to peel so I
smooth it down and put it in the pocket of my pyjamas. I look around, at
my dad Greg's bedroom door which is closed, with only black showing
from the crack underneath, and then I start to tiptoe down the stairs, real
slow.
Guess what? There are eggs lined up in the corners of each stair JUST
LIKE I WROTE ON MY SECRET LIST. The eggs go into my pockets,
and it's like I'm doing a weird kind of front crawl or something, down one
step and reaching, then the next, eggs into my pockets, but I'm maybe
sinking, maybe drowning, and the house is dark and still, with only the
hum of the fridge from the kitchen to prove the world is even alive.
I move around the house, silent, leaving the lights off, looking in all the
spots I wrote down, taking the eggs and loading up. Between the cereal
boxes: check. On top of the VCR: check. Etc, all of them. He's put them in
other places too, stupid places like lined up on the kitchen counter. Way
too easy. But even finding eggs in places I didn't have on my list makes me
feel weird—my hands go prickly for a second, I feel my face hot. Once the
egg disappears into my pocket the feeling goes away.
Around 4:50 my pockets start to get heavy—they're sagging and bulging with eggs. I look around one more time, but I'm pretty sure I've got all
of them. So I go to the back door and put on my shoes.
Outside it's still dark. The sky is navy blue, almost purple, all clouds
21 left over from yesterday's rain. There's no stars. Only the moon, glowing
big and round behind the night. I shiver a bit in my pyjamas, and it's hard
to walk with my pockets full of eggs, the way they swing heavy at my
sides, and I have to hold my pants up by the waist to keep them from
falling.
I go out across the lawn all wet from a day of rain—it soaks the bottoms
of my pants and is cold on my ankles—and then onto the street where my
footsteps echo a bit, tap tap tap, my runners on the pavement. You can see
the streetlights reflected in puddles everywhere, yellow and shimmering. I
walk past Jared Wein's house and think about knocking on his window,
getting him to help, but I decide no, this is something I have to do on my
own.
Down the hill at the end of our street, along the path, into the woods.
It's dark but I know the way by heart: where to step, where to duck. And
there's just enough light from the moon to guide me. When I come to the
entrance to the tunnel that leads to The Inner Sanctum, I stop. From way
up above Mom the moon is looking down. She's faint and like out of focus,
and every now and then little wisps of darker cloud go past her face like
smoke. All around her the night sky is a big, murky sea, but she shines out
of it—faraway, but silver and watching, up there.
I haven't brought anything to dig with, nothing to make the hole for my
Parent Trap. There's a broken beer bottle behind the log so I use that,
holding it by the neck and using the jagged edge to carve into the mud. I
use my feet, too, and my hands—dirt gets up underneath my fingernails
and sticks there. I go down on my knees and feel the earth cool and wet
through my pyjamas. But I keep digging, I dig and dig and I'm sweating
even though it's cold out and I'm shivering and digging and covered in
muck.
As the hole gets deeper and deeper the earth gets wetter, and once I'm
a ways down there's water at the bottom, collecting in a little pool. I stop
for a second. Maybe it's from the ocean—this is water that flows in a river
all the way from the coast underneath the surface of the world, and I've
tapped into it. An underground seaway, linking all the water on the planet.
So I guess I'm deep enough now. I take the eggs in my hands and open
my fingers so they plop one by one into the water at the bottom of my
Parent Trap. Like: release, plop, release, plop. So after a while they're all
down there, all the eggs, my pockets are empty, and I sit back. Right
then—I swear—the clouds break up a bit and Mom the moon comes smiling down into the water at the bottom of the hole, lighting that little
puddle up silver, the dull blobs of the eggs bobbing around.
In The Human Body we learned a little bit about all the tubes you've
got inside you—fallopian tubes and whatever, all those tubes like canals
22 and rivers carrying stuff back and forth around your vagina, or wang—
depending what you've got. So now I've put my own eggs into the tubes of
the world, ha ha ha, and I'm sitting here in my pyjamas in the mud, kind of
cold, and it's Easter.
But maybe if the world is like a person and these underground seaways
are the tubes, making the world go on, then when the tides go in and out
it's like the world having its period. Like the blood of the world rushing in
and out and making everything grow. Like the world getting ready in
private to make something new and Mom the moon leaning in and saying,
No. Mom the moon saying, Not this time. And then just smiling down and
washing all the world's secrets away with waves.
23 Sharon McCartney
Pa's Penis
from The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pioneer, each night under the nine-patch,
I explore the territories, seek out the gap,
the mountain pass that opens with a sigh
to green coastal waters, salt dunes and pine.
Like burying my head in umber, wrapping
a blanket of mist around my shoulders.
By day, I loaf, lie abed, keep to myself.
Too shy to speak, ordinarily; to step out,
vulnerable. But in darkness, close quarters,
I make myself known, a feral growl,
the urge to go west, to penetrate,
ungovernable.
On occasion, however,
I am denied. A barricade. Timbers blocking
the trail. Does anything hurt more than that?
To be willing, radiant, fresh and dandy,
and, then, to be stymied, impeded,
unhitched, turned away.
A deflating anger,
draining, at myself for my lack of control.
At the other, for what? Anything? To say
never again would be a lie; my tendency
is perennial, reseeding, bound to reoccur.
A buffoon, perhaps, wagging, overeager,
but my heart in the right place, on my sleeve,
incapable of disguise, concealment. Desire
made manifest, destiny.
24 Roger Nash
On the Proper Pruning of
Husbands
At the end of each winter, my wife
unfurls the spring, in impetuously unbuttoned
green eyes and dress, and takes
scissors to my snowbound beard and head.
With an insight born of over thirty years
of marriage, her shears correctly assign me
to the category of greying human privet
hedge. She attacks her spousal topiary
with zest, clipping my beard into a bedraggled
rooster, only recently saved from something
like drowning, but not rescued from veering asymmetrically
and eerily to the left. I try to appreciate
her political acumen, mainly to avoid
adjusting my head and having an eyebrow
trimmed to within the shadow of a shrivelled leech.
Next, she sculpts the thick maze
of my head, shaping it to a single, nearly
vertical, spiralling corkscrew shape;
which I find not unattractive, though I'm puzzled
by the flowerbed I see spreading beneath it,
in the corner of the mirror. Until I realize
she's sitting solicitously in my lap, arms around
the neatly mown lawn that was my neck,
asking, "Shall I cut it even shorter,
or plant a row of peonies instead?"
Beyond the Elizabethan stately home
and gardens of my landscaped self, a lion
roars from his ancient, unalterable thicket.
A unicorn raises her undeniable head.
25 Julie Booker
The Tree Man
I met the Tree Man at a party in Auckland—his long curly hair, worn
checkered shirt, thick leather vest. I liked his face, its many lines to
read. We were drunk. We kissed and danced and when I asked him to
call me at the end of the night, he gave me his Tree Care pamphlet. He was
a surgeon specializing in thinning, reshaping, formative pruning. "Give
your saplings a head start for the future." Available twenty-four hours.
Our first date was sober. He picked me up in the truck. I spoke of trees
metaphorically. The symbiosis of woodlands. The strange fig parasite killing its host. The discovery of skewed rings in a trunk that's spent its life
fighting the wind. And although he had a genuine love of nature, he failed
the test. Said he didn't write poetry but there was "definitely no shortage of
concept, man," a line I jotted down in my mind.
In his warehouse apartment in Ponsonby, he chopped some wood, turned
out the lights, lit a huge fire, switched the upstairs stereo on—soft jazz
settled down on two armchairs by the fire. It was right out of a magazine.
As I was about to give in to the temptation to ask him for a photo, he
jumped up, grinning. Hooked himself into a tree harness like a diaper,
climbed a rope fixed to the ceiling, and ab-sailed from his upper loft
bedroom back down to the living room where I stood speechless. No one
had ever rappelled for me before.
So we went to bed. Kissing, his lips were dry and his hands scratched
and coarse. He put his arm around my shoulder as if he'd just read the
manual: "Place hand here." He stripped down to his boxers, even slipped
them off, then thought better of it when he saw me not removing anything.
He climbed under a million blankets and pillows, pulling me into him.
His arms and thighs wrapped around me as if braced for a fall. My face
trapped in his armpit, the smell of wood and sweat, I kept pushing the
covers back to get air and he kept re-wrapping me. His gangly limbs
clutching the soft sanctuary. Death by smothering, I thought.
In the morning, I woke to stiff kisses, hands on my breasts and the line,
"I wish you'd lose some layers 'cuz I'm feeling really randy." Where was
the poetry, the words painstakingly carved into chunks of wood by the
fireplace while I had slept?
He drove me home in the truck after a quick stop at the dump. Standing
in my heels and long black dress from the night before, I watched the Tree
26 Man toss his collection. Branches, stumps, deadwood flying from the back
of the truck. In the act of removal, his body finally and absolutely alive.
Catherine Wong
27 Sioux Browning
Dreams Usually Unkind
So I had a dream about elephants
and they were kind to one another
which is strange because my dreams
are usually unkind.
For example, I dream my father dead,
drowned in a boat in warm bluewater
or I make my friend kneel before me
and I shoot him with a pistol, execution-style.
Or I dream of a girl overdosing;
as she dies I put my mouth on her mouth
and it moves me so much that in kissing her
I come and in coming I wake.
But my father lives
and my friend is still living
and I never met that girl
and no one around me is dying
and my days are becalmed with hesitation
and now elephants pass sweetly through my sleep.
28 Saleema Nawaz
Mother Superior
Joan won't get an abortion. She says she is a slut but a slut for Jesus. She
doesn't go to church but chugs cases of Baby Duck and calls it communion wine. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, says it
won't hurt the baby. At worst, she says, it might make it slow—the kind
of kid who could never leave you.
A little less likely to see the evil in the world is how she finally puts it.
Joan used to think that I would go to hell for being a lesbian, but now
she thinks I'll make it to purgatory because I'm practically a nun anyway.
This makes me think that our house is like a home for unwed mothers.
Joan is a wayward girl, I'm Mother Superior, and when it's ready to come
out someone will take it away forever. Then it will be just the two of us.
Gerard, the seed of the miracle, is in Thompson. He has no idea of
Joan's last name or of what has sprouted up in this southern city since his
sudden departure. Joan says she thinks Gerard is a miner, toiling in the
belly of the north. Blasting riches from the dirt with his strong arms and
shoulders. But I think of him as a pirate, working the shaft only to conceal
his treasure, planting jewels in the walls of the earth. I think Joan must be
marked with an X in a spot I can't see, and every day I find myself watching for Gerard, expecting him to return to claim his cache.
It is spring and she walks to meet me every day after work, bored by then
of the soap operas she watches during the day. It is the first time in her life
since junior high that she has stopped working, and she claims it agrees
with her. She says people don't want to see a pregnant waitress while they're
eating, as though the gentle bulge on her slight frame might put them off
their coleslaw.
By the time we get inside, Joan is tired from the spurt of exercise, her
body being fuelled only by cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food. I try to
picture the baby in her belly, twisting on its cord, stunted by the poisons in
her system. It's hard for me to believe in something I can't see, which is
maybe whyjoan believes in God and I don't. But even she doesn't seem to
believe in this yet, the tiny thief without a face living off her blood.
She kicks off her flip-flops. The space between her first two toes is split,
29 oozing wet and pink. I look for Band-Aids as she lowers herself onto the
corduroy couch.
"Why do you wear them if they hurt your feet?" I ask. The medicine
cabinet is a test pattern of drugstore advertisements. Scooby-Doo Band-
Aids nestled between Imodium tablets and Revlon shimmer powder.
Joan stares at the ceiling. "Why do women have babies if it feels like
their insides are being ripped out?"
Before I can reply she adds, "None of my other shoes will fit around my
ankles anymore."
She is blaring the stereo as loud as it will go, the framed Spanish devotional cards vibrating in mute dissent. The saints hold their tongues, and
so do I, thinking about the instincts of animals, the laws of nature that
force us all to make our own mistakes. Cradling her belly, Joan bangs her
head to the rhythm, pressing her stomach up against the black of the
speaker. Her face lost in the grease and tangle of her hair.
"I want to blow its fucking ears out," she screams over the music. "I
don't ever want to hear it whining it wants to go to Disneyworld."
It turns out that babies can hear in the womb, their tiny fishbone ears as
sensitive as telephone wires. Joan says she'll teach it sign language and
their house will be silent and peaceful as a church. There will be only
coughing and the drawing of breaths. The almost inaudible noises of waiting and growing.
It is summer and she is huge and dating a man named Larry, a thin,
tenuous man with pleated pants. He keeps one hand on Joan's arm as she
introduces him. I notice his bony wrists, the darkened bags under his eyes.
I see Joan push back her shoulders, touch one finger to the gloss on her
bottom lip. She's wearing perfume again. The scent of jasmine and oranges
reminds me of Gerard.
Larry is explaining how they met. Her leaving the video store, green
and yellow cotton stretched over her basketball stomach, beads of sweat
on her forehead and between her bare shoulder blades. Him walking down
Portage, alive to beauty, seeing only the freshness of youthful bodies and
the Saturday high heels. Him saying no to all the people asking for change,
and following her into Tim Horton's, because he is impulsive and believes
in taking control of his own destiny. His bottom lip juts out, pulls to the
right as he says the word, and I think of asking him to say fate, kismet,
providence to see if it is a congenital tic or a revelation of his own skepticism.
Larry believes in the purity of the sexual impulse. He tells me when he
started followingjoan he knew that she would not be wearing a wedding
30 band.
"Sometimes, it's true, they're not wearing them because their fingers
have become too swollen, but more often than not, married women will
give off a different vibe. They have this kind of insular aura of self-satisfaction, which is in itself very sexy. But Joanie was giving off this intense
current of almost primordial vigour. I could tell that she felt powerful and
that her sense of power was making her aroused."
Joan smiles, stirs her chamomile tea with a chopstick. Behind Larry's
back, she winks at me, grabbing her own breast. My spine relaxes and I
grin back. Larry is a brownish blur as I focus on her face. I wish for this to
really be a convent after all, with Larry outside the door, begging for
sanctuary.
At first Larry thinks I'm interesting. He asks what I know about dildos,
clit rings, and fisting. I ask him what he knows about print pornography
and little boys.
A frown wrinkles Larry's forehead. He pushes his hair behind his ears.
"I am not a pedophile or any kind of pervert. I am a connoisseur of a
rare beauty."
He calls me a prudish dyke, then a dykish prude because he says I am
more uptight than anything else.
It isjoan's birthday, and I give her a feather boa: pink flecked with threads
of gold. Larry nods, licks his lips in approval. He says it is traditional to
give a striptease when presented with the gift of a boa. I tell him he is full
of shit and Joan laughs, her muscular face suddenly belying the soft pliancy of her body at rest. She struggles off the couch, puts James Taylor on
the stereo. The boa droops from her neck, falling to either side of her
breasts. Joan steps onto the hooked rug in front of the couch and plants
herself in the centre, the dark, bloated surfaces of her feet criss-crossed
with sharp tan lines.
Eyes closing, Joan pulls at the sides of her flowered sundress. I see her
calves, the hair rubbed away on the insides of her legs.
"I love a woman who doesn't shave," Larry confides. His mouth is
straight and serious. I look at him watching her, at the hollow of his eyes
under his brow bone. My goal is to be as selfless as a surrogate, to love and
to claim nothing. Even Joan's absent father of a deity, with his admirable
parental technique of non-interference, requires more.
Joan giggles, dropping to her knees. Her fingers find her hair, twisting
out the tangles that have grown in the dark, matted at the back of her skull
during long hours on the couch. I bring myself to the floor, and thrusting
my hand in, feel the stickiness of her hair, the feverish warmth of her scalp.
31 I coax out the snarls.
"Let me wash your hair."
I twist open the taps, pouring in capfuls of raspberry bubble bath. She
asks me to light eight of the nine Our Lady of Guadeloupe and St. Francis
of Assisi candles that line the window ledge above and I do, using the long
wooden matches from the jar beside them. With one hand on her stomach,
Joan tests the running water, her knees pressing against the wide, curving
edge of the claw-footed tub. She tells me that temperatures over thirty-
eight degrees have been linked to birth defects, and stooping, she adds
more cold water. She catches me looking at her, her face a bemused mirror
of my own surprise and relief. And I grin back, blinking too rapidly, my
cheeks hot and twitching.
Joan's robe falls from her shoulders and I hold her hand as she steps
into the tub. Millions of tiny blue spider-veins blossom across her stretched
skin. Below the trailing edge of her hair, her breasts are now heavy and
large, twice the size they were in the winter. I feel my nipples harden as I
look at hers, the dark pink buds that make smacking sounds in Larry's
mouth when he sucks on them. And then she is in, wet beneath the frothy
blanket of bubbles.
I bring down the showerhead to wash her hair, and when I am done, she
turns it on me, soaking my baggy clothes with the spray until they cling,
until I peel them off and leap into the water. Toe to shoulder, shoulder to
toe, we prune ourselves in the tub until the bubbles have all disappeared.
It is September and we are hanging the photo above the fireplace: Joan
nude and fully pregnant, a three-quarter profile in a golden glow. Larry is
more modest than I expect and I compliment him on his work.
"It doesn't take any talent to make that look beautiful," he says, and
Joan smiles. I look from her open face and loose hair to Larry's patterned
purple shirt and scuffed loafers.
"I bet you have a big photo collection on your computer, eh, Larry?"
He looks at me, scratches in a vague way at the hair on his chest. "Yes
I do. Almost three thousand. Only a small percentage is my own work,
however."
There is nothing for me to say then, for Joan's water breaks and Larry's
face falls as he begins to weep.
It is dark as the taxi weaves towards the hospital. The taxi driver explains
he is taking his time because he used to be a doctor in his own country.
Joan tells him that she needs drugs, that otherwise she would be happy to
32 have him deliver her baby. The taxi driver nods, looking back at us in his
rear-view mirror. Larry sits on his right, his eyes fixed ahead, on the road.
Joan's cries of pain remind me of the sounds of her sex with Larry, the
small yelps I always imagined to be coming from the baby within.
At the entrance to the hospital, I find a wheelchair and help Joan from
the taxi, my hands shaking in time to her heavy breathing. Larry is tender,
regretful. He bends to kiss Joan's belly, his fingers running down towards
her crotch. His hand planted between her legs, he fixes his eyes on her
flushed, contorted face.
"You are so hot," he says, and leaves. He gets into the backseat that we
have just vacated, waving aside the confusions of the driver. I telljoan that
he is probably sniffing the upholstery for one last kick, and she grabs my
hand, her face masked in either a smile or a grimace.
33 Joelene Heathcote
Nothing Says Love Like a
Needle
All evening a thin woman I thought was a man
explained the ecstasy of sewing
her breasts with fishing line, of hooking the flesh
between her shoulder blades and being lifted
to a high place like an angel on stage. Hard
nipples, she said were ideal for the threading
and suggested teasing as though I considered
making tracks of my own small endowment. I dressed
another cracker with a bacon-wrapped oyster and pulling
the toothpick from the belly said, Why stop there?
meaning, make a stickpin ladder of the body,
a sort of acupuncturist's wet dream. And then I said,
If you will? to show my willingness to consider art. She
said sure she gave seminars on stitching labia as
a way of building couple trust, destroying
the politics of power that often choke love out. I
uncrossed my legs to breathe. Oh, let my lover
make my twat a trampoline! I sat on my friend's lap,
stuffing my mouth with the sort of bite-size stuffed
pastry that tends to explode on your chin and chest
and I was trying to remember at what point I might've
considered an option like this, when it was I'd have asked
my love to rise and make a stairway of my body
to the heavens, lace a tiny hammock with the hands,
a smaller version of a cat's cradle, a net so fine
it catches in its strings the simple drops
of dew in love's divide.
34 Say None of This
What if underneath all this
there is nothing very sharp at all, no
poison-tipped exit. Say none of this
is happening. The dishes piled in your sink
owe everything to love, the floating
shells of pink shrimp, the white of ginger
whose hard skin is all that's left
of everything you've devoured.
You will not come home
and find a woman in your kitchen
touching herself through a dress
that clings just so to the insides of her thighs.
Witness her fingering honey
and red chillies into a hot pan;
though you pull a kitchen chair
up to watch, nothing
will ever unravel you.
So say it isn't later, though it is,
when you press your palm across her mouth
to stop the words that sometimes rise
around your name, the very movement
of your body lifting red birds
from the damp mangroves of her hair.
It takes a different kind of man
to stop at this, to whittle from your heart
that word you make a weapon—what
you sharpen with your teeth so you
might go on living and killing
between land and water and not
be taken in by either.
35 Kevin Chong
Ten Albums I Love About Her
10. Zen Arcade
Once, late at night, she ran across the street to return a video. I
waited, tapping the wheel of the idling car to the double-time
beat of an old punk rock CD she liked. This was when she had
another boyfriend. She stood next to the front entrance and pointed to a
sign that said "Quik Drop" before she collapsed to the ground. "The things
I'll do to entertain you," she said, as she returned to me, dusting the seat of
her slacks with a look of self-satisfaction.
9. Pink Moon
She had small, imperfect teeth the shape of rice puffs and skin like cinnamon butter. The back of her canary yellow tank top was damp with humidity, her breasts jutting out absent-mindedly. This was back when we were
undergrads. She was not exactiy luminescent, it wasn't a glow that came
from her; it was as though she were teetering between lust and outrage.
There was a gaggle of men spiralling around her. Boyish men who wore
tight, kitschy t-shirts. Burly, hairy guys in hockey jerseys. Sophisticated,
sneering men. Forceful, foul-tempered men. Men old enough to be graduate students. Boys like me who listened to vinyl records with the lights off.
She treated us equally, like comic foils, each one a potential punch line.
Throwing her darts, one foot off the floor, she would stumble forward.
8. Sweetheart of the Rodeo
She had separated, but not filed for divorce. She was out of work, house-
sitting for friends of her parents. We walked upstairs, the sound of the CD
I brought over growing faint. The windows of the bedroom allowed a view
of the water, oily and thick as yoghurt. The night sky was veined with
streaks of blue. The room felt airless; its objects, while conscientiously
dusted, unmoved and in their places for months. On the nightstand was a
wedding photo of the couple she had been house-sitting for: they were
nubile, hearty, and two-dimensional. The bed frame was made of black
wrought iron, as if it had been fabricated from recycled prison bars.
36 "I usually sleep in the guest room," she pointed upstairs. "A single bed.
I need to wake up early tomorrow."
"Okay."
"I really do."
"Sure," I said. "What are you thinking?"
She shrugged.
Standing on a Persian rug at the edge of the bed, her mouth pursed
anxiously as I cruised toward her. She let her jacket drop to her floor. With
a gentle shove, she was on the bed. I helped her out of the fire engine red
leather skirt, peeled off her fishnet stockings, and pulled her beige cotton
underwear to her ankles, which were awkwardly crossed. Her knees were
raised and bent, and I ran my hand along her calves: they were soft, but
goose-pimpled. I lowered my head until I caught the smell of crotch. It
was dark, but I could see a fleck of toilet paper. I lifted one of her legs, so
that her knee was in the air and her foot on my shoulder. As her breathing
grew heavy, she dug the heel of her foot against my neck.
7. Anti-Love
I would show up at her door and wait for her to drop her keys from her
window. We would drink decaffeinated English Breakfast tea and listen to
the funk records I lent her, and then we would fuck on the couch. I was still
tense around her. Even when I don't know it, I'm tense. Sometimes she
would turn off the light, sometimes she'd draw shut the curtains, but occasionally she didn't and I'd worry about who might be watching us. On
those occasions, I would go soft as soon as I penetrated her. I would get
dressed and leave.
"I have this fear," I said once afterwards, "that I'll come and go in your
life; I'll be someone interesting in your life, someone amusing from the
past that you never have a falling out with, but whose calls you fail to
return."
"Don't be stupid. It's cruel of you to say that."
"I don't have that sort of effect on women. They take an interest in me
for a while, but they move on long before I do. I choose women who are
too cosmopolitan for me. They take up with more exciting men, they get
grants to study architecture in countries with dry and rainy seasons. They
have too many options to choose from."
"You must think I'm so shallow."
Yes, I was whiny and shrill, but she belonged to Lawyers Without Borders.
37 6. Some Girls
Tasting my own kiss on her skin, I was reminded of some prior intimacy,
her bottom lip in my mouth like a sliver of organ meat. It was like different versions of the same song: should I file them alphabetically, chronologically, or by order of preference? She groaned and then I politely turned
her on her back and pinned her against the sheets, propping my elbows
above her as I entered her. She held her breath.
I demanded her attention. When she looked away, up to the ceiling, I
stopped, waiting for the corner of her eye to return to me before I continued. She reached up and cradled my face in her hands, before turning her
head away from me another time.
Something passed. What was she thinking? Maybe she was thinking
about the number seven, how you could make change of it with a five-
dollar bill and two dollar bills or five singles and eight quarters, how there
were four sevens in her phone number, how her birthday was in July; then
she thought about another number, then another number, until she arrived
where she arrived.
5. The Idiot
This is my last, best memory of her, before she decided she needed to
grow up and marry a man twenty-three years older than me. We were in
her condo, lying on her single bed, fully clothed in the afternoon. I had
spent the morning there flipping through her fashion magazines and a
copy of The Sheltering Sky and watching her snore until just an hour before
when she reached across to swat her clock radio. A spider crawled across
her floor in the candlelight and I sat up.
"What's wrong with you?"
She thought about this and said: "I think I'm shy."
"What have you been smoking?" I said with a friendly sneer. "You don't
act shy. Not at all."
"Oh, you know," she said, considering, "I overcompensate."
4. All Shook Down
In the months after we stopped speaking, I felt as though I could recite
every word she'd uttered to me from the loop playing in my head.
This was the summer before I moved east, between degrees, when I was
allergic to any other kind of concentrated thinking.
In a high school science class, we were given an experiment that tested
blind spots, involving a piece of blank paper and two dots. We were supposed to cover one eye, and concentrate on one dot. Moving the paper
38 from our faces, the other dot would disappear. Some circuitry in our brain
would fill in the blank area with white. I felt as though my recollection had
its blind spots filled in the same way. My daydreams for her felt like a class
project in itself, a pointless exercise undertaken for the purpose of instruction and not worth repeating.
3. After the Gold Rush
In the morning, she ate cross-eyed, with her eyes fixed on her nose. She
had a fabulously insatiable appetite, and liked cereal, crispy bacon, and
various flat breads. We argued about what to call the top halves of muffins.
"Crowns," I said.
"Caps," she said. This was before she became the music critic at the free
weekly. Three of her ten favourite singles from 2003 were mine as well,
four I disliked, and the rest I had never heard of.
2. Tennessee Fire
Lying in bed, she took out her journal and wrote down her list of secrets. I
would read them over the next day. Her roommate had stayed over at her
girlfriend's, and I brought her journal into the kitchen, where I stood naked, drinking orange juice. I could hear the shuffling rhythm of the couple
next door. She was still in the shower.
7.   / wish people would pay attention to me as they do other people.
2. I wish my parents would pay attention to me as they do my brother.
3. I'm worried I'll lose my hair like my mom.
Seeing me read her list of secrets, full of embarrassment, she considered
throwing it in the trash, she considered burning it, but ultimately she tore
it up into little squares, which she ate to punish herself.
1. Anodyne
Our mouths have become dry. The room grows quiet as CDs change. The
plastic buckling of the changers, the whine of the disc before it plays. She
wraps a red silk robe around her and disappears for a drink of water as I lie
on her single bed. When she returns, she climbs on top of me and pins my
shoulders down and puts her wet mouth, cool as an ice cube, on mine.
39 Steven Price
Houdini Considers his Wife
The last hand to hold my father held him here.
Machpelah Cemetery.
Ma lurked, a soft box of skin,
as Bess shied gravelside, solemn, that he might know her.
Hands hooked steady as a kedge and holding fast.
Or held fast. With its grizzled brick,
its clanking pipes and felt-and-dye stink,
that grim basement hat-shop became a kind of cabinet
she could billow or draggle in close around her;
all gust-tangled hair, scrub-palmed, shabbily
she'd lurk there, a stranger to herself, drawn in
to bare the puck or play of fat-flowered brims
that hat by hat she yet might take the line of,
might drape and slant and tock and fidget
at a looking-glass until what looked back was not
what looked in but an apparition of the almost,
the unworn, of the anything-goes-and-to-come
drathing her last, too-lucid days of girlhood.
Now I come to this
with her beside me, shining salt on her thighs,
crushed wet leaf between them, I come to this
with her: old, she will open like a book, dry or soft,
each fold a warm papery fug of ink; old, I will rest
my face like this, an ear pressed to her rib, listening.
For she is finer to me than a thousand thousand clocks,
more striking than sickled cuffs, this letter I write
is a sack unfilled, these lines without her just air,
golden burlap, aridity. In August the streets rain,
she is the exact shade of a bruise or winter plum;
40 all autumn she is white as peeled bark; brilliant grains
of sand tack the boardwalk at her feet, a small sifting
of the earth. I come to this with her: I have loved
warmth, blackness, husks of sex, golden Beatrice,
Beatrice my Budapest.
The jellied give of locks, greased in,
shuddering, the tightening of pins
sliding home: all of it fingered,
lubricious, enterable and entered
into like language. Salt-thick. A loose
vaginal groove of pick and key.
How she'd stub or shamble into trunks,
ladders, chests, awkward before a crowd
yet glide with the careful verity of monks
when alone, when her curved wasp-slender hips flowed
with the relied-upon and regular-as-rust
assurance some goodness must come next;
or her hard-knuckled, washtub hands at dusk
flexing that stiff grace all hurt flesh collects,
a sort of bruised largesse which steadied her words
like one long jeered at; I loved her for such things.
And her unsullied, generous laugh that cured
street-grime, stall-grit, the awful grag of things.
Thin and thrush-eyed and strange.
Listing awkward with life, as with a bad leg.
41 Bess naked naked naked. Shy and lightly dimpled.
Her thighs freckled like a long-moist leather
held in their golden hairs astonishment
and the furred inelegant calligraphies
of the ordinary. Mud-filled ruts in streets;
soft shrouds rotted like sailcloth; the wood-bent,
rent, forty-seven nails of my father's sleep—
0 I admit a seam-split, bulging, abundant love,
a drawn-up, drenched-off, brimful, dripping-with-it love
that sated all and overspilled our sleep;
1 admit to sodden joy, laughter, and our odd
lack of wonder, as if it were enough to live
blessed in it, blind;
one does not ask who gives.
Holy holy holy. Even the seraphim cover their faces from God.
And all at once all burst in ripeness and in light—
pressed close, luminous, I did not know
and knew, this must, her, Beatrice, blazed hurt
and heartening, be wayfarer, be water in this life.
42 Joonseong Park
The Broken Umbrella
There had been a farewell party for Lee, an old acquaintance from
Kei's undergraduate alma mater—Lee was leaving Aggieland with
a PhD in Poultry Science; he had been offered a post-doc position
at a college in Louisiana.
At the party, Kei had been talking about an aspiring writer who came to
Korea after graduating from a Creative Writing program in the US. He
taught English at Ewha Women's University in Seoul.
"I knew this guy Jeff O'Brien. I was drinking soju with him at a
pojangmacha, and he was pretty drunk. This guy said he's going to stay in
Korea one more year because of the women; he's so popular with these
Korean college girls that a couple of them want marriage. He already slept
with a few girls at Ewha. Do you know what I said? I said 'Man, keep up
the good work.'"
Kei noticed Lee frowning when he was finished. He didn't know that
Lee's wife went to Ewha, the most prestigious women's college in Korea.
"Do you know what Newsweek magazine called Ewha girls? Slaves to
money!" Kei said.
There was an article in Newsweek several years ago about the Korean
economic boom in the 90's and its effect on younger generations of college students. The article stated that Ewha girls' only reason to go to
college was to meet and get married to future physicians and lawyers. It
had caused controversy, and three Ewha undergraduates whose photographs
were used to illustrate the story sued the magazine and won their case.
"Aren't you Korean, Kei?" Lee exploded. "You can't talk like that if
you're Korean. You're not going back to Korea, are you?"
It led to a heated argument. Other people stepped in and tried to change
the subject. Their pregnant wives joined in to talk about their pregnancies:
what kind of food they should avoid, what kind of music they listened to
for their babies, what baby shower gifts they received from their American
friends, what foods they craved.
"My mother told me once she desperately wanted to eat black shoe
polish during her pregnancy," Kei said.
They all went silent, looking at one another nervously, not sure whether
they should laugh or if Kei was trying to start an argument again. "Shoe
polish?" one of the wives said with an awkward smile, and then they went
43 on with their conversation. Another wife said that she wanted to eat
Chajangmyon, a Koreanized Chinese dish, so much that she and her husband drove all the way to a Korean-Chinese restaurant in Killeen, Texas,
where there was a small community of Korean military wives.
Kei had just sat there, nodding and trying to laugh when other people
laughed, but soon he was tired of all the talk about babies and pregnancies,
so he kept drinking, staring at their bulging bellies. It was breeding season, he thought. They waited until they came to the States to have babies.
As salmon migrate up the streams to spawn, a huge number of married
couples from foreign countries came to the States on student or tourist
visas or illegally, just to give birth, so that they could gain citizenship for
their children.
After he left the party, Kei cruised around town. He didn't want to go
back to his apartment. There were no cars on the streets. He headed into
downtown Bryan. Huge trash dumpsters stood along the side of a two-
storey brick building. The road began to curve as it went over the railroad
tracks. Traffic signals hung precariously with span wires over the intersections, and the old Western-style awnings and storefronts made him think
that time had stood still for centuries in this town.
The pregnant wives' bulging bellies still lingered in Kei's mind. They
reminded him of his literature teacher in the seventh grade. She had been
pregnant with her first baby. One day, she lifted her eyes from the textbook and leaned back in her chair. She removed her thick glasses and
swung them by the earpiece as she glanced at Kei, stuck the earpiece in her
mouth, then said, "Do you know who the cutest boy in this class is?" The
entire room went silent. "It's Kei." Students booed and slapped the desks
with hands and books, drummed their feet on the wooden floor. Kei blushed
and looked down, wanting to hide under the desk.
Kei drove out of the historic district, heading to campus in College
Station. He passed the Korean church which he used to visit to eat Korean
food, but had stopped going to after a few months. Several times he had
arrived late during the sermons. One Sunday morning, as Pastor Kim was
preaching about Noah's Ark, the forty days and nights of raining and the
flooding, Kei came late again. At lunch, the pastor had asked Kei to pray
in front of all the church members before they started eating the beef stir-
fry, Bulgogi. Kei, who had never prayed in his life, didn't know what to say.
He closed his eyes and babbled about the food and the good weather, even
though it was over one hundred degrees outside. He finished his prayer by
thanking the Lord. When he opened his eyes, he felt ashamed of his poor
Korean. The church members looked at him with awkward smiles that
told him he didn't belong there.
44 Kei arrived home and drew a bath. He dozed for a while, lying in the tub
of hot water. He remembered going to the public bathhouse with his brother
and his father.
For years after his father's funeral, Kei didn't believe he was really dead.
Nobody told him how his father had died. He was fine the last time Kei
had visited him with his mother at the hospital. Kei thought it was just a
game. It was not his father who had been laid under the ground. He expected his father to show up one day at the front door with Christmas
presents, like a magician in a cape and top hat. He thought his father had
gone to America to study at a graduate school
In freezing cold winter, Kei and his brother started to go to the public
bathhouse alone. They practiced swimming in the large, communal bathtub. Kei showed off by diving underwater and holding his breath. They
jumped back and forth from the cold water to the hot water tub, and then
went into the sauna, betting who could stay inside longer.
"You're just playing in the bathhouse, not washing your body," Kei's
mother said one day. "You have to come to the bathhouse with me."
"Mom, I'm a man now. I can't go to the women's bathhouse."
"Yes, you can. You're just a kid," his mother said.
The next time Kei went with his mother, while his brother went to the
men's bathhouse with their uncle. When Kei and his mother tried to pay at
the entrance, the woman inside the ticket booth asked Kei's mother how
old he was. She said he looked too big to get in. His mother said he was
just five years old, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside.
In the locker room, naked women walked around with towels wrapped
around their necks, some drying their bodies, some putting on brassieres
and panties. Kei looked into the bathhouse through the steamed window. It
was the same as the men's: a large public bathing room with a pool of hot
water. The bathers squatted around the pool and used small buckets to
splash water over themselves.
Kei and his mother undressed and put their winter clothes into the
locker. They slid the glass door open and stepped into the bathhouse. Hot
steam wafted up. Kei sat next to his mother. Women of all ages lounged in
twos and threes, chattering in low voices and assisting each other in the
intimate activities of washing, towelling, and drying. Kei knew many of
the women from the neighbourhood. He glared at their bushy pubic hair.
They slouched around like overfed cats, confident and nonchalant: pot
bellies, jiggly thighs, taut stomachs, wide hips, bulky calves—he saw every
size and shape imaginable.
"Kei, what are you doing out there? Get into the pool," his mother
shouted from the water.
The women were relaxed, sitting in the steaming water, some with their
eyes closed, heads resting against the edge of the pool.
45 "Mommy, it's too hot," Kei said, standing at the rim of the pool.
The water poured out of a large faucet, sending spumes of steam up into
the air. All the women in the pool, with only their heads out of the water,
watched Kei dip his one foot in and pull it out quickly.
"Once you're in, it's not that hot. Look at the little girl sitting here," his
mother said. Kei knew the girl. They went to the same kindergarten.
A fat hand slapped Kei's rear when he still hesitated. It was the butcher's heavyset wife. All the women in the pool laughed as Kei blushed and
covered his private parts.
"Hey, he's a man now," the butcher's wife said, eyeballing Kei from
head to toe, and she laughed loud, her arms resting along the rim of the
pool, fingers trailing absently. When she laughed, her body jiggled, and
water ebbed and flowed across her large breasts. Kei wanted to hide himself from these large women, and the only place was underwater. He slipped
in silently.
Kei grew too tall to enter the women's bathhouse anymore. In the fourth
grade he stopped touching his mother's breasts and sleeping in her bed.
"Kei, do you remember your father?" his mother asked him. "You're exactly like your father."
After his father's death, Kei had sought escape in the comic world. He
had a huge collection of comic books. His favourites were Xena: Warrior
Princess and Wonder Woman. He had a domed metal lunch box that showed
Wonder Woman surrounded by the Stars and Stripes on the front and in
her invisible airplane on the back.
Kei gravitated towards tall women since childhood. In his first year in
college, he volunteered to work as a water boy for the women's collegiate
volleyball team. He was close to one of the players, the tallest girl on the
team and on campus: she was six foot five inches tall. Jina was in her final
year but she didn't have much playing time. She was too slow to compete
with the other girls on the court; she couldn't jump quickly at the net.
Most of the time she sat next to Kei on the bench, watching the others play.
Kei wrestledjina every night they were together. He tried to choke her
from behind, and she would ask, "Is this real?" It always ended with Jina
restraining him, sitting on his chest, pinning his arms with her legs, asking, "Give up? No more wrestling, okay?" She ballooned to over two
hundred and forty pounds. She had probably realized she would never be
able to play professional volleyball.
Kei went with Jina to watch the women's volleyball game between the
United States and Korea at the Seoul Olympic Games. He was amazed by
how tall and agile the American players were. He was mesmerized by
their acrobatic diving digs, high jump serves, powerful dunks and shields.
They dominated the Korean team and silenced the crowd throughout the
46 game. When the game was over, Kei got out of his seat and went to the
side aisle of the stands. He leaned over the guardrails and watched the
girls leave the court, walk down the back hallway under the stands, and
down the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. Kei had admired those American girls with their long legs and big asses.
Kei heard the apartment maintenance man talking outside his window. He
got up, washed, got dressed, cut his lip while shaving, slipped and fell
down while taking a shower. He ate breakfast and took a large vitamin pill
on which he almost choked, then he biked to school.
At his office, he went to his desk in the corner and started to read. Brian,
Kei's office-mate, came into the room with his friend with the long sideburns.
The friend's shirtsleeves were rolled up over his hairy arms. He stood
behind Kei and glanced at the books on the shelves, then sat down on the
edge of Brian's desk. They talked for half an hour about the Aggies'
upcoming football game with the Long Horns. As they left the office,
Brian clicked off the lights and slammed the door shut, leaving Kei alone
in the dark. It was the second time this semester that Brian had turned off
the lights when Kei was still in the office. Kei heard voices from outside.
People in the room next door were speaking loudly. He stood slowly and
walked toward the switch. He groped for it.
"How are you, Mr. Kei? Is everything all right?"
Dr. Diana Ballaster came into the department mailroom. She never
called Kei by his first name, Cheongryul. He understood how difficult it
must be to pronounce his foreign name. Dr. Ballaster was a stout, middle-
aged lady with blonde hair puffed into a faintly absurd bouffant. Her husband was Director of Undergraduate Studies in English. They were getting
a divorce; he had cheated on her with a student in his undergraduate
seminar, "Sexuality, Aestheticism and Decadence in Victorian Literature."
He was leaving Aggieland and was going to teach in South Carolina the
next year.
When Kei had first met Dr. Ballaster in her office at the beginning of
the semester, he sized her up, scanning her from bottom to top. Dr. Ballaster
towered over Kei. She stood over six feet and three inches tall, on long,
powerful legs. She had reached over, put her large hand on his, and smiled.
Kei blushed. His heart sped up its pumping, his arteries throbbing as
waves of blood rushed through his body. She was beautiful, Kei thought,
with her high clean forehead and blue eyes. She reminded him of Julie
Andrews as the governess in The Sound of Music.
Kei was a grader for her undergraduate class, "American Literature
from the Civil War to the Present." There were about a hundred and forty
47 students. He took attendance and graded exams. Dr. Ballaster, as the tallest
woman in the department, had grabbed Kei's attention even before he
became her grader. From a distance, Kei would watch her going to the
main office, to the bathroom, or talking to her colleagues in the main hall;
his heart started beating fast whenever he ran into her in the building. She
always said "Howdy" with a big smile on her round face.
"I need to give you a quiz for next class, and some make-up exams.
Let's go to my office," Dr. Ballaster said, picking up her mail. Kei walked
behind her, his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, his eyes fixed on
her large buttocks. She turned to Kei and said, "You should walk next to
me, not a few steps behind. This is America, not Asia," lowering the tone
of her voice. She grinned at him and wagged her finger in his face.
On the bookshelf in her office, there was a framed photo of a tall,
blonde girl with a volleyball in her hand, standing on the court, waiting to
serve. Dr. Ballaster had played at a small college in Arkansas. She sat in
her swivel chair, and her buttocks bulged out over the sides. Kei wondered
whether he could put his arms around them.
"When's the second midterm?" Dr. Ballaster asked.
"It's two weeks from now."
She took out her PDA and stared hard at the tiny screen in her palm.
Dr. Ballaster was always interested in new gadgets. Kei remembered her
saying that she had been the first person in the department to use a cell
phone. She was also the only one in the entire department who had been to
the Great Wall of China. It was funny to watch such a large woman with
broad shoulders hunched, typing on the miniature keyboard with the tip of
her pen.
Dr. Ballaster handed the quiz and exams to Kei. On one of the students'
test sheets, Kei saw a drawing of a heart with a Cupid's arrow shot through
it. He imagined the Cupid popping out of the exam paper, flapping his
angel wings, his yellow bow in hand. He drew an arrow from the quiver on
his back and loaded his bow, aimed it at Kei's throbbing heart. After
giving Kei a wink, the Cupid released the arrow. Boink. It shot through his
heart, and Kei fell backwards.
"Kei," Dr. Ballaster said. "What are you doing? You can go now."
"See you later then," Kei said, walking out of the office, still grabbing
at the arrow.
At the start of the lecture, Kei gazed down at Dr. Ballaster, his chin
resting on his hand. He felt so tired after having slept only a few hours the
night before that he dozed on and off. Suddenly, the half-dozen strategically placed speakers in the auditorium emitted an alert tone, startling him
out of sleep. "May I have your attention please. A tornado watch has been
issued by the Brazos County Emergency Management System for our city
48 and surrounding areas. Please exit your classroom or work area immediately and leave the campus." The students packed up their books and
began to file out of the auditorium. The room emptied out quickly until
only school newspapers and plastic soda bottles lay strewn on the floor.
"Do they come often?" Kei said, walking next to Dr. Ballaster.
"What?"
"Tornadoes."
"Oh, they come and go."
Outside it was raining hard. The rain hit the pavement with a resounding slap. Lighming flashed and thunder rumbled in the distance. Kei watched
streams of water in the street flowing into the gutters. He whipped out his
umbrella and looked at Dr. Ballaster next to him.
"You didn't bring your umbrella?" he asked.
"I left it at my office."
Kei's umbrella was too small for two people to share, and Dr. Ballaster
was a large woman. When he walked behind her, his small frame disappeared entirely behind her body.
"Then we'll have to share my umbrella."
"Okay," Dr. Ballaster said, with an awkward smile.
She wrapped her arm around Kei's shoulders, her other hand covering
his as they clutched the handle of the umbrella. She aimed it against the
wind, leaning down, and they stepped out. The wind howled, whipping the
rain against the umbrella canopy. They bent their upper bodies further
forward, but it was difficult to walk straight. The rain came at them horizontally, quickly wetting Kei's pants and sneakers.
As they neared the parking garage, a gust of wind caught the umbrella
from underneath, breaking its spines, flapping its torn fabric. Dr. Ballaster
folded it quickly and tried frantically to push it open, but it wouldn't. The
wind blew into Kei, pushing straight through his windbreaker and his
shirt; he felt as if he were flying. He lost his balance and fell. Dr. Ballaster
took his hand, helped him to his feet and led him forward to the garage.
He admired her strong legs for holding the ground. He thought he could
survive any tornado if he could hold onto one of her legs.
Dr. Ballaster snapped up the collar on her jacket and gestured for him to
do the same. He did, smiling, scrubbing the rain from his face with the
back of his hand. They took refuge inside the parking garage. Kei glanced
at their hands entwined together. Dr. Ballaster blushed and released his
hand. She breathed hard and said, "I'm sorry about the umbrella," covering the naked spokes with the ripped fabric and handing it back to him. In
his wet clothes, Kei suddenly felt cold.
"Where did you park your car?" she asked.
"I didn't bring my car. I bike to school," he said, his teeth chattering.
"I'll give you a ride home."
49 They set off down the road. Kei could barely see through the windshield
as the wipers desperately flung water off its surface.
"This is a big car," Kei said, glancing at Dr. Ballaster's wet dress. It
clung to her skin, showing every curve underneath. He sat up, stretching
his arms and folding them behind his head.
"Everything is big here. Burgers, cars, people," he said. He laid his arm
along the back of her seat, tapped it with his hand, then slowly slipped his
arm down to rest around her shoulder.
"Yeah, Texas is big too," she said, slapping Kei's hand away. He quickly
stretched his arms upwards again, faking a yawn, and then placed his hands
on his lap.
"Kei, buckle up."
Kei sat up straight in his seat, holding his hands out on an imaginary
steering wheel.
"What're you doing?"
"I'm driving too."
Kei used his foot to throttle an imaginary gas pedal, complete with
sound effects.
"Kei, behave yourself. Don't distract me. It's hard to see outside."
"Yes, ma'am." Kei stopped manipulating his imaginary wheel and said,
"I wonder why they have the steering wheel on the right side in Europe
and Japan."
A number of cars had pulled over to the side of the road, but Dr. Ballaster
pressed on with much caution, driving slowly eastward.
"Congratulations on winning the writing award!" she said.
"Thanks for your help."
"You're talented. I've never read a story like that."
Dr. Ballaster was the first person ever to read an English story written
by Kei. He had asked her to proofread it before he submitted it to the
contest.
"I'd never written a story before. I was a philosophy major."
"What kind of philosophy?"
"Continental. I wrote my bachelor's thesis on Heidegger's 'Being-unto-
Death.'"
" 'Being-unto-Death'? Oh, I know his Time and Being.'"
When they arrived at the apartment, sheets of rain were beating down.
There was rolling thunder and lightning. It was raining so hard they just
sat there with the heater on for a few minutes, getting more and more
nervous.
"Get ready to run to the building!" Dr. Ballaster said.
"I'm already wet."
"You live alone? Do you have a roommate?" she asked, looking at
herself in the rear-view mirror.
50 "No, I live in a small studio. Where do you live?" he asked.
"Navasota."
"You shouldn't take the highway in this downpour."
"Well, I don't know...."
"You have to wait until the rain slows down," Kei insisted.
The wipers were still moving frantically. Dr. Ballaster turned them off.
"Kei, I forgot to go to the bathroom after class."
"Oh." Kei turned his head. Their eyes locked.
"I need to go now," she said, turning off the engine and taking the key
out of the ignition.
"All right," said Kei. They got out and fought their way to his apartment.
Kei's clothes and books were scattered over the floor. His convertible
bed was set up in front of the window. He had a TV, a beat-up armchair, a
scratched dining table and an eight-foot wooden bookcase.
Kei felt uncomfortable having a visitor in the apartment. He quickly
picked his socks and pants up off the floor and threw them in the closet.
He heard the toilet flush, and Dr. Ballaster came out of the bathroom,
tousling her hair with a towel.
"You have a creepy picture up there," she said.
On the wall, there was a framed picture of Vincent van Gogh with his
bandaged ear. Van Gogh had painted himself after he sliced off one of his
ears with a razor and gave it to a prostitute. "Van Gogh is a true artist. I
have a book of his paintings. Do you want to see them?"
"Later, maybe."
Kei changed into dry clothes in the bathroom. "You can take off your
wet clothes, too, if you want."
"What do I put on, then?"
"I can give you a sweatshirt and pants."
Kei retrieved some spare clothes from his closet.
"Aren't these too small for me?" she asked, hesitantly picking up the
pants and holding them in front of her.
"They stretch."
"I don't want to stretch out your pants."
"Don't worry. It's fine."
Dr. Ballaster went into the bathroom again. When she got out, Kei
muffled his laughter with his hand. The legs of the sweatpants were so
short that the elastic cuffs dug into her calves, and the pants were so tight
on her lower body that she could barely move. The sweatshirt was also too
small for her; it rode up her forearms and her waist, revealing her belly.
She tried to pull it down to cover her belly button.
"I look silly," Dr. Ballaster said, smiling. "Today is a really strange
day."
51 She stood at the window, opened the blinds and looked out, touching
the window as raindrops bounced off the other side. Kei came up behind
her, admiring her broad shoulders, her wide flaring lats, her full and meaty
thighs. He put his hands on her shoulders and hopped onto her back,
wrapping his arms around her neck.
"Uh.. .what're you doing?" Dr. Ballaster leaned forward.
"Am I heavy?"
"No," she said.
"Then can I stay like this for a while?" Kei rested his head comfortably
on her shoulder, and breathed in her scent.
She was silent for a moment. After a long sigh, she spoke in a low voice.
"Okay."
"Diana, walk around the room a little bit."
"What for?"
"Oh please, carry me around the room."
She started pacing back and forth with Kei straddled on her hips, and
Kei remembered his mother carrying him around the house—swaying
back and forth, crooning a lullaby, Kei bound securely to her back with a
quilt—as she waited for his father to come home.
"You're very strong, stronger than Jina."
"Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
"No, my ex-girlfriend, Ji-na," Kei said, tightening his grip around her
neck and wrapping his legs around her waist.
Kei got off her back and flopped down on the bed. He looked out the
window. Dr. Ballaster slowly sat on the edge of the bed next to him. She
peered into the corners of the room, cracking her knuckles nervously.
Then she yawned, stretched, reached her long arm over Kei, and fell back
on the bed. Her arm hit his chest, pulling him down with her. Kei lay there
for a while, staring at the ceiling. Then he sat up straight and Dr. Ballaster
did too. Gradually, the thunder and lightning outside subsided. Soon the
rain slowed down. The wind calmed; it quickly became nothing more than
a breeze.
Dr. Ballaster peered sideways at Kei and coughed into her hand. "I'd
better get going before it starts pouring again."
Outside, she ran for the car. Kei followed her and stood in the rain. She
waved her hand, motioning for him to go inside. Instead, Kei bowed slowly
from the waist, his face and hair wet, then watched her old-model Mercedes
Benz move out of the parking space and disappear into the night.
The next morning, Kei drove to campus to pick up his bike. He took it to
the bike shop to replace the flat tire. Then he came home, ate breakfast,
and took a large vitamin pill. He biked back to school for a morning class
52 on Victorian Poetry. After class he went to Dr. Ballaster's office again.
Kei looked out the window. A beautiful rainbow appeared in the distance. The sky was painted with every colour in the spectrum. It lasted
only a moment and when Kei rubbed his eyes, it vanished. The sky was
clear blue with thin, scattered clouds above, thicker and whiter along the
horizon. The sun touched his cheeks with warm light.
Kei turned to Dr. Ballaster. She looked upset.
"Sometimes I doubt you even read the texts for class," she said, looking
at the questions Kei had made for the final exam. He had only skimmed
some of the texts, and he was always concerned that Dr. Ballaster would
someday learn about it.
"Is there something wrong?"
"I don't like some of the questions. They're too similar to the ones I
used last semester."
"I can make new questions," Kei said.
"I'm concerned there'll be too many As and B's in this class. You have
to grade harder this time."
"I know," Kei said, but he knew he would grade the same way.
"And you shouldn't put the article here."
She circled his errors with her red pen. Kei still had problems with the
articles "the" and "a": when to use them and when not to.
"Sorry. I thought the word needed an indefinite article."
"Why can't you pronounce V and T correctly? Repeat after me. It's the
word, not the world."
"The word."
"I know it's difficult, but you have to work hard. Repeat after me. Rock,
lock."
"Rock, lock."
"Lock, rock."
"Lock, rock."
"Light, right."
"Light, right."
Dr. Ballaster drilled Kei with other words while he stood next to her, his
hands gathered in front of him, his face getting red. Kei felt exhausted and
powerless; he wanted to sit down but he just stood there, waiting for another word to practice. Then she said, "Kei, would you recite 'The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?' " Dr. Ballaster always admired his ability to
memorize long poems. Kei was glad that the word drills were over. He
rubbed his palms on his jeans and started reciting.
Dr. Ballaster's eyes grew teary, watching Kei. She stared into his dark
eyes and touched his straight hair, stroking it back from his forehead. She
reached for his hand. They placed their hands together, palm-to-palm. She
took him into her arms and kissed him. Kei found himself sitting on her
53 lap, placing his arm around her neck, stroking her hair softly as she wrapped
her arm around his waist.
"If you worked on your pronunciation and accent, you could pass for a
native-English speaker. Are you sending your stories out?"
"Yes."
"You're going to be a hell of a writer."
"Am I?"
"I'll help you."
Kei looked into Dr. Ballaster's wide blue eyes. A boyish smile crossed
his face as his fingers traced the opening of her dress. He slipped his hand
inside and closed it over her large breast. A moan escaped her lips as his
fingers gently twisted her nipple. Kei leaned his head against her shoulder.
He wished he could stay like that forever.
54 CB. Burgess
How to Change from a
"Woman" into a "Man" in
Eight (Not So) Easy Steps
Step 1: Bamboozle the Psychiatrist
Aim for Johnny Cash with slapdash hair, ghost of a cigarette drooping
from your fingertips. Don't smirk or titter. If your eyes skitter round the
room, jig in their sockets like high-strung fillies, rein them in and sit
them hard. Slug your ass in that chair and ride it, cowboy, knees
splayed, ride it like you're not wearing fuchsia satin beneath your
baggy-crotch jeans, sequins slung over your hips, a gunless belt of
rebellion. You were hobbled by femininity, yessiree, and you're ready to
trade those hobbles for manhood's bridle and bit. Don't say what you
really want: silk scarves and a tux, muscled voice and breasts, vanilla oil
and Old Spice. You want the hefted sex of wing tips and the thunk of
bitch boots. You want to flutter your lashes and sling your legs wide,
giggle and grunt, you want a cunt with a thirty calibre clit, and no, you
don't want a dick, but by the goddess don't admit it.
Step 2: Get the Low-Down from the Endocrinologist
You're sure?she says. Mmm hmm, nod nod, oh yeah, gimme gimme that
T, your whole body leaning forward off the chair into yes. She says
maybe Sylvester Stallone, quite possibly a Reuben nude covered in
peach fuzz, no guarantees. She says crack, pop, squeak, your voice, a
rappeller with a fear of heights, will lurch and hiccup down pitch's slope,
teeter on F-sharp's precipice, then plunge octaves down the cliff of
sound. Might wind up dangling in mid air, neither here nor there,
squeaking on its vocal cables. Your flab will take up mountain climbing
and lug upward, cell over cell, your stomach's slope swelling into
potbelly. Your clit will scrunch and scrunch and begin to bulge, a muscle
doing reps. Like a weightlifter, it will develop a fat head and demand,
incessantly, that you stroke its ego.
55 Step 3: Stickup the Pharmacy
Try not to bump, shove, trample or otherwise bludgeon those ahead.
Your heart ka thump ka thumps it's waited nine months it argues with
your locked legs wants to bust out of your chest and barrel to the front
of the line. Your turn come, sidle up and slide the script to the pharmacist. Just gimme the T and no one gets hurt. Plunk your butt on the bench
and wait, cross uncross cross your legs, leap to your feet and pace,
refrain from clambering over the neck-high counter. Don't use the
Monistat shelf as a foothold. Lurch, grab the bag when it ghosts in her
hand toward you, resist the urge to run. On the bus, slide the vial from
the box repeatedly. Palm the cool plastic, hold it high so the sun glints
through, be struck by the fluid's resemblance to oily urine. Look at the
bill: realize you can finally tell your women's studies class the true cost
of manhood—a dollar seventy per month.
Step 4: Wait for the Needle
Do not pass the time coining various onomatopoeic words to describe a
needle's slide into flesh, such as schtick, thhuck, thhhap, thheet. Do not
conduct your nerves as they tighten, fear-tuned, stiff as violin strings, in
a symphony of wounded tweaks. I repeat, do not schting, schlip, schtike, the
sounds saw saw sawing your synapses like stainless steel bows. Do not
dwell on the needle's pause before it staccatos through the lower layer of
epithelium, snags fibres and sinews fortissimo in a tumbling scale of
eighth note twangs, then strikes BONG, not bone, one hopes, but the
basso profundo of muscle.
Step 5: Become Temporarily (?) Overheated and Stupid
Post jab one, jitter like you've downed three shots of espresso double-
double. Sleep like a sweaty corkscrew, wake with sheet looped around
leg, covers on the rug. Ogle your dicklet in the hand mirror every ten
minutes, haul back the hood, poke, twang, slide the shaft, feel it thicken,
twine to sprung sponge overnight. Sing arpeggios to see if your voice
has dropped—force it so low you sound like Kermit crossed with a
kazoo. Be alarmed by the gap that gapes in your consciousness, as if you
suddenly peer at the world across a chasm and through only one eye.
Discover, as you essay on Deconstructing the Masculine Mystique, that you
can no longer construct a brainy sentence. Watch your mind chase the
phrase biological determinism around the page like a turtle trying to hump
a gazelle.
56 Step 6: Discover the Ups and Downs of Sex as a Hormonal Male
Though your crotch buzzes like a hive of bees, sparks like a Zippo
lighter, twitches like an epileptic gecko, don't scratch. Jack off with
ennui, twice a day, while you scrub your teeth. Mourn the wet fireflies
that once flocked your flesh at the brush of a nipple, and which testosterone has blasted like a can of Raid. Troll a finger in your slot, twiddle
your g-spot, jig the joint like a lure, get no nibbles: it's winter up the
river and the fish are zonked. Feel your orgasms compact and crest, lose
their mellifluous wash, gain the bunt and stub of pint-sized stegosauri.
Discover the trouble with coming too fast: Buddy, you can only go one
round now—don't blow it.
Step 7: Confirm Some Stereotypes, Blast Some Sky High
Start to punctuate your speech with pauses, maw gawping uhh uhh as you
grasp for words, tongue a lead slab dropped loose from your brain's
verbal centre. Stop head banging to the rasped cacophony and gunshot
rage of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails; instead, groove and croon to the
boppity bop and breathy falsetto of the Backstreet Boys. Become zooper-
buoyant, grin like a gonzo and greet everybody howdy-doody for seventy-
two hours after each jab. Miss the swell and hitch of saltsweet sorrow
that no longer swamps you when you hear of heroism. Ride the roid
rage seesaw with a startling twist: as testosterone drops, aggression
skyrockets.
Step 8: Get Called "Sir" for the First Time by a Zitty Supermarket
Checkout Boy
Good evening sir, his vowels swoop and screech. Squeak Yes! Yes very good
indeed, as your soybean salami and buckwheat bagels beep through.
Beam, shimmy your tush and hop a one-foot jig to the cash register's
crackle and zing. Stop when the beefcake behind glowers, arms crossed,
bicep tattoos twitching as he flexes: meet Hegemonic Masculinity's
bouncer, who'd like to boot your faggy butt. Settle down and look
around: cleavage glares from the glossy rack; sports magazines blare
football, beer, belching and bonding through put-downs. Welcome to
manhood, boi.
57 David Maelzer
Thanksgiving, 1989
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
-T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
My dears, you mourn me
tardily—I died four years ago
on a Seattle dance floor
at a quarter to three,
higher than God on crystal
and boogieing fit to die
when the Angel of Death
smelled my moth scent
heard my moth plea
and came onto the dance floor
to answer me.
Boyish, lithe, curly-haired, grey-eyed
with a gap-toothed smile,
nipples like pink Rice Krispies,
navel like a satin thimble cup,
he chose his guise well
for one such as me—
a body purloined
from some wet dream
and the Dick of Death withal.
And when it seemed
the crystal had unmanned me
what could I do but offer him
some alternate joy—the lovely boy.
Ah my dears, know this for truth,
a part of me gave thanks.
I'd never planned old bones.
58 Mark Cochrane
Open Letter
Ending what never started, you shuffled photographs of your mother,
topless on the beach at White Rock. Gee—quel semaphore was that?
After the martini party you scaled the tool shed & blubbered from the
window ledge: We'd lost every key. From a tractor among the blackberries, in creosote breeze, I saw Grandmother hobble across the gumbo of
barnyard ruts. Blue-rinse thunderheads. Grave-worms crawling in the folds—
Your egg-wide hips, foreskin, your mah-jong-tile teeth. Navel stud—with
a mole, brown as a burrowing tick, just beneath. The scar on your chin:
same as mine! (see the e-mail.) Burn on your thigh that none dare touch.
Stretch marks: a belly squid. Old-skool tattoo on the left triceps: how
the dagger pierces the rose. And a green Celtic ring in your hipwell, &
whorls that woodgrain under beltloops to the coccyx.
Moustache; inoculation oval; Hobbit-toe pec tufts; off-kilter breast. Your
yellow blouse stained with sangria & the firehose outside your door.
How you lied about that. Balls, one thrice the other's heft. Scapula
stubble from shoulder shaving. A copula of skull. Beneath the velvet
rope we ducked upstairs at Graceland, summer of '87, & pressed cool
against the warehouse window glass. I just want your extra Hme—lk. a
trois-et-demi on the Plateau: espresso machine gleaming like the
mothership. Lip blistering.
Dr. F—loves you, each salty one, to pieces: Me, sailing forward into
bath-warm light, billowing red. In my head composing a last perfect
thing to see or say.. .or to remember seeing.. .or to be remembered
having said. Brain a sad monster now, sutured: yellowing rot, septic with
fresh sorrows, teenage. Wishing you all something seasonal. Tapped out.
Things happen, you know you should feel lucky & grateful, blessed in
memory by pixel flashes that last. Twenty-two days one autumn: booty
runes in the datebook. But instead all you value is the wound, because
the wound itches, because ripe as a papaya it neither closes nor bleeds.
59 Utah:  (Prophylactic Verse)
I love them both
sometimes the same day.
A man should never get to choose
because he won't.
Stony Warner Bros, arch
on the state plate.
Beep beep. Does Acme
ship soluble lube?
My Willie e-
conditional: If you are a woman,
then I'm lying. [Send.]
Remember the opalescent
bead of pre-come? They swarm there.
No poison sponge
can kill them. Latex
an apotrope: my back-up
plan has a back-up plan.
Here be blues:
Had a blow-out
with my girlfriend
but lord knows that I don't care /
Had a blow-out with my girlfriend
but I keep rollin'
with my spare.
(There should be a law.)
60 Craig Boyko
The Problem of Pleasure
The first night, they unpacked the stereo and the coffeemaker. Their
plan was to stay up all night and watch the sun come up over the
slums where the little people lived.
They played tic-tac-toe on the window with their saliva until she was
convinced that two winning strategies inevitably resulted in a tie. They
cleaned the glass with yellowing newspapers they found beneath the sink.
She took a shower and emerged with one towel draped around her body
and another coiled in her hair. She had to look in the mirror to show him
how it was done. He took a shower and put his dirty clothes back on.
They smoked the remainder of a rumpled joint that someone had shared
with her at an audition for a chewing gum commercial. She stood on the
sofa and delivered her one line with ecstatic glee, with slack-jawed forget-
fulness, with shock and revulsion, with Shakespearean gusto: What's that
taste?She hadn't gotten the part.
He turned off the lights, crouched next to her on the sofa, and traced his
index fingers down the ridge of her spine.
How many? he asked.
Two, she said. No, one. I don't know. I have a stomachache, she mumbled, making it one word. Too much coffee.
My head hurts, he said, as though by way of consolation.
Your head hearts?
My head hearts, he agreed.
He brought out his camera. She pressed the back of her hand against
her forehead histrionically, like an ingenue. When she reached for him, he
stepped away, raised the camera to his eye, and said, Click.
She fell asleep soon after the sky began to turn blue. He didn't wake her.
Instead he made more coffee, turned off the stereo, and unpacked his computer from a box she'd labelled FRAGILE.
They had a rule. They were not allowed to say "I love you too."
He'd said it once, and she'd said, Ah—no. Not allowed.
What do you mean, not allowed?
Empty and/or automatic reciprocation not allowed.
Okay. I love you.
61 Maybe. Maybe so. But how do I know you're not just saying it because
it's what I want to hear? Wait a few minutes and try again.
A few minutes later he said, Oh, by the way. It just so happens that I
love you.
Sorry. Too soon. I saw it coming. You need to surprise me.
Her sister liked him. Her brother liked him. Her father liked him. Her
mother loved him. Jen liked him. Marco liked him. Helene said he was
cute. Roger thought he was intelligent. Elle said he seemed a little shy—
but charming, definitely charming. Nan claimed he had "nerd chic. "Janice
liked him. Wynne liked him. Heather liked him.
Caryn liked him, or said she liked him. She teased him, jabbed him
with her knuckles, mussed his hair, called him the Hemogoblin—all playfully, of course, all in good fun. Or was it?
Caryn had liked Anthony better. Anthony had been wild.
But it didn't matter.
Riding home in the crowded, creaking subway train, he made lists.
The colour of her hair when it's drying.
The loose, wrinkly skin that appears at her elbows when she straightens her arms.
The way she intentionally bruises her apples before eating them, tap tap tapping
them on the counter or tabletop.
The way she doesn't turn around, like most people, to glare incredulously at the
crack in the sidewalk she's just stumbled over, but walks on, seemingly unaware of
having stumbled at all.
Her fuzzy earlobes.
Her face.
She taught him how to cook, cut his own hair, buy pants, and play guitar.
He taught her how to get free cable, make mix CDs, register her own
domain name, and operate Unix, which she referred to as Eunuchs.
Because she always wanted to come along, and because he could not refuse,
sometimes he stayed late at work so that he could take his after-dark walks
alone, before going home.
He heard her say, on the phone to her sister, No, I am still looking. It's just
62 that you have no idea how much time auditioning takes. Of course I don't,
you know how independent I am. But it's not like he begrudges me the
occasional...you know, there's such a thing as going so far in the opposite
direction that you end up with a new kind of conventionalism. You get to
a point where the new old-fashioned is just an inversion, you know, just the
knee-jerk reaction to the old old-fashioned, so nothing's really changed. It
has nothingto do with feminism, Laura....
And then she softly closed the bedroom door.
Would you still love me if I was fat?
Yes, he said, after a pause.
Would you still love me if I was ugly?
Of course.
Would you still love me if I was a hundred years old?
No question.
Would you still love me if I was five?
Would you still love me if I was a man?
If I couldn't speak any English?
If I didn't have any arms or legs?
If I was just a disembodied head?
If I was made out of cheese?
Absolutely.
All of the above?
You mean, would I still love you if you were an ugly fat boy's head,
made out of cheese?
Who couldn't speak English.
He pretended to consider it. Then: Yes, he said bravely. Yes, I think I
would. All of the above.
Would you still love me if I didn't love you?
Sometimes Caryn came over to watch the Sunday Night Sex Show.
He hated the clinical, cheerfully candid way that the old woman reduced sex to a game of skill, or an intellectual problem, the sort of puzzle
that you could not fail to solve with the latest playbook and a little earnest
application.
The girls thought it was hilarious—though he noticed they didn't laugh
half as loudly when he was not in the room.
It's not that bad, she said quickly, to conceal her annoyance. I don't mind
as much as I maybe used to. He just has a different outlook than I do.
63 Different experiences. I'm only his second girlfriend, you know. It probably just takes time. But I'm not complaining. It's not a big deal. It's not
the most important thing in the world. What? What are you smirking at?
I just wish the you of two years ago could hear the you of today, said
Caryn. Or vice versa.
Okay, well, with Anthony maybe it was the most important thing in the
world, because that was the extent of our world. He had nothing else going
for him, I mean at all. He was an asshole. I hated his guts, really.
Which was precisely why the sex was so good.
I love you, he said.
She looked up from her cross-stitch and smiled gratefully.
I'm very pleased to hear it, sir.
One night he walked home. Children shouted "Fag!" at him from passing
cars, laughing groups bound for downtown bars edged him off the sidewalk,
men with their dates stared him down, then magnanimously challenged
him to a fight.
He wondered if there was something particular about him. Did he look
like a dog asking to be kicked?
It never happened when he was with her. Something about her elicited
people's respect, almost reverence.
He hurried home.
Riding home late one night on the subway, three young men sat down next
to her, though the car was almost empty. They were drunk. They talked
about her loudly and appraisingly, like shrewd consumers. She stared fixedly at the reflection of a Clairol ad in the window. She had pepper spray
in her bag but didn't dare make a move to reach for it. She focused on the
sound of her clanging heartbeat and pretended she was deaf. Eventually
they lost interest in her, and offered only a few parting gestures and perfunctory self-gropings when their stop came.
Was there something about her that invited this treatment, she wondered, or was it simply that she was alone, and therefore vulnerable? Vulnerable and therefore contemptible?
She hurried home, her keys clutched in her fist, her eyes stinging.
He was already asleep.
At night, when he walked, so many of the windows were bright, unob-
64 structed and inviting, lit up like the grid of flickering television screens in
an electronics store.
Well, how do I look? she asked.
He stepped back, crossed his arms, and looked her up and down.
You look great.
Good, she said, and kissed the corner of his mouth. Then let's get going.
Why is there a password on your computer? she asked. Don't you trust
me?
Of course not, he said.
What have you got on there, porn?
Yes. Kiddie porn. Gigabytes of kiddie porn.
Hmm, she said. Can't say I approve of that.
I love you, she said.
He transferred the receiver to his other ear and looked over his shoulder.
Yes, that is most definitely good news, he said.
At first he assumed it was a joke. But the mischievous solemnity with
which she made popcorn and turned down the lights told him otherwise.
She giggled and kept looking at him sidelong to gauge his reaction. He
pretended not to notice.
I don't understand humans at all, he said, at the end of the first scene.
Well, it is kind of silly, she admitted.
It's disgusting.
Watch some more?
I have to piss.
Should I pause it?
No. I'll be right back.
Later, she joined him in the bedroom.
Can I turn on the light?
If you must.
Wordlessly she joined him between the sheets.
You don't have to do that, he said, half a minute later.
I don't mind, she said.
He said nothing.
Correction: I like to, she said.
It just seems a bit silly, he said, and half the syllables came out as
65 whisper. He cleared his throat and added: Now that we're living together,
I mean.
It was her turn to say nothing.
So it's okay, he said. Don't worry about it.
What do you mean, now that we're living together?
Just that you don't have to...try to impress me anymore.
You don't like it?
I don't dislike it.
You don't like it.
I just don't feel like you should have to, that's all. If you don't want to.
And if I do want to?
I'd just prefer you didn't.
If I'm doing it wrong you just have to tell me what to do differently.
That's not it.
Then what is it?
He sighed and flopped onto his side. You don't find it a little demeaning?
What? For who?
It looks silly, he said slowly. It makes you look dumb.
She allowed a few seconds for this to sink in, but it would not. The light
is off, she said at last.
It's just not necessary.
And what about me? What if I want you to?
Should we just go to sleep?
So she let him roll on top of her the way he'd done all the other nights.
Afterwards she whispered, I guess you wouldn't want to try anything we
saw in the video?
He wrapped his arms around her tightly, as though she were a waif he'd
pulled from a river, and said sternly: Listen. I would never—I foryou. Get it?
I love you too, she said automatically. That's not—
Ah—no, he said. Not allowed.
And he kissed her forehead brusquely.
And you? she said. How's the new stud treating you?
Oh God, said Caryn. He's wearing me out.
That's good, isn't it?
I guess. The problem is he won't go down. His idea of pleasuring me
orally is to tell a knock-knock joke.
There were two girls he watched. One lived, seemingly alone, in a spartan
apartment on the fifth floor of a condo on Eighteenth Avenue. She moved
around a lot, from room to room, tidying or rearranging, pausing occa-
66 sionally to think, with arms akimbo or the fingers of one hand lightly
cupping her chin.
The other lived in a cramped, colourful garret in a rickety house on
Seventh Street, which she shared with at least three roommates, two of
them male. She spent most of her time reading, sitting in a deep chair
beside the window with a book propped against her knees. Every few minutes she would turn and look unseeingly out the window, as though mentally measuring the discrepancy between what she had read on the page
and what she knew, from experience, was really out there.
They were both lonely and beautiful. They both seemed to be waiting
for something.
Why do we do this? she asked Caryn. Oh, sorry doll, your lips are too
thin. Oh, sorry babe, your lips are too puffy. You should probably lose
about four pounds. You're just a little too malnourished. Your eyes are too
wide—I actually had someone say that to me the other day. Not too far
apart, but too wide, whatever that means. Or your eyes stick out too much.
Or your eyes show too much white. Or not enough iris. What would you
look like with green contacts? Or red hair? Or a C-cup? Or a different
head? Why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through it?
Because we want all the world to love us, presumably.
Not me. Not anymore. After two years of this I'd settle for loving myself. If I ever get back to that point, I'll quit.
And do what with yourself? Raise babies? Little hemogoblins?
Maybe it's not that we want to be famous or recognized or loved or
whatever by other people. Maybe it's more about making it easier to recognize and understand and maybe even like yourself, you know? Maybe if
you saw your own face splashed across bus shelters, if you saw yourself on
television or in magazines once in a while, maybe then you could finally
figure something out.
Self-analysis as opposed to self-promotion?
Yes. Right.
What's the difference?
One is about looking for the other in the self, maybe. Searching for the
outside inside. The other is trying to put the self in the other, the inside
outside.
And what's making babies? Putting the other in the self?
I know I'm attractive, she said defiantly. Directors don't know anything.
Agencies don't know anything. I'm always getting compliments.
They don't count if they're from your boyfriend.
No, from all kinds of people. From photographers, hairdressers, even
strangers in the street, on the bus....
67 You're gorgeous, said Caryn, crushing her cigarette beneath the heel of
her boot. I was just teasing.
I know.
Let's go back in. Maybe they're almost ready for one of us.
He said his back hurt, so she asked him about work.
I'm sorry, he said guiltily. It's just been pretty hectic lately.
No, I mean tell me about it. Tell me what you're doing right now. Details. Inundate me with technical jargon.
The only project that interested him at the moment was the new video
compression codec. He'd always been intrigued by the possibility of shrinking data, making something large small. In high school he'd spent a feverish cola-fuelled weekend in front of his C compiler, reluctantly coming to
terms with the logical impossibility of recursive compression—compressing an already compressed file. But the disappointment was only temporary, and the challenge eternal: how to express the greatest amount of
information in the most concise way. At first glance it looked easy. Create
a new representational language, one where single bits stood in for megabytes, individual letters took the place of libraries. But you couldn't just
define some symbol or variable, some x, as the entire contents of the
universe, because that would require your decompression key to be as
large as the universe. You had to be able to explode as well as implode.
What it came down to was patterns, the recognition of recurrent patterns
in a set of data. If some string, some phrase, appeared three times—"I love
you I love you I love you," for instance—you could store it once and
recall it twice—"I love you (repeat 2x)." The tricky part was that repetitions rarely came sequentially, so you could be searching the entire world
for another instance of "I love you," wasting valuable time, and it might
never reappear. The breadth of your pattern search always had to be weighed
against the time required to perform it. Speed came at the cost of quality
compression, quality at the cost of speed.
You're yawning, he said. I don't blame you.
I wasn't. I'm listening. I can yawn and pay attention at the same time.
But I wasn't yawning.
Well, the codec we're working on is for live web cam feeds. With those,
the picture doesn't usually change very much. Often as not it's just some
guy's empty dorm room. So there might be shortcuts. We might be able to
cheat and—never mind.
Sorry. That was a yawn. I confess. Not because it's boring. Go on.
No, you go on. Tell me about the photo shoot. Was it a photo shoot?
Ah—no. Not allowed. Still you.
There's nothing else to tell.
68 What about that gadget you brought home? Is that one of these camera
deals?
Yeah. Prototype from the client. I thought maybe I'd point it out the
window, down at the street or something. Just to get some different data to
work with. I've got hard drives filled with the back of Nathan's head and
the inside of the server room.
So you'll, what, be able to watch it from work?
Well, yeah, if I leave my computer on.
Will anyone else?
Not without my password, no.
Then why don't you just, I don't know, put this one in the corner over
there or something?
Why? So I can spy on you?
I don't know. I kind of like the idea of you watching. Even if you're not
watching. It'll be like having you here, maybe, a little bit.
At first she was guarded and self-conscious. Her awareness of the camera
seemed to permeate all her movements, taint them ever so slightly with an
air of deliberateness and calculation.
But soon enough she grew accustomed to the device. Soon the self-
consciousness faded. Soon she forgot that she was (at least potentially)
being watched.
And soon he found her every motion, her every gesture, her every pose,
her every facial expression fascinating, endlessly gripping.
Do you have a picture of me on your desk? she asked.
No. But I have three in my wallet, he said, as though it were only a joke.
Well, she said, now you do.
For her birthday, Caryn bought her a toy.
For when you're out of town, Caryn told him.
But neither of them found it funny. So Caryn gave him one for his
birthday, too.
For when she's out of town.
He threw his away. She kept hers, hidden beneath shoes and books in
her closet.
I love you, he said.
She rolled over and blinked at him with pink eyes.
69 What time is it? she asked.
Colin told them about an implausible liaison with a policewoman who
had, earlier in the evening, almost written him a speeding ticket. Geoff
related an MDMA-fuelled night spent with a cute green-haired girl he'd
met at a rave in San Francisco. Nathan recounted in great detail the predilections and perversions of a high school chemistry teacher who'd approached him—"practically tackled" him—in a bar.
He was surprised that in each of their stories the girl had been a complete stranger. Their best experiences were one-night stands.
Then it was his turn.
I don't know, he said. I guess it would have to be with my girlfriend,
but—
They all groaned.
Well, okay, but there was this one time that was pretty..exceptional. We
were both sick. We both had the flu. Fever, runny nose, sore throat, nausea,
the whole thing. Mountains of used Kleenex all over the floor. You get the
idea. Anyway...I don't know. There's not much to tell, actually. It was just
memorable. She was so hot. And the whole time I was having these hot
flushes and cold flushes, alternating one after the other. Gooseflesh appearing and disappearing in waves across her skin. Both of us just dripping
with sweat. The sheets were soaked. And the whole time we were coughing
and laughing and our noses were running all over each other....
Jesus Christ, said Nathan.
But no, it was nice. I don't know how to explain it. Like huddling
around the fire when the wind's howling outside. Only the wind and the
fire were both inside us at the same time.
They stared at him incredulously.
Something like that, he muttered, and lifted his beer.
The way she punches only multiples of eleven when operating the microwave.
The way she fidgets in her sleep. And when she's not tossing or turning, when she's
completely still, the way she seems to be biding her time, planning the next move.
Her habit of quoting herself. Not elaborately or pompously, but reflexively, almost
apologetically. As though she doesn't want anyone, even herself, to be able to accuse
her ofunoriginality. As though her biggest fear is that someone might roll their eyes
at her.
Her propensity to weep.
Her use of the word "whatever."
Her tendency to exaggerate, not for effect, but automatically, unthinkingly.
The bloody floss she leaves floating in the toilet.
70 Jackie liked him. Susan liked him. Rachael liked him. Fiona liked him.
Elisabetta liked him. Penny liked him. Casey liked him. Quinn liked him.
Paula liked him.
He didn't like her friends. He thought most of them were obnoxious egomaniacs. He didn't understand why she surrounded herself with such people, or indeed why she wanted to be an actress. She was too intelligent to
wholeheartedly dedicate herself to the glorification of wine coolers or
luxury sedans or athlete's foot powder, and too modest to mythologize
herself, to cultivate the necessary facade, to construct, in her own person, a
lasting monument to her own greatness.
He never said any of this, of course. But he didn't have to.
He often stayed late at work to watch her. One night his heart plastered
itself against his chest when he saw her suddenly look up from her magazine, turn to the camera, and plaintively mouth the words, Where are you?
One night he watched her until she fell asleep. He had been waiting for
her to grow anxious and alarmed. Waiting for her to call him, to ask if he
was all right and would he be home soon? Waiting for her to begin waiting.
Use your hands a little more, she whispered.
How?
Here. And here. Good. Only not so...mechanically.
It's hard not to act mechanically when you're giving me instructions.
I'll shut up then. Do whatever you like.
I thought I was doing that.
And your mouth too.
They had made a kind of game of it, he realized. They blurted the three
words not like an endearment but an incantation or a hex, one that would
only take effect if the victim had let his or her guard down.
But the game had spoiled the sentiment. Instead of "I love you," all he
heard now was "Sorry, not fast enough," or "Tag, you're it."
On her bedside table he found a piece of paper on which she'd been experimenting with her signature. Just once, as though by accident, she'd
scrawled his last name instead of her own.
71 On his desk she found a piece of paper on which he'd written:
The problem of EVIL. Never the problem of GOOD?
The problem of PAIN. Never the problem ofPLEASURE???
Sometimes I think I can tell when you're watching.
T-E-L-E-P-A-T-H-Y? he spelled out with his finger on her belly.
No. I don't know. It's just that sometimes I'm aware of it and sometimes
I'm not. Sometimes I suddenly become aware of it. Like eyes on the back of
my head.
O-N-E-E -Y-E, he spelled.
Is it always on? Is it on right now?
N-O, he spelled, then said: Well, not exactly. It only sends when someone—when / log in to the server. So it's on, but it's not going anywhere.
It's not recording or anything.
This wasn't precisely true. In fact, his computer at work saved everything, but he often deleted the previous day's footage without watching it.
Could you? she said after a minute.
W-H-A-T, he spelled.
Could you turn it on? So that it was recording?
W-H-Y?
She looked at him. I don't know, she said knowingly.
F-I-L-T-H-Y-S-L-U-T, he spelled quickly.
What?
L-O-V-E-Y-O-U.
Oh. Thanks, she said, and fell silent.
I'm surprised your boyfriend doesn't do this.
Well, he does do that, she said, laughing metallically. In fact, he's usua—
He's the only one who does.
The photographer pursed his lips in a little moue of playful disappointment and removed his hands from the front of her dress.
Not for lack of offers, I hope.
I wouldn't know, really. Lack of interest, rather. On my part.
I find that almost equally difficult to believe, he said through a leer.
Before she could object, he went on: Of course, I was referring to the
headshots in which your delicious visage is about to be immortalized.
She blinked at him. She was starting to feel dizzy. What? she said.
He put one hand on his hip. You said he was a photographer, didn't
you?
Oh. No. Did I? Well, he's not really. I mean he is, he does, but only as a
72 sort of hobby. Not professionally.
I see, he murmured, retreating as far as the nearest spot lamp, which he
began fiddling with to no obvious purpose. And what does this tyro hobbyist
of yours shoot?
What? Oh. I don't know, really. Landscapes and objects, I guess.
And do you fall under one of those headings?
Do I—what?
Surely no man could resist the temptation to map out that exquisite
geography?
He fixed his eyes on her. She couldn't find her voice. Suddenly he
laughed, a low booming laugh that belied the preciosity of his speaking
voice.
But why so pale and wan, fond lover? You know I'm only playing with
you. You must be familiar with the method by now. A little flirtation, a
little insincere badinage. It puts some colour in your cheeks. There are
certain effects you can't simulate, you know. It's why men dominate this
industry, I'm afraid. Heterosexual men, I might add. We have our tricks.
She caught a sigh and stretched it into a normal, nonchalant exhalation.
So, she said dryly, you weren't trying to seduce me?
It beggars belief, does it not? I think...well, perhaps not. I was about to
say that you'd know with absolute certainty if I were attempting to seduce
you.
But?
But I'm not sure it's true. I'm not even sure, in your case, whether I'd
know myself. Would you mind putting this strand of hair here behind your
ear, I think? Like so. Almost. May I?
She cleared her throat, trying to make it sound like an expression of
dubiety. In my case? she said.
He stepped back, crossed his arms, and looked her up and down.
You're very much my type, you see, he said distractedly. Very much
indeed. Naughty in all the right places.
Now that, she said hoarsely, that's the method again, right? Putting a
little colour in the old cheeks, is that it?
Of course, he said blandly, almost impatiently. He retreated behind his
camera and sighed, I don't suppose you'll ever reconsider vis-a-vis the
nudes?
How do I know they wouldn't end up on the Internet?
My dear, he said, you should be so lucky.
The girl in the garret had disappeared. Someone else was living there now.
He felt responsible. He felt he had stayed away too long.
At least he had pictures.
73 He caught her looking in the mirror one day, evaluating herself methodically from every angle, for nearly three quarters of an hour.
What's that? said Nathan, suddenly behind him. Porno?
Nothing, he said, and quickly closed the video window.
Live nude girls? Barely legal co-eds?
Just data, he said. Just collecting some new data.
Nathan slapped him on both shoulders. This is a great job we have, isn't
it? Say, you coming with us to the Grove tonight?
I don't know. I don't think so.
Nathan peered at him, as though at some rare insect.
He straightened his posture and said, It's just that my girlfriend is dragging me to a goddamn play or something.
That's right. I keep forgetting. You've got pussy at home. Why eat out?
They threw a party to celebrate the airing of her first commercial. Thirty
of her friends crammed themselves into their two-bedroom apartment.
They all hooted and cheered when at last her face appeared on the tiny
television screen, smiling archly yet admiringly at a computer-generated
anthropomorphized cereal bar that was showing her, and half a dozen
other young on-the-go professionals, how to slam-dunk a basketball.
When it was over, she took a solemn bow. Someone called for a speech.
Others began tapping the rims of their wine glasses with their fingernails.
Six hundred dollars, she said slowly, with drunken fastidiousness, six
hundred dollars...for two seconds...of screen-time.
That's on par with Meg Ryan, you know. Second by second.
Well, Naomi Watts, maybe.
Rebecca Pidgeon, anyway.
Kirstie Alley, at least.
Just imagine what you'll make for your first feature film.
Or solo commercial, for that matter.
Caryn climbed onto a chair and launched unsteadily into what was
apparently an elaborate toast, one which for some reason began with a not
much abbreviated account of her own childhood.
Later she cornered him on his way into the washroom and asked him
what he really thought.
You were good, he said. Real convincing.
And what is that supposed to mean?
I don't know. You looked like you were, you know, really there. Breathing. Conscious.
It's just a commercial. It's not supposed to be a great work of art.
Hey, no argument here.
74 She poked him in the chest with an index finger, sloshing white wine
onto his shirt. You know what you are? she said affably. You're jealous.
Yes. And you're drunk.
Not envious, mind you. But jealous. There's a dicstinct—a distict—dis-
tinc-tion. You're possessive. You want to own me. You don't want anyone
else to...own me.
That's right, he sighed. That's exactly the truth. He kissed her quickly
at the corner of her mouth and ducked into the washroom.
And why aren't you drinking? she muttered.
Yes, said someone behind her, bathroom doors are notorious teetotallers.
Anthony! She flung her arms around his neck. When did you get here?
Just moments ago. I gather I missed the big event. Will there be an
encore?
Supposedly it's going into regular rotation. But it doesn't matter. It's
dumb. It's nothing. And I know how you feel about TV and all that.
Maybe I've mellowed in my old age. You look great, by the way.
So do you. As always.
Ah—no. Reflexive reciprocation not allowed. Do me a favour and tell
me I look great in twenty minutes or so.
You look great in twenty minutes or so. Can I find you something to
drink?
After the tongue-lashing that door received, I don't dare say no.
The next day, he fast-forwarded through most of the evening. The guests
had generally stayed out of the darkened bedroom. They stood silhouetted
in the doorway, their heads bobbing and hands fluttering at triple-speed,
then they drifted away. Occasionally, individually or in pairs, they ventured a rapid reconnaissance of the room, glancing critically at the books
on her shelves and the software on his, peering cautiously into the tangled
junglescape of her closet or the cluttered drawer where he kept his "valuables": diplomas and certifications, expired prescriptions, the journal he
had kept for six weeks while he was in Montreal four years ago, every
letter and note that she had written him and most of the ones he'd written
her.
But one pair who entered the bedroom lingered longer than the others.
These two displayed little curiosity about the room or its furnishings, and
their uneasiness was somehow different than the guilt of the interloper.
This was no doubt due, at least in part, to the fact that one of them lived
there.
She stretched out supine on the bed while the other one paced languorously. They talked for a few minutes, animatedly but without eye contact.
75 Then the other one, the ex-boyfriend, nudged the door smoothly shut with
his toe.
He watched the next five minutes of the video very carefully. Then he
watched it again. Then he watched it three more times.
Before he left for home he logged on to his news server and uploaded
the clip to the alt.binaries.multimedia.erotica group, inserting it amidst
the garish promises and nauseating claims of "Amateur teen sucks off two
guys at once," "World's biggest transsexual orgy," and "Cumswapping
brunettes get DP'd."
"My girlfriend," he typed, "caught cheating. I was in the other room. (5
minutes, 15.5 MB.) Comments welcome."
You can either be famous, said Anthony, or the cause, in a small way, of
everyone else's fame. You and I have made our choice. Sure, he went on,
everyone is the star on his or her own stage. That's obvious. And every
one of us is also a bit player in everyone else's show. But really this is an
efficient arrangement. To paraphrase Freud, the one thing that everyone
wants is, basically, to feel important.
Other than sex, you mean, she said through a yawn.
Well, yeah. Other than sex. Obviously.
She remembered now why they had broken up. He was an obnoxious
egomaniac and he bored her silly.
Speaking of which, she said, how's Kimberlee with two E's, or whatever
her name was?
Kimberli with an 1.1 have no idea how she is. Can't say I care, either.
I can't believe you left me for a Kimberli with an I. It's disgraceful.
I didn't leaveyon. As I recall, you told me you never wanted to see me
again.
Yes, because of assorted shennanigans involving Kimberli with an 1.1
hope she was at least more fun in bed than I was.
You know that no one was more fun than you, he said softly.
Oh, don't, she sighed. You shouldn't say such things.
Why shouldn't I?
You'll make me believe it yet.
Maybe you shouldn't lie there like that and not expect my mind to
wander down certain avenues.
She lifted her head and looked at him through narrowed eyelids.
I can lie here any way I like. Thank you very much, she said slowly, with
drunken fastidiousness.
Is that so? said Anthony. And he nudged the door smoothly shut with
his toe.
76 Attn: Vulcan.
Re: My girlfriend, caught cheating.
Picture quality rather poor, no? Way too dark & low contrast. Good
clip otherwise. Your girlfriend's totally hot!
More light next time please! Sound too!
He walked for four hours. He took over a hundred pictures.
Hey! someone shouted at him from the other side of the street. What do
you think you're doing?
She left the curtains open, he muttered. They all leave the curtains
open.
I love you, she said, with a slight rising inflection.
Super, he said.
You seem a little spacey tonight.
Do I?
Maybe a little.
Just thinking, I guess.
What about?
He lifted his head from the pillow. That camera, he said.
She propped her head up with one bent arm and looked at him. What
about that camera?
He lowered his head again. I don't know. Maybe we should use it sometime.
Use it in what way, she said slowly.
Maybe we should shoot ourselves.
She was silent for a moment. He gave her a sour glance.
You know what I mean.
In flagrante delicto? she asked, beaming at him.
He tossed a sheet over her naked body.
What's that for?
I don't know. You look....
Like I've just been ravished?
Cold, he said.
Should we watch it? she asked.
What, right away?
Sure. I want to see us.
I guess. But put something on. It's not exactly summer.
She hovered on the edge of the bed, wrapped in bedsheets. He sat on his
77 swivel chair, in boxers and T-shirt.
On the computer screen, she was crouched on hands and knees upon
the bed, wearing only her underwear. She twisted her head to one side and
looked back in the direction of the camera. She said something and laughed.
Then she lowered her head and pushed her backside into the air.
You look good there, he murmured.
I think you enjoyed this part the most, she said. Playing director.
On the screen, she struck a few more poses. Then he stepped into the
frame, gripped her throat delicately with both hands, and pulled her face
towards his.
They watched themselves—he with growing disgust, she with growing
regret.
78 Brian Swann
Watch Yourself
My father was polite, always insisting, for instance,
that women climb ahead of him up the ladder
to the flat garage roof to see his prize tomatoes,
or always insisting they sit in his new recliner
where they were too polite to protest as it tipped
back, raising legs and thighs. Even on his deathbed
it was on his mind. I could see it in the way he watched
his young Pakistani doctor, as if she were already
a sloe-eyed houri he'd half-considered converting for—
not that he was religious, though he was convinced
there was life on other planets, and we had visitors.
Tubes in arm and nose, he said if ever I wrote
a novel to make it full of sex: "sex sells." Hankjansen
was his favourite, with Lawrence and Henry Miller
close behind, though only read in parts. Propped
by pillows, he who spoke little couldn't stop
talking about it, as if it could prevent the inevitable.
There was the widow across the street, always
burning leaves, a sister in Canada, another dead,
women in foreign ports, at work, the rich foreign
girls from local language schools mother took in
to pay the bills after relatives he'd courted and
counted on died and left him nothing and the machine
he invented to sharpen razor blades was ready
79 just at the time disposables hit the market. As he talked,
I remembered mother saying how those girls cried
and carried on because she'd treated them so well
and they couldn't bear to leave her. And on he went
with weekly trips to London, dressed to kill, "to see
the paintings at the Tate." In great gilt frames,
his copies of Monet and Manet hung in living-room
and dining room, and everywhere else the walls
would bear them. "Olympia" and "Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe"
hung outside the bathroom door which had a hole
drilled into a corner panel, blocked with a matchstick stub
when not in use. "So," he took a breath, "what do you
think of me now? More or less?" I lied, and left.
He'd painted in the hot cramped airless attic, climbing up
and pulling the ladder after on an elaborate system of ropes
and pullies. After he died, I figured how it worked,
climbed up, crawled in. Stooping, I groped along the wall
and found a switch. A naked woman loomed out of the dark.
I slipped on photographs and hit my head.
The face was just sketched in, still incomplete, though
the body gleamed like marble. Breasts came at you, but
the bushy arrow pointing down drew in your eyes, and then,
strangely, turned them round and made you watch yourself.
80 Catch
I have never been inspired by sex...
—Kenneth Koch
They shine already, a labour to haul in,
to catch their flames, great labour
in beauty, strange to us, grown compact
swallowed up in this dark world, its
green margins, their eyes cloud, here's
my mouth, fractured bones flung away,
these strangers sing like dust, balanced
like shadows, now they are tense,
now lax where I cannot stay and if
they cry I can't hear, they probably
have little to say except how blind
the scrutiny in this heavier world,
its compulsions, its indifferent energies,
its engines unfocused but with a thirst
to catch and destroy, nothing
escapes, so I am leaving while I can.
I've tasted enough. I am not hungry.
81 Contributors
Julie Booker is a Toronto writer whose work has appeared in Descant, The
New Quarterly, The Windsor Review, Lichen, and in a Coach House Press
Anthology. "The Tree Man" is part of a short story collection she is currently working on.
Craig Boyko currently resides in Calgary, where he delivers groceries,
composes electronic music, and occasionally volunteers as an ESL teacher.
Sioux Browning earns her keep as a hired gun in film and television,
buying herself time to dabble in erotic poetry. She lives in Vancouver
with her sweetpea,John.
C.B. Burgess was born in Ottawa. S/he currently studies creative writing
and physics at the University of Victoria. Her poetry has also appeared in
The Claremont Review, Grain, and The Malahat Review.
Kevin Chong is a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of a novel,
Baroque-a-Nova, and a narrative nonfiction book about Neil Young that is
forthcoming in the fall of 2005.
Rob Clayton & Christian Clayton grew up in Aurora, Colorado, and
graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California,
where they now serve on the faculty. They work as individual artists and
in collaboration out of a storefront studio in La Crescenta, California. For
more information about the artists, please visit www.claytonbrothers.com
Mark Cochrane is a college instructor, occasional freelance writer, and
law student. He is the author of Boy Am I (Wolsak & Wynn, 1995) and
Change Room (Talonbooks, 2000). Recent poetry appeared in Capilano Review and New American Writing. Earlier work has appeared in PRISM 31:1
and 31:4. He lives in Vancouver.
Joelene Heathcote has an MFA from UBC. She has received many awards,
including ARC Magazine's Poem of the Year, THIS Magazine's Great Canadian Literary Hunt, and most recently, The Florida Review Editor's Choice
Award. Her book of poetry, What's Between Us Can't Be Heard (Ekstasis
Editions, 2002), was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Award. She is working
on a new collection, The Alienation Effect.
82 warren heiti was born in Sudbury, Ontario, and he is currently working
on a master's in philosophy at the University of Victoria. Some of his
poems were recently anthologized in Breathing Fire 2 (Nightwood Editions, 2004).
Nancy Lee is the author of Dead Girls (McClelland & Stewart, 2002) and
the forthcoming novel Born Slippy (McClelland & Stewart). With the speed
of a reluctant glacier, she continues to work on her poetry manuscript, The
Most Girl Part of You.
David Maelzer was born in Bombay in 1941. He moved from India to
London, England, and in 1969, arrived in Canada where he received his
BA in English Literature from Simon Fraser University. David joined
Vancouver's gay community in 1971. He died in June 2000 of HlV-re-
lated cancer, just before his 59th birthday.
Sharon McCartney is the author of Karenin Sings the Blues and Under the
Abdominal Wall. "Pa's Penis" is from a new manuscript, The Love Song of
Laura Ingalls Wilder, which uses voices from the children's books of Laura
Ingalls Wilder.
Roger Nash is a past President of the League of Canadian Poets, and
worked with Senator Grafstein to create the position of Canadian Poet
Laureate. His most recent collecton of poems is Once I Was a Wheelbarrow
(Bayeux Arts, 2000). Edgeways Press in the UK has just published a collection of his literary critical essays, called The Prayer that Poetry Makes
(2004). He is Chair of Philosophy at Laurentian University.
Saleema Nawaz moved from Ottawa to Winnipeg in order to pursue an
MA in English at the University of Manitoba. Her short fiction has appeared in Grain.
Joonseong Park lives in Coralville, Iowa, and attends the Iowa Writers'
Workshop. "The Broken Umbrella" is a short story from The Land of
Morning Calm, his novel-in-stories. He is now completing another novel,
Hybrid. His fiction has appeared in Fiction, American Letters & Commentary,
Green Mountains Review, and many other journals. He is also a translator
of Korean fiction, and he has won the PEN Translation Award.
83 Steven Price's work has recently been published in Breathing Fire 2
(Nightwood Editions, 2004). His first book of poems, Anatomy of Keys, will
be published in Spring 2006 by Brick Books. He lives in Victoria.
Brian Swann received his BA from Queen's College, Cambridge, and
his PhD from Princeton. He has taught at Princeton and Rutgers, and is
now Professor of English at the Cooper Union. He is the author of over
thirty books, among them works of poetry, fiction, translation, literary
criticism, and children's literature. He is a resident of New York City.
Catherine Wong is an art director and visual artist in Toronto. She has a
deep love for shoes, show tunes, and red meat.
84 Creative Writing B.P.A. at U.B.C.
',,e<
The University of British Columbia offers
a Bachelor of Bine Arts degree in Creative
Writing. Students choose three genres to
work in from a wide range of courses, including: Boetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction,
Stage Play, Screen & TV Play, Badio Play
Writing for Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song Lyrics & Libretto. All instruction is in small workshop format or tutorial.
Lynne Bowen
Meryn Cadell
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Faculty
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
For more information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T IZl
Or check out our website:
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca vallum
contemporary poetry
contemporary      poetry
journal  featuring   poets
from     across     North
America and abroad.
eclectic   and    edgy
with    a    focus    on
establis hed    and
emerging  poets with
something relevant to
say—be   it   about   the
earth, the air, the polluted
state of world affairs, poetry
as magic,   concrete  poetry
or various other rhythms.
*0 8ox 48oCft.^     ,4 *
QC, Can»d*
SUBSCRIPTIONS: $16.30 (CAN), $14 (US)
ORDERS FROM ABROAD IN US FUNDS
"Vallum ... is witty, startling,
sardonic, obscene, often
(and I can't believe I'm using
this word)—lovely."
—LITERARY MAGAZINE REVIEW
"This Canadian journal makes
a bid to be international."
-BLOOMSBURY REVIEW
"Audacious and exciting ..."
-NEW PAGES
www.vallummag.com CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Horsefly Literary Magazine is seeking submissions of
poetry and short stories for our 4th edition. Horsefly is
a professional quality literary annual published by the
Nelson Fine Arts Center and ElephanTome Press.
We consider writing of literary merit from anywhere but
are especially interested in work from writers living in
the Kootenay region of BC.
POETRY: Maximum 5 poems, single-spaced on standard
letter bond. Name, address, number of pages & lines per
poem noted on each page.
SHORT STORIES: Maximum 2000 words, either a complete
story or excerpt (indicate which), double-spaced on standard
letter bond. Name, address, word count and no. of pages
noted on each page.
NOTE: Please attach a brief biography (200 words max.)
with your submission and SASE if you wish your submission
returned or to be notified of acceptance for publication.
No e-mail submissions please.
DEADLINE: April 30, 2005. All submissions received after
this date will be considered for the next edition. Mail to:
The Editors, Horsefly Literary Magazine
1103 W.Richards St.
Nelson, BC V1L5T3 THE NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARDS FOUNDATION
CONGRATULATES THIS YEAR'S SILVER AWARD
WINNER FROM PRISM INTERNATIONAL.
MARLENE GOOKSHAW POETRY
National
Magazine
Awards
Foundation
Celebrating Excellence
in Canadian Magazines
www.magazine-awards.com PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462 -1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC.V6T1Z1
Canada
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC.V6T1Z1
Canada Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $37.45 (GST included).
□ One-year subscription (4 issues): $23.54 (GST included).
Residents outside Canada please pay in U.S. funds: $27 for 2 years and $18 for 1 year. Make
cheque/money order payable to: Prism international. U.S. money orders are no longer accepted.
Name:	
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Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $37.45 (GST included).
□ One-year subscription (4 issues): $23.54 (GST included).
Residents outside Canada please pay in US funds: $27 for 2 years and $18 for 1 year. Make
cheque/money order payable to: Prism international. U.S. money orders are no longer accepted.
Name:	
Address:
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Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Nonfiction
43:3
Twenty-two days one autumn: booty runes in the
datebook. But instead all you value is the wound,
because the wound itches, because ripe as a papaya
it neither closes nor bleeds.
The CanSex Issue
Mark Cochrane, Page 59
Julie Booker
Craig Boyko
Sioux Browning
C.B. Burgess
Kevin Chong
Mark Cochrane
Joelene Heathcote
warren heiti
Nancy Lee
David Maelzer
Sharon McCartney
Roger Nash
Saleema Nawaz
Joonseong Park
Steven Price
Brian Swann
I
Cover Art:
Stay Gold
by The Clayton Brothers
'72DDL"Ab3bl'
03

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