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 PRISM international
Fall 2008
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international
2008 Earle Birney Prize for Poetry
$500 was awarded to
Eleonore Schonmaier
for her poem
"Migrations"
which appeared in PRISM 46:1
becial thanks to Wailan Low whose generous support keeps this PRISM poetry prize available.  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Michelle Miller
Poetry Editor
Crystal Sikma
Executive Editors
Krista Eide
Kristjanna Grimmelt
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregehov
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Ian Bullock
Linsay Cuff
Dina Del Bucchia
Elena Johnson
Alex Leslie
Erin Vandenberg
Sonia Zagwyn PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY. The
magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
Email: prism@interchange.ubc.ca   / Website: www.prismmagazine.ca
Contents Copyright ® 2008 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Art: Llermana and her Sister by Kathryn Jankowski.
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U.S. and international subscribers, please pay in U.S. dollars. Please
note that U.S. POSTAL mone}^ orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable
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Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American
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per page. All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address.
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Translations should be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original
language. The advisory editor is not responsible for individual selections,
but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality and
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For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
contact our executive editors. PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists
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from such exchanges.
Our gratitude to Dean 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. September 2008. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH COLUMBIA      &*     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL GC>   f°r the Arts du Canada
Canada Contents
Volume 47, Number 1
Fall 2008
Fiction
Josh Weil
The Last Thing You Need /  13
Tanis Rideout
from Above All Things / 35
Shawn Syms
On The Line / 54
Illustrations
Kathryn Jankowski
Two Man Band /  12
Girls / 34
Crowd on Queen Street / 52
Noodle Party  /  71
Nonfiction
Andrea MacPherson
Walking the Peace Wall / 65
Poetry
Leigh Kotsilidis
Diagnoses / 7
Baziju
Acrobats (Shanghai 1990) / 8
Songshu /  10 Aaron Giovannone
Lynn Saw a Ghost / 29
The Cookie Bags / 30
Jim Johnstone
from Abbatoir Ghazals / 31
Jennica Harper
Liner Notes / 40
Susan Ingersoll
Labour Day / 53
Gabe Foreman
Innocent Bystanders / 63
Tough Cookies / 64
Tom Wayman
The Gift of Misalignment / 70
Contributors / 72 Leigh Kotsilidis
Diagnoses
You say the road ahead
is marrow.
On the horizon
birds fall apart. Clouds
are a cluster of brain—
nebulous, cumulonimbus.
I say, then, let it rain
let it.
You say, but what comes after?
I say, somewhere at the edge of this
a creek catches. Night
scrapes by on its poles. Swans
launch into flocks of bicycles. Wolves
bang at the moon. Insects' shells
crumble—
You say, the end-all and be-all.
I say, one of us is not normal. Baziju
Acrobats (Shanghai 1990)
The couple from Chicago are Christians (so they inform us at the first,
unlikely, moment) and are on their honeymoon. Asked "Why Shanghai?"
they explain they prayed to God, and this is where He sent them.
Shanghai is a city of thirteen million people, eight million bicycles,
numerous factories, and an uncountable number of mosquitoes. At night
the floor attendant comes with an old-fashioned hand-pump filled with
perfumed insecticide to spray the curtains of our room. During the day,
the sky registers the browns and yellow-browns of airborne soots and
catalytic toxins, nitrous oxides, low ominous smokes that hover over the
"ancient waterways," modern streets, and what I suppose must be the
blocks referred to in the Western media as grey, Stalinist architecture
(though they resemble, in essence, blocks of similar form and function
all across America). The water in the ditches, sometimes, runs with dye.
People from Shanghai are quick to say to visitors, when complimented
on the energy of the city, "but the air's not too good" or "yes, but the
water's awful." As for the "toiling masses" expected by many first-time
visitors, in fact the people are by and large extremely friendly, clean,
neatly dressed, and apparently quite happy, happier than one would
think a similar crowd in Europe, or North America.
Still, unhappiness is unhappiness. The couple from Chicago attend
services at Shanghai's single visible cathedral, placed high up in a
separate, balcony section with an interpreter while the locals crowd the
ground floor, overflow the room, and spill over into several adjacent
rooms where the sermon is broadcast over loudspeakers. The couple
from Chicago notes the attentiveness of the crowd and is much impressed
by both their own treatment and the threatening (admonitional?) nature
of the sermon, as they understand it, in translation.
Although it is their honeymoon, the new-born husband is quick to
expound on how the love of God is the only important love. Everything
else is secondary, he says. This probably does not bode well for their
future life together.
8     PRISM 47:1 And it is true, they do not appear that happy here. Thinking of God,
I think of childhood, and endless floating-dreams. Of being able to do
impossible things. Maybe this is because of the acrobats. The stage is
harshly lit and up there they spin, balance, juggle, fly through the air
and amaze us. Perhaps these too are gods, if of a minor sort. But tutelary
gods, so light and agile it seems they never need to touch the ground—
or needing to, if momentarily, are nonetheless immune to its trials and
sorrows. Songshu
A few summers ago we were staying in a second-storey room in a long,
low, sixties-style building among other buildings of a similar vintage, most
of them sorority or fraternity houses, not far from the university gates.
The singing and laughing and drinking sessions would begin around
midnight and come to their natural end just before dawn. Because of all
the noise and shouting it was hard to sleep, and because I'd just hurt my
back and it was difficult to move around, I'd often spend the afternoon
lying down gazing out the window, or else turning the pages of some
book.
The room contained a desk, two armchairs, a small kitchen table and
chairs, two bedside tables and a bed. By day I thought of the bed as
a daybed, and lay there looking out at the deepening green and gold
of the pines. Around two or three p.m. a cloud of white moths would
appear, spiraling among the boughs, and from time to time, bushy tail
held straight back, a squirrel would materialize, lolloping across a twist
of phone line, or hanging briefly upside down from a bough, face in the
pine needles, eating something small and delicious.
"Songshu in the songshu," remarked a young friend some months later.
"Pine mice in the pine trees." By then we were back home in Toronto,
and our young friend, on loan to us from his home city of Wuhan, was
standing in the dining room looking at an old print on the wall, of some
Chinese squirrels among the Chinese pines. Once he's finished with his
studies, perhaps he'll go back home, get married, live the kind of life we
can all imagine for him. Or maybe he'll remain among the big cities of
the West, gradually becoming lost to that life which would have been his
had he never set out for this place, where all too many doors, it seems,
are already open to him.
My back, by this time, was much better. The cedar tree out front as well,
which had nearly died in our absence. This according to our neighbour,
who'd watered it, watered it so well, in fact, that by now it's grown higher
than our house, and thrust its roots so deeply it carries our house on its
toes. In just this way many a child, placing its feet on an adult's feet, has
been walked across the rooms of a remembered childhood home.
10     PRISM 47:1 The squirrels who spend time on our roof never tire of defending the
house from those of us who live inside it. They leave zippered tracks in
the backyard grass, use the neighbourhood power lines as highways,
and on frigid winter afternoons take their stand on the study windowsill,
unafraid, glaring in at me with a peculiar ire and eating mouthful after
mouthful of snow. Come spring they'll stretch themselves full-length
again along the young cherry boughs, devouring as many buds as
possible before they blossom. And yet of all the harm that is done in
this world, they do so very little of it after all, dropping a bagel half or
not-yet-fully-opened peanut on the way to their outposts in the Manitoba
maples.
I came upon one of these squirrels some weeks ago, during the worst
of the recent heat waves. He lay prostrate on the sill outside the kitchen
window, nearly blind with thirst, his little heart pumping. "Me too," our
glances seemed to say as we looked at one another through the glass, and
since then I can no longer find it in myself to raise my voice when he or
his companions come around.
The Manitoba maples, or Trees of Heaven as they're known locally, are
another story. They sprout amidst all my neighbour's careful plantings,
crowd out even the oaks and wild sumac, and push their way through
the least crack in the concrete steps, where I pull them out by the handful
whenever I come across them.
As for our friend from Wuhan, he went home for the summer, and
hasn't been heard from since.
Squirrels, friends, the Trees of Heaven—in a world as wide as this,
maybe it's okay to navigate by these few stars.
11 Two Man Band
Kathrynjankowski
12     PRISM 47:1 Josh Weil
The Last Thing You Need
No women. No phone calls to women. No conversations about
women. No pictures of women. No music by women, about
women, or for women. No movies directed by women. No movies written by women. No movies starring women. No pornography.
Obviously.
The four of us came up with the Creed a couple years ago in the kitchen of Javier's restaurant while trying not to fuck up the marinara recipe
we got from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian. We were using canned,
crushed tomatoes and Vova was worried about that. Jeff Smith, a.k.a
the Frugal Gourmet, suggested blanched fresh plumb tomatoes with
the skins peeled off. Frugal, my ass. We were hardcore into the Italiano
Authentico stuff, but not that hardcore. Besides, Javier assured everyone that tomatoes picked in Sicily and packed in a can with Tuttorosso
scrawled on it were really more authentic than hydroponic tomatoes
grown in Holland, on the stem or no. Plus, it was only Jeff Smith making
the suggestion, not, say, Paulie Cicero from Goodfellas.
Goodfellas was part of it from the start. One Monday every month,
so late that it's closing in on Tuesday, Javier stays after the restaurant's
cleared out. He takes his paintings off the walls and puts up travel posters
of Italy, lines the marinara ingredients up on the kitchen counter, puts
a block of Stravecchio Parmigano-Reggiano under a white cloth next to
his cheese grater, and brings four bottles of Ruffino Chianti up from the
cellar. Vova buys the cannoli and rolls the cigarettes. I bring the tobacco.
Sean's the only one with a car, so he brings the entertainment system, a
twelve-year-old fake wood-sided TV and a VCR that won't eject unless
you tip it upside down. We keep a copy of Goodfellas at the restaurant.
When we all get there, we go into the kitchen and make the marinara.
Javier gives out the orders. I'm in charge of chopping things—I'm very
particular about the garlic, slice it so thin it melts when it hits the pan.
As Henry says in Goodfellas, it's a very good way to do it. Vova's job is
to stand there and smoke and comment on the proceedings. Sean's in
charge of opening cans. That way he doesn't have to use a knife, though
it's been a long time since we found him in the bathtub or collapsed on
the tiles beneath the sink.
We watch Goodfellas while we eat. Every time. Once a month, for two
13 years now. There's nothing but slurping sounds, a fork scraping a plate,
Jimmy The Gent grinning over that suitcase full of four-hundred-and-
twenty-thousand bucks saying, "It's gonna be a good summer."
Afterwards, we talk. When you can't talk about women, you realize
how much you usually do. The best conversations, the ones when you
see right through each others' eyes, when waiters clear plates and music
stops and you don't notice any of it; usually we get there by talking about
women, or with women, or with friends who we wish were women. Maybe women get there by talking about men. I can't say. What I can say is
that on Goodfellas Nights, when we can't talk about women, we get there
anyway.
Sure, an hour after he leaves Vova is obsessing about the latest woman
not in his life. Javier drifts back into the world of women friends and
female idols in which he's most comfortable. Sean goes back to his wife.
I hole up in my darkroom, do a lot of printing, try not to think about the
stuff I try not to think about. But no matter how the world of women tries
to shape us, and does, we always know that Goodfellas Night is less than
a month away. Or we did.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw the restaurant. All the
other windows and doors along Smith Street were locked behind corrugated steel and I could see Dish lit up still two blocks away. All the
tablecloths were gone: just chipped, ugly, wood tops and Javier flipping
chairs onto them, twitching his hips, an inch away from full-out salsa.
Back in art school, he used to blast Celia Cruz, dancing in front of the
canvas like the easel had a pelvis.
He didn't see me, but Vova did. I caught the glint off his glasses and
bald head as he glanced up. He was standing over by the bar, leaning.
He leans even if there isn't anything to lean against. His body just has
this slouch to it. The only time he doesn't lean is when he's mad or
scared. Then he looks as if all the muscles of his back are about to tear
with the effort of standing straight.
I waved to him. He looked away, pushed off the counter, and headed
into the dining room. Any other night, it probably wouldn't have bothered me. But I'd been over at Sam's Steaks and Chops drinking wine
and eating olives at the bar for an hour. I hadn't been to Sam's in two
years and I should have waited another two. Sam's is one big memory
factory.
Up on Atlantic Avenue trucks banged. A cold breeze rattled trash in
the gutters. The air smelled like the Gowanus Canal. December. Brooklyn. Two words that didn't used to hurt.
The mirror hanging inside Dish's entrance way is big as a door. You
can't not look at it. Every night, between one and four it seems half the
14     PRISM 47:1 drag queens in Brooklyn pass by the restaurant and all of them stop to
gaze. They pat wigs into place, rearrange breasts, tug short skirts over
muscled thighs. Me, I just wanted to see if the wine was showing in my
face. I figured if they asked I could say it was just the cold.
At my knock, Javier looked up and grinned with his meaty lips which
are too big for his face which is too big for his head which is too big for
his body. Javier's one of those ugly guys women can't get enough of.
They're always digging their fingers in his buffalo-pelt hair and getting
lost in what they call his "velvety black" eyes as if even his eyebrows
couldn't distract them. As if they like his eyebrows. Javier's got some
bushy, Neanderthal-looking eyebrows. A scar twists his mouth. For some
reason women think that's "cruelly sexy." They don't even think his
mustache looks stupid. Unfortunately for Javier, somebody, somewhere,
fucked up and made him gay.
He yanked open the door and pulled me into a hug. Our last year at
Cooper Union we shared this one bedroom fifth-floor walk-up on Avenue C, all four of us sleeping on the kitchen/dining room floor since
the bedroom was a communal studio. When you're cramped together
like that you either get to hate the shit out of each other, or you become
really tight. For years after graduation, we got together pretty regularly,
but it wasn't until we were suddenly all bachelors again a couple years
ago that we started Goodfellas Nights.
When Javier let go, I caught him looking at me with concern. "It's the
cold," I said and asked if Sean was there yet. Sean's never there yet. It's
one of those jokes that was once funny but everyone's so used to it being
funny that it's not funny anymore.
"He had to stay home and practice changing diapers," Javier said.
"Donna's pregnant?"
"She might be someday."
I laughed at that, just to let him know everything was okay.
"Let's give him a call," I said.
We'd only been doing Goodfellas Nights for six months when Sean
got married and started showing up late. He was the last one I would
have guessed to do it. Of the four of us, he isn't exactly the most stable.
He met Donna at the Korova Milk Bar on Avenue A. They were both
drinking moloko from those nipple-shaped fountains. Each of them had
a breast. To hear Sean tell it, they looked up, saw each other across the
manikin's chest, and it was love everlasting, or some such bullshit. They
got married the next week. A year and a half later they still can't be apart
for more than a day without going into convulsions. Which, if that's the
goal, I guess is success.
When we got his answering machine, Javier said into the receiver,
"Sean, love, where are you, honey? It's been more than an hour since
15 I've seen you. I'm feeling abandoned. Unappreciated."
He was enjoying it. Sean is, Javier says with considerable bitterness,
exactly the kind of guy that gay men drool over. He looks like a beefier,
shorter version of Michelangelo's David, except with longer eyelashes
and blonder hair. Gay men, according to Javier, don't go for buffalo
headed, big-lipped, hairy Mexican Neanderthals. His only consolation is
that women don't go for bulked-up, boyish-looking, shrimpy Davids. As
Javier says in the Mexican hill town accent he still clings to though he's
lived in the States since he was twelve, "In the hospital some sonofabitch
switched our balls."
Now, he blew a kiss into the receiver and went to cash up, doing his
macho watch-my-hips-baby thing that some people think is faggy, but is
really just that thing that Latin men do to show they slid out of the womb
sexed-up on Tito Puente. Of course, in Javier's case it could be just a
faggy walk.
Vova's head jerked up when I entered the dining room. He half nodded and went back to putting up chairs. In the far corner, Javier had
spread out the leopard-print cloth and put up the travel posters but,
still, something felt wrong. A passing car's headlights sliced through the
room, and I realized, suddenly, that there wasn't any smoke in the air.
I stared at Vova. I'd never seen him—never—without a cigarette either
in his mouth or his hand. He looked as out of whack as if his nose was
missing.
I watched him table the chairs, waiting for him to quit whatever silent
thing he was giving me. A long half-minute of nothing but the clack of
wood on wood. When he was one chair from done, I crossed the room
and lifted the last one onto a tabletop. Over the upturned legs, I looked
at Vova not looking at me.
"Wonder when Sean will get here," he said.
No matter how often Sean's late, we always start worrying about him.
He's just the kind of guy you worry about. He does things. Once, welding a sculpture, he got so frustrated that he tried to bend the hot metal
with his bare hands. For two weeks after that, he couldn't close his fingers around anything.
Vova crossed the room and stood by the far windows, his whole body
stiff.
"You look like a man who could use a smoke," I said.
The thing he did with his mouth couldn't be called a smile.
On the other side of the partition, I could hear Javier's calculator spitting out a list. Downstairs, someone flushed the toilet.
"What's going on?" I said.
"With what?"
"With—"
16     PRISM 47:1 "Nothing's going on."
I let that sit, just to show what bullshit it was.
'Javier thought we'd do something different." He tucked his hands in
his armpits. "I mean, we all did."
"We all did what?"
'Javier didn't want to say anything."
'Javier?" I called.
"Yes, CaballeroV he shouted, out of sight behind the bar.
"What something different?" I called to him. "What the hell needs to
be different?"
The cash drawer slammed shut and Javier's footsteps banged around
the bar. He appeared in the dining room, glaring at Vova.
Downstairs, tap water battered the sink.
"Who's downstairs?" I said.
"Listen," Javier said. "It's just a kind of surprise."
"In the bathroom?"
Vova's laugh dropped at his feet like he'd spit out a seed.
"No," Javier said. "Relax."
"I'm relaxed. Talk to Vova."
"Vova's just..."
"Okay," Vova warned.
"Vova's what?" I almost shouted.
Vova pushed himself off the wall. "What do you want to interrogate
me for?" He spread his hands in front of him. "You want to know why
she's downstairs, ask Javier why she's downstairs."
"Sophie?"
"It was his idea to have her cook dinner," Vova said. "Don't interrogate me. He thought it would be special."
Javier got that look in his eyes like he wanted to come over and put
his arms around me. I shoved past him, around the partition, into the
kitchen, flicking the switches, smack, smack, smack, smack. Light exploded over the room. The counter-top was empty. Three pots sat on
the stove and, next to them, a clear bag of pasta lay on a cutting board.
On the butcher's block, plastic yellow shopping bags wilted against each
other. I stood there, looking at them. Cooking the marinara was as much
a part of Goodfellas Night as the movie itself.
"She cooked the whole thing?"
I walked over to the stove. The marinara resembled ours only in that
it was red. The bagged pasta was fresh. Some of it was green and some
of it looked like pasta should look, but it was all linguini. We always used
thin spaghetti because it cooked almost as fast as vermicelli but it was
still spaghetti, which, I realized now, was important. In the oven, four
double-thick pork chops were staying warm.
17 "She got the recipe for the chops from the chef at Sam's," Javier said
from the doorway.
Vova had taken his glasses off and he was opening and shutting the
things that go behind your ears. "You used to like that place so much,"
he said. "I guess we thought, after two years..." He held his glasses still
between his thumbs and forefingers as if they'd suddenly become brittle.
After a second, he said, "I brought the cannoli." The way he started for
the fridge, like he really thought the cannoli could fix it, made me feel
like an asshole for getting so pissed off.
"Hey," I said, trying hard for friendly, "You didn't get someone to roll
the cigarettes, too, did you?"
From the look on his face you would have thought I'd backhanded
him across the nose.
"We should call Sean again," Javier said.
The only time Sean actually never showed up was the night he met
Donna. He told us later that he'd paced back and forth behind Javier's
restaurant for two hours, trying to convince himself to call her and tell
her he didn't want to see her again. He was afraid we'd be mad at him
for going over to the other side. That night, he ended up in the hospital,
getting six stitches for a gash in his lower lip. He never did tell us how it
happened.
I reached into the inside pocket of my jacket and pulled out the package of tobacco. Vova smokes this Russian stuff he can only get at a tobacconist near where I live, so I bring him a packet every month. It smells
like a tunnel fire down a coal mine. It tastes like it smells. Every Goodfellas Night he rolls a bunch of cigarettes and we all suffer through them.
I tossed the packet to Vova as I left the kitchen. He brought it to his
face, closed his eyes, and inhaled. "Jesus," he said. "That smells good."
"It smells like shit," I said, sitting at bar. "Roll some and we'll smoke
it."
Javier joined me, but Vova just stood in the doorway, eyes closed,
inhaling. He carefully peeled the tape off the paper, and opened the
package.
"Oh, man," he said. His hands were shaking.
I grinned at him.
He folded the paper back up, sealed the tape with his thumb. He held
the packet to his chest like a small pet. "Jake," he said, "I quit."
I shifted my weight on the stool.
"I know maybe it screws things up a little..."
"No."
"On this night of all nights, right?" He tried smiling.
"No, that's great. Lil must be happy."
"Yeah," he said, finally sitting. "I wish Sean would get here."
18     PRISM 47:1 I was trying not to glare at Vova. "What made you decide to quit?" I
asked.
He sat there straight as a cleaver. "You know, lung cancer and everything."
"Lung cancer." My laugh came out mean.
"What the hell, Jake," he said. "Why do you have to be such an asshole tonight?"
As soon as he said it, I could see he wished he hadn't.
"Because you won't say anything fucking straight," I said. "Why does
it take me all fucking night to find out you quit smoking?"
"I didn't want to upset you."
"Upset me?"
"Look at you."
"Look at me?"
"Jake,"Javier cut in, "I know it's hard..."
That didn't even warrant a fuck off. "Look at you." I said to Vova.
"You're shaking, you're so nervous."
"You're fucking interrogating me."
"Because you won't tell me anything. Instead you've gotta go fucking
up the night—"
"I'm not fucking up the night."
"Guys—"Javier said.
"Why'd you quit?"
"Guys—"
"Why'd you quit, Vova?"
"Jake—"
"Why'd you fuckin' quit?"
"Because Lil asked me to."
He reached out and slapped the package of tobacco. It slid down the
bar and hit the phone. We sat there, staring at each other.
"Vova," I said. "Lil's been asking you to quit since you met her."
"Well now she told me to."
The phone started ringing, as if jolted awake by the sudden smack.
"Since when," I said, "did your girlfriend start telling you what to
do?"
Vova looked at me. "Since last Thursday."
On the answering machine, Javier's voice sang out bright and cheerful. Then a woman's came on after it, sounding anything but.
"Sean? Sean?" There was something in Donna's voice that froze each
of us, like a sudden noise on a bad street at a bad time of night. 'Javier?
Is Sean there?" She sounded strange, garbled. "This is Donna." I was
relieved when Javier yanked the receiver off its cradle and said, "Hi,
Donna, sorry."
19 I watched his face respond to her panic. Next to me, Vova slid an
unlit candle back and forth between his hands. The F train passed underneath. I reached out, put my hand on the votive. Through his fingers,
I could feel the almost imperceptible shaking of the bar.
When Javier hung up all he said was, "He left the house two hours
ago."
"Where was she calling from?" I asked.
"She wouldn't say. She said to call her cell if Sean got here."
Downstairs, a door slammed. I listened to the clack, clack, clack of
high heels on the stairs. Javier's chef is smart, beautiful, talented, all that.
When I heard her reach the top of the steps, I went around the bar, knelt
down behind it, pushing bottles around, pretending I cared about the
difference between Jameson's and Canadian Club.
After she'd left, Vova and I sat at the big round in the corner, listening
to Javier dial Sean's cell. He got the answering service and asked us if
he should leave a message. I swirled my whisky, thinking of the one
we'd left earlier, finished off the Canadian Club and started on the wine.
Javier was on his second glass. It was half past one. Up on Atlantic, the
trucks banged and thudded. It seemed like Donna should have called
the restaurant again by now. When Javier tried her number the line was
busy. From down the street came a rattle of metal like a distant burst of
machine gun fire: some bodega closing up late. Vova scraped his chair
away. When he came back from the bar, he dropped the package of
tobacco on the table.
"Fuck it," he said.
We smoked and drank. The street was quiet the way streets get in
Brooklyn in the small hours. Three drag queens went by, tall white guys
in wigs and skirts too short for the weather, walking pretty well in stilettos.
I thought I felt the F train underneath, but then I thought it again five
minutes later. It was too late at night for them to be coming that close
together.
By the time Sean got there, the place was so thick with smoke I could
feel it bunched like cotton in my throat. Up on Atlantic things were still
moving, but on Smith there was just the one car's engine coming on. We
listened to it. If he hit any lights, he didn't stop for them. The old wagon
blew by the restaurant and jerked to a stop, tail lights exploding red. By
the time it came racing backwards and parked, we were at the door.
"One of you guys want to give me a hand?" Sean shouted. I half-
jogged over, concentrating on the sidewalk. The booze was making my
feet soft. He backed out of the open trunk, a huge TV blocking everything but his arms, Only $999! slapped on the screen.
20     PRISM 47:1 "Magnavox!" he shouted at me from behind it. "Flat screen, wide
screen, surround sound..."
He was all breathy and his eyes were too wide, like he was trying to
look hard enough at things to feel them against his eyeballs. I thought I
could smell whisky on him, but it could have been on me. He grinned.
"There's a Sony video player in there," he said. "It'll do DVDs, too.
Grab it for me, would you?" The TV was so heavy his fingers were white
and his neck muscles looked like they were trying to pull away from his
shoulders. He moved fast up the sidewalk.
"Where've you been?" I heard Javier say. "Where'd you get this
stuff?"
And Sean, halfway to the door: "Look at this puppy! Is this sweet or
what?" He called back to me, "Don't forget the cables!"
The VCR under one arm, I felt in the trunk, hit a snarl of coils. I
looked around the car to ask him which ones he wanted, but he was already inside, shoving past the tables, talking the whole time, arms flinging his hands around. Javier followed him, steadying chairs. I grabbed a
fistful and hurried back in.
"It's nothing," Sean was saying, "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Javier said, and Vova said, "Your arm's all fucked up."
I set the VCR on top of the TV. The cables slipped off and hit the
table with a slap.
Sean turned around. "Hey, you got 'em. Excellent." He reached for
them, and I saw the blood on his sleeve and the fabric ripped from the
inside of his elbow to his wrist. The knuckles of that hand were red
gouges in the white skin.
"What the hell'd you do?" I said.
"Will everybody just let it go?" he said. "I cut my hand. So what?
Look at the TV, would you?" We all looked at the TV. " Goodfellas is going to be like a whole new movie."
Vova was lighting his umpteenth cigarette. "If we have time to watch
it."
"What, we have a bedtime now?" Sean said.
I reached for my wine glass. "Vova has to go back to Lil."
"Since when did we have a bedtime?"
"Since last Thursday," I said.
Vova shook out the match and dropped it on his plate, looking at Sean
and me through his thick glasses.
"Guys,"Javier grabbed the bottle off the table as if he could fix everything by filling glasses. "We have plenty of time. We can have breakfast
here if you want."
"Flapjacks!" Sean shouted. "Boy, flapjacks sound un-be-lievably good!"
"You've got a pork chop in the oven," Javier said.
21 "Pork chop?"
"Sophie made it."
"Hey," Sean said, "No talk of women."
"Finally," I said. "Let's get this under way."
"Ding!" Sean banged his chewed-up fist in the air.
We started for the kitchen.
"Don't you think," Vova hadn't gotten up from the table, "someone
ought to call Donna?"
"No women!" Sean kept on walking. "What happened to the rules?"
Vova stood. "Your wife called."
For a second, Sean looked like he was going to stride across the room
and hit him. "What happened to the rules?" he said. "What about the
fucking Creed?"
"Donna..."
"No fucking women!" Sean shouted. "From now on, right here, right
now, no fucking women!" We stood there and looked at him. "Goodfellas
Night," he said. "What the hell is this?"
"He's right," I said,
He grabbed the back of my neck and squeezed. He looked like he
might cry.
"No women, huh, Javier?"
"No women," Javier said.
"No women. Right Vova?"
"We ought to call Donna."
All of Sean's energy compacted into the look he gave Vova. "Don't
you think that's my business?"
"I think—"
"I already called."
"When?"
"From my cell, just before I got here."
"Her line was busy all night."
Sean started to say something, but stopped. "It was?" He held one
hand in the other, squeezing his knuckles. It must have hurt. He looked
at it as if he was thinking the same thing, as if it weren't his hand at all.
Then he smiled. "Well," he said, "who do you think she was talking to?
Now, let's forget it, huh? Let's go make Jeff Smith proud."
We stood around the walls of the kitchen, as if the middle wasn't safe,
waiting for the water to boil.
"This is more like it," Sean said.
Vova lit another cigarette. I was back to the whisky. We all watched
Sean squeeze blood out of his knuckles.
Vova said, "Where's the first aid kit, Javier?"
22     PRISM 47:1 "I'm okay," Sean said. "It's nothing."
"Won't hurt to put a bandage on that," I said.
"It's—"
"We know," Vova cut him off. "It's nothing. Just a cut up hand from
the window you broke to steal that fucking TV."
Sean looked at Vova, then Javier, then me. I could hear the water
prickling the sides of the pot.
After what seemed like long enough that it should have already
boiled, Vova said, "Appliances usually come in a box. And they don't
just give you an armful of cords. And you don't spend a thousand bucks
on a TV."
"You don't spend a thousand bucks on a TV."
On the stove, the pot breathed a long, endless hiss of steam. Sean
moved his eyes from one of us to another to another.
"Did anyone see you?" Vova said.
"You brought it here?" Javier sounded scared.
"You didn't do it around here, did you?"
I didn't like the tone in Vova's voice. Calmly, gently, as a friend, I
said, "Sean?"
His eyes held on mine. On the stove, the pot breathed steam. "I left
Donna," he said. "I'm sorry, Jake."
"It's alright," I said.
"That's the last thing you need tonight."
"It's okay."
The water banged around in the pot. I took a few steps to the stove
and turned it off. Vova said something and then Javier said something,
but I was lost in my thoughts. The pot made a tick, tick, tick noise as the
metal cooled. When I looked up again, Javier was wrapping a bandage
around Sean's knuckles and Vova was holding the open first aid kit.
"...the window of the sink," Sean said. "I had to hit something and
you don't want to hit her, you know? You can't hit her. They were having
this midnight sale around eighty-sixth and I was driving back from the
reservoir and I thought I'd get a new phone."
"Where's your old phone?" Vova asked.
"In the reservoir."
"You threw your phone in the reservoir?"
"And when I went in there they were having this half price sale and
I just thought how much you guys would like to see Goodfellas on that
screen."
"Sure," Javier said. "Next time."
Sean pulled his hand away, half bandaged. "Hey, no."
"It's late," Javier said.
23 "No, hey, Jake—"
"You should go home to Donna," Vova said.
Sean shoved away from them, took a few fast steps to me. "This is
why I came here." His voice was too loud for the kitchen. "Goodfellas
Night."
"Sean..." Vova said.
"This is what it's about."
"Donna must be—"
"Stop," he shouted. "Her, her, her. Goodfellas Fucking Night."
Vova ground his cigarette into a cappuccino cup. "You ought to go
home to—"
"I'm not," Sean banged the counter with his half-bandaged hand.
"Donna's not. What I ought..." he brandished his hand in Vova's face,
the loose strip of gauze flapping. "What I need is this. You guys. This
fucking this here." He went to the stove and turned the burner back on.
"Pasta," he said. "Fucking sauce. Goodfellas." The hand swept toward the
open doorway and dining room out there. "Don't fucking do this to me.
Don't do this to Jake. This is the last thing he needs. The last..." his voice
broke up and he stood there, arm stiff, pointing at me, that flap of gauze
still shaking. "Guys," he pleaded. The gauze went still, and hung there.
He whispered, "Guys."
Fifteen minutes later, we were seated at the table again. Four of us this
time. The way it was meant to be. There was just Ray Liotta's voice,
the dim light from the screen, the quiet scraping of forks. I had forgotten about everything but Frankie Carbone thumping in the back trunk,
when Sean said, "I'm happy as hell I left her. I know I'm not supposed
to talk about it, but I'm so fucking happy I did."
On the screen, Joe Pescie was standing there with his mom's kitchen
knife, the crickets loud. "You're still alive, you fucking piece of shit?"
And then Carbone was screaming.
"Should have done it years ago," Sean said. "You're fucking lucky,
Jake. You are. Fucking lucky."
De Niro let off three shots at Carbone. After Pescie had hacked him
up with the knife. "As far back as I can remember," Ray Liotta said, "I
always wanted to be a gangster." That big brassy music.
"Man," Sean said. "Man. You know, all this talk about GoodfellasNight,
two years now, the Creed, right? Never fucking let your life be ruled by
women, right? That's why I fucking did this. That. Is. Why. I. Fucking.
Did. This. Jake's the only one who's lived it. Right, Jake?"
"Sure," I said. "You want us to turn off the movie?"
"No. Uh-uh. Sorry."
On the screen, the wise guys were getting out of their cars, horsing
24     PRISM 47:1 around, and then Paulie was there in the doorway giving them the eye.
"No more women," Sean said. "The fucking Creed. We all treated it
like it was a joke. Ha!"
I looked at Vova and saw him looking at Javier.
"Once a fucking month," Sean said. "What good is that? Jake. Jake
knows. Don't you, Jake?"
"Sure," I said.
On the screen, the young Henry was about to get the shit beat out of
him by his Dad. "See," Ray Liotta was saying, "People like my father
could never understand, but I was a part of something. I belonged."
"No women," Sean said. "No talking about women. No thinking
about women. No pictures of women. It's not a joke, guys. It. Is. Not. A.
Joke."
"I was living in a fantasy," Liotta said.
"Guys? It's not a joke, is it?"
"No," I said. "Look at us. Here."
"Yeah," he said.
A minute later, he got up from the table, carefully lifting his chair so
it wouldn't make noise scraping over the floor. I glanced up and saw
him walking slowly across the dining room. He disappeared behind the
partition that separated the dining room from the bar. None of us said
anything. We went back to watching the movie. I guess we all thought he
was just going to the bathroom.
Sometime during the step, step, step of the kid Henry running and the
foooom! of exploding cars on the screen, we realized something was
wrong. All three of us knew it at the same time. We looked at each other,
and, without saying anything, got up and headed for the stairs. I tried
to listen through our footsteps for sounds coming from the bathroom.
Javier and Vova were already on the steps and I was passing the kitchen
when I heard a noise, and stopped.
It was dark in there, but the faint yellow light from the street lamp
showed the counter top, and the glint of pot handles, and Sean. His back
was to me and he was hunched over something. He sounded like he was
having trouble getting air past his throat.
From the dining room, Toddy said, "You wasted eight fucking aprons
on this guy."
"Sean?" I said.
"Don't come in." His voice shook.
I saw what looked like his arm move, and then something metal glint.
I tried to loosen my throat. "What's up, buddy?" I said.
Beside me, Javier said, "Can we turn on the light?"
"No."
25 Vova flicked it on.
Sean stood over the butcher block, his back to us. One hand gripped
the handle of a large knife. The other was somewhere in front of him,
blocked by his body.
"Sean."
"You want to tell us what's going on?"
"You want to put that knife down?"
"Don't come closer." Sean's voice rose. "Please."
"Alright."
"Just put the knife down."
The only movement Sean made was to lift it off the butcher's block. It
was a cleaver.
From the dining room came, "You might know who we are, but we
know who you are, understand?"
Somewhere below, the F train shivered by. Vova and Javier and I
looked at each other. We all knew what we were thinking, but it was
Vova that moved.
He took a couple fast steps toward Sean and a second later we were
all in the kitchen and I heard someone say "Oh fuck!" and we stopped.
Sean was just out of reach, facing us now, the butcher block between
us and him. He'd flattened his bandaged hand to the wood, his fingers
pressed together side by side, like carrots lined up to be chopped quick.
The cleaver's blade shook where it touched the skin of his little finger,
just below the knuckle.
"Oh fuck," Javier said.
"It's not a fucking joke," Sean shouted. "It's not a fucking joke."
"Yes it is," Vova said.
Sean glared at him. "No phone calls. No talk. No pictures. No jokes.
No fucking women."
"It's not real, Sean," Vova said. "It's a game."
Sean shook his head, and his eyes landed on mine.
Vova followed his gaze. "Jake?" There was vehemence in his voice.
"You think this is real for Jake? This is all just Jake's fucking security
blanket." He spat his words at me. "You think we need this? Fucking
Goodfellas Nights? Fucking Creed? Are you fucking kidding? Because
you got hurt? You want Sean to lose his wife, too?"
"Vova—" From Javier.
"You fucking selfish, scared, child. Making your friends—your
friends—play fucking make believe so you don't have to face the fact
your wife doesn't love you."
"Okay,"Javier said. "Not tonight..."
"Especially tonight. Two years—two years—after she left. Left you.
Because you failed. Fucked up. And you can't even face it. You want to
26     PRISM 47:1 interrogate me?" Vova shouted, just one and half arm lengths away. "You
want to know why? I'm engaged is why. Engaged. And Javier knows it.
And Sean knows it. And I can't even tell you the happiest news of my
life because you're too fucking delicate. You fucking child."
"Jake." Sean's voice slapped silence on the room.
He was bent over the chopping block, the hand that had held the
knife splayed on the surface, trying to hold his weight. The knife handle
still jutted in the air. For a second, I couldn't tell what was holding it up.
Then I saw the blood seep around his palm and the place where the
metal disappeared into the flesh of his pinky, and still I didn't know until
the knife fell, toppled out of the notch it had made for itself in his finger.
There was something about the way it tugged loose, the slow start and
sudden fall, that made me know it had been lodged not in the flesh, but
in the bone. Its heavy wood handle smacked the wood block, and lay
there. Sean was shaking.
"Jake," he said again, "I hit her." His face was pale. He stared at his
knuckles, at his half-severed pinky, as if he was ashamed it was still attached to him. "Oh, God. I just kept hitting her. I felt her teeth." He
looked at us, his eyes terrified. "They were in the sink," he said. "They
were in the pan in the sink." His whole body went suddenly still. "Her
face," he whispered. "I felt her cheek break. I felt it." His eyes found
mine. "Jake," he said. "Did you ever hit her?"
I couldn't look at his eyes.
"Kate? Did you hit her?"
I shook my head.
"You didn't?" His voice sounded like a little kid's. Something about it
made me feel like I'd betrayed him.
"You didn't?" he said again. His eyes were huge, like he was seeing
something about me that was too big to take in all at once.
Javier went to him. He tried to pull Sean to his chest but Sean was
too stiff. Vova walked over and rested his big hand on the back of Sean's
neck. I stood in the empty part of the kitchen, watching Sean and Vova
and Javier across the room. Vova wouldn't look at me. I couldn't see
Javier's face. He was whispering something to Sean. Sean stood there,
shaking, staring at me.
From the dining room, Ray Liotta was saying, "There was Jimmy and
Tommy and me and there was Anthony Stabiles, Frankie Carbone, and
there was Mo Black's brother Fat Andy and his guys Frankie the Wop,
Freddie No Nose, and then there was..."
I walked out of the kitchen and got my coat off the bar.
Outside, a drag queen stood on the sidewalk, watching the TV through
the restaurant's windows. She glanced at me as I pushed open the French
doors. Then she went back to watching the movie. The wind was blow-
27 ing. Slowly, carefully, I buttoned my coat. Through the hundred square
window frames I could see the television, a rectangle of movement in the
dark dining room. Its light flickered over the half-empty wine glasses, the
plates, the third bottle of Chianti that had been left open to breathe, the
four chairs pushed away from the table, all the rest turned upside down,
their legs stiff as rigamortised limbs.
I walked down Smith Street thinking of Donna. I wondered if someone had taken her to the hospital. I couldn't stop seeing her teeth in the
pan in Sean's sink. A gust blew up Sackett, carrying the smell of the canal
just like it used to on summer evenings when they left the windows open
at Sam's, and Kate and I would talk for hours over the house wine and
olives and the best pork chops in Brooklyn. My wife's eyes were the colour of green bottle glass washed up on beaches when the sun has dried
it on the sand. In the distance, way up on Atlantic Avenue, the trucks
rumbled on toward the highway. I wished I could tell Donna how sorry
I was.
On 3rd Street I stopped in the middle of the bridge and stood watching the headlights of the F train against the dirty-orange night sky. They
wound toward the moment when they'd slip underground, past the Carroll Street stop, beneath Javier's restaurant, on into Manhattan. Just before they disappeared, they slid over a billboard jutting into the sky: a
woman's giant face gazing down at a dim construction lot below. Inside the lot's fence it was all grey emptiness broken only by the shapes
of backhoes and cement mixers, lifeless and still, scattered like rusting
scraps of some discarded world. The train passed. The billboard above
the tracks went dark again. I tried to make out what it was meant to say,
but I couldn't understand the look in the woman's eyes. Even the words
around her seemed in some language I didn't know, or had forgotten,
one that I knew was going to take me a long, long time to learn.
28     PRISM 47:1 Aaron Giovannone
Lynn Saw a Ghost
Lynn saw a ghost in the garden
in a blue dress
What was the ghost doing we ask
Nothing she says
And why were you wearing a blue dress
No the ghost was
Okay
Mom knows that ghost
Once grandpa saw it in a red dress
What a nice wardrobe says Lynn
(But why are ghosts
always wearing dresses I say)
The day after he died
Lynn saw grandpa in the garden
What was he doing we ask
Looking at the flowers she says
And what
was he wearing
29 The Cookie Bags
The cookie bags crinkled at my touch
and I chose one
and was sad for all the others
The same thing happened with cut flowers
quivering by the automatic doors
dying in buckets
I'm serious people:
the telephone poles strung my moods out between them
I felt like a bag of cookies
and ate a bag of cookies
I put my sad bouquet in water
30     PRISM 47:1 Jimjohnstone
from Abbatoir Ghazals
i.
Chalcosoma Caucasus, the end of funerals. Specimen
mounted, vertebrae spread—affixed with beads of hot glue.
It's dry here, 30°C in the solarium, atrophied flies
weighing down glass halos, light fixtures.
I have nothing to tell you of Indonesia, how Atlas
beetles map varnished grain, fight in the streets.
Quarters down, each contest is a matter of control,
coins crowning the lids of sewage grates.
The river below is paralyzed. There's no need for venom
when you carry everything you need on your back.
Atomized cement. Stainless steel pins. Glass to prevent
breath and unwanted flight—a wing's progress.
31 Informationless—a tooth for each eye. The shoreline
curves without symmetry, wounded.
We have been waiting for Houdini to return—hidden
words sealing trunks, a spoiled deck of cards.
Your hands are an engine, deal quicker than sound
conducted in a vacuum, a shout in the desert.
The taxidermist has come to preserve what's left. Period,
wavelength. The coarse hairs on your wrists.
Broken jaw, you spit back embalming fluid—protest
the taste, the dilution of formaldehyde with saliva.
Forceps forced wide, your throat forgets consonants,
replaces language with guttural altruism.
32     PRISM 47:1 8.
Translated, home is where we begin—point A folded
in on itself, a tertiary structure.
If anyone comes to ask, tell them I've dragged
the moon away in water pails.
E. coli spawn in rust. Minnows flash against steel nets,
pools in tides of quicksilver.
My reflection is no more honest than smeared chalk,
sentences we never wanted.
Hemmed in, progress lost, camphor sweetens our ascent,
becomes a common language.
Paperclip and navy ballpoint, we dig a permanent map—
the only directions we know to be true.
33 Girls
Kathrynjankowski
34     PRISM 47:1 Tanis Rideout
from Above All Things
o
n the train journey Mallory seeks out Irvine.
The first day they stumble out of Bombay, away from the weak
attempts at colonial order, past thinning roads and buildings into the
Indian countryside. The train becomes less and less crowded making
conversation easier, more comfortable. The expedition members spread
out over a number of cars, staking out and claiming territory, taking
advantage of the space and solitude while they can, before they are
cramped into tiny tents on carved snow platforms.
Mallory spends most of his time moving between Norton and Irvine.
With Norton he talks of strategy—covering the same ground over and
over: the pairing off and order of teams, the ferrying of supplies up and
down the icefall, the mountain. They make and remake lists and schedules, laying them out like calendars. Leaning over lap desks or Mallory's
copy of the Inferno they draw lines between and through names. Mallory crumples up sheets of paper and drops them to the floor; Norton
spreads them out, flattening them with the heel of his palm to examine
the names and numbers again.
They try to impose an order on the attempt, to mark it out on pages
and maps as if it all comes down to tactics. They are laying siege. Waging
war.
The lean together over maps, drawing routes with ink-smudged fingers from Darjeeling through passes and tiny villages, tapping the map
lightly at places they will stop.
They caress the contour lines of the mountain—focusing where the
rhythm changes and they become closer together—where the slopes become steeper.
It is as if they are reading love letters.
With Irvine he talks less of the mountain. With Irvine he feels like a
schoolboy. They are conspiratorial: gossiping about other members of
the expedition, about race results, the last leg of the Oxford-Cambridge
or cricket and football scores.
35 They lean their heads close together and Mallory finds himself laughing at a point in the journey at which he has never laughed before. For
long hours the train rocks their bodies against each other, their shoulders, legs glancing against each other and Mallory doesn't think of the
mountain, of his wife, of the changes he would like to make to Norton's
most recent plan.
Irvine is incessant with questions.
"What do you think Mallory? How will we do it? Who will go to the
summit? Will you take me?"
Mallory doesn't want to think of the mountain with Irvine.
Occasionally he switches to statements. "We'll make it this time. With
or without the oxygen." But he looks for affirmation. "Don't you think,
Mallory?"
An invitation. And when he draws Mallory into collusion Mallory
will say anything.
In the Himalayan foothills they board a miniature train that will take
them further into the low regions. It is like a toy, the tiny cars open to the
air, painted bright Buddhist colours in reds and blues. They load their
supplies and board it. It is an undersized amusement—they can reach
their arms out and touch its sides. They are the only ones on board, are
in command.
Irvine begins to call him George near Darjeeling. Mallory had begun
addressing him as Sandy on board the ship, but doesn't remember giving Irvine an invitation to use his first name. He seems an unlikely sort
to assume such familiarity but Mallory likes the sound of his name on
Irvine's lips, on his tongue.
Irvine falls asleep against Mallory's shoulder, rocking with the rhythm
of the train. As it creeps over the border from India to Nepal the expedition members call halts at the best vistas, the nearer line of peaks blocking out the higher ones beyond. They sit near the tracks and eat. Irvine
wakes when the movement stops. He looks at Mallory half-sleeping.
"Are we there George?"
"No Sandy."
His name is sibilant on Mallory's tongue, easy and familiar. They sit
in the carriage, Sandy's head on Mallory's shoulder while the others
eat.
In Darjeeling Mallory forces himself to take notice of the terraced tea
fields dug out from the slopes of the foothills. He has made promises
to Ruth, to himself, that this will be his last journey here. He watches
as Irvine describes them to Norton, carving tiers out of the air with his
hands in awe. Mallory sits in the manicured gardens of John Richards,
36     PRISM 47:1 the local crown representative, an old military-style man who still prefers
khakis to suits, orders to conversations.
Mallory tries to write letters to Ruth but can't remember whether he
has ever written about these terraces to her. On the first expedition he
was obsessed with the planning, with anticipating the first site of Everest.
He noticed nothing but team politics, the maps and sketches in front of
him. Now he watches Irvine discover the scenery around him and sips
iced tea made from fresh tea leaves and ice run down from the glacier to
the northwest. The paper in front of him is still blank. He writes Irvine's
words.
Richards insists on long dinners outside on his lawns, courses following on courses, attempting to impress with the exotic, with saffron and
cinnamon. The darkness lowers around them, the close sky turning to
dark reds and purples before settling into midnight blues. Irvine is uncomfortable with the obvious servility of the native women that serve
them from huge platters of food, bowing under large trays. At Richards'
insistence they occasionally sing and dance for the men on a wooden
platform he has had built on a corner of the expansive lawn. Irvine is
captivated with their twisting wrists, the popping of ankles and hips. He
thanks them profusely every time they pass him, offers to help and flushes red when he is refused.
Mallory leaves the dinners long before the rest of them. Under mosquito netting and the smell of jasmine, he drifts into an uneasy sleep to
the sound of Bruce's loud laugh breaking into a rumble of coughing.
In his bed he tries to stop his mind spinning, or direct his thoughts to
safer places. He too easily imagines everything that can go wrong on the
mountain, visions coming to him that he cannot shake, that he has never
imagined before; broken limbs and endless falls. Oxygen deprivation.
These thoughts are like physical assaults. Lying in his bed he can feel
the pain of his limbs snapping, the suffocating squeeze of rope below his
ribs.
The morning they are to head north out of Darjeeling Mallory finds
himself wandering near the river that skirts the edge of the city, running wide and slow in the late winter air. He had gone for a run when
he could no longer pretend to sleep or ignore the visions that plagued
him. His lungs are heaving in the already thinning air, but his limbs
feel good. The river is a dreamscape, a nightmare in the weak wavering
light. Mist and smoke crawl along it, moving slowly with the current,
but never quite dissipating. On the opposite bank Mallory can see pale
flames flickering through the haze. He steps to the edge and peers across
at them.
Slowly Mallory realizes there are platforms lining the other bank,
stretching out in either direction, disappearing into the mist. There are
37 fires burning on some of them, others are empty except for piles of ash
slowly scattering in a light wind. Men move amongst them, some of
them stained white with the ash. They fan the fires that are still burning
and sweep the ash off the empty ones into the river.
There is a keening chant on the air and Mallory realizes they are burning bodies on the biers. He feels the bile rise at the back of his throat. He
bends over and vomits up the scant contents of his stomach. He spits and
looks back across the river, at the smoke curling up from the pale flicker
of flames, trying not to imagine that he can smell the burning of human
flesh, of meat.
Mallory spits again, unable to look away. He lowers himself to the dry
dirt of the riverbank.
He sits and watches until they burn down and smolder out.
The journey out has been a slow drift through seasons—leaving the
damp winter grey of Godalming, London, Southampton to slip down
around the European coast into the humid spring of the Mediterranean,
wet with Grecian blue and the sky burning white against it, already pushing into summer even in February. Through the narrow canal at Suez,
the desert pushing up against the waterway and moving into the summer
waters of the Indian Ocean and then across the almost unbearable baked
landscape of India, until they were creeping onto the spine of Asia and
slipping back into autumn. They will soon find themselves high in the
Himalayan winter.
They move from the rich jungles of the lowlands—orchids and rhododendrons towering over them, massive butterflies wafting around them.
The sounds of animals beyond circles of firelight at night—up onto the
naked windswept Tibetan plateau where they come across settlements
sculpted into the sides of mountains.
Everest pulls at them even from here, sucks the flesh from their frames,
the marrow from their bones. They are already wasting.
These are facts of this place:
The men are nearing the mountain—Norton, who has taken command, Hazard, Beetham, Somervell and Odell, distracted by the towering plants, the creaking of hidden insects. Noel and Shebbeare, the
doctor Wollaston. Karma Paul who translates and laughs at everything
Shebbeare says. Irvine. And Mallory.
There are twenty-seven coolies—men, women with children strapped
to their breasts and loads to their backs. They are sure the English are
fools.
Three miles of supplies. On the trek here, they have watched the
yaks strung out on the plains between passes loping along with herds of
38     PRISM 47:1 boys around them urging them on, until they reached camp and turned
to run back yelling to their villages. It is as though they are laying siege.
The manifest is a ridiculous testament: forty tins of fois gras, one-hun-
dred-and-twenty tins of bully beef, dozens of wrapped squares of flaky
chocolate, nine tins of nicotine, two tubes a piece of petroleum jelly to
smear on chapped faces, to deflect the sun, a crate of Victrola records,
half of them shattered from the jolting rides or the change in temperatures when it snaps and drops with the disappearing sun, the raising and
lowering of altitudes, twenty-three oxygen canisters, seventeen tents, a
crate of cutlery and tin plates, twelve bottles of champagne, seventeen
bottles of Oban whiskey.
These are the facts of this place:
The mountains look like a hellscape, like great fangs, jaws about to
close, or as if they are in the centre of a gaping maw, a bear trap about to
spring.
They are 20,000 feet in the air.
The blue sky—like another planet. If they climb high enough it darkens, and darkens as if they are actually climbing into space. There is a
line where it breaks—where they stop seeing the sky and start seeing
beyond it. In other years Mallory has seen stars at mid-morning high
enough on the mountain, the faint lines of foreign constellations. It is unbelievable and unnerving. Nothing, no one has been this high. They are
aliens here, one way or another. There are stories of creatures here, and
it is easy enough to believe that they are here this close to the darkness
of airlessness.
Irvine's eyes seeing the mountain.
These are the facts of this place.
39 Jennica Harper
Liner Notes
Limbs unthinking,
she's on the living room floor.
The TV on behind her.
Her eyes loll, unfocused, lost
to their discrete orbits,
but open wide.
Like they're taking their time,
trying to decide.
She's beautiful. No question.
Her chocolate hair fans around her face
as she lies there, waiting.
That toothy smile she's quick to share.
Can beauty
be wasted?
I want a taste of it; want to know
what it means to be beautiful,
and to know nothing of it.
40     PRISM 47:1 Remote: I turn off the TV.
She knows it's me,
knows who I am by smell,
blur of colour, how
I move—
I betray myself
with every molecule.
I don't know any person
as instinctively
as she knows me.
I come here
twice a week.
It's my job to stimulate. To prevent boredom, laziness,
pointlessness, fruitlessness, bedsores—
to, for three hours,
let her mother and father
think about not her.
41 She's wondering what we'll do today:
will I put her hands in clay or paint?
Paint is great. She loves the feel
of wet hands. Loves to squish.
My hands on her hands.
My hands are her hands.
I remember how good it feels
to squish.
But paint is also
messy.
Not today.
She's three, and really not so different
from other three year olds. She can barely see,
hear, sit up. Has no language. But she looks happy.
It won't really be sad until she's ten.
When she's twenty, a problem for health care.
42     PRISM 47:1 I crank the stereo. Tommy James sings
"Crimson and Clover"—
my favourite, from the family's small
collection.
The worst: anything by the Beach Boys.
"Good Vibrations" feels so on the nose.
An anthem for the deaf.
Others I won't play:
"I Can See Clearly Now"
"Pinball Wizard"
"Don't Worry, Be Happy."
I place my hands over her hands.
We pat hands, a half-beat behind, or ahead.
Her mother and father argue
in the kitchen like dishwashers
going through their cycles.
They shout the shouts
of the very tired.
43 We're patting,
patting.
Now I don't hardly know her...
But I think I could love her...
[Slide guitar]
I put the song on a loop.
Let her just lie there, feel it, while
I flip through Tommy's
liner notes.
In 1969, Tommyjames & the Shondells turned down an offer to perform
at Woodstock when their booking agent described the event as "a stupid
gig on a pig farm in upstate New York."
I am going to New York City in two weeks,
to see my boyfriend
of ten months.
We will see if I come back
with a broken heart
or just single.
I [broken heart] NY.
I want to see a Broadway show,
and Central Park.
44     PRISM 47:1 Ten months together. Feels like years.
In the beginning, the danger of it:
fumbling under blankets
in his parents' basement
in doorways, in taxis, the pleasure,
desire wanting an answer
always
having its way.
Lately, in bland afternoon light,
we barely look at one another.
Her eyes search for me.
She is wondering what is coming.
Will I put her feet
in those awful braces—
make her stand up, feet grounded
in hard moon-boots, hands in my hands-
her rigid body swaying like birch?
I might.
45 "Mony Mony" is still frequently played at weddings
where guests yell profane responses between the lines.
I know I will not marry my boyfriend.
The summer drags on.
Ten months,
wasted.
Tommy James & the Shondells went on vacation in 1969
and never got back together.
The gentlest of breakups—
a happy separation, and then—
just never finding your way together again.
46     PRISM 47:1 My mind's such a sweet thing...
We are alone, she and I, two bodies
in a room, both blips on a forgotten radar.
We are two hearts, two brains, two UFOs
crash-landed on a brown carpet.
The world forgets us for a while, and we don't mind.
The arguing in the kitchen gets louder.
How can we possibly—
Oh, grow up—
I wrap her up in a puffy pink jacket,
sit her in a stroller meant
for someone younger,
a child not finished yet.
This is no place for
young girls like us.
47 A kite tied to the handle of her stroller
lolls like a useless tongue;
I pick it up and carry it.
We need to find some sun,
sky, grass, happy people.
What a beautiful feeling...
Babies have five senses like everyone else.
But they don't have the ability to seek out stimulus.
It has to be brought to them.
I pick a dandelion—
she won't know the difference
between flower and weed—
and hold it under her nose.
She doesn't know what to do.
She is not
a baby.
48     PRISM 47:1 Ten months feels like a long time. It is a long time,
in the life of a child. Or a hit single.
US listeners got sick of "Crimson and Clover" quickly. It went from # 1
to #18 to completely off the charts in two weeks, setting a record
for furthest,
fastest fall.
What is the difference between a flower and a weed?
Not beauty.
Weeds are parasitic, sometimes poisonous, hosts for pests.
Wild, feral.
Trouble.
There are various interpretations of the meaning of "Crimson and
Clover," ranging from innocent (the colours of a high school crush's
plaid skirt) to theological (the blood of Christ, the clover's holy trinity)
to vulgar (sex during menstruation, the "clover" slang for female
genitalia) to brutal (the slaughtering of a girl in a field).
Many continue to believe it's simply about being high, floating,
synesthesia, letting go.
49 I walk the stroller under the viaduct,
the only way to the park.
Cars thunder above. It's like the end of the world.
She bangs her fist to her forehead,
pounds, pounds,
searching for the beat—
I take her hand in mine,
press hard—
tell her no.
When she stops hitting herself,
we leave the shadows of the tunnel
and the sun's heat hits her.
She blinks.
The world
is born again.
Soon it will be fall again,
so fast. Beginning of second year.
I don't know who I'll marry,
and at this moment?
I'm not sure I care.
50     PRISM 47:1 In the park, kids on tire swings. A game of tag.
I'm happy she doesn't know what she's missing.
The rhythm of the playground is in relief—
feels deliberate—
a song unheard—
waste, waste, waste, waste, waste—
In the middle of "Crimson and Clover," the pace picks up.
Mimics—what? A heart racing—
fear, anger, lust—
something you see coming.
Something you look right
in the eyes.
—the kite tugs itself out of my hand, and lifts.
Pulls its own weight up
and away from the earth—
sways, a UFO in primaries—
she is looking right at it and laughing.
51 Crowd on Queen Street
Kathrynjankowski
52     PRISM 47:1 Susan Ingersoll
Labour Day
Under the stairs, a dusty demijohn
half full of homemade sherry, left to stand
a year or two and for several more forgotten.
Bending close, I think I glimpse a tiger eye
that winks and glints—full summer
blazes in the window at the far end
of the hall, but here all's in shadow.
And yet I saw—I drag the vessel out—this
shifting sets its contents rocking—
and rub the glass to get a clearer look:
of course, the genie in the bottle's light,
its points strewn across the facets of the wine,
that finings and filtering and the gravity of time
have polished needle bright,
resolving now again into a thimbleful
of wishes, a distillation of the sun
the year the wine was made.
I pull the stopper, just to see. Not light
exactly but its trace drifts up, twining
esters of hazelnut, honey and fig, ethers of
meadow and heath, of far-off orchard under the sky, of
blackberry   blueberry   bakeapple   apricot   plum.
53 Shawn Syms
On The Line
I won't go out with another man who works on the kill floor. I can't
handle the smell of them, or their attitudes. Forget about men from
the plant altogether, that's what I should do. It would drastically cut
down on my chances for a date though. Maybe a better solution would
be to get out of town altogether.
I take a deep breath, inhaling the eucalyptus scent, then immerse my
head in hot, soapy bathwater. My knees rise above the water line, the tips
of my breasts poke out above water, still covered in suds. Underwater,
I rub my temples with both thumbs. I stay submerged as long as I can,
until I come up gasping for breath again. Work ended at three-thirty. It's
almost ten now, and I'm finally beginning to feel human.
Turning up the tap to add more hot water, I pour silvery conditioner
into my hand and lather up my scalp. Run my fingers through the full
length of my dark hair, starting at my forehead and tracing behind my
shoulders. Touching my scalp, I feel a phantom fingertip—as if the last
half-inch of my right baby finger was still there.
The accident was over two years ago. Can't complain much; I got
$2,700 in insurance money and seven days off work. I don't even think
about it anymore. Except the occasional Friday night—like tonight—
when I drag myself to the Ox for cheap beers. Even then I only think
about it for a second, reminding myself it's one less nail to paint. A lot
worse coulda happened.
In the grit of a dive or between sweaty sheets, most guys don't notice.
Some men I've dated took weeks to mention the finger. Then again,
roughnecks aren't much for holding hands or paying close attention to
you. Some don't even kiss.
I ease my head back under to rinse out my hair. I'll be in this town till
Dad dies. Don't know how long that'll be, he's taken to falling, though.
He needs me; living right downstairs has come in handy more than once.
Valerie got to escape to Vancouver once she got married. I'll get there
too someday.
What'll I even do in BC? I've been cutting meat so long I don't know
what else I'm fit for. Maybe lick my wounds and go on pogey for a
while? That's hard to imagine. I've always had a job. Val stays at home
raising three boys, and I don't envy her. I like to work.
54     PRISM 47:1 You get used to the plant. You cope. I wield a sharp knife all day
long. It's ridiculous, I know, but sometimes I pretend I'm slitting fabric
to make little girls' dresses, instead of carving carcasses into steaks. Agnes, who works next to me, sings Sudanese songs to help get through
the day. She taught me one, called "Shen-Shen." I asked her once what
that song is about. "Life is unfair, Wanda. That is what it is about," she
said, and went back to singing. Agnes sends money to her mother and
father in Juba every month via Western Union. Can't complain about
the wage. Fifteen dollars an hour is nothing to sneeze at. The men you
meet though. Christ.
Last guy I dated from Slaughter was Karl Willson—a blond behemoth, prairie farming stock. He was twenty-four, six-three and very
strong—so he was quickly recruited for the harshest job on the kill floor.
He's a stunner and sticker: he kills live cattle and drains their blood. I
don't think less of guys in Slaughter because their jobs are dirtier than
mine. The rest of us can't feel holier-than-thou about chopping steaks,
filling sausage links or grinding burger meat. The reason I don't like Karl
is he's a prick.
He came to Alberta a few months ago from Saskatchewan with his
younger brother, who got hired to dress carcasses. Karl was well-suited
to a job as a cutthroat. He didn't mind killing, he liked it. He was fast.
Speedy workers are the company's wet dream.
We only dated a few weeks. Karl was brooding and edgy. That made
for rough, satisfying sex—but I knew something bad would spring from
his constant, simmering anger. One night at the drive-in I teased him
about something—I think it was a cowlick that made his hair look funny—and he punched me hard in the face. I don't put up with bullshit—
that was the end. We haven't spoken since.
He got moved to B shift. That means I work days and he works nights.
When I go to the Ox on a Friday, he's usually not there because he can
only make last call by coming right from the plant. He sometimes does,
the need to drink outweighing the duty to clean himself up first. The
smell of Processing wasn't as bad as Slaughter, but I never went to the
bar without taking a long bath.
Standing up to dry myself off, I close my eyes a sec. Hope I don't run
into Karl tonight. I shouldn't be going out—it's the height of summer so
we're on a six-day week at the plant. I need to be there tomorrow morning at seven even though it's a Saturday. But I need something to make
me forget for a while.
Pulling a towel off the rack, I dry my breasts, my belly, the insides of
my legs, the bottoms of my feet and then scrub at my wet hair with the
efforts of nine determined fingertips.
55 The harsh blare of the alarm clock seeps into my consciousness through
the hot haze of slumber. I stretch across Makok's broad, dark shoulders to
finger the snooze button. Unable to stifle a belch that reeks like last night's
whiskey sours, I slump back for nine more minutes of rest, draping my
arm across the width of his back. He stops snoring, but doesn't stir.
Morning's light streams through the bedroom window, and I squint.
Makok works on Karl's floor but I don't think they're friends. His wife
does dayshift on the line. She's not in my section, but I can see her from
where I stand at the boning table. I've seen the two of them at the IGA
together; they've both worked at the plant for a few months now.
I think back to last night, and don't recall much. Makok smiling at me
as he leaned over the pool table, cue in hand. Asking him to buy me a
drink though I could afford my own liquor. Flattering compliments in
halting English. More drinks. His brown eyes locked with my own, an
unspoken decision to go ahead.
He faces away, hugging a pillow. I scan his smooth back, visually
tracing its one blemish: a three-inch curved white scar across his right
shoulder. Must have been a meat hook; that's common. Or something
that happened back home—like many at the plant, he's from Sudan. I'm
not going to ask.
The alarm buzzes again. Makok shakes awake; both of our hands
reach for the noisemaker this time. He smacks the top of the clock and
then grabs my fingers.
He turns and our eyes meet. I lean toward him, we kiss. He pulls his
bulky frame onto mine and I welcome the pressure. We fuck one more
time; fiercely and quickly. Before the alarm sounds again, we're done.
Makok eases out of me, strokes my cheek then abruptly pulls himself to
his feet and stands naked above me, a drizzle of semen still hanging off
the tip of his foreskin.
"Mende is pregnant." He walks to the bathroom.
I sit on the toilet and piss while Makok showers; I put out a clean
towel. He doesn't offer me a ride to work—he leaves while I'm in the
shower. I tie my hair into a loose braid, and throw a sweater into my
knapsack. Hot as it is outside, my part of the plant is refrigerated.
I pop four ibuprofens on my way out the door. Hop into my Civic and
head for the plant. I crack the window. It's too hot not to, but you don't
open it very far. The closer you get to the plant, the more the air smells
like shit. Bosses call it "the smell of money." No matter which way the
wind blows, you can't escape it.
The locker room smells like wet sawdust and it's crowded. The air's humid with steam emanating from the shower stalls at the end of the room.
56     PRISM 47:1 On a bench between two rows of lockers, I'm surrounded by women.
I recognize some but have never talked to them. You can't know everybody in a plant of 2,000 people. Once we're suited up, recognizing
anyone is hard.
Lockers are assigned in numerical order based on hire date and then
reassigned because of turnover—not everyone can handle this job. All
around me, women chatter, yell, laugh—none of it in English. You get
used to that.
I put on my gear in the same order every morning. First the yellow
rubber boots. Next I pull on my steel mesh apron. It runs from my shoulders to my knees. I reach around to tie it in the back, drawing my head to
my chest. There, I catch my first whiff. Though I scrubbed it at the end of
yesterday's shift, my apron still hosts the faint but dizzying scent of bull's
blood.
I hear a rumble from the shop floor; they're turning on the grinders
and getting ready for the shift to start. I check my pockets for earplugs.
Rubber sleeves that run from my wrists to my elbows. A hairnet, then
my bump cap—a yellow construction helmet. Plastic safety goggles that
hang from my neck by a nylon cord; I'll put them on once I'm on the
line. I grab my long, thin knife and stuff it into the waist pocket of the
apron. Thank God I sharpened it yesterday. With this hangover, I'd cut
myself if I tried today.
Last, thick rubber gloves, with a crumpled paper ball jammed into
one fingertip to keep it from flopping, or getting caught in anything. All
around me, women who've arrived late crowd in and clamber into the
same uniform. We have to be on the line when it starts up.
Wading through the crowd and the roaring machines, I arrive at the
boning table to find my co-workers already in position. With a smirk,
Kwadwo calls out in his West African-accented baritone.
"Wanda, you look like you were up late," he says in a chastising
tone.
My shoulders slump. Then I puff out my chest and beat him at his
own game. "I was with your dad last night, Kwadwo. I hope you have as
much energy in bed as him!"
Kwadwo giggles like a tickled schoolboy. "My father is fifty-six—and
he still lives in Ghana. No wonder you are tired..."
"I went out to the Ox for a few—but not much was going on," I confess.
"As long as you weren't with Kwadwo's father—or any other fathers—
then it is good," Agnes pipes in, arching an eyebrow as she adjusts her
hairnet over a short-cropped Afro.
Agnes is a generation older than me, but the Sudanese community is
close-knit. Could she be friends with Makok and his pregnant wife?
57 She smiles and gives me a friendly elbow. "Use protection, or you will
make someone a father!" I grin, relieved.
Next to me, Kwadwo, Agnes and three girls from Newfoundland work
at our compact boning table. We're short one man, a French-Canadian,
the nephew of Mr. Leger, the floor supervisor. Funny that our table is
mostly whites—we're a minority on the floor. That's another thing you
get used to.
With another clickety-clack rumble, the line kicks into gear. Meat
moves into the room from the kill floor downstairs. Along the west wall,
enormous whole cattle emerge from the trapdoor, suspended from above
by hooks that pierce one of their back limbs. The men at the front of the
room take them down one by one and begin to cut.
First, off with their heads. Then, out with their guts. Next, off with
their hides. The carcasses hit three other cutting tables before reaching
ours. We get manageable, medium-sized slabs ready to be reduced to
supermarket-grade cuts. The first will reach our table in just under ten
minutes. Several hours of slicing and dicing later, we get lunch at eleven
o'clock. I'm so used to separating meat from bones I could do it in my
sleep.
Mid-morning, I glance at the bone-shiners table further down the line.
There, a group of women wield electric knives to remove excess meat
from bones before they're sent to Rendering. It's hard to tell anyone
apart between the mouth protectors, goggles, hairnets and helmets, but I
think I recognize Makok's wife Mende among the dozen African women
at the table. Most chat and smile while they work—with one tall, rigid
exception.
At lunch I sit with Agnes, Kwadwo and Kathy, one of the girls from
our group. The cafeteria fare is bearable today: lasagna and fruit salad.
We keep it light—no sex, religion or politics at the lunch table. My aching, dehydrated brain is glad for that. Normally, I love to listen to Agnes talk—she is passionate about current affairs in her homeland—but I
couldn't cope right now.
Taking my tray to the garbage bin, I feel an object thunk onto my
back. Turning around, I look at the floor and see a leftover grape from
someone's fruit salad. A loud guffaw, and then a big, blond dickwad is in
my face—Karl's brother, Kevin Willson. He has a V-shaped scar on his
cheek and the smile of a carved pumpkin with one front tooth missing.
"Oh sorry, Wanda. I was aiming for the trash. Guess I missed."
I offer a fake smile.
"Hey, heard you had a busy night. Up late, weren't you?" He sneers.
"You like the dark though, don't you?"
That fucking piece of shit. I didn't see him at the bar last night. I shove
him out of my way, and head back onto the floor.
58     PRISM 47:1 Leger approaches our table as we ready to go back to work, a young
girl in tow. She looks nineteen. Vietnamese probably, with a very pretty
face. She won't last long—she'd be better off in another section. This girl
is too short. She'll have to reach upward to make all her cuts. The boning
table is designed for people of average height; she'll end up with very
sore shoulders.
"Kids, this is Anh. Show her the ropes." With that, he walks away.
From behind, it looks like he's picking his nose.
Agnes and I exchange a knowing look. But she smiles when she turns
to Anh.
"Where are you from, girl?"
Her voice is a whisper but I manage to hear because she's right next
to me. "Cambodia."
"Pull your face mask over your mouth, Anh. I'll show you what to
do."
Anh exhales visibly. Agnes has a way of making people comfortable.
We all pull our face masks on and get to work. Because of staggered
lunch breaks, meat has begun to pile up.
I pick up the first piece and carve, glancing from time to time to watch
Agnes and Anh. The girl's cuts are tentative, which is to be expected at
the start. Given the jostling from the other tables when things get busy,
she'll likely cut herself today. Might as well get her first self-slice out of
the way. In contrast to boisterous Agnes singing and carving next to her,
Anh looks fragile. I fear one slit from a sharp knife might cause her to
completely disassemble.
Just as Anh gets the hang of things, a loud male scream erupts from a
table ten feet away. A tall white guy grasps at the red gush of blood coming out of his right biceps. His still-buzzing hock cutter, a hand-held version of a small buzz saw used to slice the limbs off cattle, bounces onto
the table in front of him. The electric saw falls onto the concrete floor,
glancing off the woman next to him. Shit. Continuing to cut my meat, I
watch Leger rush over with a nurse, face riddled with anxiety. I know the
bastard's worried about keeping up the speed of the line, not some poor
sucker's hacked limb. It wasn't fully severed anyway. I put my slices into
a grey plastic tub, put them back on the belt and grab my next piece of
meat.
Anh has dropped her knife on the ground. She watches with widened eyes as the tall man, now hunched over with a white towel pressed
against his red and sopping shirtsleeve, is led away by the nurse, sobbing. Meat continues to pile up on the belt in front of us.
Agnes reaches down to grab Anh's knife up off the wet floor and holds
it lightly by the blade, pointing its handle back at the young woman. She
gestures to Anh with the handle. "Anh, you can't stop."
59 Anh continues to stare mutely toward the hock area, where everyone
else is busily back at work with a tiny bit more room per person. Agnes
puts the knife into Anh's gloved hand, closes her hand around it and
gently turns her back to face the boning table.
"You can't stop." Agnes sighs and looks in my direction, then picks
a piece of meat up off the belt and places it in front of Anh. Anh looks
down at it, and cuts.
The guy is back on the line two hours later. I go into autopilot for
the rest of the day. I'm no longer slicing meat, I'm fashioning a simple,
elegant wedding dress out of peau-de-soie, an A-line with pleats that run
from the waist to the feet. No frilly train, but a subtle band of patterned
lace around the waistline. Sleeveless, but not low-cut, with thin straps.
Pretty but unassuming. And the sheerest, most delicate bridal gloves. No
fancy patterns, basic white, and they cut off just before the elbow.
The day ends. I hope Anh comes back tomorrow. We need the extra
hands at the boning table. I head for the locker room. Pushing my way
numbly through the all-female mass, I reach my locker and pause. My
lock's been snipped with a bolt cutter. I remove the severed combination
lock and pull it open.
The severed head of a dead calf lolls lazily on the top shelf of my
locker. Most of its hair has been shaved off but tufts still cling to its floppy,
oversized ears. Both lips have been removed, exposing its skeletal teeth.
Its fat, amputated tongue has been stuffed back into its mouth, and it
sticks out at an abnormal angle. It smells like vomit. The flesh around
the base of the head is mottled and bloody. Along the hacked neckline,
two flies sit and feast.
Fucking gross. I slam the locker door shut with all my strength. It
bounces back open, forcing the raunchy odour back in my face. With
the force of the jolt, the calf's head bounces and tips forward. It topples
out of the locker and heaves onto my yellow rubber boot. With a fearful
bolt of adrenaline, I kick it down the row of lockers. It comes to a stop
at the other end of the hall, where a group of women are coming out of
the showers. They stop en masse, emitting yelps and grunts of disgust,
looking over at me and swearing. The calf's tongue came free of the
head when I kicked it; it lies on the ground a few feet away. I crumple to
the bench and find myself crying for the first time in years. I wish I were
anywhere but here.
I step out of the women's locker room an eternity later. As I head for the
exit, a deep voice calls out to me.
"Hey, slut." Karl Willson stomps my way with a crooked sneer on his
lips.
I cross my arms in front of my chest. "What the fuck do you want?"
60     PRISM 47:1 He answers in singsong. "Is Princess having a bad day?" Karl reaches
forward with a start and shoves my crossed arms so hard I fall backward
to the ground. He leans in and I cover my face quickly. He's yelling
in my ear. "What? That black bitch show you what a fucking cow you
are?"
I kick him in the shin, a glancing blow, and he steps back. I scramble
to my feet. A dozen passers-by have slowed or stopped. "What the fuck,
Karl!"
"Kevin told me what you did last night, you fucking whore."
The crowd begins to filter away. Another lover's spat. Happens all the
time.
"Those people believe in revenge. You better watch out."
"Karl, you're full of shit."
He spits in my face and walks away. Two women's voices approach,
not speaking English. I climb to my feet, recognizing Agnes's voice.
She wears a white blouse, acid-wash jeans and a faded denim jacket.
Next to her stands a tall woman with a pretty face marred by dark circles
under her eyes. A dark-green, patterned scarf covers her hair and drapes
across her shoulders, underneath which she wears a simple white dress.
I notice the slight curve of her belly. Makok's wife.
"Wanda, this is my friend, Mende."
I glance downward then look up at her, my face flushed. "How are
you, Mende?" I manage.
"It is nice to meet you." Her heavily accented English is stilted and
formal.
Agnes turns to me. "We're going to church. There are things we need
to speak to the pastor about.. .maybe you'd like to come with us."
"I'm sorry, Agnes. I need to go make dinner for my father." I look at
my feet, and back at the two of them. Mende appraises me.
"I heard what happened, Wanda. I thought some spiritual guidance
might be a help."
I pause. "You know what happened?"
"At your locker."
I exhale. "A stupid prank. Some joker from the kill floor."
"I believe things happen for a reason, Wanda. If you don't want to
come now, you could attend our Sunday morning service." She touches
Mende's arm before adding, "It can help when troubling things happen."
I decide something. "Agnes, I'd join you but I'll be packing. Dad and
I are moving to Vancouver. We leave Monday."
Agnes breaks into a sudden grin. "I can't believe you didn't tell me!"
"No one knows."
"It's time you saw the world." Agnes came from Africa and had lived
61 in Newfoundland for years before coming here. "What are you going to
do in the big city—work in a butcher shop?"
"I'm going to be an apprentice to a dressmaker." I realize this by saying it aloud for the first time.
Mende appears distracted, but offers Agnes a confused look. Agnes
speaks to her quickly, pointing to me several times. I realize she's translating the conversation we just had. Karl lied—I doubt he could have
communicated anything to Mende. He must've snuck in when the locker
room was empty and busted into my locker himself. Whatever.
I embrace Agnes. Mende turns to me and says "Good luck." The two
of them walk away. Men and woman stream past in the opposite direction by the dozens, on their way into the plant for B shift.
Better get home and tell Dad. I exit the building and walk alongside
the chain-link fence that leads from the plant to the parking lot. I can't
remember where I parked my Civic. I scan the sea of parked cars, and
nothing looks familiar.
62     PRISM 47:1 Gabe Foreman
Innocent Bystanders
May is not the only month when mayflies emerge in large numbers from lakes
and streams.
—National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders
Ten zillion mayflies suddenly blur your view of the scenic delta.
Their approaching hum rises to a roar, shag carpet
tearing from the floor, rattle of static
as the storm engulfs—
You clap your ears and cower
as the first wave pelts your windbreaker and hair.
Soon hundreds cover your sleeves in a living sheath of wings
now a thousand tag your spandex and dangle
as the second wave hits.
Rapt in a collapsing mountain of mayflies, your jogger facade
surrenders. Seams spreading until Time splits
like a violin case, or the bent crystal
ceiling of a stream.
One song, then the wind shifts and you are gone.
63 Tough Cookies
7 cup granulated sugar
7 cup packed brown sugar
1fc cup softened butter
Grated zest of one orange
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
They began to deceive themselves, replacing objects of rational desire,
like crossbows and omelets, with burnt toast and acts of God. Like
wildfires they drove herds of powerful emotion into isolated ponds until
every gut reaction was neck-deep, forced to dog-paddle, nothing but
nostrils above the ripples.
And though they kept the urge submerged, these defectors from the
Freudian camp could easily picture themselves pushing to the aid of
fallen strangers, and ladling gentle soups into fine china bowls; offering
weeks of shelter gratis; giving personal beds pro bono to an endless river
of despairing convalescents who had each been duped into trading the
family cow for a handful of nefarious beans.
And still, the toughest of cookies kept pacing quiet rooms, and craving
them, stirring pointless stews, chewing them, clomping up the steps and
down again—until one day the landing is lower than they expect. Like
frontier drifters, they brush the bits of bottle from their beards, break a
chair across the emptiness, grip sadness by the shirt and smash its head
into the piano's edge, while low-cut ladies on the staircase laugh, and
make our bitterest skits look macho.
64     PRISM 47:1 Andrea MacPherson
Walking the Peace Wall
What had we imagined? Men in camouflage. Rifles. Suspicion
over the slightest thing: a brown paper-wrapped box, tied
with string. A birthday cake from a Dublin bakery could be a
bomb. The guise of costume.
There is no checkpoint between the Republic and the North. This is
peace time. The bombings won't start again until nine days after we've
gone.
Belfast
A deserted city—a ghost town—on a Sunday afternoon. Restaurants and
museums and shops all have signs hanging in their barred windows:
Closed. A few pubs remain open—small, dark rooms thick with smoke
and brogues—and churches have flung the parish doors open to the sunshine. We had not expected this. We are not prepared for an afternoon
closed up tight. We had underestimated the presence of God, the reminder that the church permeates everything here, even a corner shop
selling silver lockets and charms engraved with eternity knots.
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.
We walk through the quiet streets without maps, guidebooks or any
real sense of direction. K and I only have a vague notion of the city:
Titanic Monument, the murals, Queen's University, linen shops that we
won't be able to visit. I had imagined taking handkerchiefs home, holding them to my face and remembering.
A young woman pushes a pram down the road and we inexplicably
follow her. She is moving away from the closed shops and museums. She
is walking purposefully in the sunshine, her shoes ticking on the stone
streets.
Photos 1 & 2
Europa Hotel
The most bombed hotel in Europe: hit thirty-three times by Provos between 1970 and 1994.
65 (It seems unimpressive—sleek and modern, its name high and blocking the sky.)
Crown Liquor Saloon (across Great Victoria Street)
Ornately decorated with tiling, stained glass and woodwork. Local legend: the Catholic owner argued with his Protestant wife over its name.
His wife won and it was named The Crown, suggesting allegiance to the
British Royal Family. The husband took revenge by including a crown
mosaic so that patrons would step on it when entering.
(Consider a drink; step on the mosaic, look at the snugs and the line of men with
pints at the bar. Step back out into sunlight.)
The woman pushes the pram past City Hall, and out further. The streets
become wider, with shops lining their edges. Closed. Closed. Closed.
Housing schemes appear in squat brick beyond the shops. The woman
looks over her shoulder at us once—twice—and smiles. She turns down
a small laneway and we continue on, walking into the yellow light of the
afternoon.
There, K says. It's open.
A small corner shop, the door propped open with a brick. May sunshine is unusual, the heat even more. We step inside to the whir of an
ancient fan, a bored and wilting young girl behind the counter.
You shouldn't walk the Shankill. It's not safe, she mutters. A flutter of
hand, a listing of lefts and rights and only a few phrases we'll remember:
Castle Street, black cabs, murals.
The black cabs stand in a curved configuration, a scoliosis spine reaching down to Castle Street. Men lean on the cabs in worn denim jeans,
hats perched precariously to keep the sun at bay. Most of them smoke,
lazily letting the smoke whisper away from them. We tell the man at the
head of the queue we'd like to see the murals. He considers us curiously.
Speaks to one driver, another, another. Finally, a man in a blue T-shirt
with thick glasses smiles at us, waves us into his cab. Step into the shiny
black cab, step back in time. We position ourselves on the jumper seats.
Micil, the driver says by way of introduction. We smile, respond, and
answer his questions about Canada. He has a cousin in Montreal. He'd
like to go.
Micil snakes through the city, telling us about each mural, street corner, housing scheme. He slows in front of the murals so we might take
pictures; he tries to find shady spots so that we might get a clear photo;
he waits patiently as we focus.
66     PRISM 47:1 Photos 3 through 10
Murals
Bobby Sands, M—"Everyone, Republican or otherwise has their own
particular role to play...or revenge will be the laughter of our children."
"Slan Abhaile." "Time for Peace." "1916" with flames and the faces of the
men involved in the Easter Uprising. Celtic knots, the Great Hunger and
a roofless cottage.
(This is Belfast, and the city is divided. Micil can only take us to the Catholic
murals—a black cab means a Catholic cab. We won't see the other half. Overwhelmed. We take more photos. Click. Click. Stand close enough that we can see
the lines of paint, the brush strokes, the twist of wrist.)
Micil drives further still, waving off our objections that we only paid
to see the murals. We drive past leafy green lawns and houses painted
white. Past a cemetery so full of headstones it seems impossible anyone
could travel between them; surely they touch, headstone to headstone,
surely they learn each other's histories and secrets in the wind.
The Felon's Club. Micil stops outside a bright green building, Gaelic
scrawled across its base. Where they come after they're out of jail. Next
door, a temporary lodging. Micil suggests a quick pint.
Photo 11
The Felons
The small blue house next door is barely visible—a slim arched window
looks out to the street, away from the Club and the barred windows,
from the men who will stagger in and out.
(One photo: no pint. We pause. Consider. Wonder who might be sitting at the bar,
tasting a Guinness after years in Long Kesh.)
K and I get out of the cab when we reach the Peace Wall. What had we
expected? Not this dirty, rusted corrugated wall reaching up into the sky.
Not the way it angles against the sharp line of blue, hard and unnatural.
We pass the gate that separates the Loyalist district from the Nationalist district, its orange striping a surprise. We lean out the window, arms
extended, ready to snap a picture. A car comes down the Protestant side,
slows at the gate. Waits. Pulls through.
67 We take a photo. Roll the windows back up part-way. Ask Micil about
the Peace Wall's history when we hear it: a quick succession of raps
against the side of the cab. Not tinny, not hollow. Solid.
Pay no mind, Micil says. It's just rocks.
Rocks from Protestant hands at a Catholic cab. We turn to watch the
car pull away; we can't see their faces, only three outlines, dark in the
body of the vehicle. We squint, but see nothing to identify them, only the
line of blue sky behind them, the car pushing deeper into the Protestant
side.
And us caught somewhere in the middle: the dividing line.
Photo 12
Peace Wall
Lower half, white streaked with paint remnants, dirt. Top quarter corrugated metal. Mean edges. Rusting. Above that, interwoven wire reaching
up.
(We try to capture it all: the white, the rust, the wire. Lean back as far as possible, but still can't quite manage the edge: instead, the blue sky behind, coming
through, coming loose.)
Micil slows at a corner—the edge of the Peace Wall just there, apparent
if we squint—to tell us about a late night fight: Protestants coming from
one side, Catholics coming down the hill from the other. Lengths of pipe.
Blood on the cement. Men. Boys. The coming together and breaking
apart, the way one side dips and the other side lifts: push, pull.
A tank rolls by while we are pulled over. It rumbles and lumbers past
us, ominous, grey; it reminds us of where we are, what has become of
this city.
No Photo
No heavy grey tank with long barrel of gun. No large, rollered wheels.
No window. No sightline.
(Why? Perhaps frightened that the camera's flash means something; every movement, twist of wrist, brush of hair from eye, means something here.)
68     PRISM 47:1 Turning back down, edging towards Castle Street and the cab stand,
Micil takes back lanes, drives through housing schemes. Give you an
idea of what's really in the city, he says. Here, the curbs are painted
green, white and orange: Republican colours. We have to imagine the
others—blue, red and white—the crisp snap of the Union Flag.
He shows us laundry lines. Flats with windows open for the warm
air, the sunlight coming filtered in through gauzy curtains. We watch a
woman hold a baby on her hip and pin sheets to a laundry line; their
crisp white edges lift and curl in the breeze, coming back down again.
The baby cries.
Further down the street, a water main has been opened and children
gather—shirtless, short pants, fair heads—with pails and balls and skipping ropes. A little girl holds her hands in the spray and laughs. The
water catches the sunlight and small rainbows fracture. As we approach,
Micil says, Roll up your windows.
K and I comply. Our hands are on the levers when the water arcs
towards us, makes a graceful line in the air, and showers the cab. Three
small boys laugh, hold their empty pails up. They are sunlight, all golden
and sparkling. Micil laughs as well. It's all they have for fun, he says.
Photo 13
Water Main
Blurry: you can't quite make out what's in the picture unless you know.
The impression of red brick housing schemes. A silver arc across the
centre. Trees, like a watercolour painting.
(Hold the camera to the back window of the cab: hope to capture the boys. Will
settle for the water, the way it sprays and sighs, the white laundry lines in the
background. Consider titling it "Domesticity." Know that only we will recognize
it for what it is: that moment of sunlight and blithe laughter as we slowly pull
away from it all.)
69 Tom Wayman
The Gift of Misalignment
A painting when first hung on my wall
stares me in the eye
—the artifact a stranger in my house, somewhat nervous
but resolute:
after all, I invited it to live here.
Day by day, the frame and what it encloses
become familiar with their new setting,
relax a little
until they start to merge with the room,
comfortable as the area rug with its wine stain
almost invisible after a couple of dry cleanings.
Yet the painting's ease in its environment, its adoption
of a predictable role
was never the artwork's intent.
So the picture will eventually signal
displeasure at its compromised situation
by slowly lowering one corner of its frame
to hang aslant.
I may absently restraighten
the object. But if it remains overlooked
it will again tilt: subtly to begin with,
then at a more severe angle.
Regard me,
appreciate me
for all I am, the gesture insists.
I am not a suit waiting patiently in a closet, or a shelved book.
I watch you daily
—the least you can do is return the favour.
I have more value
than whatever price, or enhancement of your home
you imagine I represent,
more to give
than you have yet received.
70     PRISM 47:1 Noodle Party
Kathrynjankowski
71 Contributors
Baziju is a pen name of Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. They are also
members, together with Andy Patton, of the collaborative writing ensemble Pain Not Bread. Roo Borson's new book of essays, Personal History, is published by Pedlar Press.
Gabe Foreman grew up in northwestern Ontario. His poems have
turned up recently in Grain and The Fiddlehead. Currently, he works as
an official visual artist for the musical group The Burning Hell. He lives
in Montreal.
Aaron Giovannone's poetry has most recently appeared in The Antigonish Review, Canadian Literature, Event and Grain. Last year he was a
researcher in translation studies at the University of Siena, Italy. He currently teaches at Brock University in St. Catharines.
Jennica Harper is a Vancouver screenwriter and poet whose books include The Octopus and Other Poems (Signature Editions, 2006), and What It
Feels Like for a Girl (Anvil Press, 2008). "Liner Notes" was shortlisted for
the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Jennica has an MFA from UBC.
Susan Ingersoll, originally from Grand Manan Island, now lives in St.
John's, where she is an Associate Professsor of English Literature at Memorial University. A first collection of poems, now the moon appears among
the lilies, was published by Breakwater Books in 1997; she is working on
a second.
Kathryn Jankowski is a Toronto-based illustrator. Her first work was
born out of the aftermath of the earnest if not clumsy devouring of a
smoked meat sandwich; crumbs, scraps and smeared mustard in the likeness of the artist formerly known as Prince. The rest is history. You can
see more of her work at www.katyj.biz.
Jim Johnstone is the author of The Velocity of Escape (Guernica Editions,
2008). He is a two-time winner of the E.J. Pratt Medal and Prize in Poetry and was shortlisted for the 2007 CBC Poetry Award. Currently he
lives in Toronto where he edits Misunderstandings Magazine.
72     PRISM 47:1 Leigh Kotsilidis is a poet, installation artist and stop-animator, who also
dabbles in music. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies, chapbooks,
and Canadian journals. In 2007 she attended the Banff Writing Studio
where she made some headway on her first full length poetry manuscript
Hypotheticals.
Andrea MacPherson is the author of four books: When She Was Electric
(Raincoast, 2003), Beyond the Blue (Random House, 2007), Natural Disasters (Palimpsest Press, 2007) and Away (Signature Editions, 2008). She
holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, where she was an editor
of PRISM international. She is the Reviews Editor for Event.
Tanis Rideout lives in Toronto. Her first book of poetry, Delineation,
explored the lives, loves and obsessions of comic book heroines. She
has also written poetry for and toured with Sarah Harmer and Gord
Downie in support of environmental justice on the Niagara Escarpment
and Lake Ontario. Find her online at www.rideoutandearp.vox.com.
Shawn Syms lives in Toronto. His writing has appeared in The Danforth
Review, Prairie Fire Review of Books, The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire
and twenty other publications. Shawn is currently completing his first
short-fiction collection, Human Forces, with the support of the Ontario
Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council.
Tom Wayman's latest collection of poems is High Speed Through Shoaling
Water (Harbour, 2007J. A small book based on a lecture he gave in 2007
as the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Chair at BC's Malaspina University-
College, Songs Without Price: The Music of Poetry in a Discordant World,
appeared in 2008. He teaches at the University of Calgary.
Josh Weil's collection of novellas, The New Valley, will be published
by Grove/Atlantic in 2009. His short fiction has appeared in Granta,
StoryQuarterly, and New England Review, among other journals. A regular
contributor to The New York Times, he is a graduate of the MFA Creative
Writing Program at Columbia University and a former Fulbright Fellow.
Recently, he completed a story collection, The Age of Perpetual Light.
73 JOURNEY PRIZE 2008
PRISM congratulates
Craig Boyko
winner of the 2008 Writers' Trust of
Canada/McClelland & Stewart
Journey Prize
for his story "OZY" which appeared
in PRISM international AAA
The $10,000 Journey Prize is awarded
annually to a new and developing writer of
distinction for a short story published in a
Canadian literary publication.
Read the winning story in
The Journey Prize Stories 19:
The Best of Canada's New Writers
prismmagazine.ca 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 lorries &
Libretto.
Meryn Cadell
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Faculty
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Brian Brett, Sioux Browning, Catherine
Bush, Zsuzsi Gartner, Gary Geddes,
Terry Glavin, Wayne Grady Sara Graefe,
Stephen Hunt, Glen Huser, Peter Levitt &?
Susan Musgrave
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca Good Reads
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Vancouver, B.C. First Annual
Poetry Contest
1st Prize: $1,000
2nd Prize: $300
3rd Prize: $200
Entry Deadline: January 30, 2009
PRISM international
Annual Short Fiction Contest
$2,000 Grand Prize
Runners-up Prizes ($200 each)
Entry Deadline: January 31,2009
For entry guidelines, please visit our website:
prism magazine.ca rii'1-
W.R I.Til M G.C D NJ.E?S X.S
The Banff Centre Bliss Carman
Poetry Award*
(1, 2 or 3 poems per entry, maximum 150 lines)
Judges   Marilyn Bumont
Short Fiction
(one story per entry, maximum 15,000 words)
Judge:   Michael Winter
Creative Non-Fiction
(one article per entry, maximum 5,000 words)
Judge i   Lawrence Hill
*The Poetry first prize is donated in part by The Banff Centre,
who will also award a jeweller-cast replica of poet Bliss Carman's
silver and turquoise ring to the first-prize winner.    '
$6,000
in  cash
prizes!
1st   prize
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• Winning pieces will be published in Prairie Fire magazine, with authors paid for publication.
9 prairie/ire
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$4,000 second prize
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Signature:	  PRISM is Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Translation & Creative Nonfiction
47:1
Inside PRISM Issue 47:1
Four illustrations by Kathryn Jankowski
And new work from:
Baziju
Gabe Foreman
Aaron Giovannone
Jennica Harper
Susan Ingersoll
Jim Johnstone
Leigh Kotsilidis
Andrea MacPherson
Tanis Rideout
Shawn Syms
Tom Wayman
Josh Weil
Cover Art:
Hermana and her Sister
by Kathryn Jankowski
prismmagazme.ca
$10.00
7 ' 25274 " 86361   7
01

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