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 PRISM international
Contemporary Writing from Canada and around the World  PRISM international  PRISM international
Editor
Billeh Nickerson
Executive Editor
Mark Mallet
Drama Editor
Sherry MacDonald
Advisory Editors
George McWhirter
Bryan Wade
Associate Editors
Elizabeth Bachinsky
Marguerite Pigeon
Business Managers
Michelle Winegar
Andrew Westoll
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Heather Frechette
Bobbi Macdonald
Teresa McWhirter
Colin Whyte
Monica Woelfel
Editorial Assistants
Samara Brock
Catharine Chen
Kim Downey
Kuldip Gill
Sarah Leach
Matt Rader
Eric Rosenberg PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
four times per year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of
British Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T
IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann
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 ® 2003 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Cowboy, by Carl Lukasewich.
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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
language. The Advisory Editors are not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality and budgetary obligations.
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Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the
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We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council
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Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. June 2003. ISSN 0032.8790
incil      I-t: Conscil des Arts ^^•■■**&f| f
BRITISH
COLUMBIA
The Canada Council   I   Le Conscil des Arts ^^&*^7       ARTS   COUNCIL
for the Arts      du Canada Supported by the Province of British Columbia Contents
Volume 41, Number 3
Spring 2003
Drama
Donn Short
Full Frontal Diva /46
Poetry
Steven Heighton
Three Approximations /9
Gordon Mason
Virgin and Child / 25
Adam Chiles
Labour / 26
Helen / 27
Eve Joseph
FourGhazals / 36
Camillia Matuk
The Middle of Orange / 40
lanis MacDonald
Edison's Elephant, 1903 /44
Daniel Tbbin
Times Square Store, Brooklyn, 1973 / 45 Fiction
Avital Gad-Ckyman
Once a Month We Play / 7
Seth Feldman
Decking the Heavy / 12
Leah Bailly
Away With Us / 28
Contributors /64 Avital Gad- Cykman
Once a Month We Play
The donkey brays behind the guard's shack, once again challenging
the myth about roosters being the first to tear the silence of dawn.
We often stumble over truths we once so dearly adopted. The farm
animals' roles keep changing according to their preferences, for instance.
We were wrong, wrong, wrong, to think that all donkeys or all roosters
share the same nature.
Sometime between the war's first and tenth year, we understood that
nothing could surprise or disappoint us, as long as we did not change our
perception of it. Objects had mostly corresponded to our expectations. Yet,
when our mothers came for a visit and released their sharp tongues, we
came to realize that the Russian Babushka dolls standing on our TV sets
were no longer brilliant red, green, yellow and brown, but were merely
reminding us of their origins through their fading paint, keeping the colours alive. We revealed that newly found awareness to our mothers, who
kissed us, and blessed us, and cried. They suggested we take off the mirrors and hang pictures of our husbands in their place.
When they left, we replaced our husbands' pictures with images of our
youth. This way, we knew, our innocence would remain eternal. We are
strong as one. Even while lying alone in a bubble bath, we go on referring
to ourselves in the plural, as "we," and sometimes, "us." When we sing,
our voices reach the skies. We are happy, happy, happy.
We are free to raise our children, while our husbands protect the borders of our land. Husbands move from one battlefield to another,
under pressure to keep in motion. We would accompany them, but children are moving inside us and out and then off to their insecure ways. One
may hang a line of dynamite over their necks, and they'll call it a necklace.
We give them bronze soldiers and take them out to play. My son—no, we
cannot say he is ours—he takes a step, placing his round, funny legs too far
apart from one another, and he balances and hangs on to us. We love him
so much. So much.
We love our sons and husbands so much, we build walls around our
land, so nobody will get hurt. One brick builds a guarantee for peace, a
thousand mark our skyline. We glue them with clay that sways like flesh
and soon turns solid. Our home seems strong to us, although we are not
sure how firm it is. Husbands see the walls moving, closing on them, and they fire the guns, killing many husbands at a time.
Our strength still lies in our unique perception. The certainty of having
survivors, husbands or otherwise, from the daily attack declines once we
employ our knowledge of math. Instead, we focus on arts and entertainment. We celebrate the good life we have and the good years to come.
As years pass, we settle into odd numbers. Each of us young women has
gone through the first year's mourning, the second year's recovery, an
attempt at new relationships, and then nothing, or rather "something" that
we can't capture with words. We tried "loneliness," "void," and "vacuum,"
but the words broke in toothy shards and lost all that had been whole and
vital about them.
We meet once a month, every month, always. If someone is missing, we
know she has died. We ask the neighbours to keep an eye on our kids, and
we plead with our mothers to keep company with our lonely mothers-in-
law. They know how important it is; women cease to exist if they fail to
attend a meeting.
We are trimmer than we used to be, our nails are manicured and our
hair is dyed with quiet colours so as not to suggest we have forgotten. We
kiss each other's cheeks and dig into our satchels for our young husbands'
bronze soldiers, the ones they played with as kids. Our children have their
own. We place the soldiers over the floor, trying a different strategy every
month. We do not care which side wins, because we belong to both. Bang,
bang, bang. We laugh as we break each other's dolls and then we break
ours. We remove the headless, broken soldiers from the field, and place
new ones in their place. Steven Heighton
Three Approximations
Like a Man
(Catullus)
Enough of this useless moping, Catullus,
it's over, write it off. Back then
when she was yours, the sun always shone
and you were on her like the sun,
insatiable, as she was, and she'll
never have it so good again.
Always at her heels, her side, or
inside her, Catullus, and that was
fine, whatever you wanted she wanted
and the sun—there's no denying it—
always shone.
Now she's changed, gone cold,
and you'll have to be the same—
not pitiful, like this, no whiner, idler,
sorry stalker, tavern fixture.
Take it like a man. So here's so long.
When Catullus makes up his mind, girl,
that's it. He won't come haunting
your doorway, nights, like love's hunched
beggar...but then again, who will?
Your nights will be as cold as his!
How will that suit you for a life?
Who'll come to see you then? Who
flatter you on your looks, give you
what he gave you all the time, and
take you around, kiss you,
be your fan? And you, girl—
who are you going to kiss,
yes, and bite...?
Ah, Catullus,
enough, you know it's over.
And you're taking it like a man. My Marrow Flame
(Sappho)
He is not a hero, he is more
a god in my eyes, that man
who sits beside you, the one
close enough to hear each separate
word—your words—him lost in the pure
canto of your voice, the pour
and splash of laughter that makes my
blood bound fast. And when suddenly
I meet you, I can make no sound, my
tongue is helpless and my marrow
flame, my skin ablaze, I see
nothing and I hear no more
than the flood in my ears, that hard
drumming, as I drip with sweat
and I tremble. Then all the blood
drains from my face and I fade
to white, like winter grass.
Times like that
I feel death is not far from me—
10 The Sleep at Sea
(Homer, The Odyssey, Book 13, lines 16-93)
Now the crewmen sit to their oars in order and slip
the cable from the bollard hole and heave backwards
so their oarblades chop at the swell and churn up water
while over Odysseus sweet sleep irresistibly
falls so fathomless and sound it might almost be the sleep
of death itself... And the ship like a team of stallions
coursing to the crack of the lash with hoofs bounding
high and manes blown back like foam off the summits of waves
lunges along stern up and plunging as the riven
rollers close up crashing together in her wake
and she surges on so unrelenting not even a bird
quick as the falcon could have stayed abreast....
So she leaps on splitting the black combers bearing
a man godlike in his wisdom who has suffered years
of sorrow and turmoil until his heart grew weary
of scything a path home through his enemies or the furious
ocean; but now he sleeps profoundly, with all his griefs,
asleep at his side, forgotten.
11 Seth Feldman
Decking the Heavy
Jimmy Burbank is surrounded by elk. In the dark, it is hard to tell how
many. Some have antlers, some have very big antlers, some have no
antlers at all. They don't seem to be grazing or, for that matter, fixed
on his remaining headlight.
Burbank brushes aside the drapery of limp airbags and notices that one
of them is stained with either his blood or his coffee. He remembers now
that he swerved to avoid Magdalena the elk, hitting instead something
even more substantial. Maybe the elk are here to thank him.
He turns the key. The tiny, glass-jawed car doesn't even groan.
His head hurts. He tastes blood.
With the passenger door open, he hears the clatter of hoofs on the
empty mountain road. There's a faint smell like musty old furniture and a
snort as if someone is playing a beer bottle. But no leaking gas, at least not
that he can tell. Young Ernest the elk is working his snout through the
open passenger door. Burbank undoes his seat belt, leans over, pushes
Ernest away and pulls at the door handle. His collarbone tells him that this
is a mistake. So does Ernest who is now playing a louder beer bottle. The
door has no intention of returning to its frame.
Burbank remembers that there had been a construction detour. There
were signs, arrows to follow. Then there weren't. He had kept going on the
empty road hoping to pick up the trail. He'd been doing that for some
time before Magdalena appeared.
Where is his omnipotent, state-of-the-art, global cell phone? He finds it,
its face glowing, and calls 911. Nothing happens. There are still places that
don't have 911. He pushes the operator button and gets a recording. Attila
the elk kicks out the remaining headlight and, for good measure, most of
the grill surrounding it.
Burbank pushes the buttons for Rocky's home phone. The wonderful
global cell dials long distance. Four rings later, a cracked voice two time
zones to the east shouts back to him.
"Who is this?"
"Rocky, you're a hunter. What do you do about elk?"
"You shoot them. Jesus, it's a quarter past four. Who is this?"
Burbank identifies himself and explains his situation. There is a long,
tired silence.
12 "Okay," says Rocky, "this is what you do. You get out of the car and
find the meanest male in the bunch, the alpha. He'll have the biggest
antiers."
"Attila."
"Whoever. You go right up to him. You growl, stomp your foot and
make lots of noise. If he's still not paying attention, punch him. Right on
the nose. That's his most sensitive part."
"Yeah, then he'll tear me to pieces."
"With any luck."
Rocky hangs up. Young Ernest sticks his head back through the open
door. Burbank feeds him a donut.
The donut shop looked like the last stop in the far western suburbs of the
far western city. Burbank hadn't eaten since the plane. He ordered a dozen
mixed and bought coffee in one of their plastic car mugs.
"Annie" the night counter girl could not have been friendlier. She
wouldn't let him go until she found out where he was from and where he
was going. She told him not to go there. Not that time of night.
***
The miniature car was not his idea.
Burbank had gone into the car rental. He rang the counter bell and
eventually "Davy," appeared and asked what he could do for him.
It didn't seem to Burbank like there was a wide variety of goods and
services on offer.
"A car," he said.
There were only two cars left, both of them designed to tell the world
you don't rate an upgrade. He could have his pick. They were both green.
Burbank threw his driver's license onto the counter and, next to it, his
wonderful omnipotent credit card painted to resemble an especially rare
and precious metal.
Davy whisded.
"I guess you'll be wanting to waive the insurance."
"Kid," said Burbank, "if anything happens to a car I rent with this, we
both get a new one. Hell, you get a trip to Hawaii."
***
By the time Carson had finished with Burbank, the airport was closed.
Whoever the lodge had sent to meet him had long since left—as had the
buses and taxis. Carson walked him toward the door while the other security guard turned off the lights.
"I'll run you into town," Carson volunteered. "Any hotel in particular?"
Burbank had no interest in a hotel. The studio had included a brochure
13 with his ticket. The brochure said the lodge was two hours from the airport. Tops.
"You got twenty-four hour car rentals around here?"
"A couple. But I don't think you should drive up there at night."
"Think I'll get lost?"
"That too. But it's more likely you'll hit an elk. There's a lot of them
this year."
Once upon a time, Burbank proclaimed, the wolves ate too many elk
and when there weren't enough elk left, died of starvation. This gave the
elk their chance to produce too many offspring. Nature's purpose, he concluded, is to keep the vulture population more or less constant. Isn't it?
"Look," offered Carson, "I'm as tired as you are. If you don't want to go
to a hotel, we have a guest room."
Carson's western hospitality was charming—bizarre, actually, coming
as it did after he had hounded Burbank through the details of his identity,
repeatedly grilled him on the offending incident and would not stop badgering him even in the face of incontrovertible proof of innocent intent.
All the while, they both knew it was nothing but practice, something to
break the routine in a small city airport offering nothing of interest to the
would-be air pirate. Carson was performing for his absentee boss or, who
knows, the equally invisible instructor at Security Officers School. Carson's
partner practiced on Burbank's suitcase.
"With all due respect, I think you're being foolish."
Carson said it again when he dropped Burbank at the car rental.
***
Inside the security guards' lounge—now the interrogation room—the guard
who had stopped Burbank asked him for his name and photo ID. Burbank
told him and, as he groped through his wallet, asked to whom he might be
speaking to.
"Carson, Dick Carson. I'm the assistant head of airport security. And
you, sir, may be charged with a felony."
"For what?"
"Uttering a death threat, impairing the security of an aircraft, air piracy."
Burbank thought "piracy" had a certain cache. He handed Carson his
driver's license.
"I know who you are," Carson admitted.
Burbank smiled and struck the pose that was on the book jacket. Carson
did his unsmiling thing.
"If you'd like a lawyer present, we can get you one in the morning."
14 Burbank had been the first one out of his seat, down the aisle and on the
verge of exiting the aircraft. The pilot was standing just outside the cockpit door.
"You know," he said to the pilot and all within earshot, "I'd like to
thank you for your patience. I would have killed somebody."
The pilot worked at keeping his smile. A flight attendant called security.
Meanwhile, Burbank dashed down the jetway. Whoever the lodge had
sent for him might still be waiting. As he approached the exit, he could
indeed see on the far side of the glass partition a man holding a small sign.
Did it have his name on it?
Before he could be sure, an airport security guard stepped directly in
front of him, another got a firm grip on Burbank's right wrist and twisted
it behind his back. After just a bit of fumbling it was handcuffed to his left.
***
"Thank you for your patience," the pilot said. Burbank wondered who
the hell was being patient. He and the rest of first class stewed in a silent
haze. Cell phones were forbidden and, for security reasons, the pilot had
turned off the handsets built into seat backs. Alcohol service was suspended. For their unconscionable fares, the passenger elite had been reduced to juice, coffee and as much of the nut melange as they could eat.
His flight had just pulled away from the gate when the pilot announced
the discovery of unaccompanied baggage in the cargo hold. After some
time going nowhere, the airplane was escorted to a holding area. Then to
a more distant holding area. Fire trucks arrived. Police arrived.
"Well," said the pilot, "at least we know the system works."
Eventually, an armored truck appeared and a man in a padded bomb
suit made his way beneath the plane. Another half hour passed before the
pilot announced that a cargo door appeared to be jammed.
Burbank had read every word of the in-flight magazine when he thought
to ask a flight attendant why the passengers hadn't been evacuated. It
wasn't part of the protocol.
"We can't just leave it like this," he said.
"It's left," said Bonnie. "There's nothing else you can say."
"When I get back..."
"I'll be gone."
***
Burbank didn't understand. Did they or didn't they want him to write the
screenplay? Murray had a number of opinions.
"Come on, Murray, give me a straight answer."
"I don't know."
15 "That's your straight answer?"
"You've read the contract. The language about options. That's probably
what they want to talk to you about."
"So what you're saying is that if I don't drop everything and rush off to
this mountaintop lodge, I lose my option to write the screenplay?"
"That's the way these people do business. They need to know who
they're dealing with. Lots of touchy-feely."
"Maybe the meeting is instead of my writing the screenplay?"
"I don't think so."
"But you don't know for sure?"
Silence. Out of the blue, he asked Murray if he'd ever actually read his
fucking book.
"I know what it's about," Murray said.
***
Burbank had done two call-in shows, signings in four bookstores and, that
evening, a motivational talk to a high school auditorium full of air cadets.
His intention had been to order room service and fall asleep before it
arrived. But when he finally closed his hotel room door, there was Asta,
also standing on his side of it.
Big enough tits, he thought.
A short time later, she got out of bed without mentioning that it was the
best sex she'd ever had.
This was when Bonnie called.
"I've thought about it," she said, "and I've come to a decision."
"A decision about what?"
"About Margaret. And the High Ceiling guys. Give them the whole
fucking thing. Every last cent. Write a real book."
"Why should I do that?"
"Because this is your chance," she said, "to be a person. And you're not
going to get many more like it."
"And what about the new house and the Mercedes and the shopping
sprees?"
"I never asked for any of that," Bonnie said.
"Nothing that's happened matters?"
"Should it?"
"Look, I've got to go."
"Then go. But think about it."
Burbank was thinking about it when he and Bonnie heard the toilet
flush.
Margaret sued. She didn't need the money. She just thought that there
should be something she could do for those people who had been fired
16 from High Ceiling. Arnie's friends.
"Look," said the lawyer Murray had found him. "Even if you wanted to
give her some money, you thought the best way to honor Arnie's wishes
would be to keep to the original agreement."
"I have to swear to that under oath?"
"If it comes to trial. But my guess is that this is a nuisance suit. They
think we're afraid of the bad PR and what they're really looking for is a
settlement."
"Then settle."
"It's better if they initiate the process. What's really better is for them to
beg."
***
Burbank couldn't believe the money. He deducted taxes and Murray's fee.
He put some aside for Margaret. What the hell, Burbank gave her more.
Lots more. After that, he couldn't believe how much was still left.
"And I get to keep it? Even if they don't make the film?"
"Yes," said Murray. "I told you that."
"Tell me again."
"This is what you get even if they don't make the movie. If they do
make the movie, you get more."
How much more? Burbank was too giddy to ask. He asked anyway.
Murray told him.
"And I get to write the script?"
"You get to write a script. Which they will buy from you."
***
Murray Pellow extended his hand and Burbank was thrilled to shake it.
He'd had agents before. He had dumped them. They had dumped him.
None of them had been Murray Pellow. Pellow was the top. The top of this
particular office tower. The top of the pile. Figurative. Literal. The works.
"Please sit down."
Pellow offered him a drink, a coffee, funny coffee if he wanted. Burbank
asked for the plain black coffee he thought he could handle. In a moment,
a tight skirt moved by his face mixing the smells of fresh coffee and
receptionist.
Burbank knew nothing about what was going on except that the royalty
cheques kept getting bigger. They had stopped being cheques from High
Ceiling and were now cheques from Cudleigh Snelgrove, a company so
big it was owned by something even larger.
"And they bought High Ceiling?"
"You didn't know? They did it to get your book. They've junked the
rest of the press."
"The book is that good?"
17 "Outstanding. Across two of the prime male demographics."
"So I get another book contract?"
"You get to publish whatever you like. As of now, everything you touch
is 'by the author of.' New manuscripts. Old manuscripts. Short stories.
Your good-sex-beat-the-stock-market diet. Whatever. It's a classy way to
clean out your desk."
Pellow snapped his fingers between each item. It sounded like a string
of firecrackers. Burbank had always wished he could do that.
"But none of it will make any money," Pellow continued. "Where the
real money comes from is the paperback rights and the movie contract."
At the phrase "real money" Burbank's eyes started crawling from picture to picture on Pellow's wall. In all of them, Pellow was shaking hands
with clients. Most were recognizable faces and some had names that had
been extended with an "-esque" here, a "-like" there and maybe even an "-
ism."
Pellow noticed Burbank's interest.
"Shall we take a picture?"
***
He held the newspaper in front of his face. He held it so long that the
bottom of the paper, having dipped into his bowl of coffee, was sporting a
brown stain and the stain was growing, larger and upward. Burbank's hands
may have been trembling.
The name and the book were his. And they were not at number ten on
The List as befit a newcomer, an unexpected arrival, an event far more to
be desired than a kick in the pants. The name and the book had come out
of nowhere to land at number eight.
"Fiction. James Burbank. Decking the Heavy. Number Eight."
"Yes," Bonnie responded from behind the Travel Section, "I saw it."
Burbank lowered the Entertainment Section directly into his bowl of
coffee.
"You saw it?"
***
He came home to find Bonnie back from the office. It must have been later
than he thought.
"I hope you've brought dinner," she said.
No, he had been at the copy shop with the last of the manuscript and
then he'd gone to the post office to mail it.
"Which one was that?"
"You know which one. The one I've been working on for the last five
months."
"The boy's story. By 'Jimmy Burbank?'"
"It's not a boy's story."
18 "No? Clench-jawed pilots, do or die? And the women who lust for their
ever-youthful bodies? You sure you haven't brought dinner?"
"No I haven't brought dinner," Burbank snapped.
She sighed.
"All right, it's great literature. And you've done your good deed for
Margaret and poor Arnie. Can we go out to celebrate? Like, soon?"
Mitch Curtis, the middle-aged boy executive learning to be a man, is in
the co-pilot's chair next to old Charlie Bishop, our hero's hero. Charlie
had blown his career while Mitch was still busy teething. Now a veteran
captain for the world's scumbag freight services, he is the only guy Curtis
and the network can find to land the heavy on a carrier's deck. Even Charlie
had second thoughts—until Mitch's boss, the reptilian Farley, alluded to
the three marriages Charlie had going on three different continents.
That's many chapters back. Here on the last pages, they are flying on
this clear morning over the Barents Sea, half an hour out from beautiful
downtown Murmansk. Well below and dead ahead, right there, if it is not
entirely an illusion, sits a rectangular speck.
They have done this a hundred times in the simulator. Still, Mitch can't
believe he is lowering the flaps.
The wheels come down. Then, at Charlie's nod, they lower the huge tail
hook, groaning, creaking, shaking the 400 tons of airplane as if they're
opening the gate of hell.
Charlie's hand is feathering the throttles, bleeding yet more of their
airspeed. He's daring the stall alarm.
It is only now that Mitch notices Charlie's jacket, the pilot's jacket of a
once great airline long since gone bust. He knows it is Charlie's first
jacket, clean as it had ever been and never fitting him better.
Down there on the trembling blue carpet, the speck has grown. Off to
the side of it is another speck, the company yacht, where Farley, the other
network execs, the admirals, the Russians, the bankers and Congressman
are watching. Connie is watching. She is the only one sitting on the great
curved horizon who knows why they are going through with this. The fake
footage is in the can. No matter what happens, that's the show going out in
prime time.
"It matters that it doesn't matter."
The speck has become the rusted hulk of the Vakulinchuk, with the
network's newly painted logo spanning the flight deck. It is a ghost ship. If
there are Russian sailors who could be paid enough to stay on board, they
are below decks bracing themselves behind something solid.
Mitch arms the retro rockets. The carrier is racing up toward them like
a high fastball pitched by a tidal wave. One buzz of the stall alarm. Charlie
19 just thinks about touching the throttle and the alarm goes quiet.
In that quiet, Mitch hears himself ask the pilot, "What do you think,
Charlie, can a 747 really land on a carrier?"
That might be spray on the rattling windows.
Charlie is no longer talking.
***
It was Rocky's address book that decked the heavy. Rocky had given
Burbank the names of the more original thinkers on High Ceiling's list.
Burbank sat through long, rambling telephone calls, got ten thousand
word e-mails and invitations to go up in things that didn't really look like
airplanes. A man drove for two days to deliver crumpled rolls of indecipherable plans. Bonnie found him peeing on her shrubby and called the
police.
Bit by bit, though, Burbank's engineering team redesigned the 747 for
its mission. They came up with a credible tail hook, anchored it where the
belly tank had been and moved the belly tank into the passenger compartment. They would land hot but as soon as the tail hook engaged, would
fire retro-rockets to break the plane's speed. The fuselage would be re-
enforced. So would the carrier's deck and arresting cables. If he had to,
Burbank would take down the island. But, as it turned out, the Russians
had a half-built carrier, The Grigori Vakulinchuk, that had been sitting in
Murmansk dry dock since 1991. It had no island and the network could
lease it for a song. The Russians could keep whatever was left of the 747.
In the end, it all worked. Rocky allowed that he'd be damned if he could
see why it wouldn't. Asta, the book's publicist, got real engineers and even
real pilots to say "maybe" and "who knows?"
***
Burbank called Boeing, popped the question to a guy who designed the
things.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Why can't it be done?"
"Off the top of my head? A 747's wingspan is too wide. Its wing tip
would clip the carrier's island.
"Island?"
"The control tower. You know, that big thing sticking up on the deck."
"Goon."
"Well, the stall speed's too high. The plane would stall before it slowed
down enough for a carrier landing. You would have to go in very fast, and
given the sheer inertia, you would need a tail hook the size of a construction crane. And I'd like to see the arresting cables that would hold it. Even
if they did, the impact would tear the plane apart. You want another reason?"
"Sure."
20 "If you were still in one piece—and there is no way you would be—how
do you get the plane off the aircraft carrier?"
"That's the Navy's problem."
"Which they would add to the list of ten other good reasons for not
going along with the stunt."
"That it?"
"Most of it. If you want, I can give you some more technical reasons."
"That's okay."
"All right, then. And, hey, look, before I forget, give my best to Arnie."
"Arnie's dead."
***
There had to be a way to land a 747 on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Rocky didn't think so. But if Burbank wanted to find out everything a
747 could or couldn't do, it would be right there in Arnie's book, King of
the Heavies.
"He wrote a book on 747's?"
"You didn't know? Best thing ever written about them. And that's not
me talking. Ask the guys at Boeing, ask the pilots. Best thing Arnie ever
wrote and one of the best things we ever published."
"If you and Arnie knew it was impossible, why did you buy the idea for
the novel?"
"Well," Rocky said, "I guess that's why they call it fiction."
***
The handwriting on the envelope was shaky, as if written by a child. There
was no return address. Inside was a single page letter typed badly above
Arnie's signature in the same shaky hand. Attached to the letter were two
copies of a legal document.
The document was their deal, just as they had discussed it. It was signed
by Arnie, by the business manager at High Ceiling Press, properly witnessed and notarized. Burbank was to sign both copies, get them notarized
and mail one of them back.
Arnie's letter was an apology. Their word to each other was good enough.
Never meant to imply otherwise. He trusted his friends. But he didn't trust
anyone else. So this was the way he wanted it.
"PS.," said the same shaky hand, "there is no way to land a 747 on the
deck of an aircraft carrier."
What the hell did Arnie mean by that? Burbank phoned to find out.
Margaret's sister, Ellen, picked up on the other end. There was someone
crying in the background. It was Margaret, discovering a new continent of
grief. He and the sister listened.
"You may remember me, we met.. .I'm a friend of Arnie's.. .was. I'm
just calling to..."
21 There was another pause.
"How did you know?" Ellen asked.
They had just gotten back from the hospital.
***
"You bitch."
She had told him that what was he was trying to do was to show Arnie
up. Write the better book.
"Never mind that the poor man can't think straight. You've got to get
the last hit. It's like the two of you have been doing this forever and now
you can't stop. He enters a contest, you have to enter the same contest. He
gets honourable mention and you start throwing furniture."
"I've won some."
"Isn't that nice. Shit, when he started seeing Margaret you had to come
on to her."
"That was before I met you."
"And twelve years later he's still coming on to me."
"You play right along."
"That's what you do with two little boys."
This is when he called Bonnie a bitch.
"And you," she pronounced, "areJimmy Burbank."
***
As soon as he began to write Arnie's novel, the plot began to change.
Arnie's workaday pilot became a television vice-President who flew his
own corporate jet. The eccentric billionaire who was to fund the aircraft
carrier stunt became the network itself caught up in a high stakes rating
game. Those high stakes bred corruption, temptations to fix or even stage
the grand event. To extraordinary flying skills, he would add a moral
dimension.
"And who's the love interest?" Arnie wanted to know.
"Another network exec. When we meet her, she's after his job."
"Big tits?"
"Big enough."
"They fuck?"
"Once. She tells him it's the best sex she ever had. Then we get the cock
back into the cockpit. Don't worry, Rocky told me what you guys agreed
on."
"You can't call him Rocky. Only his flying buddies call him that."
"He told me to call him anything I wanted. As long as I didn't confuse
air speed with ground speed and kept it to one fuck."
Arnie paused. Something hurt.
"You okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Right as rain."
22 "And you're okay with the changes?"
Arnie barely nodded. He was busy dying and so it was almost like
flying stories didn't matter.
***
"There's something we didn't talk about last time," Arnie said. They
met in his hospital room and, as promised, Arnie looked like another
man's corpse. "I don't want my name on this damn thing. I've never put
my name on anything I didn't write. A bit late to start now, don't you
think?"
"I don't want my name on it either."
"I knew you'd say that. So I'm thinking about a pen name. A one-timer.
You got any ideas?"
"Something from aviation? 'Orville Lindburgh?' 'Wilbur von
Richtoften?'"
"High Ceiling won't go for anything like that. What else?"
"Well, when you think about it, the book's just as much about television. Why don't we steal a name from TV?"
"Okay. What's a television name?"
"Ray Cathode? Cable Chanel? Buster Remote?"
"Come on, something that doesn't sound like we're fucking around. A
real name."
They thought for a moment.
"What's that place," Arnie asked, "where they make TV? 'Beautiful
downtown...'"
"Burbank?"
"Yeah, Burbank.JohnJ. Burbank."
"Not 'John.'James.John is too John Doe.'"
"Okay,James Burbank. Fast Jimmy Burbank."
***
It would be more than a few weeks work. The "finished first chapter"
wasn't even a first draft. Arnie's outline petered out long before the climax
and his character profiles aspired to the two-dimensional. There was notebook full of half-ideas written by a fully distracted man.
"Okay," said Arnie, "enough chit chat. This is what I want to talk to you
about. I have this contract. Not a big contract but not a bad one either. I'm
not going to finish it. I want you to take it over."
"What do you mean you're not going to finish it?"
"Look at me."
"You don't look so bad."
"Fuck you. I look like three weeks of chemo that's not doing shit. And
23 wait 'till you see what six weeks of chemo looks like."
"You'll come through."
"I'm going to fucking die. All right. I'm going to die. You tell me
different and I'll get someone else to write the book."
"What book are we talking about?"
"An airplane story. You know, for High Ceiling Press."
"I thought you were through with those guys."
"Yeah, I was. But they finally gave me what I wanted."
Arnie had wanted them to publish a novel, at least one, after all his
books on famous airplanes.
"And I got a five grand advance. I get to keep that."
"Keep it all."
"That's not the way I want it. So shut up and listen."
Arnie was going to keep the advance and half the royalties. His coauthor could have the other half and, oh yeah, the movie rights. Not that
there would be any movie rights. Still, over time, the deal might be worth
a few more bucks for each of them. It wasn't a bad story. Nor would it be
all that much work. A month. Six weeks, tops.
***
"Margaret called today," Bonnie told him one night, after she'd cooked
him a dinner, poured him a third glass of wine and paused long enough for
him to realize she was pausing. "Arnie's sick."
"What do mean, sick? The flu?"
"He's got cancer."
"Where. What kind?"
"A lot of places by now. The bad kind. He's already in chemo, but he
didn't want to tell anyone until they were sure."
"Sure?"
"Sure he's going to die."
There was something at the bottom of his wine glass. It needed careful
scrutiny. For all he was worth.
At length, Bonnie interrupted.
"Talk to me."
"I'd better go see him."
"You'll put it off."
He got up and walked to the phone. Arnie was asleep. Margaret suggested that early afternoon might be a good time for a visit.
After setting a time with Margaret he went upstairs. He sat at his desk
and imagined he was borrowing Arnie's sleeping mind. He looked for a
way to describe what it was like, this thing, and damned if he didn't come
up with some first rate metaphors. He should have made notes.
When he came downstairs he found that Bonnie had gone to bed and
left him the dishes. Which he did.
24 Gordon Mason
Virgin and Child
I'm from Loughton. In Essex.
Went to Loughton Girls' Comprehensive school.
I did CSE Arithmetic, RE, History, and Sex Education,
but no one told me babies can bite with their gums!
Sometimes his toes turn up when he's fast asleep.
Real fatty, isn't he.
And did my mum believe me when I said I was pregnant?
Did she believe me when I said no I hadn't had sex?
Our headmistress went berserk.
The girls in my class were dead jealous though.
He's got the same colour of hair as me, hasn't he?
I could gobble him up, I could.
When I remember thatjourney down to Gatwick!
What a nightmare! We had to sleep in the departure lounge.
One-armed bandits and video games going all night long.
And that's when this one chose to be born.
Next thing I know, three blokes off a Middle-East flight
giving him presents. Bar of this. Box of that. Jar of the other.
I'm going to make sure he's got a trade though.
Got a trade, got a living I say.
My best friend said—what if he'd been a girl?
And I said—what if I'd been a virgin?
We laughed!
25 Adam Chiles
Labour
From the hospital roof
I cannot distinguish the light
of stars from live
planets. When I look up
each point speaks the same
doggedjargon.
Staring from a thousand feet
at the map of Albuquerque.
I believed each light
gossips for us.
Every night re-entering
my own tamed acre
of moon. I stare at
the neighbors across
the lawn and wave
as I turn the door knob
and go inside.
How private we are.
From the hospital roof
I can hear the traffic slowing
along Robson Street.
My wife has finally
passed out.
Holding a cigarette
in my right hand.
I have added this much
to the world.
26 Helen
Below me, tools insist
a plain song. Nails enter
the hulls of grounded trawlers.
A pleasant sound,
the hour mending
itself again.
I sit above the harbour
with my sandwich
and think of the needle
as it enters you.
London flutters
just below your skin.
Another may have
thought it better to
slow-dance their way
down, one bottle at a time.
You want it all though,
the sensate charge
pressing its lip on.
The faceted light
that extends like
a Byzantine alley
through you.
27 Leah Bailly
Away With Us
Grandpa is in the corner on his knees. Facing out. Cupped in his
left hand is a bowl, swinging so delicately to and from his lips it
is as if someone has glued it to his hand. His chopsticks are a
shelf, or a shovel, pushing rice in and in. Not eagerly. His belly sighs up
and down with his shoulders in such small movements one can hardly tell
it is breath. He must be listening to Popo. He is. Popo's toes come in and
out of view, her pulled-up socks, and Popo is always muttering or shouting
or twittering or laughing or reciting her round words to Grandpa. He
doesn't always nod. There are times his eyes crinkle, but there are times
when they are still.
I cannot see past their knees, but I can look Grandpa straight in the
face. Popo is folding har gaus on the far counter. I can see her rock calves
squeezed into woollen socks. Her ankles rooted into the linoleum. I hear
murmurs in Cantonese from Popo's helpers; three ladies in aprons and
fold-over skirts. Never louder than Popo. Their legs stand stiff beside Popo's
now. Eight trunks for spindly, bending trees but narrowing at the bottoms.
Right where they should be thick and strong. They shift their weight from
one balled foot to another, pushing their soles out flat. Their hands above
them must be sticky with dough and shrimp.
I am stretched out. My nose is smunched into a carpet so musty that the
smell makes my whole face twitch until my eyes well up. My cheek must
have grooves, imprinted lines down one side. With my legs splayed out
behind me and my face poking through the grate, I can see right into the
kitchen, glimpse Grandpa between shuffling legs.
There are hundreds of portholes connecting the rooms in this creaky
old house. Popo's mansion is the tallest house in Chinatown, maybe even
the tallest in Cobble Bay, and I'm sure the house once belonged to a
diplomat or a tea dealer. Now, the house marks the entrance to the warehouse district, where the foul odours from the cannery meet the clangs and
whirs of harbour cranes. Now, the house's cedar frame splinters into its old
clay foundation. Paint-stripped. Sagging. Dilapidated.
Popo was the one who gave me my dictionary, The Oxford Concise, so I
could use my language to its full potential. This is important to Popo, like
celebrating birthdays. Neither Popo nor Grandpa remember their birthday
dates, nor their astrological signs, which has left them at a great disadvan-
28 tage. I, however, am truly shaped by my stoic Capricornian nature, my
ample vocabulary, and my two dead, shrivelled legs.
"HEY, MER. YOU CRAWL DOWN THOSE STAIRS?" My belly
seizes. My arms push my chest off the ground and I give him a look with
my meanest fibres. Joshua is a fat lazy Aries, loud as a midway.
"Joshua." My neck strains all the way up to where he stands, out of
reach, above me. "Get lossst."
"AT LEAST LEMME HELP YOU BACK UP." Joshua doesn't always
understand things on the first try. This may eventually lead to Joshua's
downfall. He can't take a hint.
"Go fuck yourself, Joshua." He doesn't listen and steps over my outstretched body. His legs make a V over the backs of my knees. I can't turn
over without lifting one leg over the other. He knows this. My head cranes
around wildly. My snapping turtle. With these shrunken legs I am powerless to kick. To hop up. To run away. He knows this too.
"C'MON, MER. ALLEYOOP!"Joshua guffaws. Picks me up by my
hips, flips me over, and carries me up the stairs like a bride. Almost knocks
my face against the banister. The bastard.
I spend hours following them around the house with my ears. Behind the
flapping walls of a canvas tent. Beyond the hum of the humidifier. The
creak of the metal.
At the end of each day, the ladies file past the kitchen swing-door, past
the bottom banister, under the giant crepe-paper lantern and out through
the front door to catch their buses. This is Popo's way of showing respect
for her employees, allowing them to begin and end their shifts by entering
the same way our guests do. Through the foyer and out the main door. A
bell chimes behind them when the door clicks shut.
Popo wears flip-flops and socks and, when her mouth isn't popping out
clippy orders to the others, her walk-shuffle sounds around the house are
kih-shhhh kih-shhhh soft, like wind through sorghum. Grandpa's footfalls
are clunkier with gumboots on, but padding silent with his bare feet. This
makes him undetectable when he climbs the stairs, except for his shallow
nose-breathing. The gardener cannot climb the stairs without clicking his
trophy ring against the banister, and my half-brother Joshua cannot move
or breathe or exist without snotting and snorting and drooling. He has no
desire to disguise his movement around the house. Joshua is so obvious.
Boorish. Elephantine.
I can do silent somersaults alone in this room. I can handspring and flip
and karate chop right out of the metal braces and the canvas tent and even
these atrophied calves. I can leap right out of them when I'm alone. Even
dive-roll out the window. Even sail on clouds.
29 Grandpa sweeps the veranda with his straw broom. His tire-tread sandals
slap the ground as he hums, right below my window, as if in greeting. He
reaches way up and beams through the walls of my tent. Radiates. Illuminates. Grandpa has so many ways of relaying these messages to me, but
Grandpa has never spoken a word of English to me in my life.
Grandpa's youngest son, Duncan, Joshua's father, slept in this room.
The room with the puckered paper and sloped walls. There are twenty-
nine rooms in the whole house, plus the cold storage basement with the
meat slicers and giant sacks of white rice. More than just a house, this is a
buzzing factory-mansion. The stairways are narrow and windows open but
only stay up with a stick. In Cobble Bay, the pillars in the front aren't
unusual, just unpainted. The smell of the cannery and the grease from the
wharf have rotted the paint around the windows into a dingy brown-yellow.
The master bedroom has cracked mouldings and the front hall has a
high ceiling and some stained glass, but the true wonder is the kitchen.
Our kitchen consumes most of the main floor and the dining spaces, and
carries all the old smells from the house and the family. We even have a
whole room of ovens and proofers and, I admit, I have threatened Joshua
with a night in the oven if he doesn't behave.
As far as I can tell, our main floor is the biggest dim sum factory for a
thousand miles. Dim sum means, "to touch your heart." Little morsels
through the stomach. Small steamed and fried treasures for the tummy and
the soul. This city is in love with Popo's dim sum. They buy freezer bags
for their restaurants and cases for their homes.
The workers here are hired without papers, and I imagine part of their
clipped Cantonese welcome speech must be something about me. "There
is a girl," Popo would explain, "a white girl upstairs with metal legs. Don't
look at her funny, she is our family. Ask no questions." And I'm sure they
would pass the gossip on to one another on the first bus ride home. The
poor abandoned child, all sick limbs and sick lungs. Poor thing. Poor
thing. How did she come to be with this family? Poor thing. What does she do?
Backflips, I could tell them. I do backflips for breakfast. I lie here in my
bed and do kung fu moves like king's crown: three swords, one hand
overhead, one right at your throat. That's what I do. I read the dictionary
andJ.A.G. Robert's Concise History of China and I make things symmetrical
and I hate my half-brother. That takes up a lot of time. My teeth click
patterns. My shoulders move in shapes. I listen and follow the others with
my ears. Dim sum smells flow in and out of me all day and I eat it all night
in my dreams. I can see a window through a tear in the tent walls. I can
handspring right through it, from bedside-table, to lampshade and out
onto the cannery rooftop. And I am never bored.
30 Joshua and I play gin rummy until dusk. I win thirteen games with
three double gins and only two runs. I rule. Dominate. Subjugate. We
alternate sides every two hands to keep my back from tensing up. Each of
my legs is screwed into a bendable, extendable brace that keeps them from
shrinking back into my hip sockets like turtle heads. My legs are always a
little apart, in half-straddle, and always elevated to keep blood from pooling and my tendons from calcifying. Every four hands, Joshua turns the
little crank at my side and bends and flexes my legs at the knee. This
whole contraption was Grandpa's idea. To reduce atrophy. Popo calls atrophy the dry poppy effect, but the Cantonese left over in her tongue makes
it sound like dlie poppy. Popo says my non-Chinese tongue could learn
Cantonese, but I should spend time with my English dictionary instead.
English isn't round and spiky like the peony though, sweet and smoky like
cha siu bau.
The chimes dance at the front door. The ladies scuttle to their bus to
scoot them home to their own rice bowls. The house is calm except for the
gardener, who whistles as he performs the special watering ritual of late
evening. Popo knocks. Tray full, teapot full. She sets it on the round table
in the corner by the window. This is our dinner: black beans and broccoli
and rice. We tap three fingers in thanks for the tea, and Popo kow-tows as
she leaves the room, smiles at our little game. Popo eats downstairs on her
kitchen table rough with gouges so she may feed Grandpa, crouched quiet
beside the ovens.
That night, I dream our mother dines with us. The mother Joshua and I
shared. Blonde hair to her waist, but not like silk. Like noodles. She doesn't
know to leave the fish head, not to turn it over on its platter. She touches
me but not Joshua. Between her teeth hang strips of food that wiggle over
her gaping mouth. Her face is my face. Gueipo.
Grandpa is standing over me. My forehead, my armpits, my tailbone are
all on fire and my throat burns from hacking. The canvas tent is full of
foul odour, only obvious to me once the cold air from the hallway hits my
lungs. It feels like a punch, and the cough grips my throat. Grandpa holds
me like a baby. He rushes down the hall. My heave starts, ripping the
cough through me and tearing flesh. It must be tearing. I must have been
calling out. Grandpa must have heard from all the way downstairs.
The bathroom walls drip and the wallpaper melts into pools around the
base of the toilet. I hang suspended over the bowl; Grandpa has me by the
ribs, leaning back against my weight. More ripping, a hacking cough.
Droplets of blood bloom in the bowl, full and red as Popo's dahlia. My legs
curl underneath me, return to a fetal state, and my hair runs into my tears,
run into my spit, run into my phlegm in one long stream. Grandpa will not
31 lose his grip. He chants some indecipherable something until eventually
the heaving ceases.
Joshua's toes under my toes, one strong hand under my belly. I'm flipped
overjoshua's shoulder, my head upside-down and a round pattern is rubbed
into my back. All I can hear is the rattle in my lungs. Pounding in my
temples. We stand like this, with me slung overjoshua's shoulder for a
long time before Joshua sends Grandpa to bed with a few short commands
in Cantonese. Grandpa kow-tows to both of us, backs out of the room.
"How do you know that?" I am hoarse. My voice is not my voice.
"How come they teach you those words. How do you know so much?" I
raise my voice, shout into his back.
"MER, C'MON." His hand is at the base of my neck, softly resting my
head on my pillow.
"Because you go into the kitchen, and they let you help? Because you're
half, right? Because you have the blood or something?"
"MER, IN THE MORNING." His eyes are puffed around the bottoms
and I notice they really look slanted like that. His eyes are stuck on a spot
beside my cheek. A brown-red stain on a pale blue pillowcase.
"GOODNIGHT." Joshua draws the canvas tent around my bed. Draws
the curtains over the window. Switches off the light.
"Fuck you, Josh. C'mon." He has left the door ajar, but he is already
halfway down the hall.
Joshua and Grandpa share blood. It was Duncan, Joshua's father, who lived
in this room. It is the Cantonese in him. The Cantonese that got in my
mother. My mother doesn't live in Cobble Bay and neither does Duncan
and neither does my father, for that matter. I have never heard anyone
speak of him. Not out of secrecy but ignorance. He is a mystery. Like how
Popo got this house.
Duncan and my mother met in jail. Or rehab. Or wherever a long tall
Chinese man puts poppy-seed stains up and down a blonde lady's arm.
Baby-sits her kid while she's out with other men. I remember a few apartments, some carpet. A foam couch where Duncan and I would sit side by
side and watch Highlander. Drink tea.
We came to visit the big house a couple of times after Joshua was born,
snot-nosed me in tow. Popo was thrilled by the way I ate her sesame seed
balls, a big greasy clown smile taking up half my face. My mother held
Joshua while she picked at her lunch, poking white slimy dumplings with
a chopstick and scowling.
One afternoon my mother decided to ditch babyjoshua with Duncan
and took me for a mad getaway. I remember a car ride with a thick-armed
man and my face pushed up against a ripped plastic seat as I tried to sleep.
I kept asking if the baby was hungry at home, where Duncan had pulled
32 the blankets off the bed and made a nest on the couch. I kept waking up
from little backseat dreams, choking and crying. Guess I eventually pissed
them off, so when we stopped for French Toast at a diner in Coal Sound
she sat me down outside with a kitty while the waitress watched me, just
for a minute. Guess a lot of time passed. When the waitress asked me for a
number I could call, all I could remember was Popo's factory name. To
Touch Your Heart.
Joshua was already waiting there for me. Duncan had dropped him off
at Popo's house. No milk to feed him and he wouldn't stop wailing. Such a
loud baby. Clangourous. Deafening.
I wake to bells, light as sprinkles, and pattering footsteps. The noise downstairs begins long before they pull the tent open and smile me good morning. I can track them with my ears. It starts with the bells. Mud liu ?
There are piles of lotus leaves. Those must be sorted.
There are pots of rice with stones. Which must be rinsed.
There are shrimps in buckets, all moving legs. We must remove the veins.
Cornstarch mixes with water mixes with flour mixes with sesame oil.
Filled with filler. Coconut and honey and pork, extra sweet.
"HEY, MER, HUAJUAN"Joshua has set us breakfast. Tea and flower
buns; yeast and scallions. Sesame balls that are greasy and sweet. My favourite. Popo loves to watch me eat them, tells me to get fat and fat and fat.
Red bean paste and rice flours. Deep deep fried.
Joshua gets sick of the sweet, but I could eat it everyday, and I do.
"Hey, Josh." Joshua looks at me blankly. 'Josh!"
Joshua grunts a reply through a mouth full of dough. "Ever heard of the
Boxers?" He looks at me sideways. "Okay, so there's these guys, the Boxers, that taught martial art as a way of rebelling."
I begin with my explanation. Even though Popo trusts him to walk into
town alone, buy her baskets and my clothes, and even trusts him enough to
go to the Mardona Straight Middle School alone every day, Joshua is an
extremely dense individual. I explain things slowly to Joshua. "And healing," I continue.
"YEAH, SO..." His mouth is full of sticky rice.
"They rebelled with meditation."
"WHERE?"
Sigh. I sigh. "North. North of Tianjin. Late nineteenth century. But they
weren't all guys. There were these girls, the Red Lantern Society."
He stops chewing, his mouth hanging open with round balls of bun
visible on his tongue. "COOL."
"Close your mouth. And not just cool. They rode on clouds. They
could meditate through all torture. And they fought."
33 "DID THEY WIN?"
"Not really, but they kicked ass. They flew and rode dragons and—"
"WAIT A SEC."
"No,Josh, they could suspend themselves on ropes and trees and—"
"MER, I CAN'T TEACH YOU KUNG FU, OKAY? I CAN'T, YOU
CAN'T EVEN STAND. C'MON."
"My arms are strong. And Grandpa is showing me—"
"MER, YOU CAN'T DO KUNG FU."
"But Grandpa's old and—"
"YOU CAN'T EVEN GET OUT OF BED, OKAY?"
"Fine."
Who needs to stand for kung fu? All you need is razor-sharp wit. And
God, Joshua is no master. Stupid classes at the cultural centre don't mean
anything. Just doing poses and chants. He loses every match. He must.
Bunch of idiots, not thinking, just throwing punches and kicks around like
juggling oranges. Dropping them all over. Careless. Idiots.
I take more bites of my sticky rice and leave my sausage for Joshua. So
he'll get fat and slow. Joshua the deceiver. The impostor. The half-breed.
Popo reads my tea leaves. We sit at her rough cutting table. Joshua has
carried me down, left us to run errands. The smoke shop for pork, the
wharf for fresh squid. Popo says I am blessed to stay at home—the smell of
the pork house makes you gag. We laugh. Popo sticks her finger in her
mouth and makes rough sounds. She smiles when I smile.
Our chairs pushed together, my legs are out of the cage and stretched
out on her lap. I can see my legs are as long as her arms now, that they are
shrinking back into me, sucked in from the inside. She reaches across and
rubs ointment into the joints at my hips. Little drops of oil seep into the
straps of my underwear. Popo's medicine. The jar on the table with floating
leaves and twigs that smells like booze and turns my skin cold and prickly.
She looks deep into the jar of herbs for a pattern, like with the leaves. The
jar sits between us on the table and through the brown liquid Popo's face is
rounded out in the front. One eye catches mine, slanted. Her brow is
knitted tightly. Popo looks scared.
Grandpa cries out. It is just before dinner, the grey sky darkening. I am
waking from a nap. The tent is tight around the bed, but I can construct the
scene without seeing. Popo's voice. Shrill and high and calling for help.
Joshua is beside her. Popo's head is on Grandpa's chest. Her lips still
moving. Joshua leans in. The help surrounds them. I should be there too.
I drag my dead weight across the floor to the window. From above,
Grandpa's body looks like it has fallen from a great height. Small rivers
from the evening watering run in the cracks of the bricks around his
34 collapsed body.
Grandpa is not breathing. If he was, he would be up by now. That was
Grandpa, never down for more than a second. Was. He's not breathing,
he's not breathing. Repeat. Call someone. My arms burn from holding my
weight on the window sill. Joshua looks up, sees me in the window. Sends
a worker to come get me. Carry me down to see for myself.
Five minutes pass and no one has come. They hover over Grandpa still
and Grandpa is still unmoving. I call down. Someone has called an ambulance. Joshua wants to pick him up but doesn't. Is not allowed. Tears pour
down my face and my chest starts to constrict. Sobs form with the cracking
of a cough. The scene is out of reach but I cannot let go of the sill. I cannot
look away.
Popo is silent. I have never before seen Popo silent. The help bring her
a chair and the gardener is giving instructions to paramedics. Paramedics
have entered the house and I didn't even hear the bells at the door. They
all speak to these men in broken English while Joshua translates. Instructions for when Grandpa wakes up in the hospital and cannot speak to the
doctor. I squelch another cough. If he wakes up. A siren calls up to me,
long and shrill, and finally I drop to the floor. My tailbone lands hard on
the metal braces I have dragged across the room.
Grandpa has found some sort of quiet in this house. He lies in a bed in the
room beside mine. Popo has bathed him so he may become an ancestor.
Popo is all in white. Joshua and I lunch on bamboo shoots and rice wine.
We listen to Popo whisper through the walls. Joshua tries loudly for some
kung fu talk. I cannot play. He even brings up the Boxers. Poor Josh. He
hates himself for not helping.
Joshua carries me into Grandpa's room where Popo sits in the corner
and reads. Again, silent. I look again for Grandpa's chest moving, easily,
like before. Joshua pulls closer. I put my hands on Grandpa's ribs. His skin
has dropped away. Lies in pools on either side of his eyes.
Grandpa on his back on the bed. There are others in the room, scurrying around. I can't see past their hands. I can look Grandpa straight in the
face. The sound of feet scuffing the carpet is like breath. Joshua breathes
heavy behind my neck. I breathe with him, long and slow. We breathe for
Grandpa. Grandpa is outside. High high, back-flipping over the creaking
cranes. Hand-springing down a Chinatown street, off the Cannery roof.
Double-flipping onto the closest cloud.
35 Evejoseph
Four Ghazals
XX
Sunday morning. The Priest's robe
has native designs:
raven, eagle: a frog
with tiny human hands.
I want the merciful re-telling:
a whisper always blood.
Mother coasting on the couch.
Tracks. Late last night
the fishing boats returned.
Goose moon. Next month, Frog.
What starts heavy, needs
to lighten. In the kitchen sink
an ice-cream bucket of blackberries:
a permanent stain.
From his pulpit it's that raven
proselytizing yet again.
36 XXXIV
Late fall, frogs announce
it is time to dance.
Are those men or ghosts
circling the fire?
I doubt what I know,
not what I hear: old songs
rise from the burnt church,
not hymns but hunting songs.
Was it madness to let her sleep
on the grave? Madness to drag her off?
Always the river, its secrets:
an osprey hooked: a terrible kite.
Her Indian bread was so fine
we called it cake.
37 XLIV
I've stolen my own rituals: notes
are missing. Whole songs forgotten.
On my wrist, a raven feeding
on spirits. What to make of this?
A hand reached through pain
to a stone temple. A bell. A winter wren.
Wind. Breath. It seemed the whole
world waited on this death.
Around the shed, a string of unlit lanterns:
small fires in the sky.
Fear darkens the room: a candle
helps. And touch.
Today I move against the current;
even a short crossing takes longer.
October 3rd. Grateful for the late sun:
the last, unhurried bees.
38 XLV
November 5th. The rivers are rising;
instinctually, we edge closer to home.
One body, they rise: drop
back to earth. To these fields.
Don't confuse me for the angel
of death. Clearly, I lack the conviction.
The dugout is all we have left: that
and a memory of fire.
Think of them as snow birds:
small white fidelities;
what breaks through ice rises:
a song, a spirit song.
It is here I release the dead:
navigators on a starless night.
39 Camillia Matuk
The Middle of Orange
The Far
Pan-Wei, her father, calls her number two, the second daughter of seven. A
line of girls, and overlooked, but two is lucky and when she becomes
seventeen, an ocean grows between them. He lets her search the places
across it, from where foreign businessmen come wearing ties and trading
sums. He sends her to live with the nuns, and tells her to remember her
ancestors, Shu-Hung of the forests, Choi-Wan who raised the clouds and
the nameless who came before him and who stare at the sticky buns on
their shrines, wooden-mouthed in frames. And her two brothers, younger
than her, who will pass on the family name and whose children will call
him Gung-Gung. He gives her a watch so she will know when to return.
When to leave. The nuns who baptize her with an English name swear in
the ash of cigarettes behind corners when they think the girls are in their
dorms. Later, she will understand. Later, when she learns to speak.
40 Visitors from before
They come from the sky from places in stories from flashes on TV and the
phone calls after eleven. They come with pink plastic bags of waxy ginger
and twisted ginseng root, ground deer horn and dried roses in jars. They
exchange tiny red envelopes bulging with money, pinching the corners
between thumbs and fingers and say "kung hei fat choi." And when they
open their suitcases, their clothes breathe halos of the fish markets, of the
pharmacies, of the air that travelled with them. Shreds of moments hoarded,
dissipating in the western spaces. They look at her fireplace and her deck
and the garden in the backyard, and at us, their nieces. They sit counting
and dividing the oranges between them and comment on fresh beginnings.
These absences of smells.
41 When she learns to speak
She fears answering machines, her voice replayed and imperfect. Endings
too clipped and R's too big to curl her tongue around. She confuses boys
with girls and people with tables and chairs and we have to translate this
side of the world to her. But seeing the time, she leaves and sends us tissue
paper letters. Pulpy and delicate from the rain. Dripping words, the shadows of ink, of her home we never knew, that place where her daughters are
foreigners. Overlooked. We used to laugh at her shame, her extra L's where
ours should be.
42 Returning
The middle of orange and she hangs paper spells on the staircase before
the door. Red to glance the dead unspoken. Charmed and under-eyed.
Plump lids made fists when Gung-Gung lay behind glass, then beneath the
earth his face sinking under the world. Waterfull. And she with her back
turned to us, remembering the mole above his lip, the watch she still
wears. How he ate congee every morning. Steamed flowers in tea, crushed
paper buds. Seven hours in the cup unhandled, and the petals pulled apart.
Emerging. Chrysanthemum quells fire, she says. Even over oceans. Numbers sound like words and fish are lucky and the youngest always pours
the tea. The living dress in white when it ends, circling bridges, burning
money for later. Sisters wait. On the seventh night, ancestors return with
the wind to close doors. Light bulb stings. And they weep. No one remembers the fruit and it rots on the altar.
43 Tanis MacDonald
Edison's Elephant, 1903
Two men lead her on a rope that might
as well be a thread. She looks for the work
she expects to perform in harness, freight
to carry, flat-cars to pull, the jeweled howdah
to bear a woman who waves to the crowd.
The elephant's forehead is a triangle of bone,
a slipped crown. She bows her head, allows
her bridle to be staked to the ground, wires run
up her legs, her feet submerged in a pool,
six inches of water, no more. The men leave
and she waits for hay or work, her toes cool
in the water until her feet begin to crackle. She
peers through the smoke for the men who'll
rescue her from the fire in her legs until she
buckles, a mountain plummeting in the fog.
She falls on the rope; it breaks. She kicks out,
not like a beast of burden or might, but like a frog
under dissection, like an infant with colic at night,
like a dog tied behind a car and run to death. Now
Edison takes note of the exact voltage and current
necessary to electrocute one elephant cow,
twelve years old, three calves, much wood
and water carried. He discovers just how
to kill a willing giant, a great behemoth felled
by thought, and we are better for being repelled.
44 Daniel Tobin
Times Square Store,
Brooklyn, 1973
(for S.C. and W.B.T)
The last time I saw Mickey, he'd painted
his cheeks with blush, affected a passion
for opera. My father, unacquainted
with his best friend's son's adopted fashion,
stood, part shipman, part voyeur, words rolling
impotently off his tongue, while the gazes
of our fellow shoppers flashed controlling
signals down the aisle. The heart amazes
itself, in spite of where it's been created.
Hard-knocks in a cowed schoolyard, a doting
mother, the hang-dog look of the defeated,
weigh in balance between all and nothing:
those beatings that were his father's pleasure,
the other life that became his treasure.
45 Donn Short
Full Frontal Diva
Introduction
The following is an excerpt from the full-length play, Full Frontal Diva,
wherein three men search their memories to tell the forgotten history of a
young boy and the meaning of his life and death many years ago. The play
was recently selected as one of two winners of the 2002 Writing Out Award,
an international writing prize presented by the Finborough Theatre in
London, for the year's best new theatre and film scripts on a gay and
lesbian theme.
The playwright wishes to acknowledge the Playwrights Theatre Centre,
Vancouver, BC, for its valuable contributions to the development of this
play. The playwright expresses his thanks to Roy Surette, Bob Frazer,
Robert Moloney, Andrew Mcllroy, Roy Neilson, Aaron Bushkowsky,
Stephanie Kirkland, Martin Kinch and Chapellejaffe.
46 As the lights come up, KENNY APPLETON, in his early 30s, stands at a
doorway. His dressing area, which includes a table, chair, mirror and coat
rack, is nearby. There is also a window.
APPLETON       They found Jimmy McHugh's dead, wrecked body last
week—on the third. I remember because that's usually
show day. That's Saturday to you. I ran into him the
night before, at a most mteresting establishment—I
assure you. But he didn't even recognize me. Looked
right through me. Maybe it was the outfit. People only
see what they want to see, /say.
Since coming back to town for my little visit, I've tried
to pick up the local dirt that doesn't make it all the way
to the big city and, of course, Jimmy was at the very
top of my list: so I'd heard the stories about too much
drinking and hard living—although what's so hard
about living?, /say—but I wasn't quite ready for that
face. And, as he walked righthy me without so much as
an "excuse me," or a "kiss my foot," I thought to
myself: you know, you look ready to die—but of course, he
didn't have a clue.
It was the same deal with an aunt of mine: racked with
cancer and everybody oblivious including the aunt.
So, except for that minor matter of the gash across his
throat, maybejimmy McHugh went like everybody
else after all. Laid out in his best "you may view the
body now" suit—Zellers I think—so you know they
really pushed on the budget... you re-e-e-e-ally couldn't
even notice it. Leave it to East City to know all the
tricks of too much make-up. Credit where credit is due,
/say.
47 There've been three viewings so far and another one
tonight. Lined up in the streets they are, waiting to get
a peek. Why, I even caught Old Lady Grady tugging
on Jimmy McHugh's collar just to get a better look.
Apparently, it's become all the rage to run your finger
along the stitches—and make a wish! Who knows what
might happen tonight? You'll have to pry my fingers off
the doorknob to get me out of there. Oh, yes, the
violent end of Jimmy McHugh, dead at thirty-three, is
news in every neighbourhood throughout tiny, bored
East City—and the place is packed!
Paula Miller, the woman who claims to be the dead
man's wife—without any paperwork, to that effect—but
why quibble now, /say—was the picture of grief—in a
black turtleneck. I don't know how she got that hair
through the door without bending over, but I don't like
to kick them when they're down. Poor dear, you can
just imagine what she must be going through. She'll be
just fine: everybody carries on after somebody, /say.
Jimmy and Paula lived in a spacious apartment at the
end of a hallway—between "C" and "D." Although the
letter on the door says—"A." Only the children much
notice the faulty chronology—a chance to show off a
school lesson in order and place, swallowed whole.
Those who came all the way over the Hunter Street
Bridge from the sophisticated west side gave no such
hint of even noticing. Oh, yes, they shrug off anything
out of the ordinary with the same boredom and indifference that will eventually take them home again
tonight. The thrill of ninety stitches stretches only so
far. Or maybe they're just tired: life is such a chore
when you have to give up a night at the Legion.
He moves away from the door toward his dressing area while
taking off his sweatshirt.
48 In time, the whole city will have come to pay respects,
or scratch a gruesome itch, whichever you prefer.
Death puts on quite a show. The old, the young, the
wanderers and the firmly-rooted, will all come. The rug
merchant on Charlotte Street, who's spent twenty-eight
years with the cheerleader he married six months after
raping her ... and Maggie Hinton, who cured her
husband of his roving eye by sticking a knife in it—
during FrontPage Challenge—will both come.
He pulls off his shoes.
Next to Jimmy McHugh's transgressions, their crimes
are shadows, reflections, really, of not much at all.
Through the years, this city has spent many long,
endless nights reading about Jimmy McHugh's
criminal escapades in the newspaper. Scamming U.I.,
stealing cars in Lakefield, and an endless series of you-
can-count-on-them-being-bloody fist fights at some of
our finest shit-kicker bars.
Oh, they condemned him, but always with a wink—you
know, a secret admiration. All that male power, the
electricity of his adventures—such a corpse must be
properly mourned. A moment's silence please—that's
enough.
The public is very predictable in its tastes, /say. And
tonight will unfold like the previous three. So I know
in advance: the old will leave first. After that, there
won't be any particular order to the exodus. At the first
viewing, three days ago now, Billy Taylor, an old
sweetheart of mine, stayed just ten minutes—long
enough to make it with me in the locked room next to
the one where Jimmy McHugh had been laid out—plus
another five to recite empty words of sympathy to
Paula Miller. Billy Taylor, you bad boy. "Can't quit you
baby, "he whispered in my ear—and then left.
Well! I said the same thing to him that I say to my girls
the first night of a new gig: kisses on your opening,
honey.
49 He takes off his socks and rolls them both neatly into a ball, dabs each cheek.
Paul and Frankie Morris!... who were born brothers
and lived their lives as brothers, but whose brotherly
love now violates the normal rules of attraction in this
little burg, were nothing but proper and polite— "How
do?How do?Nice toseeyou again, how do?"—and had
their own quiet, urgent reason to rush home ... Petty
sins—I assure you—in a world once lived in by Jimmy
McHugh. And that St. Pierre woman ... French ...
mumbling to anybody who'll listen that she married
beneath herself. So? All women do.
One by one, I study them all, their bloodthirst satisfied,
eyes now only for the door, making their way down a
hall of mirrors, distorted shapes retreating to the night
outside: victims and survivors, those happy all the time
and those waiting for the end of the world, glass people
in a city of glass.
Sound like anybody you know?
He takes off his pants, folds them neatly.
And I watch them go, taking their riveting lives with
them, waiting and hoping in vain for something in
their faces—the first light of awareness—which never
comes. How do they miss me?Me!Kenny Appleton,
their old pal from the past, standing there sharing their
grief. It's taken me almost ten years to grow the balls I
needed to come back home. But that's just entre nous for
now.
Blank faces—ivory bright, floating in the night above
legs as white and fragile as meatless bones—they cross
to the safety and comfort to be had for the price of a
crosstown bus. How convenient to be dropped within
walking distance of one's own little life. Each one of
them needing, wanting something, but not a wish in their
heads for what it might be. You'd think dreaming
would be easy when you're unconscious to begin with, /
say. But then, why go to all that nasty trouble to
conjure up something creative—when there's beer in
the fridge?
50 People say: if I were you, I'd try to be more understanding. I say back: if I were you, I'd change my hair and
wear different clothes.
(singing)
Tell me what's the colour of my eyes?
Look away and tell me if you can,
Now look back again,
'Cause lover I've got more
than one surprise ...
Turning his back to the audience, he slowly pulls his underwear down to
his ankles and with one foot kicks them off, catching them with one hand.
It's a seat-wetting thrill performing for this bunch.
He turns around, keeping himself covered, wagging a finger at the
audience, then laughs. He puts on a black, diaphanous robe.
On the one hand—me. A creative act, from tilted head
to red-painted toe. I love me, who do you love? And
on the other hand—you: well, really, what can anyone
say? A sad commentary on free will and then anything
nice your mother might have to add. Do mothers say
anything nice?
He notices someone in the audience.
That's a lovely blouse you have on. It's so you.
Youyouuou. All in favour of keeping it simple, say
Sears!
No, no, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. I
mean there's flattering and then there's—this. And
sometimes that's the best way to go—save a few bucks.
I mean if you're not going to care about your hair, why
spend money on a top? Seriously, though, did you buy
that new? Now myself, I can't go in to Value Village.
The polyester makes my eyes water.
He returns to his dressing table, puts on a pair of pantyhose and
continues putting on his make-up.
51 I have to bring the room down, now ... Mmmmmm ...
What are you ready to hear? What do I want yon to
hear even if you're not ready? And if it disturbs you,
my littie story, will you sit and listen anyway, knowing,
trusting, that ultimately, the art of my life, the shape,
colour and light of it, might have more meaning for you
than your own? Can you conceive of such an idea, and if
you could, would you buy? Can you afford not to? But
I'm warning you now: when it's your turn to speak, to
share with us all, the narrative—somewhat less than art
I'm sure—of your own little life, I'll probably have to
go pee ... and I won't miss a thing.
I must speak of him now, ready or not. Donnie
Gallagher was what we used to call "one of the older
boys." He was really only a few years ahead of me in
school, but the hair on his face and the thickness of his
nakedness, glimpsed during Saturday morning swims at
Little Lake, seemed like unbridgeable distances to me:
age eleven and skinny.
And many years ago—ten, twenty, a hundred—they had
been best friends, Donnie Gallagher and Jimmy McHugh,
but so diferent—I assure you.
Donnie paid attention to people, but that made people
nervous—I lived for his attention. He looked at you as
though he could see you—he could. Sinners don't
welcome that kind of light. Nobody in Jimmy's gang of
boys much liked the witness such eyes as Donnie's
were likely to bear either.
I think now that Donnie must have been a problem for
everybody: his family, teachers, the other boys. Who
was there to fight for Donnie? Certainly not that
brother of his and certainly not the adults who clucked
their tongues and shook their heads at such a boy as
Donnie, so beautiful, so dazzlingly beautiful... so
publicly uncaring of it—so inevitably problematic for a
city with such a long list of dos and don'ts and don'ts.
Our little town, so lights out and missionary!
52 Whether in crowds or on empty streets, Jimmy and
Donnie played the game of East City cool, especially
in the summer—that summer, the one I most remember
and measure us all by—but don't we all have a summer
like that. Except yours probably involved cut-offs and
tits.
Jimmy and Donnie, just two boys hangin' with a gang
of seven or eight others, a veritable crowd of masculinity—but never a couple, please. And always, at the end
of a day spent swimming at Little Lake, or climbing
Armour Hill or riding our bikes to Lakefield for ice
cream, I would see Jimmy and Donnie, alone, talking in
the low tones that older boys use when they're no
longer lost in the larger posse, where the posturing of
men in groups is no longer required.
And for reasons I never understood, yours truly was
the only outsider Jimmy and Donnie welcomed into
those precious moments in the day when there was just
the two of them, just the two. Maybe they let me in
because I was young, too young to matter, a baby. A
moment's silence please for my lost youth—that's
enough.
Maybe because I was quiet, as invisible as the help—
that I seemed not to notice. Oh, I noticed—e-e-every-
thing. To my eyes, they seemed mysteriously bound,
soldiers in arms, physically attached close like twins—
the kind of twins, darling, that every mother fears
giving birth to. Theirs was the kind of closeness
between boys that causes discomfort if it lasts much
past grade eight—but is so noble in fiction, military
history and wartime legend at a later age and when lives
are threatened.
But lives are always being threatened, /say.
53 I stared at them both, up close, with purpose, hoping
that whatever it was they shared would make itself
visible to me, believing it would, if I just looked long
enough and was nearby when the great secret made
itself known. I was so patient ...When I get like this, I
just want to be penetrated.
Donnie's family lived in one of six row houses, next to
ours, a line of two-storey shacks, all just alike, except
that Donnie Gallagher lived in one of them. Donnie's
bedroom faced onto the pitiful hardscrabble patch we
all thought of as our common backyard. Oh, but you
should have seen the front lawns—immaculate. Tend to
the garden that shows, my mother used to say.
The landlord—also common—had long since given up
repairing the rotting fence which marked our property
from the empty lot next to it. But to me, it was that
fence I remember most. When I was four, I relied on
my father's strong arms to lift me high above the
crowds to see the clowns in the Christmas parade that
each year marched past our house. And in a similar
way, I always think of that fence as the boost I needed
to get a better look at life as it passed by, as it unfolded
that summer from Donnie's second floor window.
I was afraid that I was nothing more to Donnie than the
little kid who walked him home each day, after he said
good-bye to Jimmy McHugh on the corner—nothing
else, nothing more, just the silent, invisible kid who
was always there when it was just Donnie and Jimmy.
What did he think of me? The short half-block to our
connected homes was, I'm sure, an unimportant distance to Donnie Gallagher, but to me it was nothing
less than a journey of miracles.
At the end of every hot, sweaty day, we followed the
same route home, went through the same routine once
we got there. He would look at me and smile and I
would smile back. Donnie stood at his front door, I
stood at mine, he a little tired and I—erect. Tastefully.
54 The ladies in the house will appreciate the aplomb of
the well-behaved boner. The gentlemen will understand
the impossibility of it.
Donnie would look at me and say, "Seeyou later, "and
together we would open our doors and go inside, to the
sameness to be confronted there, until the marvel of
tomorrow would bring the two of us together again.
"See you later." Such an optimistic way to say goodbye. People say I'm hopeless. Not true. I have always
been full of hope.
His make-up completed, he finds some jewellery, a pair of shoes.
Just when I thought the summer couldn't get any
hotter, on one of those late afternoons when Donnie
and I took our leave of each other, he spoke to me in a
voice that seemed—different: "Seeyou later. "The words
were the same, but the tone had changed, altering their
meaning. Believing that Donnie and I shared the same
desires, I judged the distance between this day's parting
and all the others that had come before it—and I
understood. I knew. "See you ... later.'"
In the summer, night takes a long time to settle in, but
again: I was so patient. I stood at Donnie's fence,
knowing this was the place he meant for me to be. I saw
the light come on in the second floor window, watched
Donnie moving to music which, coming from so high
up, I stood on tip-toe to hear. His hands moved, fingers
first, through his long hair, and high above his head,
his naked chest framed on either side by the curve of
his arms like two long-necked swans guarding the
treasure which floated between them ... that face. A
willful spectacle meant only for me.
After several evenings of such life-altering theatre,
there came a night when I saw two hands reach out to
claim the white-feathered heavenly bird that was
Donnie. He was no longer alone in the room, maybe
never had been. But that night of the hands, he danced
as he had danced every night.
55 And so it was, night after night: Donnie dancing, arms
above his head, and hands reaching out for him—the
hands of another boy—on many nights—starry,
starless, moon-lit and moonless nights. The only
constants in the drama were the dancing boy in the
window, the hands that reached for him and the boy on
the fence—the boy on shore.
Barefoot and fearful of wading in, I watched, my face
burning and my eyes wet, watching the flight of the
erotic, which did not wait for me: half-faces and
shadows, male shoulders and masculine backs and arms
raised like sails in the kind of lovemaking that looks
like battle at sea, and always ended with Donnie, his
belly up against the wall, as hot and hard—I
imagined—as the lovemaking itself. And then, they
stopped, two boys shipwrecked in each other's arms.
And I waited for the tension in my own stiffness to
subside and, head back, I relaxed: two last tears sealing
defeat under sad, cypress lashes for me—the wretched
earthbound.
And every night I took it, watched it happen, thinking
nothing could be more painful—or beautiful. Until one
night there was no light in the second-storey room I
had come to regard as an extension of my own space. I
waited for it, but it never came—no light, no dance, no
dice. There was nothing to do but go inside, fall asleep
and dream.
I heard my mother talking in the kitchen the next
morning—too early in the morning to be anything but
the local excitement over bad news. I crouched at the
top of the stairs, listening to her cluck her tongue about
Donnie Gallagher's accident in Little Lake—she was
particularly bitter that year, her prized roses winning
only second place at the Exhibition. Listening to her
speak of Donnie, lying in a hospital bed fighting for his
life, I could hear her taste the news, knowing what this
must be doing to his mother—whose roses had won
first.
56 And two mornings later, sitting across from her at the
kitchen table eating breakfast, I watched her swallow—
deliciously—the saddest news of all. "The Gallagher boy
died last night," she said, licking her lips. "Every year
somebody drowns in that lake, "she said. "Why not a
Gallagher?"
My mother was herself only a few years later, the tasty
subject of an early morning neighbourhood bulletin—
served over breakfast. Poor mother, such a horrid death.
That car burned forever.
But on that morning, to hear her speak of Donnie so, to
learn of history changing course in such tones ... I won't
speak of my sorrow. I won't say I felt anything at all—
what would it mean to you? I won't—except to say that I
began to think about Donnie's funeral and the thought of
who else might attend—Donnie's prince.
My need to go, once ignited, was fanned by the burning
passion to see the face of the boy who had reached out
to Donnie on so many nights and to whom Donnie ...
had reached back.
And so I went—to find him. I imagined him walking in,
sitting in the same room with me, joined in devotion for
fallen Donnie—and I would know him. We would know
each other. I felt on the verge of a vast discovery about
the relations between men and men, stood poised for some
measureless understanding ... of love. And this time, I
would be part of it. They say each life comes down to a
few moments. This was one.
But he did not come, he didn't, and by his absence,
some large part of the world—maybe all of it—seemed
drawn into question and tossed aside by disappointed
gods who held the power to dismiss any world where
men refused to love other men. Our planet was being
punished, torn away from the sky-how else to explain
the blackness above us that day?
No. I alone mourned for Donnie.
57 After the funeral, I stayed by Donnie's fence in the
dark afternoon looking up at the empty window. I knew
two prayers and said them both. I knew one hymn and
sang it over and over. And I cried, knowing, that there
were no supermen, no gods, to inflict the kind of hurt I
felt on this boy, on the whole world, for ignoring
Donnie's death—and worse, his life. No footmen paying
tribute, no fraternity to repair the skyline, there was
only me, grounded like a bird shorn of its wings,
plucked and shivering, its feathers clutched in the
greedy fingers of a mean child ... probably a boy.
He sings, very big and all showbiz, He moves to the coat rack, drops the
robe from his back, and puts on a black, glittery dress.
(singing)
Je t'adore trop.
Je suis folle, c'est vrai.
Parce que je sais bien
qu'il faut que tu me quittes, je le sais.
As he finishes, he turns to face the audience.
Have you ever seen my act? I lip-sync in both official
languages.
He exposes a tattoo on his arm, lovingly caresses it.
A badly-drawn dragon means just one thing—prison.
Oh, let me recapture it for you. The living quarters are
a little cramped, but it's the bathroom that really sells the
place: a large, well-lit room, tiles on the floor—so necessary for Spanish dancing or showers meant for forty. One
minute I'm rinsing my heair and the next, my face is
being shoved into the wall—with a most attention-getting blade at my throat.
Who is this?, I wondered? Well, wouldn't you?
58 I wasn't sure if that was water or blood running down my
back, but when I felt those fingers do the walking up the
old dirt road, I was pretty sure what was required here.
And I thought, well, apart from the knife and the pushing
my face into the wall-part, I've been here before. I mean,
they don't call me party-ass for nothing. And, frankly,
what's two minutes out of a day? It's obvious that I had it
in me to please him. It's obvious I had it in me to please
him.
For a moment, looking up at my gentleman caller,
naked and wet, the light behind him, I thought he
looked like an angel. He moved, grabbing me from
behind, twisting my arm: "Sit back," he said. Hmmm.
And I thought: such an interesting voice, cold, sharp
with ice—and yet, oddly ... familiar. I studied his face.
Ah, yes, that face.
The illusion ended—this was no angel—and I remembered. I was only twenty-one, a mere ten years since I'd
last seen Jimmy McHugh, but at that time of life ... ten
years, well, we change so much don't we? And not at
all. "Whatareyou lookin' at?' Jimmy McHugh asked
Well, I know my cue when I hear it. "I remember you,
Jimmy McHugh. "And then I said aloud the truth I had
never before even said to myself: "Isaw you in Donnie's
room, loving him, night after night."
Looking in his eyes, I felt the same fear that Jimmy
McHugh must have tasted each time he kissed
Donnie's beautiful face—and now it was in my mouth,
too. And I understood then what it was, this power that
brought men together and tore love away from them:
fear, terror. Nothing less. How remarkable to be
thinking all that, to know it all in an instant. How
extraordinary to be in such a position, so close to
Jimmy, and so close to Donnie because of it.
I never felt as close to Donnie as I did in that moment.
59 And with that thought to distract me, Jimmy McHugh's
cold, easy knife punctured my left lung, taking my air,
leaving me unable to speak, silent. Me. What a way to
At his mercy, I was compelled to listen—how Jimmy
McHugh liked to compel—listen, with my dying ears,
to a story he thought would never be told again. About
what really happened to Donnie Gallagher, my Donnie.
Jimmy McHugh pushed Donnie into the water of
course. Pushed him off the pier at Little Lake when
Donnie threatened to tell the world that the shoulders,
the arms, the hands, the half-face that embraced
Donnie's own on those starry, starless, moon-lit and
moonless nights belonged to Jimmy McHugh himself.
Worse than telling the world, Donnie threatened to tell
our tiny, bored little city—with its lengthy list of dos
and don'ts and don'ts. I loved Donnie. But Jimmy
loved Paula Miller and no doubts about that please.
And Donnie was about to cast some very serious
doubts.
I laugh at myself—which gives me the right to laugh at
you. Lovemaking! Love-making that looked like battle\
Night after night, all summer long, I watched Donnie
Gallagher being raped by Jimmy McHugh and I didn't
even know it.
There's a word for people like me, people that stupid:
romantic. God help the kind of boy I was.
A tear runs down his cheek. He wipes it away like the enemy it is,
regards his wet fingertips.
A tear escapes, the bastard.
He reaches for a wig, puts it on. His transformation complete, he considers
himself in the mirror.
"Linger a moment, so fair thou art..."
60 Funerals are like drag, pure theatre, like clues to the
puzzle of a life—of life itself, really. Mourners fascinate
me—like audiences. But sometimes they can let you
down—like audiences.
A light comes up on the doorway. He walks toward it and as he does so,
his dressing area is swallowed in darkness.
Jimmy McHugh might have left me for dead on the
shower floor, but his knife had further work to do,
destructive work—and he carved up the parts of me
that threatened him most. But as you can see ... Hived!
... and the story—gets—told.
You think drag is sexual—it's creative. A decision,
where you've made none. The "girls" I perform with
have chosen to find life at night, away from the judgments and violence of daylight hours. Some are even
contemplating an operation—the operation—to make
their girlhood official twenty-four hours a day. The
ultimate creative choice!
I had that kind of creativity thrust upon me by Jimmy
McHugh. He sliced me up, threw me away and out of
his world, a world that doesn't have a place for men
who lack what I now lack—except at night, late night,
dark night, starry, starless, moon-lit and moonless
night—that part of the day most of you sleep through
because what else would you do with it?
He scratches at the air with his fingernails.
Far sharper than the blade he cut me with ... "Rest in
peace, "he whispered in my ear, laughed in my ear.
He looks over his shoulder.
Back at you, Jimmy McHugh!
61 My life: noticed and reviled for being noticed. But I'm
not here for myself. I'm not doing this for me, for kicks
or for bucks. This performance is for Donnie! And
tonight I want to scream and shout and sing who I am and
what I have done for Donnie Gallagher!... dead so many
years. Ten, twenty, a hundred?
Once there was a boy named Donnie—and then there
was not.
He goes to the window and looks out.
I hear the wail of a siren in the distance—high up it
seems, like Donnie's music always came to me from
high up—a reminder that accidents occur, tragedies
happen, lives are lost and love taken.
I'm sorry for what people have to go through, live with
or live without.
Another bad boyfriend song blares through the streets.
The odd woman looks up and fewer still grunt their
way back out into the world's end. An old man passes
gas as he steps down into an already asphyxiated street.
These are rich rewards, I think, for me, the great
pretender in their midst. Not even death can stir in
these people an imagination, a notion of who I am or
what I have done. They accept what they are told,
reach for nothing on their own and are grateful for
even less.
So, no applause tonight, no standing o! File out, then!
Or maybe the trouble is with me. Maybe I'm getting
too old for—expectations. I'm not the young boy I
used to be ... I had such balls then.
He picks up a black, sheer scarf, wraps its long edges around his neck,
over his shoulders and down his back. He considers himself in the mirror
on his dressing table.
62 The only admiring eye in the mirror belongs to me:
shine on, bright and dangerous object. Ah, to have
passion and affect change! I genuflect to its fatal light.
Once more, I begin to feel my awareness ... my superiority ... the power of my big girl's blouse.
He moves to the door, carrying a handbag, puts on a pair of sunglasses.
And that is why—each night as they turn dull-lidded
eyes for one last look at the corpse laid out in the front
room—it will never occur to them that I am the one
who killed the sonofabitch.
He walks through the door and closes it.
Darkness ends the play.
63 Contributors
Leah Bailly, the recent recipient of the Vancouver International Short
Fiction Award, lives in Victoria, where she has finally touched down after
a few years bouncing around the tropics. She has work forthcoming in subTERRAIN.
Adam Chiles is the 2003-2004 Reginald S. Tickner Fellow at Gilman
School in Baltimore. He recently completed his MFA at the University of
Arizona. His work previously appeared in PRISM 39:1.
Seth Feldman teaches in the Department of Film & Video at York University (Toronto), where he has served as Dean of Fine Arts and Robarts Chair
of Canadian Studies. In addition to academic publications in Film Studies
and Communications, he has written twenty-three radio documentaries for
the CBC program, IDEAS. His work previously appeared in PRISM 10:2.
Avital Gad-Ckyman lives in an island in southern Brazil and enjoys
autumns and springs on the beach. Her work has been published or is
forthcoming in numerous journals including Glimmer train, Raven Chronicles, Salon.com, In-Posse Review, Salt Hill Review and Absinthe Literary Review.
She hopes to soon publish her short story collection and novel.
Steven Heighton is a former grand prize winner of PRISM's annual
short fiction contest (PRISM 29:3). His most recent book, The Shadow
Boxer, was published by Knopf in Canada, was a Publishers' Weekly Book of
the Year in the USA, and has also appeared in Britain and Italy. His last
poetry book, The Ecstasy of Skeptics, was a Governor General's Award finalist; last year he received the Petra Kenney Prize for new work which will
appear in a collection of poems and translations to be published by Anansi
next spring.
Eve Joseph lives in Brentwood Bay, BC, where she works as a counsellor
at the Victoria hospice. Her work has appeared in Descant, Event, Grain,
The Malahat Review, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry and Vintage 2 000.
64 Carl Lukasewich lives in Calgary, where he works as a designer. He is a
recent graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design. His illustrations
have appeared in Applied Arts and American Illustration.
Tanis MacDonald writes and studies in Victoria, where she is working
towards a doctoral dissertation on the Canadian elegy. Her book of poetry,
Holding Ground (Seraphim Editions) was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert
Award. She is the winner of the 2003 Bliss Carman Award for Poetry. A
second book, Fortune, is forthcoming from Turnstone Press.
Gordon Mason was brought up in the West of Scotland. His poems have
been published widely and won international prizes. His forth collection,
On Stony Ground, is due out shordy from Peterloo Poets. Work-in-progress
is the collection Sailing on Glass. He has taught high school in England and
America and advised teachers in India and Nepal.
Camilia Matuk holds a B.Sc. Hons in Biological Sciences. She is currentiy working on a M.Sc. in Biomedical Communications (A.K.A. Medical Illustration). Her poetry appeared in Comfusion as part of their 'Nth
Annual Literary Award.
Donn Short is a Vancouver-based playwright. His first play, The Winter
Garden, was the winner of the duMaurier Arts National One-Act Play Competition. His next plays, Blonde Tulips and Accidental Clarity, were originally produced in Los Angeles.
Daniel Tobin is the Chair of the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department at Emerson College in Boston. His poetry has appeared in many
journals including Stand, Poetry, The American Scholar, The Paris Review and
The Southern Review. His work has also been anthologized in The Norton
Introduction to Poetry. A new book of poems, Double Life, is forthcoming
with Louisiana State University Press. His work last appeared in PRISM
37:3.
65 2003 NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARD NOMINEES
PRISM would like to congratulate our
2003 National Magazine Award Nominees
FICTION:
Jacqueline Honnet
"How to Raise a Smart Baby" (40:4)
Rick Maddocks
"The Boat Driver" (40:2)
POETRY:
Jennica Harper
"The Octopus" (41:1) :Mi$kM
Creative Writing M.P.A. at U.B.C.
; J The University of British Columbia offers
a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative
Writing. Students choose three genres to
work in from a wide range of courses,
including: Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Play Screen & TV Play Radio
Play Writing for Children, Non-fiction, and
Translation. All instruction is in small
workshop format or tutorial.
Faculty
•:Ce'
Lynne Bowen
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Bryan Wade
For more information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T IZl
Or check out our website at:
www.creativevrriting.ubc.ca MACLEAN HUNTER
ENDOWMENT AWARD
FOR LITERARY NONFICTION
$1500 Annual Prize
Maximum 25 pages per manuscript,
typed and double-spaced. Please
include a cover page—the author's
name should not appear on the
manuscript. All work must be
previously unpublished.
Entry fee: $25, plus $5 for each
additional manuscript; includes a
one-year subscription to PRISM
international. All non-Canadian
residents, please pay in U.S. dollars.
Contest Judge: T.B.A.
Deadline: September 30,2003
Mail entry fee & manuscript(s) to:
PRISM Nonfiction Contest
Creative Writing Program
Buch. E462 -1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T1Z1 CANADA
For contest guidelines send a s.a.s.e.
to the address above, or go to:
prism.arts.ubc.ca THREE FROM TALON
Transnational Muscle Cars
JEFF DERKSEN
Acclaimed poet and off-shore anti-globalization
activist Jeff Derksen offers this insightful and withering
critique of how consumption has become a prime
mover in a transient global urbanism that now defines
our everyday lives.
"[Jeff Derksen is] still out on that front line and
beyond, bent on some serious sabotage of linguistic
infrastructure." — Vancouver Sun
ISBN 0-88922-473-0 • Trade paper • 128 pp
$16.95 CAN/ $12.95 US
Darwin Alone in the Universe
M.A.C. FARRANT
From the acerbic and keenly honed pen of M.A.C.
Farrant springs this engaging collection of short
fiction that celebrates literature as an antidote to the
stranglehold the corporate media has on the public's
imagination, and as the place where uncontaminated
thought can still be lound
"A brave iconoclast.
Publishers Weekly
ISBN 0-88922-471^ • Trade paper • 160 pp
$17.95 CAN/$13.95 US
Burning Vision
MARIE CLEMENTS
First Nations playwright Marie Clements' latest play
sears a dramatic swath through the reactionary identity
politics of race, gender and class. Clements writes, or
perhaps more accurately, composes, with an urbane,
incisive and sophisticated intellect deeply rooted in
the particulars of her place, time and history.
"[Clements'] distinctive blending of styles...appears
brilliantly conceived. Always she is irreverent."
— Vancouver Courier
$16.95 CAN / $12.85 US
ISBN 0-88922-472-2■• Trade paper
128 pp
Available at better bookstores everywhere.
Distributed by University of Toronto Press. Orders: 1 800-565-9523
Represented by the Literary Press Group of Canada, www.lpg.ca
Talonbooks
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tel: (604)444-4889
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2003
Fieftion and Poefeis^
Con£es£
First prize winners in each        All entries must be original,
category receive: unpublished material.
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the international magazine of young adult writers
Now Presents
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41:3
In that quiet, Mitch hears himself ask the pilot,
''What do you think, Charlie, can a 747 really land
on a carrier?"
— Seth Feldman, Page 9
Leah Bailly
Adam Chiles
Seth Feldman
Avital Gad-Cykman
Steven Heighton
Eve Joseph
Tanis MacDonald
Gordon Mason
Camillia Matuk
Donn Short
Daniel Tobin
GENUINE
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Cover Art:
Cowboy
by Carl Lukasewich
1 73DQt."flt3bl'
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