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 international
50:3/Spring 2012  PRISM international
PRISM international
Literary Non-fiction Contest
Grand Prize-$1,500
Winning Entry
Jean McNeil
"Ice Diaries:
a climate change memoir"
First Runner-up
Jane Cawthorne
"Something as Big as a Mountain"
Second Runner-up
Katie Fritz
"Rules of Play"
Judge
Amber Dawn
Contest Manager
Kari Lund-Teigen
Readers
andrea bennett
Cara Cole
Erin Flegg
Sierra Skye Gemma
Tariq Hussain
Will Johnson
Anna Ling Kaye
Laurie Ann Melnychuk
Jen Neale
Rob Peters
Emily Walker
Cara Woodruff  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Cara Woodruff
Poetry Editor
Jordan Abel
Executive Editors
andrea bennett
Erin Flegg
Advisory Editor
Rhea Tregebov
Contest Manager
Kari Lund-Teigen
Production & Design
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Alison Cobra
Sierra Skye Gemma
Elizabeth Hand
Leah Llorlick
Will Johnson
Ruth Johnston
Michelle Kaeser
Anna Ling Kaye
Lucie Krajcova
Jen Neale
Janine Young
Volunteer
Veronique West 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: prismcirculation@gmail.com   / Website: www.prismmagazine.ca
Contents Copyright ® 2012 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Photo: "Eastend," by Danny Singer.
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Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM also purchases limited
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All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address. Manuscripts should be accompanied by an email address. If you wish to receive
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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
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Our gratitude to Dean Gage Averill and the Dean of Arts Office at the University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support
of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
April 2012. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH COLUMBIA      888     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL <ftib>    for the Arts du Canada
iVC X^i,.'a'c<S.£C '^ vi Contents
Volume 50, Number 3
Spring 2012
PRISM international
Literary Non-fiction Contest
Amber Dawn
Judge's Essay / 7
Winning Entry
Jean McNeil
Ice Diaries: a climate change memoir / 9
First Runner-Up
Jane Cawthorne
Something as Big as a Mountain / 23
Second Runner-Up
Katie Fritz
Rules of Play / 35
Fiction
Yasuko Thanh
Hustler / 53 Poetry
Garry Thomas Morse
The Untitled (92) / 40
The Untitled (93) / 45
The Untitled (94) / 49
Jay MiHAr
Our Back Yard / 70
A Round Smooth Stone / 73
Our Two Heads in a Vacuum / 75
Your Two Blue Eyes / 76
Perfect Replications of Japanese Gardens / 77
Sheryda Warrener
Pluto Forever / 78
Contributors / 84 PRISM LITERARY NON-FICTION CONTEST
Judge's Essay
Lately, I've got talking heads on my mind. Not the New Wave
band—although their Speaking In Tongues album was an essential
soundtrack during my prepubescent years, so much so that "Psycho Killer" remains one of my all-time favourite songs. What I'm referring to is the convention in documentary film of having subjects speak
directly to the camera: a talking-heads show. In fact, I've had talking
heads on my mind for the last five years. In 2008, the year after I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, I passionately took up
film curation as my nine to five vocation. I watch upward of a hundred
documentaries a year. That's hundreds upon hundreds of talking heads,
each one sharing their wisdom, many of them summoning my philanthropy. Some of these "heads" I can even credit with changing my life.
But do talking heads make me bow before their filmic beauty? Certainly not. Creative devices—like artfully assembled shots (editing), mise-en-
scene (stylized staging and scenery) and varied, expressive shot sizes (long
takes, close ups, boom shots)—can be hard to come by in these films.
It wasn't always like this. Before reality TV, before digital media,
before YouTube, vlogging, lifecasting, citizen journalism, before b-roll,
before, even, "Smile you're on Candid Camera," there were no talking
heads. Cinema verite of the 1950s and 60s aimed to make the subject,
and the viewer, forget about the camera altogether. Verite directors wore
both artist and anthropologist hats, which I think makes them like writers. Their shooting ratios were mind bogglingly high, whittling down
hours of footage into short montage-like masterpieces. A Canadian gem
of the genre can still be viewed on the National Film Board's website:
Les Raquetteurs. For fourteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds you can
be utterly transported into Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1958. You can know
that relentless white-upon-white winter. You can feel the cold brass
mouthpieces of the trumpet and trombone, just as the marching band
did, as the racing showshoers cross the finish line. And you can taste the
dark, thick ale the townsfolk served up in that convivial reception hall.
Documentaries like Les Raquetteurs didn't tell us things; they showed us
things. Sound familiar? "Show, don't tell." The golden rule of creative
writing—the rule I was taught again and again in my MFA.
So perhaps it is the cinema verite fan in me that jumped at the chance
prismmagazine.ca to judge PRISM International's Literary Non-fiction Contest. I yearn for
style and craft with my truths.
When I read "Ice Diaries: a climate change memoir" this yearning
was generously answered, and I found the contest winner. Jean McNeil
is a novelist—and aptly names herself as such in her story. McNeil's
voice—perfected through authoring nine books, including The Ice Lovers
(2009) and Governor General finalist Private View (2003)—is not unlike
the cinematographer's eye; she understands exactly how to capture and
elevate beauty and mystery.
She offers her readers a few familiar details to welcome us into her
tough and fragile Antarctic landscape: "...at two am the land and sky to
the south is a Rothko paining" and "Percy Bysshe Shelly, in much of his
poetry, was suspicious of ice." Soon enough her ability to show, to draw
us in as any good writer should, becomes awe-striking, confounding. In
McNeil's Antarctica the "...sky is stark with dazzling stars, here their
light is colder ... Silver-cobalt clouds, ice in the sky," and we are compelled to "look into an empty, increasingly sunless quadrant of space."
With each pause-worthy image I felt less and less like I knew where I
was, which is, according to McNeil, exactly how many visitors experience the Antarctic.
When McNeil does speak to the reader directly, she doesn't tell us
answers to glacial riddles. "The polar environment appears to offer the
observer the near-divine spectacle of a place beyond the human. Here,
you can lose yourself ... [and] what you have found is a mirror." "Ice
Diaries: a climate change memoir" takes on further texture and depth
as McNeil positions herself courageously in front of this mirror, and
through it an equally tough and fragile landscape is revealed: a tumultuous Nova Scotian childhood, a girl shaped by questionable, quixotic
parenting and minus-thirty temperatures.
Runners-up Jane Cawthorne and Katie Fritz also lead us to formidable, and rather cinematic, places. In "Something as Big as a Mountain"
we ascend Mount Tsar—a climb that situates Cawthorne, and her readers, high in British Columbia's alpine and alongside the lasting survivor
mentality of battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
After a youthful—but too keenly perceptive to be called carefree—
romp around the world of love and dating, Fritz takes us to the Czech
Republic in "Rules of Play." A location not unlike her own romantic
emotions: vivacious, deliriously disastrous at times, and noisy—"The
noise is everywhere at night in the Czech Republic."
I extend congratulations and my gratitude to winner Jean McNeil and
runners-up Jane Cawthorne and Katie Fritz. It has been a pleasure to witness what these writers have shown me.
-Amber Dawn
8     PRISM 50:3 Jean McNeil
from Ice Diaries: a climate
change memoir
1. The Cage
sea smoke
Steam and fog over the sea formed by very cold air moving over warmer water,
typically In the Antarctic In spring, when sea-tee Is thinning or disappearing, but
land temperatures remain low.
March, 2008. Before the cold, the heat. I am back in the cage.
Officers sit at picnic tables. I eavesdrop on their tight-lipped
conversations, spiked with words like deployment and operations.
While the officers sit in their neat pressed chinos and designer shirts, the
squaddies stand around in boisterous groups, arms crossed over their
chests. I see paunches, tattoos, outdoor-rugged footwear, and a high bald
head count.
We are all listless. We read magazines, or stare at some gadget or
other, try to get signals on our mobile phones, even though we know
there is no signal on Ascension Island.
I've joined the Army again, although I can't remember enlisting. Ascension is a military airstrip, so any rules governing civil aviation and
passenger's rights can be smoothly cancelled. While the aircraft is refuelled we are all locked under guard in "the cage"—as everyone refers to
this half-indoor departure lounge, half-outdoors picnic area, shaded by a
corrugated tin roof and sealed with wire fencing.
A sign says Photography Prohibited, so I immediately take a few of
the unmarked aircraft on the tarmac (there is no proof that renditions
flights have landed on Ascension, but it isn't completely beyond the
pale—only the US and British military really know what happens here):
murkily incriminating images that look like they belong on the Amnesty
International website.
Ascension would seem to have nothing to do with ice, located as it
is nearly eight degrees south of the equator, on longitude 14.25 degrees
prismmagazine.ca west, a desolate meridian shared only with Dakar, Senegal, Iceland, and
Tristan de Cunha. Ascension is not really a place at all, just the tip of an
exposed volcano sprouted from the volatile seafloor of the mid-Atlantic
ridge. It has no native population; St. Helenans run most of the businesses on the island. Otherwise only US and UK military personnel are
allowed here; a few young tanned people in Desert Rat attire (beige
shorts, desert boots with white socks) look after the airfield. The island
is strategically important to the NASA space shuttle programme as an
alternate landing strip, should the shuttle run into trouble and have to
abandon its planned touch-down.
Ascension is also part of the quirky commute up and down the planet
from the UK to the Falkland Islands and British Antarctic Territory. One
of the most isolated islands in the world, it lies almost mid-way between
Africa (1,600 km away) and South America (1,400 km). The nearest
landfall from Ascension is St. Helena, 1,300 km to the southwest and we
have another 6,000 km to fly to the Falklands. As I sit in The Cage that
March morning, I'm not sure these distances mean anything at all—they
are just numbers. We are only very, very far away from anywhere else.
Two years ago I spent five days on Ascension on my way back from
my first trip to the Antarctic. It should have been a tropical hiatus between the cold of the Antarctic summer and the British winter, but those
days were terrible, mauled by the unquellable panic I felt, solidly, for
many weeks and months that year—panic and dread. Together they
formed a resinous substance, filling my lungs with an amber translucent
solid so that I could barely breathe.
During those days I walked around aimlessly, not caring whether I
got sunburn on my Antarctic-white back. On the beach, giant turtles
tumbled ashore at night. I saw the tracks made by their flippers in the
morning, the craters which they dug laboriously during the night to deposit their eggs. Nothing ever appeared on the horizon. The water and
gas tankers permanently stationed offshore in case of shortages pirouetted on their anchors, bored St. Helenan port guards slumped in pools of
shade on the docks. Despite the heat I couldn't even muster the energy
to swim in the municipal pool by the docks—the only place to swim on
the island, as the surf was too rough, patrolled by suctioning breakers, or
fringed with knife-edged basalt reefs. If these were not deterrent enough,
the island's water fizzed with hammerhead sharks.
It wasn't only the shrieking anxiety that kept me awake, but the
coughing St. Helenan man in the cubicle next to me, the paper-thin
walls of the jerry-built hotel between us, as well as the feral donkeys that
roamed the streets of the "capital," Georgetown, squealing their banshee
hee-haw call all night.
The only other guests were the St. Helenans waiting for the ship
10     PRISM 50:3 home. A group of ladies addressed me. Dressed in Sunday church at-
tire—neat white dresses, blue hats—they sat on the veranda, watching
the wild donkeys wander down the road.
"Hello," they said amiably. "Are you married?"
"I—well. Yes." I decided to lie.
"Oh," they grinned. "Good!"
I went to walk away, then returned. "Why did you ask me if I was
married?"
"Well, that's what everyone wants to know on St. Helena."
I didn't say, you're not on St. Helena now. I only smiled and basked in
their approval.
Now, two years later, sitting in the cage drinking my salty coffee, I
realise every man looks like Tom: checked shirt, outmoded jeans, shoes
a cross between hiking boot and trainer, complicated watches on their
wrists. Their balding, often greying hair sheared sharply at the neck,
their faces speckled with age spots from flying too close to the sun.
Sometimes I actually see Tom, or think I do—in the street, in train stations, airports—which was where I saw him last nearly two years ago, in
Knock airport in the west of Ireland. Another Antarctic ghost.
Scrawny palms sway in the breeze. The whine of the aircraft's automatic power unit blurs thought. I feel the ghostly appeal of a journey I
am not supposed to be making, as if it is an envoy of me, and not me,
who stands now in the Ascension Island cage. Only by chance am I
returning to the Antarctic and I am spooked. Will it be better, this time?
Will I have a stronger grip on myself? I still don't know why that year in
the Antarctic pitched me into my past and uprooted it into my present.
That was the point of the past, wasn't it?—it stayed behind you.
Start from the beginning. I've learned this as a novelist, and it's almost
always good advice. But often we begin in the middle, or even at the
end. Just as the iceberg once calved from the continent revolves restlessly, caught in the gigantic gyre of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current,
we also turn round and round. We are not caught in a single line, a narrative, a parable that lurches from A to B, nor a circle, but in a spiral.
"Would passengers re-plane the aircraft in the following order: officers, civilians, followed by personnel." We file toward the aircraft; I have
the impression we all drag our feet, reluctant to leave the tropical sun
behind. In the southern hemisphere the planet has tipped into autumn.
This will be my fourth trip to the ends of the earth, the extreme southern hemisphere. Everyone in the British Antarctic crowd called it, simply: "South." As if everything else plunked south of the equator were
drowned in the dazzling reality of the ice continent that needs no name,
only a direction.
I remember what Tom told me about the continent's bizarre allure,
prismmagazine.ca     11 the magnetic pull it exerts on you. "I've been working South for twelve
years now. In the beginning, when I first flew down here, I couldn't get
it out of my head. In the winter I'd be working in the Falklands, or flying
in the UK, and suddenly I'd have to stop what I was doing. I'd just see
it: a solid plain of white. And need it, somehow. I always felt reassured,
knowing I was coming back here at the start of every new season."
"And now?" I asked.
"Now, I don't know." He shook his head. He looked—I don't know
what to call the expression. Defeated. Possibly guilty. "Now I see only
the deprivations. Now, once I leave it, doesn't seem real. Why do you
imagine that is?"
"Maybe because your family isn't there. No one you really love is
there."
"All I know," he said, "is that once I leave it, now, it stays behind me."
We could tell if we might live or die by the angle he parked the car. We
could also read the rubber tracings of tires on the highway, like strips of
liquorice. Two or three of these burn marks was always bad news.
"Where the fuck are ya?"
There wasn't a lot of room to hide. Only months before, we had
been evicted from The Big House and were living in a trailer. I would
be under my bed, and my grandmother barricaded in the living room.
He broke down the door. I heard the sounds of furniture crashing, her
screams. Then he tugged me out from under the bed with one arm. I slid
out on a carpet of felt-like dust.
"Come on, we're goin' for a drive."
Through the door to the living room I glimpsed my grandmother.
She sat in a heap on the floor, blood tricking from her mouth. Her glasses lay on the carpet, shattered. Her leg was at a peculiar angle, folded
underneath her body.
She's dead, I thought. She's dead and now there is just him and me.
He will wait until I am bigger and then I will become this, for him. I will
be that heap in the floor.
It is always the same with these journeys. Still in my nightdress, he
shoves me into the passenger sat of the car. No seatbelt. I am never
scared. Stars, tops of trees, stars, tops of trees—these pass in a blur until
they are the same substance, hewn from jewels and shadows. He drives
the darkened highway, swerving from one side to the other—not because he is so drunk; he is an excellent drunk driver. He's bored. On
one swerve he hits the gravel, overcorrects, and we are spinning into the
ditch. It's like the tilt-a-whirl I ride at the North Sydney exhibition every fall.
12     PRISM 50:3 The car tips over the side of the ditch, and I am catapulted into windshield, then thrown back onto the seat. I keep my body limp, like the
body of the rag doll I have left underneath my bed, where I had been
hiding. I will never be hurt in these crashes.
Beside me, he is still. I begin to panic. How will I get him out? How
will I get home? It is the middle of the night and I am not sure where we
are. I am not yet big enough to see through windshield.
After about five minutes, he comes to.
"What the?" His hand goes up to his jaw. "Ha ha," he chuckles. "Not
bad eh?"
"How are we going to get home?"
"Don't you worry about that." He is still rubbing his jaw. "Don't you
worry."
He says someone will come by, but no one passes. Hours later we
are still sitting there and I am very cold. He takes me in his arms and
squeezes.
He carried me home that night, walking for two hours along a dark
highway. When we got back, my grandmother was still sitting in the
chair. She had put her glasses on, even though the left lens was shattered.
I couldn't see the expression in her eyes.
2. A Mirror
A brittle shiny crust of ice formed on a calm surface by direct freezing, or from
grease tee, usually In water of low salinity. Thickness to about 5 cm. Easily broken by wind or swell, commonly breaking in rectangular pieces.
March, 2006. The end of the season is drawing near. Night has returned;
we see its dark fur, like the pelt of some animal, for the first time since
November.
Tom gives a farewell talk to Base about his trip to the South Pole. He
describes the American summer traverse from the McMurdo base on
the coast to Amundsen-Scott at the South Pole. He shows us pictures of
gigantic tractor-like vehicles, snow caked on their treads, hauling shipping containers on giant sledges.
I hoard the new words I am learning, the vocabulary of the Antarctic:
traverse, sastrugi, uplifting, its sound of a frozen circus, so much vertical resurrection. Then the nuts-and-bolts Antarctic language of logistics. This
has a different tang; quasi-militaristic, yet possessed of its own sturdy
poetry: "sledge Kilo will be uplifted from Site 8 by BZZ at 0400 Zulu."
(Translation: Sledge Kilo is a field party; Site 8 is one of those place-less
prismmagazine.ca     13 places in the Antarctic; BZZ is the registration of one of the twin Otters,
and Zulu means Universal Coordinated Time, or GMT.) My favourite
term of all is uplifted, which means being flown out of deep field in the
Twin Otters.
After his slide show Tom tells me that the following week he will fly
out to the Ronne Ice Shelf. "I wish I could take you with me."
"I talked to the field operations manager, the base commander. I even
talked to Cambridge."
"And they really wouldn't let you?"
I shook my head.
That evening, Tom and I went for a walk around the Point. At North
Cove we passed patches of brown goo and blood, bright on the snow,
which indicated Weddell seals had recently given birth. The chromatic
deprivation of the Antarctic is such that any colour, even the brown of
seal intestine muck, is a salve for the famished eye.
"Why did you say that," I asked, "that you wished I could come with
you?"
"When you look at things here, you really see them. I sometimes get
the impression that everyone else, they think it's an interesting backdrop
but that's all. And the scientists are so concentrated on getting their work
done. But you, you really look, and you really see."
"Well, that's what I've been sent here to do."
This is my entire purpose on this continent of ice corers, sub-glacial
lake drillers, tropospheric chemists, mechanics, plumbers and pilots: to
write. Despite having won a prestigious fellowship to come here, I am
finding it difficult to get anywhere; both in a physical sense (a writer is
hardly a priority and down here flying a human being around carries a
£. 10,000 price tag). But also, the Antarctic is not a place for lone wolves,
and that is what a writer is, always. Everyone here suspects I am a sort
of spy. They call me that: the writer, an accusatory clang echoes through
the word.
But there are many things about the writer no one knows, least of all
herself: how the Antarctic will save her—an unlikely rescue to be sure
—although she doesn't yet know from what. There are two options she
supposes: a dark and lonely future; a dark and lonely past. She would
never believe, if you'd told her a few years ago, that one day she would
go to a continent gilded with the light of a three-month long day, to a
continent owned by no one. She will go, for the first time in her life, to
nobody's country.
The hiss of snow against the window. It is four-thirty in the morning, the
third time I have woken through this polar night.
The planes left three weeks ago. In that time we have lost forty-five
14     PRISM 50:3 minutes of daylight each day. When I first noticed this acceleration, I
would look at my watch every evening as I sat in LAB 7, trying to write.
Now dark at 7:30 pm, now at 7:10; the next day, 6:40. It will soon be
April and my body, programmed by a lifetime in the northern hemisphere, yearns for light, for spring.
The distress signals sounding throughout me are so powerful I can't
eat, I can't sleep, I can't wait for time to pass and time, in retaliation,
slows down and stops, then, with an almost audible grind of gears, goes
into reverse.
I tell myself it's just the light, the spooky speed it is being withdrawn
from our world, that makes feel this way. But there is something else,
which I cannot define—the atmosphere is different down here, as if all
the energies of the planet have sunk and are congealing in a cold layer
of thought. Scientifically there is some evidence for this: the earth's magnetic field is drawn downwards by the weight of the ice continent and
distorted, so that magnetically the planet looks less like a sphere than a
pear.
New threats blossom effortlessly in my mind; as soon as one is banished another takes its place. I imagine a war, an epidemic, the collapse
of the global economy, a tsunami that wipes out most of civilisation. In
the Antarctic we are forgotten by the outside world and left to starve.
The generator is powered down and suddenly there is no light. Outside, the sky is stark with dazzling stars. Here their light is colder, more
platinum than silver. Silver-cobalt clouds, ice in the sky. We look into an
empty, increasingly sunless quadrant of space. Here are frozen nebulae,
the blink of a dying pulsar.
Our world is hardening. In the bay it starts as ice flowers, tiny crystalline formations. As the carpet of flowers is knit together by cold nights
they are soaked by seawater to form a grey gruel; overnight the gruel
becomes porridge. Within days pancake ice, ivory, a dusky white, forms.
I once found this place beautiful: its waters still and black as an ink
lake, the shimmering pinnacle bergs, the mountains which flash on and
off like strobe lights when graced with an increasingly rare sun. Mint
glaciers, the halo of sun dogs—parhelia. Only months ago I felt at home
here; how strange, that somewhere as vacant and hostile as the Antarctic
would be home. What did I feel when I first came here? Ecstatic, more
moved than I had been in my life. Now it seems to me that there was a
shadow of the abandonment I would come to feel within my euphoria.
Many people speak, in an ill-understood New Age dialect, of being
reborn in life, as if it were a comforting experience. But being reborn
is violent. It means a re-accommodation of all the mysteries of life you
have forgotten to the extent that you simply accept them without question. It means coming into the world again not only exposed, as young
prismmagazine.ca     15 children are, but flayed by experience you have already accumulated
and cannot forget. But it also offers a re-acquaintance with amazement
and magic, and that is what happened to me in the Antarctic: I remembered that the world is a place stocked with mysteries so basic, and yet
our absurd and trusting acceptance of them.
The polar environment appears to offer the observer the near-divine
spectacle of a place beyond the human. Here, you can lose yourself, you
can disappear into an icy labyrinth just beneath the surface, kilometres
deep, cavernous as a cathedral. On its whiteout surface, as smooth as
chrome, you stare and stare into it until your irises are singed by its albino glare, and discover that, for all its beguiling lethality, what you have
found is a mirror.
He has terrible car karma. He buys a succession of second-hand cars
with something wrong with them. If it's not the steering, it's the alternator. Cue many hours spent at crossroads with the hood up. We have to
hitchhike home. We make a great vagabond team—he gets maximum
mileage out of the driver while I charm them.
Other times he disappears and we discover he's been up with the
Buddhists. They have established a monastery up Cape Smokey way.
Apparently Nova Scotia rests on very powerful ley lines; it is this energy
that attracts so many Buddhists.
My grandfather has a whale of a time at the monastery. He plays his
harmonica, and they tell him about living an un-acquisitive life. "I know
all about that, b'ye," he says to them, using the island shorthand for
"Buddy." "It's when you don't have money in your bank account. When
you don't even have ajesus bank account in the first place."
The Buddhists drop him off, sober, on Monday mornings. By then
my grandmother is convinced he has been dead in a ditch somewhere
for at least two days. He brings home the excellent macrobiotic muffins
the Buddhists bake.
Other times I find him in the bathroom, applying mascara. He had
most of his eyebrows and eyelashes singed off in a tank in the war. This
was in Sicily—he was the only of his buddies to get out of that tank alive.
He liked to apply mascara to the sparse strands that were left.
"It looks good, don't you think?" Frankenstein turns to me. These are
the days before waterproof mascara.
"I think you should use less, maybe," I say, hedging my bets. Anything can anger him.
"Okay, you know so much about damned mascara. You put it on me."
I rub off the excess with cream. "There," I say, handing the wand
16     PRISM 50:3 back to him.
He looks in the mirror and grins. He will do this later, too, when he
has lost all his teeth—take out his false teeth and grin ludicrously in the
mirror, making faces at himself with his gummy, suddenly old-man's,
smile.
I haven't thought of this time in my life in years. It is as if by coming
to the Antarctic, I have stumbled over a trip wire. Maybe it's simply
because fifteen years ago I left Canada for Britain and never returned
in winter. Now I am back in the landscape where I began, 12,000 miles
away.
My first memory is of waking into a world of white ashes. Black trees
against the sky, black birds threading through their branches. White
snowfields, last years' hay sticking out, sparse and spiky, like tiny plinths
of brown blown glass. I was alone on the veranda, swaddled in blankets.
They used to put me out on there in temperatures of minus thirty—to
toughen me up; their mothers had done the same with them.
In Greenlandic, the word for "winter" is also the word for "a year."
We had brief, outlandishly lovely summers, but most of my memories
are of winter, and not only because of its duration. That last year we
spent on the island we never saw the light, because he was the Great
Dark, as winter is known in Greenland. He was Saturn, an eclipse, the
dark matter at the outer edges of the universe. The rain and the night.
3. Summer
shuga
An accumulation of spongy white Ice lumps, a few centimetres across, formed from
grease ice or slush and sometimes from tee rising to the surface.
January, 2006. We linger over meals. We have so much time here we
don't know what to do with it. During one of these languorous lunches
I talk to Russell, the marine biologist. He is tall and lanky, kept thin and
fit by a diet of marathon running on the airstrip.
The summer sunlight is like syrup; it coats the dining room, fading the
already bleached Union Jacks that line its walls, the old silk flags lowered
and raised each year in winter to mark the return of the sun—or what is
left of them, their edges pink-sheared by the Antarctic wind. Alongside
them is an Antarctic photographic gallery: two Orcas in the bay, the
Dash 7 coming in against a watermelon sunset, lights blazing, a team of
huskies pulling a sledge across a diamond-hard ice field.
I feel a sudden rush of pride at being part of this world. Everyone
prismmagazine.ca    17 agrees that there is a mystique to the Antarctic, and that it is indescribable. It's insane, someone says. When you're here you think, right, get me
home, I've had enough. Then as soon as you leave you start scheming to get back.
I steel myself before asking Russell the question that has been on my
mind. "Why do people on Base dislike us so much, the writers and the
artists who come here?"
"I think it's because here, no one is anything special. As soon as you
think you might be—the arrogant types, the VIPs—you earn the ire of
the crowd." He pauses. "Maybe there's a feeling that writers and artists make too much of things that don't stand up to such scrutiny. Plus,
there's jealousy of course."
"Jealous of what?"
"Of all the airtime culture gets. Meanwhile scientists are working
away, behind the scenes, being thorough, not asking for any particular
recognition, only for understanding."
Behind Russell's shoulder a giant iceberg sits perfectly framed in the
dining room window. It had blown in on a southerly wind that morning
and parked itself at the end of the runway. This was a problem for the
planes: the wind was northerly that day, which meant they had to use the
southern approach. But a mountain of ice stood in their way on takeoff.
"The pilots will just land with the wind behind them, if the chief pilot
thinks it's safe," Russell observes. "Otherwise they'll wait it out in the
field."
"When will the berg move?"
"Who knows? Could be tonight, on the change of tide. Could be next
week. It's the charm of the Antarctic. Nobody knows what is going to
happen from one minute to the next."
Later that night, a figure appears in the doorway to my office. Xavier, the
glaciologist. He holds out two books. "I thought you might find these interesting reading." The History ofGlactology and The Spiritual History of Ice.
Outside the window the glacier gleams. Two skidoos thread their
way up its flanks, carrying midnight skiers. I settle in my office, my feet
propped up, soaking up the radiator's heat.
The books tell me that as a science glaciology was born out of the
rise of geological science in the 18th century, which was itself a direct
consequence of the Enlightenment. God was no longer the maker of external laws. Before, dark superstitions had surrounded ice and the frozen
peaks.
I read that the first theorists of the global Ice Age presented the reverse spectre of global warming: rather they envisaged a period of catastrophic cold, the ice animated to monstrous life, gigantic and stern,
dwarfing a toy town landscape of rivers and mountains and fields which
18     PRISM 50:3 it could crush effortlessly. These early ice apocalyptics envisioned upheavals, vast refrigerations that took place over epic timescales that slid
effortlessly from the human mind, greased by the incomprehensibility.
Glaciers and mountains were frozen juggernauts, with their uncanniness,
their power to reveal and to endanger.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, in much of his poetry, was suspicious of ice,
writes Eric Wilson, the Romantic scholar and author of The Spiritual
History of Ice. It was cold, aloof, haughty, deadly. But, with the enlightenment, the dark magic lightened. Glaciers became magical—repositories
of white magic. And so the modern sublime was born.
It is three in the morning when I stop reading. In my window the
black peaks of Reptile Ridge—so called because its spiny back looks like
that of an iguana—gleam in a faint dusk, tipped with the fire-glow of the
perpetually setting sun. There's no sign of the midnight skiers, but they
could have come back long ago, driving the skidoos in the tangerine
twilight we call night.
I walk through the silent corridors of Bransfield House. In each of the
laboratories silver equipment boxes are stacked, just returned from the
field. Inside are ice core driller bits, radaring equipment, echo sounders
—the instruments of the search for the frozen lakes trapped kilometres
beneath the surface of the ice, the accelerating ice streams, the fracturing
glacier at Pine Island.
All Base is silent now, apart from the hum of the generator. Only Bub-
ba the Skua—who I know will be waiting for me, expectant as always, on
the other side of the door—and I are awake. I like Base best at this hour;
at night, deserted, it feels fully extraterrestrial, a landlocked spaceship
held fast in the ice. On the tagging board I move my little plastic tag to
the nail which shows I am in my pitroom, and go to bed.
I spend the next day with Liam, the marine biologist. Liam studies giant
sea sponges, some of them two meters tall; a man could crawl within
them. As well as giant sponges, the Antarctic waters harbour giant starfish and giant sea spiders. In the aquarium, Liam places one of these
in my palm. It sits in my hand, a flat black disk, its thin dark tentacles
searching my wrist for a grip. After a moment I hand it back.
"It's a paradox, isn't it?" Liam returns the sea spider back to the tank.
"You'd think that in water this cold they'd barely survive, and instead we
find these gigantisms. These waters are the most nutrient-rich on earth,
despite the cold. There's abundant krill, and a lack of natural predators.
Everything—sponges, sea-squirts, starfish, spiders—flourishes here."
Liam continues. "The waters around the peninsula are warming faster
than any other ocean on earth. Warming disrupts these creatures' nervous systems, and they start to die in large numbers. That in turn disrupts
prismmagazine.ca     19 the food chain. All the creatures here are adapted to extreme cold. A
single degree of warming and the krill could diminish, or even disappear. And then, well, it's game over for everything."
The Antarctic is a tough and fragile environment at once, and both
qualities are inextricably linked. Fortitude is forged in deprivation: if it
were not for the extreme cold of the marine environment in these waters, these creatures would not flourish so elaborately. And, perversely,
warming—normally a condition for abundance—is what will kill them.
Liam is looking at me intently. He is more tolerant of my presence
here than others on Base, but he is trying to figure something out about
me. I recognise the percussive, advantage-seeking gaze of the intellectual.
I don't tell him I am In love with this life. I could stay here forever.
That night at two am the land and sky to the south is a Rothko painting. Piotr the marine assistant and I go outside to try to photograph the
effect. A low mantle of cloud hugs the land, nearly touching the ice. Between these two dully-throbbing strata of grey is a light blue line of sky,
slicing it in two.
Apart from the low hum of the generator, it is silent—not a dull
freight of silence, but spangled. It shimmers with the crystal intensity of
the snowflakes sparked by the sun.
Then the sky darkens, and the thin blue line is erased. The sun lowers
itself to a point just above the horizon and hovers there. This is what I
call a compass sunset—two rays of the sun spear the horizon, held apart
from each other at a 90 degree angle—begins to form. One spear points
northeast, the other southwest.
Tom and Liam join us on the Cross. We stand in silence for awhile,
our bare hands shoved into our jackets; Tom's pleasant, square face lit
by the cold glow, Liam's restless eyes scanning the sea ice. We see Alexander Island, Jenny Island, Ryder Bay, icebergs still trapped in last
years' sea-ice in North Cove, Reptile Ridge, the string of mountains that
stand sentinel, Valkyrie-like, behind Pinero Island. Behind it, Graham
Land, the long spine of mountains and ice that reaches north toward
Tierra del Fuego. The sun never sets, but neither does it appear.
I close my eyes, now, and see us bathed in the orange glow of perpetual sunset: Liam, with his explosive, eager intelligence; Tom, the intuitive, dextrous pilot. Me, the writer/spy who will one day make too much
of this, trying to capture the fugitive moment, which does not want to be
held, or known. The night, the sun that never slept, and us, standing at
the Cross, frozen in that moment of cold awe.
I left the Antarctic that year on a spectacular day. Tom and Andy flew us
up in the Dash. Also in the plane were a group of government VIPs—the
head of one of the national research councils, the head of DEFRA, the
20     PRISM 50:3 agricultural and environmental ministry.
For the most part they did paperwork, or slept while we flew low over
the peninsula, in deference to the departing but (unbeknownst to the
pilots) slumbering VIPs. So it was the writer and not the policy-makers
who got the benefit of those low fly-bys. We flew low over ruined icebergs, collapsed in the centre, where small lakes of tourmaline meltwater
had collected. From the air they looked like molars or barnacles.
I sat in the jumpseat with the pilots as we flew through—not above
—the LeMaire channel at a height of only a few hundred metres, Andy
holding the aircraft steady in between diamond tors. Tom was on iceberg and birdstrike duty. Later, Tom told me he missed a bird, and that
we had been struck and the bird diced up by the propeller. At that low
altitude it could have been a problem; with little recovery time we could
have hit the deck. But it was all fine. That was the nature of those "moments," as Tom called them, by which he meant moments when it could
go either way, but when luck was on your side.
Tom turned to me in the cockpit. "We've got one last thrill for you."
He pointed out the windscreen, twelve noon ahead. A mountain, or a
slice of one—it was truncated somehow, I could tell as much—loomed
in front of us. We were flying lower than its peak.
The mountain came closer and closer and still they did not pull up.
A smile pulled at the edges of Tom's lips. He was willing me to panic, to
react, so I didn't. I just sat tight in the jump seat as the piece of rock filled
the windscreen.
At the last minute the mountain parted and we skirted past and into
what looked like a lake. I recognised it from the charts on the ship which
had brought me here. So our last thrill that day was to fly through the
crater of Deception Island. As well as an island, Deception is also a volcano, although collapsed, its caldera filled with seawater. There was only
a narrow mouth open to the sea. Cruise ships sometimes got stuck in the
lagoon-like caldera, Andy told me, when icebergs blocked off the narrow exit.
"What do they do then?" I asked.
"They wait. Or get helicoptered off the ship."
Deception was littered with abandoned bases that had been hastily
deserted when the volcano jolted to life. We circled the caldera. The
old bases had been shattered into matchsticks scattered on stark slopes
of new lava. We flew, following the curve of the caldera, and found ourselves flying along the flank of a mountain.
We left Deception behind and climbed steeply, uplifted on ragged
thermals to our cruising altitude that would take us over the Drake Passage. The sea below was calm, a perfect midsummer Antarctic sea, dotted
with icebergs and the occasional cruise ship. Thickly grouped near the
prismmagazine.ca     21 peninsula coast, the icebergs disperse quickly once in the open ocean.
For so many months the continent everyone in the Antarctic world calls
The Ice had been everywhere—beneath me, around me, in my mind,
my eyes, in my dreams. And then, in ten minutes' flying, it was gone.
22     PRISM 50:3 Jane Cawthorne
Something as Big as a
Mountain
I am not a mountaineer. The point is brought home to me as I ascend an unnamed peak in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia
south of Mount Tsar. I am tied to a rope with three other climbers
and a guide. Two more rope teams are ahead of us, already invisible
beyond a steep snow slope. I am swollen, soaked with sweat, gasping for
air and silently cursing myself.
I chose to be in this place, this elemental landscape of rock, ice and
snow. It is stark, unpredictable, inhospitably vertical, dangerous. In
many ways, being here is utterly foolish, an unnecessary risk. I feel this
deeply now. At 48,1 am a little too old to be a novice climber, a little too
thick around the middle. I have no particular history of athleticism or
daring. Yet, I am here, struggling. I have to keep moving. I brought this
on myself and I'm still not sure why.
We have gained and lost hundreds of meters of elevation in the last
six hours. There have been only a few very short breaks during which
we multitask, adjust gear, snack, change layers, drink water. I get the signal that we are stopping, drop to my knees and throw my pack off onto
the snow. At this moment, I don't care if it slides down the mountain.
Thinking better of it, I secure it with my axe. I bend down to adjust my
rented crampons for the sixth time today, cursing again, this time at my
stupidity in believing one size could fit all. One size never fits all.
This day starts in blackness at 4:30 AM. Leaving my tent, I am dumbstruck by the dizzying array of stars, this astronomer's dream. I want
to lie on my back and follow the path of the Milky Way, pick out distant suns, admire their hues of yellow, white, blue, and green, and think
about heat and light and time until dawn breaks the spell. Instead, I look
down at a pathetic circle of light my headlamp makes on the ground,
try not to trip over rocks, and join a snaking line of about fifteen other
climbers heading to a peak between Mounts Tsar and Odell nicknamed
"Louise."
We are all participants in the Alpine Club of Canada's General Mountaineering Camp, an annual event which welcomes anyone from expert
prismmagazine.ca    23 climbers to novices to build skills and explore Canada's alpine environment. At 4:30 AM, a few of the experts are already an hour or more into
their day. We can see two headlamps bobbing along a vertical line several hundred meters above us on Mount Somervell. Other experts are
heading up Mount Tsar already, and another group is tackling Mount
Ellis. My group is more varied in ability and our climb is much easier.
Of the three novices here, I am by far the oldest. I feel like I'm in junior
high, trying hard to seem like I belong, trying to do things right enough
not to get noticed.
It's surprisingly loud in the middle of nowhere and I haven't slept
much. The Shackleton glacier to the northwest groans when it moves
and the sound rolls like primordial thunder, vibrating low and deep.
There is a constant rush of glacial meltwater running by my little orange
tent. When I do fall asleep, I dream that I am being carried away by the
water, swept down the stream and over the cliff and I wake with a start.
Avalanches of rock and snow echo through the night. The air is thinner
here too. But the real problem is I am full of fear.
I am last on the rope, a position I find psychologically difficult. Reason
tells me I am not last because I am slow. I am no slower than anyone
else. We all keep the same pace, tied together as we are. Reason tells me
the others will notice if I fall. The jerk on the rope will alert them. My
crampons are back on, sort of, and I'm getting the signal we are moving
again. I have to pee. That will have to wait. I double check my harness,
put my pack back on, tighten the straps, and realize I didn't eat. It's too
late for that.
I try to remember why I am here, why I am climbing this mountain.
My goal when I signed up was to become a stronger hiker, safer, better at crossing snow and ice, and better at assessing risk. I've been hiking
for over two decades. My first hike in the Rocky Mountains was with
the man who would become my husband. We went to the tea house
above Lake Louise. Whether it was the legendary scenery, the sense of
accomplishment I felt at the end of the day or the budding romance, I
was hooked. I became a hiker.
Hiking sounds more athletic than walking, and it can be, depending
on the trail. But the secret of hiking is that it is really just walking with
sturdier shoes, more snacks and better scenery. It takes no skill that the
average toddler hasn't mastered. In other words, it's right up my alley.
True athleticism has always eluded me; it is simply not my nature. I was
always the girl who lied to get out of gym class and got picked last for
any team. Hiking is as close as I have come to having a sport.
My hiking stopped a few years ago when I had cancer, Hodgkin's
Lymphoma. There was a time when I couldn't get across a room with-
24     PRISM 50:3 out leaning on something or someone, or stopping to rest. After chemotherapy and radiation, I measured my physical recovery by how far
I could walk. My first goal was to get up the stairs of my house without
resting. Next, I went outside and struggled to walk to the corner. Once
I could do that, I set my sights on getting around the block and then to
a local coffee shop a few blocks away. It took months. Over the next
two or three years, I slowly, steadily, made progress until I could go into
the back country again. To this day, I am slow. I still struggle up steep
slopes, but if I factor in some extra time, I can make it.
In 2010, while hiking in the Kootenays, my family and I found ourselves mired in about three meters of late July snow on the trail that passes above Kokanee Lake. This is the same place where Michel Trudeau
died, and with snow whipping my face, I could see exactly how this tragic accident happened. I decided that day to take an alpine safety course.
But General Mountaineering Camp is more than I bargained for, more
than I imagined. It is as though I ignored the word "mountaineering" in
the middle of the title or fooled myself into thinking mountaineering is a
synonym for hiking. It is not.
Hiking and mountaineering do have things in common. It's not as
though I have signed up for something completely outside my experience. Both hikers and mountaineers share a deep love of the natural
world and the sense of well-being that comes from being outdoors. Most
of the skills helpful in hiking are helpful in mountaineering too, like
walking, reading maps, finding routes and basic first aid. A fair amount
of stamina is required for both, as is careful preparation and smart packing. Hikers and mountaineers understand there is freedom in frugality,
in travelling light. Both consider an outhouse a luxury, not a deprivation.
As a hiker, I am able to traverse an approach to a mountain and get
to some pretty high places. But at some point, continued movement upwards requires climbing and it is at this point that the hikers' and mountaineers' paths diverge. Hikers have a snack, maybe a nap, and then
head down. Mountaineers get their gear out, put their harnesses and
helmets on, tie in to the rope and head up. To do so takes an exponential
leap in skills and strength, as I am learning.
Arguably, the biggest difference is the risk assumed. Mistakes are
costlier. It is perhaps the risk that makes mountaineering so hard to
fathom. Anyone who has ever climbed a mountain has been asked why
they would do such a thing. The most common answers are not in the
least bit helpful, answers like, "If you have to ask, you'll never understand." Although I see how this is true, it is also patronizing and glib.
Worse, it is lazy, an excuse for remaining inarticulate about the sport.
George Mallory's answer to the question, "Because it's there," is no better. It serves to make Mallory seem enigmatic and heroic, but again, it
prismmagazine.ca     25 doesn't explain why anyone would go to a place of deprivation, a place
where they could die, a place that will tax their body beyond all limits,
and then, having survived, go back again. Legendary Yosemite climber
Chuck Pratt's answer, "Because I'm too short for basketball," is much
less self-aggrandizing and certainly applies to me, but again, it is not an
answer that helps me understand his motivations or my own.
Hiking is easier to explain. With any luck, it is a fair-weather activity.
Daily concerns get left behind in a kind of moving meditation. Reminders not to let my thoughts wander are quick; a turned ankle, a toe stub,
an unintended diversion from the path, or a few moments of being "lost"
are all it takes to get me to pay attention, to look, to landmark, to be
present in the here and now. It feels good to be moving. I stop, breathe
deeply, examine patterns in the bark, the geometric perfection of a fir
tree, the path of erosion from spring runoff. I hear birdsong, the scratch
and scrunch of dry leaves, the wind through the branches, the groan of
the trees, and the chirping calls of chipmunks. The history of the place
reveals itself in marks on the landscape, footprints and scat. I see which
animals have crossed the path recently, how the weather has altered it.
The day might involve a quick nap in the sunshine or on a mossy patch
of shade. If I come back tomorrow, this place will be different, and I will
be different in it. I might be more confident on the trail now that I know
its twists and quirks. Maybe I'll have a song stuck in my head. Every hike
is different.
It's not all perfection and joyful communion with nature. There are
insects to bother me and spider webs to walk through. In the Rockies,
there are cougars, bears, elk, and wolves. There are times of panic and
fear, encounters with wild animals and near misses. It gets too hot, too
cold, too windy, too foggy, too rainy, too snowy. Trails get muddy and
unpleasant, views can be scarce and hikes can turn into forced marches through grim terrain. Miscalculations can leave snacks and water in
scarce supply and days much longer than expected. But these problems
are easy to mitigate and the good experiences far outweigh the bad.
Above the tree line, it's different. I think more about what is missing
in the landscape than what is here. I feel deprived of things that grow. I
miss trees, wild berries, simple grasses, moss. Real mountaineers must
not have the same feelings for trees that I do or must be better able to
accept the barrenness and severity of the high alpine.
And there is the fear. Maybe real mountaineers, experienced mountaineers, have found a way to get past it. But fear has lurked in me since
I decided to be here, since I signed up for the trip more than ten months
ago. As I read, trained, and received information, I began to understand
I was in over my head. The list of required gear shocked me. Mountaineering axe, ice screws, prusik cords. I had never even seen some of these
26     PRISM 50:3 things. I joined a climbing class at a local gym, added strength training
to my daily cardio regimen and five kilometer walks. I called the Alpine
Club of Canada to speak to someone. I peppered him with questions.
He listened to my insecurities and assured me this was a good place for
a novice. He said there is always someone who is wearing their boots for
the first time. At least I had logged plenty of kilometers in mine. I pushed
my doubts to the back of my mind and continued to train.
In hindsight, it was best that I did not really understand.
Friends and family received the news of my upcoming trip with varying
degrees of alarm and support. Those who like to commune with nature
only when it is in the close vicinity of a cottage or lodge were, rightly,
skeptical of my plan, even though by mountaineering standards, this
camp is luxurious. Tents and food are provided. There are outhouses, a
fully equipped kitchen staffed with three cooks, a dining tent, drying tent
and even a solar shower. Guides lead every trip and provide training in
basic skills like snow and rock climbing and handle all logistics. I wasn't
going to have to find the route to anywhere. I was not doing anything
incredibly foolish; I had support. Other more outdoorsy friends were excited for me, as were my husband and daughter. My mother was another
story. She demanded to know what I was trying to prove. Her question
haunted me. Was I trying to prove something?
Mountaineering is no stranger to ego. One of our guides, possibly
one of the most humble people I've ever met, liked to tell jokes about
mountaineers that played on the stereotypes while his own demeanor
disproved them. "How can you tell if a mountain guide is in the room?
Don't worry, he'll tell you."
Was this, literally, an ego trip?
My motivations still elude me in the helicopter as we rise over the last
ridge and the massive Shackleton Ice Field comes into view. My mind
falters at the scale. I cannot judge distance. I think this glacier is impossible to cross and pray that no one will ask me to do so. I see the little
collection of tents where I will live for a week, tiny orange declarations
on the landscape. I think more about ego. Either this place will erase
mine completely, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I am insignificant, or it will demand that my ego grow large enough to allow me to
insert myself here, stake my place, like the orange tents. I cannot guess
which way it will go. Coming here is either the best idea I've ever had or
the worst. Maybe both.
Lugging my gear into camp, I study my fellow campers. They are
friendly, modest, remarkably fit. They don't groan when they pick up
their bags. About ten of the thirty campers are women. One is about 60
prismmagazine.ca    27 years old, but unlike me she has no grey hair and judging from her gear,
she has done this before. I search for other novices, looking for new duffels. Before our first camp dinner, I join an enthusiastic group for a walk
above camp on the approach to Mount Tsar, a kind of reconnaissance
mission. I struggle to keep the pace. This is not a good sign. Conversation is about gear, other climbs, where everyone has been before, successful summits. I have nothing to add.
In my regular life, this would have been an incredible hike, crossing
a stream that leads to a gorgeous little box canyon dropping hundreds
of meters into the Kinbasket River valley. Two tarns, small lakes formed
by glacial melt water, one a shocking electric blue and the other a milky
robin's egg hue meet us when we crest a lateral moraine. Stunningly
beautiful, they are barely worth mentioning when there are massive glaciers above us and views across peaks for hundreds of kilometers.
The attention of the real mountaineers is above, studying Tsar,
searching for the route they will take to summit. To me, Tsar is alien and
distant, not terrifying, but entirely other. I prefer to focus on the small
details near my feet, scant but hardy vegetation that thrives in small rock
crevices, alpine flowers like valerian, arnica, yellow glacier lilies and
pink mountain heather that were buried in snow just two weeks before
and will likely be buried again in another two weeks. Marmots whistle
their alarm at our approach and I try to spot them. I am looking for signs
of life. The tree line is already well below us, an uneven transition area
of gnarled and stunted conifers with areas of blow down and avalanche
where the forest has tried desperately to keep growing before it finally
gives up. Life here is tenacious, desperate, heroic. Two days later, I will
find a live spider on a glacier.
Looking up again, a thought strikes me. This place is not alien. This
place is exactly what it is supposed to be. I am an alien in it, an intruder.
I am not supposed to be here.
Back in camp, my attention returns repeatedly to the valley far below,
to the trees and the braided, silty start of the Kinbasket River. I can see
the horizontal line where glaciers carved out the valley and imagine the
world in its geological time frame. Above me, I search for the familiar
and find nothing I can understand. It is ahistoric, indifferent.
At dinner, eavesdropping on the conversations of experienced climbers and guides, I am surprised when one guide says, "Climbing is never
fun when you're doing it. It's just hard work. Sometimes, you're just
praying to finish."
Someone else asks, "Why do we keep doing it?" Even they don't
know why they climb, but the question generates a few theories. The
guides talk about the physical and mental challenges. They describe
each trip as a kind of puzzle that every climber will solve differently
28     PRISM 50:3 depending on their skill and experience, the conditions that day, and the
available gear. They tell stories about past climbs, near misses, disasters,
running off summits from electrical storms. They talk about the rush
they get from success.
Then one guide says, "This is the fun part, after you get back, telling
the stories." He looks at me, laughs and says, "Don't worry. You'll love
it. And you won't be able to explain it either."
He is right. My first climb is to a peak the guides call "See-Tsar." In the
weeks at camp prior to this one, when weather made climbing to the
summit impossible, the best they could do was see Tsar in the distance
from this lower peak. Although See-Tsar might have been a consolation
prize to the guides and the hardcore climbers, for me, climbing it represents an incredible achievement. After just a few hours, we reach our
objective, a glorious ridge with a view to forever.
I burst into tears.
The joy I feel in this place almost explains why people climb. The sky
is a brilliant blue and almost cloudless. The air is miraculously still. The
only thing keeping me from a 360° view is Tsar itself. Otherwise, there
are peaks everywhere. In the telephoto lens of a camera, I spot our tiny
camp, so far away. While we eat lunch, my tears keep flowing. Another
climber, a woman, comes over to me, a witness to whatever it is I am
going through, and I blubber an apology. She says, "It's okay. Lots of
people react to their summits like this." To my surprise, I spill the story
of having cancer, of when I couldn't climb the stairs to my bedroom.
This climb started a long time ago.
She says, "You are better now. I'm so happy for you," and hugs me.
I was trying to prove something after all. I was trying to prove it was over.
Maybe when you've had something as big as cancer, it takes something
bigger, something as big as a mountain, to displace it in your life story.
When my sense of scale is altered, I can find a new perspective.
Climbing has the potential to turn those years of illness into a mere subplot, which is exactly where I want them to be. This trip is a way for
me to take control of my own narrative again, to write a new story for
myself.
Mountaineering is full of metaphor. Climbers talk about protection,
the ropes they use and the anchors they place to limit risk and the distance of any fall. An anchor every half meter is typically excessive, an
unnecessary hindrance that can keep a climber from getting where they
want to be. I think about the protection I place in my life. Sometimes,
I put in too much. I stop myself from trying new things and make my
course too hard. In the years since my illness, I have been too careful
with myself.
prismmagazine.ca     29 I think about how as a writer, I busily develop the characters in stories
I create, but neglect to develop my own. Here, I have put myself into a
new and challenging setting and have given my character a chance to
grow.
Back at camp, I am tired, but not exhausted. Looking at the climbs offered the next day, Louise is the shortest and least technical trip. Estimated to take ten hours, I know it will be tough for me. I learn Louise is
a named after Louise Guy, a beloved Alpine Club of Canada member
who died the previous September at the age of 92. A lifelong climber,
Louise attended thirty camps like these over four decades. Like me,
she had health problems, including cancer. She always returned to the
mountains. I notice she is remembered not for her illnesses, but for her
dedication to climbing. Inspired by her story, I sign up to climb her
namesake.
But on Louise, long before I approach the summit, fear grips me and
will not let go. It starts a few hours into the approach when I look above
and see the deeply crevassed base of the glacier leading to summit. No
amount of training could have prepared me to climb it. Doing so would
demand defying gravity. I am so out of my league. I express my dismay
to a more experienced climber.  She grins.
"We're not going up that. We're going past it and then heading up
along the southern edge of the ice. We'll get onto the glacier from about
halfway up after this icky part." The icky part is a scree field at least two
kilometres wide, scarred with multiple, crisscrossing moraines. In parts,
every step threatens a mini rock slide as the ground shifts underfoot.
She points to a rocky outcrop where the glacier levels out far above us
and explains the lay of the land so that I can understand the choices the
lead guide is making. For about forty minutes, we have been moving
away from the base of Louise, away from some seracs hanging off the
glacier, ice that could potentially fall right on top of us. She explains that
although this route is longer, it is safer and ultimately, easier. Easier, but
not easy.
Her explanation does not alleviate my fear because, although the
scene is daunting, my fear is not of the land. My struggle is not with the
mountain. My struggle is with myself. In spite of yesterday's success, I
am afraid of my own body, afraid it is not up to the task. Today is much
more difficult. I am afraid of my own thoughts, the little voice that is getting louder and louder and telling me I cannot do this. I want the voice
to be quiet. She can do nothing to help me with that.
Near the summit, as we begin to move again, my mind empties except
for the task at hand. I anchor myself, plunge the axe into the snow, feel
30     PRISM 50:3 my left hand throb from the repeated effort, step up with my right foot,
dig my right crampon into the snow, step up with my left, dig my left
crampon into snow. Repeat. The snow is getting soft. My feet struggle
to find a hold in the mush left on the trail after everyone else has gone
ahead. Anchor, step, step. Don't slide back. Anchor, step, step. Look up.
Check the slack in the rope, make sure it's right. Too much and I drop
too far in a fall. Too little and the tug between us is annoying. Keep up.
Anchor, step, step. Don't slide back.
Twenty minutes later, we reach a small level spot in the snow about
two hundred meters from the summit and rest again. We have caught
up to the rope team ahead of us and they are getting ready to move on
towards the summit, making room for us. The snow is softening in the
heat of the day and each step takes more effort now. One of the guides
asks, "Is everyone okay? Does anyone want to stop here?" I don't realize
he is joking. I look up. The snow ahead is very steep. There is about a
half hour of hard work and then a little loose rock before the summit.
This will be a long day, at least twelve hours, maybe more. I turn around
for the first time in about two hours and look not at the glacier or wall of
snow I am climbing, not at my own feet or the back of the climber ahead
of me, but at the vista to the south, west and north. The sky is bright blue
and dotted with white clouds moving swiftly in the wind. I am higher
than almost every peak I see. Overwhelmed with the beauty of it, tears
well up again.
I know only two things. One: I have never been happier to be anywhere. Two: I will not summit today.
I raise my hand and say I would like to stop. There is stunned silence.
I realize again, I am not a mountaineer.
A real mountaineer would forge ahead. But I know my limits. My ego
is well in check. I have not succumbed to the noisy little voice telling me
I will fail. I am being logical. I need to have energy for the return trip.
Guides speak to each other. If I stop, someone has to stay with me. I
didn't realize that and I feel bad. I thought I could wait on this level spot
for the return of the group, really take in the vista, let it sink in, breathe
deeply in this perfect air, let my mind begin to understand it. I already
know any relief at the summit will be short-lived. Today is not like yesterday. At the summit, the cold wind will force everyone down without
much of a rest.
Another novice pipes up and says he will stop here too. He makes
his decision sound like he is doing it for me, and maybe he is. He is a
kind person. But I also know he is suffering. I've been on a rope with
him for an hour. By the next day, he will be felled by a flu going around
camp, his eyes will be red and watery, his fever will leave him shivering.
It has already started. He needs to stop for himself, not for me. A guide
prismmagazine.ca     31 volunteers to start us on our way down. We untie from the rope, form a
smaller team, separate from the group and watch them become dots on
the snow above us.
I am happy with my choice, elated as we descend. In the lead this
time, I down-climb the snow and move with relative ease. The descent
places few demands on my damaged lung capacity. My fellow novice
is not doing as well. I notice how different his fear is from my own. He
does not trust his gear, does not have faith in his protection. He dislikes
being on the snow and ice. Unlike him, I like the technical aspects of the
climb because everything slows down and I can keep up with the group.
When we re-tie ourselves into the rope at the glacier, shortening the
distance between us, the other novice takes the lead. Disoriented, he
cannot follow the line the guide indicates that will take us off the glacier
and onto the rock and scree. He is not keen on the crevasses, while I am
curious. I want to get to the edges of them, look inside at their deepening hues of blue, grey and green. He, probably wisely, just wants to stay
away from them. But we have to cross several to get where we need to
be. We change positions. I lead, carefully hopping over small crevasses,
shouting back their location to him. I feel the tug of the rope, a message
to slow down, the only time anyone will ever ask me to go slower.
Later, a fellow climber explains that in his opinion, the real difference
between hiking and mountaineering is the rope. No one needs a rope
to hike. The rope is an acknowledgement of risk. We use rope because
a wrong move could mean death, not just a sprained ankle. More importantly, the rope is an acknowledgement of our mutual dependence.
It is a silent contract. On the rope, my fate is tied to that of another. We
have put our lives in each other's hands. We are in this together. More
metaphor.
Off the ice, we untie and begin the last part of the trip to base camp.
The other teams catch up with us after a few kilometers and we make
the rest of the descent together. My fellow novice is fine now, but I am
failing. He has the stamina I lack. After eleven hours with about two
or three kilometers left, I fall apart on the last steep ridge before camp.
Until this moment, I have been slowing, but I have carried on. Now I
need my hands to steady me. No one else does. I fall far, far behind.
My muscles no longer obey me. I can barely put one foot in front of the
other. At some point, my jacket falls out of my pack and I don't notice.
My guide does, and he goes back for it. He hands it to me and I cannot
figure out why he has it. I am a mess. I thank him, tell him I am grateful
to be here, thank him for his patience. Disoriented and dehydrated, too
tired to expend the energy it will take to get my pack off and find food,
I go without. A bad decision. With camp in sight, another woman takes
32     PRISM 50:3 a place behind me. I invite her to go ahead, knowing I am moving by
inches. She declines and stays with me. We are in this together.
Back at camp, the sense of serenity I felt near the summit evaporates. I
am the slowest. I held back the group. I hit the wall. At dinner, when
someone from our group shares the story of our climb, she says, "Two of
our team decided not to summit." I feel a flash of shame and look down
at the meal I am too tired to eat, eyes filling with tears. After dinner, I
swallow some ibuprofen, fall into my tent and sleep fitfully.
I am not a mountaineer.
In the morning, I am fragile. The trips that day are too long for me and
too technical, and I am in no shape to go out anyway. Instead, I make
myself useful in the kitchen and explore a gorgeous meadow bordering
camp. For the first time since my arrival, I am able to sit still and really
look at the place I am in without anxiety. For the first time, I feel the kind
of peace I feel on a hike.
The next day, an instructional day of rock climbing is offered. It will
be relatively easy for me because of the climbing I have done already in
the gym. In the relaxed pace of this day, there is more time for conversation. Listening to the others, I realize what happened to me on Louise
was all too common. I didn't eat or drink enough. I kept a pace that was
too fast for me and wore myself out. I didn't take care of myself. And
I know now that a twelve hour day is beyond my capacity, at least for
now. There is no shame in it. Whether I am the slowest or the fastest
doesn't matter. In the end, this is all ego and the mountain doesn't care.
Someone has to be the slowest. That day, it was me.
On the last day, I actually go for a hike, not a climb. Other groups attempt high summits and circumnavigations of mountains. I join a group
made especially for the exhausted and injured. We will hike the valley
that approaches Louise, go beyond that mountain and enjoy a day that
is set to start at 8:00 am instead of 4:30 AM.
I get to repeat the journey back from Louise that got the better of
me before, and this time, I make it over the ridge at my own slow and
measured pace. Even so, it is still an incredibly difficult ridge. I still need
to use my hands. Staying lower in the valley with the heather and the
flowers underfoot, I look up at the glacier and snow I crossed on Louise
three days before, retrace my path in footprints still visible all the way
up the mountain, and am amazed I got as close to the summit as I did. I
feel proud of myself again. Maybe I am a mountaineer after all.
I lay down on the heather, smell the thin layer of soil beneath me and
close my eyes, as close to heaven as I want to be.
prismmagazine.ca     33 I know now why so many mountaineers shrug off the question of why
they climb. Why do any of us do anything? There is no universal answer.
What is obvious to me may remain inexplicable to you. Like crampons,
one size does not fit all. All any of us can do is speak for ourselves, try to
articulate our own truth.
Without realizing it, I climbed to prove to myself that my illness was
over. I climbed to rewrite my narrative, to be able to tell a new story.
I climbed to get to know myself again, to take risks again, and to find
a new balance between accepting my limitations and pushing at them,
just a little bit. I climbed to remember we are all tied together, whether
or not we are on a rope. Our fates are collective. My story is yours and
when we share our stories, we learn from each other.
I will do it again and probably curse myself again. It will mean more
hard work, more training, and I suspect, more crying. And it will be
worth it. My life isn't meant to be small. No one's is. Our lives are meant
to be lived as big as we can manage, maybe even as big as mountains.
34     PRISM 50:3 Katie Fritz
Rules of Play
The first time you kiss a lesbian make sure you wear shorts. She
likes your runner's legs. She will taste like cinnamon hearts and
pennies. Pennies because she has been chain smoking. A perfect taste for her though. Exactly what you'd have bottled and called
Amanda.
Amanda is vain about her hair. She presents femme but acts butch.
She likes this contradiction. Finds it hilarious. It gets her so much pussy,
she says. A femme loves a femme and a butch loves a femme, so she's
like SET you know?
She likes you because you use polysyllabic words. You think this reveals her generally low opinion of people but are flattered anyway. A
lesbian has never had a crush on you before, not that you know of.
Drink a lot of coffee together. She takes hers triple strength and black.
You think this pretentious at first.
Make maple curry together. Use real maple syrup, spice mix, and
instant rice.
Go to the strip club. The dirtier of Victoria's two. Up on perv row
everything smells like vinyl and baby powder. Amanda will toss fives
and tens even though she is broke. She's a grad student.
Drink cheap gin with lime concentrate. She calls it a "Jardine." Her
last name for her special drink. French for garden too. Green, garden.
JARdine like SARdine. Fishy like cunt, she explains. She is a good tonic
for you. She knows exactly what she likes best and then she decides how
to have it. You imitate this swagger and it feels good on you.
When she kisses you you will think how girls know so much more
about varying pressure. Your tongues are green from the Jardines you
drank at her place. She lifts your leg up. You think about how kissing
her is like kissing an animated mirror. Exciting, but alarming in its symmetry. Like there can be no accidents or bumps that makes being naked
human and normal and kind of funny.
She tries to pull you into the bathroom. You are at your favourite bar
and you know everyone. You hope someone sees you. But you love Amanda. You don't want to let her take your shirt off in the Lucky Bar bathroom.
prismmagazine.ca     35 "You like me too much for this," you say. You mean "Let's not reduce
each other like we do other people." You mean, "let's not not live up to
each other's expectations."
Be born in a suburb. Your mama must be a nervous woman, but secretly
nervous. She will perform total confidence and look beautiful in fleece
coats. This is probably hereditary.
Choose a sport and be perfect at it. You must look good playing it,
also. You should probably have long hair and cultivate a great swingy
ponytail.
Know that playing for fun is considered pathetic. Quit any sport you
don't represent. You should always have matching team track suits.
Matching sports bras with aerodynamic piping that dips in and out of
the chest well. Wear all of this on game days so everyone will know that
you're good. Really good, you hope.
Learn how to smoke over the summer in the ravine by the creek in a
bathing suit so your mom can't smell smoke on your clothes. You take
up cigarettes to help you sleep. You have always had trouble sleeping
because you dream too hard. You will be tangled in your sheets and also
on the pitch. Your legs follow the ball independent of you. They drag
your head and torso behind them like ribbons on a stick. Your arms flail
and your calves cramp and your toes must be at terrible angles. You
think to yourself this is a dream but no kind of dream should have an
audience. These dreams do. You can see the blankets twisted around
you and a sideline full of cheering patrons. Worst of all you can see the
pitch which curves at the edges like a bowl with an infinite lip and you
are trapped in the well. You have these dreams until you stop playing
sports. You didn't ever think the two were connected thematically. That
you might have those dreams because you felt trapped or something.
Nah. When you played sports you ate a lot more. Indigestion, you figured. Twelve years of it.
When a person wants to love you forever they will also resent you.
When he, who loves you, calls you one night and asks you to stop seeing
him, you can feel a little angry, if you want to. You do.
Two years ago you both skipped a friend's birthday. There was no excuse. The party was just up the hill at a facade-front pub called Felicita's.
You watched movies with your head on a pillow on his lap and didn't
talk about it. You never touched. Never. Not a handshake, no accidents.
36     PRISM 50:3 You felt that something could break if you brushed. Some fine balance
would breach and you would tumble into one another and never extract.
It felt delicious and dangerous. Proximity. Like laying on train tracks
when you were a girl.
At first it was like fencing. Like a game of slap-knee: you faced each
other and orbited like the negative poles of two magnets, eyes up and to
the left of each other's shoulders.
This was/is all very tiring for your friends.
So when he calls you at midnight on Tuesday and says that you're killing him with real conviction, that he loves you but doesn't want to wait
in love anymore, you can feel a little annoyed. Because if he stopped
waiting, it would work out, you feel sure. You'd drop out of orbit. Lose
sight of each other long enough to accidentally brush and tumble. He
asked you on the phone if you thought there was a future for the two of
you.
"I don't know," you said. And then, because you're cruel, "You might
be the love of my life."
Tether hook. You're a bad person maybe. Even though it's true.
James might be the love of your life, but you're not sure you want to
be in love. If you let him touch you, you might be as trapped as he was.
Sightless and stuck under some heaving blanket, your skins flush with
stale breath.
(But when you think about your happy, grown-up life—the one where
you are 27 and host a radio show and own a small succulent collection
and take a terrarium workshop once a week. Where you force him to
eat breakfast because it's an important meal and because he doesn't vary
his diet enough ["different kinds of hot sauce don't count"] and you go
to yoga together sometimes and wear his shirts around the house and
you're perfect together. You fit in to one another like a cup into a saucer.
A white-walled one-bedroom with sidewalk-furniture and music, always something on the old cloth-front stereo. Opera turned up loud. So
loud that if you press your palm against the drywall you can feel a quiver
of voice there. You would drink red wine from real wine glasses and
you'd even enjoy it cause you'd make enough just money to spring for
the good kind. An 18 dollar bottle. Or scotch. Duty-free scotch that your
dad brings home from Hong Kong.
That's what your Papa used to do: half-deaf, the opera tapes up loud,
drink in hand. Your Papa loved his wife but you never got to see it until
she was so brained-out and drugged up that she could never reciprocate
again. If you think about it too hard, like before you're supposed to
sleep, you see a lot of yourself and James in that. James heroic and sweet
and martyr-ly. Yourself, emotionally catatonic.)
You are gone now. He is happy, mostly. That makes you nervous so
prismmagazine.ca     37 you send him mail every now and then and he answers with something
caring but sterile. Take care. Be safe. You wish for him when you are the
most alone. You wish you were braver or less afraid. Then you bristle
at yourself and think shut up shut up you are just lonely that's all. It's
dangerous to expect him to be an antidote. Foolish, you tell yourself.
4.
You're in the Czech Republic and the guy you're staying with wants to
kill a carp. He's going to make fish stew like Czechs eat on Christmas
eve. Martin. Your host's name is Martin. He prefaces all his sentences
with the word "Anyway" which at first you took really personally. Like
quit being so dismissive, etc. Now you think it's nice. He meets you at
the bus stop after he's done school. He wanted a live carp so you could
keep it in the bath and then kill it. A real Czech experience he said, killing carp. Martin carried the fish home folded in half in a plastic bag. You
were sure it would be dead by the time you got to the dingy dormroom.
But when the bath was full the carp nosed the perimeter of the tub,
clockwise, over and over and over.
Later you lifted the carp out of the tub and his sides pushed in like
jello. He was much softer than you'd've thought. Martin told you this
amazing thing about whales: when they get beached they are killed
by their own gravity. When you lift Jean-Francois out of the water his
stomach bulges between your laced fingers. Try not to think about the
whales. You fold a newspaper over his back and beat his head in with a
beer bottle. It's kind of awful. His mouth opens and he beats his tail back
and forth and his scales fly off and stick to the walls like terrible grey
toenails. But it's noiseless.
You don't squeal or anything because it's important that Martin thinks
you're tough. He doesn't seem much interested in you. That doesn't put
you out but it's baffling. You're trying so hard to kill this carp but you
can't get it. Martin thinks you dazed it but he might just be trying to
make you feel better. He severs Jean-Francois' spine with a kitchen knife
(that makes you shiver a little shut up shut up). It had never really struck
you before how difficult it is to kill something.
On the weekend you get really really drunk with Martin and his cousins in the highlands. You all go to this ridiculous Czech village party.
The band is playing metal covers and the age range is 13-59. Oh your
god, the cousins are so drunk and you stick out here, Canadian girl.
Later, one of the cousins hides in your bed in hopes you won't see him
there. In the morning you check your bag to make sure all your underpants are accounted for. That's the impression this cousin gives. Of being a panty-sniffer. But now, at the fire-hall village party, you are lighting
38     PRISM 50:3 cigarettes for Martin and trying to make him fall in love with you how
you've come to expect of boys.
Anyway anyway anyway, he keeps saying and you're so drunk you
think he's saying it to, like, psychologically avoid you. You and Martin
get along so well. You've slept on the floor of his dorm room for two
weeks now. He sleeps in his underwear and has the longest legs. You
don't want to sleep with him.
But that's not the point. The point is when he asks if you know how to
do the Argentinean tango he barks it. He does that after two beers. Yells
more. And then he grabs you and tells you that the Tango is no time to
be shy and arranges you against his chest and presses his hand to yours.
"Anyway, you must push me away," Martin says, pressing your hand
to demonstrate. He's a good teacher. Czech metal has no rhythm but the
two of you do in this horrible fire hall surrounded by adolescents and
drunk mechanics.
One of the cousins is outside vomiting on a parked car. On the ride
home you are the smallest so you have to sit on Martin's lap. You keep
busting your head against the window so Martin flattens his palm on the
glass so you'll hit him instead. And his hand is on the middle of your
back and you keep waiting for it to slide on you. But it doesn't. Martin is
your friend.
On the couch when you are trying to sleep you think about being
touched and how nice Martin's hands felt. It's hard to think about how
you are alone here without getting lonely. Shut up shut up.
Czech houses are too warm so you crack the windows and listen to
the streetlights buzz outside. One light per block, pre-war style and loud
as a car. This noise is everywhere at night in Czech Republic. After ten
minutes or so you know you won't be able to tell if the noise is on you or
in you and then you'll sleep.
But now the buzz is on you and your head is full. You keep thinking
about expectation and the things you lose sleep over. Mostly you lose
sleep over the things you want. The futures that you think on so hard to
talk yourself out of them. You scrabbling against some infinite lip that
was only a dream.
prismmagazine.ca     39 Garry Thomas Morse
The Untitled (92)
Returning to hotel room, someone
in scenes that overlap
from movie, mini-
series, retired
poems
strumming, humming in shower
It was a scarf after all
survivor of
force
majeure
No, it is the torment of the orchestra
tuning up
that shrieking one becomes
accustomed to
no
that
angsty clinging
to neck
& body
ewtg...ewtg...
nope, the waiting is a beautiful trope
don't you find
when oneself is out of
beautiful rope
having invested
so much
in glamour-
value
waiting for
everyone to have
time
40     PRISM 50:3 to write
there isn't time,   she
once wrote
or quoted
someone who wrote
down
it was a sort of
exordium
in the end
They line & lend colour to the corridor. The
neighbour who
has laid stones
neighbour who lost her inner-tube forever
& a stick
outside the
door
DISTANT
EARLY
WARNING
not to open
stairwell
window
a
crack
or
maybe
bluntly
physical
material
for another poem, how that unnerves the sex
that often interests, but the records are what
line & lend colour—surely they are someone's
love, lending more air of mystery to environs
like her sister's name upon heaps of junk the
current occupant puts
MOVED
upon
to where, save two letters this month in
the style of rejection letters
prismmagazine.ca     41 Attitude
or ideas
do not fit
schedule
at this
time
strolling past Meinhardt's is
like that-
dare I purchase
a peach, or
an apple
out of the ballpark
under edenic
circumstances
& the greatest of these is
bothering
when not weathering
like that time
Schonberg stormed out
you could tell it
smacked of
adoration
Narcotic of the 9th, leaning in the corridor
under the clomp of heels upstairs
They
will try & say it is not a leaky heart
valve
that everything
has been
done
before
just because it has
just because it was
avoided
on island highway
like an animal
in life
& never in a
National poem
42     PRISM 50:3 for example, the
coyote along 10th
nearly too quick
to recognize
the night
after that reading of
such is
"Territory"
the stupid
transfiguration
sidestepping
traffic
on the way to
to consider what so many words have cost
under the most hellish edenic circumstances
aspects of experience lost to archivist crazes
& that pedantic mania for picking up after—
not to open
that door of
dead things
Loves someone in London. They will
be there together. They will give it a go
there together
OR
loves the father
has no idea
why this is
happening
or what
this
is
books
& books
& books
NO
prismmagazine.ca     43 or everything died a long time ago
in the dark, in the quiet of passing
decades, or in but a few
blameless
years
44     PRISM 50:3 The Untitled (93)
a sip of water
& it would seem the hour is getting late
stupidly
moved
by the reading of a letter [withheld]
& the hand
motions
& the grand
jiggling
although the hour
is not moved
to suspect
some or many scholars
suspect
Schumann
became a composer
on account of his
overweening love
for masturbatory
entertainments
& even
impromptus
to the point of
doing
injury
to his favourite
finger
& what if the sullied
drear of this
detritus
should wash away
with the tide
(a bottle
was talked of)
gone with letter
prismmagazine.ca    45 after letter
about breakfast
or was she wed
to whom, not
what
at the time
of what
not the stolen
stanza
that hangs
so fetchingiy
in memory
Lately, I have not looked up from the page
to see my life.
resuming like otters, reportedly
in Otter Bay
the surge of desire, tightly
knit bonds of
trope
& trivia
yet in those earnest
dark eyes
an epithet
or three
& to be sweetly
preserved
from such excessive
displays of
virtuosity
is almost
a joke
to be saved from
one's most
fervent
enthusiasms
to be folded
into that
corner
46     PRISM 50:3 of another's
life
& to laugh, yes
to laugh
at everything
not happening
is nearly
the point, surely
the taste of salt upon skin—the sensual
evades the sense of good taste—'grey'
as the translation works for the water
holding reflections of gliding seagulls
or the
image
of green
frock
next
to black
pillar
in that
theatre
for a moment
eyes
in a mirror
as if to prove
life is fleeting
& stupid
at the best of
times
akin to
nonsense
that haunts us
& since
that first
time, nothing
else could be said
to have been
seen
prismmagazine.ca     47 or that is the
general
feeling
& since
there is little
else to do
48     PRISM 50:3 The Untitled (94)
We do not compose
we are composed
close to goat-footed, with
goat-song in tow, thighs
moving through the
thicket of another
borderline
such
& such
awakening to
promise of a
body
cast
in the lack of
light
gorgeous
&lost
according
to Gorgias:
(1) Nothing exists
(2) If anything exists
it is incomprehensible
(3) If it is comprehensible
it is incommunicable
always tricky
by this light
to tell
noble
pseudos
(prescribed diet
of non-essentials)
prismmagazine.ca     49 from
dollops of
etetyma
pouring
down
a multitude
of souls
their voices co-
mingling in this
matriarchal
memory-
jogging
fantasy
in Platonic cave
leaving shadows
upon pallid wall
another thing not in the lease, as
the wind is up
& leafing
through
the usual
adversaria
glossing
snatches of
Hesiod
& another Goddess in her
goodly sandals
like Swinburne
(or Schumann!!!!!!!!!)
or some body
trying to turn
the mind
from
lexicon
applying
glossa
to
member-
smacking
50     PRISM 50:3 Aphrodite
from
oral depiction
by
Parrhasius
in that Capri
grotto
then in the cave
of missing
things
calling to mind
all those layers
of desire
across the
Mediterranean
dried
hardened
in memory
like that famous
dog in Pompeii
filling assembly
line of volcanic
castings
the heat of that summer reading Hesiod around Beaver Lake
turning
away from
clunky
mangled
transfigurations
of verses
in the finest of
abandonment
prismmagazine.ca    51 love, my lovely
love, my lovely bitch
when the sun Is hottest
If you want, let us
while away the heat
(not to knock
& knock
or play
message tag)
stay
Inside & dress-
rehearse every act
at least nine scenes
without Intermission
If you want, say the
word—you will find
me upon my back
full of brunch, a
new hunger eating
through everything
52     PRISM 50:3 Yasuko Thanh
Hustler
From the collection Floating Like the Dead, to be published In May 2012 by
McClelland & Stewart.
Tiphaine bought El Principe at Chato's insistence. After a two-
week vacation, he serpent-tongued her into spending her life savings to buy the resort. He'd whispered into her neck—making
her hair stand on end—that he would never leave her side so long as she
laid her heart at his feet. In Paris, working as a secretary, Tiphaine had
been hopeful, if not happy. But she had not been extraordinary. Though
she had known Chato only a few weeks, she returned to Paris, sold her
apartment, and doubled back to Honduras to marry him.
Mostly, she didn't regret her choices.
The resort, nothing more than a thatch hut that tilted in the sand,
was cool and shady, with bikinis and beach towels drying on the bamboo fence that encircled it. A waist-high counter set the kitchen apart
from the restaurant, which was filled with wooden tables stained with
candle wax and covered with oyster-shell ashtrays. Hammocks for rent
overnight swung along both sides of the building. Through the lifeless
remains of almond trees, you could see a corner of the ocean that resembled a white sheet tied on all four sides to docks and cays. In the distance, pelicans dove for fish in a bay as smooth as a pane of glass while
local children pushed each other off a trestle bridge.
The tourists who stayed in Cayo Bonaire came to sneak from life
more than it had to give. It was a town of hot sky and listless dories,
green crabs scurrying across the road, pizzerias painted yellow and red
guarded by men holding semi-automatic rifles. It was a town where the
fronds of palm trees waving in lazy breezes were sometimes the fastest
moving things around. Still, it tempted all comers.
The beach shared with the town both its grit and its wild beauty, and
on Tiphaine's days off, she would sit on one of the logs scattered along
the beach and gaze down its length. Today, the wind blew sand onto her
legs, pelted her skin, reminding Tiphaine of the sting of fire ants. Beside
her Chato rolled a joint, his back to the wind to protect the marijuana as
he broke up the buds into the brown curl of a dried banana leaf.
Earlier that day, while balancing the accounts after breakfast, Tiphaine
prismmagazine.ca    53 and Chato had another fight.
"You can't put three extra nights on his tab," Chato said.
"Why not?" Tiphaine answered. "Three nights. Five. What difference
does it make? The tourists are too busy being on vacation to notice. Besides, you make enough money selling them drugs. What do you care?"
Tiphaine tried to block the memory of the argument the same way
she tried to ignore the silver bodies of dead fish glinting on the sand.
But even after she drained her can of beer, she couldn't hide from their
eyes, open wounds, pale in their sockets. She trained her focus instead
on Sebastian toddling across the beach, scooping handfuls of wet sand
from the water's edge and launching them like grenades.
Last week, after being woken by the whoops of tourists, Tiphaine sat
up and was unable to spot Sebastian on the beach. Here the tide was
known to pull things out to sea. Eventually, she'd found him beyond the
boulders, splashing knee-deep in water. It was a miracle, really, that he
hadn't drowned. And Tiphaine fought the squeezing sensation in her
chest at the memory because she didn't want anything to ruin this day.
They left the cooks in charge of the resort, and Sebastian was now lying
on his back, looking up at the blue sky, making starfish shapes in the
sand.
Two of Chato's friends came by and sat on the log next to him. They
shared a bottle of cane liquor. Tiphaine chucked her empty beer can
toward the growing pile by the river that divided the beach in two. Sebastian tottered toward the pile and thrust his thumb into the mouth of
one of the cans and held it in the air, thumbs up. Her happy boy. He
could play with a piece of garbage like that for hours.
In Paris, parents always fussed over their children, putting them in
sun-proof aqua suits and rubber-soled beach shoes, covered exposed
skin with chemically laden sunscreen, the thicker the better, as if they
were icing a cake. People here did not fuss over their children in the
same way. Here, Sebastian was learning to speak the language of the
sand, learning the sensation of the sun on his collarbone, the wind at his
elbows. He would grow into the easy ways of men who went shirtless
and never wore shoes. He would not have an ordinary life.
"Chtngame," Chato swore. He twisted the edges of the banana leaf
together then tried to seal them with spit. Still, the joint came apart. He
held the package of mottled leaf toward Tiphaine accusingly.
"You didn't bite the leaf enough," she said. "You must really bite
down on the edges before you roll it." She mimicked a beaver with her
teeth. "Its brokenness keeps it whole. I don't know why you insist on using banana leaf instead of rolling papers anyway. It's—"
"Natural and free."
"So pretentious."
54     PRISM 50:3 Tiphaine finished rolling the joint for him. When she was done, she
stared across the beach at the tourists, most of them students on break
from universities around the globe, ersatz adventurers, soul-seekers, and
hayseed gurus. They frolicked topless in the ocean and swayed in encampments bounded by driftwood. Music from their guitars and didg-
eridoos mingled with lapping waves. Farther down the beach, a row
of overturned fishing dories provided shade for some local teenagers.
Their knobby knees peeked out from under the whitewashed wood—
an edge of navy-and-white uniform, an adolescent girl's legs, brave and
horse-like. Farther down still, four Catholic Miskito women bathed fully
clothed, their waist-length braids flashing in the white heat.
Sebastian was waving the empty beer can over his head while Chato's
friends laughed, their mouths full of brown teeth. They were the sons
of fishermen whose fathers were fishermen, and when they looked at
her—a blond French woman, an ex-pat—she wondered what they saw.
She preferred to think she was different from the other foreigners, who
were too arrogant or sheepishly fawning, proud or embarrassed by their
privileged lot. While the locals went to cockfights and the newcomers
did yoga, she did neither, preferring to keep her mind on her business
and tend to Sebastian, when she could.
Sebastian waddled toward a pile of driftwood. Friday was market day
for his nanny, Olivia. Sebastian spent most of his time with Olivia, either
down at the beach or playing in the resort's courtyard, where a pet deer
was tied to the mango tree. And though Tiphaine told herself to be happy that her son loved his nanny, she sometimes worried that he might
be growing too attached to her. The thought gnawed at Tiphaine, but
what choice did she have? A woman running her own business needed
a nanny. She tried to push the doubts from her mind. There would be
enough criticism of her parenting skills once her mother-in-law arrived
from Tegucigalpa tomorrow. Then she'd see even less of her son. Luz
took over the whole house and demanded all of Chato's and Sebastian's
attention whenever she visited. Though it hurt Tiphaine to be relegated
to an outsider in her own home, what could she say? Chato's mother
could do no wrong in his eyes.
Sebastian's diaper was sagging down to his knees as he ran along
the shoreline. Even from where she sat she could see that his chubby
legs, with their folds so deep she could lose her fingers inside them,
were crusted in filth. She was thinking she should get up and change
his diaper when he started to wail, the sound slowly growing in pitch.
It was a cry Tiphaine hadn't heard since his colicky-baby phase, when
he had screamed through the night in a hammock woven out of plastic
shopping bags that hung suspended by two ropes from the rafters of
their house. Not knowing what to do and anxious for Chato to return,
prismmagazine.ca    55 Tiphaine huddled in the farthest corner of the room and chewed her
fingers, listening to Sebastian's demanding cries, her muscles growing
more rigid by the hour, until Chato finally opened the door. She hated
his finding her in the corner like that, and seeing his anger, his disappointment in her, she had sworn she'd do better. More times than she'd
like to admit she'd made this promise to herself only to break it again
and again.
As usual, Chato reached Sebastian first, scooping the boy into his
arms and kissing his face. As he cuddled his son, Chato spoke into the
boy's ear, in quiet confidence, two men sharing a joke. "Oh pobreclto, you
poor little thing. I'm here. Your mother's too drunk to look after you
right."
Had it not been for Chato's friends, watching her with curious faces,
she might have crumpled and sank to her knees. It wasn't right. It wasn't
right at all for Chato to say these things. Who was he to judge her?
Chato held the toddler out to her. In the end, it was a mother's work
to look after a child. Impatience simmered behind Chato's smile as she
took Sebastian from his arms and examined the boy's cut. It was nothing, a small wound where the mouth of the tin had cut into his thumb.
She nestled her son against her hip. "Hush, hush, hush. You're a brave
boy. Why are you crying?"
" Chtnga a tuptnche madre." Chato laughed in derision for the benefit of
his friends. "She doesn't care if he bleeds and dies."
As though sensing a shift in the mood of the day, Chato's friends tried
to calm her: "It's nothing, mamactta." And, "It's not good for a mother to
be too overprotective."
Tiphaine nodded and smiled. "See there. Shhh, shhh." After a minute, the blood stopped trickling down Sebastian's arm. She touched her
tongue to the red line, first licking then wiping it away with the hem of
her skirt.
Chato cracked open another beer and raised it toward his friends.
"My father beat me so many times I can't remember. The hospital in
Tegus has a list this long with my injuries. The one I still remember is
'beaten over the head with a tequila bottle.' But every time I got up." He
was staring Tiphaine down, as if to challenge her.
Tiphaine felt weak. She had never told anyone that some days just
looking at Chato turned her inside out, her love barrelling through her
with a hurricane force that left her feeling uprooted. The sheer strength
of her love for him startled her, even as she suspected there were limits
to his.
She hushed, hushed Sebastian, softening his cries to whimpers. Then
she put his thumb in her mouth and sucked on the soft flesh until he began to sleep, his weight hot in her lap, his head heavy against her breast.
56     PRISM 50:3 If Chato could earn money from the tourists, why couldn't she?
Tiphaine watched the girl with dreadlocks, lying alone in her hammock, pretending to rest although her eyes were wide open. The girl
was watching the other guests eating or playing chess, her gaze stubborn
yet hungry, on the lookout for something beyond the green palms full of
coconuts or the fish splayed open, flat as postcards, drying in the street
just beyond the bamboo fence. A few years ago, Tiphaine had worn the
same intense expression under a floppy straw hat, sketching in a book
full of pencil-coloured seashells. Tiphaine sat sideways in the next hammock, her rum eye-opener between her knees, and held out a pack of
Belmont Filtros.
"You like the beach?" Tiphaine asked as the girl took a cigarette.
She nodded. "The food's great, too."
"And the beer's cheap."
Tiphaine told the girl she owned the place and, as usual, was met with
disbelief. Why, Tiphaine was too young! It couldn't be true.
Kirstie and her sister, both Spanish majors, were from Antwerp.
Tiphaine had checked the girls in yesterday and booked their hammocks
for three weeks. Kirstie wore her blond hair in dreadlocks through which
she had woven strands of coloured wool. Streaks of zinc whitened the
freckled skin on the bridge of her nose and cheeks, giving her sunburned
face the look of half-ripe fruit. Next to Kirstie's raw innocence, her sister, Marie, with her dark hair and skin the colour of acacia bark, struck
Tiphaine as exotic and almost world-weary in comparison. Tall and
ropy, Marie gazed out at the world through heavilylidded eyes.
"Yes, we have different fathers," Kirstie said, rocking back and forth
in her hammock.
As she spoke, Kirstie's eyes settled on the young man squeezing orange juice by the sinks; on his lean, perfect body, his hips revealed by
shorts worn provocatively low. There was an expression of desire on
the girl's face that made Tiphaine wince; it was typical of Cayo Bonaire
tourists to wear their appetites openly, as they tried to pack it all in—excitement, sex, drugs, suntans—as if stuffing items in a suitcase. To think
she'd ever been one of them.
"He lives to love women," Tiphaine finally said, lowering her head
conspiratorially. "It's what he does, if you know what I mean."
Would she like to? Tiphaine asked.
Kirstie threw her head back as she laughed, her dreadlocks bouncing
in the air with the motion. Then she turned to look at him again.
Five months ago, Austin had run out of money while backpacking.
Instead of going home to Clifton, Arizona, he'd rented a shack farther
down the beach with no electricity, used his wristwatch as collateral,
and lived off oranges. Then he started running drugs for Chato. The
prismmagazine.ca     57 day Tiphaine had hired him to work at El Principe—this boy with his
slim waist and avocado-green eyes—she walked to his shack with some
cocaine hidden in her floppy straw hat, expecting just another one of
Chato's lackeys. But what she found surprised her: a copy of William
Blake, a set of wood-carving tools, and a sack of oranges on a table he'd
built himself from pieces of driftwood he found on the beach. She took
out an orange and ate it while sitting next to him, cross-legged on the
ground.
Tiphaine had offered him room and board in exchange for doing odd
jobs, and now Austin lived in the space they built behind the resort for
extra storage but never used. He squeezed the orange juice and cleaned
the toilets.
When Kirstie said yes, Tiphaine told her to approach Austin as she
would any man to whom she was sexually attracted. Touch his arm.
Don't be shy. Raise your eyes then lower them again. Coy, but not too
coy. Say "I like you," let your fingers brush his.
"But you must listen to me very carefully. There's a certain way to
approach this situation. A certain kind of...decorum. Never mention
money. Never mention you are paying for his services." And Kirstie
nodded as if she'd known this all along.
Tiphaine put Kirstie's money in her pocket and watched as the girl
sauntered toward Austin. A bus belching black exhaust fumes stopped in
front of El Principe, its roof piled high with bundles of produce, bolts of
cloth, and huge mesh bags. A tourist peered out through the dusty glass
panes, and orange-laden boys in torn shirts and bare feet were already
gathering around to offer up their riches to the windows.
As Tiphaine made her way to the bar to serve the travellers, she
glanced back at Austin and the girl. She wasn't sure if she was taking
advantage of a fool, or if it was no different than charging admission
to the ocean. Austin was a young man with a libido. As far as she was
concerned, it was as natural for him to make love as it was for a canary
to sing, whether or not it was being watched.
Still, it was only a matter of time before he'd figure it out, before she
was caught. Passing beers across the counter, she wondered how long
she would have to wait.
That evening, a group of German tourists showed up at the house asking for Chato. Tiphaine invited the men in and let them play with Sebastian as she called El Principe, but Chato was nowhere to be found.
When she grew tired of waiting for Chato and impatient to lose herself,
she retrieved Chato's personal stash. The Germans had come to Central
America for the cheap cocaine, and she sold them what Chato had taped
to the underside of the toilet tank lid. In gratitude, they let her snort coke
58     PRISM 50:3 with them until dawn.
After they left, she sat chewing her nails, watching Sebastian doze fitfully after crying himself to sleep, and waited for the alarm clock to go
off. Grey clouds crept across the sky, and it began to rain. Then a crack-
roar of thunder sent cats scurrying under houses and dogs scratching at
doors. Sitting by the window, Tiphaine heard the green palms whisper,
snap, and shake, as the now-purple sky flashed with lightning. When
she had first come to Cayo Bonaire, she had been overwhelmed by the
rain—the sheer force of it as it washed over her, threatening to sweep
her away as if she were nothing more than a pebble in a river, while
flooding houses, causing mudslides, unmooring trees. Yet its daily siege
had overcome her until, worn down, she no longer had the necessary
resistance to fear its power. The tropical rains became a rhythm outside
her window; let it hammer on the roof tiles or shake the walls, her fight
was gone.
By the time the alarm went off at 7:30, the storm had stopped as
suddenly as it had started. Tiphaine rose to turn off the alarm, feeling
a gnawing ache in every part of her body. As she tried to shake off her
drug-induced reverie, she dressed Sebastian then muscled him, kicking
and squirming, into his stroller.
When she arrived at El Principe, Tiphaine found the cooks cleaning
up in the aftermath of the storm. Guests were wringing water from their
beach towels and some of the local boys thrust fallen palm leaves at each
other like swords. Chato was drinking beer and playing poker with Austin at one of the restaurant tables.
"Where were you?" she shouted, as she pushed Sebastian's stroller
toward Chato as if in accusation. "All these customers showed up at the
house last night and you weren't there to take care of them. I called everywhere trying to find you. Where were you?"
"I have enough to worry about with people wanting their money back
because their hammocks got wet."
"Yes, I can see you are busy."
The cooks in the kitchen glanced at one another knowingly over their
chopping boards. Resort guests raised their heads from hammocks or
turned from breakfasts to watch. Austin fanned his cards and tried to
pretend Tiphaine was not standing in front of him, her nose running, her
hair in tangles. The wet roads muddied her flip-flops and her painted
toenails. He had never seen her looking so pitiful.
Chato was telling Tiphaine to mind her own business; he had things
to take care of last night. From the way her body quivered, Austin knew
the thin edge of rage on which she balanced was tipping.
"If it wasn't for me," she was saying, "just look around. If it wasn't for
me—"
prismmagazine.ca     59 Chato glanced up again from the cards in his hand. "What? You think
because you sold the little bit you stole from me you're a businesswoman? You partied with them like a girl for hire. Don't look so shocked.
When I saw the Germans this morning they complimented me on what
a fun wife I have. But you could never manage the deals I do. Our profits
would be up your nose if I let you. If I can't even trust you not to dip into
a tiny stash, how can I trust you with anything?"
Chato slammed his beer down and liquid foamed and bubbled over
the lip. The brief silence that followed was broken by Sebastian's wails.
Tiphaine picked him up and tried to quiet him, but he pushed her away,
mashing his hands into her face.
"You want to be responsible for everything," she said, "but you are
not responsible at all. Not even for your own son."
"Is that so? Then why he is squirming in your arms like he wants to
get away?"
She crumpled then, and looked so small that Austin suddenly wished
he could reach out to defend her. A ray of sun illuminated her blond hair
and the halo of light that surrounded her made her appear even more
uncertain. She closed her eyes and breathed in and out. After a moment
she said, "There was coke there in front of me, in little piles everywhere.
I waited but you never came. What were you doing that was so urgent?"
Chato's eyes glinted then, but as if thinking better of it, he shook his
head and pointed with his beer toward the kitchen instead. "Why don't
you make yourself busy with something important."
"While you just sit there and drink more beer. Good. Be drunk when
your mother arrives. She'll be happy to see that."
Chato just laughed and picked up his cards. "Play," he ordered Austin.
She wouldn't get near his stash again, Chato was saying after Tiphaine
left in a fury with Sebastian. From now on he would keep his personal
supply on him, but with the money Austin was earning her, who knew
what trouble she might get herself into.
"What are you talking about?" Austin said.
"Come, m'ljo. My son. Don't play the fool. It's obvious you like my
wife. She's pretty, apoco no?"
"Everyone likes your wife." Not until Chato snorted in amusement
did Austin realize his words had come out wrong.
"If you are trying to tell me you don't know what is going on, then you
are even more of a fool than I thought." Chato took a long guzzle from
his beer.
"Why don't you tell me, then, Chato. Come on, tell me why I'm a
fool."
Chato told Austin that Tiphaine had been pimping him for almost
60     PRISM 50:3 two months.
"Nothing goes on without me knowing about it," Chato said. "And I
know everything about my wife." He was a man laying his cards on the
table, victorious.
Then, as if in consolation, his voice as smooth as a scalpel, Chato said,
"It's just a little fun." He got up and slapped Austin on the back as he left
the table. "Some hot, spicy, Caribbean fun. And no one gets hurt, right?"
The boy felt bruised: twelve women in less than two months; it only
seemed strange in hindsight. Even the bet he'd made with Chato last
week, to see who could sleep with more women before the season was
out, now seemed a cruel joke. Austin had wanted to be like Chato, who
had only to spread his fingers, it seemed, for his hands to be filled. Maybe
if he was patient, he thought, he too could live in a whitewashed house
within a grove of lime trees, with a wife like Tiphaine. Austin carried his
love for Tiphaine everywhere. Whenever he was with a woman, she was
there, just beyond those nameless curves. Tiphaine, Tiphaine, Tiphaine,
whose name he sometimes grunted, without any control.
Now he was their dupe. The shame lodged inside him, as if he'd swallowed a bone or eaten something spoiled.
He spent the rest of the day rocking in a hammock, smoking endless
joints, trying to decide what to do. The nylon etched its way deep into
his flesh by the time he got up because he could no longer stand the flies.
Dusk was coming; he could hear the sounds of showers running and
toilets being flushed with buckets of water from the cistern. The smell of
bug spray clung to the humid air, wafting off the legs of young women
going to one of the beach-front bars to dance and drink. He heard a familiar voice and glanced up from his hammock to see Kirstie push open
the gate, hips swaying seductively as she crossed the sand and settled
herself into one of the rental hammocks by the bar.
"Hey. Let me ask you something," Austin said, hopping into the empty hammock beside her. He hoped to find the words that would make
the hard question he wanted to ask come across easy and joking.
"Did I pay Tiphaine for you?" Kirstie giggled and started to search
through her backpack, taking out a bottle of sunscreen, a pocket camera,
a cigarette lighter, and a Dutch fashion magazine as if to divert his attention. She laid these on the sand and looked at them as though they
belonged to someone else.
"Come on," he said, pushing through his shame. "How much? It's a
game Tiphaine and I play."
Kirstie stared at Austin, as if calculating what he might do. "Then, you
should guess."
"I don't want to guess. Just tell me."
Eventually she whispered, "Twenty American dollars."
prismmagazine.ca    61 As Austin let the information sink in, he asked if she was enjoying
Honduras and listened distractedly as she told him of her travels so far.
"Me and Marie? Yesterday we hitchhiked to Santa Rosa...I got a tattoo, see?" She lifted up her shirt and showed him a small sun tattooed
around her belly button. "I traded the guy a gram of coke for it, so it was
only half what it would've been if I'd paid in cash."
"Where did you get the coke?"
"Marie met up with Chato last night in Santa Rosa, so I got him to
give me some at a good price. It's the first time I've been high."
"Did you enjoy it?" It was hard to keep the disgust from his voice.
"They're meeting again in a few days, at an Italian restaurant called
Geminis. Do you want to come with me? I could buy some more."
Earlier that day, Tiphaine had been whitewashing the trunks of palm
trees with Olivia when she glanced back at the restaurant and saw Luz
coming toward them with Sebastian on her hip. He was playing with his
grandmother's earrings, flicking them with his pudgy fingers. Luz, with
her expertly pencilled lips and pantsuits and stylish short hair. Behind
them, Tiphaine could just make out Chato sitting at the bar, but she'd already spent her anger. She felt the same sadness that sluiced through her
veins since Sebastian's birth; it surged and found release only when she
got high then poured out into the open whenever she was coming down.
She was exhausted from staying up all night with the Germans, and she
couldn't stop the paint brush from shaking in her hand.
Sebastian slid from Luz's hip and ran with his arms out, airplaning
to Olivia, who lifted him in her arms. The little boy smiled at Tiphaine,
showing her his small pearl teeth. Oh, how she adored her son. This
close to him it seemed easier to breathe. She tickled him until he gasped.
"Mapuce. You're such a silly puce. I love you."
"Dale un beso a tu mama," Olivia said, tucking his hair behind his ear.
But Sebastian did not want to kiss Tiphaine.
"No." He shook his head violently.
Olivia tilted him toward his mother once again.
"No!" Sebastian giggled and shrieked.
Luz hesitated for a moment, but then couldn't stop the words from
charging out. "A mother," she said, "should spend more time with her
children."
Tiphaine wiped her forehead, leaving a wet streak she could feel on
her skin. "I didn't ask for your opinion, Luz."
"Hah! Just keep thinking you know what's best. Keep thinking you
know and we'll see!"
Tiphaine set her paintbrush on top of the bucket and couldn't think of
anything to do but reach out and tickle him again.
62     PRISM 50:3 "It's good thing I'm so busy today. Now you won't miss a minute with
him."
"Yes, we have fun, don't we?" Luz said to Sebastian, taking him away
from Olivia and nuzzling his neck. She laughed. "Tiphaine, you should
remember you don't become a mother just by having a child."
Luz's words continued to buzz in Tiphaine's head hours later, as she
trailed listlessly behind Austin through the night market, where vendors hawked shampoo or merengue cassettes, and little boys with black
polish and rags and lungs like Pavarotti sang out for shoes to shine.
Tiphaine cowered whenever Luz came to visit, often retreating from her
own home by finding chores at El Principe that needed to be done to
excuse her absence. She felt useless in the face of the cruel competence
with which Luz could run any household. No one needed Tiphaine: not
her burned cooking, nor her nursery songs. Then again, what mother
wouldn't give her son everything he asked for? A terrible mother, like
her.
She had left halfway through preparing dinner.
"I'll finish it for you," Luz said, smiling as she stirred the Mexican
mole sauce that Tiphaine hated but Chato loved. Yet it was a smile that
said, "Because only then will I know it's done right."
Chato admonished her. His mother was in town. What could she be
thinking by leaving?
"I have to go to the market tonight. I forgot something. Ingredients
for a special order that the cooks need tomorrow for breakfast."
"This is an emergency?"
"I have to go," she said. Then she got into her car and drove away.
Now, Tiphaine watched as Austin walked just ahead of her through
the crowd, drifting past stalls heaped plantains and pineapples, behind
which women with black hair parted down the middle gossiped. She was
glad Austin was here with her tonight. Their frequent jaunts to the night
market had become one of the high points of her week. She admired
the ease with which he fended off beggars or bargained with vendors,
he was looking for something deeper than a holiday fling or a pocketful
of postcards or a drug-fuelled adventure to keep from his parents and to
brag about to friends. Austin had chosen to stay here in Honduras, just
as she had. The difference was, unlike her, he could still leave.
"Austin, how much longer do you think you'll stay here?" Tiphaine
asked, cutting open a bag of limes with a knife. She was standing in the
kitchen at El Principe in her bare feet while Austin carried the market
groceries to the table.
"College will still be there when I go back," he said, unloading watermelons, oranges, tortillas, and chickens with hard-to-pluck pinfeathers,
dirtying their wings. "If I decide to go back."
prismmagazine.ca    63 His voice was sharp. There was a new force in the way he spoke to
her, so changed from his usual fumbling awkwardness. Distracted, she
let the bag slip from her hands, the limes spilling across the floor. Austin got on the ground with her to pick them up and when her tank top
slipped forward, revealing the top of her breasts, she smiled at him.
He smiled back, baring his teeth, his expression more wolfish than
she was used to from him. Caught off-guard, Tiphaine started putting the
limes back into the bag.
"God, it's late," she said, to break the tension. "I don't want to go back
home, but Chato's mother is probably saying terrible things about me.
What do you call a mother who eats her young?"
"So stay."
"I will, I think," she said, feeling strangely rudderless. "At least until
she falls asleep." Sebastian would already be in bed by now, curled up
under his mosquito net. Had he even noticed she was gone?
"You should be glad you don't have a mother-in-law," she continued,
retrieving two bottles of beer from the industrial-sized cooler and a glass
from the cupboard for herself. She set down a beer in front of Austin.
She leaned back in her seat and stretched her legs out in front of her so
they reached under the table, near his feet. "But maybe you want a wife,
no? The two go together. Yet I can't imagine you married."
He jerked his beer off the table, but he didn't say a word.
"Don't you have a date tonight?" she said, wanting to push him. She
poured her beer into her glass. She found his silence unsettling. Did he
suspect something?
"Naw. No one wants me tonight." He gazed at her steadily as he
spoke.
For long minutes, Austin and Tiphaine sat quietly together at the table; him, scheming, her, exiled from her own house.
Watching his sun-cracked lips close around the mouth of the bottle,
she was uncertain if she had done wrong by him. Guilt. She lit a cigarette
and blew a smoke ring into the air, tried to banish the feeling by submerging herself in the sound of the conga drums playing somewhere in
the distance. But her guilt continued to swirl within her just as the beer
swirled in her glass, her hand shaking. She had never felt this hollow.
"There is a new Italian restaurant in Santa Rosa," Austin said at last.
Above them, the bare light bulb torched the wings of clumsy moths.
"Yes," she said. "Geminis."
"Why don't I take you there for dinner," he said. "To thank you for
all you've done for me."
She knew it would bring her only trouble. Still, she couldn't fight the
desire to rebel against her own instincts. As easily as slipping a needle
under her skin, she heard herself saying yes.
64     PRISM 50:3 Lost in thought, Tiphaine negotiated the dangerous curves of the road
that led to Santa Rosa, her hands vibrating on the steering wheel, a cigarette between her fingers. Bordered by the ocean on one side and trees
on the other, it was the only paved throughway to the town. Austin had
heard that tourists were regularly robbed on this road by thieves pretending to have a flat tire or using pylons to block drivers and then,
armed with machetes, they jumped lazily from the bushes.
They had just passed the lone pharmacy open late, when Tiphaine
slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting an iguana.
"Nearly a goodbye party," she said, putting the car back into gear.
All week Austin had imagined what he would say to Tiphaine during
the drive. Yet all he could focus on now was the hard line of her jaw,
her cupid lips, and the glint in her eye as dangerous as the flash of a
knife, and how even so, he couldn't imagine a single man on earth who
wouldn't do anything for her. He was reminded of the policemen he'd
seen talking to her in the evenings when he was emptying the garbage
cans. Whatever she said to them, they always left her and her altered
books alone, when even the cooks knew what she did to those tabs. It
was possible that no one had ever complained. But he wondered about
luck and when hers would run out.
"The thing that's different about us is that you can leave whenever
you want," she said, as if sharing only the tail end of a conversation she
was having with herself.
"But why would I want to? So I can go home and get some nine-to-
five job I have to wear a suit and tie for? No thanks."
"I think you look at my life and think it's all fun and games."
"What's wrong with having fun in life?"
She shot him a condescending glance as she took another drag of her
cigarette.
"Life's what you make of it. I mean, it's not rocket science." He stared
out the window at the water and the dying sun, questioning for the first
time just how she'd made it this far.
When they arrived at Geminis, they parked under some coconut trees
and passed a mountain of split husks crawling with geckos. They walked
toward a nearby plaza where a Mariachi band was playing and dancing
couples glided between stone benches, their shadows long and graceful
in the setting sun. In less than half an hour the sky would be black. The
speed with which night swallowed day still amazed Tiphaine; only in the
tropics could something change its nature so quickly. As they strolled
along the wooden pier that led to the restaurant, they took off their
shoes; the pier's boards still hot beneath their feet. Rocking fish boats
and the children playing on the boardwalk were silhouetted against the
prismmagazine.ca    65 sunset's glow.
As they neared the restaurant, Austin motioned toward the sand. At
first she wasn't sure what he was pointing at, but then the fading light
reflecting off the ocean cast an orange shimmer onto the figures.
Two figures.
Their faces drifted toward each other, closing the space between them
as Chato pulled the Dutch girl Marie into him for a deep kiss.
Tiphaine grabbed the sea wall in front of her and felt a shifting in her
bones, a settling—and then nothing. She watched the two figures until
the clouds rolled in and it started to rain, streaks striping the sky. Then
Chato and Marie joined the other people caught in the downpour who
held newspapers over their heads and ran under store awnings, laughing
and crowding against one another.
Back in the car, Austin silent beside her, Tiphaine sat smoking and
holding her hands, the one thing she could do, while palm trees outside bucked under the weight of the rain. The trembling rose from deep
within her until her shoulders were shaking, too. The image of Chato
and Marie flashed in her mind, their faces turned up to the rain, and
Marie opening out her arms to him.
If she'd been alone Tiphaine might have marched up to them, grabbed
Marie by her hair and shoved her face into the sand. Or driven back to
El Principe and burned the place down. Or told Chato she was leaving,
going back to Paris.
Run. That's all she wanted to do. And take her son with her.
Instead, she threw her cigarette out the window and fixed her makeup
in the rearview mirror. "So?" she said at last. "What are you going to
order when we get inside?"
When Marie returned from the beach the next day, she discovered her
hammock and backpack missing from the luggage loft.
"Your things have been confiscated," Tiphaine told her.
"Confiscated?"
"You owe one week on your hammock space."
Chato and Austin glanced up from the wooden table where they sat
playing cards as usual. Austin guzzled his beer, afraid to meet Tiphaine's
eyes. Chato leaned back in his chair and spit onto the ground. Even
the cooks behind Tiphaine stopped gossiping as Marie replied that she
put money on her bill every third day. "There's no way I owe you that
much."
"Your backpack has been confiscated," Tiphaine said again, her eyes
unblinking. "I give people credit out of kindness. But this is a business.
When the bill is so high, and you won't pay, there is nothing I can do."
Marie made her own calculations and barked how much she would
66     PRISM 50:3 pay and not a penny more.
Tiphaine shook her head. Then she calmly picked up the debt book,
folded it under her arm, and went into the kitchen.
Marie looked at Chato. "Aren't you going to do something?"
Chato shrugged.
"I'll go to the police," Marie yelled at Tiphaine's back.
"And I will show them these records," Tiphaine called over her shoulder. "You think I don't know every policeman here?"
Kirstie, who had been hanging her bathing suit to dry on the fence,
now stood beside her sister at the counter. She took Marie's elbow and
tried to pull her away, which only enraged her further.
"I'm not going to stand for it! Do you think I'll put up with this kind
of treatment?" Marie glared at Chato as she walked over to his table and
stood there, her feet planted in the sand.
Chato put his hands behind his head and raised his eyebrows as
if to say, What can I do? He shook his head. "Let me tell you about
Tiphaine," he said, staring drunkenly. "She's loca, crazy. Pay her. That's
the best thing to do."
Marie flicked her cigarette at the sand by his feet.
"Forget it," Kirstie said again, touching Marie's arm. "Let's just go."
But Marie was not going to give up. She and her sister took a colecttvo
to the police station.
That evening, the police marched through the bamboo gate of El Principe. They were smiling, jovial, as always, but something about their
shiny black leather boots and machine guns seemed more threatening
than usual, as though gleaming with some kind of truth.
Near the last hammock at the back of the palapa hut, Austin stood as
still as he possibly could, not wanting to draw attention to himself. With
the least amount of motion he could manage, he fumbled with the plastic
straws filled with coke he kept in the front pocket of his cutoff shorts and
dropped the straws to the ground. Then, with his foot, he covered the
powder and the straws with sand. The police couldn't arrest him if he
had nothing incriminating in his possession. When he looked up again
to take in the commotion of lights crashing and glass shattering as the
police tore apart the resort with terrible efficiency, he thought maybe
he'd made a mistake staying in Cayo Bonaire for as long as he had. If he
didn't get arrested and thrown into a Central American prison, he swore
to himself he'd fly home as soon as he could.
The police had Chato against the wall. He raised his eyebrows, threw
out his hands, and shrugged in the casual way of someone who has nothing to hide. On the other side of the palapa hut, an officer was speaking
to Tiphaine, her eyes cast down.
prismmagazine.ca    67 Before, she'd always seemed so out of his reach. Austin knew he was
being selfish, wanting to see her break, but she'd wounded him and no
one should be allowed that kind of power. Now it appeared as though
Tiphaine's luck had finally run out. The police were taking the place
apart.
One of the officers pointed at Austin with his machine gun, grinning
in a mocking way as he said something to make his partner laugh. El
gabacho mas guacho. Hustler. Austin wiped his lips with his hand as he
worried about whether they would question him, but they continued
their search. When they found a quarter-pound of Chato's personal red-
hair rolled into a newspaper under the large cooler in the kitchen, filled
with beer, they hesitated, looking almost apologetically at Chato and
Tiphaine. The police didn't even bother with the handcuffs as they led
Chato and Tiphaine across the sand toward the police car parked in the
street, where kids had stopped their baseball game to peer through the
fence at what was happening.
"Find Olivia," Tiphaine said to Austin as they passed him, the desperation clear in her voice. "She has to tell Luz what's happened. And
Sebastian—" But she couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence.
"M'ljo" Chato said, calling out for Austin. "I'll call you when I know
about the fine."
But Austin knew Chato and Tiphaine didn't have any money. Whatever hadn't gone up her nose, Chato had spent on women.
That night and the next day, Austin waited by the phone at El Principe, his bag packed for Arizona and waiting by his side. When the phone
finally rang, he found it hard to breathe, the fear catching in his throat.
His hand trembled when he picked up the receiver. What could he say
to Tiphaine to comfort her?
She told him about the heat in the cells, the bedbugs. Each word was
a thin, unsteady soprano more whispered than spoken, airy as a desert
and just as empty. "I, I don't know about things anymore," she said.
"How much does he want?"
"He wants too much."
The words barbed his heart and wouldn't let go. They made him
wonder how things could have been different. If she was rid of Chato
and free of all that madness. If she kept herself clean. He could have
kept her happy, could have kept her and Sebastian safe. And maybe if
he stayed in Honduras just a little longer, he still could.
As Tiphaine listened to Austin reassure her that he would ask his parents
for a loan or offer the commandante information in exchange for her freedom, she thought back to being with Chato in the police car. How he
turned to her across the back seat, looking at her with confusion the way
68     PRISM 50:3 he had once before, when he caught her snorting his personal stash. She
knew he wanted to shout at her, but, instead, he touched her lips with his
fingers and said nothing. Just gazed at her, his eyes so strange then, as if
he were trying to slice her open, to discover what part of her was still his
and what part he had lost. A person will grab anything to stop himself
from falling, Tiphaine thought, even the edge of a knife.
It wasn't catching him with Marie that made her do what she did next.
Tiphaine's love for Chato was too much for one person to bear; she'd
never been able to carry its weight. Maybe you had to push yourself
away from a love like that. And Sebastian, her beautiful boy, he didn't
need her falling; her getting up only to fall back down again. He was still
young enough to forget and to move on without them.
She told Austin what he already suspected: "There is no money. The
commandante wants $5,000 American and there is no money."
"I'll do what I can."
"No," she said. "Don't."
prismmagazine.ca    69 Jay MillAr
Our Back Yard
high beneath the grass
political highballing
& some small
collection of books
left by something
bookish & mean
& it wasn't me!
I've been out back
all morning
hey mack, I say
glossily wet precisely
use the fence as a thought bubble!
& while yr at it
think you can wander
through biased porn
& get a little closer
to that heart? It
hasn't been truly
stepped over since
I don't know when.
Miss me yet? I
might be forever.
It's true what
we love dies
because we die
but temporarily
the winds are mild
when they choose
to blow through
all our spare moments
sparsely, & within such
gruesome medial
parameters as this
70     PRISM 50:3 smooth wood travelogue
& by the way
when did you file
your
attitude down
to meet with
the nub density toothpick half way
through what?
these winds pick at space
as immediately as they define it
some hog sonic temple
rising as the four
corners of declaring
here we fucking are
alive for the
synaptic joy
I mean sympathetic
& isn
't it weird
what it looks like
& how it picks up
& swirls around
I've got this space
the papers & the
I nicked it
leaves & the bricks
from the intoxication
& the hairs & the
of world leader
cars & the sausages
robots all wound up
& various other organs
& it's wider
all the houses &
than my definition
the dogfood & the
for much while
swing sets & the
being free & potentially
gingerbread & the snow
mine, while being
flakes & employment
exactly what I have
records & the internet
learned not to
& briefcases & the
concern myself with
millions of verbal
as I live among
contracts spoken daily
the many who inhabit
different sized ice balls
this urban dwelling
blog police, mice
empire of buzzing
vast globs of newspaper
prismmagazine.ca    71 hyper sensitive biology        the discombobulated
always open 24 hours within        heads of the Prime Minister
an inch of my life, a       & the President of The
small jeweled childhood       United States of America
freedom bottled       flattened across a surface
as expression        dictatorship well,
an ex-Prime Minister
actually, they float
here, these figure
heads. For such
winds are timely,
or you can't have
everything, asshole.
& so on and so
forth are the molecules
& it's the same with
the poems don't forget
about the poems.
Meanwhile,
I thought you
already knew what to do
with your politics.
So why do
I have to
keep telling you
to shove them
up your ass?
72     PRISM 50:3 A Round Smooth Stone
a cup
vs
the sky
doesn't it
seem strange
to think
of the hoops
and
their arrows
the desire I have to identify
with the knack for being bound
quietly by all that surrounds
the thoughts that tunnel
through that space I take up
here
in the falling snow
in a city
just look around
have you ever wondered
about the idea
of population?
I always forget
this is awe
a place a we invents
one day I may discover
a mathematical axiom to explain
why someone would fly a plane
into their mother-in-law's house
prismmagazine.ca    73 until then we have the news
to explain what happened
explain what happened
and leave it at that
such are the more
intimate forms of
terrorism western culture
is heir to
eventually I imagine I reach
a day it all seems dream-like
it's kind of like today
the sun is apparent the sky is held
by the things I find around me
words become more
than their shapes, sounds, or meanings
they no longer have any value
other than how they hold us together
when I see you
I will tell you
that I will love
you with all
that I am
at exactly 3:36
next Tuesday afternoon
74     PRISM 50:3 Our Two Heads in a Vacuum
Now that you have come
over the hills, or at least through
the sump, holding light somewhat askew
for the world to pick its work from—
who really cares that the limits
are only invoked by mercy or the status
of stars, birds, certain trees, and these four
blades of grass that continue to interrupt
You wander around the city all day
and imagine the faces of strangers
engulfing your genitals, such wide
faces they have, it is only mildly
satisfying. The sun looks on—
"Hello!" it says, imagining your
face is a kind of crevasse deep enough
to conjure a population "Hello!
Look at me and marvel at the situation—
In this, the most ideal of all possible
worlds, young girls can grow up to be
pornstars, and young boys can grow up
to possess the cocks that go in and out
of them, and shower them with meaning -
the building's can keep on growing around
them and the clouds who maintain the
balance between concrete and the atmosphere
will be braced for another round of flowering
amongst the nation's questionable identity.
"Thanks Sun!" you say. "I hope that you
go down on me every day!" And looking up
you feel the global positioning work upon you
in mysterious but necessarily stunning ways
and understand your place more satisfyingly.
prismmagazine.ca     75 Your Two Blue Eyes
For years he considers the arrival of crows
Now the lake seems omnidistant
All elegies go unseen along a line that stands for trees
It's a far cry for elegance to hold so many fish
At least that's how the surface of the water seems today
Shuffling a reflection of the sky he wants to say is oceanic
And the clouds he wants to say are ships sailing by
But the cliche police have caught up with him
Even this far north
So his son appears and quotes Blake:
Dad—my line's snagged. On a rock!
76     PRISM 50:3 Perfect Replications of
Japanese Gardens
How fascinating could it be that a
Google search will reveal more images
of people other than that of poor Pat
Tinmuth, brutally murdered in 1975 by
 Lowther—leaving signed copies of her
work scarce?
have you ever looked at your face
in a mirror under fluorescent lights—
like, really looked? You look ridiculous,
but at the same time, surely you're alive,
having won something for your efforts, a
pinup of the latest foiled hero
doll, a variety of energy
you are free to touch, drain, use up—
tapped to a reluctant essence as of
snow, or time, as it falls and makes you so
tired assistance blossoms fail to bloom
hovering on their delicate references
half-heartedly
so what am I to do
when my mother tells me she wishes
to be remembered by nobody?
No one is that forgettable, and I refuse
to be guilty of remembering her against
her wishes, or to die first. But it makes me
wonder why it is we are given so little
control over our endings and the things
we can control seem so useless
in the face of that.
prismmagazine.ca    77 Sheryda Warrener
Pluto Forever
for Cuff
I'm looking at pictures
of Morrissey in a beige
corduroy shirt un-buttoned
to reveal that lithe hairless
chest and think: Uh oh.
Nostalgia land. Who hears
that intro to "How Soon
is Now" and doesn't
want to lay down panting
on the carpet? At Kingswood
Ampitheatre, uncle Paul wore
his homemade The Smiths
are Dead t-shirt and
low rent Canadian mods
threatened to beat
the shit out of him right
where we sat, summer of '87.
I sang along like I knew
the words: I am the sun, I am
the air. Morrissey sent gusts of
wilted gladioli into the front rows, left
the band for a solo career
a year later. Overzealous fans
let Meat is Murder spin
78     PRISM 50:3 into that gravelly, after-album
static. A year later, uncle Paul
flies me to Florida
for my birthday.
Mouse-eared waiters circle
our table holding
sparklers, make me
stand on my chair while
everyone sings. At the
Temple of Doom we buy
a rubber pirate sword for
my brother. Fort Lauderdale
airport security classifies
it as a weapon, make us check it
even though there's nothing-
else to check.
Paul's sure it won't make it,
but at carousel D
between a couple of
suitcases, the sword loops lonely
as a whale heart. Remember
when Pluto used to be
a planet? It fails to "clear
the neighbourhood"
of its orbit and BLAMMO
we're back to eight. When I
think I might miss
this table, this
view, I may actually
recall only
prismmagazine.ca    79 the little apparatus
I jam under the window
to hold it open.
II
Alouette, the first
Canadian satellite. Alouette,
the song me and
Sarah Farrar learned
by heart for grade 4 French. We
made our own skylark
with removable feathers
and as we sang genttlle Alouette,
je teplumeratwe
let the black strips of paper
float to the floor. Who knows why
we call to mind these
moments or how. Et le
cou (et le cou) et le dos (et le dos)
lovely little skylark I shall
pluck you.
Ill
I invite Marco from
next door and Kerri, Luke,
and Rob from around
the front to our yard
for my brother's 4th birthday.
Even at 10,1 have a problem
80     PRISM 50:3 with occasions going
unnoticed. Mom runs out
for cake, plastic cups,
jugs of 5-Alive. I have
everyone sitting on a blanket
waiting when she returns.
There's that look again, but
I don't care. My heart's
chock-full as she walks out
with the cake lit up,
the screen door slamming
behind her.
IV
In Tokyo, I circle
the back streets of Daikan'yama
looking for Mama Tarte,
the rambling bake shop
Yuko used to take me to. Domed
glass case of cakes
we'd stand at a long time
before choosing. I'm forcing
nostlagia onto a plate
of old-fashioned apple pie
but amid the square
concrete blocks of white
the green wooden house
with the glassed-in porch is not
where I knew it to be.
prismmagazine.ca     81 I sit by the Meguro
river and sob fitfully into my No. 1 beer
under a frenzy of petals
like cast-off fortunes.
Behind me, two kids out to
make some yen build a Plinko game
out of plywood and nails,
set it up in their garage. Winning
makes me feel even worse.
I give back the prizes
in the end. The river isn't even
really a river, it's more like
an aqueduct, but
the crowds filter in
by the hundreds
with their cameras, zoom in.
Blossoms brief as life. My chest
lifts like a page from
the daily calendar I've forgotten
to rip off. Yuko made me a drawing
of her heart covered
with curly hair
and said "This is why I live
alone." Just like
everybody else does, I think
to myself. Plutino, dwarf
planet 134340,
never mind definitions.
Keep spinning along that restless
path dragging stellar
82     PRISM 50:3 remnants and other dark
matter into your gravitational
pull. Pluto, I won't
forget you.
prismmagazine.ca    83 Contributors
Jane Cawthorne's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals and academic journals. In 2011, she was a finalist for the
Alberta Writers Guild, Howard O'Hagan Short Fiction Award for her
story "Weight." Her play, The Abortion Monologues, has been produced in
the United States and Canada.
Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker, and performance artist based in
Vancouver. She is the author of the novel Sub Rosa (Arsenal Pulp Press,
2010), editor of the Lambda Award-nominated Fist of the Spider Woman
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008) and co-editor of With a Rough Tongue: Femmes
Write Porn (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005). Her award-winning, genderfuck
docu-porn, "Girl on Girl," has been screened in eight countries and
added to the gender studies curriculum at Concordia University. She
has toured three times with the infamous Sex Workers' Art Show in the
US. She was voted Xtra! West's Hero of the Year in 2008. She has an
MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is the director of programming for the Vancouver Queer Film
Festival.
Katie Fritz recently completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria. Currently she is couch-surfing and hitch-hiking her way
through Europe, India, and Turkey. She misses the West Coast though,
and thinks often about a one-year lease. Katie occasionally contributes
to Victoria-based blog wearemosaic.ca.
Jean McNeil is from Nova Scotia but has lived in the UK for twenty
years. In 2005/06 she spent four months in Antarctica as writer-in-
residence with the British Antarctic Survey. Her books about the polar
regions are The Ice Lovers (2009), a novel; a collection of poems, Night
Orders (2011) and Ice Diaries, a polar travel narrative/memoir, in progress.
84     PRISM 50:3 Jay MillAr is a Toronto poet, editor, publisher, teacher and virtual bookseller. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which are esp:
accumulation sonnets (2009) and Other Poems (2010). He is also the author
of several privately published editions, such as Lack Lyrics, which tied to
win the 2008 bpNichol Chapbook Award. MillAr is the shadowy figure
behind BookThug, a publishing house dedicated to exploratory work
by well-known and emerging North American writers, as well as Apol-
linaire's Bookshoppe, a virtual bookstore that specializes in the books
that no one wants to buy. Currently Jay teaches creative writing and
poetics at George Brown College and Toronto New School of Writing,
where he is also the co-director.
Garry Thomas Morse has had two books of poetry published byLINE-
books, Transversals for Orpheus (2006) and Streams (2007), one collection
of fiction, Death In Vancouver (2009), published by Talonbooks, and two
books of poetry published by Talonbooks, Afterfack (2010) and Discovery
Passages (2011), finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry.
Danny Singer is a photographer living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia. His work can be found in numerous public collections
including the Vancouver Art Gallery, National Gallery of Canada, Mendel Art Gallery, and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. His photographs
have also appeared in publications such as the Parts Review, Blackflash,
Canadian Architect and Prefix Photo.
Yasuko Thanh is most recently the 2009 winner of the annual Journey
Prize for the best short story published in Canada. In May 2012, McClelland and Stewart will release her story collection, Floating like the Dead
in which "Hustler" will appear. Yasuko has published her stories widely
and last year completed her MFA in Creative Writing at University of
Victoria. She has travelled all over Europe and North America. She lives
with her husband and two daughters in Victoria, British Columbia. She
has just completed her first novel.
Sheryda Warrener's first collection of poetry is Hard Feelings (Snare,
2010). She currently lives in Vancouver, BC.
prismmagazine.ca     85 The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
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k   \k 1 ^
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a Bachelor of Pine 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:
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Lyrics Se Libretto.
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Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Joseph Boyden, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner, Terry Glavin,
Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe, Stephen Hunt,
Peter Levitt, Annabel Lyon, Susan Musgrave
&? Karen Solie
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca
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50:3
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Literary Non-fiction Contest
Judge's Essay: Amber Dawn
Winning Entry: Jean McNeil
Jane Cawthorne
Katie Fritz
Jay MillAr
Garry Thomas Morse
Yasuko Thanh
Sheryda Warrener
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Cover Photo:
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