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 PRISM international
^Hfktfs^
lest Winner
ne Sonik
Plus
■>'   *.J*|J(
Bill Gaston
New poetry by
Steven Heighton
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international
PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Grand Prize-$1,500
Madeline Sonik
"Fetters"
1st Runner-up
Mary B. Valencia
"Sunsets On Lake Huron"
2nd Runner-up
Christine Cleary
"How To Be A Widow"
Judge
Susan Olding
Contest Manager
Tenille Campbell
Readers
Indrapramit Das
Kaitlin Debicki
Lauren Forconi
Meredith Hambrock
Nazanine Hozar
Anna Maxymiw
Lenore Rowntree
Erika Thorkelson
Michelle Wright  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Rachel Knudsen
Poetry Editor
Elizabeth Ross
Executive Editors
Nadia Pestrak
Dan Schwartz
Assistant Editors
andrea bennett
Ben Rawluk
JeffStautz
Chris Urquhart
Advisory Editor
Steven Galloway
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Margret Bollerup
Emily Davidson
Anna Maxymiw
Sigal Samuel
Natalie Thompson PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY. The
magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
Email: prism@interchange.ubc.ca   / Website: www.prismmagazine.ca
Contents Copyright ® 2010 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover Art: Fly, Flew, Flown by Wanda Kujacz.
Subscription Rates: One-year individual $28; two-year individual $46; library and institution one-year $35; two-year $55. Sample copy by mail is $11.
US and international subscribers, please pay in US dollars. Please note
that US POSTAL money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable to:
PRISM international. All prices include GST and shipping and handling.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $20 per page for other genres.
Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM also purchases limited
digital rights for selected work, for which it pays an additional $10 per page.
All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address. Manuscripts should be accompanied by an email address. If you wish to receive
your response by regular mail, please include a self-addressed envelope with
Canadian stamps or International Reply Coupons. Translations should
be accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original language. The advisory editor is not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's
overall mandate including continuity, quality and budgetary obligations.
For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
contact our executive editors. PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists
with other literary magazines; please contact us if you wish to be excluded
from such exchanges.
Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support
of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
April 2010. ISSN 0032.8790
A
BRITISH COLUMBIA      889     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL C±>   for the Arts du Canada Contents
Volume 48, Number 3
Spring 2010
PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Susan Olding
What It Is: On Creative Nonfiction / 7
Winning Entry
Madeline Sonilt
Fetters / 9
Fiction
Bill Gaston
Black Roses Bloom / 29
Matt Rader
Tbast / 41
Melinda Moustakis
Summer, Winter, War / 62
Poetry
Steven Heighten
Memo to a Self / 21
Elegy for a Survivor / 22
Dream of Full Waiting / 24
Life! /  25
Sky Burial, the Scholar / 26 James Pollock
Traveller / 28
Sue Goyette
Memoir / 35
The New Mothers / 36
u-pick, a triptych / 37
Rhona McAdam
Bluegrass / 40
Shane Rhodes
The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog / 49
IntraVenus / 50
Bren Simmers
Dogs of Montoya Street /  52
Chamisa / 53
Cormorant / 54
Everybody's Business /  55
Tammy Armstrong
For you / 56
Durham Falls / 57
Grimsey Island / 58
After the River Swelled / 60
Stephanie Yorke
Parents / 74
Steve Urkel on TGIF / 75
Cautions / 76
Contributors / 77 PRISM LITERARY NONFICTION CONTEST
What It Is: On Creative
Nonfiction
One sticky summer night when I was fifteen, I migrated from my
second-floor bedroom to our basement family room, where I
switched on the TV, ate a bowl of ice cream, and stretched out
on the plaid couch in a vain attempt to cool off. When The Tonight Show
ended, I needed entertainment. I'd already read most of the novels on
the shelves—everything from The Adventures ofAugie March to Valley of the
Dolls. Of the few remaining titles, I had avoided one in particular: In Cold
Blood. I thought it was one of my mom's mysteries, and from some combination of misguided snobbery, the teenage compulsion to distinguish
myself from my parents, and a squeamishness that I couldn't acknowledge, I wasn't a mystery reader. But that night I was desperate. I reached
for the book, read its magisterial first page—and three hours later I was
still awake, unaware of the chorus of crickets outside the window or the
criss-crossed lines scored on my skin by the nubby fabric of the couch.
In two or three white-knuckled nights I devoured Capote's masterpiece.
That was my introduction to creative nonfiction.
What pleasures lay in store. The neighbourhood branch of our library housed fiction in one room and nonfiction in a different room
across the hall. I'd hardly noticed that room before. Now I crossed eagerly to the dark side: From Didion and Dillard and Andre Dubus to
Janet Malcolm and John McPhee; from Rodriguez and Rousseau to Tom
Wolfe and Tobias Wolff and Virginia Woolf. I learned from them that authors of creative nonfiction can find their subjects anywhere. Or, as the
American writer Jim Paul puts it, if you stare at anything long enough,
its literary archetypes will reveal themselves. So, Orwell's "Shooting an
Elephant," in which a dying animal stands for the fall of imperialism; so,
Didion's "Goodbye to All That," in which reminiscences of a city add
up to an elegy for lost youth. And so, In Cold Blood, in which grain silos
become Greek columns, and a tawdry and sensational crime acted out
on a "cracker-dry" plain becomes the stuff of classical tragedy. From a
single mutating cell to a singular life; from a failing farm to the fate of
the earth—no topic is too large or too small—for what matters is not so
prismmagazine.ca    7 much the subject itself, but how the writer sees it and what the writer
makes of it.
We should never underestimate the courage it takes for a writer to
make up his mind about what he sees and then to say it. The residents
of Holcomb, Kansas, have not forgiven Truman Capote. His crime is
not so much that he wrote a book (though for some, that is bad enough);
his crime is that he wrote his book, In Cold Blood. His crime is that after
months of living in their midst, he dared to voice a perspective different from their own. He needed a certain bloody-mindedness to do that
—bloody-mindedness, and perhaps, cold-bloodedness. No wonder he
came to identify with the killers.
Kill your darlings, the saying goes. And it's true, our first and most
important task as writers is to learn humility; to get out of the way of
our material. It's never easy. But how much more difficult it is when our
material is our own past or our own perceptions. How much more difficult it is when our material is ourselves. Yes, we must guard against self-
indulgence. Yet if we pay too much heed to those nattering voices (Who
cares what you think? Who cares about you?) the keyboard will freeze and
we won't write anything at all. The fundamental paradox of our genre is
that we must cultivate distance and coolness towards our experience to
make art of it, while at the same time we must go deep and ever deeper
into our experience to make art of it.
The author of our first place entry, "Fetters," achieves this delicate
balance. In a simple bracelet she finds a symbol that links two (seemingly) disparate parts of her narrative. "Fetters" stands out for its attention
to language, for its vivid characterizations, and most of all, for its careful balancing of narrative perspectives. From the opening paragraph we
are aware that something deep and real is at stake here. The narrator's
teenage self feels forced by circumstance to act in ways that endanger
her soul, and her adult self—while she understands all and forgives all—
never lets that teenager off too easily. Congratulations to Madeline Sonik
and to the runners-up and finalists.
Ask ten readers what they like about creative nonfiction and you'll
get ten different answers. Its narrative drive or its lyricism; its structural innovations or its meanderings and freedom from plot; its window
on the world or its intimate voice; its blend of fact and imagination;
its self-reflective playfulness; its emotional honesty. Exciting, enriching,
empowering—ours is a capacious genre. Maybe we name it by what it is
not because we're awed by the richness of what it is.
—Susan Oldtng
8     PRISM 48:3 Madeline Sonik
Fetters
Inside the narrow azure box is a sterling silver bracelet: twin strands
of chain woven together, connected by spirals to a rectangular bar.
I don't see, at first, that the bar is engraved with my name—looping
and graceful cursive.
He explains that "the guys" are responsible. They said: "I don't see
your name on her." He explains that the bracelet is a gift of possession.
"If they try that again," he says, "I can just show them this. I can show
them you belong to me."
He clasps the bracelet on my left arm. It's the nicest gift anyone's
given me, the only gift I've ever received from a male that wasn't in
my family. The fact that my name is on the bracelet, and not his—that
no matter how much he shows his friends, they will not see his name—
doesn't make his gift any less brilliant or his story any less sweet.
We make out in his father's car at Pillette Dock. I'm self-conscious of
my breath and saliva. I wear pink peppermint lipstick, spray my tongue
with Binaca whenever I get a chance, and try to choreograph our mouth-
to-mouth contact so that strings of clinging spit need not embarrass us.
He has a moustache that scratches my face. I try to ignore it. I try to
move outside of my body, to escape the discomfort, to observe our kissing from a distance, where I can see myself as someone different, someone who's not so self-conscious or insecure.
The boy I'm kissing is three years older than me. He's also a foot
taller. His age allows him to do things it's illegal for me to do, like drive
a car and hold a part-time job. He's a senior at our high school while I'm
a freshman, and I worry about him going off to university next year and
leaving me behind. I imagine him dating university women, who are
smart and pretty and sophisticated. I imagine him saying, "What did I
ever see in you?" I don't know what he sees in me. Why he wants to kiss
me. Why he wants me to belong to him. I know that I'm not the kind of
girlfriend I'd pick if I were a boy like him. He's cool and self-possessed,
like the rock stars in the posters on his bedroom wall. There's one of
Keith Emerson riding a motorcycle that looks exactly like him.
When his parents are out at their lodge and his sister's at work, we
lie together on his single bed in the darkness. We make out listening to
Olivia Newtonjohn singing I Honestly Love You. He thinks she's a fox but
prismmagazine.ca    9 wouldn't want the guys to know he'd bought this record. Female vocalists aren't where it's at.
When he moves his hand over my sweater and presses it hard against
my breast I pull away, embarrassed because my breasts are small. I've
only been wearing a bra for a year, and the one I wear is blue and childish, made of cotton and elastic, without lace or padded cups or metal
clasps, not like the bras I've seen other girls in my gym class wear. Still,
I try and pretend we're lovers in a movie, but when his cold hand crawls
under my sweater, I can't stop myself from pushing it away. When he
drives me home, I want to apologize and explain, but know that this is
impossible. To speak of shame is just as humiliating as those things that
cause it.
The curtains of my house are open, and the yellowed sheers soften the
picture of our living room. I'm always surprised at how warm and uncluttered it looks from the street: my father's watching a movie; my mother's
knitting a sweater. A stranger passing would suppose a cozy domestic
scene and I wish to imagine this too, to linger outside, but I'm aware of
the boy in the car, that proper dating etiquette requires he wait until I go
in. If I hesitate too long, he's likely to find it strange, maybe wonder if
there's something wrong with me.
I climb the concrete porch stairs, hold onto the window's warm picture as he drives away. I think of the old Patty Duke Show, imagine
myself as the wholesome teenaged Patty arriving home after a date.
"Look Daddy! Look Mummy! Look what he gave me!" I extend the
bracelet. My voice is false and high. My father's skeletal face grimaces,
mother asks if she can get him something for the pain. "Nice," he exhales, not looking towards the bracelet, creases deepening in his face as
he moves.
It should be obvious to me that my father's dying, that my mother's
wrestling with grief. It should be obvious that my presence here threatens
to disrupt the intense focus they need to navigate their private hells. If
my father were well, he wouldn't allow me to date this boy. He wouldn't
allow me to date any boy. It would be a traumatic ordeal, with him
dramatically forbidding me, standing on the porch steps and bruising
my arm with his grasp, calling the boy's parents, following us in his car.
It would be humiliating to me, and in the end, I wouldn't see the boy,
because I would feel so ashamed. But as it is, there's no confrontation.
In my room, I listen to an FM station on the radio and try to gather
all the names of rock stars as they crackle past. The boy I date, "my
boyfriend"—it's strange as well as thrilling to even think these words—
knows all of their names. He buys Circus Magazine, Creem and sometimes
10     PRISM 48:3 Rolling Stone. He composes extensive genealogical trees of bands, showing the relationships between each group and where each member began
his career. I am terrified of making an unforgivable blunder, of referring
to Donald Fagen as "Steely Dan" or Robert Plant as "Led Zeppelin." My
boyfriend has contempt for those who do this. When I'm uncertain of a
name, I say nothing.
There are a number of other things he dislikes that I'm careful of: gym
shoes, midi skirts, red lipstick, ponytails, runs in nylon stockings. There
are foods he disdains that I remember never to eat: vanilla ice cream,
dark chocolate, margarine, milk. I make his likes my likes: hot dogs,
baked beans, the colour black.
When I go to bed, I leave the radio on low and turn the lights off. The
cold full moon stares through my window, reminding me how afraid I
am of being alone. Since I began dating the boy, no matter how afraid I
become, I resist going to my parents' room. When I was much younger,
I would worm my way into their bed, but for the last few years, they've
only allowed me to sleep on their floor.
I try not to think about how sick my father is. I try, instead, to think
about the way it used to be. When I was little, I thought my father was
a giant. He'd lift me on his shoulder on the sidewalk just outside of our
house, and tell me to catch the moon, but I hear him cough in the living
room, and it shatters this memory. It's best, I understand, not to think of
my father at all.
My boyfriend is a stock boy at the IGA. He works there Tuesday and
Wednesday after school, and today, Friday, the graveyard shift, from
10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He tells me stories about the things he does at work—
how he and the guys mess around—spray whipped cream into Penthouse
centerfolds, pretend they're masturbating the Kielbasa in the deli, draw
obscene pictures and list the phone numbers of slutty girls on the bathroom walls. The pockets of his jacket are crammed with little packages
of Life Savers. "It's not really stealing," he says. "The boss expects us to
take things."
His favourite Life Savers are cherry and lime, and sometimes when
we kiss we make a game of sharing one, of pushing a candy back and
forth into each other's mouth with our tongues, until it becomes a thin
fragile band. I have conflicting feelings about this game: it breaks the
monotony of long make out sessions and Life Savers taste good. On the
other hand, there's so much more saliva to deal with, so much more
potential for humiliation. It requires a great deal of skill, dexterity, and
concentration on my part to make the transfer effortless for both of us, to
appear as if I'm always having fun.
Besides giving him an inexhaustible supply of Life Savers, my boy-
prismmagazine.ca     11 friend's job allows him to buy records and magazines, to put gas in his
father's car when we go out, and to offer to take me to dinner. I go to
dinner once with him, to his favourite Chinese restaurant, but I can't eat
a thing. I worry that I might not use my knife and fork properly, that I'll
drop food on my lap, that I'll take bites that are too large or too small,
that my mouth will look funny. Before my father's illness, he always
monitored my table manners. If I didn't use my cutlery properly, he'd
stand behind me and take my hands. "Eat the food, don't hurt it," he'd
say, forcing my fingers down, making me cut everything up into tiny
pieces.
My boyfriend fills his plate. "I'm not hungry," I say. "I'll just watch
you."
He says nothing, but I know right away he's thinking "weird." He
stuffs food into his mouth. When he finishes, he stands and belches and
puts on his coat. "Aren't you going to take the leftovers home?" I ask.
He doesn't answer. He leaves money on the table. I follow him out to
the car. He's never asked me to dinner since.
I wake in a panic at 4 a.m. There's a bad feeling in the pit of my
stomach. It takes all my self-control to resist going to my parents' room.
I get out of bed and dress. It's a two-hour walk to the IGA. It's dark and
foggy, everything is still and silent but for the incessant hum of the street
lamps in our subdivision. I know that if my father were well, I wouldn't
be doing this. I remember the time he came looking for me at the park
because it was late and I should have been home. I was talking with
friends and he was carrying his belt. He wasn't going to hit me, he just
wanted my friends to think he was. The street lamps were droning then,
too, and he pulled me into a bright beam of light and examined my face.
"Are you wearing eye makeup?" he asked. His breath was like sweat on
my cheek.
I know he won't come looking for me tonight and I wonder if I'm
dreaming. I know that being out this late is crazy. I don't know how I'll
explain it to my boyfriend and think, perhaps, once I get to the IGA, I'll
hide somewhere and wait until I see him leave, then I'll walk back home.
But as I approach the store, he's walking towards me. He asks what I'm
doing here. "I just needed air," I say.
On Saturday, he takes me to his house to meet his family. His mother is
large and loud and offers me tea. She has an angular face, speaks with an
English accent, and presents a succession of questions I can barely keep
up with. She flits from subject to subject, talks about her natty dishtow-
els, Christmas tree ornaments, television programs, and her husband,
Teodor, who sits in the living room just beyond the kitchen hatch. "Isn't
that so, Doe Doe?" she shouts.
12     PRISM 48:3 He's a slight man, nine years her senior and at least six inches shorter
than she is. He enters the kitchen, peels a banana, and thrusts it in front
of my boyfriend's face. "Want a bite?" he asks. He speaks with an Eastern European accent. My boyfriend looks annoyed and wafts the banana
away.
His mother calls to his sister,Joanie. She's tall and hunch-shouldered.
Her face is like her mother's. She slinks into the kitchen, as if she'd been
standing by her bedroom door listening, and forces a smile. Her teeth
are stunningly crooked. She reaches for the tea pot, begins pouring cups
of tea, and as the remains dribble from the pot into the last cup she says,
"That sounds exactly like Jack going to the bathroom."
I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh. Nobody else does. My boyfriend's mother hands me my cup. Everyone slurps their tea. "What do
you think of his highness' hair?" she asks me. My boyfriend has shoulder-length hair. "Everyone thinks he's a girl!" she continues. "How do
you think that makes me feel, Jack?"
There's something comforting to me in all of this. No sights or sounds
of death exist here, no smells of chemotherapy and disease.
My boyfriend's parents frequently go out, while Joanie, all too often, stays at home. She taps on my boyfriend's bedroom door. "I've just
made tea," she says, and sticks her head in. "Hope I'm not disturbing
anything." She smiles her crooked-tooth smile as I pull my boyfriend's
hand away from my breast and struggle to straighten my sweater. We
go to the kitchen where Joanie's pouring. "Sounds like Jack going to the
bathroom," she says again, intentionally making the tea dribble when
she pours my cup.
She tells me she has an Ouija Board and that she and her brother and
their next door neighbour, Katy, used to have a lot of fun asking it questions. "Of course,Jack had a crush on her. She was pretty. She had really
humongous boobs!"
Joanie pulls three kitchen chairs together and dims the lights. We're
all supposed to place the Ouija Board on our knees. "Will I get married?" she asks. The plastic pointer flies to the word "Yes." "Who will
I marry?" she asks excitedly. The pointer moves to the letter 'J" then
slowly to the letter "I" and more slowly still to the letter "M."
"Could that be Led Zeppelin's guitarist, Jimmy Page?" she asks. The
pointer flies to "Yes."
"I knew it," she says.
Neither my boyfriend nor I behave skeptically or ask her if she's
pushed the pointer. "Okay," she says, "I have another question. Will
Jack get married?"
The plastic pointer sails to "Yes."
"And who will he marry?" she asks. The letters "K," "A," and "T" are
prismmagazine.ca     13 laboriously spelled out.
"Katy?" Joanie asks.
"Yes," the pointer indicates.
"How romantic! The girl next door!" Joanie exclaims.
My boyfriend and I walk home from school together every day. Since
my introduction to his family, Joanie has started to accompany us. Now
she meets me at my locker during my spare. At school, I feel like a robot.
Home life doesn't touch me here. The biggest problem I'm asked to deal
with is Joanie's ongoing conflict with a girl named Elvira.
Elvira is an artist and aspiring revolutionary who's admired by her
teachers for her creative talents and intelligence, but avoided by most
everyone else in her Grade 12 class because of her frightening intensity
and strange appearance. She wears the same baggy clothes to school
each day, and sometimes, if she's been working on a canvas late into the
night, has acrylic paint crusted in her hair the following morning. She
and Joanie are almost always together at school. Elvira thinks Joanie's
her best friend, butjoanie tells me she detests Elvira and can't find a way
to dump her.
I don't know why Joanie hates Elvira or why she continues hanging
around with her. I don't know why she wants to bring these problems to
me. "Wouldn't it just be kinder to say you don't have anything in common?" I ask.
"I don't want to be kind," Joanie says.
My spare is sixty minutes long, and Joanie uses every second of it
to badmouth Elvira. When the bell rings, she shuffles along to her next
class.
I buy a sterling silver heart charm with my babysitting money and have
it engraved with my boyfriend's name, then soldered onto the bracelet
he gave me. I lift my wrist and jangle the bracelet when I meet him at his
locker. "Look," I tell him, "the guys can't say they don't see your name
on me anymore."
"Huh?" he mutters.
"The heart," I show him. I hold it so he can see it.
I already know how to read and accommodate his moods. I know
when he's feeling happy and communicative and when he's pissed off.
I know right now, for example, that he's annoyed with me, though I'm
not certain why. I stop talking. Joanie's waiting for us outside of the
school. The sky's grey and the air is bone-chilling. The wind shoves
crumpled papers, tissues, plastic bags, across the schoolyard and through
the streets. None of us say anything as we walk home.
14     PRISM 48:3 My boyfriend is the only male I've ever known who talks seriously about
his own sexuality. He tells me that erections can be embarrassing—that
a guy has to watch what he's thinking about all of the time. He tells me
that the boys swim naked in the pool during gym, that the teacher says
it's more hygienic than wearing bathing suits, and that once one of the
guys had an erection while standing in line and the other guys laughed
at him.
He talks to me about virginity and says he thinks it's important for
girls. He says he likes to masturbate. He knows some people say masturbation will make you go blind or insane, and he was worried about this
happening to him at first, but he's talked to other guys who do it, and
nothing bad has happened to them. He introduces me to the term wet
dream—"All guys have them," he says. He tells me about the first wet
dream he had. He tried to wipe his sheets up with a kitchen dishcloth,
but the slick mess just kept spreading. I'm both fascinated and appalled
by the things he says, both curious and embarrassed to the point of revulsion. I don't know how he can speak of these things—even the thought
of telling him about such private matters makes my stomach sick.
When I'm at school, I look up the word "circumcision" in the dictionary. It's a word I've heard my boyfriend use on several occasions. He
told me that he's the only guy in his gym class who's not circumcised,
and that makes him feel a little weird, but also kind of special. The dictionary says circumcision is ajewish practice, and our school is packed
with Catholics, so I think he must be wrong and worry that maybe his
penis is deformed. It's not so much the ugliness of a deformed penis I
worry about, but rather my boyfriend's ability to father a child—to father our child, to be exact, and when I think this, I realize, for the first
time, that I expect my boyfriend and I will eventually get married and
have a family. I've never thought of myself as a wife or mother before;
in fact, in the past I've resisted any suggestion that this might one day be
the case. Now, however, I'm thinking I'll marry him and if his deformed
penis causes sterility we'll just adopt children.
I'm surprised to discover Joanie standing directly behind me. "What
word are you looking up?" she asks, craning to see.
"Circumscribe," I stammer, reading the first word my eyes fall on.
"Sounds like circumcise," Joanie says loudly and laughs.
My father is stretched out across the orange couch, sleeping. His face is
gaunt and grooved with deep lines. The house is so dark and silent; it
feels as if death has already arrived. I think about death as a spirit, and
see in a shadow the outline of a horse rearing over my father's head. I'm
afraid to walk past it, to allow my shadow to touch it. I inch along the farthest corners of the room to avoid it before escaping out the front door.
prismmagazine.ca     15 I arrive at my boyfriend's house. His parents are out. Joanie waves a
tampon pamphlet in front of his face. He'd asked her earlier about the
precise location of the vagina. Only just now has she thought of giving him this helpful visual aid. He thanks her and hands her one of his
magazines. Inside there's a centrefold of a rock star she worships. He
wears makeup and tight satin pants. I don't know his name. He could
be someone from the New York Dolls or Roxy Music. Joanie paws his
crotch and growls.
The phone rings and my boyfriend answers. While he speaks, Joanie
pokes her index finger into the ass of his jeans. He swats at her playfully, ineffectually. He turns, winding around and around in the phone's
cord. They make faces at each other. They stick out their tongues. They
seem as if they'll continue this bizarre game forever, then Joanie says
abruptly that she's going out. "I have to see a movie with Elvira," she
huffs. "I hope I can make it through the picture without killing her. She's
such a downer, always saying she's depressed...depressed, depressed,
depressed. ..if she says that one more time I'm going to yank her tongue
out and cram it up her hole."
It's been a long time since my boyfriend and I have been alone in his
house. Once Joanie leaves, he turns off the lights and puts Olivia Newton
John on the record player. I've bought a new bra, one that's padded and
has metal hooks and eyes at the back, and I've trained myself not to push
his hand away when he fumbles to undo it. I imagine I'm someone else,
and it works pretty well until he asks me to take my clothes off. I know
he looks at Penthouse and Hustler. Sometimes he even lifts a copy from
work and brings it home, but he says he's curious to see what a real girl
looks like naked. I can't bring myself to do this. I try to make a joke out
ofit.
"It's no big deal," he says, "I'm not asking for sex."
"I know," I say, even though I don't know, and it is a big deal to me.
"Look," he says, "I'll take my clothes off." He stands from the bed and
starts stripping. He drops his shirt, then his pants. It's dark in the room,
but I can see the clothing fall. I'm embarrassed and strangely fearful and
suddenly aware that my bra is still undone. I struggle to hook it together.
I shut my eyes. I don't want to see him naked, because I'm uncertain
how I'll respond. I've only ever seen a man's penis in real life once—my
father's, when he was hurrying to the bedroom from the shower and his
towel dropped. It was shocking to me. It looked nothing like the penises
in the art books I'd looked at. My father and I both pretended nothing
had happened, but I couldn't look at him afterwards.
"Open your eyes," my boyfriend says.
Although my eyes are closed, I know that he's switched the main light
16     PRISM 48:3 "I can't believe you," he says.
I try to open my eyes a little at a time. He's posing by the door, entirely naked, but for a pair of black socks on his feet, and an issue of Circus Magazine covering his penis. I laugh and he flicks the lights off again,
poses on a chair, with his penis hidden beneath a crossed leg, then flicks
the lights on. His chest and arms are puny and as white as paper. He's
gangly and his shoulders roll forward like a child's. He's making funny
poses to amuse me, but I think, even without these poses, the surprise of
how vulnerable his body looks makes me want to weep with laughter.
I'm glad he's posing, so I can laugh without embarrassing him; I'm also
glad that he normally wears clothes. He flicks the lights off again and
we hear his parents walking up the porch steps. He flicks the lights on. I
quickly close and cover my eyes with my hands. He scrambles to dress.
I negotiate myself to standing. His mother taps on his bedroom door.
"We're home, Jack," she says, poking her head in, just as he fastens the
last button on his shirt.
I watch the minute hand of our living room clock as my father removes
his gauze dressing. The air fills with the stench of shit and decay, and he
gags. I open the front door, let in the winter breeze. Snow flutters from
the night sky like fat white moths, blows on my eyelashes, and remains
there until I blink.
I don't want my boyfriend to come into the house. I don't even want
him to come up the porch stairs. I fear my father will invite him in, give
him the third degree, make him wonder why he's dating me. My father's
hand trembles as he smoothes a new dressing over his abdomen. He
pulls his red-check blanket over his chest and shivers from the cold. I see
the headlights of my boyfriend's car at the end of the street. "Going now,
dad, see you later." I zip my boots up—push my arms into my coat. I
try to get out the door fast before he makes a request: chilled fruit, a foot
massage, a different channel on TV. I feel guilty abandoning him, but
I know in the next few minutes my mother will walk through the living
room and give him what he needs.
When I enter that dark space in my boyfriend's car, I don't care where
we drive as long as we drive away, down the bleak court, out of this subdivision, far from the odour of death. There's no reason to share these
thoughts with him, no reason to be a downer. I feel so happy when we're
driving. I slide close to him and he drops an arm over my shoulder. He
does this tonight, just like always, but it feels different and I know something's wrong. We've been together long enough that I have a good idea
of how our conversation will go. I'll ask him what's the matter and he'll
resist telling me, but eventually if I persist through his annoyance, he'll
confide.
prismmagazine.ca     17 We're in the parking lot of Devonshire Mall when he tells me that
his father came home drunk, his parents argued, his mother cried. He
told his father to leave his mother alone. His father yelled at everyone
and said he was going to leave for good, butjoanie cried and held their
father's hand and begged him not to, so he didn't. My boyfriend tells
me all of this in a monotone. His eyes are fixed and frozen pools. I want
to comfort him. I want to tell him everything will be okay, but mostly
I want to tell him how much worse things could be. I want to tell him
about the shadow of death over my father's head, and the way shit oozes
out of his surgical incision that will never heal. I want to tell him what
it's like, every day, watching someone you thought was omnipotent getting weaker and weaker until they can't even lift a spoon. But I don't say
these things. I think them, and we sit, deadened and contained, in the
silent darkness.
The snow has finally stopped falling, but the streets are filled with it—
dirty white pastry crust that cracks and crumbles under feet, that car
wheels pick up like rolling pins and fling into the air. My father is taken
to the hospital. Two men carry him down the porch stairs on a kitchen
chair. He doesn't know he's dying, that this will be the last time he'll
leave the house.
I put my coat on and go outside. Angels of mist rise from my exhalations. It's Saturday, and I don't know where I'll go. I walk to the
park, then to the hills by the projects. Finally, I decide to go over to my
boyfriend's house, even though I know he'll be leaving for work. I walk
quickly, not wanting to miss him. I don't know what I'll say when I arrive.
"What are you doing here?" he asks. I can tell by his tone he's furious.
I don't know what to say at first. Finally, I stammer, "I was just in the
neighbourhood." I turn, scuttle down the porch steps, and walk back
home.
I walk up the driveway towards my house. I don't want to go inside.
It's snowing again, and I stand on the porch staring at the leafless plum
tree in our front yard. I see my father being carried away on the kitchen
chair. It's like a record skipping or a film that won't advance—over and
over and over again, he's taken away.
I walk down the driveway. Snow continues falling—white cotton wool
on wounds—my feet opening new tracks, skidding over ice.
I take the bus to the hospital. My father's head lolls on a pillow. "That
man in the bed across the room," my father whispers, pointing to a person who's covered his head with a sheet and makes a creepy mechanical
18     PRISM 48:3 sound. "Cancer of the larynx...terminal...poor devil." My father doesn't
know that it's only the morphine they give him that makes him feel
well. There are palm trees growing at his feet, his bed is a raft in the
South Pacific. "At this rate, I should be home by Christmas," he tells me.
Christmas is just over two weeks away.
I play along with his self-deception. It's easy because I deceive myself
too. I laugh at his jokes, take a sip of his dinner—a triple thick milkshake
he can't swallow. He hasn't been this lively in months.
It's only at home that the fantasies fade. In the presence of his orange
couch, I'm aware that he's receiving no treatment, that he's given morphine whenever he asks, that he's on a terminal cancer ward, and that he
can't even choke down a milkshake.
It's late, but I need to walk somewhere. I call my boyfriend. Joanie
answers. 'Jailbait on the line," I hear her laugh and whisper, before he
takes the phone.
"Can I come to your house?" I ask.
"I'll meet you in the park," he says.
"Okay," I say, trying to read his tone.
Air and snow bite my hands and cheeks. He's already in the park. I go to
him, plunge my hands inside his pockets, and feel him pull away.
"I don't want to go out with you anymore," he says, "I need to be free.
I don't want to feel guilty when I look at other girls."
I'm surprised at what he says, but more surprised by the words that
break from my lips, more surprised that I feel no pain or envy. 'Just
stay with me until my father dies." It's a ridiculous request and I don't
know why I ask it. I've said nothing to him about my father's illness.
It shouldn't surprise me in the least when he says "No," but it does. It
shocks and confounds me, and I can't stop myself from babbling and
pleading for him to reconsider. My father is dying. He's not expected
to live beyond the week. I tell my boyfriend this, but it doesn't make a
difference.
The snow has melted and turned to ice. Everything appears as if it's been
encased in glass: the plum tree in our front yard, streets and driveways,
cars. I walk to my boyfriend's house. I crawl under the back porch and
wait to hear his footsteps. I've never heard the word "stalker," but a
stalker is what I've become. Before he broke up with me, I'd bought
Christmas presents for him: albums he'd asked for, clothes that he liked.
On the day that my father falls into a coma, I wrap all of these gifts up in
bright paper and deliver them to his door.
His house smells of pine, cookies, rum, and cinnamon. There are
bowls of chocolates and happy decorations everywhere: reindeer and
prismmagazine.ca     19 Santas, small wooden sleighs, red bows, and jingle bells. He's out, but his
mother and Joanie offer me tea.
"Just because you're not datingjack anymore doesn't mean you have
to stop coming over," his mother says. "I know Joanie would like to be
your friend."
Joanie smiles and nods.
I walk back home. I walk around the block. I walk to the park. I finally decide to take a bus to the hospital. Visiting hours are over, but a
nurse says I can stay as long as I want.
My father's face has become unrecognizable, its shape, its contours,
the dry white spit that crusts around his wasted lips. I sit in the chair by
his bedside, then stand. I walk through the quiet, brightly lit corridors
of the hospital pretending that I'm somewhere else. I imagine myself as
another person, as someone chic and beautiful, and toss my hair over my
shoulders, just like those confident young women do in shampoo commercials. The gleam from the tiles on the hospital floor become stage
lights, and when I return to my father's ward and look out his window,
I see my role as clearly as I see my hollow-eyed reflection and the hard
silver hearts of snow that melt as they plummet to the earth.
20     PRISM 48:3 Steven Heighton
Memo to a Self
Nothing fills the famished chasm. Drape its walls with degrees,
blue ribbons, ego's little
luxury supplies—
cram it with Chairs of this or that, titles,
money—or, if not, then surely love? Of a lifetime
friend? Still no,
not quite. A husband—wife?
Or child, that love lacking fine print or proviso?
For all it should, not yet. Zero fills the famished chasm.
Say as much, then go down inside
and sit there a time. It's a womb
in form, but this time in you, and so far barren. Be quiet. Reside
nowhere else for hard trimesters. If the space is dry, replenish it with
the amniotic brine of tears
long due, then learn to breathe
the green element beyond speech, as ego sputters, slowly tires
and drowns, and something else of you
readies for the immense and wave-like
labour that remains—
prismmagazine.ca    21 Elegy for a Survivor
Olive, lady
of a dozen names, alias
Lydta Alydta Olivia, all
alive like you and still now
numbered among olives
not for the bitter
but the strong—
At gatherings you were worth a dozen guests, O., with no
malice making spectres
of your retinue—an aristocrat of the affections, like fiction's
Lady Brett
but clear-hearted, with a comprehensive soul—hyperbolic
inside our lives
those brilliant paired summers lush enough, like you, with life
that now your death
seems so odd a fit, no coffin could be heartwood or deep enough carapace
(though it gapes now
too spacious for what remains). Still, tonight, I wonder how /hope
to hold you—you, I mean,
the vital quorum absent at the closing—in the vespiary of a poem
with its minor hum,
its foolscap walls—and racing these lines to the deaf precipice
of the margin, I'm afraid stalling
even a breath, haemorrhaging momentum, would be to lose this vestige
I mean to hold hostage
a double deeper into the night: You and those anonymous, guerrilla
sprees of gift-leaving, star anise, blood
persimmons, cardamom pods in a bag by the door (final self
portrait in perishables) or this
neural triptych I upload: hair rowelled around your face on a midnight
river milted with stars: you
winning rounds of Twister in a timewarp rec-room: and last week,
finally, weighing not a pound
for each year of yours on earth, flirting with that handsome orderly
and begging him for Breakthrough.
22     PRISM 48:3 O., something about your going now hatchets me open
in a one-time way, I guess
we owe it to the dead to deserve our lives, praise
something for the savour
of almonds, wine, olives and other
tributes on the tongue—
prismmagazine.ca    23 Dream of Full Waking
In the stations
of a cortical storm, the solo
sea, plying
and replying through perilous
turnstiles in the mind, unmoors,
makes for the skyline, where
new shores are rolled of gold chain
in three strands
by the moonlight
24     PRISM 48:3 Life!
after Mtltos Sahtourls
Night in the all-night
drug mart
where a kneeling
horse
devours
the vinyl tile
and a woman
with curious vernal burns
is being treated
urgently
while the
ghost despairingly
weeps
by the magazines
prismmagazine.ca    25 Sky Burial, the Scholar
In that dream, scavengers
bore his skeleton into the sky
piecemeal,
disarticulate and silenced, save
for the sighs of the ventriloquist
wind in hollowed ulna,
susurrations in the radius,
a femoral music, a marrow
of music—and he no more
than those tunnelling tunes, Self
and the elements
unsundered at last, skull's oubliette
unlocked, cracked
like the clamshell a kittiwake
lets fall over rocks—
and this is the eventual
ecstasy of skeptics—
those who swapped the rush of being
in earth's brief, arduous eden
for bunkered years in solitary,
imposing self-sentence
sentence by sentence,
who loved things only
aslant, never with the heart
full-frontal, who never once
forgot their own names when sea-
or skinscapes intervened,
26     PRISM 48:3 never saw (eyes lasered
clear of the cataracts
of habit) rain
falling like a ransom, stars
stammering celestial news,
and the old moon, reminted.
prismmagazine.ca    27 James Pollock
Traveller
The city is so far away.
Now, get on your knees and pray.
The lake is hard. The knife-winds blow.
The woods are filling up with snow.
May the cold Lord hear us curse
for each man's life is getting worse.
The night will fall, the crow will crow,
the woods are filling up with snow,
the stars are coming to an end.
The world wants to forget us, friend.
Tonight, we steer by snow-light. Go.
The woods are filling up with snow.
28     PRISM 48:3 Bill Gaston
Black Roses Bloom
Sharing his pillow, Katherine asks if it's ever happened to him. Redmond goes up on an elbow. His sandy hair is mussed and boyish, despite the high, intelligent forehead. She finds the permanent
snarl of his lips exotic, and that trace of English accent flips her heart.
"Never. That's never happened to me, Kath."
Even lying naked beside him, Katherine finds it hard to talk about
sex. She'll use timid hand gestures, or resort to the worst euphemisms.
Your peter. My—he laughs at this one—nether region. Redmond is the
first man with whom she's talked about it. This morning they have ten
minutes to linger before they must shower, dress, and drive to the bank
where they work.
What's happened is, she's mentioned the flood of dreams she had
during her orgasms, and he is surprised.
Katherine adds, "Lately it's happening even more. Maybe every time.
Should I be worried?"
Redmond presses a knuckle into her shoulder and lies back on his pillow. "Well, I'm jealous. I don't even get to have my pillow-smoke anymore." Redmond quit smoking at her insistence a week after they met,
just as he got her to drop her glasses for contact lenses. Though it's been
three months, he jokes about it constantly, slyly blaming. He claims that
Europeans are elegant smokers so they should be allowed to.
Redmond asks her, more softly, "So what exactly did you see today?
In your post-coital reverie."
Katherine tells him it's hard to describe because it's a flood, a stream,
of random images. But little stories too. The main thing is, it feels like
memory. It's dreams she's had before. Lots, she's certain, are from her
childhood.
"So I'm not having them," she says, understanding it more herself.
"I'm remembering them." All feel drenched in nostalgia. The sweetness of
long-lost. That lovely glue.
"Give us an example, then." Said like a plucky English schoolmaster.
Mostly Katherine is afraid of boring him. She knows she's stiff, she
knows she's not colourful. If there's one thing she's afraid of with Redmond, it's that. And aren't people famously bored by others' dreams?
She'll keep it short.
prismmagazine.ca    29 "One was, I'm in a pet store, there's a goldfish, it becomes the dog I
always wanted, and I think as we're walking home it turns brown and
gets old and dies." Back on the pillow, Redmond stares straight up,
blinking. She says, "And one I was in China, that place with the craggy
mountains rising out of the water, and I fling myself off this cliff, because
apparently I can fly, since I had this secret training. But I just fall into the
trees. I'm completely embarrassed, because I was bragging about flying,
to all these tourists, Chinese tourists. I try to fall deeper into the branches
so they can't see me anymore."
"Wow," Redmond whispers. He may in fact have said "Oh." He's
either bored or concerned.
Katherine can't help herself. "And there's this pineapple I pick and it's
full of wonderfully cooked meat. A stew, a curry. It's spiced like heaven.
There's gold nuggets shining up from it. Then there's this ceremony for
me..."
"This happens every time you cum?"
At first she thinks he's asking if a ceremony happens every time. And
she so dislikes that word, cum. He even somehow pronounces it in its
abbreviated spelling. "Maybe. Yes."
He smiles. "It's usually the man who does the passing out." He looks
sideways at her, vast brow furrowed. "You actually do pass out?"
Katherine simply nods. She's already explained that she does. She
wants to ask other things, wants to know that she's not some kind of
freak. Is she too loud, or not loud enough, or would he like her to resist
a little at first, or maybe he'd like to be stroked after, in "the afterglow"?
Part of which time she spends stricken by dreams.
Redmond squeezes her knee and is first up and into the shower. Her
revelation seems to have made him quiet, but then he's humming in the
spray. Katherine can smell her shampoo, which he doesn't mind using.
Lately he's been staying over two, sometimes three nights a week, and
there's been mention of finding a place together. She's fond of her condo
and proud that it's mortgage-free, and though it will hurt to lose it, it's
necessary that they find their place. They have yet to discuss her equity
and his lack of same. But—as Redmond might joke as they divide a restaurant check—they're both bankers, this shouldn't be hard.
Redmond loves me. Katherine can say this and does daily, aloud to herself, in smiling amazement. She is forty-five and had almost given up
on that part of her life, the relationship part, the love part. Over the
years she'd worked at two ragged and prolonged affairs but, until Redmond, there wasn't love. She'd even begun telling herself that this part
of life, the love part, didn't really matter, almost convincing herself that,
since you're born alone and die alone, the long middle part would only
30     PRISM 48:3 be muddled by a partner. Loneliness, she'd been whispering to herself,
builds character. She sees now that, in life's race to the finish line, she's
been positioning pillows between herself and her greatest pain. But now
Redmond loves her, she's sure of it, and she loves Redmond, and there's
nothing muddled about it. Their love is a sentence that began clear and
continues clear. The orgasms, the first in her life, are magical punctuation. Are proof.
That night: A flame-green bird, its song the tink of a cheap souvenir bell
and poignant for its poverty. Then her father's face in the side window
of a black car, a criminal's car. He sees her, points at her, laughs behind
glass. She's on the weedy sidewalk in front of her childhood house. A
long forgotten truth: the smell of her trike tires.
Restless in the waiting room, Katherine almost gets up to leave several
times. Magazine beauty ads can't distract her. Her horoscope in the back
is spectacularly good and says her love will grow, but she reads the others too and they're all spectacular and apparently good love is everywhere, which she knows is garbage. She feels foolish coming here and
doubts a family doctor would know anything about orgasms-and-dreams
anyway. But last week, before Redmond's special dinner for her, she
promised herself she'd get it checked if it happened again. They ate the
Sicilian macaroni, finished the wine while listening to the wily jazz Redmond had brought, moved to the bedroom, enjoyed sex—after the peak
of which she sank instantly into dreams. In that way of dreams she was
aware of herself having them but at the same time helpless to stop: she's
beside a beautiful glacial river, with a smell of dry, hot pine needles,
it's Banff, she's barefoot and shouldn't be, she's lost her shoes and is
hunting them. Then mostly it's glimpses—like thumbing through colour
swatches—whiffs of emotions that by turns tug, gladden, make restless.
They all feel like memory.
In her inner office, Dr. Reynolds asks awkward questions. Katherine
would prefer being physically naked to this. Dr. Reynolds is roughly
Katherine's age and her name is Dorothy, but despite knowing her for
two decades, Katherine has never been invited to call her that. Which is
fine, especially now.
"So let's clarify. Sexually—you've never had orgasms before. Not
even through self-stimulation."
Katherine nods, won't meet her eye. So let's clarify my ffeakishness.
"And, the effort it takes. To reach orgasm. You say it's lots of work.
So, can you tell me, out of ten, with ten being the highest, how much
effort it takes?"
"I didn't mean it's just work. I don't know quite what—"
prismmagazine.ca    31 "Of course it's 'enjoyable.'" Dr. Reynolds does quotation marks and
almost smiles. Imagining this thick woman in the crisp smock having
orgasms too, Katherine doesn't know if it's endearing or nauseating. The
doctor continues. "But, subtracting the enjoyment, can you describe the
effort? Is it distressing? Do you ever feel faint or—"
"Ten. It's ten." But an enjoyable ten. Please, Dorothy, shut up. She
will not describe herself at her peak. She will tell no one that she is desperate to burst but can't and that what it often takes in the end is Redmond saying her name, with his low voice, and his accent, and it is proof
of their love that he could know this.
Today, a Saturday morning, Katherine is extra self-conscious. She's in
the middle of telling Redmond three lies. First, a lie of omission—she's
not told him what her doctor wants her to do the next time they make
love. Second, she's told Redmond her dripping faucet is driving her crazy, she thinks it's just a washer, will he please, please come over and fix
it, she even has tools and an extra washer—when in fact she opened the
faucet herself and purposely mangled the washer with a pair of pliers.
Redmond arrives, game to try, looking annoyed but proud, she can
tell, to have been asked. He's cute in his plaid work shirt, which looks
brand new, perhaps bought right after her phone call, and it's also cute
that he's deemed such a shirt necessary. She hands him several wrenches, hoping he will be able to figure out the right one—he does—and she
drops just enough advice while watching him fix her faucet.
When Redmond finishes, one knuckle is bleeding. He taps the faucet
and, so English, announces, "Right," and tries the taps. He's amazed and
then genuinely proud of the water gushing into the basin.
She hands him a coffee to sip while she tries hot, then cold, cooing
amazement too. Katherine's not a good actor but she takes his collar in
both hands and says, "My hero," coy as any Marilyn Monroe part. She
adds, "There's something about a man and his tools," the line made
lamer for being planned, and declares she can't let him leave without
giving him his reward. This, the third lie, she knows won't stay a lie.
His work clothes and clumsiness haven't been arousing at all, but once
in bed she knows she'll rise to the occasion. She takes Redmond by the
hand, senses reluctance and, Marilyn again, tilts her head to undo the
buttons over his chest. Submitting, Redmond asks if it's this Bob the
Builder shirt that's caught her eye and she says, yes it's absolutely unbearable, joining his joke. And Katherine sees how love can deepen even in
lies and frivolity.
All part of the plan, she must have him gone by two because the clinic
closes at three. Dr. Reynolds wants Katherine tested within an hour of
having sex. That is, of having an orgasm. That is, of being stricken with
32     PRISM 48:3 dreams. In her office, face falling professionally soft, Dr. Dorothy had
told Katherine that the brain releases an enzyme into the blood when
part of it dies. The blood test will be for a stroke.
Today, after the faucet repair: she's on a plane, a propeller plane,
there's turbulence. The pilot sings to them in what sounds like Mexican,
which becomes Irish. The plane isn't falling yet but everyone seems to
know it's about to. She's the only one afraid, though she isn't really, and
her screams are insincere though she tries her best to make them real. As
the plane's nose tilts down and things speed up, the woman in the seat
to her left dares her, hands her a knife. And from Katherine's wrist black
roses bloom.
Such is their love that they don't discuss much. She doesn't understand
men but she and Redmond seem to share a knowing. She is sure of it.
They haven't, for instance, had to speak of work, where she's branch
manager and he occupies an echelon or two below. Redmond jokes
about his smaller office and salary—in the parking lot he once shouted
across to her, At least my car is bigger. They both know he entered the financial world late and that he is capable and might keep climbing. None
of this needs to be mentioned. And though Katherine yearns to proclaim
their love, would proudly arrive at work hand-in-hand, they both know
to keep it hidden due to the perception that their relationship might be
advantageous for him. She knows there likely are odious murmurs that
he is sleeping his way up the ladder. He can joke about this too. It felt
dangerous, it felt almost like sex, when he surprised her that time in bed,
announcing deadpan, "If you promote me I'll marry you." When he left
it at that, unexplained, she lay there paralyzed for the longest time until
finally he coughed out laughter, and then she joined him, desperately
and with relief that they were laughing, she feeling like a dry well suddenly filling with water, the sweetest warmest water. It brimmed in her
eyes and fell. She could see that Redmond knew just how dangerous he
was to her. And he knew that she knew and they didn't need to say a
word.
Katherine undresses for bed. Redmond is in the living room, comfortable in her recliner, enjoying a magazine article on the Vancouver Island mountain lion. She half-listens as he explains to her loudly from the
other room that the cat was bounty-hunted and almost wiped out and
only the fiercest survived to breed, which is why there are more attacks
on Vancouver Island than the rest of North America combined. She
slides into bed with her book. He will join her eventually and, even if he
has to wake her, they will make love. When he sleeps over, they have
never not made love.
prismmagazine.ca    33 She is scheduled at the hospital next week for a strange procedure
involving electrodes, shaved head and more. It also involves a vibrator,
and an orgasm. She knows she won't go through with it. She simply
won't show up. She would be alone in a room but her pleasure, as well as
her unconsciousness and her dreams, would appear on-screen as angry
red or glaring green, indicating bleeding or oxygen or a shrieking lack of
it, all to be interpreted by men in long smocks. Ever since the blood tests
proclaimed the worst—a series of small strokes—and a neurologist confirmed the losses in brain function, Katherine has paid more attention to
the dreams. They have grown precious to her. How could they not? She
imagines each brain cell as a vault holding a single image and blooming
proudly with it as it dies. They have her on blood thinners. She has been
told to avoid stress and exercise, especially sex, sex most of all, since this
is what, mysteriously, is killing her.
Redmond enters her bedroom yawning grandly, head kinked against
shoulder, arms flung out, hands in fists. Katherine pretends to read. Her
body is minutely shaking. He loves her. He is comfortable with her.
How has she managed to do this? He will interrupt her reading with a
loving hand on her shoulder.
Soon enough, he does. Now his lips are on her neck, and he is humming a jazzy non-melody, and warmth thrills up her spine, forcing her
eyes closed. All her life, all her life, she has waited.
Tonight a perfect pie cools on a cottage windowsill, as in a fairy tale. The
dream itself knows it's corny. The crust she pushes open with a finger
and it smells like fruit and meat combined, a deepest genius of food. She
eats it as she walks a forest path. Then falls off the cliff that surprises her,
though she knows she's fallen off it before. She watches herself falling.
She looks at her hands. The dream goes on and on, as dreams themselves are willing to do. She makes herself fall slower so she can study
her hands. She can flex them. Amazing: she can grow those fingernails,
can watch her fingernails growing.
34     PRISM 48:3 Sue Goyette
Memoir
My fingers were numb and all I could hear was someone yelling for
help. The night had feasted on plums and aluminum. The boat was my
childhood and it had turned over. Later, after travelling with an outlaw
of trees, I came to a clearing. The tallest pine had tipped the night to its
lips. Call it a drinking problem or call it a vista. I sat and listened to
myself breathe. The rocks I was throwing turned into years; somewhere
a phone rang and when I picked it up, my daughter's voice: where are
you? You said you'd be here. And in that way, she was born. This is when
the night began eating darker trees and roads. She insisted on going out
anyway. The key around her neck shone like a happy ending. I'm
alright with the happy, it's the ending that keeps me in my chair. Yes, I
began to tip the sky to my lips. It was a thirst spurred with stars.
Swallowing the moon was like swallowing the perfect thing to say. It
nested in my throat dreaming of wings and a second chance. I began to
sleep with the night. At first we had nothing in common. We'd meet
and undress quickly. I had never done anything like this before. It wore
me out and soon I grew pale, listless. My doctor prescribed anything
arboreal. Try and stay green, she'd urge. Face your mother twice a day
and stop drinking her sighs. There was a series of winters like a Canadian
museum, painting after painting of snow. Of light in snow. Of plow
clearing snow. It took me a decade to thaw. When I think about those
winters now, it isn't a mountain covered in snow but my mother. When
did you become part of the landscape, I want to ask but she would just
shift the way mountains do, a long shrug that would take centuries.
prismmagazine.ca    35 The New Mothers
The new mothers are petting the giraffe neck of street lights,
cooing for more light. The streets are so unsafe.
And they're buckling up their tenderness. Oh the state
of the world! The new mothers have to attach umbrellas
to the things that move their children from here
to there. There is no more driving. The price of black ice
and yellow lights and gasoline. And the weather!
Fuck, the new mothers want to say. They have to wash their water
with water. The whole planet is at the window peering in
while the new mothers sit on the side of the bed.
They have to be wolves; they have to be golden-winged
warblers. Reminders, reminders.
They bury their phones for a minute of peace,
rendezvous to master Goodnight Moon
while the earth rings and rings beneath their feet.
36     PRISM 48:3 u-pick, a triptych
The raspberries are so ripe, pick is too strong a word.
The only thing keeping them real are their seeds
and these scratches. There are sharp knives in the air
slicing away the city and the berries thicken the song
with red notes. In the next field, one cow braves
the hill while the others beseech it not to. So far,
no sight of the ocean. Lately it's been stalking us,
appearing silently behind the trees. Beyond the newspaper box
on Barrington. It's a relief to be away from that look it gives.
prismmagazine.ca    37 The farmer's daughter is a dress rehearsal and solar-powered.
If there are sharp knives in the air, she is trying
to convince them to cut her free. How old is she, thirteen,
fourteen? Sure the squash flowers are lovely but talk about
metamorphosis! The coltish legs of her beauty aren't yet strong
enough to hold her. Childhood is a brief moon in a blue sky;
the start of the day in the company of its ending. She tells us
what we owe and there is a tenderness to this moment. Later,
in photographs, it will look like the trees are growing right out of her.
38     PRISM 48:3 When the farmer speaks, the earth softens and the swallows nudge
their fledglings from his mouth. He has lined the hard headlines
with feathers and is nesting on the hope that his fields will go on
without him. Hunger is a rocky soil that sifts through the hours
before dawn and there has always been an acreage of doubts
weeding his fields. Some come to pick berries and some are tempted
by the trampoline in the yard. Others heft the fallen tools by the barn
as a measure of their own strength. Either way, persistence
is an early crop and this man has been up before dawn.
prismmagazine.ca    39 Rhona McAdam
Bluegrass
Green blades, in a certain light,
sing with wind in them.
Oh lonesome lonesome lonesome
is the night.
Your mama. Your papa. God
blessed misfortune
and gave it a single microphone.
It never rains but it pours; never pours
but we're washed by the flood.
The wine. The rain. Variations on pain.
Something submerged brightens,
finger-picked. Frost shatters its scales.
Cat-gut, rosewood; red, Balkan
and big-leaf maple. Mother-of-pearl.
Something I thought only I knew
finds harmonies, shivers up my arms.
Banjo on the wind, bass fiddle
beneath the skin; if ice
could ignite through percussion, then
mandolin.
String ties, pearl buttons. One voice
rises against its buried twin, a river road
taking the hill.
40     PRISM 48:3 Matt Rader
Toast
You come from a long line of alcoholics. The line is widest at your
father's generation, where five out of six siblings have dedicated
themselves to the drink and the sixth whores for a bank. The line
has many frayed threads, however, and it is impossible to know the full
extent of your lineage when it comes to alcohol. You know your grandfather, your father's father, was a drunk, albeit a quiet one. He was from
the stoic school of alcohol abuse where whiskey and work are married in
a mutually-dependent cycle. He worked so he could drink. He drank so
he could work. And so on. Your grandmother put whiskey in her coffee
and never learned to drive. She was that kind of drinker. Your uncles
were like neither, preferring the partying, car-crashing model, though
you see now, as they become old men, their wives having left them,
their children incommunicado, that even when the body starts to give
out, when old habits finally die hard, the true alcoholic finds new ways
to stoke the flame of his one great love.
You don't consider yourself an alcoholic, though sometimes you wonder. You drink when you are happy. You drink when you are sad. You
drink when it is free. You drink when you are nervous. You drink when
it is relatively cheap. You drink when you are bored or at a sporting
event. You drink at readings. You drink to celebrate. You drink when
you are on the make and when you are thirsty. Otherwise, not so much.
You do not consider yourself an alcoholic and as far as you know, no
one else does either.
You started drinking in high school like everybody else, but you didn't
settle into a habit until after university when you had some money. Sure
you killed a lot of Jack Daniels in your undergrad days. Sure you went
to class drunk, hungover, with booze in your coffee. Sure you slept with
anyone who'd sleep with you. But that was how the game was played
and you've always been good at games.
You don't have cable in your apartment so you go to The Well in the
evenings to watch sports. Monday Night Football. Hockey Night in
Canada. Friday Night Fights. Anything but baseball. Fuck baseball. The
prismmagazine.ca    41 Well is directly on your way to and from work. Sometimes you stop in
just to have a pint because you have discovered this is a nice thing to do.
Sometimes you stop in to look through the slush pile of submissions for
The Rubicon and write rejection slips. You never stop in to visit anyone.
You're not one of those types. The pub is the place to get away from
things, most importantly, people you know.
The Rubicon is the literary journal you read for. You are an Editorial Assistant, sometimes known as First Reader. This is a volunteer position.
You are hoping, though you do not know why, to parlay this position
into the still volunteer, but much more prestigious position of Editorial
Board Member. You would like to be on the editorial board. You think
that would be nice. You find it helps to have a few beers before you get
started reading.
Whether you admit it or not, you are a regular and despite yourself, the
other regulars know your face if not your name and you know them and
theirs. Evenings, the Irishmen are in-house playing darts. They are every
kind of Irish cliche except for the drinking of Guinness which they say
is worthless as tits on a nun this side of the pond. Most of them slave for
Road Works, or did. Most are in their fifties but some of the younger
crew tag along to further their apprenticeship. You are in the pisser one
night when one of the ancients turns to you from the next urinal, his
prick hanging out in his hands, and asks How do you spell beautiful? I
mean, really, how do you spell it? You keep pissing and pretend he isn't
talking.
The bar is a long hockey stick-shaped number with a dark wood finish.
You are sitting in your usual stool at the far end of the stick blade. The
bartender roams up and down the bar like a carnie looking for someone
to step up and win a prize. At the opposite end, an elderly man in a foam
mesh credit union cap is trying to order a beer. He is at least a hundred
years old. You figure he weighs less than the Shepherd mutt who's been
wandering around the pub all afternoon begging food, the one that just
puked on the carpet in front of the door.
The bartender won't serve the old guy a beer. Nope. No way. Look
Gregor, you can't have a beer. That's all there is to it. No, put your money away. It's nothing personal, I just can't do it. The boss said, No more
beer for Gregor. Yeah, well, I mean, for Chrissakes man, you piss your
pants every time you have a drink and it's just disgusting. Fuck, you've
probably pissed on every bar stool in the joint. Gregor is deflated, at a
loss. He does not seem embarrassed by the bartender's assessment, just
42     PRISM 48:3 puzzled as to what to do next. He is desperate for alcohol, but that desperation has settled into his bones. There is no panic. No grand strategy.
Just an old body mindlessly pursuing its life's great quest.
You continue to read Bukowski though you are approaching thirty. He is
your favourite but you maintain affinities for Hemingway, Keroauc, Burroughs, David Adams Richards, and relative newcomer to your canon,
Pierre Merot. You even have a new book by Bukowski with you this
evening, but for the life of you, you can't remember the title, even when
it is sitting in your hands. It is hard for a fan such as yourself to admit, but
Bukowski books seem to run together for you, there are so many of them
now. Now that he's been dead a sufficient amount of time. You once
read that Bukowski books are the most often thieved from American
libraries. This is because Bukowski appeals to degenerates, you think.
You think Bukowski would be proud of this fact.
The reason you like Bukowski, Hemingway, and all the rest, is because
it makes you feel better about your own alcohol consumption. You are
worlds away from those guys and look how things turned out for them.
Your life is not in ruins. You still have time to write that novel.
Gregor's is not the first case of incontinence at The Well. In truth, incontinence is a fact of life amongst people who fill their bladders to brimming over and over again with a judgment-inhibiting substance. People
piss themselves all the time. This is not a good thing, but it happens.
Most drinkers, it happens once and they are mortally embarrassed. Most
people get caught with a big wet spot across their crotch and can't show
their face again for months, if ever. Not Gregor. He just keeps coming
back. Keeps pissing his pants. Keeps coming back.
The new Bukowski was reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Supplement. One of your two squash students read the article and bought you a
copy of the book as a gift. Yes, you teach squash. You are a moderate but
competent squash player. Your metabolism still works well enough to allow for alcohol and athletics. You creamed one of your literary acquaintances a few matches in a row and as a result he put you in touch with
Cynthia and her daughter, Kat, who hired you as their squash instructor.
Cynthia is an actor. She is married to a doctor who couldn't care less
what Cynthia does with herself. Cynthia knows your friend because she
had a role in a play your friend wrote. The play was terrible and Cynthia
was even worse, but remarkably, you keep this to yourself. Otherwise,
Cynthia does not belong in your social circle. She belongs in her Mercedes and at the country club. She belongs at Holt Renfrew or the spa.
prismmagazine.ca    43 She is extremely sexy for someone in her forties. Kat is seventeen. She is
the definition of nubile. You are in trouble, that much is clear.
The Well is a hole. A dark hole without character or ambiance. When
they play music it is indistinguishable radio that no one likes. The Well is
democratic that way. Food no one likes. A smell no one likes. The Well
has beer no one likes at a price no one likes. That is its charm, its sense
of unity. There is no smoking in The Well so smokers stand in little clusters under a Molson umbrella outside the door. The Well is a hole you
can be lost down for many years without stepping outside. Unless you
smoke. You take up smoking.
You wrote a book of poems. It was published. You google yourself and
the book every couple of weeks to see if anyone has read it. Today,
you found someone in Silent Falls, West Virginia who counts your book
among his "favourite" things. Other favourite things include The Biography of Arnold Schwartzenegger, Slaves on Dope, Jesus Christ Superstar,
Resident Evil I & II, Uranium.
You became a writer because you have a degree in Creative Writing.
You have a degree in Creative Writing because halfway through your
third year of university, you discovered that based on your credits to
date, this was the quickest path to graduation. You registered for Creative Writing because, unlike Visual Arts, it did not require a portfolio.
You did not have a portfolio because you were lazy.
For work, you spend time at a small publishing house dodging creditors,
customers, and authors, in that order. For this service to culture in Canada you receive two dollars more than minimum wage. You are an expert
on affixing postage. You can forge any signature in the office. You have
nightmares of being buried by an avalanche of papers. By now, your
eyes have deteriorated two prescriptions. You read that men who sit
with laptops on their laps more than two hours a day are at an increased
risk of testicular cancer and sterility. You are torn by the realities of this
result. You cut your net surfing time down to an hour a day. Still, you are
better off than the writers. You know this, having walked the other side.
You put Cynthia's number in your phone. You like to look at the ten digits when you're sitting at the bar. You look at it but you don't really see it.
If someone asked you her number, you'd look at that person with your
mouth open just slightly. You might blink. You imagine calling Cynthia
and arranging to meet for a beer, but you're reluctant. She's an actor. It
could all be a put-on. The way she looks at you. How her tits bounce.
44     PRISM 48:3 Can a woman make that happen? Make them bounce in just such a way
as to reveal their exact weight and firmness? If a woman could make it
happen, Cynthia would be that woman. You're sure of that. Some days
you hope she'll be late so you'd have an excuse to call her. You hope
you'll have an excuse to call her so you can ask her what you hope to ask
her. This is what you hope to ask her: you wanna wrestle?
Your father was a drunk. Is a drunk? You are not sure, but you wonder
how it could be any other way. He was a mow the lawn then drink a six
pack kind of drunk. An acid in the wine kind of drunk. You used to steal
his empties and trade them in for the refund. This is how you financed
your comic collection. He was a sleepwalking comatose kind of drunk
who'd piss down the stairs he'd get that fucked up. And then when you
were thirteen he got straight. He drank near beer. He got a job driving
a school bus. He coached your soccer team. He coached your brother's
little league squad. He built a shop in the backyard where he built further things. He began to get up in the middle of the night. He stood
outside in the carport smoking cigarettes with the lights out.
Before Gregor there was Betty. She was a real Chatty Cathy, coming in
and telling the bartender or anyone sitting close enough about her son
who was thirty and lived at home because he was saving to buy Betty a
house out in the country, about all his girlfriends and how he was waiting for just the right one to be the mother of his children. She'd say these
things with a kind of demented enthusiasm and clarity, the way a child
talks about what he wants for Christmas. Like if she said it enough, it
might come true. Betty pissed herself. She'd leave these terrible wet bar-
stools. Soggy wet. It was hard for the bartenders to cut her off. It's always
difficult to play the heavy with your grandmother.
Every time you pick up the Bukowski you think of Cynthia. Seasoned,
voluptuous Cynthia. Every time you think of Cynthia you think of Kat.
You put down the Bukowski and start to flip through the papers from
The Rubicon. Every time you think of The Rubicon you need another drink.
You look up for the bartender. You look around for the Shepherd mutt.
Nobody has cleaned up the vomit. You get up for a smoke.
The Shepherd mutt is skulking around the smoke pit like a pickpocket.
You are blinded by the sunlight. You can see through the tinted windows that the score is totally one-sided for Philadelphia. You realize you
haven't been paying any attention. You hate Philadelphia. You hate
smoking too, but you do that anyways. Gregor is shuffling towards you
as you step back inside The Well. You hold the door for him and a
prismmagazine.ca    45 hundred years later, he reaches you. You go back to the bar and pick up
your book and sheaf of papers. Before you know what you are doing,
you follow Gregor out onto the street.
You had a girlfriend once who almost became your wife. You met in
film class at university. There were three groups in film class: the Actors, the Radical Lesbians, and Everybody Else. The worst of these were
the Actors. Actors are an insufferable breed. They are parasites. They
require people to pay attention, to participate, to respond to them in the
most immediate way. The bigger the response, the greater the participation, the finer the degree of attention, the larger they become, their heads
ballooning to extreme proportions, their whole bodies swelling like engorged penises. Soon you find yourself fighting for what little space still
remains in the room, desperately hoping not to suffocate against their
strange, plasticky skin. Yet the more you struggle, the stronger the colossus becomes. Normally, you are not fond of Storm Trooper Dykes but
in this case you made common cause and every screening was followed
by a slash-and-burn critical strategy designed to draw the Actors into the
cold, unwinnable winter of radical politics. In this campaign no one was
a finer marksman, or markswomyn, in the parlance of the day, than your
girl. Many an Actor was felled by a carefully aimed hegemony or hermeneu-
ttc violence from her perfectly-formed, luscious lips.
Your drink of choice is beer. An amber ale or even a dark stout if you
are feeling flush. Colt 45s when you're down to your empties. Anything
if it's free. You know this will not do if you want to live up to the family
tradition. You know that eventually you will have to switch to vodka or
whiskey, something with more punch per drop, something easier to hide
in your coat pocket, your glove compartment, your toolbox. For now
you consider your preference for beer a good sign.
You buy Gregor a half-sack at the Beer & Wine next door. The gal who
runs the place gives you the senior's discount. Not because Gregor is
waiting outside, but because she thinks you're cute and she can see a
good customer in the making. You smile and think, I'd bend her over.
Outside, you hand Gregor the plastic bag. He is neither grateful nor ungrateful. He wants you to come over and have a beer. You notice that he
has all his teeth. How could you refuse?
Like your commitment to Bukowski, you possess an unshakable fondness for Nirvana. Any one of their albums can still be found in your
stereo at any given time. This is particularly true when you are experiencing a wellspring of nihilism, or nostalgia, nihilism's first cousin. You
46     PRISM 48:3 turned eighteen the day Kurt Cobain killed himself. You were in your
final year of high school. They did not find Cobain's body for several
days and the morning the news broke, you were sitting in the basement
of your parents' house rolling a joint and drinking a vodka sunrise with
your friend Q. Q^had been particularly distraught when Cobain overdosed in Rome a few weeks earlier and even more distraught when you
told him Cobain deserved it for being a fucking junkie. Q^ did not appreciate that comment. Q_called his Connection and his Connection told
him to turn on the television. You sat there in silence for a few minutes as
the news sunk in. An unidentified body, mid-to-late twenties, dirty blond
hair. The first thing you said was, Maybe it's Beck.
In Utero was on and you were lying on the couch reading Women when
your girl announced she was having an abortion. You had talked about
getting married. You had talked about having children. You had not
talked about an abortion. You had a moment of internal panic that was
masked by the dose of marijuana you were on. Nothing showed on your
face. You were sure of that. You wanted to be cool about this. It was her
body after all. You looked her in the eye. How much do you need, like
for the whole thing?
News flash. Turns out your father never stopped drinking. Turns out he
just hid it from you and your family until you left for university. Not that
he admitted to it or anything, just that the reports of him on the booze
started to roll in around that time. And the moodiness and the strange
afternoon absences and the turnstile of jobs (after the school bus gig,
snow plows, after the snow plows, gravel truck, after the gravel truck,
employment insurance) all started to come into focus. The best thing
your mother ever did for him and everybody else was kick him out. You
kind of like your father now that he can't drag you and your family down
with him.
Gregor's place is a damp little bachelor suite in a large old house that
easily predates the Second World War. It is not unlike your own, save
the sweet scent of piss you were preparing yourself for. If silence did not
seem so natural for Gregor, you would perhaps feel more uncomfortable
with the lack of conversation. There is a small cot-like bed in the corner,
a small kitchen table with two chairs where you and Gregor are now
sitting, and a desk that looks out the room's only window into a scrim
of evergreens. You scan the room for photographs or books, anything
to give Gregor away. Nothing. The place is spotless save the dust. You
consider this a discovery. You are both drinking warm beers while the
others chill in the icebox. You look at Gregor. Gregor looks at you.
prismmagazine.ca    47 Your girl left you because you slept around. You only did this when
you were drunk, but is that much of an excuse? Your girl was the finest
person you have ever known. You told her you'd like to sleep around.
She said,Just let me know. You fucked a poet from Toronto. You didn't
tell her. You fucked the editor of The Rubicon. You didn't tell her. You
fucked a girl you didn't know in the bathroom at a book launch. You
didn't tell her. She found out. The end.
Gregor finishes his beer and goes to the icebox for another. He brings
you one too. He kind of reminds you of your grandfather the way all
skinny old drunks do. He places the beer on the table and you pick it up.
You crack the cans at nearly the same moment and you feel this deserves
a toast. You lift the can towards him. To alcohol, you say. Gregor nods
and lifts his can up to meet yours. The back of his hand, you notice, is
red and flaky and the irritation appears to extend past his wrist and up
his arm. You both take deep gulps. You notice Gregor rub his hand on
the edge of the table. You take another gulp. You notice Gregor scratch
his neck. You swallow the dregs. Gregor scratches his leg. You get up
to go.
Hello, Cynthia? Yeah, it's me. Sure, yeah, I missed you too. Right. The
book? Oh, yeah, it's great. Yeah, just fantastic. Oh, yeah I'm looking
forward to it too. What? No, I haven't seen Kat. Nope, not since her lesson on Tuesday. It was Tuesday, right? Nope, haven't heard from her.
You don't know where she is? No, I wouldn't lie to you. If she calls I'll
call. Promise. Cross my heart. Yes, you can trust me. I'm sure she's fine.
Listen, Cynthia, your husband's a doctor, right? Yeah. Well, could you
do me a favour? I'd really appreciate it. Fantastic. Good. Yeah, well,
ask him what he knows about scabies. No, I don't have scabies. No, no,
no. For Chrissakes, Cynthia, it's just a question. Don't be like that. No, I
haven't been drinking. Okay, fine. I had a couple of beers. Is that drinking? I don't know. I don't think so. For Chrissakes. Are you going to ask
him or not? Please? Yeah, sure, well okay, next week then. Call me.
You walk home in the spring evening, composing small poems about
your footsteps. You feel warm inside. And itchy. You could almost love
this night. Almost love the city. The feeling in your belly. The streets
are quiet and you walk down the middle between two lines of parked
cars. You are going somewhere. Everything else is just where it is. You
slow down. You slow way down. You pass underneath a cherry tree, a
confetti of blossoms. How great would it be to throw your papers in the
air and have them come down this beautiful.
48     PRISM 48:3 Shane Rhodes
The Quick Brown Fox Jumps
Over the Lazy Dog
F is frayful friction, like the fighter jet F-16
while two fingers (V) fake the fiction of peace or victory.
With gruff fs, the fox huntsman tally hos his lazy dogs
lost in Mickey Finns and GHB, high on soporific fogs
while the four foot vamp in vetch
flits her tail and flees—she fights for a land unfetched.
Over cliff and bluff, the huntsman flings his arsenal
of frag grenades, AGM-Falcons, and UAV extraterrestrial
drones to steeplechase the vixen terrorist
with a palindromic xylophone. Forest informants
waterboarded say the bitch is Archduke Ferdinand
or a UVF defender of the Red Paw-Hand,
while fomenting counter-spooks rumour WMD
and an IRA sleeper cell, pet-name Synecdoche.
Vermin of herded love, the well-versed floozy jumps:
she scuffles in living furs and muffs, she tussles in velvet fisticuffs.
On fenland tongue or covert lip, she leaves the huntsman forfeit—
he fuffs his horn, his hounds hold fast
till the vapid mastiffs pick up again the inky
scent: the beagles turn, the pointers point at me.
prismmagazine.ca     49 IntraVenus
Lynne, we met the day Dan asked to suck me off
—not my cock, he made clear, but toes, sin socks
[boys in sandals got him off]—you wheel through that memory,
your legs in casts, [the virus rhyming RNA
to [reverse transcriptase] your DNA]
bones sapped [combivir, saquinavir, ritonavir] by the daily
pharmablasts to make you gag and keep the docs away.
Those were the days we worked in then:
homeless guys down on 2nd drunk on Old Stock beer by 10,
sex workers [hookers] dazed by night work
up from the streets for the free lipstick
and condoms [safes] we dispensed, high on heroin [smack],
or [as the cell becomes a sieve] coke [crack],
eyes blue with [another negative test] mascara or black
from pimp beatings in the parking lot [turns positive] out back.
Lynne, you fundraised, you spoke, you organized,
you were one of the few who could help men die
and I never once saw you, like me, teary-eyed.
Every day since then [this, the line I tend], I
see it, think it, caught [daring words to mean]
by habit [everything I've touched and seen]
my fingers still type its name [all caps]: "it"
that floating [Sex = Silence = Death] thing called a referent
as in "The doc says I've got IT"—voice quiver bold italics
carrying us away from the linguistic
things we never wanted meant: GRID, the gay plague,
the empty cipher AIDS, and Christian placards saying God Loves Fags
[Insert thread: deadbody: "doc, 21
& just found out ive got HIV—i'm done"]
Dead. I write it now between the faces
of the faceless
men who came and went [Figure 1: see this micron pic
of a lymphocyte swarmed by neon pink
viral replicants, look how they shimmer and dance—a sequin dress
of nothingness] like so many torn couplets
50     PRISM 48:3 each with something new to mend.
Lynne, we were the same age but you got fucked
[the body with sex is blessed] and I didn't
that's where our stories split—fucked
by a boyfriend who didn't know he had it,
fucked by the used needle he shot with, the pusher who pushed it,
fucked [it's also never at rest] by the grower
who grew it, the mule who shoved it up his ass at the border
and got through it, fucked [and can churn for years] by their needles
and plastic, the politicians with their votes
and budgets, and fucked [in its own blood] by the poster saying
he [a woman carrying a boychild] was an Innocent victim meaning
everyone else [and tears] deserved it.
You got fucked by [the infinite] a virus [and its 33,000,000 faces]
that loves everything it erases.
Lynne, so many words [you and the drugs got better] to say it,
why [we slept together in your bed] I haven't looked
for you since then, [no stupid rhymes] scared
of knocking you from that past [the living with the dead]
tense where [your bones began to mend]
a whole new life [no one screamed when you bled] was inserted in.
prismmagazine.ca    51 Bren Simmers
Dogs of Montoya Street
We put our clothes back on and go outside
to let the first snowfall of the year salt our faces.
We haven't said it yet. The street quiet,
a few hesitant tire tracks. Tongue out
to catch a flake, we round the corner.
Three dogs advance. I put my hand out,
prequel to the pat and ear scratch,
but these are not lick-your-hand dogs—
their gums snarl pink as they strain
the early hours of sleep with their Out! Out! Out!
Flashback to dog bites past:
one on my hand, one on my hip.
The calves you kissed
an hour ago, now flinch.
Grabbing my hand, you hold tighter
than the days of red rover red rover
as we walk backwards and I know,
though it will take me weeks
and a couple of cheap beers to say.
52     PRISM 48:3 Chamisa
Just when I think summer's over,
jackets lifted out of slumber,
it reappears roadside. A yellow runner
of late bloomers lingering against
the dry grasses. Hip-height nectar.
October in the high desert has me
peeling off layers and unrolling
the windows to let in second chances
for Violetta, my next door neighbour,
who watching you leave my house
one morning said, at age 63,
love was done for her.
prismmagazine.ca    53 Cormorant
An oil slick apparition, silent flock
that skims the highway till one
gets sucker-punched onto asphalt by a semi.
Its long neck extended, wings flap for purchase
on the dotted yellow.        I swerve and still
the right tire connects, hits feather, trips bone.
My hands gavel the wheel.
The car rocked by traffic speeding past.
Already, the mind at work, distancing.
So this is how it happens. Roadkill
we pass on the shoulder and try to resurrect back
to skunk, cat. Try to shirk our claim in we, in accident.
Black feathers rise up to join the flock,
fall on the cars that come after.
54     PRISM 48:3 Everybody's Business
Slide into any booth at Jack's Cafe where—
second cousins, ranchers or neighbours—
no one's a stranger when it comes to tragedy.
The stock lines used to bypass
tumor, stroke, divorce—just fine thanks, doing oka
get used up fast, just as overgrazing
leads to sagebrush. Taylor's son's
fenced into a wheelchair
and they don't think he'll walk again.
After that what can you say
but river's up, kettle's on,
drop by anytime.
prismmagazine.ca    55 Tammy Armstrong
For you
There would be wild whooping swans
oaring wing pulls above the cafes
and fog like a punished hound
scarved in its own fox-footed stole.
And one glass eye
from a thirty-year-old trophy buck:
one ambered skipping stone
with that thirsty, drink-it-down look
often found in my own eyes.
One glass eye: back pocket warm
where I biked home that night through the rain
to you who would speak no more to me.
It's late. Go to sleep.
For you there would be the raccoon's shadow
on its trestle bridge haunt,
tick-tacking girders and beams
damp in mooncalf slump.
All of these rush the head's quiet:
our words bottlenecked
in that sort of mud-minnow shallow
strange gifts decide.
56     PRISM 48:3 Durham Falls
We are not water people—
though you read the river trail well
by wind and recline.
Through spatterdock netting
the paddles snag duckweed,
bury your voice in the plash.
We navigate half-sentences:
our lexicon
in this rogue armada dismantled...
Where did we stray from the cause
into Halicarnassus,
into the river pedigree,
where the waterdogs close behind
where the sandbar willows moan
and the docked cattle graze Hart's Island bare?
The sumac tangles
the chokecherry,
quarries our talk—
we're still learning
to accept low-hanging fruit.
prismmagazine.ca     57 Grimsey Island
Stranger, that ticket in your hand belongs to me,
ocean-sick, wine-poor,
misreading an arctic catechism
under this pale nimbus—
the sun's over-stay.
I'll pay the ferry man the difference,
give him direction for your crossing,
just please don't board this three-whistle skip.
With your ticket
I'll be coastline by dark,
in the Southlands tomorrow,
to a church with prayer
owled in its rafters:
nothing to say but something to see.
Think of staying awhile
for caught inside all of us are birds
peeping amen from the wrong pew.
All of our midge-specked faces
need to work this out on islands
where no cats, no dogs belong—
the cats eat eggs and the dogs go chase-blind
across these rocks,
bawling the birds, the sheep over the edge—
sheep like chesterfields cartwheeling puffin nests.
And the air here smells like dogs
panting their gone-for-good mythologies:
nothing would have happened if It hadn't moved.
58     PRISM 48:3 Just before dark, the gulls and fish return
but the fish breach beluga hymn,
grey spume like scalded milk
and the gulls twine reflection,
flash their feathered junkets
over serrated waves
gone grey in the dusk,
gone sky-ocean—
soaring, above and below
where the combers empty out,
while sheep aerialists keep falling,
dark and mute
into those last moments before sky swamps sea
or sea swamps sky.
Something to see,
if you'll just give me your ticket.
prismmagazine.ca    59 After the River Swelled
The dog leapt the backseat
to rudder the water, the flood plain:
all of it rain and ice swill,
the dam's excess.
Over the fields, tin-sheeted lawns,
sandbagged houses buoyed reflections—
dark museums that strung the afternoon tight.
I thought to say that once
I'd scab-shimmied a culvert as a child
for a bet, the use of a bike or bat,
hunch-walked through the algae-slick
while the boys jogged the road above
to hang bat-faced
with their cartwheeled blood
pooling in the saucers of their skulls.
They waited and I paused
near halfway,
swayed both directions
to gather a bottleneck's worth of light
where the spring melt drained slushy.
In the middle,
the dark shouldered me
through the pipe's taunted echo.
I followed,
feigned conspiracy
but the water, the dank
stays with me still,
deeper perhaps than the skin,
the scraped palm.
60     PRISM 48:3 Please. Don't leave me now
to manoeuvre this melt field
with its dark houses that nearly float.
We need dry land lit from above,
a path at the end of the day—
something sure-footed.
prismmagazine.ca    61 Melinda Moustakis
Summer, Winter, War
Though Maria would have liked to have her husband Demetri near
her, and to be able to visit his headstone, she decided on cremation. She mixed the ashes into a batch of kourambiethes dusted
with extra powdered sugar and sent them with her daughter to Athens,
to return him to where he was born. And what of herself? Both of her
children had offered her a room in their homes, but that would mean she
would have to move and leave everything. She had a house, and what
of the tailor shop? She asked at church. She asked her neighbours. She
put a sign in the store window. Help Wanted. Must Speak Greek. Enter
Karen a few months later, the recent ex-wife of Mrs. Theotokis' cousin
who had just moved from Fairbanks.
"She's a little strange," said Mrs. Theotokis, "but she sews like a
dream."
So Karen, twenty-nine-years old and looking like she'd lived ninety,
stepped into the tailor shop and said, "Kalimera." Maria said the same
and then Karen said, "I only know how to say a few things in Greek, a
few choice phrases, but I understand it all, unfortunately, on account of
my ex."
"You know how to use the Singer?" asked Maria. "And the iron?"
"Lady," said Karen, "I can do it all. Back-stitch, whip-stitch, cross-
stitch, buttons, zippers, snaps, frogs, pleats, ruffles, taking in, taking
out..."
"Yes," said Maria. "I see." What she was seeing was a mistake—Karen's slight frame swam in a baggy fleece jacket and camouflage pants.
On her feet she wore bright red clogs. She had crooked blonde bangs,
like she'd cut them herself, and dark, pencilled-in eyebrows peeking out
from underneath. If she couldn't cut her bangs straight, how could she
cut fabric?
Karen eyed Maria's black get-up—black shoes and tights and skirt,
black and tan blouse. A widow in mourning.
Both had the same thought: disaster.
"Pant hems," said Maria. "You'll do pants today."
"First thing," said Karen, "there's a bunch of snow packed on the
walkway around the back. You got a shovel?"
Where was the shovel? Demetri, in his green scarf and hat, would
62     PRISM 48:3 whistle as he scooped up snow. Maria would stop the whirring sewing
machine just to hear him. The shovel was at home, in the trunk of the
car. "I'll bring it tomorrow," said Maria.
Three girls came in with long burgundy choir gowns. "They're hideous," said the one with curly brown hair. "It's like they want us to be
ugly when we sing."
Maria ran her hand over the puffed sleeves, the satin. "That's okay,"
she said. "I'll make you look good."
Each girl tried on their gowns in the dressing room and Maria crouched
and kneeled and chalked the new hem lines, cinched the waists in with
pins. They admired their transformations in the mirror. They were taller
and thinner and more grown-up. And the most telling reaction of all—
they twirled. Demetri had always said that all women were born dancers. He'd had a habit of taking Maria's hand, in the kitchen or the shop
or the backyard, and spinning her in circles around him.
Maria carried the gowns into the workroom where Karen sat, hemming pants. She inspected a pair of black slacks.
"I also did the darts," said Karen. "Face it. You need me."
"Maybe," said Maria. "And maybe not."
One of the girls, Judy Lydas, went home and told her mother about
Karen. "Imagine," she said, "someone who lived in the woods and never
brushed her hair."
"Be nice," said her mother.
"That is nice," said Judy.
When Maria met Demetri—black, black hair with a lightning streak
of white, custom grey pinstriped suit, a vision gleaming with the sheen
of old-world polish—she knew. Her waitress shoes and apron, which
she only wore on the Saturdays she worked at Tito's for extra spending
money, disappeared. Gone. And there she stood naked in a dream. The
faded maroon restaurant carpet became the rocky shore of a beach she
knew from her childhood in Crete, a cove covered in gull feathers, the
underbellies of crabs, strips of cotton sails, the eyes of oyster shells, and
bulbs of sea kelp. Above her, the orb of the moon was flashing and blinking with blue light, faster and faster, and then it fell out of the sky. The
moon was a sign. The moon said, "Marry him." And she did—the next
Sunday at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Three days before the wedding, she stepped into her dress and assessed the alterations
that needed to be made, two inches at the hem, an inch at the shoulders,
and he walked in. "Get out," she said. He explained, "I'm a tailor. I can
fix it for you," and she said, "But I'm a tailor," and then they laughed.
They laughed through the ceremony, through building their own tailor
business, through two children grown and settled, through their living
prismmagazine.ca    63 room burning down from Demetri's olive wood smoking pipe. Think of
starfish, braving oceans and storms by clinging to rock, this is how they
clung to each other. Think of the words, you anchor me to the earth, and
you wouldn't be wrong. Think of the body of a starfish, more limb than
mouth, more give than take. This is how they lived. They were married
thirty years and then he died a few days after her fiftieth birthday—he
was sixty-seven. There were no affairs or illegitimate children, no secret
betrayals locked away in the shadows. The good husband, after the first
heart attack, said he did not want to be buried at Mount Ever-Rest Cemetery, which was down the street from the tailor shop. Formerly Green
Acres Cemetery, new owners put up a new sign five years ago. Demetri
had come home and told her the terrible name.
Maria had shaken her head. "Oh my god," she said.
"How could they make such ajoke?" he asked. "It's disrespectful."
"They must think it's no big deal. It happens all the time," said Maria.
"Like they say, the mountains are used to the snow."
Their first fight happened on Karen's second day. Maria carried her bag
and the shovel and when her arms tired, she used the shovel as a cane.
Her house was a few blocks from the tailor shop in a quiet neighbourhood. The shop had been an old house that she and Demetri had converted—the kitchen and back bedroom they sometimes rented out, the
gravel backyard they had paved into a small parking lot where Karen
now sat waiting in her truck.
"You're early," said Maria. Karen approached, dressed again as a
twelve-year-old boy, except today all her hair was slicked back into a
ponytail, showing off her bear-paw earmuffs.
"You walked here?" said Karen. "With that big shovel? Why didn't
you drive?"
"I like walking," said Maria. She tried to sound convincing, even as
her short, bowed legs sunk in the snow.
"Car trouble?" said Karen. "I can give you a ride."
"I like walking," said Maria.
"You don't know how to drive, do you?" said Karen.
Maria: I can never lie.
"That's it. Isn't it?" said Karen. She crossed her arms. Her left eyebrow raised in victory.
"Here's the shovel," said Maria. "I'm going inside."
Snow flew past the windows as Karen cleared the path. It was a relief
to have another set of hands and eyes at the shop, but Maria hadn't
made up her mind about Karen. There was something insistent about
her, pushy. She didn't, as they say, leave the back of the sun alone. And
why couldn't Demetri still be here, driving them both to work, or to the
64     PRISM 48:3 fabric store? Maria had never learned to drive. Not in Crete, or during
the few years she stayed with her cousins when she first moved to the
States. Once she was married, there never was a need. You would think
there would have been at least one instance, some emergency, some
forgotten loaf of bread or carton of milk, some favour for a neighbour
that required her to drive, where she would have decided, "This is something I need to know." She had recently heard, on the local news, about
a seventy-year-old man finally learning to read, and here she was, fifty.
Why hadn't she made Demetri teach her when he taught their daughter
and son? Stupid. Stupid.
Karen kicked the snow off her clogs. "I'm going to teach you," she
said. She nodded toward the parking lot. "If you can drive my beast of a
truck, you can drive anything."
"Maybe after we close," said Maria.
But Maria didn't learn to drive that day. Mrs. Persaki brought in her
mother-of-the-bride dress. Chara Persaki had come in a week before to
try on her wedding dress and said, "Please, Maria. My mother's dress
is ridiculous. I told her she couldn't wear it—it's vulgar. But she said
I was the last of her three daughters to get married and she wanted to
celebrate." What Maria imagined was nothing close to the floor-length,
gold-sequined, halter-top dress with a thigh-high slit that Mrs. Persaki
was now wearing.
"I need the neck straps shortened," she said. "And I know this slit is
high, so I want it only to the knee."
"Chara chose gold for her wedding?" said Maria.
"Of course not," said Mrs. Persaki. "Sage green or something like
that." She put her hands on her hips and posed. "What do you think? I
got it at a pageant store."
"I think we could put some lace in the front to cover..."
"I told the doctors, I'm fifty-four and have always been small-chested.
Give me hooters, and they did," said Mrs. Persaki.
"How about some lace in the back too?" said Maria.
"I don't go to the gym for nothing," said Mrs. Persaki. "I want to keep
the back bare. You really think I need lace in the front?"
"I think so," said Maria.
"You sure?"
Maria: it's not your wedding.
"Not too much, then," said Mrs. Persaki. "I still want to make all those
young things jealous."
The sequined fabric was heavy and Maria needed more pins. Karen
brought them to her.
"What do you think?" said Mrs. Persaki to Karen.
"For your daughter's wedding?" said Karen. "You've got be fucking
prismmagazine.ca    65 kidding. You look like a cheap hooker."
Maria: JesusMaryMoses.
"What did you say to me?" said Mrs. Persaki.
"I said you look like a cheap hooker," said Karen, louder.
"She's from Alaska," said Maria. "These things, they come out of her
mouth..."
"Has nothing to do with where I'm from," said Karen. "That dress
would look trashy anywhere."
Mrs. Persaki, still in gold sequins, grabbed her clothes and marched
out the door, past Mrs. West, who was waiting to try on an altered skirt-
suit.
Maria turned to Karen. "You're going to eat wood if you don't shut
UP-"
"My ex used to say that," said Karen. "Here's another: lady, you'd
drown in a teaspoon of water."
"I was going to fix the dress," said Maria. "And now look. She won't
be back."
Maria: You're fired.
"Fix?" said Karen. "There was no fixing that dress. She looked like a
goddamned disco ball."
Mrs. Persaki hanging from a ceiling, turning and turning, strobes of
yellow bouncing from wall to wall. Maria didn't want to smile in front of
Karen, to lose her I-mean-business face. "Go home," she said.
"Really?" said Karen.
"Come back tomorrow," said Maria.
"You know I'm right," said Karen. "What is it that the Greeks say
when someone is out of line? The cucumber got up and fucked the grocer?"
"Watch your mouth," said Maria. She pointed her finger and in a
stern voice said, "Don't do that again. And no more swearing. Now let
me take care of Mrs. West."
"Just imagine," said Mrs. West, telling her sister about Maria and
Karen's argument. "They were bickering like two old pennies at the flea
market."
Karen tried not to swear. She did. But Maria baked her famous baklava,
petals of phyllo dough laced with thyme honey, and Karen couldn't help
herself. "This is fucking delicious," she said.
"It is," said Maria, who tried not to be bothered by Karen's exclamation. Some people twirled with delight or were speechless, others, like
Karen, said fucking delicious. "The recipe is my grandmother's."
And slowly, Karen's presence became familiar at the shop, and welcomed. She eased into the rhythm of pedal and spin, steam and heat.
66     PRISM 48:3 Maria learned not to press Karen for details about her past because she'd
get a stalling answer.
"Where's your family?"
"Oh, around."
When it came to speaking about her ex-husband, she was much more
forthcoming. "Get rid of him," she would say to a customer. "He's a
scumbag like mine. Useless. So lazy, couldn't hold his own dick to piss,
you know what I mean? Where's Maria? Did she hear that?"
In time, a picture began to take shape. Karen was an army brat growing up, a life of connecting the dots across the country. The last stop
was the base in Fairbanks. "I've seen some things," she said. "If not every
thing." She had two ex-husbands, the first one she married when she
was seventeen. The union, although there was nothing unifying about it,
lasted four months. He left her. The second, one George Manos III, had
green eyes with specks of orange, Jesus eyes, and excuses as slick as oil.
Lies. Lies. Lies. At his best, think Greek god, his tongue and his hands,
whispers and caresses. At his worst, think the same, but with shouts and
fists. Think of the words, you'd tie us both to a sinking anchor, and you
wouldn't be wrong. "He'd charm the tusks right off a walrus," Karen
said. There were affairs and illegitimate children and after seven years,
she left him because he was never going to leave her.
This George person, Maria knew, would someday come looking for
Karen. It was inevitable, as inevitable as summer and winter and war.
One of her customers, Hannah Casten, had always worn long sleeves and
slacks, even in the humid summers. Her husband was a neurosurgeon,
and she had cocktail hours and charity events to attend. She brought in
dresses that needed panels added on the open backs, or sleeves added,
or asked for custom cardigans and boleros to wear over them. She never
tried on the dresses. "I trust you," she told Maria. "You've never been
wrong." But Maria was wrong, wrong to think that Hannah's requests
could be explained by extreme modesty, or shyness, or a skin condition.
She and Demetri had discussed asking Hannah if something was the
matter, but they didn't have proof—no black eyes or bruises that they
could see, no injuries. But one day, Hannah and her husband were national news. She left him and was staying at her sister's in Dayton, Ohio
and he found her. There was a confrontation. There was a gun. Hannah
shot him six times. Then she shot herself. Maria couldn't sew straight
lines for a week.
At the tailor shop, if you wanted a flat-out opinion, the harsh, glaring
reality, the prick and sting of the words, "Listen, I'm not fixing this. It
doesn't fit you anymore and it's old as hell—throw it out," then you
went to Karen. If, in this ill-fitting world, you wanted a gentle, of-course-
prismmagazine.ca    67 you're-right, soothing answer, you went to Maria. Most chose Maria.
Although, twice a week, Aristo Pavlopoulos chose Karen.
"That boy is ripping his clothes on purpose, just to see you," said Maria.
"When the dog gets hungry, he eats onions," said Karen.
"You are not an onion," said Maria.
"Maybe I'm the dog," said Karen.
"Maybe you should stop dressing like one," said Maria.
Maria: did I just say that?
Karen looked up from the seam she was ripping. "That's something I
would say, not you. Besides, you wear black every day. It's depressing."
It had been a year of black clothes, of Karen picking her up in the
morning and taking her home, driving her to the fabric store. A little
more than a year had passed since Maria had sent Demetri's ashes to
Athens.
"Tell you what," said Karen. "I'll start wearing a skirt now and then if
you wear one thing, just one, that has some colour in it."
"Shoes," Maria said, eyeing Karen's red clogs.
Women and shoes. Shoes and women. Maria made her living altering
clothes—sleeves and lengths and letting out inches—shoes were much
more forgiving. She never let a woman try on a dress without high heels,
if she was still able to wear them. She couldn't anymore, her arches had
collapsed, the soft padding on the balls of her feet had worn thin. And
she had gained weight. One day she looked in the mirror and the curves
that had once been womanly and seductive had stretched and reformed
into the comfortable body of a grandmother.
So Maria added colour into her wardrobe and Karen added skirts.
Maria urged her to go on a date with Aristo who, after hearing Karen
liked baklava, brought her a tin of melomakorona, spiced cookies soaked
in syrup.
"I'll go on a date," said Karen, "when you learn to drive."
There were blunders and misunderstandings and reconciliations. When
Mr. Jamison, a dwarf, came in, Karen blurted out, "You're really short,"
and he said, "You're really rude."
Her face blazed with shame. "I'm such a fucking idiot," she said.
Maria threw down the houndstooth jacket she was relining. "Leave
me," she said to Karen. "Go. Before I change your lights. And don't
come back." She slammed the door behind Karen.
Mr. Jamison would later tell his neighbour, "She slammed the door so
hard I thought it would crack in half, right in front of my eyes."
After a day, Maria regretted her decision, but did nothing to bring
Karen back.
"It's obvious she needs Karen," saidjoni Parian to her sister-in-law
68     PRISM 48:3 while waiting in line at Hardy's grocery. "She isn't herself."
But after three days, Karen appeared at the tailor shop, and without a
word, started up the Singer.
Then there was the night that Karen dropped Maria off at her house, and
there were supposed to be record low temperatures, so said the news on
channel five. Maria walked back to the shop to turn up the heat so the
pipes wouldn't freeze. She went around to the back and Karen's truck
and another car were in the parking lot. Then she saw them through
a window in the unrented bedroom, Karen and Aristo, their bodies
pressed against the wall, the muscles of his back tense and alive, her
small hands clutching his neck. Where Maria grew up, they used dynamite and fireworks to catch fish—gunpowder and ocean and a wave of
water. She could feel the explosion from shore. Karen and Aristo and
dynamite. Had Maria and Demetri ever had a night such as this one?
Did they really have, as they say, the bird's milk? Or were they too polite, too agreeable and compliant? On the walk home, the snow falling
light as sleeping moths, Maria wondered. She wondered too, if George
Manos III would appear now that Karen was with Aristo. She had to
be prepared. Stab him with a needle. Choke him with chiffon. Yank a
plastic garment bag over his face. None of these were feasible—he'd be
strong and thick with a wrestler's build. He'd be that kind of Greek. But
she had hot irons, heavy and waiting.
The next morning, when Karen came to work, Maria glared at her and
said, "You're going to teach me to drive today."
"I am?" said Karen.
"I saw you last night," said Maria.
The tailor shop held its breath.
"Okay," said Karen.
That afternoon, John Gable claimed he saw sparks flying out the back
of Karen's truck, electric streams of green and red shooting off into the
neighbourhood. Karen sat in the passenger's seat while Maria stalled
and restarted the engine and tried to manoeuvre the stick shift.
"You're not listening," said Karen.
"You've burned my nerves," said Maria.
"Shut up," said Karen.
"Don't tell me what to do," said Maria. "I gave you a job and I—"
Karen reached over and blasted the horn.
"You're trying to kill me," said Maria.
"I'm trying to teach you how to drive," Karen said. "If I wanted to kill
you, I would have done it a long time ago. But you need to learn to drive
so that if I'm not here, you're not walking in the shitty snow all winter
prismmagazine.ca    69 making me feel guilty and—"
Maria slammed the horn. "Too much talking. I'm ready."
Maria had a plan: a man would walk into the shop with a bouquet of
cheap carnations. Karen's George Manos III. Maria would know this immediately. One very self-assured, very Greek George Manos III. Karen
would be at home, sick with the flu, Aristo taking care of her. Maria is
alone.
She continues to press a pair of slacks. "What do you want?" she says.
He gives her the flirty, friendly smile with dimples and walks toward
the small end of the ironing board. "You know what I want."
She holds up the hot iron, an old Sussman she's had for twenty years.
"Well, I want you to leave," she says.
"That's not going to happen," he says. His hands crinkle the plastic
sheath around the red flowers. "How about you tell me where she is?"
"You can knock on a deaf man's door all you want," says Maria.
"You're going to do it," says George. He winks. "And you're going to
dance."
"I told you to leave," says Maria. "I won't tell you again." She flips the
iron, spits on the sole plate, and it sizzles.
He drops the flowers and lunges at her. She raises the iron to his
forehead, burning and branding him with industrial-grade metal. He
stumbles backward, shocked, and runs out of the tailor shop. She never
tells Karen.
Every day she prayed, "No George. No George. No George," while
the Sussman, her talisman, smoothed and creased. And then, after two
years and a few months, Maria realized that George was, as they say,
written on old shoes.
Maria and Karen's biggest and best fight happened a year later. On a
Tuesday, Katina Voutetakis, Maria's niece, and her mother, Anna Vou-
tetakis, brought in two bolts of silver silk taffeta. Katina was going to the
prom and needed a dress made-to-measure. The door to the tailor shop
opened and Katina walked in and the floor creaked. Karen, while pinning a sleeve for Aristo in the backroom, caught a glimpse of Katina's
enormous arm, jiggling and inflated with fat, covered in doughy bulges
and rolls. Katina, age sixteen and five foot three, weighed in at three
hundred and eighty-eight pounds. Aristo turned and saw Karen's lips
move to speak and immediately began to cough, hacking and choking.
The only thing that could and did come out of Karen's mouth, masked
by his quick intervention, was, "She's a fucking whale."
"Aristo, go get some water," said Maria. She went to find the measuring tape builders use to measure lumber and rooms.
70     PRISM 48:3 Maria: if Karen says anything, I will kill her.
The pattern for the dress was simple: a scoop neckline, long sleeves,
flowing Aline skirt down to the floor.
Karen grabbed Maria's arm. "Can I talk to you?" she said. They both
went into the bathroom. Maria turned on the faucet.
"How long has it been like this?" whispered Karen.
"Like what?" said Maria.
"Like, if this girl eats another piece of candy, she's going to explode."
"I've told her mother, Katina doesn't look so good," said Maria.
"And?"
"And things stay the same. She's supposed to be on a diet. But who
knows."
"How does she have clothes?"
"I make them all," said Maria. "They come to my house. But this
time, I told them the dress is easier to make here. I'm too old and too
tired to carry this and that. And my Singer at home, not so good."
"Do you ever say, Katina, you're too big, I can't make your clothes.
You have to lose weight?"
"Shhh. I tell her she should be more healthy," said Maria. "Cut down
on the sweets."
"Well, that's obviously not working," said Karen.
"Stay out of it," said Maria. "This is my family."
Maria and Karen went back out to the main room. "Sorry," said Maria. "The sink was leaking."
For two weeks, Karen watched as Maria cut and pressed large pieces
of the silver taffeta and sewed freehand—she couldn't put the dress on
a form. Sometimes she put it over Karen's shoulders so she could see
how the fabric was draping. Four and a half Karens could easily have fit
inside. Think aluminum foil and a canvas of moonlight, think tinsel and
braces and a first kiss that wouldn't happen for years, maybe never. The
dress was all these things and when it was finished, Katina came to try it
on. She stepped into the billowing skirt and Maria helped her shimmy it
over her meaty shoulders. She pulled the zipper, but there was a problem. The zipper only went halfway up.
"She's been nervous about the prom," said Anna Voutetakis. "She
might have gained some weight."
"In two weeks?" said Maria.
"You can fix it," said Anna. "I know you can."
"Please," said Katina. "Please, Auntie."
"Alright," said Maria. "I'll add some panels on the side." She tried to
lower the zipper but it was still stuck. She would have to cut Katina out
of the dress and she needed Karen to help her. "Hold it like this," said
prismmagazine.ca    71 Maria. "So the scissors don't get her skin."
Karen pressed her lips together over the pins she held in her mouth,
an attempt to keep quiet. They freed Katina from the now too-small
bodice, the fabric collapsing around her waist.
"It's a beautiful dress," said Anna.
"A beautiful dress for my beautiful Katina," said Maria.
With that, Karen yanked the pins out of her mouth and said, "Katina,
you're too fat and you're going to die."
"How dare you," said Maria. She swung and slapped Karen across the
face.
"You're crazy," cried Karen.
"I'll piss on you until you rust," Maria said.
"Wake up, you stupid cow," said Karen, "or the ants will eat you." She
pointed at Katina. "They'll eat her too."
Katina started to cry, tears rolling down her three chins.
"You're so cruel," yelled Maria. "May your shit come out in stones."
"Go shit yourself," said Karen.
"I'll shit you a donkey," said Maria, her fist in the air.
"I fucking quit," said Karen.
"You can't quit because you're fired," said Maria.
"Fine," said Karen. "Fucking fine." She flung open the front door and
left, and it shut with a thud. A hinge broke from the force. Maria opened
the door and slammed it again, not to be outdone, and the hinge fell off
with a clang as it hit the floor.
"Imagine," said Anna Voutetakis later to her husband. "Saturn and
Jupiter fighting. Two hotheads with big mouths. And you wouldn't have
believed what Maria did."
Maria finished altering Katina's dress, which, with the added panels, resembled a shiny parachute. Katina came with her mother to try it on.
Maria unzipped the back and then re-zipped, puzzled by the unfilled
inches. The dress was too big.
"My god," said Maria.
"Auntie, I'm losing," said Katina.
"She is," said Anna Voutetakis.
Maria called Karen's number. No answer. She called and called until
she thought to call Aristo. He picked up. "Tell Karen to come back," she
said.
Everyone would argue as to who should take the credit for Katina. Was
it Karen's sharp words? Or was it Maria's soft kindness? Or the shock of
seeing Maria so angry, so violent in defense of her niece? No one could
say, least of all Katina, who has since lost twelve dress sizes. And now,
72     PRISM 48:3 when she walks out of the tailor shop, she walks a little straighter, taller,
brighter even. Think of Maria, the one who sews together the tattered
seams of a threadbare shirt, or fixes another frayed cuff, fastens another
loose button. Think of Karen, the one who cuts straight through the
whirring of the machines and pedals and the breathy air of the steaming irons. Think of the words, an anchor has two equal arms. Think of the
ocean, pleating and ruffling in and out of a storm.
prismmagazine.ca     73 Stephanie Yorke
Parents
My father scraped a cat off the road.
Newly married; their first cat.
Later he'd rub kitten noses in shit
when they'd gone behind the TV set,
both daughters howling animal rights. He was
the flea bather; the pill inserter;
the shoveller. But Mom
microwaved a saucer of milk
to feed each nose-christened kit,
her palm between the poor little
shoulders, after his stern thumb.
She couldn't even turn on
a vacuum till she'd raised
the alert: mime-cleaning
with the detachable brush
while tail-tips vanished under the couch.
Ears flat to the roar. And the sound of my father's
car in the driveway—
the ancient cough when it stopped,
the double scrape of his boots
in the entry. Six green eyes
fierce as a tire tread, up from behind
my mother's blue jeans—
but her gaze gone glad and soft.
74     PRISM 48:3 Steve Urkel on TGIF
Dad worked Friday nights, so rather than family
dinner we got to hunker in the den,
television and us three bent goat-wise
over the cookie sheet she'd baked
the fries and fish sticks on. I traced
each crinkle in each cut fry
with hands full around the plastic ketchup bottle.
Calligraphy, paint can—Fridays no Dad
asked, blah blah blah learn at school today? Soundtrack
applause as the dork in red glasses
burst onto the set, greeted Carl the usual way.
Mom said, I don't know how he speaks
through his nose like that. She told me to stop,
when I tried to imitate.
prismmagazine.ca    75 Cautions
Yellow signs say caution, wet floor—
depict death-by-footstep,
walking with his jacket open,
the dog off leash.
Small white barking semi-feline
teeth—syringes cocked.
The vaccine risky, disease incurable.
Wing-tipped avian flu.
A feather duvet, and police in the doorway
ask questions about the attack:
Well officer, supper looked like loch ness.
Broken wishbone on my soup spoon;
elbow digs trachea ribs,
this injunction called swallowing.
Undercooked meat; birth complications; premature kittens.
Respect the incubation period.
Don't forget the oven! In case of fire,
never go back for the cat.
Clogged flues, curtain piled on the register—
an eyelid out of place.
76     PRISM 48:3 Contributors
Tammy Armstrong is the author of three poetry collections and two
novels. Her writing has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies
in Canada, the US, Europe, the UK, and Algeria. Her poetry has been
shortlisted for the Governor General and CBC Literary Awards. Her
new poetry collection will be published Fall 2010. Currently, she is doing
doctoral work in eco-criticism and Canadian poetry at the University of
New Brunswick.
Bill Gaston has published six novels and five collections of short fiction.
His work has been nominated for the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, and the Ethel Wilson Prize. In 2003, he was presented with
the inaugural Timothy Findley Award for a body of work.
Sue Goyette lives and writes in Halifax. She teaches in the Creative
Writing Program at Dalhousie University. Her third collection of poetry
is forthcoming from Brick Books.
Steven Heighton has just published two books: Every Lost Country, a
novel set in Tibet, and Patient Frame, a poetry collection that includes
the five poems in this issue of PRISM International. His 2005 novel,
Afterlands, was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, a best
of year selection in ten publications in Canada, the US, and the UK, and
has recently been optioned for film.
Wanda Kujacz is a French multimedia artist who also makes short films
and designs sets for theatre. Much of her work is inspired by the unbe-
livable stories told to her by her eccentric Polish grandma. She is also
inspired by everything she sees and hears everyday.
Rhona McAdam moved to Victoria in 2002, after 12 years in London,
England, and subsequently spent a year studying food culture in Italy.
Her poetry collections include Old Habits (Thistledown, 1993) and a
chapbook, Crosswords (Frog Hollow Press, 2003). Oolichan Books published her fifth book, Cartography, in 2006.
Melinda Moustakis has fiction published or forthcoming in Conjunctions, The Massachusetts Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review Online and elsewhere. She is currently finishing a short story collection.
prismmagazine.ca    77 Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays (Freehand,
2008) which was nominated for the Creative Nonfiction Collective's
Readers' Choice Award and longlisted for the BC Award for Canadian
Nonfiction. She holds an MFA from UBC, where she served on the editorial board of PRISM. She continues to write essays and is also working
on a novel.
James Pollock grew up in southern Ontario. His poems have appeared
in The Paris Review, Maisonneuve, Canadian Literature, Grain, The Fiddle-
head, Southern Poetry Review, and other journals. His critical reviews and
essays have been published in Arc, Books In Canada, The New Quarterly,
Canadian Notes & Queries, The Literary Review of Canada, Contemporary
Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He teaches poetry in the Creative Writing
Program at Loras College in Iowa, and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Matt Rader is the author of two books of poems, Miraculous Hours and
Living Things. His poems and stories have appeared in journals around
the world.
Shane Rhodes' most recent book of poetry, The Bindery, published by
NeWest Press, won the Lampman-Scott Award for poetry. Shane has also
received an Alberta Book Award, a previous Lampman-Scott Award,
and The Malahat Review 2009 P. K. Page Founder's Award for Poetry.
Bren Simmers lives in Vancouver. Her first book of poems, Night Gears,
is forthcoming from Wolsak and Wynn in Fall 2010.
Madeline Sonik, writer, anthologist, and lecturer, lives in Victoria, BC,
and currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria. "Fetters" is an essay from her recently
completed memoir, A Soul Made Up of Wants.
Stephanie Yorke is a Canadian, currently resident overseas. She has
published poetry in PRISM International, Grain, The Malahat Review, The
Fiddlehead, Descant, Prairie Fire, and elsewhere.
78     PRISM 48:3 The Creative Writing Program at U.B.G.
The University of British Columbia offers both
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:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen & TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics & Libretto.
Meryn Cade-
Keith MaiUard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Faculty
Online Faculty (M.F.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-
Dargatz, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner,
Terry Glavm, Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe,
Stephen Hunt, Susan Juby, Peter Levitt,
Susan Musgrave & Karen Solie
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca Good Reads
Book Club
Buy 10 General
(non-course) Books
at the regular price and get
20%
of their value
off your next purchase of
regular priced General Books.
No time limits.
No membership fee.
Includes books in-store
and online.
Join at
www.bookstore.ubc.ca
or at any in-store cashier.
(604) 822-2665
UBC BOOKSTORE
www.bookstore.ubc.ca
Pt. Grey Campus
6200 University Blvd.
Vancouver, B.C.
Robson Square
800 Robson St.
Vancouver, B.C. f£# frr/fer jjfifz#0
celebrates its 10th anniversary with the 1st Book
Competition, in collaboration with Anvil Press.
Id UK
Creative nonfiction | Fiction [ Poetry
Three winning manuscripts published in 2011!
We're looking for original, book-length manuscripts (one
winner each in the categories of creative nonfiction, fiction,
and poetry), written in English by emerging Canadian writers
who have not previously published a book.
Submissions will be judged anonymously and upon merit alone.
Judges' decisions are final. No electronic submissions. Entry fee $55.
Entry requirements and entry form: www.thewritersstudio.ca
Manuscripts must be postmarked before May 31, 2010.
SFU
CONTINUING STUDIES
WRITING AND
PUBLISHING
PROGRAM
AM
anvil
PRESS The Malahat Review Contest Calendar
Don't be a loser!
Commit these deadlines to memory
August 1, 2010
Creative Non-Fiction Prize: $1000
Enter an essay, memoir, literary journalism, or a work
so cutting edge in form no one's thought of it yet
November 1, 2010
Open Season Awards: $3000 in prizes
Three categories: poetry, short fiction,
and creative non-fiction
February 1, 2011
Long Poem Prize: $1000
Enter a single long poem or cycle of poems
May 1,2011
Far Horizons Award
for Short Fiction: $1000
Emerging writers may enter one short story
All deadlines are postmark dates
Complete guidelines for all contests at: malahatreview.ca
Inquiries: malahat@uvic.ca
The Malahat Review
Defining excellent writing
since 1967 3CATE
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Y * CREATIVE NON-FICTION
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The winning entries in each category will receive a $750 cash prize (plus payment for
publication) and will be published in our Winter '10 issue. First runner-up in each category
will receive a $250 cash prize and be published in our Spring 2011 issue. Ail entries MUST be
previously unpublished material and not currently under consideration in any other contest
or competition. Entries will NOT be returned (so keep a copy for yourself). Results of the
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All entrants receive a complimentary one-year subscription to subTerrain.
Lush Triumphant, c/o subTerrain Magazine
PO Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, BC V6B 3XS suhter@portal.ca
more information at www.subterrain.ca M.
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CREATIVE WRITING MFA
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writing from at www.ubcwriting.ca PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1
Canada
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Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1
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48:3
PRISM international
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Judge's Essay: Susan Olding
Winning Entry: Madeline Sonik
Tammy Armstrong
Bill Gaston
Sue Goyette
Steven Heighton
Rhona McAdam
Melinda Moustakis
Susan Olding
James Pollock
Matt Rader
Shane Rhodes
Bren Simmers
Stephanie Yorke
GENUINE
CANADIAN
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Cover Art: Fly, Flew, Flown
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