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 PRISM international
Fall 2010
new fiction by Ron Carlson
new poetry dpJo/r Paul Fiorentino
& Marguerite Pigeon
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international  PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY. The
magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
Email: prism(S>interchange.ubc.ca   / Website: www.prismmagazine.ca
Contents Copyright ® 2010 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Illustration: "The slimmest of moments when fear subsides and courage
takes over" by Ian John Turner.
Subscription Rates: One-year individual $28; two-year individual $46; library and institution one-year $35; two-year $55. Sample copy by mail is $11.
US and international subscribers, please pay in US dollars. Please note
that US POSTAL money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable to:
PRISM international. All prices include HST and shipping and handling.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $20 per page for other genres.
Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM also purchases limited
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All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address. Manuscripts should be accompanied by an email address. If you wish to receive
your response by regular mail, please include a self-addressed envelope with
Canadian stamps or International Reply Coupons. Translations should
be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original language. The advisory editor is not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's
overall mandate including continuity, quality and budgetary obligations.
For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
contact our executive editors. PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists
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from such exchanges.
Our gratitude to Dean Averill and the Dean of Arts Office at the University
of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the
Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
September 2010. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH COLUMBIA      »W     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL <±>    f°'theArts du Canada PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Jeff Stautz
Poetry Editor
andrea bennett
Executive Editors
Ben Rawluk
Chris Urquhart
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Emily Davidson
Jordan Hall
Anna Maxymiw
Bill Radford
Sigal Samuel
Melissa Sawatsky
Kevin Spenst
Natalie Thompson
Erika Thorkelson
Emily Urness Contents
Volume 49, Number 1
Fall 2010
Fiction
Michael Kardos
Two Truths and a Lie / 10
Kevin A. Couture
Lost Animal Club / 36
Ron Carlson
On the San Juan / 57
Poetry
Jared Harel
Guilt /  7
Answering / 8
Halloween / 9
Erin Robinsong
TIMBER: TIMBRE /  29
TIMBRE: TIMBER  /  30
Weston Cutter
Structural Conceptions of Self in the Ice Cream Era / 31
Lights / 32
This Was Before We Knew / 33
Heather Cadsby
Handwork Accompaniment / 35
Jason Heroux
A Strange Time / 48
Jon Paul Fiorentino
three poems from Indexical Elegies / 49 Stephanie Yorke
from Variations on a Cardboard Crown / 52
John Grey
My Place / 56
Marguerite Pigeon
Dump Bear /  62
I am from Northern Ontario / 63
Cara-Lyn Morgan
You can never go home / 64
Home / 65
Rocco de Giacomo
Note on a Fridge Door / 67
Face / 68
Nyla Matuk
Akhmatova's Samovar /  69
The Garden Folly /  70
The Veteran Mutters / 71
Orlando Ricardo Menes
Mambo / 72
Refrigeradores / 73
Contributors / 74 Jared Hare I
Guilt
(for my mother)
Your brother had married a shtksa
in Michigan, and there you were
in Mexico City, crazy for a Catholic boy
willing to convert. It was 1973.
You knew guilt. The dead
weight of being raised by survivors,
and a past so close you could
taste it in the soup, in each piece
of noodle pudding placed on your plate.
No wonder you needed his hands
on your shoulders, the smell of fresh
produce sizzling in the pan.
One night last summer, you showed me
his picture: a handsome man
posing in a garden, the grainy light
of late afternoon. You'd been fighting
with Dad again, some typical
disaster, and I remember thinking:
You should have married that guy In the garden.
An asinine prayer, but pure
nonetheless. And Dad, a good man
you simply can't stand; I'm sure he too
might have been with another
if not for some shame, some limitless luck.
prismmagazine.ca    7 Answering
(for Nate)
Three weeks after you find your mother
dead in her bedroom, her heart given out,
I call and hear her tell me she's gone,
to leave a message, wishing me well.
But Nate, I promise you, this isn't about me.
I'm just an extra. I had pizza
in mind, anything I figured to pull you
from that house that's so entirely hers:
off that sofa she picked, eating the popcorn
she bought. Still you're not picking up,
your mother is, and she sounds no different
than when she'd ask about school,
or if I was staying late, what we felt like
for dinner. How can it be she sounds
no different, as though even death
does a half-ass job? But now all I keep
thinking about is that day I came by
after the funeral, tossed a tennis ball
and your Retriever didn't budge.
Like all good dogs, he knew how to grieve.
And there you were sitting with cousins,
watching television as the ball rolled on.
But that's not the point. I am trying to call you.
Trying to say what goes without saying.
8     PRISM 49:1 Halloween
Wigs glow like electric willows
and our mother wants photos
before we grow up and hate her
for dressing us like this. What the hell are they?
our grandmother asks, turning away
to deadbolt the door, but our mother
ignores her, pops the lens cap,
lines us up on the sidewalk
beside our grandfather's Deville.
We are as she wants us: alien
and indelible. Beneath streetlights
our snow-boots pillow pavement,
silver jumpsuits clash
with the earth. Ghosts and pumpkins
shuffle past, candy bags stuffed, swaying
like drunks. You look like punks,
our grandmother says, eyeing us deeply,
her daughter's children.
Her daughter grips the camera.
She is somewhere else. Then suddenly,
she isn't. She sees her mother in her
oversized glasses, her long Polish skirt, and says
Don't you know punks spike their skulls
and leather their knuckles and hole-
punch their noses and No, says her daughter,
aiming now, No—you have no Idea
what real spacemen look like.
prismmagazine.ca    9 Michael Kardos
Two Truths and a Lie
So in walks my composition teacher on day one wearing Levi's 501s
and a tweed blazer. Blue collared shirt unbuttoned just enough for
the orange N-C-E of his PRINCETON t-shirt to peek through. His
hair is messy, intentionally so. I'm around guys quite a bit, what with my
boyfriend being the president of Phi Delta Mu, and I know what real
scruffiness is all about. This isn't it. He tosses his briefcase on the desk
and studies us for a moment, running his fingers through his hair, and
I want to pat him on the shoulder and tell him to drop the act. It's the
90s, not the 60s. This is no peace rally. All the contrived nonchalance
in the world isn't going to change who he is, an adjunct instructor who
needs to wear his credentials on his t-shirt, nor will it change who we are:
the unimpressed, the hung-over, products of the public school system,
dull and unmotivated as cows, grazing our way toward graduation from
Jersey Central College.
He scribbles his name on the chalkboard—Buddy Munson—then
asks us to move our chairs into a circle, because at some point someone must have told him that rows are for dictators, while in a circle
everybody has an equal voice. This is obviously bullshit. You throw my
family in a circle, my mother will still rule the roost. She'll still make my
father feel like shit for losing all that money in Atlantic City, and she'll
continue to remind me at every opportunity that my best and only hope
is to marry Richy Rich. That's what she calls him, though his real name
is John. Short for Jonathan Alexander Garwood III. John's father owns
a chain of mattress stores, but he's an older man, past sixty, and John
would have to commit some major felonies not to be running the family
business in five years.
In order to become acquainted, Buddy has us play a game where we
each have to tell two truths about ourselves and one lie. The class will
guess which is the lie. By the end of the game, we're supposed to have
bonded. As if before taking on such colossal matters as Writing the Personal Narrative and Understanding Academic Discourse, it's vital to know that
Sheila, for instance, got knocked up at prom, or rides a Harley.
I'm the only senior in a class of dopey freshman. For four years I've
put off this requirement on account of how stupid it is. So now that
I'm just nine credits shy of a degree in psychology, I've got to take a
10     PRISM 49:1 class aimed at teaching me how to write a college paper. Total waste
of time, and all I can hope for is entertainment value. But the freshmen
don't even understand how Buddy's game is meant to be played, that
the idea is to tell Interesting things about yourself. The first kid, a fat boy
who squints, goes, "I'm left-handed. I'm from Cleveland. I wear contact
lenses."
Buddy sighs. "So which do you suppose is the lie?" The game goes on,
each kid telling truths that could be lies and lies that could be truths—Fm
majoring In business, I have two brothers, I play the tenor saxophone, my birthday
Is In June, I ate Chinese food last weekend—but we're not learning a damn
thing of substance about anyone.
When it gets to my turn, I tell three lies. I look around the circle of my
classmates and say, "I've had three abortions. I stole my mother's wedding ring last summer to buy crystal meth. I have an ashtray fetish and
love to lick out the ashes." I saw that in a documentary in my Abnormal
Psych class.
It's a brilliant moment. The kids don't know what to say. I can almost
hear their brains groaning to a start, like metal on metal. Buddy winks in
my direction, so either he's hip to me or hitting on me, and frankly either
one will make the semester a little livelier.
"Maybe you should just tell us," one of the girls says. Chickenshit.
I go, "Maybe you should guess." But when nobody does, I tell the
class that the lie was having had three abortions. I fold my hands on my
desk and smirk. "I've only had two abortions."
I could have gone with the ashtray licking. What matters is they believe the wedding ring story to be true. It'll keep class interesting. I like
the idea of these kids checking their pockets and the zippers on their
backpacks, counting and recounting the cash in their wallets.
When we're done with the game, class is nearly over. Before dismissing us, Buddy tells us to write a short story for next Monday. Any topic.
Five pages.
All the freshmen start moaning, but I'm thinking: piece of cake. I'll
turn in the same story I wrote last year for my creative writing class. Father loses life savings at the blackjack table while devoted family thinks
he's putting in overtime at the tire factory. Bankruptcy ensues. Family
sells house, moves to a dreary rental on the business loop. Son shaves
head, joins the Marines. Daughter foregoes dreams of a college that
actually rejects some of its applicants. Begins dating fraternity brother,
spends all her time at the frat house. Drinks too much beer and vodka
one night, lands in the hospital, nearly dies.
"But what do we write about?" some girl asks.
Buddy says, "Only two stories have ever been written." Then he
writes on the board:
prismmagazine.ca     11 1) A stranger comes to town
2) A person travels to a strange and unfamiliar place
"Every story," he says, "is some variation on these two themes." He nods
like he's just said something important, but I'm thinking he's wrong. In
my story—hell, in my life—where's the stranger? The only stranger I've
met lately is him, the instructor, and he doesn't carry anywhere near
the sense of menace or mystery that a word like stranger evokes. And as
for an unfamiliar place, nothing is remotely unfamiliar about the damn
Central College, where as a child I took ballet lessons, and piano lessons,
and karate—a school that ever since I can remember has hocked itself
on Sunday afternoon television:
Your own future, your own Central College,
A place for fun, a place for knowledge.
I'm convinced that Buddy is way off-base—only two stories, yeah right—
until twenty minutes later when I arrive at the Phi Delta Mu house to
find somebody I've never seen before up on a ladder, scrubbing the windows over the front door. He's older than I am, but not old. Buddy's age,
maybe, and rail thin. His pants are tattered and too short, and his canvas
sneakers are coming apart. Even though it's January in Jersey, the guy's
face is shiny with sweat from working hard. His shirt could be wrung out.
As I come closer to the ladder his scrubbing speeds up (all men are
show-offs), and some of his greasy sweat lands on the stoop beside me. Is
this my stranger? It would figure. "Hey"—I look up and point at him—
"watch where you're dripping."
He glances down and mutters, "Sorry." He's got green eyes and isn't
bad looking in a stray-dog, underfed kind of way, and from the way he
avoids my gaze, I believe he Is sorry. As I leave him to go inside, he starts
scrubbing like a madman.
In the frat house, John and his buddies have cleared out all the furniture and the foosball table and the projection TV from the common
room and are setting up the boxing ring.
"Who's the stranger outside?" I ask.
"His name's Gunnipuddy," John says, tugging the ropes tight around
the ring.
"Well, that's a stupid name." Because I'd rather my stranger have a
name like Hank or Rusty.
"Get used to it," he says. "He's our new maintenance man."
By maintenance man, he means janitor. He means toilet scrubber.
Puke mopper. And it's about time. It's only been a week since the old
maintenance man quit without warning to buy an RV and retire in Geor-
12     PRISM 49:1 gia, but the brothers aren't the sort to pitch in when it comes to cleaning,
and the house is filthy even for itself.
My stranger doesn't know it yet because it's only his first day, but
cleaning the windows is going to feel like a day off compared to cleaning the house after a Phi Delta Mu party. And in just two nights the frat
house will be crammed with hundreds of drunk and stoned undergrads,
each having paid twenty bucks to enter the boxing pool. Sixteen contestants—all frat brothers—will face off in a single-elimination tournament
of one-round bouts. By the end of the night, one boxer will be named
champion, whoever has bet on him will win half the cash, and the other
half will go to the fraternity's chosen charity, breast cancer awareness.
Boxing Night might not seem like the wisest event for a fraternity
that's perennially on the brink of losing its charter. But it's become a significant university tradition and the biggest fundraiser on Greek Street.
Everybody knows that on the first Friday night of spring semester, you
come to Phi Delta Mu and put down your twenty bucks and catch some
live boxing action. And in nearly a decade, nobody has gotten too badly
injured. Banged-up, sure. Bloodied, sure. But the fighters are all friends,
more or less, and they all wear mouthpieces and headgear and groin
protectors. Anyway, the guys love their cuts and bruises, because they
are battle scars that can be shown off long after the event is over.
John is favored to win. His payout is a meager three-to-one. For weeks
the guys have sat around at night, setting and re-setting odds. The same
guys who flunked trig have suddenly become as skillful as actuaries, creating probability tables on their computers, arguing late into the night
about setting lines and spreading risks. Most of the boxers come in at
five-to-one, seven-to-one, ten-to-one. The long shot is a kid in my psych
classes, Leon, who is short and bow-legged and possibly asthmatic, and
who gets so excited when telling you about hallucinatory mushrooms
that spit collects on his upper lip. Leon is paying fifty-to-one.
Dozens of students, maybe even hundreds of them, have already paid
their twenty bucks. I've bet on John, of course, and will jump around like
wild for him publicly, but I also placed twenty on Leon because, hell, I
could use five hundred bucks.
At lunch, when I tell John about playing Two Truths and a Lie in my
composition class, he doesn't get how funny it was. He swallows the last
of his meatball sub and goes, "You seem pretty hung up on this teacher.
Are you into this guy?"
Oh, and John can get jealous for no reason at all. Have I described
Buddy as attractive? As tempting? Just the opposite. He is the worst sort
of dork—the sort that pretends not to be.
"Trust me," I tell him. "When I decide to make a man out of Buddy
boy, you'll be the first to know."
prismmagazine.ca     13 A few laughs escape from the next table. We're in the tap room of Phi
Delta Mu, and at noon the tables are occupied by big beefy guys eating
big beefy lunches. John doesn't like the brothers knowing we have a relationship where I can bust his balls in good fun. Or maybe we don't actually have that sort of relationship. John has a lot going for him—amazing
body, relief pitcher on the baseball team—but his sense of humour is
lacking. I've explained this to my mother, but her sense of humour is
lacking, too. Anyway, I've never minded a jealous boyfriend.
At least he's predictable. That I like. He'll put hot sauce on his three
hardboiled eggs every day till he dies. You'll find him opening night at
any new Steven Seagal movie, and on nights when we've been drinking,
he'll always force me to down two tall glasses of water before going to
bed. He'll rub my shoulders after I've taken a hard exam. He'll buy me
a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day. And most importantly, he will not
stupidly put at risk everything that is supposedly important to him. John
and I aren't perfect together—maybe from time to time I ask myself if
this is all there is—but at least I know what I'm dealing with.
John gets up from the table with his protein shake (he's off beer until
after Boxing Night), goes over to the jukebox, and starts flipping through
the song list. Screaming guitars begin to play. Metallica, I think. The jukebox is filled with songs that make you want to conquer weaker people.
John stands there facing it for a moment, nodding in time with the beat.
Then he's back at our table again, scooping up our drinks. "Come on."
I get up and follow him. "Where are we going?" I ask, though with a
coy lilt because I know exactly where we're going.
John leads me through the house, to the staircase. One of the brothers, coming down the stairs, goes, "Be careful, Garwood. That's bad luck
before a fight."
"Fight isn't until Friday," John says, and punches the other guy on the
shoulder as we pass.
As president of the fraternity, John has the largest bedroom, up on
the third floor, overlooking the soccer fields. The first time he led me
up here during a party was pretty exciting. It still is. Spring nights, the
breeze blows in and chills our sweaty bodies, and mornings I wake up to
the sweet, yeasty smell from the bread factory a mile away. Spring isn't
for a few months yet, but this afternoon is warm enough to use John's
clanky fan, which he keeps on a milk crate by the bed. It's a terrific bed,
queen-sized mattress, a million springs, courtesy of his dad. John and I
both have 1:30 classes, but we can fit a lot of activity into an hour.
After my dad lost all that money, the whole family started going to see
Herve, our therapist. This was before I decided to major in psychology
and came to understand that Herve had been practicing his own brand
14     PRISM 49:1 of Client-Centered Therapy, originally developed by Carl Rogers in the
1950s. I didn't understand that by having us remove our shoes and by
playing George Benson CDs in the background, Herve was creating a
"growth-promoting climate," and that by parroting back everything we
said with a voice so calm you wanted to elbow him in the teeth, he was
showing respect for our feelings and expressing "unconditional positive
regard." I also didn't know that Client-Centered Therapy was almost
completely out of favour by then, except with therapists who were lazy
or hippied-out or both. I just thought, considering what we were paying
him, that he ought to do more than repeat all of our bullshit back to us.
That was on Monday nights. On Thursdays we went to a support
group where other dads and moms whined about gambling away their
life savings. We met in the private room at the rear of Ino's Pizza, so that
Ino, first-generation American and Lotto addict, could dart back and
forth between the meeting and the kitchen.
The room throbbed with fear and desperation. Voices quavered. Sobs
arose from nowhere. They were a sorry lot, these people, and I felt that
my own family was far superior to them. My dad wasn't violent or even
an asshole. He had coached my softball team in the sixth through eighth
grades. In high school, he had done my chemistry homework for me.
He hadn't ever imposed a curfew on me or my brother, Paul. All he did
wrong was lose a lot of money. We had to move out of the house. We
had to sell a car and some jewelry. Still, aren't we taught that money isn't
everything? That it's the root of all evil? So there you go, I remember
thinking. My dad might have screwed up, but he had cleansed my family's souls in the process.
Mom didn't regard Dad as any soul-cleanser. Growing up, Mom
would always laugh at Dad's corny puns. His goofy charm made her
smile. Not anymore. Frown lines formed around her mouth. Her eyes
darkened a shade. Then again, it was mostly her money that Dad had
lost, inheritance from her parents.
I'm making it sound as if I was completely accepting of my dad's vice.
Not so, apparently. Because when it was my turn to speak, I stood and
told the group gathered at Ino's Pizza that I'd give ten dollars to whoever
could guess what colour panties I was wearing.
"Come on, people," I said, walking around the room like I owned it.
"What's the matter with you? I'm paying out ten bucks here. Where else
are you going to get something for nothing?"
Dad sucked his teeth. Mom shot me a murderous glance. The air
was heavy, I remember, everyone snickering and sighing and whatnot,
though some of them, I'll bet, were itching to guess a colour. My brother
took me by the arm and led me outside behind Ino's. We lit up cigarettes, and I laughed until I cried, and Paul skipped the laughing part and
prismmagazine.ca     15 went straight to crying, and he told me how lucky I was to be leaving
for college in half a year, and I said I wasn't going anywhere, dummy,
because there wasn't any money for that anymore, and he said that he
was thinking of joining the Marines or something so that he could get out
of the house, which he did.
I get home in the late afternoon as the sun is coming down over the
Ford dealership across the street. I shove open the front door because
it doesn't sit right in the door frame. Nothing in this rental house works
the way it's supposed to. But when we moved, Mom and Dad said no
apartment—that was where they drew the line—so here we are, the lone
residence on the business loop. Two-bedroom house with cracked siding
and rusty water and a heater that runs too hot or not at all. Shag rugs
that reek of cat piss. Bathtub stained fungus-green. And our neighbours:
two parking lots.
I dig around my bedroom closet for my box of old schoolwork. The
story I wrote last year for my creative writing class was called "Betting
It All." The facts I included were essentially true, but I skipped over the
parts that made me look bad. For instance, I avoided everything about
therapy and the support group. I included the part about my spending
the night in the hospital, because my story needed a climax. But mainly
it was just a lot of preachy nonsense about how Mom's behaviour toward my dad was just as lousy, in its own way, as his own behaviour
had been, and how the daughter got psychologically screwed in the end,
embittered and unable to trust another human being. Rereading it now,
I know I won't hand it in again. The story is melodramatic and whiny.
Undoubtedly it got an "A" not because the teacher found it insightful or
clever or because of its refreshing turns of phrase, but because the punctuation and spelling checked out, which, at Central College, a place for fun
and a place for knowledge, is the best that our teachers can hope for.
But also, I feel done with this particular family drama. Beyond it.
Four years since we sold the house, and Mom hasn't eased up at all. Last
month my dad fell on the ice in the parking lot at work, and ever since,
Mom has been calling him Klutz and Screw-up. But if she wants to keep
torturing him for past failures, and if he's okay with the arrangement,
then who am I to pass judgment? In June I'll be done with Central College, and I swear you'll hear the sound of rubber meeting road. You'll
see me not looking back. Maybe John will come with me wherever it is
I go, but whenever I picture the open highway, my only companion is a
box of mix tapes.
I decide to write a new story for Monday, one that looks to the future
rather than the past, about a woman who starts a new life by making
off with a stolen sports car, an Alfa Romeo spider convertible, and she
16     PRISM 49:1 drives west fromjersey to California, robbing banks and evading the law
and breaking stereotypes and hearts.
I tear a blank sheet of paper out of my notebook and lean back in my
chair, thinking about how my heroine will steal that car. When I hear my
parents shove open the front door, I get up to say hello and maybe get
some cookies from the pantry to help me to think better. Seeing them, I
stop in my tracks.
I need to back up.
Ever since I was a kid, Dad worked in the accounting department
at the tire factory. But after the whole losing-the-house incident, Mom
quit her job in real estate and started working there, too—right in Dad's
department, to keep an eye on him. (At the time, Herve suggested that
maybe Mom had overstepped some boundary. Maybe she ought to trust
Dad a little more than that. That was when we stopped seeing Herve.)
So when Dad fell on the ice last month outside the factory and broke
his wrist, Mom told me—with characteristic empathy—that she'd witnessed firsthand his "latest display of grace." When they got home from
the hospital, I found a magic marker in the kitchen drawer and signed
my name, Alice, on the cast they'd put over his hand, and I drew a heart
over the "i."
When I tried to hand Mom the marker, she said, "Forget it. I might
write something I'll regret."
Cruel, but typical. What I'm getting at is that I thought my family had
come to work as follows:
A) Four years ago, Dad lost a lot of money
B) Ever since, Mom has made Dad pay, which was unfair because
C) What was in the past was in the past
What I see in the doorway, however, changes everything. Mom is carrying Dad's suit jacket and white button-down shirt and tie. Dad's got
on just his dress pants and a white undershirt. His right arm is still in a
cast. But now his left arm—which for the past month he's been forced to
drive with and eat with and do everything else with—now it's in a cast,
too. The new cast goes up past his elbow and is hanging in a sling. For
a second I think he really Is a klutz. But the weather has been so warm,
there isn't any ice to slip on. He's standing there with the strangest look
on his face—an embarrassed grin, if I had to name it—when suddenly
the answer comes to me, like it must for a detective or a code-breaker.
Dad didn't fall again. He never fell in the first place. Which means that
I've completely missed D:
D) Daughter is an idiot
prismmagazine.ca     17 Seeing him standing there with two casts is almost comical. Almost. Because you get casts put on when your bones are broken, and if dad hasn't
been breaking his own bones, then we've entered a world where people
are breaking them for him. It's the world of mobster movies. This is hard
for me to get my head around. My dad works in a tire factory. He wears
a tie and sits at a computer all day long. He understands chemistry and
cooks a good bacon and potato soup.
"I want the truth from you," I tell him. "So start talking."
Mom goes, "Take it easy on him, Al. Your father fell."
"He fell? I'd like to know how he fell!" I'm feeling hysterical. "Tell me
exactly how he fell!"
"What do you mean, how? Your father fell down. And you're being
very loud."
"Tell me how!" I scream. When my dad winces, I lower my voice and
say to him, "Or maybe you'll tell me the truth. That somebody... didthis
to you."
We stand there for a minute while Dad decides what to do. Then he
says, "This is part of life, too."
If his words are meant to be wise or somehow comforting, they aren't.
"I'm going to be sick," I announce.
I'm not being dramatic. I run to the bathroom, kneel by the toilet, and
get sick. When I feel like I won't puke anymore, I flush the toilet, then
move the clothes soaking in the sink to the bathtub so I can rinse out my
mouth and brush my teeth. My mom opens the door and comes into the
bathroom.
"Are you all right?" she asks as I'm spitting toothpaste. As usual, shirts
and pants and underwear are hanging up all over the bathroom, drying.
For a while we had a clothesline out back, but people kept stealing our
things.
"You lied to me," I tell her. "I thought you were being such an asshole."
"We didn't want you involved," she says.
"And htm," I say, loud enough for my dad to hear. "He needs help.
He needs a whole goddamn team."
"Actually," he calls from the other room, "I need money. Come here,
honey, let me get you a glass of water."
But I don't want anything from anybody, so I leave the bathroom and
walk straight out the front door and away from the house, which I immediately regret because it's gotten really cold outside.
A few seconds later my dad is hurrying after me with my coat.
"How could you keep gambling after losing our house?" I ask him
after putting the coat on. "What the hell were you thinking?"
I don't expect an answer. I don't get one. We walk in silence along the
small perimeter of slushy dead grass bordering our rental property, and
18     PRISM 49:1 once we've completed a loop we head to one of the parking lots, which
this time of day is mostly empty. I want my dad to cry. I'm not sure I've
ever seen him cry before, and right now would be a good time. I want
him to crave my pity, to need it as much as he needs to play craps or
poker or bet on the Rangers.
Finally he stops walking and rests his right arm, heavy from the cast,
on my shoulder. He's looking out across the road, where the lights from
the car dealerships glow a misty orange.
"Sometimes, honey, I have this fantasy where I win enough money to
fix all the problems I've ever caused. I buy your mother an even bigger
house than the one we had. A better house. And things are so good."
"Dad."
"Alice, listen to me a minute." Now he's looking at me. "We have a
butler. A private chef. A three-car garage. And I buy you the nicest jewellery you ever saw. A pearl necklace and diamond earrings. And your
brother, when he comes home on leave, there's a Porsche parked in the
driveway waiting for him."
As he shares this fairy tale, it dawns on me how naive I've been, thinking all this time that losing our stupid house was the event, the towering
symbol of how out of hand things have gotten. Losing the house always
felt like rock bottom. My dad lost our house, I told John on our second
date, a fact that felt important and shocking when I said it. My dad lost our
house, I told my friends at the moment when I most desired their deepest
pity. But now it seems that losing the house was just a rung down a ladder to some subterranean place I've never even considered. There's still
a wife to lose, isn't there? And friends. A career. Me and Paul. There's
still money to be borrowed and lost, and then more money, and when
he can't repay it there are still other bones to break. And after he's been
humiliated and broken and crushed for long enough, after he's lost everything and still craves the action, there's a bed in the middle of the
afternoon on which he can sit and put the end of a gun to his temple or in
his mouth, and he can weigh the relief that would come from pulling the
trigger against the image of me and Paul and Mom in a funeral home,
looking at his closed casket because of what he's done to himself. And
that—sitting on that bed and making that sort of decision—is what you
call rock bottom. Until then, Dad isn't done yet. This thing hasn't run its
course. Not by a long shot.
I also should have known from being a psych major, as well as a
human being, that people don't change without really wanting to. And
even if you do want to change, the odds are strongly against you. No addict worth a lick would ever bet on his own recovery. It's like Newton's
Law, how once you're already in motion you tend to keep going the way
you're going. Dad will always feel the tug of beating the odds, and John
prismmagazine.ca     19 will always be the favorite, and people like my stranger Gunnipuddy will
always be cleaning other people's toilets.
My dad is still going on and on about his stupid fantasy, so I tell him
to shut up already. Then I ask, "Is your score settled now? Now that
they've broken your arm?"
"Wrist, honey. Just the wrist." He's trying to be funny. When he sees
it's not working, he lifts his arm off my shoulder and looks at me. "I'm
afraid it doesn't work that way."
"You mean you still owe it?"
He nods.
"Can't Mom pay it?"
"She doesn't have that kind of cash."
"What kind of cash?"
He shrugs. "Fifteen thousand."
'Jesus, Dad, you're in some real trouble."
His laugh can probably be heard all the way across the parking lot.
It's a dark, angry sound, unlike any I can remember my father making
before.
Because it's the first week of classes and nobody's got any real work to
do, practically the whole fraternity is hanging out in the common room.
Guys are making use of the boxing ring, jumping around, tackling each
other. A few have gloves on and are sparring. They all love it, you can
tell. That boxing ring fulfills a thousand childhood fantasies of being
strong, being the center of attention, being all-American. Every guy in
the place seems to have invited his girlfriend over tonight, and you'd
think it was a scheduled party, so many people are hanging out drinking and smoking cigarettes and shouting. Even Leon the long shot is in
the ring. Getting used to the feel of things. He looks detached from the
scene, though, as if watching wild animals on a nature show. Seeing me,
he calls out, "Hey, Alice, how about you and me go a few rounds right
now?"
He's kidding, but I'm tempted to take him up on it because I feel
ready to punch somebody. "Where's John?"
"The gym. I swear, he's taking this too seriously." And then with an
oof! Leon gets sacked to the mat by Roy, who played offensive line in
high school and is twice Leon's size.
I go to the tap room, pour a beer, and take it upstairs to John's room.
I lie in his bed and think about my dad as he stood there in the doorway,
wearing two casts, a pained and embarrassed grin on his face. I think
about hunting down my brother, because this seems like the sort of crisis
he ought to know about. But you can't just dial him up in East Timor.
You have to send a letter, and he won't get it for weeks. So I focus on the
20     PRISM 49:1 more urgent matter of how the hell I get my hands on fifteen thousand
dollars.
Even though John's family is rich, I can't ask him for that kind of
money. I just can't. But a five-hundred-dollar bet on Leon at fifty-to-one,
split evenly with the breast cancer people, would still give Dad close to
what he needs. It's a gamble. And super ironic, gambling to save the
gambler. Other thoughts swirl in my head, too, like the fact that my father is out of his fucking mind, and that even if he pays off this particular
debt he still won't have learned his lesson. But it's all about priorities.
And the first priority is to stop whoever keeps breaking my dad's bones
from breaking any more of them.
When John gets home I put off what I know I have to do, and not
until morning do I finally ask him for the money. It's hard, asking him,
because I'm very particular about being independent and self-reliant,
and it's even harder telling him, when he asks what I need the cash for,
that it isn't any of his business. I'm not trying to be rude or distant with
John. But he isn't family, just my boyfriend. I'd always told him that my
dad's gambling problems were ancient history. Now I feel ashamed not
only for my dad, but for myself, for believing that a handful of sessions
with Herve and a few months at Ino's Pizza magically cured him.
John is brushing his hair in front of the mirror. When I ask him to
lend me five hundred dollars, he sits down on the bed. "You're pregnant," he says.
I deny it, and he doesn't press the matter. He just says okay and
squeezes my shoulder and goes sort of pale. He assumes I'm pregnant
and not telling him the truth, and that I'll deal with it on my own.
Leon never should have entered the match. He can't weigh more than
130 pounds, and you can tell from the spazzy way he plays pool or
foosball that he was picked last for any number of teams growing up.
So it's hardly a surprise when, just hours before the event is to begin, he
chickens out.
He explains with great passion—tears are in his eyes—that he won't
fight his own brothers, not even for a cause as worthy as breast cancer
awareness. Nothing to do with being afraid, he says. "Hell, I'll take a
beating if that's what needs to happen. But the brother-against-brother
thing. I just can't abide it, morally."
Nobody believes him for a second. Leon, like all the rest, was walking around campus all week with visions of being a champion. But after
standing in the ring and watching the others spar, he has come to understand that his fifty-to-one odds are, if anything, extremely generous.
"People have already bet on you!" John tells him. "Lots of people.
You can't drop out now."
prismmagazine.ca    21 "Sorry, guys," Leon says. "I'm out."
"Well, shit." John looks at me. "Where are we going to find another
fifty-to-one shot?"
Dozens of heads swivel in unison toward the new maintenance man,
who has just come around the corner into the common room holding a
broom and dustpan.
"Forget it," says Rick, one of the odds-makers. "That man is no fifty-
to-one shot."
"Hey, G," John says, "how tall are you? Six feet?"
"Six one," Gunnipuddy says.
"What do you weigh? Two bills?"
"Less."
"Ever box before?"
"No."
"See?" John says to Rick. "Man's never boxed before." Then he explains to Gunnipuddy about Leon dropping out of the match. "We need
a replacement. You're it."
Gunnipuddy looks at the ring again. "Nah, I don't think so. You guys
look pretty serious about this, and I'm no fighter."
"Come on, big guy," Leon says, now that his replacement is in sight.
"It's for charity. And it'd really be helping us out. It'd really show your
commitment to—"
"No fucking way," I tell the room. "He said he doesn't want to fight."
My own words surprise me, since I have more to gain than anybody by
having Gunnipuddy take Leon's place. Betting on Leon, I was throwing
my money away. At least Gunnipuddy might stand a chance. Still, I
don't like them strong-arming him. These days, straight-up honesty is sitting a lot better with me than strong-armed manipulation. "Gunnipuddy,
you don't have to do this. We'll figure something else out."
"Whoa, wait a minute, Alice—maybe he wants to fight," John says.
"We use soft gloves." He tosses one over. Gunnipuddy catches it and
presses it with his thumbs. "See? And we really need you."
Gunnipuddy slides his hand into the glove and punches his other
palm a few times. "I won't be any good. I've only ever hit one guy before."
"Well, maybe it's time to hit another," John says. "Anyway, you don't
have to be good. You're the long shot."
"And you say you need me to do this?"
"We do," John says. "The fraternity needs you. We're all on the same
team here."
If I were Gunnipuddy I'd be pissed at having to listen to such horseshit. The man signed on for janitorial duty, not this. He takes the glove
off his hand and tosses it back to John. "Okay."
22     PRISM 49:1 Suddenly they're all clapping him on the back and making him feel
like a million bucks. They put him up on the scale and ask him about
himself so they can introduce him properly when it's his turn to fight.
Four hours later the common room is packed with people I've never
seen before and people I see all the time, everybody shouting and drinking beer and spilling beer and dancing and hitting on one another and
shoving one another and working themselves up for the event. I know
John can take care of himself, but I'm worried about my long shot. I
need him to win, but I also want him to win. He might be my stranger
who waltzes in and saves my family without even knowing it, but from
his perspective Phi Delta Mu is the strange place that he's come to visit.
I'd like his story to include a victory like this one.
Everybody gathers around the ring and the music shuts off, and one
of the brothers, dressed in a tux jacket, bow tie, and blue jeans, welcomes
everybody to Boxing Night. He thanks everyone for their contribution
to breast cancer awareness and promises a spectacular night of boxing.
And because of the seeding process, where the long shots meet the
favourites in the first round, right off the bat Gunnipuddy gets matched
up against the man most favoured to win. John.
In this corner, the announcer is saying, wearing the brown shorts,
hailing from right here in Breakneck Beach, weighing in at 179 pounds,
is the challenger, Gunnipuddy. Who, by the way, is looking out at a sea
of strangers, pale and afraid.
And in the other corner, wearing blue shorts, stands my boyfriend,
whose eyes are as focused as when he's about to throw a pitch, whose
protein shakes are looking like they've paid off, and who, it is absolutely
clear, is about to pound the hell out of my poor stranger.
In the instant before the bell rings, I have a fantasy where Gunnipuddy wins round after round, defying the odds, culminating in my winning
fifteen thousand dollars, which I use to bail my father out of his predicament. My father turns his life around, I graduate summa cum laude and
get a high-paying job in California, my mother gets promoted to vice
president, she and Dad buy the old house back, and my brother parlays
his military career into a successful run in the state Senate. Every long
shot comes in. A beautiful fantasy.
Then the bell rings, and people start cheering, and Gunnipuddy actually lands the first punch. There isn't much force behind it, but one of his
long arms connects with John's chest. Then John slaughters him.
Gunnipuddy was right—he's no fighter. He arms hang at his sides,
useless, and John is landing some fast and hard blows. To the body.
To the head. Last year John couldn't enter Boxing Night because of a
sprained ankle. Watching him now, I'm impressed with his strength. I
prismmagazine.ca    23 really am. But it's also horrifying, watching this guy I've been sleeping
with for two years hit another person so hard. "Fall down!" I'm shouting,
but Gunnipuddy stands there, arms dangling, staggering but stupidly upright, and only when a punch to the chin sends him spinning does he
land on the mat.
Soft padded gloves, my ass. I crawl into the ring and kneel over him.
When I touch his face, his eyes open. The idiot is smiling up at me. It's
unsettling—his lips are swollen and his eyes are unfocused, plus that
head of his keeps bleeding. When I yell for somebody to call 911, it's like
that dream when you're yelling something important but nobody can
hear you. It's so loud in there that in the end I have to leave Gunnipuddy
alone on the mat to call for help myself.
The ambulance seems to take forever to arrive, which is just as well
since the guys insist on moving Gunnipuddy outside and away from the
hundreds of drunk, underage undergrads. So they half-carry, half-walk
him out to the street, and tell the EMTs that they found him out here all
smashed up. The EMTs look skeptical, but they strap him to a gurney
and carry him away. I'm embarrassed to say none of us rides with him.
He is still a stranger to us.
I sleep in John's bed that night even though I'm angry at him. For
what exactly, I'm not sure. Still, I face away from him. "I'm not a bully
or anything," John tells me, rubbing my back. "It's boxing. You have
to make the other guy go down." I don't say anything. I just lie there
looking at the window. "We were wearing gloves," he says. "Sometimes
people get hurt even when you take precautions. Things happen." His
fingers feel soft on my skin. He could have just come from a spa.
In my dream, my parents are murdered and my brother refuses to fly
home for the funeral. Then I sleep for a few hours without dreaming.
When I awake again it's still very early, but lighter, and all I hear besides
the birds outside is the unlikely sound of the downstairs bathroom being
cleaned. The digital clock onjohn's night table reads 7:05 a.m. I slide out
of bed and put on a pair of my shorts and a t-shirt that are on the floor,
and I go downstairs. The boxing ring is still there, along with countless
plastic cups and bottles on tables and the floor and on bookshelves and
on the television and every available surface. The house smells sour but
is absolutely still except for the sounds coming from the bathroom. I tap
on the door and then walk in. Gunnipuddy, bless his heart, is mopping
the tile floor.
The bathroom smells industrial and lemony. Gunnipuddy has on
blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and his canvas sneakers. His right eye is swollen shut and purple, and there's a bandage taped to his forehead. When
he sees me he smiles, then winces, then smiles again, then winces again.
24     PRISM 49:1 This could go on forever, so I say, "You should have slept in. I think the
guys would understand."
He looks down and seems intent on getting the stain out of a particular tile, scrubbing back and forth, but I think it's just a flawed tile. "I
couldn't sleep. How was the rest of Boxing Night?"
"You sort of put an end to it. If you want to know the truth, the guys
were pretty mad at me for calling an ambulance." When Gunnipuddy
looks confused, I explain, "They're afraid of getting booted off campus."
"Oh, sorry."
"Don't be. Does your head hurt?"
"Not really," he says. "I'm on some good medicine. I'm okay."
"How many stitches you got under there?"
"I don't know. A few. I keep thinking about last night."
"You're probably better off not thinking about it," I tell him. "I never
saw anybody get beat up like that before. It was scary."
"No, not the fight," he says. "I was thinking about...I mean, the part
where you..."
I know that gaze. He's taken a beating, he's had stitches sewn into
him, but I don't want him to think things that are untrue. So I shake my
head. "Don't get any ideas. I didn't want you to get killed, is all. Jesus,
don't think it meant anything."
Then, feeling like I've been too harsh on the poor sucker only hours
after being beaten to a pulp, I make the ultimate sacrifice. I take a scrub
brush out of a metal bucket, get down on my hands and knees, and start
scrubbing the floor underneath the sinks. Holy shit, don't ever clean the
floor of a men's room if you don't have to. Suddenly I understand the
value of a college education, even from a lousy place like Central College. Anyway, I'm scrubbing away and trying to think of something to
say that won't give Gunnipuddy the wrong idea. "Where did you work,"
I ask him, "before coming here?"
He seems to like that question, because he whistles and goes, "Oh,
I've had lots of jobs. I left Breakneck Beach at fifteen and didn't come
back until recently, so I've done about everything." He tells me about
bussing tables in Cape May and cleaning office buildings in D.C., and a
summer gig he had raking the beaches in Nags Head, North Carolina.
"For a while I cleaned up waste sites. That wasn't such a good job, but it
sure paid well. I got a bad cough in my chest and had to quit."
He stopped mopping the floor while he talked to me. Now that he's
done talking, he starts mopping again.
"All your jobs involve cleaning up after other people. Do you love
trash or something?"
He laughs. "No. But most people don't like it more than I don't like it,
prismmagazine.ca    25 which means that there's usually a job for me when I need one."
He passes the mop several times over the world's most putrid section
of floor tile. There's no word for the colour.
"This place gets pretty disgusting," I tell him. "I guess you're finding
that out."
He shrugs. "I like it here. I could stay here a while." It was as if he
didn't remember that eight hours earlier he'd been beaten nearly unconscious.
"Even after what happened last night?"
His fingertips move instinctively to the bandage, then down again to
the mop. "Look, this might sound dumb to someone like you, but I like
how the guys were talking about how everybody was on the same team.
You know?"
I knew he'd hooked into that line of bullshit, and I'm angry at the
brothers for honing in on the guy's loneliness and using it against him.
"They didn't mean it," I tell him. "Christ, I'm sorry to break this to you,
but they just needed another boxer. You know that, don't you?"
He nods, thinking to himself. "Maybe."
"I mean, some of them aren't bad guys, but they aren't looking for
new friends."
"But if I didn't fight, they'd have held it against me for as long as I
worked here. That's no way to start a job. Especially a job with good
pay, and room and board. I mean, I hope to stay here a long time, you
know?"
I smile and say, "Well, I hope you stay a long time, too."
This felt like the right thing to say until the second it was out of my
mouth. I immediately recognize it for the mistake it is. Gunnipuddy
gives me that intense gaze again, and our nice conversation is derailed.
"You do?"
I shrug, trying to downplay my words. But the shrug feels staged.
"Yeah, sure."
Well, no way should I have reaffirmed it. Because suddenly Gunnipuddy is kneeling beside me, right by the urinal, and—whammo!—
kissing me on the mouth, and since I'm down on my haunches, I sort of
tip over backward and then I'm flat on my ass, on a part of the floor that
hasn't been cleaned yet. I get so mad I fling the scrubber at him, but I
miss, and it skims across the tile floor and comes to rest by the heating
vent.
"Goddammit," I say. It actually wasn't a bad kiss. The angle was about
right considering how quickly he moved in, and his breath was surprisingly minty. "Didn't I just tell you not to get any ideas?" I stand up. "Are
you stupid or something?"
He goes, "Oh, man. I'm so sorry. Oh..." And he gets up and runs—
26     PRISM 49:1 literally runs—out of the bathroom. I follow him, but he's already out the
fiat's front door, running like police dogs are chasing him. Which makes
me sad, because while he shouldn't have done what he did, it wasn't that
big a deal. What if it was the boldest thing he's ever done? I wouldn't
want him to think he should never take a chance or be spontaneous or
whatever. For all I know, Gunnipuddy hasn't kissed many girls before,
and now I've tainted the whole experience for him.
I hoped that would be the end of it, but a couple of hours later Gunnipuddy goes and, like an idiot, tells John. All I can figure is that in the
story that Gunnipuddy tells himself, he's probably noble. As long as
you're the hero of your own story, you might as well be a noble hero,
right?
I was in John's room trying to phone my parents. Trying, but failing,
because ever since my dream last night I've developed this crazy and
irrational fear of calling home. But Is it crazy? Is it irrational? I'm afraid
of an unfamiliar voice answering the phone and giving me terrible news.
I keep dialing six digits, then hanging up. Finally, I give up and head
downstairs, and when I get to the TV room, there's John, his forearm up
to Gunnipuddy's throat, saying, "I swear I'll make that other eye blacker
than the first, you son of a bitch." That's where Gunnipuddy's nobility
has gotten him.
"I stepped over the line," Gunnipuddy says. "I know that I did."
"You fucking leapt over it," John tells him, "and now you're gonna
pay."
But John isn't a violent guy, just jealous, and overprotective, and
sometimes quick to anger. He stares Gunnipuddy down for a long moment, then lowers his arm and storms off to the tap room, not even looking at me. But every other guy in the place sure is.
Monday morning Gunnipuddy packs his belongings into a U-Haul. Nobody helps him. The brothers toss a football in the front yard and make
him walk around them with his crates and boxes. It's another warm
day for January, and mud is getting on his night table and bookshelf,
which he drags across the lawn to the truck. To make a show of it, John
fixes us stupid-looking drinks. He doesn't know how to mix drinks, so
they've got a lot of competing liquors that taste like hell. We sit on the
front porch in our coats and John clinks his glass against mine and says,
"Cheers," then asks me if I'd like to go with him to Los Cabos for spring
break. His treat. He's talking about romantic hikes and surfing lessons
and a beachfront suite with a hot tub, and I have this fear that when
we're there, he's going to propose.
I want to get in my car and drive away from John and Phi Delta Mu.
I want to go home but I'm terrified of what I'll find there. So I sit and
prismmagazine.ca    27 watch my stranger get into the U-Haul, and I listen to John prattle on
about humpback whale watching, and I down my disgusting drink, and
I wish to God I were that woman in the stolen sports car heading west.
The woman who beats all the odds, blocks every punch, fears nothing.
Which reminds me that I never wrote the damn story that's due later
today. I'll be handing in the old one after all.
As Gunnipuddy puts the truck into gear and the tires rub against the
curb, I decide that if we're about to part forever, and if I'm his stranger
just as he is mine, then it's my duty to exit his story with some style so
that when he thinks about it from time to time, it won't be only bad
memories. I set down my drink, run up to the truck, and motion for him
to roll down the window.
"This dump is only a stopping point for a guy like you," I tell him.
"If you say so," Gunnipuddy says.
I step closer to the van, practically stick my head in the window, and
lower my voice. "It was a good kiss, if you were wondering. I'm talking
first rate."
Gunnipuddy can't help smiling a little at that.
"Butjohn and I are planning to get married. Understand? That's why
it could never work between us."
He glances at John and nods. "Okay."
I step away from the van, and he rolls up the window and drives
away.
Does he find my words heartening? Comforting? Who the hell knows?
But they are two truths and a lie, and they feel like the parting words of
an important stranger. Words that a guy like Gunnipuddy, facing the
odds, needs to hear.
28     PRISM 49:1 Erin Robinsong
TIMBER: TIMBRE
The slow laser moan
of a mast leaning fore and aft
first perfected by trees
creaking in their earth-hulls,
the entire forest list some shipyard
of boats unbuilt, unbidden, landlocked
in the wooden
downtown.
The invention of wood goes roughly.
Oaken iron, fir, burl.
And all we saw
became sawn, past-tense for what we
—prehensile and panting—beheld,
in boats-to-be.
A drop of pitch hitting
the centre of a wooden pool,
and the years it takes to for the rings to
register, to ring out.
On a see-saw bender,
what we see is already
somewhere between pastime and
pretense for the fine spray of sawdust
just beginning to gust
in a woodwind. A burlstorm
prismmagazine.ca    29 TIMBRE: TIMBER
A round of wood sliced thin
looks like a record,
is. The rings hold tones
from my favorite storms. I couldn't be there
so I have burned it
for you. It is covered with pitch
which I hope will not gum the needle,
or cover your fingers and clothes
as they have mine with the perfect adhesive
for dirt—
cheap melodies thrown from car windows
blurt, we're coming to the good part
coats, windows, everything, will open
wood will flow, ripple one more ring
out, and we'll go home to the trailer
and put a record on
in a shallow pit dug with the heel of my boot
in the dirt. Each small gulley of glowing
wood an entire year of burning microfiche,
as small chambers of crystalized pitch
explode, the trees humming around us in rounds
at the edge of the woulds, a clearing
in the throat.
30     PRISM 49:1 Weston Cutter
Structural Conceptions of
Self in the Ice Cream Era
We are the note left on the table, the out-
for-snacks, for some last noise as the night
winds down. We're the dog that hasn't
quit barking since it learned what attention
is, the last slice of bread in the bag, the whole
reason to go to the store in the first place
and, once there, forgotten. Bread next time.
Tonight it's pizza, tuna from a can: we're
the meal. We're the taste. We're the shoes
at the door, slipped on and off, last minute,
and what's outside. We're there. And there.
We're the wet spoon, side of the sink, used.
prismmagazine.ca     31 Lights
Sometimes the story is the truck rumbling
down the highway, making great time.
Sometimes the story is how they sat in the cab
together, silent, both feeling pockets
for a match for the cigarette neither of them
wanted to be smoking anymore, all
this time, a dozen years and the goddamn habit
following like a scent. Sometimes
the story is the sitting still, how the old truck's
dash needs a smack to keep the headlights lit. Dusty half-rotted floorboards and how
they creak Saturday night, last song
before the last slow dance. Sometimes the story's
the dance, or what happens afterward, or
how what happens between the nightcooled dancing
bodies is hardly different from the sound
the floorboards make, all scuffling and some
creaks, things giving little by little by—
32     PRISM 49:1 This Was Before We Knew
The story was we were drinking, Dan's parents
gone and we were abacussing to measure
our weight in manhood, in drinks either poured
or mixed or spilled or just talked up,
yeah, this is my eighth beer but who kept tabs
there in the coming-and-gone kitchen?
The story was we were all 18, ready for something
more than borrowed cars,
smirked tales of who
kissed what parts of the pricks
we openly hated and
secretly wanted to be, we
knew if we shook the street-signs at the street's end
hard enough we could dislodge them,
could pull poles from down dark and declare
the roads we lived down nameless, this is
New Lane, this Is Never Happened Before Road
but all we did was loosen them,
twist them 90°. The story was if we wanted
girls to go shirtless we had to set examples
and Mike went first, then Shannon then Bob then
Eric then all of us, lanky and unmanly, our
stories hadn't yet worn into chests and backs, our
stories still vellum and soft, then Chris
took his off and a line was drawn there, up his
sternum. The story was the music, if
slow enough, would induce the girls into lounging
and oh how many couches there were,
enough for all the countries of french kisses
we each dreamed we could find late-night
fluency in given a chance, the story was just
an equation: enough beers would equal
an equal sign and on the far side we'd become
numbers, elipses on the march. The story
of the line up Chris's chest was a tree he said,
prismmagazine.ca    33 a family trip to locales exotic and something
inhaled, some thick forest and a spore, a seed,
his lungs the perfect germinating chamber
and the story was, months later, doctors cut him
wide to release a tree. The story we told
Dan's parents later was that
it'd been an elbow
that holed the wall by
the doorway, we lied
and said nothing of Chris's
fist while he played
a game, proximity of his clenched hand vs. Bob's
ability not to flinch. The story of the tree
in his chest was just wrong but right enough, enough
beers and anything was possible and
let he without branches aching deep inside cast
the first untrue acorn. The story was
none of us knew what to do with or to or for
the girls, yes, but each other too, moreso,
friendship among young men a matter of
hedgeclippers, ladders, treehouses.
The story hasn't ended
after all these leagues
of beer into manhood—
we've nothing left
to prove or disprove: holes
occasionally appear in walls, we tell stories of what's
growing in us, what we'll have to cut ourselves open to remove, we make up the reasons.
34     PRISM 49:1 Heather Cadsby
Handwork Accompaniment
Those who push plastic tabs into sockets.
Those who repeatedly say no don't touch.
Those who can't be bothered keeping
an eye on everything
know they could miss things.
/ will stroke her as soon as
she Is released from my body.
I will cut bait with a baby gate.
The little ones keep on going
crawling their way to praiseworthy obsession.
Good job. We master the set-up steps for Pack 'N Play.
Those who hang wallpaper plumb-lined perpendicular.
Those who slap it up in time for drinks.
A notch on the belt, a height-mark on the doorframe.
Tap-test the mic and we're set to go.
prismmagazine.ca    35 Kevin A. Couture
Lost Animal Club
"^"'l tay here. Understand?" I tell my sister. She's scowling at me from
^^the sofa, scrunched up into an annoying little ball.
K««/"You don't have to tell me every time."
"Yes I do. Especially when you say things like that."
If we had a TV it wouldn't be so bad leaving her during the day, but
we haven't had one for ages. No phone either, no games, no real food.
Truth is, everything we own wouldn't keep a hamster amused for more
than five minutes at a stretch.
"Cezary?" she goes on. "I have questions."
I hold up two fingers and sigh.
"Why can't I come with you?"
"You can't keep up. Number two?"
"Can you tell me a joke?"
That was Mom's trick, distracting us with jokes when we were bored.
The cheapest form of entertainment around. She'd tell kid jokes to Pillow,
stupid knock-knock stuff, but I'd get some good ones once in a while.
Punch lines she'd have to whisper, starting with, "Don't repeat this to
your sister, Cezary. This one's for grown-ups, okay?"
But Mom's not here anymore. And I have bigger things to worry
about.
"No," I say. "There's nothing funny today."
I grab the leash and head to our bathroom, otherwise known as the
holding pen.
The latest dog, a lab cross with "Dude" written on his tag, is lying on
the bathmat. He wags his tail as I clip the leash to his collar. Another
example of blind trust built on the principle of what other choice do I have?
The reason this whole thing works.
"Okay, Dude. Time to go."
I lead him to the couch where Pillow's sitting. I usually don't do this
but she's been so moody all week. "Take a second," I tell her. "Say goodbye." Her eyes shine as she pets the stunned animal, kisses his forehead
like he was hers all along. I make a hurry-up face but let her have some
time with him anyway. I can read people as well as animals; I know she
needs it.
It's a bit of a walk to Dude's house but the dog doesn't seem to mind.
36     PRISM 49:1 He's exploring the bus stops and building corners, investigating mounds
of trash along the way. Right now he's looking sideways at me, carrying
a Starbucks cup in his mouth like it's free money. Dude's a bit of a moron and all I can hope is that he's not a reflection of his owners. Another
hope I'm banking on: that his owners care about him as much as he
cares about garbage. When I get close, I take the Lost Dog poster out of
my pocket. Hold it up like I'm checking the address, like I'm lost myself.
It's a good thing too, because there's someone outside, patching up the
front stairs. A man with a bandana on his forehead, a Raiders shirt, loose
jeans with white, powdery stains. He sees me coming and walks over,
pointing with his cement trowel.
"Hey," he says. "That's my dog."
I smile and hold up the poster. "Thank goodness," I say. And though
it's over the top, I run with Dude the last little bit. Clap my hands when
the man takes the leash. I make sure he sees the shirt I'm wearing, the
one with the embroidered hockey skate that makes me look way younger than I am. I know from experience that people trust kids a lot more
than they trust twelve-year-olds.
"Where did you get him?"
"He was wandering around by the bridge. Lucky I spotted him, I
guess."
The man looks into the dog's ears, feels each leg like he's checking
for damage. He keeps one eye on me the whole time though, suspicious
as a 7-Eleven clerk. "I know what it said on the poster, but there's no
reward," he says finally, raising one eyebrow and staring into my face.
"I've got nothing for you."
"I'm just happy your dog is safe. That's good enough for me."
I turn and walk down the street. Whistle that song from the Lucky
Charms commercial, stop and re-tie my shoelaces.
"Wait," the man yells. He clips Dude to the railing and digs for his
wallet. "I was only testing you. Here."
I take the money and put it in my pocket, doing my best to look surprised instead of desperate. I know we need it way more than he does,
but this part—the tense few seconds of contact, the slow-motion handing
over of cash—is where I really feel guilty. Where I'm actually embarrassed about this whole friggin' thing.
From outside our apartment building looks abandoned. The weeds,
shrubs, and grass are all scorched the colour of weak piss from the summer heat. Long sheets of detached stucco flutter in the breeze and the
front window has a crack I'm sure was made by someone's head. To top
it off there's a sign above the door held in place with a rusty coat hanger.
It says, Bella Casa Apartments. Home.
prismmagazine.ca     37 I go inside and take the stairs up to Tern's place.
"You?" Tern says when he answers. The tracksuit he's wearing is so
loose you could whip it off him like a magician with a tablecloth. "Why
are you at my door?"
"The rent money. My mother sent me over." I hand him the envelope
and he counts it four times before stuffing it in his pocket.
"How come she doesn't drop by anymore? I haven't seen her in
ages."
"She's working all the time. To pay you."
Tem nods. He seems to like that answer or maybe he can't think of
anything else to say. Tern's living proof you don't have to be gifted to
be in charge of something. I suppose I should be thankful for that. If he
was any smarter he might figure out Pillow and I have been living on our
own for months and boot us the hell out of here. Or worse yet, call social
services.
"Well, say hi to your mother for me," he says. "Tell her I... Just say hi."
I nod and head back to the stairs. If I knew where my mother was
though, I'd have a lot more to say to her than just "hi."
When I get to our floor I take my shoes off and tip-toe down the hallway as softly as I can. It doesn't work; Stan and Lucy, the neighbours
across from us, hear me coming anyway and storm out of their apartment like a couple of trap-door spiders. "306," Stan says. It's what he
calls me, the number of our apartment.
Stan's a huge man, the kind who has to go through the wheelchair
entrance at the ballpark because the turnstiles are too small. His beard
is yellow around the mouth from cigarettes and if I had to describe him
I'd say he's a cross between a pro wrestler and a street-corner Santa. His
wife, Lucy, stands behind him wearing clothes that look homemade but
not by someone who knows how to make clothes.
"Where's your sweet little sister, Cezary?" she says. "I could just eat
her up, you know. Eat her up whole." She makes an exaggerated smacking sound with her lips and I see spit-strings stretching in her mouth like
elastic bands.
"She's inside. With our mother. I better go in too, before they come
looking."
Stan works his fingers into his beard, studying me. Then he moves off
to the side. "Of course," he says. "Go on."
I make a big show of opening all three locks and leave Santa and
The Sticky Witch in the hallway staring giant holes through our cheap
wooden door. Even with all those locks, I know they could smash their
way through in an instant if they wanted to. Do all manner of horrible
things to us before we even had a chance to think about it. Fast and unpredictable as a three-way dogfight.
38     PRISM 49:1 Pillow's asleep on the couch in the exact spot I left her. She's covered
herself with Mom's vinyl raincoat and made a fort with some faded cushions. When Mom left she took all her clothes, except the raincoat, and
most of the blankets. She didn't explain, but I knew as well as she did
that she wasn't coming back anytime soon.
"Cezary?" Pillow says, still half asleep. It's the first time she's woken
up and asked for me instead of Mom. For whatever that's worth.
"What is it?" I say.
"I have questions."
I hold up three fingers.
"Did you find Dude's family?"
"Yes. He's safe at home. They're having a party for him right now."
"Why do you call me Pillow?"
"Because you're soft. Time to sleep."
"Three," she says.
I start disassembling the fort she made.
"When is Mom coming back?"
I look off to the side, avoiding her gaze. Mom's never coming back,
and that's a good thing. We're much safer when she's not here. No
strange men with dirty hands, no needles on the floor, less chance of a
fire. Those are the things to remember about our mother, not the fairy
tale stuff. If I were smart, I'd tell that to Pillow right now. Stop her stupid
question dead in its tracks.
"Soon, I'll bet. Now go to bed."
"Can I sleep out here instead? It's itchy in there."
"What?"
I lift the makeshift blanket and find red welts up and down her legs,
a few of them bleeding from where she's scratched too hard. I go to the
bedroom and pull the sheets back. Everything looks normal at first, but
when I check the mattress folds along the edges I see them. Tiny bedbugs lining the crevices like spilled salt.
I think about the second-hand quilt I got last month at a garage sale.
About the Salvation Army sheets. "Shit," I whisper. "Fuck." I squish a
couple bugs between my fingers and return to the living room. Pillow's
half conked out again by the time I get there, Mom's coat hanging off her
like a melted shield.
"Okay," I whisper. "Tonight we'll both sleep on the couch."
"What kind of animal will you rescue today?" Pillow says in the morning. She's still scratching her legs and I have to smack her hand away
every thirty seconds.
"I don't know."
"I bet it's a wiener dog. Do you think it's a wiener dog?"
prismmagazine.ca    39 "Let's have a quiet breakfast. No questions, okay?"
She slumps in her seat and takes a bite of dry cereal, the scowl on her
face intense enough to start a fire. She was restless all night and kept waking up to shift positions, each time burrowing deeper into my side. Not
that I was really sleeping anyway, but it would have been nice to have
the option.
When Mom was here she used to feed us Rice Krispies in a coffee
mug at bedtime. She'd warm up the milk first, which made the cereal
taste like caramel. Poor kid's pudding, she called it, and I thought it was
magic, didn't want anyone else to know. But now I realize it was just a
trick to get us to fall asleep. I have to admit, it was pretty sneaky. I'd do
it for Pillow too, if we could afford to buy milk.
I flick my sister in the arm and tell her to stay out of the bedroom
while I'm gone. Before I leave, though, she stops me.
"Can I make a sign today? For the animals?"
From the look on her face, I know it's not worth fighting over. I
find a pad of blank paper and some stubby old crayons and I write the
words she wants in block letters so she can copy them: LOST ANIMAL
CLUB.
I lock the door behind me when I leave.
After a long walk I see fewer broken appliances on the lawns and
more underground sprinklers, drivable cars, intact windows with curtains made out of, well, curtains. One yard even has a junior swing set
off to the side, monkey bars and everything. What it means is I'm finally
fishing in the right waters. I'm in Richie Rich territory.
I spy something promising through a chain-link fence across the road
—a small, freshly-painted doghouse. When I get to the property line I
put my hood up to hide my face and check the street around me. It's all
clear.
I fiddle with the leash in my pocket, make a few smooching noises.
And sure enough, a small black nose pokes out of the doghouse. It's a
multi-breed thing, smooth, brown, and squat as a baby pig. Not a dachshund like Pillow predicted, but close enough.
"Hey buddy," I whisper. "There's a good boy." He makes his way
over and licks my fingers through the metal links. I scratch his chin, look
over my shoulder at the empty street. Then I put my hands on the fence
and get ready to jump.
"Nelson! Come inside, boy. Right now."
A woman, on the front steps. Christ. I didn't even hear the door open.
She's got a cellphone in one hand, a Milk-Bone in the other. The dog
trots inside the house and the woman starts dialling her phone.
I push the leash deep inside my pocket. Keep my face hidden behind
my hood.
40     PRISM 49:1 "I just wanted to pet your nice dog. I thought he could be my friend,"
I say, but I slur the words a little like that kid from second grade with
Down's. "I should have asked permission first. That's what they tell me
at the group. Always ask permission. But sometimes I forget."
She stares at me curiously, puts her phone away.
I know I've already got her, but to finish it off I crouch down, wrap
my hands around my knees, and rock back and forth on the sidewalk.
Then I jump up and scream, "I'm so stupid sometimes!" and run down
the street flailing my arms in all directions like I'm being attacked by
insects. By nature. A million invisible shocks in the air all around me.
On the way home, I stop at the drugstore to try and salvage the wasted
day. It's a seedy little place with a gang of homeless men outside passing
smokes back and forth. One of them has dried blood on his face, brown
lines running from his nostrils like slug trails. He yells something when
I approach but it turns into a long, wet coughing fit. I slip by him into
the store.
The pharmacist, a small man with a lab coat and a heavy English
accent, gives me a pesticide specifically for bedbugs, something called
Suspend. I also get a pack of heavy-duty garbage bags, Saran Wrap, some
quarters for the Laundromat. And on a whim I splurge for a chocolate
bar for Pillow to keep her from being a pain in the ass tonight.
As I'm paying I think about all the drugs behind the pharmacist's
counter. I remember being here once with Mom, early on, as she tried to
get a prescription filled. They denied it and Mom yelled at the pharmacist, a different man than the one here today. He shrugged and told her,
"Maybe you should go to the hospital, to Emergency if you're in pain."
"The hospital?" she laughed. "Oh, they get you started all right. The
first one's always free, isn't that right, Cezary?"
I didn't know how to answer that and I didn't really know what she
was talking about. The only times I could think of when Mom had been
to the hospital were when Pillow was born and, presumably, me. I can
only guess what kind of drugs they give you for that.
Outside, the smoking men have joined another group. One of them
has a pit bull with a thick studded collar, no leash. The dog barks and
slug-nose gives me the finger as I come out; I go the long way into an
extended alley between two tenements.
There's a muggy, shitfaced man halfway through the lane, slumped
against a blue dumpster. When I pass he says, "Hey. What's in the bag?"
I ignore him even though he repeats it over and over. I'm almost at the
end when I hear another noise. Somebody moaning from the bottom of
a basement stairwell. I want to look even though it's none of my business, even though it's the wrong thing to do. I clutch the drugstore bag
prismmagazine.ca    41 to my chest and walk towards the railing.
A man and a woman are lying in the filth at the bottom of the stairs,
their belongings spread around them like it's their home. The man's
naked, covered in unrecognizable tattoos and the woman's so thin I can
count the bones in her spine through her t-shirt. There's something—
vomit maybe—crusted into the woman's hair and both of them have
rubber tubes around their arms. The smell of burning plastic everywhere. I'm about to leave when the woman rolls over. My blood ices up.
It's my mother. Right there below me, not six feet away.
I don't know whether to throw up or scream. It isn't supposed to
happen like this, finding her on the street. I'd only ever considered two
options. One: she comes back for good; or two: we never see her again.
But this? What am I supposed to do with this? I clutch the railing and
squeeze until the metal cuts into my fingers.
My mother sits up, suddenly. She squints and turns her head to the
side; I jump back before she can recognize me.
"Hey! I asked you what's in that fucking bag!" the dumpster man
says, sneaking up behind me and reaching for the pharmacy stuff. He's
slow, but he manages to close his fingers on the bag anyway, yanking it
towards him. It tears when I grab it back and I wrap my arms around
the contents before they fall. Then I leave him standing there above the
stairs and I get the hell out of there. As fast as humanly possible.
Pillow's decorated our place with ten or eleven signs, all saying the same
thing: Lost Animal Club. She's beaming as she shows them off, tapping
each letter with her finger, and describing the colours to me like I've
been blind since birth. It's hard to focus though. When I look at the
signs, all I really see is Mom's face, staring up at me from the bottom of
a filthy stairwell.
"Cezary! Pay attention," Pillow says, tugging on my sleeve.
I try not to think about anything while she drags me from wall to wall,
continuing the tour. When she's done, I fix her up with some crackers
and the pharmacy chocolate bar, and then get to work on the bedroom.
Nobody else is going to do it. If I didn't know that before, I sure as hell
do now.
I use the vacuum I borrowed from Tem to suck up the bedbugs,
dumping them in the trash outside. I seal the blankets into plastic bags
and take what's left of the food money stashed under the mattress—the
same place Mom used to hide it—and put it safely in my pocket. Then I
cover the entire bed in Saran Wrap. Box spring too. After that, I coat the
place with Suspend, under the bed, along the doorframe, the back of the
closet. As thorough and meticulous as a barber.
When I'm finished I curl up on the plastic-covered mattress to rest.
42     PRISM 49:1 And before I know it, tears start pooling on the Saran Wrap under my
eyes. It's stupid, but I can't shut it down. When the crying has finally run
its course, I compose myself and dry my face with the pesticide-free part
of my hand.
"Cezary?" Pillow says, standing in the doorway staring at me. She's
making that face again. I get up and walk out of the bedroom with her,
closing the door behind us.
"Let me guess," I say. "Questions?"
"Uh huh."
I flash three fingers at her.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Roses and ladybugs."
"Do you have any jokes today?"
"No. Still nothing funny. Final question?"
"Will I go to school this year?"
School? I hadn't thought about that. Truth is, neither one of us is
likely to go to school ever again.
"We'll see," I say, turning away.
There's a knock on the door before she can bring up anything else.
It's Tem, his eyes darting around the apartment. "Time's up. I'm here for
my vacuum."
He checks out Pillow's stupid signs while I bring the machine in from
the other room.
"Where's your mother now? Is she working? On Sunday?"
"No, she's here. Sleeping though, sick as a dog."
"Is that right?" Tem stares at the closed bedroom door. "What kind of
sick?"
I lower my head like I'm about to let him in on a secret. "Pillow, come
here. But don't get too close." I pull her pant leg up to reveal the red
bumps.
"What's that?"
Pillow opens her mouth to say something; I cover it with my hand.
"Have you ever had chicken pox?" I ask Tem.
"I'm not sure."
"You'd better be sure. If you get them now, at your age, it's terrible."
"Yeah. I think I've heard about that. Shingles, right?"
"Exactly," I say. "Shingles."
He points to the bedroom door. I nod and hand him his vacuum.
"I hope she gets better soon. Tell her I said that, okay?"
He heads down the hallway holding the vacuum away from him like
it's a bag of diapers. I start thinking maybe there is a way to fool the
school board so Pillow can go to Kindergarten after all. We could slip
her in before they even knew what happened. Fake the paperwork. Who
prismmagazine.ca    43 knows what we might come up with?
Then the door across the hall opens, killing my train of thought. It's
Stan, filling up the doorframe, not saying a word. The reject must've
been watching from his peephole the whole time. He scratches his bare
stomach, rubs the stretch marks on his skin. Stares right past me into the
apartment where Pillow's standing, still showing off her itchy leg.
I don't see a single person on the street the next morning. Usually I like
it quiet but today I wish there was some kind of distraction. A building
fire, a carnival, a street-fight. I'll settle for anything as long as it doesn't
involve me directly.
As I walk, I think about my mother's alley. I wonder—now that I
know where she is—if I should go back and check on her. I'm not saying
she should come home or anything, but maybe I could visit her once in
a while to make sure she's okay. Bring her food or clothes, a care package like you do for someone in prison. And later, if all went well, Pillow
might come along too. If we knew the schedule of when Mom was getting high we could work around it. Set up a calendar for the month.
I stop in front of an abandoned coffee shop. The walls inside have
been tagged with graffiti and someone's used the far corner of the shop
as a toilet. There are wine bottles and empty grocery bags all over the
floor, the remnants of a campfire. I try to look at my reflection in the window but there isn't enough unbroken glass left in the frame to do that.
I drop my head and stare at the ground. What kind of idiot am I? The
idea to visit Mom is about as dumb as punching yourself in the mouth to
find out if there really is a tooth fairy. I know what I need to do. I guess
I've known it all along. I need to forget about her, completely, utterly,
and focus on taking care of Pillow. The family member who didn't disappear. The one who stayed.
I head back the same way as yesterday, back to Nelson's yard. When
I get there, I sneak up to the far side of the house, totally out of sight
of the front door. Nelson sees me and wags his tail which makes this
decision that much easier. Before I even say a word he scampers over,
buzzing with excitement at the fence line. The trust in his eyes burning
brighter than the early morning sun.
Nelson weaves back and forth in the hallway, sniffing the disgusting carpet, licking up crumbs of who-knows-what. He's quiet though, and we
get all the way to our door without a sound. I hold his collar tight as I
duck below the neighbours' peephole. I reach up, put the key in the first
lock, and give it a turn.
But it's already unlocked.
"Pillow?" I whisper. I walk inside and drop Nelson's leash. He scurries
44     PRISM 49:1 off and disappears somewhere in the clutter.
The apartment is never pristine, but right now things look rummaged.
Cushions overturned, crayons on the floor. I'm about to call out again
when I hear a noise from the other room. The sound of the bed being
moved, the box spring scraping against the floor—something Pillow's far
too small to do on her own.
I grab a knife from the kitchen. My hand starts to shake. The door
opens.
"Cezary, baby!"
It's Mom. Here in the apartment. Up close she looks even worse than
she did in the stairwell. Her skin's pale and sweaty and there are needle
marks up and down her arms. She's not wearing shoes and her toenails
are a sickly yellow colour, her feet dusted with bug powder from the
bedroom floor.
But she came back. That has to mean something, doesn't it?
I see Pillow standing just inside the bedroom and relax my hand,
bring the knife down to my side.
"What are you doing here?" I ask Mom.
"What am I doing? Sweetheart, I've missed you guys. It's been too
long and I want to make it up to you. For everything."
For a second, I picture Mom living at home again. Making dinners.
Washing sheets. Answering Pillow's dumb questions. But that dream
gets swamped by the image of her lying face down in a stairwell.
"Where have you been all this time?" I ask.
"Missing you, that's where."
"Yes, but I mean where exactly?"
Pillow comes out of the bedroom and Mom grabs her, pulls her in
close.
"You haven't changed at all, Cezary," Mom says, waving her hand
in my direction like she's clearing smoke from the air. "You know, I
dreamed I saw you the other day. It felt so real, like you were right there.
But before I knew it, poof, you were gone."
I shouldn't be ashamed of how I reacted in the alley, but the back of
my neck burns just the same. "Pillow, why don't you come over here?"
I say.
"Oh, she's fine. We've been having a ball, telling all sorts of jokes.
Haven't we, my love?"
Pillow nods, but she doesn't look like someone who's been laughing.
"I've got new jokes for you too, Cezary," Mom continues. "Want to
hear one?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I ran into Tem on the way in. He asked if I was feeling better.
That's funny, right?"
prismmagazine.ca    45 I blink, but say nothing.
"He thanked me for being regular with the rent these days, too. Also
funny, since I haven't been paying him. The whole thing got me wondering, where would Cezary get the money for that? Did you have a
windfall I don't know about, sweetie? You can tell me."
Suddenly the food money in my pocket feels as obvious as a missing
eye. Before I can answer though, Pillow starts sobbing. "We. Got. It.
From. The. Animals," she says in short, pathetic gasps. "Cezary. Rescues. Them."
Mom looks at her, blankly. She has no idea what Pillow's talking about
and she's getting antsy. Drumming her fingers on everything. "That's a
good one, I guess," she says. "But the real question here is where you
stashed—"
"306?" someone says, cutting her off. It's Stan, calling out from the
doorway. I didn't even hear him come in. He stands there, breathing
heavily through his nose, completely blocking the door.
Lucy rushes in behind him, holding an ancient phone in her hand, the
long cord stretching over to their apartment. "What's going on here?"
she says. "What's happening?"
No one answers. The whole room has gone silent as the sky, and
blood whirrs though my veins, making it hard to think. Then Stan starts
walking, slowly, towards Pillow and my mother. His hands are clenched
and his whole upper body is vibrating.
"Cezary, cut him!" Mom yells, squeezing Pillow's arm.
I lift the knife without thinking, but stay frozen.
"Stab him!" Mom says.
I don't move, not even when Stan walks past me and stops in front of
Mom. He grabs Pillow, pulls her away, and lifts her up against his chest.
He has her now, on the far side, just out of reach. I'm still pointing the
knife at him, but I have no idea what I should do next.
"Save her, Cezary. You can do it," Mom says.
Her voice is soft now and the tone she's using makes it sound like if
I did this, Pillow and I would be safe again. And everything would be
back to normal. The way it used to be.
I lift the knife higher. Then Pillow looks at me, her arms clutching
Stan's shirt. She's not struggling or trying to escape. Her eyes are huge
and I see the knife reflected in them. I also see something else. It's the
same thing I see in the animals' eyes when I bring them to the apartment: blind trust.
I know what I have to do.
I drop the knife to the floor, kicking it so it slides under the couch.
Without hesitation, Stan puts my sister down, gently, right in front of me.
She takes my hand.
46     PRISM 49:1 "You fuck-ups," Mom yells. She rushes over and reaches under the
couch for the knife.
Whatever spell the room was under is broken.
Nelson the idiot dog emerges, barking like he's on fire. Stan corners
Mom against the far wall. And Lucy punches buttons on her phone as
though she's calling in an air strike. Everybody's yelling, screaming at
everybody else, suddenly oblivious to my sister and I right there in the
middle of it all.
"Come on," I whisper, tugging on Pillow's sleeve. She's in shock, staring into space. "We have to go," I say, louder this time. I drag her backwards until we get to the open door. Nobody notices us. We're almost
free.
Then, at the entrance to the hallway, Pillow stops. "Wait," she says.
And she runs back into the apartment, straight towards our mother.
"No! Pillow, don't," I say.
But she doesn't even look at Mom. Instead, she runs past her to the
other side of the room. She reaches up, grabs one of her new, colourful
signs, and tears it off the wall.
She races from wall to wall, taking down the signs like balloons at the
end of a party. Every last one of them. When she's done she comes back,
clutching them to her chest with one arm.
Everybody stops fighting when she walks by. They look at each other,
and then they turn to Pillow and me. Before they can say anything, I
grab Pillow's arm and we run out into the corridor. We rush down the
stairs and slam the fire door shut behind us.
I watch Pillow's face as we cross the lobby, to see if she's looking
back. She isn't, though. Not even when we get outside and the rain starts
to fall. The heat from the pavement turns the water to steam under our
feet.
prismmagazine.ca    47 Jason Heroux
A Strange Time
When my birds went away
I kept stones in cages
and gave them names
I painted them
beautiful colours
and taught them
to sleep at night
it was a strange time
but no one complained
when my birds
came back
my stones refused
to be stones again
I painted the birds grey
removed their wings
and threw them at the windows
of abandoned buildings
I kicked them along
the road just for fun
48     PRISM 49:1 Jon Paul Fiorentino
three poems from Indexical
Elegies
INDEXICAL ELEGY I
The Index is physically connected with its
Little Lucifer falls
despite listless prayers
The palliative strain
and cigarette drama
Don't fuck this up
with your feelings
Went to sleep without
him
Tried to dream him
back
But it's zero sum the
summer
Nothing cold about it
it's just that
The closer I come to loving
the closer I come to elegy
Shh. There are
poets trying to die
they make an organic pair.
—Charles Sanders Peirce
prismmagazine.ca    49 SELF-STORAGE
Laminated name tags everywhere everywhere
shelf space for the wicked timid
Bottles tremble in November treble
everyone dying or leaving or straying
Meanwhile quiz-takers make some sonic sense
pitch perfect prose, retail summons
Sermon perfect-lit compartments down
Oh value-added mainstays whisper
This name tag, that toe tag
November swallows the widowed
Comedic grievers mutter lame phonemes:
did you hear the one about the laminated coffin?
Heard it—
big year for that joke
50     PRISM 49:1 POLYCLINIQUE
Find your place—
a local, measure the paces
Arrive with head down
long into intent
Lace the notion
with disrigorous play and ploy, somehow
Put the idea under chloroform
deliberate and douse the thing
in a flow of solvents
not as remedy, nor as spark nor wick
but as strategic sublimation
conspicuously consumed
Trick your dreams into commonplace routine—
matte offerings of concrete nouns that ease and shame
Stitch up a coterie of kindreds
note where connections are severed
Finally sew lazily, forcefully. See the language
gnaw at its sutures as you go
Tip well
prismmagazine.ca    51 Stephanie Yorke
from Variations on a
Cardboard Crown
2.
The Iliad, Abridged: today in class
they gave us each a page, word shadows
bent in the photocopied spine.
I was made to read first—
sounded a-chill-ease when I saw Achilles,
and the mistake carried through the whole class.
Sometimes, for want of medicine, one drowns the cat.
Our cosmetic treatments over junior high sinks—
you force hairsprigs behind your ears
while I douse the puff in my bangs.
Just stay down. We press, splash and fingercomb,
leave the faucets on.
At three, the tape-recorded school buzzer
shrieks like a buzzard coming, and we go
past the one-lane mall and the fast food strip.
All of our best memories, in these restaurants—
A woman's hand knocked
french fries from the carton to the tray,
notched the ketchup packets.
A man in shirtsleeves
reached at the drive-thru; pulled paper foil
from one edge of your cheeseburger.
Honey, just slow down. You 'll burn your face.
52     PRISM 49:1 Tonight, after a mall loll, we eat in,
under lamps like a starship tractor beam,
nine slabs of backlit menuboard.
Look. The possibilities are endless.
prismmagazine.ca     53 That morning, you'd emptied your closet shelf—
threw down the rattling hairdryer, and the book
series she'd subscribed you to by mail.
Her ash flaked off, but the books kept coming,
big hugs on the invoice.
Your bureau covered with Happy Meal toys—
all of our best memories are in restaurants.
The watermelon that's also a wind-up car;
the two-thirds downscaled Rubik's Cube.
Forget that stupid jewellery box she left,
motorized ballerina. Gears claw through
"Over the Rainbow," ready to seize.
Forget that bracelet she left in the box—
set in silver polish, the whole thing dissolved.
Not to tarnish her reputation.
54     PRISM 49:1 I mean, friends way back.
Your mother said, alright missy, you too.
Sat me on the kitchen table, cut my bangs.
Christ, that was easy.
You looked at the floor:
a puddle full of earthworms, curled and straight.
She'd tried not to give you a trailer park name.
Bernadette. There's three more in my row,
you said, thumb pressed on your breastbone.
Someday I'm gonna be a doctor, ha ha.
Me with the wooden stick in your throat.
Jesus Fucking Christ. God's trailer park name.
prismmagazine.ca    55 John Grey
My Place
The dull, flat houses can't help it.
The gaunt trees are merely winterized,
and those clouds, grey as they may be,
must overload with snow and ice
if the earth's ever to get its water back.
Not everything can be the woman in bed,
still sleeping, her hair rolled over pillow,
her body buried in a scoop of sheets.
It's not the window's fault that what it frames
is merely backdrop—
that even if cars speed down the street,
children play in their yards,
the true action is still confined to one king-sized bed,
one man waking slowly, one woman
rolling across the mattress like a gentle tide.
56     PRISM 49:1 Ron Carlson
On the San Juan
He was as happy as he had been all day, swimming in the river
with his students, when he missed the saving eddy opposite
their campground on the San Juan, and he felt the muscle of the
cold river current grab his stomach and pull him past the five rafts where
they were beached in the sandy willows. He was wearing his baggy swim
trunks and his life preserver. He was barefoot for the first time in four
days, having peeled his wet tennis shoes off when they'd landed after
the day's rafting. He felt the river over his shoulders now and he took
a deep breath and put his head down and swam seven-eight-nine hard
strokes, but when he looked up, he was even farther from shore. The
rafts seemed small and far away, and he saw the trip leader Sarah suddenly stand up, wave, and call his name.
It was a writers' trip down the San Juan River, and he'd been talking
to the bright young people for three days. He wanted, as always, to say
something new about writing, something that might make it possible for
them to write with more force, and the sunny desert afternoons under
the cottonwoods had gone well. They were terribly smart and funny
kids, and they were old and young three times every hour. They reminded the man powerfully of the students he'd taught years ago, men
and women who now had grown kids. He was godfather of two of his old
students' children.
The San Juan River was running at four times its usual flow from the
heavy snowmelt runoff, and it had made for fast and efficient rafting
and some hard tricky landings. "Coming in hot," was the cry when the
raft refused to slow near the bank and all rafters knew to prepare for the
bump and watch for the thrown lines.
The man had been in the city too long. He was successful, of course,
but there was little sweetness in that for him. He was a good teacher
and appreciated for that, and he was friendly and easy to like, and he
flew around the country a little too much now and he was weary. He'd
signed up for this odd river venture to get into the wild and to sleep on
the ground and to get bug-bit and sunburned and go two days then three
in a row without washing. And to think.
All that morning in the raft, he'd been thinking about the woman he
loved. He had taught himself not to think about her because it was pain-
prismmagazine.ca    57 fill, and he had lived in that pain for a thousand days. He had known
her since high school, so many years together he never said the number
because it caught in his throat. On the early dates he had started bringing her Windex and celery instead of flowers and wine, and by the time
they were married she had a trophy shelf lined with the blue bottles.
Her mother had said, "At least you'll have clean windows." Their whole
relationship had that delicious tilt.
He had trained his mind not to think of the woman or her new life.
But the river and the old rock mountains had disassembled the man's
training. The rocks didn't care what happened to the man and they
hadn't cared a thousand days ago and they wouldn't care in a thousand
years. Everywhere he looked in the magnificent canyons, he saw rocks
that didn't care and wouldn't care long after the man had had his little
life.
Each day the group would run the river and then with plenty of daylight they would strike a beach and throw up camp, the tent, the cook
table, and then follow Sarah up the winding trails into the old canyons.
He hiked with the class to the pictographs and the petroglyphs etched
in the rosy sandstone on the cliff walls, and he wondered at the figures
there, the powerful triangular chests, the hands, the spirals and the figures hovering around the creatures. Out from his world this way, dusty
and sweating in the afternoon, the man stood in the sharp shade, and
when he looked at the careful spiral, the man could not help himself: he
thought of his tangled heart.
Last night he could see the woman he loved, her face, a face he knew
better than any other face in the world. He tried not to think of her, but
now she was there. So he sat up in the rocks by the canyon camp, and he
had written her a letter and each sentence was hard to write. It seemed
like it would have been easier to carve a pictograph—some picture of a
man trapped in a spiral unable to find his way.
The girls and boys on the trip were good writers; they were careful with words and with each other and they respected stories and they
wanted to learn. They bent over their notebooks when they sat in the
sand in a circle under the desert cottonwoods. Sometimes a raven would
land above them on a branch and thrum for a while like an opprobrious headmaster. They wrote as far as they knew in each story and then
stopped, and the man pushed them out past what they knew. They also
inked designs on their knees and elbows: stars and letters and figures.
One girl connected her bug bites into a funny bicycle; a boy put an
elaborate starburst around a wart on his knee. They all wove hemp string
bracelets for each other, some with beads. One girl painted a fish onto
the shaved head of the other teacher on the trip.
The man thought he was funny and he would urge his students to find
58     PRISM 49:1 some paper to write on instead of each other. This wasn't funny, but still
he cajoled and pushed them, even when they wanted to stop or sleep
with their heads on each other's stomachs. Write the story, he'd say.
Push. Write it. It will unfold.
In the letter the man opened his heart carefully. He didn't want to spill
it. He loved the woman, but he didn't say that. He said she was in his
dreams and that was true, and he told her how she appeared in the
dreams glad to see him and how they talked sweetly, ordinarily, and
made plans. He loved how ordinary their talk was, how free from blame,
and he loved making plans. In the letter he said something strange. He
said, We should be together. I would move heaven and earth if we could be together while we are alive on this planet. When he reread it, he realized that
he meant it. But he also knew that like all the other letters he had written,
he would not send it.
All that morning as they had drifted the San Juan River, the man
scanned the red tiered cliffs for bighorn sheep, and he thought of the
woman. Now that he had started thinking of her, she wasn't going
away.
When the river grabbed him late in the day, his first thought was
that he would never see the woman again. As his body was pulled past
the rafts and toward the distant turn in the river, the water became cold
and the current binding, and he felt he was leaving whatever life he had
known. He struggled but with no effect; he was being taken.
That morning, one of the other boatmen, Will, had rowed his raft up
to where the man rode in the raft with his boatman, Lisa, and they'd plotted a quick water attack on Melissa's raft. Will and Lisa were boyfriend
and girlfriend. The man smiled. A water fight. It was a bright day in the
desert world, and a water fight seemed right. There weren't enough water fights in the man's life.
Even better, when they pulled onto the hard sand beach at Ledge
Rapids, they unpacked the rafts, set up the kitchen, and then everyone
jumped in the river. It was safe against the bank in the eddy and everyone was standing on the submerged sandbar and then floating in big
strange circles in the eddy. The man was happy to remove his cowboy
hat and his shoes and step into the water with all of his students. He was
pleased with the trip, how much good writing had been begun, and he
knew tomorrow he would be back in the world.
For a while, the young people had sat in the mud and talked freely of
the coming years in high school. One girl said, "On a first date, don't order the spaghetti," and everyone nodded at the wisdom in this remark.
Then one of the suntanned boys said, "I'd order it. If you want to get
to know each other, I'd order the spaghetti." He pointed at his chest and
prismmagazine.ca    59 striped it with a wad of mud. "I'd spill some right on my shirt, just to see
if she could take it." This started a short mud fight and more swimming
and soon the man was alone in the water.
The eddy had turned and caught him and sent him upstream three
times, and then the fourth time he missed it as the real river current held
him fast, and Sarah called his name, and the man felt himself begin to
disappear.
He took a deep breath and put his head down and swam again ten
furious strokes, but when he looked up he was still trapped and being
taken. Sarah ran along the narrow shore, and now the man saw Will running with the throw rope. Two hundred yards below, the river turned,
and the man had one chance to strike near the shore. He breathed deeply in the cold water and swam hard again and his arms burned, and now
he was closer to the shore, but Will had vanished and the man could
not get a breath. The man hit a willow and grabbed at it and missed and
then found an underwater branch and slowed himself, but stripped all
the leaves and cut his hand. The river was a power he'd never known.
It pushed him past the willow and his bare foot struck a rock on the bottom; he was going fast and it hurt, then he struck another, but he wanted
to strike something or the river was going to take him downstream to a
future he could not see. He felt trapped in a spiral of forces, deep in the
coil, tangled and powerless, without air, unable to move himself or earth
or heaven.
Then he saw Will running the strip of sand along the river dodging
the willows and the rocks, taking long strides, unreal and filmic, and he
saw Will throw something and then the red and yellow rope bag was in
the air, a red and yellow thing in the blue sky. It looped up and out for a
while. The man's heart beat in his shoulders and forehead and his mouth
was in the river, and then the rope bag landed without a splash in front
of the man's face and the man saw something he would never forget: his
hand closed upon the rope.
Below him the river pressed a thousand miles through the old world
taking tons of red sand south. The rope was real in his hand. Will pulled
and the man bumped the bottom and then stood and he pushed forward
with the rope in his hand and then he stood again on dry ground.
The man was dizzy and confused and things seemed now to be happening out of order. He kept checking to make sure he was not in the
river, and when Will tugged a second time, the man let go of the rope.
Walking back along the sand to camp helped. Walking always helped.
A minute later he sat breathing in Sarah's raft while she treated his
punctured foot, washing it deeply with medicine, and it hurt, but he
leaned into the hurt. Then she washed and bandaged his hand. She chatted with him about her life on the river and she told a story of having
60     PRISM 49:1 been bitten by a snake and the story helped. The man was breathing
normally now. He loved how ordinary she made it all sound, even his
incident, the rope throw, the bandaged foot, which she now patted and
released. The man's stomach was churning, but his heart had subsided
so that he felt weak. He could feel his students watching quietly from
where they sat in the shade of the willows, and one finally came up to
Sarah's raft and leaned on the inflated rubber side. She said, "Are you
traumatized by going down the river?"
"Probably," the man told her. Actually he felt drained and euphoric.
He was certain now that he would send the letter. He was alive.
"You should write a story about it," the girl said. Later, while he was
writing in his warped and swollen notebook under an umbrella on the
sandy beach, the girl gave him a string bracelet with three green beads.
"That's my assignment for you." she said. "Write the story for this evening. Write it. Go ahead. You think you're done, but you're not done."
prismmagazine.ca    61 Marguerite Pigeon
Dump Bear
Salivating, descends
at break of day
to shred Glad bags,
bury a damp snout.
Reek climbs
the silken animal shoulder,
mounts its back.
Hot sun. Taillights fire.
Trucks reverse in wide
arcs and fly.
In rearview, the bear,
lapping a vile honey
in its municipal Hades,
shrinks.
62     PRISM 49:1 I am from Northern Ontario
The molecules of this body
are snow squalling
in the probing beam
of whatever moves it forward,
whatever is forever
en route there, late,
tracking the yellow line.
prismmagazine.ca    63 Cara-Lyn Morgan
You can never go home
I'm told that my granny's last breath came and went
on the bend of road in Trinidad where, forty years before,
my grandfather's bike tire hit a ridge that bucked him headfirst
into the pavement. She let fall that last exhale
on the road that widowed her.
They are buried in the Adventist churchyard
and my youngest uncle brings them notes and flowers,
pulls the weeds from their headstones.
My father stood once in that graveyard as a child
stands at the foot of his parents' bed, seeking
solace from a rattling pipe, a whistling frog,
the chuckle of screech owls, or whispered tales
of the sucouyant who sheds his skin,
then drinks the blood of the sleeping.
A child, waiting for someone to wake and see him
outlined in the dark, nest him
deep into the covers.
64     PRISM 49:1 Home
The hundred-year-old woman leans back into the sling
of her wheelchair. Her skin is oiled bark, she locks
bent fingers across her chest. She comes
to Canada to bury her eldest child. "Firs' son,"
she tells me. I am a stranger
at the airport. I shake my head, sorry. "He jus' slip
away one night. Was speakin'
wit he bruddah and den jus' fell
tuh sleepin'." Her eyelashes crescent downward.
"Was call home," she says.
"Everyone love he so." Her words filter
through the emptiness of her lost front teeth.
She says she left her tears
in Trinidad, and now
it is time to be with him and the family.
She and I know,
that is all. Loss,
a knowing
you have had no choice
but to press forward, place
the left foot before the right. She tells me,
"Someday, I gonna be call
home too." Her palm
tilts skyward, then she rests.
A hundred years, and death
becomes the untrimmed
poinsettia which crowds
the front gate each December.
prismmagazine.ca    65 The coming
of the rainy season
after the dry. Ibis cry, cadence
of birdsong on a fogged,
humid shore.
66     PRISM 49:1 Rocco de Giacomo
Note on a Fridge Door
If you haven't heard from me by now
I've been pinned to a clothesline in a field
where swollen-bellied children hunt acridians
the size of barn swallows. I've been wrung out
by obedient hands, my symbols beaten
onto rocks of rivers thick with age.
Where two uncles will hold down a pig
as an aunt cuts, I've been put to better use
the ends of me—my quietest corners—
fluttering at the bloodied wrists of one
who hasn't touched a pen in years.
prismmagazine.ca    67 Face
The northbound lanes of Huayuan Donglu are empty
as an unfed pause in conversation; the southbound
carries the expectant hush of an overfilled cargo bay:
VWs, Volvos, Chevys and Fiats, Mitsubishi compacts
and minivans, the odd cigarette
poking from a window crack
into the rain, its owner a shadow
beyond glass. And like this
all the way to an intersection so tangled
there is no room to open a door: drivers
sitting shoulder to shoulder as calmly
as moviegoers; pedestrians squeezing
between bumpers in vinyl ponchos
the colours of lipstick; cyclists
standing on their grandfathers' pedals, looking
for an accident. Not a horn though, nor a harsh
word, just the finger-taps of heavy cloud
upon something polished and unmoving
as the 4,000 years it takes
for someone else
to give a little ground.
68     PRISM 49:1 Nyla Matuk
Akhmatova's Samovar
Sumerian Coffee Room, Sheremetev Palace, 1917
From my tow-headed shoreline, living in
the cold corner of the palace, the Shanghainese conundrum
reminded me we weren't from here. We kept this
steam-headed swan-necked rare lover
with us from the old country like a
granny apartment.
She sighed and withstood, more or less,
a Samarkandesquerie of pouting peak
and darkest pekoe.
I couldn't decide if she was a lantern or a terrific
bird.
She showed off a glass-noodle Arabic starboard,
Russian snow-palace from a dream, portside.
Grandfather's spectacles were placed
onto the cotton-jacketed
Brothers Karamazov, glowing in warm light,
on the brown paisley sofa
on a Saturday night.
To pour the tea, to warm the hands.
She never listed. She folded her wings.
prismmagazine.ca    69 The Garden Folly
Your operetta noses of pistachio green,
your corners ornery
delight us.
Gentleman, footman, host of kings.
The slow ziggurat of your apartment
an assent sad as a pilgrim's zigzag,
his dumb meditation come and gone.
What use are you? Are you pagodan or cleverly dodoan,
Prince or fool? I said,
Soldier!
Are you a wizened fowl, a chicken-in-waiting?
Your hippopotamus airs bring on the crows
who move like horny clowns between your louvers.
Where's your captain, your butler?
Do not ask the ships beyond the far shore, nor the
Russian garden, nor chinoise bird-lovers busy at canasta.
You gave the carp a treasure chest last year, sunk deep
and hidden by the weeping willow's tickling shadow.
If you have a purpose, show your weathervane.
Make yourself taller, and stand the cold rain.
70     PRISM 49:1 The Veteran Mutters
Grand Hotel, Scarborough, England
The tea dance whines to the street,
shushed by shore swelling and receding.
Against the sea wall,
a roar of suspended laver and mist,
melodic to shove ha'penny
machines, encourages the shimmy
they use to fool the world.
A slim humanity walks up and down the strand
entitled as djinns, loved easily, bewitched of oysters.
The pier is sated, lit
by yellow lamps; an easy by-gone thoroughfare
letting by-gones be.
Gowns whisper against trousers,
Chandeliers light pearled cheeks.
Someone's darling lived in this town of hills
like a great grey sigh.
What are the keepsakes that moor you, like a last evening?
As a motor revs in the alley,
Sunday evening, what comes back to you,
handsome and taller than those last scenes?
Hard tales of Mother and Churchill.
prismmagazine.ca    71 Orlando Ricardo Menes
Mambo
Old Habana's catedral: easterlight
bathes stone shrines in aquarelles of avocado,
papaya, and grapefruit, Our Lady's retablo
hues of guava. From stained-glass cages, birds take flight
as winged cherimoyas, bananas, and mangoes,
soar to tamarind skies. Censers of clove
burn to paschal ash; Carmelites tattoo the dove
with the lamb, quaff spirits, mambo in frescoes
of cane and banana. As ginger angels play
sweetsop giiiros, coco bongos, the goat-skinned nuns
swirl on altars of sugar skulls, rummed tongues
trill conga canticles. Rapture ends with rays
of sunset muscovado, then dusk's scorched caramel,
till easterlight again fructifies to aquarelle.
72     PRISM 49:1 Refrigeradores
Our genius el tnvento, the quick, jury-rigged fix,
we bring back to life geriatric iceboxes—
pre-Castro GE's, Frigidaires, Westinghouses—
with scavenged parts, filched spares, junked thingamajigs.
Even the ancient monitor-top gets an overhaul—
a moped's two-stroke, Czech-made, crammed inside
the fridge's cowl, two peg legs, the large latch pried
from a dead Soviet truck. Bolted to an outside wall,
a car-plate windmill pumps freon to a Kelvinator,
while door hinges, a barrel bolt resurrect the rusted-out
Philco. Caulked cassava starch, thick as grout,
plugs a Cold Spot, incontinent in the night,
though the Dodderer can still freeze a guinea hen.
Praise be to the fixer, the handyman, the juan-
of-all-trades, our wily tinkerer, troubleshooter on
the fly, more useful than doctor or politician,
whom necessity has made scrounger, thief, cannibal,
who makes miracles with dogged craft, the found tool.
prismmagazine.ca    73 Contributors
Heather Cadsby was born in Belleville, Ontario, and currently lives in
Toronto. She is the author of four books of poetry. Her third collection
of poetry, titled A Tantrum of Synonyms, was a finalist for the Pat Lowther
Award. Recently her poetry has appeared in such journals as The New
Quarterly, The Malahat Review, The Windsor Review, and the anthology Best
Canadian Poetry In English, 2008 (Tightrope Books). Her fourth book,
titled Could be, was published by Brick Books in 2009.
Ron Carlson is the author of nine books of fiction. His short stories
have appeared in Esquire, Harper's, and The New Yorker, and have been
anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthology,
and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. He is director of UC Irvine's
MFA program.
Kevin A. Couture's writing has appeared in a number of publications
including The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, Grain, Event, and The Dalhousie Review. He lives in Victoria with his wife, two amazing daughters,
and a Brittany spaniel named after a candy bar.
Weston Cutter's from Minnesota, has high hopes for this year's MN
Twins, has work coming soon in the Southern Review, Cave Wall, and
Ploughshares, and has a book of fiction, You'd Be a Stranger, Too, to be published this coming winter.
Jon Paul Fiorentino is the author of Strlpmalltng, The Theory of the Loser
Class, Hello Serotonin, and Asthmatica. He edits Matrix and Snare Books and
teaches Creative Writing at Concordia University.
Rocco de Giacomo is a widely published poet whose first full-length
poetry collection, Ten Thousand Miles Between Us, was launched through
Quattro Books in 2009. He is a member of the council for the Art Bar
Poetry Series and a member of the bpNichol Coordinating Committee.
John Grey is an Australian-born poet who has resided in the US since
the late seventies. He works as a financial systems analyst and has work
published or forthcoming in Connecticut Review, Kestrel, Writer's Bloc,
Pennsylvania English, Alimentum, and The Great American Poetry Show.
74      PRISM 49:1 Jared Harel's poems have been published or are forthcoming in such
literary journals as The Fiddlehead Quarterly West, Hayden's Ferry Review,
Notre Dame Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Fire Magazine, Slice Magazine, and Rattle. He earned his MFA in poetry from Cornell University
and currently teaches Creative Writing at Centenary College in Hackett-
stown, NJ. He also plays drums for the NYC-based rock band, Heywood.
Jason Heroux is the author of two poetry collections, Memoirs of an Alias
and Emergency Hallelujah, and a novella titled Good Evening, Central Laundromat (Quattro Books, 2010). His poems have appeared in chapbooks,
anthologies, and magazines in Canada, the US, Belgium, France, and
Italy. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.
Michael Kardos teaches creative writing at Mississippi State University.
His book of stories, One Last Good Time, is forthcoming in 2011. Prior
work has appeared in PRISM international (volumes 42.4 and 45.3) as
well as The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, and many other
magazines. His website is www.michaelkardos.com.
Nyla Matuk's first book of poems, Oneiric, was published in 2009 with
Frog Hollow Press and her second book of poems will appear with Signal Editions in 2012. Poems have appeared in Arc Poetry, The Shore, Misunderstandings Magazine, and at the Greenboathouse Books' Archive of
Poets. Short fiction has appeared in the journals Event, Room of One's Own,
and Alphabet City. Essays have appeared in The Globe and Mall, Descant,
Arc Poetry (forthcoming, Fall 2010), and Alphabet City.
Orlando Ricardo Menes teaches at the University of Notre Dame. Recent books are a poetry collection, Furia (Milkweed, 2005), and one of
translations, entitled My Heart Flooded with Water: Selected Poems by Alfon-
stna Stornt, published in 2009 by Latin American Literary Review Press
in Pittsburgh. He is also the recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship
for 2009.
Cara-Lyn Morgan is a poet and artist living in Toronto. She recently
completed her studies in Creative Writing at the University of Victoria
and is working on a collection of poems which explores her Metis/West-
Indian Canadian heritage.
Marguerite Pigeon's first collection of poems, Inventory (Anvil Press),
was nominated for the 2009 Gerald Lampert Award. She has also recently completed the manuscript of her first novel, Open Pit. She lives in
Vancouver.
prismmagazine.ca    75 Erin Robinsong is an interdisciplinary artist working in text and performance. She is a recipient of the Irving Layton award for poetry, and is
co-curator of Tertulia, a literary salon. Originally from coastal BC, Erin
lives in Toronto where she teaches at Humber College and the Harbour-
front Centre. She is currently writing a book of poems which investigates
the life of homonyms.
Ian John Turner is an illustrator and artist who was born in Ontario
in the autumn. His work often deals with the idea of place, and tries to
approach everything with equal measures of love and cheek. Find him
at www.ianturner.ca.
Stephanie Yorke is a Canadian poet, temporarily resident overseas.
Her email is stephanie.yorke@wolfson.ox.ac.uk.
76     PRISM 49:1 ,,S»'   -V.
The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.F.A. degree may also be taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen 8e TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics &■ Libretto.
Meryn Cadell
Keith MaiUard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
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Faculty
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-
Dargatz, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner,
Terry Glavin, Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe,
Stephen Hunt, Susan Juby, Peter Levitt,
Susan Musgrave & Karen Solie
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49
SM is Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Translation & Creative Nonfiction
1
Heather Cadsby
Ron Carlson
Kevin A. Couture
Weston Cutter
Jon Paul Fiorentino
Rocco de Giacomo
John Grey
Jared Harel
Jason Heroux
Michael Kardos
Nyla Matuk
Orlando Ricardo Menes
Cara-Lyn Morgan
Marguerite Pigeon
Erin Robinsong
Stephanie Yorke
GENUINE
CANADIAN
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Cover Illustration: The slimmest of moments
when fear subsides and courage takes over
by Ian John Turner
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