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 PRISM international
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World
mmmm  PRISM international
2006 PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Grand Prize-$1,500
Patrick Tobin
Joelene Heathcote
"Sleeping with Eyes Wide Open"
Deborah Campbell
Contest Manager
Emily Southwood
Emilie Allen
Linda Besner
Julie Okot Bitek
Chelsea Bolan
Dave Deveau
Laura Fee
Terry Miles
Michael John Wheeler  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Ben Hart
Poetry Editor
Bren Simmers
Executive Editors
Carla Elm Clement
Regan Taylor
Associate Editors
Jamella Hagen
Kellee Ngan
Claire Tacon
Sheryda Warrener
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Chelsea Bolan
Zoya Harris
Emily Southwood
Rob Weston 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.
E-mail:   / Website:
Contents Copyright © 2007 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Illustration: La Reina del Mar, by Natalie Onuska.
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Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support
of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and
the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program
(PAP), toward our mailing costs.
PAP Registration No. 8867. January 2007. ISSN 0032.8790
BRITISH COLUMBIA      &S9     Canada Council     ConseildesArts
ARTS COUNCIL C±>   *»'the Arts du Canada
mtHJtfi i)k sappon of tte fti
Canada Contents
Volume 45, Number 2
Winter 2007
2006 PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Judge's Essay
Deborah Campbell
Why Nonfiction Matters / 7
Winning Entry
Patrick Tbbin
Reunion /  9
Joelene Heathcote
Sleeping with Eyes Wide Open / 22
Tyrone Jaeger
Trespassing / 43
The Petrified Forest / 45
My Wife in the Bath / 47
Chris Kuhn
Crocodile Tears / 56
Heather Sellers
I Don't Remember Telling the Stepsons / 33 Michael Lista
Yayo to Yahweh / 35
Weird Light/ 36
Mary Flanagan
[Motion downward] / 37
Barry Dempster
Pieces / 39
Nuno Judice
The Oil Crisis / 41
translated from the Portugese by paulo da costa
Ariel Gordon
Fall hack: warming the engine / 48
Fallback: off leash / 51
Stan Rogal
Doggy Style / 52
Daniel Priest
In Defense of Love and the New Mexico Landscape / 53
Robert Brazeau
Telemarketing / 54
Knute Skinner
Ringing the Number / 55
Stephanie Yorke
St. Margaret's Square / 68
Nadine Mclnnis
Entertainment: lunatic's ball / 69
Maureen Hynes
The Falls / 71
Tracy Hamon
Spitting Images / 72
Susan McCaslin
An Epigram for the Muses / 73
Ann Graham Walker
Another Uneasy Spring / 74
Contributors / 76 Deborah Campbell
Why Nonfiction Matters
Call it what you like. Creative nonfiction. Literary journalism.
Memoir. Narrative nonfiction. New Journalism. Personal journalism. Life writing. Witness literature. What matters is that this
kind of writing—rooted in reality, close to the bone because the writers have lived it—charts a course through the Sturm und Drang of the
times in which we live, times unlike any human history has ever known.
What matters is that these writers leave behind markings—and perhaps,
if readers are lucky, a map—that limn the soul as it passes through the
labyrinth of what it means to be alive in these times, and to survive them.
We know they have survived because they write; their having lived the
story imparts a texture, a dimensionality, that neither imagination nor
facts alone can provide.
The winner of this year's nonfiction contest is a clear-eyed observer of
the perils of living. "Reunion" is an archetypal story—that of parent and
child, father and son—made new because it takes place in a particular
place and time: in this case en route to (and inside) the prison-industrial
complex where the narrator's con-artist father resides. And it is a journey, a very specific journey (for all good writing is specific) to find out
whether love is sufficient, and to depict the scars on himself, his family,
his nation—scars as deep and profound as that of the teenaged boy, a
fellow visitor to the prison, whose partially caved-in face looks like "the
healed cavity of a terrible gunshot wound."
It is no small matter that the writer references Orwell, an early pioneer of narrative nonfiction (or whatever term you prefer) and the author of 1984, a prophetic novel they sometimes make you read in high
school that is one of the redeeming aspects of those adolescent years. It
is no small matter that he recognizes, with the help of literature, his own
appointment with Room 101, the place that holds what Orwell calls the
"worst thing in the world" yet varies according to the individual and is,
for this writer, "the childish notion that my dad will eventually turn his
life around."
That his story explores ancient themes of betrayal and redemption
is not why it was chosen. It is his use of language, metaphor, and the
gradual accretion of telling details—the sum of fears, grief, and unrelenting hope—that make this story new. The runner-up this year is another student of detail, of specifics, another voyager into the unknown—in her case an internal journey. The death
of a young woman she knew, which becomes the story of so many other
deaths of so many other women, and the way her fears are magnified by
having a child, form the basis of her subject matter. "Sleeping with Eyes
Wide Open" is another archetypal story—that of mother and child—illustrated through the traces, the handprints, of a death observed.
These stories leave us shaken, yet more alive. To write is to embark
on a journey into places others cannot, or will not, allow themselves to
go. It requires a special kind of courage to write at all, more so when the
writers must reveal themselves in all their frailty, their self-doubt, their
humanness. Yet we need them to go there and bring back a survival
manual, a field guide of what they have found in such inhospitable terrain. We need them to bear witness, and fashion from the muddy tracks
left by reality something meaningful and beautiful and new. Patrick Tobin
There are some things you should know about Taft:
It used to sit on top of one of the largest oil deposits in California,
but that was then and this is now.
It was named Moron until the 1920s, when the town was nearly destroyed by fire. It was renamed Taft in honor of the former President,
who by then was serving on the Supreme Court.
It's small and it's dusty. It's surrounded by defunct oil derricks. It's
bordered on the east by fields full of perplexingly green grapes.
It doesn't have a Starbucks.
It's dying a slow death.
There's a Big Kmart on the edge of town, the only store of its kind in the
area. There's a Little Caesar's Pizza inside the Big Kmart that serves as a
meeting place for the retired and the unemployed.
There are eighteen bars in Taft, with names like Art's Corner and
The Oasis and Vi's. There are three Latino nightclubs that cater to the
migrant workers who pick the perplexingly green grapes.
There's a main drag called Kern Street. If you're not paying attention
you can drive from one end of Kern to other before you even know it.
The thing that keeps Taft afloat these days is the federal prison: a privatized, low-security facility run by a corporation out of Florida. Entire
clans in Taft, from sons to mothers to grandfathers, work at the prison for
about ten dollars an hour.
Most of the prisoners who end up at Taft were convicted on drug
charges and will serve double-digit sentences. Most of these prisoners
are Mexican: upon their release they'll be sent to Texas, where I.N.S.
officials will drop them off at the border with nothing but the clothes on
their backs.
A few of the prisoners who end up at Taft are white-collar criminals.
My dad is one of them.
There are some things you should know about my dad:
He used to work for the I.R.S. He used to have a C.P.A. license. He
used to be a partner in a tax firm on Maui that counted Mick Fleetwood as a client.
He's a dry alcoholic; he's bipolar; he's addicted to gambling.
He's blown through millions of dollars on expensive cars, homes in
Hawaii and Montana, and prettyjapanese women who don't speak English very well.
He weighs four hundred pounds. He only wears size 3X Aloha shirts.
He has a photographic memory. He knows how to charm people with
funny stories.
He devises elaborate schemes to screw people out of money. For one
of these schemes, he told people he had a nephew, an executive at Microsoft, who was offering him stock at an amazing discount. He told
people all they had to do was wire him money and he would invest it for
them in this stock.
He knows most people will believe him if he promises a double return
on their money.
Before I could visit my dad at Taft Correctional Institution, I had to
send in a completed Visitor Information form for approval. The form I
received, BP-S629.052, bore the telltale signs of Liquid Paper, and had
the coarse quality of a copy of a copy of a copy.
Question number seven asked for my relationship to the inmate.
Question number eight asked if I desired to visit him/her. Question
number nine ("Did you know this person prior to his/her current incarceration?") spooked me, because it brought to mind that dark galaxy
where women obsess over death-row inmates. As I signed and dated the
form, I thought about the woman who married Richard Ramirez, the
Night Stalker. I tried to remember her name and what she looked like,
but eventually her face merged with that of every mentally ill woman
I've ever seen on TV talk shows.
By the time I mailed the form, Mrs. Ramirez had become heavy set,
with long, stringy hair parted in the middle. She had rabbit teeth and bad
skin. She was known for her casseroles. Her shy smile could quickly curl
into a sneer.
I imagined this Mrs. Ramirez cutting in front of me while I drove
to Taft to visit my dad and I was surprised by how much I despised
her—more for cutting in front of me, with her greedy air of celebrity entitlement, than for the fact that she married a disciple of Satan who had
killed thirteen people.
There was a paragraph on the form, right above the signature line, that
said if I didn't answer the questions truthfully I was guilty of a federal offense, punishable by a fine of not more than $250,000, or imprisonment
for not more than five years, or both (see 18 U.S.C. § 1001).
10 Question number eight and the way I'd answered it troubled me: did
I really desire to visit my dad? Since I hadn't had any contact with him
during the first two and a half years of his incarceration, Taft might question why I was visiting him now. Maybe they read the letter I sent him for
his last birthday—the one with the cautiously crafted sentences offering
forgiveness—and they were able to decode my real feelings.
I imagined someone at the prison, much like the evil mastermind
O'Brien in 1984, reading through my letter before turning his attention
to my Visitor Information form. I imagined O'Brien closing my file with
"Who does this asshole think he's fooling?" he would say to himself.
O'Brien would say this because he'd know the truth: no matter how
much I try to forgive my dad, I can't.
I still hate him for the way he destroyed our family in 1983, when he
was arrested for fraud two weeks before my high school graduation. I
still hate him for the way everything we owned was seized, my mom and
younger brother Tim fleeing like refugees to her parents in Montana.
I still hate him for that summer before I went to college, when I had
to get him back on his feet and convince him, on a daily basis, not to kill
I still hate him for all the shit he put us through: the alcoholism, the
bipolar disorder he doesn't treat, the gambling addiction. I still hate him
because he used my brother's murdered wife for one of his schemes. I
still hate him because he continued to defraud people right up until he
was sentenced to Taft in 2003 even though he swore to me he'd changed
his ways.
O'Brien somehow would know all this and yet he would approve my
form. Maybe he'd know I still thought about my dad every day, even
though I tried to forget about him. Maybe O'Brien would approve my
form because he'd figured out that I'm weak and easily manipulated—
my Room 101 is the childish notion that my dad will eventually turn his
life around.
Maybe O'Brien would be in his office—a motivational poster with a
bald eagle and the wisdom of Sun Tzu tacked to his wall—waiting for the
moment when he could finally harness the cage to my face.
I decided to drive from Long Beach to Taft the night before I visited my
dad. Visitor registration started promptly at 7:30 in the morning and, as
anyone who has ever employed me can verify, I'm not exactly a greet-
the-dawn-with-a-smile kind of person. I found a cheap motel on the internet called, inexplicably, The Holland Inn and Suites. I expected a
giant windmill, but the photo showed a converted 20's style apartment
building. It reminded me of a women's residential hotel. I pictured my-
11 self making taffy with young ladies in curlers, gossiping about the typing
pool, and I felt a whole lot better.
Accommodations arranged, I packed a duffel bag with fresh underwear and a clean shirt. I made sure the cat had food and water. I printed
out Mapquest directions from my home in Long Beach to The Holland
Inn and Suites.
On the surface, one would think I was getting ready for a completely
run-of-the-mill road trip—particularly if one ignored the way my head
hummed an endless loop of self-doubt and anxiety.
On the road to Taft, I tried to find a way to process the information I'd
discovered on Prior to visiting the website, I'd read
through the U.S. Bureau of Prison Visitor Guidelines and felt confident
that I understood the rules: no khakis, no white T-shirts, no provocative
attire, no gang-related accessories, no cellphones, no wallets or purses or
money. Nothing but my car keys and a photo ID. Okay. Got it.
I still felt like I didn't know what to expect during the actual visit, the
physical act of communicating with my dad within a prison setting. I
went to because my concept of prison visits came
mostly from the movies shown on Lifetime. For example, was I going to
use an old-fashioned two-way phone to talk with my dad, staring at him
through a thick Plexiglas window? Would there come a moment when
my dad would break down sobbing and I'd hold my hand up to the glass
in a poignant gesture of comfort?
I didn't find the answers I was seeking. What I found instead was a
discussion about the recently instituted rule against inmates having pornography. An ex-con with the screen name Retired-2 wrote:
There is a lot of sex going on in prison. Many guys cell up with their lovers.
I never used porn for masturbation in the joint, my imagination was much
better. In the county we had what we called a "Jack Shack" which was a
shower that we had plastered the walls & curtain with porn pictures. It
was nice to get a Playboy in the joint because it had great articles in it,
Laughing out loud, indeed. Now I had an image of my dad "celling
up" forever burned into my head. I wasn't nervous that he might actually discuss anything of a sexual nature during our visit—his complete
silence on the topic during my adolescence being a good indicator—but
I worried that he might drop clues that I wouldn't be able to ignore. He
might pull up his sleeve to show me a brand-new tattoo, his flexing bicep
paying homage to someone named Ernesto.
"Can you believe it?" he might say with a giggle. "I think I'm in love."
12 My mouth would drop open, and the worst thing would be that my
reflection in the Plexiglas would look like I was about to give someone a
I had trouble finding The Holland Inn and Suites because MapQuest directed me through a residential area with no streetlamps. I drove around
lost, my headlights revealing houses with darkened windows, the yards
filled with all manner of broken-down recreation vehicles. Every turn
seemed to bring me back to where I'd already been: a Mdbius strip as
designed by Richard Ford.
I started to panic. It wasn't just the lack of streetlamps that made me
uneasy—when I was little I was often scared at our cabin near Glacier
Park, where, in the middle of the night, your entire body dissolved into
an inky, black abyss. What bothered me most about this particular
neighbourhood was its total lack of human activity. It wasn't even eight
o'clock. The eerie silence reminded me of horror movies where people
have to hide indoors after dark or the Horrible Monster will get them.
What precisely was the Monster, though?
Someone at work advised me I should be careful in Taft because I'm
gay and the town is home to one of the largest groups of white supremacists in the country. I appreciated my co-worker's advice, as I certainly
wasn't in the mood to die at the hands of fat, blonde men wearing Dok-
ken T-shirts.
The skinheads, however, didn't terrify me.
What actually terrified me was the way my visit had always been
weeks away—I'd go into work each day and look at my Outlook calendar and think I've got plenty of time before I see him. The future, once so
safely in the distance, was making its entrance into the here and now,
like a grotesque actor taking the stage and sucking up every last molecule
of oxygen from the theatre.
I was really going to see my dad for the first time in nearly three years.
Everything was happening too fast.
I parked my car behind a horse trailer to wait for my panic to subside. I cranked up the volume and played the prelude from Tristan und
Isolde twice in a row. A woman inside one of the houses peered at me
with concern from behind parted drapes—you'd think playing Wagner
in skinhead country would have earned me points.
It's too bad I noticed her, because I felt compelled to give her a look
in return that said, as politely as possible, Fuck off.
The last conversation I'd had with my dad was in February 2003, the
day before he'd been sentenced to prison. He'd told me he'd just been
diagnosed with congestive heart failure—a condition that would
13 eventually kill him.
"We'll get a second opinion," I said, trying to remain strong and upbeat.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm tired of all this medical bullshit."
The way he paused after the word tired suggested the nuanced timing of a world-class conductor. I recalled all the bogus suicide threats
throughout the years.
"I promise, everything will be okay," I said.
I'm not terribly proud of what I said next. Not only did I tell him we'd
find a doctor who could cure him, I predicted he would find leniency at
the hands of the federal judge.
"Maybe I'm just being naive," I said, "but I think Libby will convince
them you shouldn't go to prison."
I tried my hardest to sound like I had confidence in my dad's psychologist, but it was nearly impossible. Libby had the nettlesome earnestness
of a person who still believed, with an almost pre-modern faith, that she
could save the world. Over the past five months, I'd paid her several
thousand dollars to provide therapy for my dad, as well put together a
written petition to the court based on his mental health history.
"I don't know what I'd do without her," my dad said.
"Hmmm," I replied.
I recalled the one session I'd attended with my dad, during which
Libby had cried after my dad had shown her pictures of my two year old
niece—I'd given them to him with the blessing of my brother Tim, even
though they weren't talking. Libby's tears over my dad's tears had struck
me as odd but essentially harmless until I'd had time to think about it
later. I'd become troubled and called my brother.
"She cried?" Tim said. "You sure she wasn't faking it to make him feel
"No, she was definitely crying."
"Like how? Weeping?"
"No. I'd describe it as her eyes welling up with the tears of happiness."
"Jesus. That's fucked up."
"I'm trying to look at the bright side," I said. "Maybe she'll cry in the
courtroom and that will impress the judge."
Unfortunately, Libby didn't get the chance to impress anybody. The
day after my last conversation with him, I received an urgent email from
Libby informing me that the judge had decided to throw the book at my
dad. Apparently one of his victims had driven all the way from southern
Wyoming to give, as Libby put it, "very compelling testimony against
your father."
I spent that night crying for my dad. I pictured him in jail, with his
14 congestive heart failure and manic depression, all alone with no way to
contact me. Because they wouldn't let me talk to him, I sent a letter telling him I'd find an attorney to appeal the decision. I told him I loved
him very much.
It was less than a week before I started getting emails from some of
his friends and associates. They wanted to know why they hadn't heard
from him—apparently, he hadn't mentioned anything about his pending
legal problems. I stalled as long as I could, but eventually I had to tell the
truth or start lying. I called Pete, one of his business contacts in southern
"So tell me this," Pete said, after I told him what was happening. "Are
you guys related to the Tobin at Microsoft?"
My confusion lasted only a moment. "Did you give my dad money?"
I decided there was almost nothing worse than the awful silence of a
man realizing he'd been taken.
"Twenty thousand dollars," he finally said.
For that kind of money, Pete deserved the whole truth.
"There are some things you should know about my dad," I said.
While I was talking, it seemed to me like I was describing a dead
person: everything about my dad had suddenly become set in the past
"He sounds fucked up," Pete said when I finished.
"Yes," I said. "He was."
I was given the handicap accessible room at The Holland Suites and
Inn. The young man who checked me in didn't tell me, so I spent the
first hour of my stay experiencing a mild form of cognitive dissonance. It
wasn't until I saw the wide, tubless shower that I finally understood what
had been bothering me: namely the enormous distance between every
piece of furniture.
Good, I thought, I'm not shrinking.
I stood in front of the mirror in the cavernous bedroom, dwarfed
by my surroundings, and practiced the smile I was going to use in the
I can't remember now exactly what I wrote in the letter I'd sent my dad
for his birthday, the one where I forgave him. I'm sure I'd been sanctimonious: it's easy to forgive when you have an absolute moral superiority over the forgiven.
In his letter back to me, my dad had written that there was nothing
he could say that would make anything better—in fact, to say anything
would make it seem like he was trying to justify himself. All he could do
was express his deep regret that he'd hurt me.
15 It wasn't precisely what I'd wanted. Tear-stained pages that paid tribute to the tears of Libby would have been a nice touch. A vow to serve
the poor in Calcutta after his release would have been even better.
I put his typed letter away and tried to gauge my feelings. I expected
to find fresh, blister-inducing rage, but instead, I found only relief that he
was still alive.
This wasn't the first time I'd felt this way. Sometimes I used the online
Inmate Locator to find out where my dad was. He'd been sent to Oklahoma City right after the hearing, where all federal prisoners go before
they're assigned to their permanent facilities. It was strange to see my
dad reduced to the most basic information: his name, his racial identity,
his ID number, his age, his expected release date, his location. An entire
life could be distilled into a single line of words and numbers. It may
sound heartless, but this distillation of my dad made me feel better.
One time I'd used the Inmate Locator and it hadn't been able to return a match for my dad. I'd been convinced he was dead. I'd pictured
a guard standing over my dad's supine body and prodding him with a
billy club.
"Get up Tobin," the guard said. "Come on, enough with your games."
I tried different queries with the search function, but nothing
Sorry. No inmate namedjohn Tobin.
Sorry. No inmate namedjohn Tobin, sex male.
Sorry. No inmate named J Tobin.
I decided to include his middle name, the name my parents chose
to give me after I was born. I typed 'John Patrick Tobin" and my dad's
information popped up.
He was still alive and still at Taft.
I remained in front of my monitor for what seemed like hours, acting
as if I'd been injected with a powerful neurotoxin, one that immobilized
every muscle except my brain.
I left the results page up on my computer for the rest of the day,
gripped by a superstitious notion that I would somehow annihilate my
dad if I closed it.
There are some things you should know about prison life that I learned
through my dad's letters:
The economic system is based on two things: the money an inmate
earns from his job assignment, and the money sent to an inmate by his
friends and family. These two sources of income are credited to an account, through which the inmate can buy food and toiletries at the commissary, as well as books of stamps.
The books of stamps serve an important function in addition to post-
16 age: they are the legal tender used between the inmates. Because the
value of a book of stamps is not a round number, everyone has agreed
that they represent six dollars.
The inmate population tends to segregate along racial lines, and each
separate group has its own TV room. The whites tend to watch sporting
events and Fox News. The blacks tend to watch sporting events and BET
(Black Entertainment Television). The Latinos tend to watch soccer and
Univision (the Spanish language network).
The Mexicans buy junk food from the commissary and make delicious meals using only the microwaves in the common living areas.
They use crushed Fritos and lunch meat to make tamales. They use yellow mustard and grape jelly to make a decent teriyaki sauce.
The prison doesn't allow inmates to use weights or exercise excessively to pump up their muscles. The inmates get around this rule by
making barbells out of plastic bags filled with old magazines attached to
broom handles.
The tailor who was busted for tax fraud can make a beautiful duffel
bag out of a prison-issued jacket for five books of stamps.
The inmate who delivers the mail knows everything that's happening
at the prison. Information from this inmate is free to his friends, but can
cost anywhere from two to ten books of stamps for inmates he dislikes.
The inmates bet on everything. They bet on sports events. They bet
on who can have the shortest weekly meeting with his counsellor. They
bet on who will win the annual art contest. The system usually runs without incident, but one time a college football game ended in a tie and the
resulting chaos lasted for days as hundreds of books of stamps waited in
The inmate art contest in 2005 had been won by a man who, because of
his age, is going to die in prison before he's finished serving his sentence.
His pencil drawing had been based on a photo of my niece.
After the contest my dad sent it to me as a gift—he didn't tell me,
but I'm pretty sure he paid at least three books of stamps for it. At first I
wasn't impressed—it didn't look anything like my niece—but I've grown
to appreciate the work's subtle artistry. There's something haunting
about the delicate lines, the way they look like the scribbles of someone
struggling to capture the details of a pleasant dream, painfully aware that
the details have already been forgotten.
Taft Correctional Institution sits in the middle of an abandoned oil field
about two miles east of town. Nothing grows in this particular valley, not
even weeds. Because the soil is full of gypsum, you're confronted by a
blinding, white moonscape in every direction.
17 The prison's physical address is 3300 Cadet Road. There doesn't
seem to be a raison d'etre for the name beyond creating the illusion of
order. The 3300 is equally misleading, because it suggests there are other
addresses along Cadet Road, even though it's obvious the prison is the
only thing out there.
TCI is a compound of one-story buildings separated by fifteen-foot
high fences. Along the tops of the fences runs an endless Slinky of razor
wire—in the right light, the razor wire flashes like burning magnesium.
Every surface of the facilities is painted a dull, totalitarian white.
As I drove along Cadet Road, the blinding white moonscape and the
flashing razor wire began to hurt my eyes. I squinted at several passing
signs, each one covered with text written in a sans-serif font that is best
described as Post-9/11 Hysteria. The gist of the signs: Don't Pick Up
I asked myself who, in this day and age, picks up hitchhikers, let alone
hitchhikers out in the middle of a post-apocalyptic moonscape, the center of which contains a federal prison?
Then I recalled the Night Stalker's wife. I pictured her driving a black
Hummer with a pentagram decal on the rear window. I pictured her racing along Cadet Road at a dangerous clip, passing me without signalling,
throwing up a lot of gypsum dust in her wake.
I pictured a man in the distance, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, holding out his thumb. The Hummer came to an abrupt stop. Mrs. Ramirez
threw open the passenger-side door and a cloud of sulphurous smoke
spilled out of the car.
"Need a lift, handsome?" I pictured her saying, in a squeaky, abused-
little-girl voice.
That's when I understood why there were several signs posted along
Cadet Road, each written in a font that can only be described as Post-
9/1 1 Hysteria.
There are specific parking spaces for visitors, numbered one through a
hundred and fifty. I was told to wait in my car: the guards would eventually come outside with forms that needed to be filled out.
I sat in my car and checked out the other visitors. All of them were
young women, each dressed to kill: silk suits, designer sunglasses, expensive highlights. One of them sat in her late-model SUV and talked
on her cellphone in rapid Spanish; from the way she kept repeating herself, she seemed close to having a nervous breakdown. There were two
young boys in the backseat who wore brand new suits and matching
clip-on ties.
I wondered who was on the other end of her call. A demanding boss?
Someone who was supposed to have joined her? She opened a box of
18 crackers and handed them to her boys. When she finished her call she
adjusted her hair in the rear-view mirror—that was how she dealt with
her anxiety.
This was how I chose to deal with my anxiety: I filled out my paperwork with the same level of care I once devoted to college applications.
It suddenly became very important that I showed the staff I could follow
directions. I took my driver's licence out of my wallet. I emptied my
pockets of money. I turned off my cellphone. I put everything except my
licence in the glove compartment and locked it.
I managed to distract myself, until I remembered that one of the
forms authorized the prison to perform a drug scan. I didn't use illegal
drugs anymore, but I'd been a regular user of Nicorette gum for almost
three years. I was convinced the Nicorette in my mouth was going to set
off alarms, so I threw the gum out the window feeling like I'd adverted a
crisis, until I realized my fingers were now tainted.
The woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown adjusted her hair
again. I tried using her anti-anxiety technique, but the only thing it accomplished was to spread the nicotine evenly throughout my hair.
While the guards led us into the reception area—how interesting that
we voluntarily walked single file, almost like a chain gang—I noticed
that several of the visitors carried plastic baggies filled with change. The
coins confused me, since the guidelines clearly stated that money wasn't
allowed inside.
The young receptionist ignored us when we shuffled past her. She was
too busy flirting with a FedEx deliveryman, telling him how drunk she'd
been at a party the night before. Her makeup was alarmingly heavy—
stencilled eyebrows and thick foundation—like she'd prepared herself
for the unexpected appearance of a glamour photographer.
I wanted to tell the young receptionist that where I came from, her
kind of makeup was only used by burn victims and drag queens, but I
didn't. I wanted someone to praise the way I'd filled out my forms, but
no one noticed. I desperately wanted a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke, but
I didn't have any money for the overpriced vending machines.
Those fucking baggies filled with change were starting to bug me,
almost as much as the ringing phones, their piercing cries ignored by the
young receptionist who was busy trying to get laid.
I made it through the drug scanner without incident. A guard stamped
my hand with an ID that glowed neon yellow under an ultraviolet light.
I showed my stamped hand and driver's licence at two different checkpoints before I was finally directed toward a small building, outside of
which a stocky guard waved at me. I walked toward him along a wide
19 sidewalk, completely exposed on all sides, feeling like I was about to be
struck by a sniper's bullet.
I checked into the visitors' room. A guard placed my driver's licence
inside an accordion folder and asked if I wanted to sit outside. I went
to my assigned picnic table, where two cheap, plastic chairs faced each
other. I sat down and wondered if it was too cold outside for my dad. I
wondered if the chair would hold under my dad's weight.
The other visitors, however, didn't sit at their tables. They engaged in
a flurry of activity that seemed ritualistic. Some of them used moist tow-
elettes to clean off their tables. Some of them checked out playing cards
and backgammon sets from the guards' station. Some of them went to an
adjacent room where there were vending machines and microwaves.
Now I understood the purpose of the bags filled with change. My
stomach grumbled, and I silently cursed myself for being so typically
The inmates started coming into the visitors' building through a side
door, one by one, strutting glamourously like movie stars appearing on
The Tonight Show. The women's faces lit up, one after another, as their
men strutted through the door. The way the women jumped up and
down, arms waving, reminded me of a game show: Miguel Flores, come on
down, you 're the next contestant on Reunion!
I kept anticipating my dad would be the next inmate to arrive, but he
didn't appear. While I waited for him, another group of visitors showed
up. I watched a nearby woman bring her husband a freshly nuked bur-
rito and a bottle of Pepsi. She didn't fix anything for herself—she just
watched him eat, like she was scanning the image to her brain so she
could savour it after she left.
A young woman came outside with a teenage boy whose face was
completely caved in on the right side—it looked like the healed cavity of
a terrible gunshot wound. The boy was dressed in a floral print shirt and
nice pants, and he squirmed with excitement. I tried not to stare at him,
but it was impossible, mainly because of his innocent zeal. The young
woman returned with sodas and bags of chips. The teenage boy carefully arranged a bottle of Coke and a bag of Doritos next to him, before
pulling out a handkerchief to wipe off the adjacent seat.
A short, thin inmate, his hair slicked back into a moist black tongue,
ran outside and lifted the teenage boy with a shout of joy. The trio spoke
Spanish, but between the inmate and the boy it seemed like words were
almost unnecessary. The inmate sat down and let the boy rest his head
against his shoulder. Every once in awhile, the inmate would stroke
the boy's face—his entire face—with a gentle caress. Neither of them
was self-conscious about these intimate displays of affection. Not in the
20 I tried to figure out the relationship between the young woman, the
inmate, and the teenage boy. It seemed most likely they were siblings.
I wanted to figure out what had happened to the boy's face. Had his
brother's criminal activities been responsible? Had the boy found his
brother's gun and played with it, accidentally shooting himself?
It was obvious to me that in spite of the past, the brothers completely
accepted the reality of the present: one was in prison, the other disfigured for life. The only thing that mattered now was that they loved each
Would I ever be able to feel that way towards my dad?
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my dad come outside. I stood up
and we hugged. He mumbled into my bad ear how glad he was to see
me. I kissed him on his cheek.
I put my hand on his shoulder and told him I was glad to see him
too—and I meant it. I gestured toward our dirty picnic table and cheap,
plastic chairs, and asked if he'd rather sit inside.
"No," he said. "This is perfect."
"I didn't bring any change for food," I said. "I'm sorry I didn't
My dad's eyes welled up, and they weren't fake tears of happiness.
"Like I said, babe, this is perfect just the way it is."
21 Joelene Heathcote
Sleeping with Eyes Wide Open
Spend any time in a small town and you'll know what I mean. There
is a current of restless energy that runs beneath it, a sense of inertia
whereby living violently is sometimes the only analgesic. Places
and names are remembered by locals according to what happened to
whom, in the span of a lifetime. You leave these towns. Every sensible
person you know does because to stay is to smoulder. Most of the people
who stay let their lives close in on them, each work day, each weekend
a facsimile of the one before and their regrets start to gnaw at them, like
dogs on tethered ropes.
When the story is still fresh, I'm in my mid-twenties. No children,
but of course I have a lover. In those days that's never a problem. A
number of years go by but not a week passes I don't think about what
happened. Something in the paper or on television is usually the trigger:
another story where a woman goes to work, or on supposed vacation but
police find her abandoned car at the (insert: park, gas station, baseball
diamond), and her distraught/estranged (boyfriend/husband/common-
law) appears on the six o'clock news begging anyone with information
to come forward.
I stare at the television footage of this woman's level entry plain box
house, over-grown lawn, pulled blinds. It is a replica of my house, circa
1940, but it's facing the wrong direction. I nod my head, knowing the exact layout. The news crew does a panoramic to include the neighbours'
houses, police tape marking the area they're now calling a crime scene.
Why is it, I wonder, that next door neighbours are never home when the
media show up; nobody ever sees or hears anything. What the hell good
are they anyway?
The reporter looks Chinese Canadian. She's talking live to the anchorman in the newsroom. "Now Bill," she says, like she's just received
groundbreaking information via live satellite feed. "The couple had
lived together for four years but separated in August of this year." The
reporter is wearing a fur trimmed North Face jacket and a manufactured
frown. She plugs one ear to keep out the cold wind. "The agent we've
been talking to in this investigation has discovered the ex-husband has
22 three outstanding warrants for breach of conditions, so...." The wind
blows her hair across her face. "We'll keep you up to date as the investigation unfolds."
I'm glad when the camera cuts out and I can finally shut the TV off.
I always hope the woman in question has simply changed her plans or
booked into a motel room beside a pool in the middle of nowhere; I
hope, for her sake, she is running toward someone or something.
I follow the papers, the evening news for the next few days, waiting
for the distraught husband to appear so beside himself he can't even look
at the media. This guy is a cliche. He's the one pinching the bridge of
his nose, shaking his head in disbelief. Squeaks and gasps of mourning
escape him. I always watch the husband's face closely for signs he knows
more than he's letting on, which he nearly always does. Some of the time
I fall for it though; I think, god, this guy is for real. But in this specific
case he doesn't show up; this time he's nowhere to be seen and I can still
disassociate myself because I don't have kids, because, unlike the missing woman, I'm non-native. I can pretend it has nothing to do with me,
so I do, but I can't get the house out of my mind.
The house was dark and the blinds were shut—that's what Constable
Donald Erb remembers seeing. He had turned off his siren a block away,
but left the disco lights revolving in everyone's bedroom. Sidney is a
quiet town, for the most part, and locals aren't used to this kind of thing.
Constable Erb was aware of that. He parked the car on the road outside
the house and made some notes on a clipboard while the dispatch radio squawked and hissed. The interior of the car was still warm and he
used his cellphone to call inside the house. Electric blue light lit up the
policeman's face as he listened to the ring. Anyone looking on from the
dark shadows of January morning would have guessed the look on his
face was both disappointment and fear. No one answered. After ringing
the door bell several times, he called for back-up. When the other cop arrived they walked around the house, one hand on their guns, just in case,
the other scanning the yard with flashlights. They found a shed with the
door open and they shone their lights inside. There were a lot of boxes
piled up and broken garden equipment—what most people would call
junk. The one thing that stuck out in Constable Erb's mind was a child's
stroller. A few minutes later they had made their way around to the back
yard where they found the door off the porch was unlocked.
Q     Unlocked? Did you make any announcement? The Crown lawyer
asked him.
23 A      Yes we did. We said, 'It's the police. Is anyone home?'
The first room off the porch was an ordinary kitchen with little Christmas lights strung around the inside of the window. Condensation was
running down the glass and one of the policemen commented on how
warm it was but neither of them considered taking off their heavy winter
Q     What else did you notice?
A      Well, before I entered the house I noticed what appeared to be a
hand print on the lower portion of one of the windows.
Q     Was the print on the inside, or outside of the glass, sir?
A      I believe it was on the outside of the window.
On the wall by the door a set of coat hooks choked under the weight
of jackets. Children's toys were scattered across the linoleum, some paper and crayons as well. There was a highchair in the middle of the
kitchen and Constable Erb stepped around it, shone his flashlight on a
half-open drawer. The counter above it was littered with Band-Aid wrappers and what appeared to be bloody gauze. From there the two police
men walked into the living room and that's when Constable Erb saw
there was a closed door at the end of the hall just off the bathroom.
Q      Pardon me, Constable. Did you investigate the bathroom?
A      Yes. We found what appeared to be a lot more blood and Band-
1 play this scene over in my head until it becomes an obsession. I dream
about it: I dream I'm the cop, or the child, or the mother. I imagine the
hand print on the living room window was made by a neighbour who
happened to be home, who actually heard the struggle inside and came
to see if they could help. I imagine the hand print belongs to a child; that
I'm actually in this long before the cop car arrives. It's exactly like my
house after all.
Fast forward five years and, surprise to me, I have a kid now too and
for the first two weeks of his life I lay awake at night worrying what the
24 world has in store for him.
Now he's eight months old and his teeth are cutting through his gums
like a switchblade in a coat pocket. He wakes in the middle of the night,
screaming like someone is cutting off his foot. I stumble through the
three a.m. darkness of our cluttered bedroom—tripping over laundry
baskets, baby toys, cats—searching blindly for the baby monitor whose
volume wakes my husband and makes him sigh and groan and roll over,
and go back to sleep. The house we rent is exactly like the one from the
news, a tiny rancher, but nights like these the hallway seems to go on
forever, the mirror at the end projecting an infinite number of hallways,
an endless line of mothers running, half asleep, toward the sound of their
screaming babies. Tonight the room has a bit of chill and my son cowers,
face down, in the corner of his crib as though he can squirm away from
the ache of bone rubbing through flesh. I pick him up and hold him close
to my chest, kiss his eyes and brush the hair from his forehead because
that is all I can do.
This is my first child, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I know
this is a fact of life and that years from now his adult teeth will come, and
then in his twenties, his wisdom teeth, but by then his ability to process
this pain will be so much greater because the world will have toughened
him. Sarang Ee—love teeth the Koreans say. Not, as I imagined, because
of the misery love can cause, but because this is the age we first believe
in the possibility of it.
Crown council calls Daniel Roy to the stand.
Daniel rubs the short bristles of his hair as he takes a seat in the witness box. He is twenty-three years old, French Canadian, and a sub-lieutenant in the Canadian navy. He is shy, worried the questions he's going
to be asked will be confusing and he'll say something wrong, or that the
lawyer will twist his words and make him look bad. Daniel is terrified.
He stares at the black leather bible he's been asked to place his hand on.
Maybe he wishes his parents had come, or some of his navy buddies, just
a familiar face at the back of the court, anyone. The room is insulated
against sound. Yellow with fluorescent lighting, one bar flickers over the
table where the lawyer stands with a fist on his notes, the other in the
pocket of his grey slacks.
Daniel grew up in a family that moved around a lot. His father was
also in the Navy. Danny lives in Victoria now. At last, a place he can call
home. Maybe it's because of this lifestyle he seems so sensitive—having
been the natural man of the house when his father was away, having
seen the trouble fathers can bring, or the loneliness it caused his mom.
I sympathize with Danny. It has been a crazy year: his first time in love,
25 his first time to court. And it's only the beginning of April.
Q     Now, English is not your first language is it Daniel?
A      No, sir, French.
Q So you'll let me know if you don't understand something, right?
Then let's get started. Briefly tell the court about yourself.
A I recently obtained a degree in space science from Royal Roads
Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and then I spent the last six
months on HMCS Protecteur, serving in the Persian Gulf.
Daniel scans the faces in the room but he knows no one and can't tell
whose side anyone's on. He stares down at his lap and rubs the palms of
his sweaty hands together.
Q     Oh, you seem a little nervous, Daniel. Are you alright?
A      Yes, sir.
Q     Okay. Tell His Lordship how you met Ms. Phoebe Mack.
Someone from the Defence bench coughs but Daniel doesn't look up.
Daniel thinks about it. It's clear he's embarrassed, worried about what
conclusions the court will make about him having met Phoebe through
an internet dating service. Later at night, when the child had gone to
sleep, Phoebe would pour herself a glass of something and sit down to
chat with Danny. Usually they would tell each other what they'd done
that day. Sometimes they'd talk about what it would be like when they
were finally together. Before they'd ever even met Danny could make
her lol—laugh out loud.
A I met Ms. Mack in November on internet dating—internet dating
Q     How does that work?
A Umm. Single people who want to meet can go online and chat or
send each other emails.
I know people who've tried this online dating and the stories never get
26 any better. A person describes themselves as taller, slimmer, better looking, better educated, more socially adjusted than they really are. My
advice? Beware the born-again Christian, the recreational gambler, the
non-drinker. Beware the one who has, or hasn't, been to counselling
or anger management; has just been in a long-term relationship; has
never had a girlfriend or boyfriend; is recently divorced. The picture
on screen is never the person you finally meet. It's a given. There are,
however, certain occupations that don't really offer up a smorgasbord of
attractive dating prospects, and I understand that. Daniel often worked
away, and with a two year old child at home, Phoebe didn't get out much
either. They talked about their families and work, where they'd grown
up. They sent pictures of each other but in that month of November had
never spoken in person.
Q     Did you know then that she had a child?
A      Yes.
Q     What did she tell you about the child?
A      Ms. Mack told me she had a two year old son named Dylan and
she sent me a picture of the two of them.
In early December, at a hotel in downtown Victoria, Daniel finally met
Phoebe. He must have been surprised she was as beautiful as the photos
he'd seen. She had explained in emails how routine each day had been
for her: up at six with the child, cuddling and cartoons, a soft boiled
egg and toast cut into little strips her son could dip in the yoke, a walk,
play group, lunch, errands, dinner, bath, book, bed. After that came the
process of going room to room, dismantling each play area, putting toys
away, picking up cups and clothes, blankets and books. The only variable was the day of the month when her ex-husband came to visit the
Being with Daniel must have seemed like a movie—the danger of
meeting like that, the anticipation of intimacy. Maybe he was romantic
and sensual, his life exciting. Genuinely interested in the things Phoebe
said, Danny asked her about her family in Bella Bella, the history of
her people, where she'd grown up. She had graduated from Ballenas
Secondary twelve years earlier. I know because we went to the same
high school. I was at the prom she went to with her deadbeat boyfriend,
Delme. Phoebe was pretty in her tight white dress with puffed shoulders
and wrist corsage. I saw her only a few times after that—at parties, in
27 the bar with the same guy who ended up becoming her husband. She
was always sitting on a bar stool while he went lecherous. Some women
like bad boys and maybe that was the attraction, but I would've been
embarrassed. Delme could work the charm when there was something
he wanted. But if he didn't get his way he was cruel.
One night at the Sandbar Pub I passed Delme coming in. Good looks,
well dressed, he never had a problem attracting women. Maybe an hour
passed before he started working the crowd, trying to get something going. He had an edge to him like the wrong answer might cost you a fight,
and Delme didn't like losing. Of course he singled me out. His leaning
across our table emptied it pretty quickly, save myself, and my boyfriend
at the time.
"Get up and dance with me," he said. I said I didn't feel like it just
yet, blaming the lack of booze. We'd been in a few electives together in
high school but that had been a long time ago. In those days I rarely did
any work anyway, mostly hung out in the auto shop talking to boys. He
scanned the dance crowd like a boxer going down for the last time. "So
why didn't you ever want to fuck me?" he asked and I laughed. That's
when he grabbed the guy I'd come with and smashed his head against
the wall. "Because you like fucking geeks like this?" he said.
Q     At this point in your conversations, Daniel, did Ms. Mack intend
to tell her ex-husband about you?
A       No, she had no intention of telling him about us. She was afraid
for my safety.
Q     And did you continue to call her after that?
A      No. She said she was getting more visits from Mr. Evans and she
was afraid he would answer her phone.
Q     But you continued to contact her by email and on the computer?
A      That's correct sir. She invited me to have dinner with her and some
friends on the—on that Wednesday.
Daniel rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. The lawyer asked
if there was anything else, other than her ex-husband, that concerned
Phoebe about their relationship.
"Yes. She believed I was a little too young for her, sir." He offered
this confession to the court like it was something he had wanted to get
off his chest. It was ridiculous and terribly unfortunate that she felt that
28 way, and Daniel wanted to know if the court disapproved of their age
difference. He looked at the judge for the first time. "She said I had a lot
more going for me than to get in a relationship with her." He didn't know
anything about being a parent, he told them, but he thought Phoebe was
a great mom. At the beginning of December neither of them knew where
the relationship was going but they were running on adrenaline, they felt
good. They were electric.
A lot of things come to mind when I think about Phoebe. It gets harder
to imagine why she would've stuck by Delme for so long. I remember a
housewarming party. It was about seven in the evening and people stood
around the kitchen filling their mouths with deli sushi and lime margari-
tas; a bunch of women passed a joint around the living room. The music
was loud; no doubt the Beastie Boys in those days, and no one heard a
thing until Delme kicked open the bathroom door. Clearly he had been
inside, and the door swung on its hinges. Phoebe was bleeding from the
wrist and mouth.
Q     I notice you're wearing a ring, Daniel. Where did it come from?
A      It came from—I got it when I graduated from Royal Military College, sir.
Q     Isn't it true that you were missing it for some time?
A      Yes—yes it is. I left it on the coffee table at Ms. Mack's house.
Q     Did she tell you whether she was planning to get back together
with her husband?
A      Yes, sir. She said she had no intention of that.
And so, at twenty-three, Daniel had earned himself the title of sub-lieutenant, completed a university degree, and spent six months overseas.
His parents must have been very proud of their son. They raised a smart
boy, a boy with respect and ambition; so why, they must wonder, did he
not ask this girl more questions about her life? How could their son—
whose life was regimented discipline, order, and detail—have left the
ring he'd worked so hard for at the house of a woman he knew so very
little about.
Most parents like to believe the stress is over when their children
29 move out of the house; that they can finally have their lives back. I don't
believe for one moment our lives ever belong to us again. We can't ever
go back. A number of friends dropped out of my life when they heard I
was pregnant because I couldn't go out smoking and drinking anymore.
It's been nineteen months since I've been to a party that didn't involve
babies and soft drinks. Nine months of no dates, no sex, no time, no
wardrobe. For those of us who lose our identity in the process of becoming parents, the world is gracious in giving us new ones. No longer
spontaneous, sexy, interesting, we are somehow elevated in other ways
for the sacrifices made. Of course I miss my old life, but I wouldn't trade
this motherhood thing for all the sleep in the world.
The night my son was born it had been exactly four years, maybe to
the hour, since Phoebe's ex-husband told her that if he couldn't have
her, no one could. She must have known his determination. She'd been
with him for twelve years. She would have known him better than anyone.
I stared at the clock on the wall, watching the black wand of the minute hand tick past the hour. No one could've prepared me for the pain
of giving birth. At some point around eight p.m. the baby's heart dipped
low. His shoulders wedged between the bones of my pelvis, his head
stuck in the birth canal. Roll on to your side, the doctor kept saying,
the baby is in trouble. I couldn't, I didn't know what I was doing in the
first place and now I was exhausted. Soon there were five doctors in the
room (not exactly the homey image my free-spirited doula had painted).
The doctor, though patient, was tiring. I was in bad need of stitches and
he went down on one knee in the mess of blood, his hands shaking.
In the early morning hours of January 8th, at the house on Resthaven
Drive, Constable Erb found the body of twenty-eight-year-old Phoebe
lying between two beds, her face covered with a blanket, shirt pulled up
to expose her belly. It's possible someone had tried to revive her. The
policeman went down on one knee. He whispered Dear God. Phoebe's
face was badly bruised and swollen. He freed one hand from a glove so
he could wipe the sweat from his forehead. Then he called for an ambulance and sent his backup to secure the area. From where he stood,
Constable Erb could see the living room: a blanket, a pair of pants with
blood on them, a child's train set and a large kitchen knife. There was
blood on the train and its tracks.
A      Shortly after that the ambulance arrived and the attendant took
the woman's right wrist. I think he was checking for a pulse.
30 Q     And what was his discovery?
A      She was dead, sir. I believe due to pressure on her carotid artery.
Q     In your opinion, Constable, what would've caused that?
A A headlock would have done it, sir. We require special training to
use a hold like this on someone.
Hours earlier, a Canada Customs agent saw Phoebe's blue minivan
make a U-turn before reaching U.S. immigration. The agent approached
the driver's side of the van and shone a flashlight on the driver. The man
had cuts on his hands and arms. His two-year-old son was asleep in the
passenger seat; maybe the radio was on for distraction. I wondered what
went through his head as drove that long strip of highway, moonlight
settled among the fields and trees. It was a cold night—too cold for a
thin, torn shirt. Customs questioned him about the custody of the boy
and RCMP arrested Delme for several outstanding warrants. A number
of people I know would say Delme was a nice guy, but I know better.
I'd seen him get crazy a number of times when he didn't get what he
wanted. I had only seen him maybe six or seven times in twelve years,
but each time his temper was worse.
Q Now Daniel, tell the court how you found the ring you're wearing
A Phoebe emailed me to tell me she'd located the ring in the living
room and put it on her bedroom dresser so her son wouldn't get it
in his mouth.
Q So it stands to reason that anyone over two feet tall could have
seen the ring sitting there?
A      Yes, sir.
Q     And how did you get the ring back?
A I was given it back when—when an officer came to question me
about the death of Phoebe.
Q     Obviously you knew she was dead at that point.
A      Yes sir. I learned about it when I saw her face on the news.
31 It was a cold January afternoon when my husband and I brought our
baby home from the hospital. He was almost seven pounds, with dark,
wrinkled skin and black hair. For the first three months I slept with him
curled like a fiddlehead against my body. My husband went willingly to
the sofa or the next room, disappointed with the new arrangement, but
grateful for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Those first few weeks
we suffocated under an avalanche of new information, and advice from
masters of parenthood.
There have been moments in these last nine months that each of us
have felt we might just be losing our minds: the lack of time to ourselves,
the lack of money, the mess, the screeching third person in every conversation. We eat dinner so late at night we have to hold our heads up
with one hand. We crawl over piles of clothing into our unmade bed. A
paper mobile of sheep floats from the light above the dresser, and we flip
through the channels until one of us falls asleep.
Every little while it comes back though, whenever I'm cooking, or
rocking the baby to sleep, I go back to the image of Phoebe's house. It's
gone now; demo'd to make room for new townhouses. It was exactly
like mine, only the plans were switched and it faced the wrong direction. I think about how a house is supposed to be a safe place, a womb
we live in after we leave our mothers. Phoebe's son is six now and he
will have missed her on his last four birthdays. Four Christmases will
have passed without her. She was not there with him on his first day of
school and someone will likely have lied to him about the events of that
night; they would have had to. I wonder what things from that fight have
stuck in the boy's mind, what ready stories he'll have when people ask
him where his mother has gone. I can't stop thinking about Daniel, how
he will carry this story with him for the rest of his life, his ring having
witnessed things, and no longer signifying what it was meant to. I go
back to that hand print on the front window, just the height of a child, or
someone older bending down; a person on the outside looking in.
32 Heather Sellers
I Don't Remember Telling
the Stepsons
But when we drive down Gondola Drive,
my father's street in Orlando, while
I am trying to bend memory, shirts, yearning,
stray conversations and these boys
into something that looks like, to the
untrained eye, anyway, a family
they say This is where you jumped
off the roof bleeding and This is the yard
where you left your father for dead and
Here's where you sped with Todd Gele.
You made out with him over there.
We can't believe you spray painted
that guy's entire yellow Torino pink.
My new husband says, as we crawl
down Orange Blossom Trail
That's the Chi-chi's where you
worked where everyone did cocaine.
Why can't your schoolwork be this
thorough, guys? And I keep saying
this is all changed and I do not remember
telling you any of these things.
I do not recall remembering the car,
the kiss, the father left for dead, that
motorcycle, my Orlando heart.
33 In those days I was thinking about now,
not I'll marry a man with two boys,
a three for one special and raise them.
Then it was jackpot, fry chicken, syllables of
ruin, it was possibly porn star baby
with shades of Actress, Saudi prince,
Dulcinea, Quiana, Candies and surf
culture—I could see the sun rise on one
beach and set over the other, this made
the world seem endless and me possible.
Did you ever get in trouble for anything?
the boys ask and the husband says
Turn here? Tell me now or else.
34 Michael Lista
Yayo to Yahweh
you with relapse terrors in a cot, DT's
in Timmins, tope ghosts and March's halitosis,
the shallowwateroverroundedstone
of voices in the corridor, diagnostic splash
point moving on your door, or can diazapam
lift you from bed and head into the hall? four
nights of this since you checked yourself
in, bloated, sweaty-nosed, your soles snowing
on the foyer mat in stomps, the pull of toque
from skull, cheeks a shock of frozen rose, the who?
in your hollow voice as you spell your family name
for the obese receptionist, each successive letter
a deeper crevasse of regret, as if the part
of you that needs salvation has no name
at all, and this, your daddy's craggy moniker
is but the chasm of your nomenclature's past,
from which you ache to extricate yourself.
35 Weird Light
At the end of what is necessary, I have come to a place where there is no road.
—Iris Murdoch
Gravel mile from the county highway—
fireflies are pin-head Christmas lights shorting in the gravel,
tangled—or another night arranging itself at my pale ankles.
Ahead, in the pine cottage
behind the Virgin's garden, Sister Frances is sleeping
with a raccoon carcass yet again. Her Springer
Spaniels dragged it screaming down this lane
of shattered stone.
Woke the empty house. Moved the tortured
walls to hide behind the papal portraits.
Gravel mile from the county highway—
Polaris pounds upon the roof
of the abandoned chicken coop. The Dipper looms
to scoop. A harvest moon bangs blood-orange
against her bedroom blinds: Old woman. Who art with fever
hallowed be thy name—
The housefly on her bedside table, wringing
its fly-hands, red-eyed and conspiring.
The horsefly ferrying her skin
to the cloakroom, tabernacle dark.
Moonlit mile from the county highway—
bedsprings sing relief in a room with heavy shades.
Draw the splendid curtain;
a weird light, always near, wants in.
36 Mary Flanagan
[Motion downward]
1979, my brother jams the television;
NASA men in doughy clothes,
newscasters somberly announce the sky
as Skylab renounces orbit.
The space program's a big mistake, let me tell you.
Look what they've done to Mr. Armstrong, the Ranger 9,
crashing headlong into pockmarked Alphonsus;
all for a $10,000 prize—Skylab's falling!
I know my conviction absurd.
I know Skylab is, among scheming planets, small—
75 metric ton panels, gaskets, burning microscopes;
I know that I am destined to be brutally crushed,
on the swing, or while I play Yahtzee.
I have trouble sleeping.
I refuse to go outside. Skylab's
impending re-entry—
the nightly news fuels Copernican
certainty in the afterlife. I wear a
towel on my head and bride myself
to Christ in my pajamas. I Saint Francis pray
until I talk to animals. Cut homemade hosts
from Wonder Bread
and stuff them in my mouth.
.. .weirdos pull up drunk, tourists, to glimpse
my bedroom: Birthplace of Skylab Disaster!
The Victim's Grieving Parents!
See The Hole! (Or maybe, it will take us all out,
just like the lightning that struck my bedroom
after careful teenage construction
of the Energy Pyramid.) Or She, Unclassified
Victim of Space Trash, holds a press conference...
37 I avoid open sky.
Ladders and sawhorses form mazepaths;
I carry broomsticks to the bathroom,
to the backseat (Skylab could aim freeway),
killing time for the second coming
of the first space station.
38 Barry Dempster
Come, stare at the scar on my left palm,
it looks like a picket fence, all that
long-gone pain trimmed to something
almost pretty. And while you're here,
notice the squash of my knuckles,
the ropy tendons on the backs
of my hands, the wispy blonde hairs
that breeze up and down my arms.
See me, goddamn it, I'm a miracle.
Too intense? Too needy, too scared,
too inconsequential, you name it.
If this is a love affair, I'm the entire
string section on a tear, catgut
screeching at a paper moon. If this
is friendship, I'm something reed
and spit, a musical splint
keeping cracked heart songs in tune.
If this is you, then it's definitely me.
I'll never forget the afternoon you
reached out and chose my wrist bone
over all other body parts.
Fascinating protrusion, precious
afterthought, a little apple motif
to remind me how off-centre paradise
can be. I'd never been just a wrist
before, exhilarating diminutive, a sudden
wink of ruby in a king's busy crown.
39 Divide me into pieces, hold me bit by bit.
I may look like a wrinkled fist
or a middle finger with a dent
from squeezing a pen too tight,
but there are mysteries worth loving,
longings to be risked. Have you seen
my wing of ilium yet, or my medulla
oblongata? Keep staring, go beyond
yourself, make me whole again.
40 Nunojudice
translated from the Portugese by paulo da casta
The Oil Crisis
We could count on our fingers the oil tankers
along the horizon line: exiting the other side of the earth to
face the cape, whose reefs dare them. It was
still a time of cheap gasoline and of dances in
the club, carried on until after midnight
in borrowed houses, in vast dance halls in low
lights, to hide what was to be
hidden. The oil tankers stopped, sometimes, in front
of the beach, haunting with the weight of their presence anyone
who entered the water, and in the days to follow sand turned black,
forcing us to mind the soles
of sandals. The girls in the club, seated
waiting to be chosen, also haunted
the most timid boys; and the mothers, sitting on the chairs behind,
prevented many advances, although their function
was to select those best suited
for future marriages, serious boys and with a future
—although a future did not exist for anyone,
facing compulsory military service ahead and a guaranteed war. So,
looking at the oil tankers, there might be those who
dreamed of climbing aboard, and departing to the other side
of the world. But who would be capable of swimming so far and
then climbing the steel bow. Better clean
the tar soles with a bamboo stick, and run
to the club where the dance had by now begun. And it was at night,
in those borrowed houses, listening to slow music
on old records, that we could dance, without mothers
chaperoning daughters nor daughters afraid of mothers. It was a time
when oil tankers travelled slowly along the coastline,
and we could count on our fingers
how many, except those stopping to
clean out the bilge. One night, electricity was cut off
during the dance. I did not stop dancing
because of that—and others would have done the same. The oil
41 too was cut off a few months later, and the oil tankers
stopped travelling by the cape. Although not even that interrupted
the club dances, the closing of the night in borrowed
houses, and the lights—now turned
off—so the dance could continue,
in the dark.
42 Tyronejaeger
It was a Sunday drive, on a Tuesday. The mountains were overgrown
with green. She steered the winding roads with a sure hand, wearing a ring I hadn't given her. We hiked a lake nestled above a ghost
town. On the roof of a falling-down saloon, someone had spray-painted,
the BIBLE isLaW. She said she sometimes watched me oscillate between
child and man, and though cautious, she knew she was falling. "I'd like
to live outside the law, honestly," I said. We nearly pretended a kiss, until
a heron took flight from a narrow creek bed. Its blue wings moved effortlessly, and we decided even pretending was dangerous. "Billy the Kid,
you're not," she said and reached into the creek, lifted a shotgun-slug-size
chunk of pyrite. The rock matched the colour of her ring, but the miners
in 1860 weren't all fools. We left the ghost town—declaring it ours—and
came upon a large farmhouse with a No Trespassing sign in the window, a
faded realtor's sign on the lawn. She was hesitant, but I insisted. Walking
up the gravel drive, we marvelled at the house, the out-buildings, the
orchards, all overgrown with briars. We walked through the unlocked
doors. She took calculated steps like she might fall through the floor at
any moment. "A house not living in the present," she said. Sticking our
heads out a glassless window, we watched a car slowly drive by, and we
retreated back outside. In the orchard, we walked through deep grass
and over apples soft like river rocks at their melting point. I imagined
grazing horses, carrots in the small fists of children. Spooked by the car,
she kept looking back to the paved road. "You scared yourself," I said. I
tried to point out how easy it would be to pull the briars from everything.
The car drove by again—this time even slower. She wanted to get off the
property, but I blocked her way. Like machine gun fire, a woodpecker
struck behind us. We both flinched. I turned to identify the joker—a pile-
ated woodpecker, crow-size with a red crest like a flamboyant cowboy
hat—and she headed down the driveway. "Will you look at that?" I said.
She was on the far side of the car, cursing at the backseat. On the drive
home, she said, "When given the choice—" "Paper over plastic every
time," I said. "When given the choice," she continued. We passed a Falling Rock sign, and she scanned the cliff face. "You do the right thing," she
finished. Dirt was painted on her chin, forearms, and fingers. "You've got
to be a straight shooter," I said. Like the burrows of giant prairie dogs,
43 mineshafts puckered from the hillsides. "If those miners found it, they
took it," she said. She thumped the steering wheel with her palm. Dried
mud speckled my lap. We drove back to the city in silence, trying to keep
our eyes forward. The realtor's sign was upside down in the backseat,
legs still caked with dirt. I tried to call the number on the sign, but we
were too far gone for service.
44 Tyronejaeger
The Petrified Forest
Outside, birds chattered, and after slow morning sex, Cybill
pulled on the quill of a feather that had pierced her pillowcase.
In her mind, she rehearsed the pointed truth. "How did you get
those scrapes on your back?" Doug had just asked. He'd kissed the arch
of her foot, tickling her. It hurt to laugh. "Looks like rug burn." She'd
had sex with an arborculturist on the plastic carpet of his hatchback.
Had she been thinking, she would have laid down a blanket or even her
jacket. She tested the point of the feather on the back of her hand and
then lightly poked Doug's leg with the sharp tip. He winced—more than
he should have—and waited for her answer, sat up and looked outside.
The morning light turned green as it passed through tree leaves. She
stroked the white down. In a college zoology class, she'd learned that the
smoothness of a feather is actually composed of a series of intertwined
barbs. She remembered the party, the fire, the beer and cigarettes. The
arborculturist had driven her to a gravel pull-off where fallen, petrified
trees lay propped on large rocks. A bronze plaque told their history, but
still he'd showed her the growth rings and explained how they were scars
depicting drought, hard times, growth spurts—the patterns hid nothing
from the astute observer. The night before, Doug had taken her to an
action movie, and she was convinced that nothing happened that she
hadn't seen before. The arborculturist had kissed her in front of the stone
wood, even though he knew her living arrangements. In his car, their
clothes flew like feathers when a coyote enters a chicken house. She tried
to think of it as an event rather than a poor decision. "It's nothing," she
said. "I think it was from the other day when we were wrestling in the
living room." She remembered Doug's pin, was positive she'd escaped
before he'd counted to three. He'd stood up and flexed his biceps. "I'm
sorry for playing so rough," Doug said. He smiled his victory grin. "Let
me make it up to you. We'll go to the nursery. A few hanging plants for
the back porch?" She blew on the feather, the barbs caught her breath
and extended, flight. With the quill point of the feather, she drew a ring
in the dry skin of Doug's ankle. "That tickles," he said. With increased
pressure, she formed concentric circles. "Stop," he said, giggling. He
playfully bit her calf, trying to stifle his laughter. He pounded the pillow,
more laughter. Suddenly, he flipped back over on top of her, grabbing
45 both her wrists in one hand. She held tight to the feather, and he began
to tickle her, his fingers digging into her stomach and her armpits. She
tightened her stomach muscles, her arms. Her jaw clenched, she refused
to laugh and knew he would eventually count to three. The petrified trees
were 370 million years old and had grown in a coastal forest. They were
actually gigantic ferns, not even trees, and Doug would never recognize
them. Cybill concentrated on stillness, on solidifying her position.
46 Tyronejaeger
My Wife in the Bath
My wife relaxes in the tub while rain pops on the tin roof, and
I imagine a lightning strike, a solid plate of blue electricity.
Three straight weeks of rain, and when Cybill drains the tub,
riverbank rings will remain. Her leg breaks the surface of the water, like
Nessie beckoning the paranormal tourists. A wave of a foot and a wiggle
of toes is all it takes for me to fetch the camera. I've seen pictures of
my wife in the bath—bubble baths with her little brother and a rubber
duck. I ruin the moment by thinking of grown men with my wife in the
bath or in the shower, or worse, her and a man stark naked beneath a
secret waterfall. My wife has a thing for secret waterfalls. I ruin it, and
the tin roof takes the lightning strike, and just like that, we're staring at
the dark sky, rain falling in the bathroom. "I'd like a foot massage, sir,"
she says, sinking up to her chin and resting her legs on the tub edge, like
nothing's happened. She doesn't cover herself or ask me to fix the roof.
The teakettle whistles, and since we're evidently not paying attention to
the roof, I say, "I'll get your tea." My belly begins to ache. An adventurous man would hop in with her, socks and all, but I steep tea. I cover my
head with a towel and wish we lived on a dry planet. We'd be Bedouins,
hiding our bodies with great, bland sheets. But no oases, no harems, no
genies in bottles. Just a lot of sheep and people making goat cheese. But
as a Bedouin, I wouldn't have this: bubbles up to her chin, and when
she sits up to reach for the teacup in my hand, bubbles sliding down to
reveal breasts, a nipple. I pour the remaining water from the teakettle
into the bath; she closes her eyes. She pokes a toe above the water and
whispers, "Thanks." I hold her wet toe and for some reason my eyes tear
up. "Look at the roof!" I moan. I sit down on the toilet to regain my balance. Then I'm up on the roof with a blue tarp and a staple gun, repairing the damage nature thinks of as its duty. Back inside, Cybill's skin is
soft and pink after her bath. She wears only a robe, but I take her hand
and lead her outside into the rain. "This is so Scandinavian," she says
and laughs. Immediately her skin is gooseflesh. I take off my shirt and
open her robe. We embrace. The water tastes new, our feet sink in the
saturated ground. I sidestep, pulling her with me, almost dancing. "Look
down," I say. Water fills our deep and muddy footprints. "Dip me," she
says. Without another word, we agree that these imprints will become
the fossils through which future people will know us.
47 Ariel Gordon
Fall back: warming the engine
November no snow yet
so she practices bedroom window prognostication
the light dying weekly
until downstairs
cold snaps the screen door open shut
cold and the tinkle of his keys
changing the way the day hangs
outside marigolds missed in fall's bedding down
flower again amidst the tatter of leaves the morning's frost
and she knows mushrooms are the midnight children
of lightning and soil
but she wonders what's begot the moment
pelting rain starts
to float
the snow sweating
gone when it hits pavement
48 November no snow yet
so there's no excuse for the full-frontal airbag thwack
of full-blast heat from vents
those days she can't bear to walk to work
preferring the woolly tucked-in pockets
of warmth between the blankets and her legs
as the furnace shudders turns over
the solder-seaming of fingers
clasped around a cup
and her content
to cup the middle-ear mid-afternoon space
she finds underwater her head sinking
going under
steam icing the mirrors
and the last of the sun
49 November and it is a day of standing in the garage
shrugging under layers strange and itchy
sleeves smelling of last season's unraveling
of Kleenex padding at pulse-points of scissoring joints
making pills while the car shows frost
like blossoming mold on the moon roof and side panels
and she's already struggled
against the shock
of pushing out into the backyard
and meeting heaps of snow where yesterday
there was only the squeak of ungreased struts
but the scraper is buried under layers
of dirty tools and the fertilized idea
that she'd rake and mulch
one of these days
It is a day of standing in broken snow
stumbling over the footprints of those that have come before
the frozen spikes of grass the network of tar worms
filling cracks from all the years
of freeze
and the curbside glint of garbage
dropped from windows opened just a crack gone
glassy ruts forcing her into the snow
into scraping the windows
with her third-best credit card
50 Fall back: off leash
The dogs frolic packs form all along the field
wild flowers weeds turn tender
turn tippy
under the stiff lip of wind leaves crunch
burn bright in scraps of sun
tumble the way the pack loosening
shows tips of tongues bowed backs
all of them feigning submission
Milkweed starbursts and pinwheels all along the path
scrub oak blasts joints and bones
where grey sky parts cold and colder
until foxglove rasps phlegm
in out
and the red ribs of alder above
go rich and dead
Sun arc-welds the day down all along the horizon
lines of geese solder the sky
make inexpert seams
the day goes smoky gutters
while she fumbles for the fingers
crammed sodden cold in his pocket
and as the pack reforms like foam around their legs
she listens for the clip of leashes
51 Stan Rogal
Doggie Style
Ay, chihuahua marks change from adjunct to accessory when pampered
pooches canoodle on par, either bagged in Chanel or snuggled into
designer breasts to enjoy handsome scented scarves & lattes served
with meringue pears on stilton, woof, woof
Gone to the dogs not so bad in this holy wood where lap of luxury is
lined with mink & the great tit skirls its chanced-on song from parts
held in with cream & sweet meats.
Hilarity defies this otherwise long-face tale: Tinkerbell sacked as too big
for her Boss britches, haha. Spell broke & fairy dust a bust, who pirates
hell town spanks a salvo across the nose, spilling yellow press yuks even
as Bambi tramps in for a giddy snort.
Canine wars heat up an itty-bitty bit along the catwalk as some not-so-
bright neighs aspersions through the ether toward a biatch heiress held
in lieu of a tinker's belle.
Pay me a little or pay me a lot ends reason at this stoop & scoop that
puts on the dog & hoovers with the best of them. Neither a parrot's
halting yawn nor a duck's skirled chanson feels so at ease where purses
mew & cash shots exact in nipples & dimes.
Starving for success unheard of in the dog realm has its ass kicked
for chowing down even as the pin thin are nicked all to rat shit, their
laurels flung to boil in the press.
52 Daniel Priest
In Defense of Love and the
New Mexico Landscape
The blue drowse of watercolour hills
under a fried egg sun. Lizard-lazy beneath
the tapping circuit of the patio fan.
Tourists speak German
at the empty bar. Take a mouthful
of beer, a bite of asado. Your tongue's
a flame, a little livid sun.
Singe the landscape with names
for the purple flowers beside the highway
and the grey brows of mountains
a hundred miles away. Every fence
ironic. This everlasting
laundered sky begins at our lips.
Another beer. An afternoon of stupid
jokes that tilt us nearly from our chairs.
Tortilla chips and salsa verde.
Jukebox growls at the desert
empty as a vacant room, full
of light. There's nothing between us
and that blue, possible distance.
53 Robert Brazeau
Gordon is always talking about his sore knees. One of them hurts more
than the other, but I can't remember which. Or maybe it changes. Or
maybe they're both getting worse. Usually he just says, "Christ, my
knees hurt," but lately he's getting bored of that, and says "My knees
are a bastard" or "What the hell is this?" My mother was going to kick
him out, but now she feels she can't. His mother and my mother are
friends, and when he moved to Toronto to start college my mother said
he could stay with us until he found a place. Then he stopped going
to class. Then a month later he heard he could get some of his tuition
back if he withdrew, so he did. Still, he won't go home.
My mother got him a job as a telemarketer, which wasn't easy, since
they don't really like you doing that from home. It seems like that's the
best place to do it from, but they would rather you work in the office
so they can monitor how efficient you are and all that. At least that's
what they say, but I don't know if it's true. Gordon got fired because he
complained about his knees to people on the phone. He was supposed
to be telling them about furnace cleaning or home security, but instead
he would just say "I wish my knees weren't so sore all the time." Very
even keel, because they were strangers.
54 Knute Skinner
Ringing the Number
Ringing the number,
I let my finger hang in the air.
I think of the one at the other end
of the call I have not yet made.
She is stabbing a cigarette out
and pouring a second or a third cup of tea.
She is slipping out of her faded Chinese robe
and easing a thick leg into sudsy water.
She is painting her nails,
toe after toe in dark scarlet fury.
She is taking her pills, or else
she's neglecting to take them.
And I? I am telling myself
to ring her number.
55 Chris Kuhn
Crocodile Tears
I bump into a street child, not six years old. He holds his ground, tilts
his head back and cups his palms between us. His eyes demand and
plead. I step back, reach into my pocket and give him some coins. I
do it sleight-of-hand but four more boys appear, stepping out between
pedestrians, coming up behind me, moving in.
"I don't have my wallet," I say, lifting my shirt. Except for the bills
folded in my breast pocket and the coins I just gave away, I left everything of value in my car. I'm not even wearing my watch.
Their fast eyes rummage. I will not fool them. The first boy smiles and
gives me the finger. He flips it loosely and says, "Fokjou ma." I want to hit
him on his outsized head. The little shit. Bedraggled pants, torn T-shirt,
the smell of piss: so unlike Johan, my own son, even at his worst. The
boy spins and sets his shoulder to the crowd. Gone, quick as he came.
I breathe and walk.
I haven't seen Hillbrow in years. There are blacks everywhere. The
shops I once knew are gone. I don't recognize these new establishments:
Lick-a-Chicken, Bra Mamba's Corner Cafe, Black Beauty Stylz, Before the
elections, this part of Johannesburg was trendy. We'd hang out in bars
and clubs. I'm amazed how things have changed.
I've come to meet Thabo Msimang, the boy I played with in our
garden almost three decades ago, up to the time we were ten. I'm meeting with him but it's his mother, Mavis, whom I really want to see. She
worked for us as a live-in maid, before I lied about the money. I blamed
her and got her fired.
The sidewalks are packed. People spill onto the road, weaving between parked cars and stalls. A vendor shoos flies from his mangos but
not his face. An old woman, wrinkled like biltong, hunches on an upturned crate, cradling a tray of Simba chips, Eveready batteries and Lion
matches for sale. A radio pumps kwaito, blending with distant police
sirens that doppler and wail. The sticky smell of dagga nudges; a boy in
school uniform lopes along floating inside his untucked shirt, socks hugging ankles, and a joint dangling from his lips. No one seems to care. No
one gives a damn about me either. It's a free country now. I'm allowed
to be here. So are the blacks.
I suppose it's better this way. At least during daylight hours.
56 I find the place I'm looking for and step inside: Hillbrow Fish V Chips.
People queue at the counter for their orders. Some sit on yellow plastic chairs around tables by the window. I sit down and wait. There are
glances. I avoid those that linger and look at the vinyl tablecloths of
unknown colour, faded to beige, with bleached patches and sticky swirls
of cleaning-product residue.
Mavis had lived with Thabo in quarters annexed to the garage at the
back of our house. Their whole room was the size of our kitchen and her
bathroom was not en suite. It wasn't even in the house. You had to leave
the room, walk along the ten-foot wall surrounding our property, and go
into a separate stall. The shower was in the same room as the toilet, just
a pipe jutting out of the wall above the cistern: not next to the toilet but
above it, the whole design crammed into a two-by-four space at most. If
you wanted to shower you could close the toilet lid, or not. Everything
would get soaked anyway. My brother and I would joke that Mavis was
lucky because she had hot water. Then we'd say she was luckier than us
because she could clean her toilet at the same time she showered. We'd
crack up then. Neither of us ever cleaned a toilet in our lives.
The smell of vinegar spikes the air. Hillbrow Fish 'n' Chips is getting
hotter. It's a family business, I decide: mom hawks the till from her high-
perch chair; dad jiggles the deep fryer with sidelong glances. Working
sounds clutter the space in back and when the kitchen doors swing open
I see the peeling of potatoes, the filleting of fish and packing of plates.
In front, two daughters assemble orders with dignified disdain and push
them, at arm's length, across the counter. Their smiles are not for sale.
Thabo must be late. It feels I've been sitting here forever. I ask two
men at the table next to me: "'Scuse me, d'you have the time?" They
look at each other and grin with fish-full mouths.
"A mosweu without the time," one says, churning flakes and slurring
words. "That's a first." They laugh and tell me it's ten-twenty. So Thabo
isn't late after all. I've wanted to meet with him so long to make good my
It started the day Nelson Mandela was released in Cape Town: Sunday, February 11th, 1990. I was a student at UCT at the time. None of
my friends would go to the welcoming rally at the Town Hall Plaza.
They said I was crazy: all those blacks and police in the same place
meant trouble for sure. And they were right. Police shot two people who
they said were looting but I never saw any of that, didn't even know
it had happened till it came on the news. It was a huge crowd, at least
fifty thousand souls. I'd stood there and never felt more alone. I guess it
was stupid to go solo, but everyone said that for apartheid, this was the
beginning of the end. People sang freedom songs and toyi-toyed, the martial dance of struggle: double bounce on each foot, shuffling forward in
57 between, alternate knees bent and raised. Simple steps repeated, hands
winging the air for emphasis and balance, phalanxes of dancers hitching forward. The concrete was their instrument, percussing underfoot. I
felt it in my knees and stomach and the jelly of my eyes. I'd be lying if I
said I wasn't scared. That's what the toyi-toyi is all about. I'd stood there
watching the singing and dancing and thought of Mavis. She and Thabo
were the only blacks I'd ever really known outside of work. She'd have
loved to have been there, to greet Mandela. She would've talked to me.
"Hau! Baas Derek," she'd have said. "It's been a long time since I saw
you, hey? Tall and strong like your daddy. Isn't this a great day?" But of
course I had no idea where she was, what she would have said or felt. I
was ten when I got her sacked. When I gambled with her fat cheeks and
thick smile, the smell of her Lifebuoy skin, the sound of her voice wooing me to sleep in Sesotho. Maybe she wouldn't have cared to see me at
all. Like Alice, my ex-wife, and Johan.
One of the daughters behind the counter stares me down. She struts
out and anchors herself in front of me, hands on hips.
"You will order?" she asks, looking down at me, prodding the words
with her chin.
"I'm waiting for a friend. He'll be here soon."
"Then you will order?" she asks again. There's nothing she wants
more than to throw me out, even though the place isn't full. A decade
ago she wouldn't have dared talk to me like that. She wouldn't have
been the daughter.
So much has happened since the first elections: a black president,
a new constitution, the Rugby World Cup won by our men in green. I
became an engineer, got married and Johan was born. For more than ten
years everything was fine. Then it went to hell and we got divorced. Now
Johan and his mother live on the other side of the country and I see him
maybe three times a year, and then only with professional supervision.
It's when I'm with him that I miss him most.
After the divorce I threw myself at work and started a company that
designs and builds low-cost prefabricated housing. We do great business
in the "New" South Africa. Everyone needs a house. The government
pays for contracts, which is what the Redistribution and Development
Program is all about. Just last week I signed off on another five-hundred
units and I'm doing rather well. My black investors are doing better.
Stinking rich, in fact. On Fridays we play golf.
"We'll order a whole lot when he comes," I say. I give her my blankest stare and cross my legs. I'll hold on to what I've got, thank you very
An old man hobbles in and says, iiMmoro baas," in greeting. I hate it
when they do that, as if I'm responsible for their lives. I nod without giv-
58 ing him a second glance and turn again to the daughter, but the old man
stops by my chair.
"Mister Stewart?"
My mouth dries like water in a hot pan. He's in a tweed jacket sagging at the shoulders. His pants are too big. Palpably poor. He presses a
washed-out woolen cap to his belly, the furrows in his fingers akin to the
rough pattern of the knit.
I say, "Thabo Msimang?"
"It is me, sir. I am the son of Mavis. I am sorry I am late."
I can't believe it. He looks twenty years older than me though we
were born in the same year; his skin is drawn tight over high cheekbones, reticulating into wrinkles around swampy eyes. No resemblance
to Mavis, as far as I can tell, but it's been too long.
I stand up. We shake hands in the loose, triple-grip African style: first
normal, then up, then down again. He cups our fists with his other hand.
His skin is dry and cool. We stand, holding hands. His collar and the
edges of his old tweed jacket are frayed. I feel over-starched and new in
my orange Polo shirt. Like peacock and pigeon. At least I didn't wear my
"It's good to see you, Thabo," I say, sliding my hand out of his, projecting my best smile. "How are you?"
"I am well, thank you, sir," he says. I'm glad he's stopped calling me
But it's awkward.
We stand a moment longer.
The daughter has gone and the men next to us stop talking. I feel their
gaze. The whole shop looks. A black and a white shaking hands and saying hello like old friends. Except it must be obvious we're not.
I point to a chair. "Please. Sit down. I'm starving. How about some
fish 'n' chips?"
He says yes and thanks me and tucks himself into the chair, straight
up against the backrest, as if he's afraid he'll slip off. I walk to the counter, relieved by the moment's reprieve. I'd expected a man in his prime.
The letter I'd received from him had been carefully written on clean
blue paper, postmark Thabazimbi. He'd written that he was sorry it took
him so long to respond, but that he'd heard I was looking for him. He'd
given today's date, the time and place. He had no number to reach me at
and had given none for me to confirm. He must have started out before
sunrise to get here in time.
I order the fish and chip combo for him, but just the fries for me. I
wait at the counter while the other daughter assembles the food. She
brings her head up from time to time as she folds the meals into white
paper and looks at me. I take the food, step along, pull cash from my
59 shirt pocket and hand it to the mother. She also gives me a funny look.
Maybe it's all in my head. I stuff five rand in the tip jar without thinking.
Too late. Five rand is the price of a whole other meal.
Thabo is ravenous. He eats quickly, breaking off pieces of battered
fish while still chewing. I find it hard to eat.
"It's been a long time, Thabo," I say after several minutes. His fish is
almost gone.
"Yes sir," he says, nodding, points of brightness in his eyes.
"I want to thank you for your letter and for meeting me today. I've
been trying to find you for some time." Thabo continues nodding while
he eats. Looking for him sure was easier than this. I want to tell him, but
I'm not sure how. I have no idea why I did it. I was only ten.
Mavis and my mother had stood by the buffet in the dining room.
Mother in her tennis kit, Mavis in her uniform, both outfits white with
pink trim. My mother had one hand on her hip and the other, when she
wasn't wagging her finger, poised on the polished counter, staking her
claim. Mavis had held both hands to her face. She'd looked at my mother through her fingers, shaking her head. "I've been working for you
ten years, madam," Mavis had said. "Why would I steal now?" She'd
looked at me over Mom's shoulder where I was standing in the hallway
watching everything. She kept looking at me as tears stained her cheeks
blacker. I ran into my room and shut the door and laughed. I sat on
my bed and hugged myself and put my fingers to my face. I mimicked
her boo-hoos and the adrenalin burnt through me. I still feel the path it
It started with the freeing of Mandela because we whites generally
began crawling out of our shells. Suddenly, it was hard to find someone
who had outright supported apartheid. Suddenly everyone had always
been for some measure of change. We all tried to roll with it. I was the
same. The rally made me "remember" Mavis and Thabo because as the
game and the score changed it made sense to wonder whom one knew
on the other team. First I tried to find them through Thabo's preschool
records, which my parents had paid for, but it turned out Mavis had given our address as her home. So I enlisted Sophina, the maid who works
for me now. She'd started coming in to help after the divorce. I asked
her what I might do to find a black man and his mother whom I'd lost. I
told her some of the story. I was surprised she didn't think it strange, as
if I was asking her to clean the cupboard under the sink. She spread the
word at the township churches and post office. She made a big deal out
of it.
"Thabo, the reason I wanted to see you is because we grew up together, as you know. We used to play with my toy cars in the garden.
Mavis...your mother...she looked after us both like sons."
60 "Yes. I remember, Mister Stew..."
"Look," I interrupt. "Call me Derek, okay? Please."
He looks away.
I shift in my seat.
Perhaps he's never been on first name terms with a white. Perhaps
I've insulted him by using his? I don't know.
"So yes, I wanted to find out how you are and I want to know about
your mother. I have very good memories of her, Thabo. It's a long story.
For many years I didn't think about her but that changed when things
changed, you know? When President Mandela was released I was there.
Everything came back. And other things have happened."
Thabo nods, his expression flat.
It's most comfortable when I'm talking, although the words have to
shove and push to get through my throat. I tell him how I thought I'd
seen Mavis that day in Cape Town. How I'd noticed a woman overcome
by emotion. How friends had stood around her, struggling to keep her
on her feet while she wailed and sobbed. How, when she did sag to the
ground, her arms flopped at her sides and she sat there, staring into
space. That passing hands touched her on her shoulders and voices consoled her. How, when she moved her head, her eyes trailed. How she'd
brought her hands to her face and stared through her splayed fingers just
like Mavis. That I'd gone up and asked and she hadn't answered, but
one of her companions had said no, she was not.
"Thabo, it was me who stole that money. I got your mother fired."
His eyes are steady, backlit perhaps by anger, maybe pain. He looks
to one side. A breeze slinks in, lifting an edge of the oil-stained paper his
meal was wrapped in. He moves his hand to hold it down.
We sit.
I bow my head.
So I've told him, but it feels as if the lie is fresh. As if I'd done it this
very morning and am still doing it. As if Mavis had just now walked out
the door. Just like Alice and Johan.
Thabo takes a deliberate breath and commands my eyes. He purses
his mouth and clasps his hands in front of him. He says, "Mister Derek.
I am sorry you did not have a chance to tell my mother. She died long
before Madiba was released. In Thabazimbi. If you like, I will take you
to her grave."
The northern suburbs of the city are behind us. We've been driving
for about an hour. The Magaliesberg roll by in sets like waves, valleys
troughing ancient ridges, the straight road rolling up and down. We pass
wide pastured farms with neat greenhouses and fields of parading roses.
There are few people, black or white, and everything seems in its place.
61 My BMW scours the tar, the only sound from the aircon as it pushes cold
into the cab.
Thabo accepted my condolences with grace. I'd never considered
that Mavis might have passed away. Too late.
I tell him more about me. I talk about Alice and Johan, who is now
just a few years older than when Thabo and I last met. I tell him I don't
see him much. I talk about my business and that if it wasn't for Sophina's
efforts, we wouldn't be here today.
"What happened to you after you left?" I ask.
"It is a long time ago."
"But you remember?"
"Yes, Mister Derek, I remember. It is hard to say. For many years I
haven't thought about those times. They were not easy years."
"I'm sorry, Thabo."
"Yes, sir. It is all right."
We come up fast behind a bus belching blue smoke. I press the air-
recycle button. Children press their faces to the rear window, bags and
furniture strapped to its roof, a crate of scruffy chickens tethered to the
rails. From the low vantage of the Beamer the rear and front axles are
both visible because the chassis is bent from constant overloading, like
a giant crab crawling along the road. I edge out of our lane and gun the
motor and we surge past. I glance up at women and children stuffed into
their seats.
"I don't know what to say, Thabo. Maybe there's some way I can
make amends, you know?"
Thabo looks at me. I feel his gaze. I sense hope, or anticipate it, but
when I glance at him he's not happy about what I've said.
"Please do not think what you did was the worst thing that happened
to us, Mister Derek. Even now that apartheid is over, we are still poor
and bad things still happen. But we are a big family. Sometimes good
comes our way and we make do, with and for each other. It would make
me happy if you paid your respects to my mother. She talked of you
often as I grew up, even as she gave me this jacket that your father wore.
It is between you and her. Perhaps just between you and you. Maybe
she will give you the answer you are looking for, or you will find it some
other way."
I flush deeply. Snubbed. I grip the steering wheel and slow the car
to a crawl as we come to a four-way stop. A handful of boys play soccer in the sand on the verge of the road, their ball made of plastic bags
scrunched together and taped. They bounce it on their knees and chests
and heads and the crooks of their feet but they stop playing as we pull
up. They'll ask for money for their team. A proud little ambassador is
already approaching. Perhaps if Thabo wasn't here I would buy my pas-
62 sage from them. Then again, if Thabo wasn't here why would I be? I pull
It was not the worst thing. What you did.
Well I wish it was! Goddamn. I am here now. I've owned up. But for
what? An indignation? Just a bump for them? It's embarrassing. Or I'm
confused. And it makes me angry. What does he know about my life?
What does he know about how I feel? What I'm capable of?
I look at him. He's focused on the road.
Winding footpaths furrowed into bare ground crisscross dusty expanses on either side. Goats tear out what grass exists by the roots. Mud
huts and dilapidated brick houses dot the distance underneath a haze of
smoke hanging low in the sky. There are no trees. Just stumps. Harried
dogs lope and sniff in ditches, nosing trash blown up against sagging
strands of barbwire strung between the remnant posts of a fence. I'm
surprised the wire hasn't been stolen along with everything else.
I breathe and drive.
I've been told to breathe when the anger comes.
Ahead, a fat woman turns and looks back in our direction. She wears
skirts of seeping colours splashed about her legs and a regal headdress
wound high and tight, her baby blanket strapped against her back. One
arm behind her tucks the child, the other, in front, supports her lolling
Thabo sits up. He points and says, "Haul That's my sister, Lerato.
She's walking home."
I pull over and open the window. She looks in, sees Thabo, and greets
him in Sesotho: "Dumela aubuti,"—hello older brother—and he answers
in kind. They confer briefly and she curtsies in my direction. "Dumela
morena," she says, although she doesn't meet my eyes. I say hello and tell
Thabo to invite her in. She cups her hands and claps softly a number of
times, a deep hollow sound. "Dankie, my baas," she says in Afrikaans and
with one motion unhinges the blanket around her middle and swings the
baby by its arm to her chest. She opens the back door and climbs in. I
catch her looking at me in the mirror. She grins and looks down.
"You are Lerato, Thabo's sister?" I say.
uJa baas," she says.
They confer again in Sesotho, Lerato clapping her hands twice
"She thanks you for stopping, Mister Derek," Thabo says. "She has
been walking all day from a friend's house where she was visiting to introduce her new child and to charge her cellphone. She is happy that we
came along. Thank you. I'm very happy that you stopped."
At that moment I think I recognize him for the first time: the way he
tucks his chin in when he smiles and scrunches his eyes. Mavis did the
63 same. It's tempting to believe she never thought of me, that she didn't
care about the little white boy she looked after. It's convenient to think
she hated me because it makes it seem okay that I got her fired. I am
humbled, in my fast car, to be here with this poor man, his sister and her
The baby suckles. It slurps and smacks, breathing through its nose.
"What's its name?" I ask Thabo, fighting the tremble in my voice.
"Her name is Ramakeele. It means, She Came By Surprise."
We laugh and the relief of it clears my head. I look out over the countryside. People hold hands and talk. I catch the glint of a smile here and
there as we flash by. A woman gesticulates across the road to another
who's sweeping in front of her hut with a straw broom. Up ahead, a
drunk man tries to walk. He swings a hand and the bottle in it, flaying the
air, trying to check his rubber legs. With the other he points prophet-like
at people around him. Some laugh and shoo him off, others shake their
heads and look away. A boy begins to run alongside the car holding out
a tin can, the promise of commerce abeam on his face. He wants me to
buy his worms.
"Mister Derek!" Thabo says. "We must turn left here."
I brake gently so as not to endanger Ramakeele still feeding in the
back. The tires crunch onto the gravel and I see the deeply rutted dirt
road winding into the bush.
"Eish! This is a good car, Mister Derek," Thabo says, grimacing. "I
hope this road will not hurt it underneath." As he says this I misjudge
and dirt grapples the low-slung undercarriage.
"It doesn't matter, Thabo. It's just a car," I say. The tires find traction
and I ease the vehicle forward.
"I am worried it gets worse," Thabo says. He grips the passenger door
armrest and "brakes" with his feet. "This is a good car," he says again.
The summer sun is past its zenith. I lower the visor and peer intently
at the road. The Beamer jostles and heaves and I look at Lerato in the
rear-view mirror. "Hold on to your baby," I say.
She returns my look and then her eyes widen and her jaw drops.
She screams, pointing to the road.
I slam the brakes.
A man and gun.
Dust wells and drifts up all around us, obscuring the figure, as if he
were floating, like a ghost.
No one says a word.
Dust shifts, the Beamer idles like a dog at heel, the child sniffles. Thabo breathes, my hands on the wheel, the thumping in my chest.
Another man at my window. Another gun.
My foot is welded to the brake.
64 He shouts and waves the weapon. I don't know what to do.
My leg shakes.
A window bursts.
Doors open.
I'm yanked out by the collar and dragged to the ground on my back.
Sky and trees and boots and screams.
Cold metal rests against my forehead. I close my eyes.
"Oh God!" I mumble. "OhJesus!"
A boot comes down on my chest. Hands grope my pockets. I open
my eyes at the infernal face above me, twisted and mean.
I focus on its chin. It is a moment for respect.
"Where's your wallet?" the face says and the pressure mounts. Gun
and boot; oil and leather.
"Cubbyhole!" I blurt.
The face turns and talks. I swivel my head to look under the car,
Thabo on the other side, face to one side also.
More feet. Laughing and jeers.
Lerato screams.
Thabo shouts and struggles, lifting his body off the ground against
all restraint. The gun comes down in his face and he lies still. There is
blood. Our eyes meet and I recognize his surprise. The outrage. His fear.
I've seen it before, much closer to home.
Doors slam.
The engine roars and tires spin.
Fumes sting my eyes and nose and I roll away and suck up coughing
swirls of dust. Everything is blonde.
Who can say the place they're buried is more beautiful than the place
they lived? A green hillside under msasa trees and the setting sun, long
shadows of birds and clouds sweeping the earth, wafts of wild lavender
adrift on the evening air. The grass sponges beneath my feet. A mound
and small rock mark the grave. A far cry from her room in my parents'
Thabo stands next to me with his head bowed and eyes closed. His
expression is gaunt and drawn, offset by the obscene swelling on his lip.
He seems at peace.
"It's a good place to rest," I say when he lifts his head.
He takes time to answer, keeping his eyes on the grave.
"All my ancestors are here, Derek. My mother buried my afterbirth
over there." He points to an adjacent hill. "It is traditional to be buried
near the place of birth so that family has access. One day I will lie here
too." His eyes are hooded, but he stands straight and bows his head
65 I turn quietly and look down at the village in the valley. Most of the
dwellings are simple huts: circles of sticks planted in the ground with
mud caked into the gaps between them. Their thatch roofs are their main
feature: straw strung tightly into bushels, layer upon layer, much thicker
than the walls, until they're waterproof. Like hats of gold, they reflect the
After the carjacking we walked. No car, no phones, no money. My
loafers had cut into my ankles, so I removed them and went barefoot
in the warm dirt. Thabo had been mortified, looking at my pale white
feet in the sand. "Your car," he'd kept saying. "Those tsotsis! It's the first
time they've struck in daylight." He was more upset than me. "I'm sorry,
Derek. If I had not invited you this would not have happened. I did not
think of tsotsis. Now you are stranded here."
"Oh crap, Thabo," I said, laughing. "I'm the one who's sorry and if
you could make it to Johannesburg, so can I. We could've been killed
because of that stupid car. Or worse! It's not your fault. I'm the one who
started this."
He wasn't easily convinced and his injury notwithstanding we had
talked a great deal as we walked. The tsotsis apparently had been a problem for years; a gang preying on whomever they could find, mostly the
local poor. The police, Thabo said, were useless: outgunned, outnumbered, unmotivated and probably paid off.
He told me about his teaching in the village: the lack of funds, the
broken building just a large hut with holes for windows to let in light. He
talked of sickness and the problem of water, how the wells were running
dry without rain and the mielies and marog dying in the fields.
I'd wanted to say that I would build him a school. That in this new
nation there ought to be solutions to these problems, but I'd held my
tongue. I would make no promises. Too akin to lies.
Instead, I told him about Johan. I told him everything. How angry I'd
been, and then how ashamed. That for the years passed since I'd assaulted my son, for all the contrition and shame, the carjacking had made me
realize, for the first time, the nature of what I'd done. I told Thabo how
I'd dragged Johan to his room and ransacked the place while he stood
there and smiled. How I'd removed my belt and given him the first
whipping he'd ever received and that the more I'd hit him the more he'd
denied the charges, stemming from his incessant fibs. That eventually,
when the lashing was well advanced, he'd cursed me and told me what a
moron I was. How I'd dropped the belt, dug my hand into his shoulder
and spun him round, daring him to say it again. That he did, with gusto
and embellishment, and that I punched him in the face for it. How the
power had flowed hot through me, tearing up the familiar course, and
how I'd punched him again. That Alice had stormed in to see the belt
66 on the floor and the blood coming from her son and me sweating like a
Thabo listened without sign of what he thought or felt and we'd walked
and taken turns carrying Ramakeele. I'd put my shoes back on and in
time the smoke of wood fires in the village had greeted us. No electric
gate, no splendid garden or any house I'd owned, had ever seemed as
warm. Wives and sisters, uncles and children had come out. They'd ministered to his wound. They'd made us tea.
Then the two of us walked up to the grave along a footpath winding
through the scrub. He'd said: "So, Derek. Your looking for us really had
little to do with Mandela. It was losing your family, wasn't it? Perhaps
you hoped if they could not forgive you, we would. You are scared of
who Johan will be. Like you. Of who you are already. There is a poem:
'The Child is Father of the man...'." He'd looked at me and smiled and,
at first, a head of denial clamored in my throat.
I'd be lying again if I said that being home in my own place wouldn't
be great. To get my car, my wallet and watch back, even. I'd be a downright liar if I said everything was fine, that I feel comfortable here, that
I'm not in the least bit worried about the bus ride back. That this new
country is easier than the old. That I beat my son for the lies he told.
What about my ancestors, about whom, past my grandfathers, I know
nothing? Where are they buried? What sewer flushed their afterbirths
into the sea, resetting my lineage, and Johan's, to zero? Is it this, about
my father, that I cannot forgive? Is there some other reason I don't think
of him?
I tarn around again. Thabo is still praying. I kneel by the simple headstone and place my hand on its smoothness, soaking up its warmth. I
close my eyes and speak to Mavis. I tell her it's been too long but that
I am glad the day has come. That although the route of my journey has
been wayward and the reasons for it convoluted, that at the very least,
it has begun. I tell her I am less afraid, especially of what's close. I feel
more control; a better belly for what lies ahead. I tell her that when Johan is older, I hope to bring him here, if he agrees. That at the very least,
he'll know of her and Thabo. He'll know more of me.
The sun inches lower and the earth moistens my knees. I look up.
Thabo sings softly in words I cannot understand. The village throbs in
dulcet light. The world out there begins to feel more like the world within. Or the other way around.
I've never liked to cry but Mavis tells me there's always time. There
is always time to make it real.
67 Stephanie Yorke
St. Margaret's Square
crowned with swingsets, inlaid with a pool.
Every third day, you wiggle into
your puddle shoes, and ride the bus
with a bag of sandwich crusts.
The delight of your old age
(since the death of your responsible spouse)
has been eating
to the perimeter of honey or jam
and no further, saving that
for the fowl.
Crusts float like cork.
The ducks, with their trowel beaks,
dig in ferociously,
wringing food through their throats.
But the swan,
is choking at the moment.
Your crust fits like a tampon.
Her spit glands buckle. Also her wings.
Black, her feet rake the water,
as a tickled child might kick.
Her neck is an "S," then a cold "I,"
long and bristling.
You pass the bread bag, fist to fist.
On the swingsets, the assembled crows
caw, caw.
68 Nadine Mclnnis
Entertainment: lunatic's ball
A caged bird, a wild party of one.
Yellow feathers curl at his neck
like masquerade finery, his piping voice
sings only for himself.
He dances frenetically from bar to bar
tempting me to be a small part of such abandon
but when he is mine, he goes mad.
The pet store owner has never heard of such a thing,
but will honour his singing guarantee
if I wish: guaranteed
to sing for thirty days, for twenty-one the canary
is demented with song, stuck
in mania, trilling day and night—
even in the covered cage—before he
pulls out all his fancy feathers and falls
silent, the intricate songs forgotten.
Voiceless, he paces the bar,
flight abandoned, scaled feet clicking as he
follows his shadow on the wall, back
and forth, focusing on the enemy, on himself.
Is it premonition, compassion
or morbid fascination that keeps him here,
in my home, and not banished
as all things are that do not live up
to promises made by someone else?
I know what will happen. No asylum
for deranged birds on this earth.
69 Even in a safe white cage with a view
to the garden, the worst occurs:
the bird hunches at the cage bottom
eating seeds off cut newspaper,
pecking at details of domestic violence,
one hard bitter seed, then another,
mocks—enjoys walks in the country,
tick, tick—no skid marks in hit-and-run
—after a long courageous battle with—
the usual shame-free diseases, tick, tick
—blow out sale—tick, tick—summer
madness—yesterday's bad weather
swirling around him—thunderstorms—
tick, tick—risk of hail, high gusts, funnel
clouds. A relief
when he won't drink and falls
curled and reptilian with long claws,
scaled feet, reversing his evolution.
Reduced to fixed bones, feathers,
and spent primitive rage,
a stone fossil broken open
like an egg at the bottom of the cage.
70 Maureen Hynes
The Falls
The wrought iron railing, unmistakable, and beyond it,
the bleached-out bite the rushing water is still
taking out of the mid-continental ledge.
In her three-quarters turn away from the camera, the woman
faces downriver, looks past the Falls. She folds her shoulders in,
her solid frame in a thin, three-tiered
cotton dress, covered buttons down her back,
her elegant Cuban heels
and the plain felt hat. Almost a cowering,
a pulling in, yet she holds her face steady
against the spray.
71 Tracy Hamon
Spitting Images
It starts like this: sunshine and walking
with my head down. There is concrete
and uncertainty in December, the season's
first cough clearing. The design of the sun,
small, the way it stretches and taps
each arm, each hand in static intervals.
Ice and snow lie confused
on the sidewalk, winter's shelter shelled.
My feet need my eyes to stay steady.
Beside me walks another me, a shadowy path
slightly ahead of myself. Looking down,
I am always trying to catch up.*
*From here
it is clear what
I see: two
pennies, the brown
glass of a crushed
bottle, a red plastic
lid shattered
and a pink condom,
opened, used,
its position
sarcastic, a sign
as the clouds
slide out, pull
over the sun.
When I look up,
the other me
is lost.
72 Susan McCaslin
An Epigram for the Muses
They initiate the conversation
but seldom help you finish
The staying power
and signature
are yours
Sly aunts,
slightly wicked
hobo goddesses of lost things
from memory's scrap pile,
they drop in with a word of advice
then disappear
like mice
73 Ann Graham Walker
Another Uneasy Spring
All that uneasy spring
we worked in our gardens
as soon as the earth was warm
we planted onions and peas
—Bronwen Wallace
The first thing I noticed was the
spaces where people had been—
how our mailboxes stayed empty for weeks
until others learned
what the postmistress knew—
and the medicines you'd bring
to protect us from fever
and the slow realization
all that uneasy spring.
We learned to stop shopping,
to go out in public, drive cars
No more charters to Cancun, quick flights to Toronto.
We bought rubber gloves by the carton—
those light rubber disposable ones
uneasily similar to a party balloon, but with fingers—
until all things disposable ran out.
Our whole adult family moved in with us—
we worked in our gardens.
74 The first winter of knowing I escaped into knitting
somehow calmed by the
knit one
purl one
as the East came unravelled.
The oil shortage brutal in Montreal,
Halifax—freezing death suddenly normal
in bedrooms, in kitchens.
The bodies would be buried
as soon as the Earth was warm.
How everyone waited, at first, for
someone to take charge—
as if anyone knew
what was being asked of us.
We took shelter in memory—
in the growing, the feeding, the burying,
the weeping. We stayed away
from hospitals—perfect
vectors of death.
We planted onions and peas.
75 Contributors
Robert Brazeau is a professor of English and Film Studies at the University
of Alberta, where he teaches Irish Literature and Creative Writing. He lives
in Edmonton with his partner, Teresa, their four year old daughter, Ailsa,
and a dog nobody is sure about.
Deborah Campbell writes for numerous national and international publications on the intersection between people, politics, history and ideas. She is
the author of This Heated Place.
paulo da costa was born in Angola and raised in Portugal. He is a writer,
editor, and translator who makes his home on the West Coast of Canada,
paulo's first book of fiction, The Scent of a Lie, received the 2003 Commonwealth First Book Prize for the Canada-Caribbean Region and the W. O.
Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize. He has recently published the book of
poems notas de rodape (Livros Pe D'Orelha 2005).
Barry Dempster's ninth collection of poetry, The Burning Alphabet (Brick
Books), was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and won the Canadian Authors Association Chalmers Award for Poetry. He lives in Holland
Landing, Ontario.
Mary Flanagan is an artist and writer. Her work has been published or is
forthcoming in Adagio Verse Quarterly, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Ampersand Poetry Journal, and the anthology re:SKIN (MIT Press). She is a
recipient of a Vermont Studio Center residency in poetry.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg-based writer and editor. Recent projects include a collaboration with composer David Raphael Scott called Tranquility
and Order that premiered as a part of WSO's 2006 New Music Festival and
on CBC Radio's Two New Hours. Palimpsest Press will publish a chapbook
of Ariel's poetry in 2007.
Tracy Hamon, resident of Regina, Saskatchewan, is a barber and a poet. Her
first book of poetry, this is not eden, released in April 2005 by Thistledown
Press, was a finalist for two Saskatchewan Book Awards. In May of 2005 she
won the City of Regina Writing Award for a second manuscript of poems.
Joelene Heathcote is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program
at the University of British Columbia, a writer, and a mom. Recent work
has appeared in the anthologies String to Bow: a collection of love poems and
Translit: volume 7. She is currently massaging a new book of poetry and a
collection of short stories.
76 Maureen Hynes won the League of Canadian Poets' Gerald Lampert Award
for her first book of poetry, Rough Skin (Wolsak and Wynn). Her second collection, Harm's Way, was published by Brick Books. She is currently working
on a third book of poems.
Tyrone Jaeger's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southeast Review,
Nimrod, Phantasmagoria, Vanguard (Australia), Descant, South Dakota Review,
and Beloit Fiction Journal. He has a novel and a short story collection currently searching for homes and is working on a novel about political activists
who live in Colorado.
Nuno Jiidice was born in 1949 in Algarve, Portugal. One of the most important contemporary poetic voices in Portuguese literature, he has written
more than forty books of poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and drama. His
poetry has garnered over a dozen prizes and is translated into twelve languages.
Chris Kuhn was born in South Africa and has lived in Austria, Zimbabwe,
and Japan. He resides in New York City and is working toward an MFA in
fiction at Columbia University. He has previously been published in South
Dakota Review.
Michael Lista was born and raised in Mississauga, Ontario and now lives
in Montreal's Mile End. His poetry appeared in PRISM 44:4. In 2006, he
was shortlisted for ARC Magazine's Poem of the Year Award. A current
participant in the Wired Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts, he
is working on his first collection of poetry.
Susan McCaslin is a poet and Instructor of English at Douglas College in
New Westminster, BC who has authored ten volumes of poetry and seven
chapbooks. Susan is the editor of the anthologies A Matter of Spirit: Recovery
of the Sacred in Contemporary Canadian Poetry (Ekstasis Editions, 1998) and Poetry and Spiritual Practice: Selections from Contemporary Canadian Poets (The St.
Thomas Poetry Series, 2002). Website:
Nadine Mclnnis is the author of six books of poetry, literary criticism and
short fiction. She has previously won a CBC Literary Award, the Ottawa
Book Award, and the National Poetry Contest. This poem is from Two Hemispheres, forthcoming from Brick Books in 2007.
Natalie Onuska is a Toronto based writer and photographer. Her work
has appeared or is forthcoming in Descant, The Danforth Review, Prairie Fire,
and Room of One's Own. She is currently writing her first novel, The Space
77 Daniel Priest, a native of West Texas, lives for the time being on Vancouver
Island. His poetry has recently been included in the journals Borderlands:
Texas Poetry Review and Red River Review, and his chapbook Dead Man was
published this year by Rather Small Press.
Stan Rogal was born and raised in Vancouver and now resides in Toronto.
He is the author of two novels, three story and nine poetry collections, with
a new novel to appear in Fall 2007 with Pedlar Press. As a playwright, he
has had work produced across Canada. This poem comes from a recently
completed collection titled, The Celebrity Rag OPUS.
Heather Sellers is the author of Georgia Under Water (a collection of short
stories), several books on the craft of writing, and two volumes of poetry.
A third collection of poetry is forthcoming from New Issues Press. She is a
professor of English. Website:
Knute Skinner has retired from his position at Western Washington University and now lives year round in County Clare, Ireland. His most recent
full-length collection is Stretches, from Salmon Publishing. His collection The
Other Shoe won the 2004-2005 Pavement Saw Chapbook Award.
Patrick Tobin's stories and essays have appeared in many journals, including Agni, Grain, Florida Review, and Kenyon Review. He wrote the award-winning film No Easy Way; he nearly ran over Tom Cruise's dog; his stepfather
and stepsister are from Alberta; he lives in Long Beach, California with his
Ann Graham Walker is a freelance journalist, and former CBC radio producer. Her poetry has been published in Voices Down East, Gaspereau Review, Windfire Anthology and Leaf Press's Monday's Poem series. She is
currently a graduate student in Goddard College's MFA/Creative Writing
program, working on her novel about growing up in Argentina: The Girl in
the Garden.
Stephanie Yorke is an undergraduate English/Creative Writing student at
the University of New Brunswick. Her poetry has been featured in QWERTY
and The Fiddlehead, and her short plays have appeared in the NotaBle Acts
theatre festival.
78 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 & TV Play,
Radio Play, Writing for Children, Non-
fiction, Translation, and Song Lyrics &
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Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Brian Brett,
Catherine Bush, Zsuzsi Gartner,
Gary Geddes, Terry Glavin,
i tt jJ
Wayne Grady Sara Graefe,
Peter Levitt, and Susan Musgrave.
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Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Nonfiction
I can't remember now exactly what I wrote in the letter I'd sent
my dad for his birthday, the one where I forgave him. I'm sure
I'd been sanctimonious: it's easy to forgive when you have an
absolute moral superiority over the forgiven.
— from "Reunion" by Patrick Tobin, Page 15
Robert Brazeau
paulo da costa
Barry Dempster
Mary Flanagan
Ariel Gordon
Tracy Hamon
Joelene Heathcote
Maureen Hynes
Tyrone Jaeger
Nuno Judice
Chris Kuhn
Michael Lista
Susan McCaslin
Nadine Mclnnis
Daniel Priest
Stan Rogal
Heather Sellers
Knute Skinner
Patrick Tobin
Ann Graham Walker
Stephanie Yorke
PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Judge's Essay: Deborah Campbell
Cover Art:
"La Reinadel Mar"
by Natalie Onuska
73DDb " fiL3hl '


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