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 nn.
\W
international
  SUMMER 1992
Contemporary writing from Canada and around the world $4.50 (plus G.S.T.)  J\7U international  JVAJ international
Editor
Rodger Cove
Executive Editor
Patricia Gabin
Fiction Editor
Francie Greenslade
Poetry Editor
Vivian Marple
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Associate Editor
Murray Logan
Editorial Board
Terry Armstrong
Rita Davies
Elizabeth Drumwright
James Farenholtz
Zsuzsi Gartner
Patricia Jones
Shelley MacDonald
Fran Muir
Shannon Stewart
Laurel Wade PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1Z1. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1992 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Van Newcomb
One-year individual subscriptions $16.00, two-year subscriptions $24.00, library and institution subscriptions $22.00, two-year subscriptions $36.00, sample copy $5.00. Canadians
add 7% G.S.T.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply
Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and then discarded. The Advisory Editor is not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
Payment to contributors is temporarily $20.00 per page plus a one-year subscription.
PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of Arts' Office at
the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British Columbia,
through the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry Responsible for Culture.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. July 1992 Contents
Vol. 30, No. 4 Summer, 1992
Fiction
Karen Connelly
John Isaacs
Christian Petersen
Gayla Reid
Mary Walters Riskin
Jerry Saviano
A Bowl of Yellow Flowers Stains
the Canvas   31
Georgie's Habit   73
Heart Red Monaco   58
Sister Doyle's Men   7
The Sign   40
Toothpaste and Monkey   25
Poetry
Sean Brendan Brown
Richard Exner
translated by William Cross
Richard Harrison
C.E. Hull
Catherine Hunter
Joan Lennon
Oscar Martens
Alison Touster-Reed
Alice Tepexcuintle
Mouse and Boa   24
Passion   47
August 6, 1981   49
At The Hockey Hall of Fame I saw   71
An African Hockey Story   72
in-drought   53
out of town by 7 o'clock   56
my skeleton visits the casino   51
afterlife (3   52
Eve Aging   21
Warning to Motorists   22
Brazil   34
Taxidermy   23
toxic WHAT   68
So nobody told you    69
Van Newcomb
Cover Art
Desert Isle #6 (Water colour)
Contributors   86 PRISM international
wishes to congratulate
Eden Robinson,
who has been nominated for the $10,000 Journey Prize
for her story "Traplines," which first appeared in
PRISM international, Vol. 30, No. 1 Sister Doyle's Men
Gayla Reid
In this photograph my mother is on horseback. Behind her, there is a
row of hills. Gums are tossing in the wind. (They look like gums, anyway.) The horse has its head turned sharply. I suspect she is holding
the reins too tightly.
This is, as my mother's handwriting on the back of the picture says,
"somewhere in New Guinea."
At one corner of the photograph you can see the shadow of the person
who is holding the camera. You can make out the shape of the hat. It's a
slouch hat, pinned up on one side.
"Who's that?" I ask my mother, pointing to the shadow.
There is a slight pause. Then she says, "One of the men."
My mother is wearing trousers and a shirt. It is wartime.
My mother grew up in Sydney's eastern suburbs. "Where on earth did
you learn to ride?" I ask her.
"You learned," she says. "You learned fast. All sorts of things."
It is a black-and-white photo, of course, but the contrast is sharp. "The
hills look very green," I say.
My mothers looks at the photo again. "I was green all right," she says.
She laughs. "You can say that again. I'd only been there three-and-a-half
months when that was taken."
I wondered why she mentioned the months, and so precisely.
My mother was a sergeant in the AAMWS, the women's wing of the
Australian Army Medical Service.
My father was in the Seventh Division. My father was a Rat at Tobruk.
When Australia's Prime Minister Curtin brought the Seventh home my
father was promptly sent to New Guinea, where he was involved in the
fighting around Lae.
My father told no war stories, kept no war souvenirs. (Unless, as my
brother says, you want to count Mum.) But my mother spoke of the war
often, which, given her work, was not surprising.
"He brought them home," she'd say, of Curtin. "He was determined
that Australia would not go. He gave those Poms what for, he did." When I was a child I thought everybody knew about the Seventh, how
the Prime Minister brought them home.
My mother met my father in Moresby. They got married right away.
Six months later, I was born.
As adolescents, my brother and I consider this story. I am horrified.
(What if the nuns find out?) My brother, on the other hand, is much impressed. "The sly old goat" he says. "You've got to give it to him."
"What was she like when you first met?" I ask my father.
He says the usual things: good looker, always one for a laugh.
"No," I say, "what was she like, really?"
I should know better.
"Oh, things were at sixes and sevenses, in those days," my father
says.
My father is one of those old-style Australians who guards his personal
life with a wildly unwarranted tenacity. My father gives nothing away.
My mother's secrets are safe with him.
Why did she choose my father? My brother and I decided it was because he had come through unscathed. Both in the Middle East and in
New Guinea my father was what he calls one lucky bastard. My mother
knew she was going to need one undamaged man in her life.
For somewhere in the green hills of New Guinea, my mother became
acquainted with death. Despite her seamless, unspoiled husband, despite
the clamour of her two children, she did not return to the house of the living, not completely.
My mother was Sister Doyle.
Sister Doyle was in charge of the ward in Rhodes Repat. where they
kept the men who had been wounded in the war and who would never recover. Those men, still breathing but in essential ways already dead,
were her life.
For a child in my mother's house, certain appearances on that ward are
mandatory.
There is the Christmas party, held in mid-December. We sing away in
a manger, no crib for a bed. We pass out gifts: magazines, books, lollies,
cigarettes. These last for those who still have lips with which to suck, to
smoke.
There is the afternoon of Christmas Day itself. We go from bed to bed
with trays of fruitcake, with glasses of port and Scotch with straws in
them. We take our presents to show the men. We are not the only children summoned to Sister Doyle's ward. Her
men are to have music, the sounds of children, singing.
The Catholic kids sing "God Bless Our Lovely Morning Land." The
state school kids sing "Old King Cole" and (in possibly dubious taste) "I
Am a Happy Wanderer." The choirs do not go right into the ward, as we
do. They stand at the milder end. If they are lucky they do not even notice the odd small lumps further down the ward. They do not see the
beds at the far end.
These beds have mysterious hoops in places where faces usually are.
Adults come, too, to entertain. On New Year's Eve the local pipe band
comes to pipe out the old and in the new. They march up and down the
ward, these pipers. But they are grown up. They know when and where
not to look.
The Scout Master comes to our house with money from the bottle
drive.
"That will go towards a very fine Easter hamper, and I know you know
how much it means to the men," my mother tells him, appreciative. He
blushes.
They all come—the Rotary blokes, the Lions, the Masons, the St.
Vincent de Paul—my mother makes no sectarian distinctions. This is the
early Fifties and they wear the little Returned Services League badges in
their lapels.
They are, all of them, returned men.
I learned that phrase naturally, without thinking. Later it seemed to
typify the to-hell-and-back theme—which had great currency at that time.
For the men on the ward, who did not really return, it seemed especially
fraught.
When my mother sits with the returned men in the lounge room, they
tell war stories. These stories are exceptionally vague, innocent, featureless.
Here's one: There was this anti-aircraft gunner in Darwin. Name of
Bluey. Anyhow, Bluey, he had this sulphur-crested cockatoo. When the
air-raid siren went, the cocky said: "Time to get under the sink, Blue."
I did not understand why they found this amusing. But how they
laughed.
Conversation grows a little more interesting when there are other
nurses there. They talk about the tents they used as operating theatres.
"Oh, the mud," my mother says. "Oh, the stench," the other nurses say,
happily. If I were asked to construct a portrait of somebody in my mother's position at that time, I would certainly make her a monarchist, a believer in
religion, and a conservative in politics. But my mother was, curiously,
none of these things.
She saw religion as having its uses, however. She favoured Anglican
funerals. "They give the best send-off," she said. "The flowers of the
field."
Her interest in politics cut off at 1945. She was not in any sense a cold-
war warrior and in that embodiment of Fifties stodge, Australia's Prime
Minister Menzies, took no interest one way or another. The Fifties, for
my mother, meant Korea. And Korea meant two new men on the ward.
My mother worried they wouldn't fit in. They were younger.
As a young adult I would say that my mother was, at heart, the universal soldier. (And she really was to blame.)
There was this man on the ward, Teddy. He'd been in my father's unit.
Came from the bush, out Walgett way. Used to ride in all the shows before the war, my father said. A crack shot, too, was Teddy.
That was how my father met my mother—Stan had gone to the hospital in Moresby, looking for his mate Teddy.
Teddy could not move. His spine was a write-off. He couldn't speak,
either. He could move his eyes from side to side and that was about it.
Teddy got totally messed up in New Guinea. Over the years Teddy improved, gradually, until he could manage to talk a little. To the outside it
was just gobble-gobble, but Sister Doyle could decipher every word.
This is what Teddy said: "I'm in this and I'm doing the best I can."
When my mother liked someone, when she considered them to be her
friend, she'd tell them about Teddy. When she repeated what Teddy
said, she never used the third person. She always adopted the first person:
"I'm in this and I'm doing the best I can."
"How's Teddy?" my father would ask my mother.
"He's a battler, is Teddy," my mother would say. And her voice would
be full of something heavy, like love.
I think now of how Stan met her when he went to Moresby.
She walked down the corridor towards him, listening to the floorboards
creak, her stomach in a knot. (Outside, through the louvres, the green
hills.)
He figured it out soon enough, he realized how things stood with her.
And his face barely moved a muscle.
That would have reassured my mother, she would have decided then.
10 On Christmas Day, when I am eight, this happens:
We are in the ward, and I am sitting at a window. It is a quarter to five,
the end of the afternoon.
Earlier, we were all here, my father and brother as well. My brother
got a cocker spaniel puppy for Christmas, named Queenie—this is the
Coronation year. A boy should have a dog, my mother says. Queenie was
brought in to show the men.
Now my father has taken Queenie and my brother home. My father
and my brother are already besotted with Queenie. They take turns carrying her with excited tenderness.
The men, those who could reach out, felt Queenie's soft round head,
stroked her ears. Those who could see looked into her brown eyes.
Queenie was a big success.
Around afternoon-tea time there was a full-blown high summer thunderstorm. (My mother hurried to the men who whimpered.) Then the
furious rain. Now, it is over and the ward is filled with a peculiar golden
light. My mother has thrown open the windows and the smell of rain
rinsing through the hot earth, the smell of fallen gum leaves fragrantly
rotting, fills the room.
My mother is sitting on a chair between two of the beds, and everything is calm. She has brought her men through the fracturing demands of
Christmas Day, with its forced cheer. She has given them her children,
and Queenie. She has stood by them in the thunderstorm, and now she
has for them this coolness, this relief.
I look at my mother and with a piercing clarity, I see how she is resolute and obsessed. And I am her daughter. As she is, so I will become.
I am suffused with this fact; I am magnified—not by joy but by a terrible
certitude. And I am really very frightened.
I look away from my mother. I inspect my presents from the other
nurses. My favourite is a wooden pencil box. It has two stories. You
swing out part of the top layer and there is a secret second layer, beneath. I slide my finger into the farthest recesses of the pencil box, in
that second layer, beneath the place for the rubber. I plan what I will put
there.
It is so quiet I can hear the clock ticking at the end of the ward, near
the entrance. Instead of numbers it has the words, Lest We Forget. The
small hand is on the E, the big hand has just passed the G.
My mother was always so busy that it took me a long time to realize
what her main burden was: the slow grinding of time, its absolute refusal
to pass.
Sister Doyle knows all their birthdays. A good six weeks before the
11 birthday of Shorty or Curly or Jacko (they keep their boyish wartime
nicknames) my mother writes to his family. In recalcitrant cases, she
telephones. Trunks please, she asks, her voice serious. I wish to place a
trunk call.
As you know, she says, when the call goes through, Shorty/Curly/
Jacko has his birthday coming up. Can we be expecting a parcel? As you
know, he's quite fond of Capstans/Winning Post Chocolates/Pix or Post.
And it has been some time, let me see, three years, hasn't it? I'd just like
to let you know how very welcome you'd be, if it were possible. At all
possible.
The parcels arrive—from Dubbo, from Grafton, from Condobolin—
drawn by the strength of my mother's will. Sometimes the people come,
too.
Apart from the holidays, Christmas, New Year, Easter, there is—of
course—the big day itself, the one day of the year: Anzac Day.
My mother knows which division each of her men was in. She has the
ward decorated with the appropriate emblems and colours and mascots.
Radios are laid on, and, in later years, television sets. Nobody is to miss
out on the dawn service and the march In the afternoon, there is rum
and Bonox.
So they inch forward, Sister Doyle's men.
At the end of the road, there is the funeral. And if only a handful of inattentive relatives can be rounded up (thank God that's over), there is the
inexpensive solemnity of the last post. And there is, from the priest or
minister, these words: They gave their lives. For that public gift they received a praise which never ages and a tomb most glorious—not so much
the tomb in which they lie, but that in which their fame survives, to be remembered forever, when occasion comes for word or deed.
I'm not sure where that comes from. It's something I absorbed from
my mother, much as other daughters learn to sew a frock or cook a cake.
My mother is never completely off duty. We are walking down to Central to catch the train. My mother points out to us—my brother and me—
the plaque on the overpass at the Chambers Street end: Past this point
marched THE MEN WHO WENT. In Martin Place, at the cenotaph, we
are not permitted to giggle and fool around. If there are wreaths—and
there often are—we are to read them quietly, and with respect.
At school I learn how the Spartans put their children out to die. That
reminds me of my mother. If we disgraced her on the ward, I tell my
brother, she would put us out to die.
She would be capable of it.
12 I am making my mother seem formidable. She was that, indeed. But in
many ways she was a permissive parent.
My brother and I are allowed to have comics, and she never checks to
see if we are doing our homework. A lot of the time she isn't there. She's
at work. It is my father who is nominally in charge.
My father, the unscathed survivor, came home from the war and got a
job as a clerk at the lotteries office. At five sharp he takes the train home
and retreats to his shed. In the shed he keeps all his carpentry tools, his
workbench and his radio. He also has two old lounge chairs (it's a good
sized shed). In one of these chairs he sits and smokes his pipe. The other
one is for Queenie, and us kids when we come to watch.
My father builds things.
In the Fifties my father undertakes two projects that see him through
the decade. First, he puts a second story on the house. This is a posh,
unusual thing to do in the ordinary Sydney suburb of West Ryde. Then he
builds a whole bunch of built-in furniture. Built-in furniture, in highly lacquered wood, is the very latest thing.
My brother and I each acquire rooms of our own on the top floor, with
windows that look out on the ironbark. In my bedroom my father builds a
dressing table that has a bookcase in one side. I can put my hand out and
select a book without even getting out of bed.
In the kitchen he constructs a breakfast nook: a round pink Laminex
table, with a high banquette, just like in a restaurant. But his tour deforce
is in the lounge room. There a combined china cabinet-sideboard-
radiogram dominates one wall, a triumph in blond wood.
It is an extraordinary home. It could look like something out of House
and Gardens, only mother doesn't complete the effect. In my bedroom I
have some second-hand curtains she picked up at the hospital fete.
My brother's friends love the house. Not for its furniture, but because
it is always in turmoil. Constantly, one room or another is uninhabitable,
owing to the construction work.
My mother is not in the least put out by this. Quite the contrary. "We'll
just have to make do," she declares, and her voice is girlish and gay.
The kitchen is an uproar and my brother's friends are staying to tea.
My mother takes the toaster into the lounge room. We have toast and
sardines and listen to Pick-a-Box.
"The money or the box?" asks Jack Davey.
"The bbox, the box," the boys shout, their eyes shining, eager for
whatever life will throw at them.
They are always around, the visiting boys. There is the marvellous
chaos and what's more the place is reliably provisioned. My mother goes
13 to cakeshops and buys lamingtons, sponges, biscuits.
This is a shady thing to do, in the Fifties—store-bought cakes are
looked down upon. "I simply don't have time," my mother says, firmly.
My brother's friends help themselves to the rest of the lamingtons and
watch my father working. When they've eaten those they can get some
Minties from the shed. My father keeps boxes of Minties down there.
Minties have cartoons on the side of the box: a fisherman has just reeled
in a pair of ladies' corsets.
I don't get in the boys' way (they're just little kids, really, so boring).
I'm upstairs, staring out at the ironbark.
I'm reading books about girls' schools with no nuns.
I'm looking in the women's magazines, examining the Meds ads. No
belts, no pads, no pins. No odour.
My father, Stan Doyle, had been brought up in a Catholic orphanage.
He had left school after sixth class and had learned, as my mother put it,
"to turn his hand to anything." Had we lived in the bush, Stan would have
turned his hand to sheep and cattle. In the desert, he'd have known exactly where to find water.
That a man of manifold skills was putting in his days at the lotteries office was never remarked upon.
After the orphanage, Stan was caught up in the depression, and after
the depression he went to the war. Yet Stan is a calm man, sweet and
peaceable. A man to turn to in time of crisis.
My mother had to sign papers to say she'd have the kids brought up
Catholic. And sign she did.
Off I went to the nuns. When it comes time for my brother to go to
school, my mother puts her foot down. He could go for religious instruction. He could make his first communion and all that baloney. But he was
to attend the state school and get a real education.
"The nuns are good enough for girls but they won't do for boys," my
mother says.
Stan doesn't argue. He isn't an arguing man. But it makes him nervous, I can tell.
Without ever putting it in words, Stan lets me know precisely what he
thinks of nuns and priests: a dangerous, slightly looney lot, but powerful.
Best to keep on their good side.
Hard lessons, from his own childhood.
At Sunday mass, my father sidles in just before the end of the sermon
and sits, ill at ease, near the door—poised for easy and early escape. He
looks just like one of those dumb kids at the back of the classroom.
14 I am the only one in my class who comes from a "mixed marriage."
The nuns know.
Whose family isn't saying the daily rosary?
I have to put up my hand.
On the way home from school we exchange insults with the state
school kids.
Catholics, Catholics
eat snails and frogs.
We reply with the more esoteric:
Proddies, Proddies
fall off logs.
In this way I learn that one side needs the other, even for the completion of a rhyme.
Sometimes in these roaming bands of state school kids I see my
brother's friends. My brother himself.
I wait for the question: "Isn't that your brother?"
We are driving over to my aunt's house. We are in the Holden. As we
approach the house we can see all the cars, already lined up.
"The football team's out in force," says my mother, signalling disapproval. Her sister's husband comes from a vast family. They dominate
these gatherings with a beery, self-congratulatory clannishness.
My aunt, unlike my mother, leads an ordinary life. She stays home.
She makes elaborate desserts: rice pudding and jelly layered in tall clear
glasses.
I wish my mother would learn to do things like that.
"How's the house going?" my aunt asks my father. He is a fool, her
tone proclaims, to squander all that upon my mother, who has not eyes
with which to see.
"Stan's got a real showplace," my aunt tells one of the football team.
"It could be a real showplace, you know," she says to my mother. (If only
you were prepared to pull your weight.)
"Humm," says my mother, bored. "What a delicious dessert. I don't
know how you do it. Really I don't."
But when we drive home my mother is in a good mood. The visit to the
relatives is behind her, one more time. "That wasn't too bad," she says.
"Wasn't too bad, Stan, was it?" She's stuck it out and now it's over. She
can get on with things. She can get back to the ward.
I look out the window of the Holden and see our ridiculous, extravagant house poking up above all the others. I know we are not a normal
family.
We are weird.
15 My father, who had no childhood family, isn't much of a patriarch. You
could say he never developed the knack. But we learn from him, my
brother and I. We sit in the old lounge chair in the shed, chewing on
Minties and playing with Queenie, and, without even know what we are
doing, find out how to use a padsaw, a mitre block.
With my father, I have no quarrel.
It's a different story when it comes to my mother. There are scenes.
In this particular scene we are fighting, my mother and me. We are
shouting at each other, we are choking out sobs and insults. We are in a
uproar.
Just as Anzac Day is a big day on the ward, it is a big day in our family
life. Each year, my father gets out his medals and goes to the march.
Each year, my brother and I go with him, to watch and wave and pick him
out and feel important. At the end of the march, a photographer takes our
picture: my father, my brother and me, standing together in Martin
Place. In early years, there were always street photographers on hand.
In later years my father takes his own camera and asks one of his mates
"to do the honours." When the picture is developed, it stands on the
mantleshelf in the lounge room, where it stays until the new one takes its
place.
In this way (I wrote in my diary) our lives are measured out in Anzac
Days (three exclamation marks).
This year I'm refusing to go.
I've been to see the play, The One Day of the Year. This play—which
was, I am convinced, written especially with me in mind—portrays a
young man exposing our celebrations, our observances.
Anzac Day turns out to be so much drunken jingoism.
I came out of the Palace Theatre and vomited into the rubbish bin at
Town Hall station.
So I won't go to the march, and what's more...
"This place is a madhouse," I tell my mother. "You've been ramming it
down our throats all our lives. It's crazy. It's sick. I have a life to get on
with, in case you haven't noticed."
"The war happened," my mother says, sharply.
"You could at least stop glorifying the bloody thing," I return.
"I do not," she declares, offended to her soul, "I do not glorify anything."
"You do, you do," I reply, going for the upper registers. "You do, you
rub our noses in it."
"I do not glorify anything," she repeats (I have really scored, there).
16 "Except courage, courage in the face of pain and loss and despair."
This is as close as I ever come to hearing my mother's apologia for her
work.
I flee to the shed, to enlist my father's support.
"You have to stop her," I inform him. "Show her."
He is quiet and mild and he exasperates the hell out of me. "Show her
what?" he asks, refusing to be drawn in.
"You're both hopeless," I shout. "The pair of you."
About this time my mother has a big row with my brother, too. About
Teddy.
My brother and I joke about Teddy, but most secretly. It is utter blasphemy. My brother is keen on gymnastics, and practises every evening.
He stands on his head and he says, for our mutual pleasure: "I'm in this
and I'm doing the best I can."
We laugh and he tries his best to keep from toppling over.
My mother catches him at it. She chases him through the house, trying
to grab him and hit him. He speeds out on to the road and my mother—to
my surprise—does not pursue him. Instead she sits down in the breakfast
nook and begins to cry, in a hoarse, windy kind of way.
"You kids don't care about anyone except yourselves, do you," she
says. In her voice I hear the beginning of an appeal. I leave the room in a
hurry.
Eventually my brother creeps back into the house. For about three
weeks my mother treats him as if he doesn't exist.
My brother and I hold whispered, mutinous meetings in my room. We
brim with righteous solidarity.
"She should never have taken us to the ward when we were just little
kids," I say. "Doesn't she realize we were scared.}"
"Dad's just as bad," my brother says.
"He just lets her rip," I agree.
Even as we speak we can hear him. He is hammering away on the
stairs, replacing a baluster.
One day my mother comes home early from work. This is a shocking
thing, without precedent. I'm at home because it's a big feast day—the
Feast of the Assumption—and the nuns have given us the day off.
The nuns are always giving us the day off, or so my brother says. It's a
wonder you ever learn anything, he says.
I go downstairs to find out what's going on. Is she sick?
She takes her hat off and puts it on the kitchen table.
17 "Teddy's gone," she says. "Teddy. He begged for it," she says. "For
ages and ages. Nothing else. Just that. After all these years. I had to give
him what he wanted, you know. I had to." Her voice sounds automatic.
(Does she know who she's speaking to? Does she even know she's
speaking?)
She takes a chair and goes outside to the back patio that my father built
a few years ago. She's still got her overcoat on. It is the kind of grey, still
day you get once or twice in Sydney during August. A low day.
She's still there at a quarter to six when my father gets home. He
takes her a rug and a cup of tea. She pushes away the rug and ignores the
tea.
She sits out there in the dark.
My father goes out again, this time to persuade her to come in. I can
see him talking to her and I can see her not even turning her head.
He comes back in and he's got a funny kind of embarrassed look on his
face, as if he's been caught doing something foolish.
"Let's have beans on toast, eh?" he says.
I make the toast, my brother puts the jug on. My father lights the gas
and gets the beans going. We huddle together in the breakfast nook, the
three of us, and Queenie.
As last she does come in. My brother and I are in my room. We are
supposed to be asleep by this time. She goes up the stairs and into their
bedroom. My brother and I creep along the hallway and listen for voices.
Nothing.
What did he say to her?
What did she, finally, say to him?
It is the late Sixties and my mother has cancer. She is in Rhodes Re-
pat. , so she is, in her own way, at home.
They are fooling about trying to decide which parts of her to cut out.
"I've told them to get on with it," my mother says. "Chop, chop." My
mother has a nurse's cheery crudity about such things.
Now, of all times, she isn't going to let her men down. She calls for a
wheelchair. "They've seen tons of people in their dressing gowns," she
says. "Might as well see me."
Off she goes to the ward. I wonder if it distresses the men, to have her
growing thinner and more determined by the day.
By this time there is another war, about which I have come to hold passionate views. (It has given me a glimpse of what my life might be, what I
might become.)
My days and nights are full of organizing against the war. Our country's
involvement in this war has to end, the war itself has to end. So many
18 other things have to change, and fundamentally. There is everything to
be done. I go about in a state of euphoric fatigue.
These visits to the hospital are really very difficult to fit in. It takes two
bus rides and a change of trains just to get here. And I have vital work to
do.
In my mother's presence I scrupulously avoid all mention of the war.
She's the one who brings it up.
"I was reading in the Herald," she says, "they can bring boys home
now that they wouldn't have been able to before." She says this in a puzzled voice. "They can get them out so quickly, and the know-how is so
much better."
How can the Vietnam boys (the MEN WHO WENT) be worse off than
the men on the ward and still be alive?
She looks at me—to me—for an answer.
My brother has been conscripted, but has disappeared into Western
Australia instead. Wisely, he does not write.
Officials knock on the door. Plainclothes men, and, on one occasion,
the military police. They come to the house. They come to my flat in
Bondi.
With my father they are polite. With me, contemptuous, hostile.
No, he's not here. No, I'm not expecting him. No, I don't know where
he is. No, no, no.
When my mother is dying, when she is rambling, out of it on morphine,
and there is no more question of her ever getting up and going anywhere,
she calls out their names: Curly, Joey, Teddy, Blue, Jacko, Stan, Teddy,
Shorty, Rusty, Teddy.
With the endless need of the child, I listen for my name, and for my
brother's. And when she does not call them, I am affronted.
My father is left alone in the big empty house.
These days Stan lives with my brother. When I go back to New South
Wales, I stay with them.
My brother, who runs an orchard on the Murrumbidgee, has an old-
fashioned home with big verandahs. At the weekends the place is often
filled with friends (the visiting boys).
At the back of the house Stan built what he calls a grandpa flat. There's
a small workshop down there. Although he is now in his eighties, he is
making for my brother a desk out of stunning dark Tasmanian sassafras.
"Lovely, lovely," my brother says, stroking the wood with his hand
and looking in his father's face.
19 "It'll see me out," Stan says, of the grandpa flat.
My brother writes to me, he keeps me up-to-date.
We were sorting through some old snaps the other day—my brother
wrote—and we came across a really early one of Mum—in her nurse's
uniform, on what looked like a troopship.
Both arms around some strange young man, a soldier. And smiling.
Smiling to beat the band.
"Where did that one come from?" my brother asks Stan, "I don't remember ever seeing that one before."
"Oh, that'd be Teddy's," Stan says, easily. "Used to carry it everywhere with him."
"Teddy's?" says my brother.
"Teddy's," Stan says.
"Used to carry it everywhere with him?" my brother says.
"That'd be right, I reckon," Stan says slowly, evasive now. "Before.
Before he. You know. Got messed up."
Then—my brother wrote—the old coot gets up and pours himself a cup
of tea. Stares off into the middle distance, as if bored.
When I come home they drive up to Sydney to meet me: Stan, my
brother and his wife.
We go to visit my mother's grave.
She has a small bronze plaque. The rising sun of the Australian Infantry
Forces is in the top right-hand corner.
I put my arm through Stan's. I look over at my brother.
Stan looks down at the grave, at Sister Doyle's name.
I don't say anything.
Stan lifts his bony face, sniffing the air. He turns to my brother.
He says: "When I get completely buggered I'll go down the back paddock and you can shoot me."
"Oh Dad," says my brother's wife. "You mustn't talk like that, not
when we love you so. It isn't right."
20 Joan Lennon
two poems
Eve, Aging
He is gone again to tinker near Eden
handling the latches
hoping for myrrh
No need not to trust him.
Eden's young as ever, sure
but Adam isn't everything he once was
and they keep a careful watch upon the gate.
When we were young as anybody could be
Eden wasn't good enough for him.
Oh, he wanted me then, badly
more than other things that burgeon.
But now
Adam is gone to tinker round Eden
knocking at the gateway
dreaming of dew
21 Warning to Motorists
Focusing on the moth
inside her windscreen
she failed to notice the car in front
had stopped.
The moth was reborn a poet
within whose opus
the words
"in car" and
"incarnadine"
appeared with a peculiar frequency.
By some celestial quirk
the woman became
a grain of sand
in a well-known and prosperous quarry.
She was later transmogrified
into a replacement windscreen.
In neither instance did the events
raise comment.
22 Alison Touster-Reed
Taxidermy
He stopped by the taxidermist's,
Lee New's, to stuff the wings
and the body. The mists
of the eyes and the bluegrey etchings
in the beak—these he would save
for himself. He might build a cave
for the bird, or stand him on a board,
or nail him to the tree that stood windward
from his house. Mr. New stopped
in his stuffing some old cropped
red-bellied head and said, "Now, see here.
I don't have the time to take on
this one. He is ordinary, eye to ear.
He has no special markings on
either beak or tail. I cannot take the time."
He drew the bird under his shoulder
like a package, took the dime
ferry crossing, walked two miles, feeling colder
wind as he neared home. Children
laughed at the beak sticking out
his back and at the crazy hem
of his pants and at the feathers falling out.
Finally, he got home and hurried to his bed.
He took the bird and laid him gently down,
got a cup of tea, a bowl of brown
rice, a patchwork quilt, and a pillow for his head.
23 Sean Brendan Brown
Mouse And Boa
She is angled smoothness
the colour of wallets
twisting past her pool of water
and driftwood ornamentations;
She is pale brown isolation
marked with deadly isosceles
fascinating, repulsive,
falling on the mouse at 3 o'clock-
its white delicate ankles
and sparrow feet convulsing
past her rippled hinges:
the mouse a mass the ribs move
from behind the boa's neck
to her midsection, her eyes lidded,
sleepy, tongue flecking aquarium
glass as my son stares with livid
green disbelief.
24 Toothpaste and
Monkey
Jerry Saviano
You thought of a dream while driving on 1-85. A dream you started
making up after passing Thomasville, a dream where you walked
past your father and forgot about the Master Sergeant's uniform
he had on, or his whistle from the back porch or the Jim Beam at the dinner table. A dream more about forgetting than anything else.
Now you are at your father's condominium.
When you knocked on the door, from behind it he yelled loud enough to
almost hear him forever. You definitely have your father and no other.
Once inside, he explains to you that he's been working on the porch: you
see he's wearing shorts, this is a little unusual. You stare at your father's
legs. They strike you as pale and you think almost ghost colored. Old
man legs. You may imagine the day when you'll notice that yours will resemble this. And then you think about other things, like how he buys
toothpaste now, four and five tubes at a time. How his bathroom cabinets
are full: six deodorants, four cans of shaving cream, six toothbrushes rest
in the rack on the wall. In the shower, you think about having to choose
between four bottles of the same shampoo. He lives alone. You remember that you confronted him once.
You said to him that he has enough hygiene products to last both your
lives.
"You know me," he replied. "I buy things."
So you sit in a lawnchair on the back porch of your father's condominium. You take your fingers and dig at the webbing coming unglued from
the aluminum. The man who lived here before him decorated it in some
sort of aquatic motif, with little bridges, steps, and portable windows. A
white and blue life preserver hangs on one wall. Your father unfolds the
chair leaning against the wall and sits beside you.
"Look," he says, pointing to one of his bird feeders. You see that a bird
has landed on the left bucket and is bending its head inside. He's taken
two cheap plastic buckets, hung them and now fills them with bird seed.
Your sister bought him what she called an art-deco bird cage, and it hangs
between the other two.
25 "What is that? A finch or jay? I've been meaning to bring my book out
here," he says.
He straightens his hair and puts his cap back on. He closes his eyes and
crosses his legs at the feet. You put your feet on the end of the porch.
Some of the wood has rotted and falls on the concrete. For a few seconds, you stare at the wood, then remember how you and your two
brothers used to plan to kill him.
It was your oldest brother who talked the most about doing away with
him. A few times at night in the room you shared, all of you discussed the
possibilities.
Your two older brothers suggested different methods, usually plastic
explosives or radiation. Sometimes they argued whose plan was best.
You were at a disadvantage, being the youngest and stuck on hand grenades and bazookas. Your inputs were usually ignored, but you scored a
point once when you suggested surprising him during Sunday yardwork,
and crushing his skull with the shovel. Most of the time you were told to
shut up.
Then you wonder how the haircuts fit into this. The Saturday mornings
in the concrete back driveway, behind the egg-coloured split level bought
with the Veteran's loan. He would start with your older brother. He
would wrap the plastic apron around the shoulders, then fasten the snap
that dug into the back of the neck. He used an electric razor he kept in a
shoe box at the top of his closet. You remember how it buzzed, felt warm
pressed against the head. How the hair felt, falling on your face and neck.
He gave you crew cuts.
While waiting your turn, you would watch your neighbours, the Mat-
toxes. The two Mattox boys stood at the mesh fence that separated your
back-yards, giggling and mimicking the expressions on your faces.
"Ignore them," your mother would say.
There are a few photographs left today. Your father is smiling and
standing over you, holding the razor over either you or your brother's
head. The three of you are surrounded by plastic and scowling. Your ears
stand out like suitcase handles from the sides of your square heads. One
of these pictures your father has framed and hanging upstairs in the guest
bedroom of his condominium.
One morning you watched him walk slowly up the asphalt of your
street, towards the neighbour's house where you were visiting. You remember listing the possible offences you might have committed. Did you
leave the tools out again after he warned you? When he reached the
neighbour's fence you saw his face, pale like some National Geographic
war mask. You ran to him. When you reached him, he pointed his finger.
"Listen," he said. "I just cut your brother's hair. And I messed up. You
26 laugh, I swear to God I'm going to cut yours the same way. Do you understand. "
When you got back, your oldest brother was almost bald, except for a
band of fuzz snaking up from the sides of his skull. His eyes were swollen. He was walking around the back yard almost in a daze. And your
mother sat in the reclining lawn chair glaring at your father.
You see that right now he's asleep, whistling through his nose. His cat
crawls out from under the desk and runs into the tool closet. You watch it
eat the dry food from its bowl and you think about travelling to Warner
Robbins, Georgia, where the Air Force stationed him. On the way, you
came upon a complex of trailers and loud billboards of a roadside zoo.
Since children were admitted free, your father gladly paid the admission
for himself and your mother. The first animals you saw were a few goats
chewing on the feed scattered on the ground of their pen. There was a tiger asleep in a small pen, a thin chain was fastened to the worn leather
collar around his neck. You and your brothers thought he was dead at
first, but your mother pointed to the slight rising and falling of his chest,
reassuring everyone of his health.
"He's not dead at all," she said. "He's just got the right idea. In this
heat, that's what I'd do. Sleep."
Still you felt cheated. To get his attention, your brothers screamed for
a little while at the tiger. You stood far away and tossed rocks. He ignored you and all of you went to the monkey cage.
They were small and loud monkeys with teeth they bared back and
forth at each other. They sat on thin wooden platforms, damaged from intermittent chewing. Two of the smaller ones chased each other around
the cage. The largest one occupied the cage's only shade, picking at his
fur, stroking his penis. The closest one to you, a medium sized brown
one, sat on his perch staring. Your mom bought some peanuts and you
threw them at him. Each time you threw some peanuts at him, the monkey attempted to catch the ones tossed nearest him.
Your older brother kept missing the monkey with his peanuts. And because he was thin enough to slip most of the way through the bars, he
wanted to retrieve the peanuts so he could toss them again. Most of the
peanuts were beyond his reach, and your brother stretched further into
the cage. The monkey reached out his hand and grabbed the stubble of
your brother's head. The other monkeys started screaming. You
laughed, but seeing your mother's face, you got scared. Your oldest
brother grabbed a branch and tried to pry the monkey's fingers loose
from the small stubs of hair he was clutching. Your mother was upset.
Wanting to do something, you ran between the compound trailers searching for your father. You saw him come out of the men's room trailer, wip-
27 ing his hands on a paper towel and zipping up his pants. You watched him
hear your brother, start with a trot and then run towards the cage. Sticking his arm in the cage, he grabbed the back of the monkey's head and
jerked him off the perch. In the same motion, he drove the monkey's
head against the cage bar. It released your brother. Your father slammed
its head a second time into the cage bar. He dropped him and the monkey
lay moving just slightly at the bottom of the cage. The other monkeys
went to the far corner of the cage. You and your oldest brother screamed
with delight. The zoo's owner ran towards your father, but retreated a
few steps from him when he got close to him. You saw that he was a fat,
nervous man with a long lit cigarette, and he demanded to know why he
had attacked the monkey cage. You stared at the zoo owner's dark red
shirt which hung untucked from his pants. Sweat in large even puddles
swelled under his arms. Your father started shouting. Your mother ordered all of you back into the car. As you were walking away, you heard
your father say "fuck" for the first time. He said, "I don't give a fuck. I'll
do it again. Watch me." You had heard the word before. Your brothers
would say it when you were alone in the bedroom. You listened to hear if
he would say it again. But before you walked out of earshot, you only
heard him tell the zoo-owner that he would be lucky if he didn't kill the
rest of the monkeys.
You climbed into the car, beside the rescued brother who sat quiet
against the window in the back of the car. In a few minutes he walked to
the car, stopping to pick up a soda can and toss it in the trash. Your brothers and you cheered. He smiled and you watched the monkey killer climb
into the Volkswagen. At the next stop, you went to a Howard Johnson's
for ice cream. You had neapolitan. Your father had pistachio.
Now you stare at the bird's feet perched on the bucket and you watch
the way its claws grip the feeder. You shift your position in the chair. The
chair moves, making a metallic noise against the concrete. The bird flies
away.
"You scared him," your father says, "You've got to learn to be quiet."
Maybe you think about your oldest brother leaving for good when he
was seventeen. His hair was long, and your father tried to punch him
when he refused to have it cut. He put duct tape all over his boots and
wore an old flight jacket with McGovern pins on it. "I don't want a haircut, " he said. Your father went right for his jaw. Your brother stepped
out of the way, and your father broke his hand on the wall. Your brother
moved in with his friend's parents. A week later the rest of you went on
vacation. You remember that as the week your father wrapped his cast in
a bread bag so he could teach you to swim in the motel's pool. Five years
later, your other brother told you he had gotten laid twice that week. At
28 the motel's gift shop, your mother bought a photo-biography that was on
sale. The Kennedys were her favourites. She would stuff the family photographs in the pages of these books, write the page numbers in the
back.
"We might think about history when we think about us," she explained
once.
In this one, on the page where Jackie is smiling, standing beside the
President at his inauguration, there is a photograph of your father waving
to the camera, holding his cast wrapped in the bread bag away from the
water. In another one, that she bought at a yard sale in the neighbourhood, is your oldest brother's graduation picture, with his shoulder length
hair and moustache. The picture occupies the space on the opposite page
from Robert Kennedy, who is dying on the floor of the Ambassador.
You remember him saying "fuck" in front of you for a second time
when you were twelve. He said it more and started going out for beers in
the evenings. He retired from the Air Force, got a degree in counselling
at the community college, and forced you one summer to read Aristotle.
In 1978, he bought a cowboy hat. He wore it, along with his boots and
belt buckle, in the house one afternoon. You remember watching him as
he turned sideways in the mirror and placed his hands on his hips. You
stared at his hook nose and saw that he was staring at it too. You
laughed. So did he.
It was his time to leave when you were fifteen, and you no longer
dreamed of killing him. The day he left you helped him load his Toyota.
"Your mother and me are having problems," he said.
You stood at the garage door for a few minutes. Your hand rested on
the string that pulled the door shut. He sat on the toolbox. You went and
leaned against the car. You remember that he told you that there are always two sides to every story. You agreed and suggested turning the
box containing his cookware diagonally, so you could fit his laundry basket in the trunk as well. You closed the trunk and he went away. As his
car was pulling out of the driveway, you wanted to know that if everybody had a father that killed a monkey, would this make a difference.
At his condominium at the bottom of his steps, electric blankets are almost being thrown at you.
"I got more electric blankets than I know what to do with You sure
you don't want one?" he asks. "What about sheets? Do you need any
sheets? I got a lot of sheets. C'mon. Take a set of sheets."
You choose the blue ones. You tell him the electric blanket he gave you
two years ago still works fine.
"That's because I read Consumer Reports," he says. "Your old man
knows the score."
29 He stands at the door and hands you a grocery bag, tells you that it's
little stuff he picked up at the base. And he says if you don't need any of it
then just keep it anyway.
Inside there are bottles of Mr. Clean and Janitor in a Drum, a few
speed stick deodorants, some carpet cleaner, a packet of chewing gum,
and a box of chocolate bars. He tells you he has always believed in you
and then shuts the door. You stop your car at the end of the complex's
parking lot, dig through the bag and unwrap a chocolate bar. You watch a
boy drive a remote control pick-up truck in circles outside the fence at
the tennis courts. You think about coming up with a dream that might
somehow take everything into account. Where the same man who threw
Ho Chi Minh's poetry into the antique mirror hanging over the television
now mails cans of soup across the country to yoa But you understand
that for your life this dream has always been beyond you, and after a few
seconds, you take a bite out of the candy bar, and realize that eventually
you'll have to drive away.
30 A Bowl of Yellow
Flowers Stains the
Canvas
Karen Connelly
Here is a broad stone wall flicking alive small green flames of
lizards. The wall is low: I sit on its back, watching the road that
curves around the wet blue belly of the sea. The sea is always
itself, restless, forever altering its colours like a sad eye; the road itself
never shifts; the squat wall I balance on is like the tough arm of an old
fisherman. It keeps children and old women from dancing off the cliffs.
Here we are, los domingueros, the Sunday people, drunk to exhaustion
with light and the dusty scent of African wind. The bright blue benches
behind me are soft with the bodies of old people, tense with the knuckles
and knees of young lovers. The old people wait patiently for the farther
darkness, the young for the closer one. They sigh anxiously, almost painfully, glancing in happy anguish at each other's fingers and chins.
If you sit on a bench, the wall cuts the landscape in half: you cannot see
the road below or the little restaurant on the beach where black guard-
dogs sit on the roof, glaring at customers. From a bench, the landscape is
picturesque: you receive the sea rising up like a mirror to the sky, slow
ships sweeping the harbour like women in evening gowns, the grand old
mansions reigning the far cliffs.
If you sit on the wall (but no one else does, for sun, olives, and wind
unbalance, and the drop would be lethal), you get a wider angle. The
back-arch of the waves stretches towards you, warm as a cat begging
hands. There is something about the sea that makes you want to reach
out... Below, the beach is speckled with people, scurrying with energetic crabs and children and dogs. The dogs are bounding through sand,
barking, pleading with stones to come alive and throw themselves into
the air. The dogs see, blissfully, with their noses. They are enthusiastic
about dead squid. From here, it looks clean: children tumbling playfully,
doll-limbed, the people (featureless, really, at this distance) fine and
31 strong, leaving well-formed footprints behind them. But you also recall
occasional smudges of tar, the condom-scatter of spent Catholic boys on
Saturday mornings, the shredded glitter of dead fish. Still, from the wall,
the scene gleams, glassed-over, lovely.
But the view includes the road, which I watch in amazement. The thud
bangs in my own bones as I realize what I've seen. A child and a car have
collided with the grace of birds; it was choreographed, her skipping down
off the path and the black swoop of metal speeding around, catching her
at the waist. Her scream is mistaken for a seagull's. There are thirty
people behind me, oblivious as I watch a shadow dyeing the road (it does
not even appear red—simply dark, like dirt spilling from a bowl of yellow
flowers, her head).
There are shouts below, the single wail of a woman, but still no one
around me hears this, no one leans over to look. I wonder if I am imagining all of it. I blink away sunlight and the cracked body remains down
there, utterly still. The people around me (half-hearing the female cry)
think only that the beat of the waves has changed.
The old people are gazing at the cliffs, ignoring the white threads of
cataracts, seeing perfectly the greenness of other lives, other decades,
thinking of the ancient lime trees towering beyond them—they were
smaller once. I hear serious talk about green beans and rose gardens, the
cost of carrots. The laughter of sparrows rings from the trees as always,
and the young men and women listen to it, imagining their hearts are
birds. A girl with hair the colour of clean straw is staring at her watch,
desperate for time to slide open. Her hand flutters at the boy's silk-brown
arm and I can see what her fingers are thinking: There has never been
flesh this warm. Their hair is tangled and heavy with dropping light. The
sun rolls down the hill like bleeding fruit.
And on the road below (all I do is swivel three vertebrae in my neck)
the scene changes, a world bursts, the magic shadow spreads like a dark
angel stretching its wings under people's feet. The bowl of yellow flowers
is a rust-red brown.
While above, in the little town, old women gossip, girls touch lipstick
lightly to their mouths, men grunt at the government, and I sit on the
wall, watching all of it, looking back and forth like someone at a stunning
tennis match, trembling (remembering all the newspapers I haven't read,
remembering the world itself, the wars in the back pages of atlases,
whole countries spreading with shadow).
This is where you are now. Then you turn your head away and you are
somewhere else. The only truth is that there is none: it moves when we
blink. The trick of seeing is not seeing everything. If you see everything
and feel all you see, you unravel the wrinkles of your brain like a ball of
32 kite string. You drift off and disappear. It is easier to be blind if the choice
is between blindness and madness. Learn to see with one eye or both
eyes half-closed. I look at the lovers, the lavender-haired old ladies. I
look with great concern at my bony feet. Absurd tears there, gems of
wet salt sliding towards my toes.
Because, below, a child drains. The moment was a pebble-brained
shark, and her life a bloody tear in time's soft belly. Now an ambulance
clangs everyone awake, the people, even the lovers, crowd to see the
crowd below, to glimpse the broken doll, the shadow. A shattered body
collapses in my eyes, but I look beyond it. I examine the elegant web of
veins on the backs of my hands. (You must look beyond.) I see the Bay of
Biscay. I slide off the wall and walk towards a new place. The blood on
the road will be gone at dawn and perhaps I'll forget I've written this.
Here are the pastel hues (skylight, sea, warm green eyes, pearled
skin). And here are the dark oils. And here is your life. This is the only
canvas they'll sell you. Do not just paint what there is. (You'll be dust before you've done that work.) Paint what you want to see.
33 Oscar Martens
Brazil
i.)
On a street in Manaus
a man grows out of the sidewalk.
Half a man, begging there
and twice the man I am
for having the courage to live
half a life in half a body.
Two limbs,
useless in the air,
will not take him to the bridge
or into the path of a bus.
I could guess
that his legs were blown off
by an industrial revolution.
Or he has been here for hundreds of years,
unable to move out of the way of progress,
the city streets built around him
up to his waist.
A gutter dog,
bald from disease,
sprays hot urine on his back
while he waves his useless limbs in the air
like a furious tree.
His brother returns from the factory
to carry him home on his back.
In the morning
he will stand him in the sun
like a shrivelling raisin
waiting for the relief of afternoon shade.
34 2.)
If my Portuguese were better
I could explain to the driver
that we are in no hurry
to kill anyone.
We are in no hurry.
Yet the cab parts people like dirty water
missing them by a thin cushion of air.
Peasants, experts in the art,
plant exact steps across the road
checking through the sides of their eyes
trajectory, velocity,
words which they would not understand,
movements which they live by.
A skinny dog, another expert
drops out of sight
under the hood,
but as I brace for the thump
it reappears at the back unharmed,
already sniffing a buddy's shit.
On our way to the boat
there is no reason to rush
through this slum of low-lying shacks.
I could scream a warning
from the open window
but the experts in survival
need no help from me.
5.)
Instead of worms we use steak.
Even a small piece of gristle
is not acceptable.
It seems that blood thirsty fish
are fussy eaters.
35 We splash our rods in the water
to attract them
and they begin to snip off meat
with razor teeth
like they have done to the tails
of slow alligators.
They bite everything,
including the knife that cuts away the hook.
And as they make that thin wheezing sound,
trying to breath without lungs,
it makes me very happy
that fish have no limbs.
In the middle of this river
I take new interest in the design of this canoe,
the way the boards join,
how the nails creak when I shift my weight.
It has been a comfortable life
here at the end of the food chain.
I tell my friends not to rock the boat.
I am not eager to change
the order of things.
6.)
without the noisy Germans
without my group of red-skinned travel pals
without these two guides already bored
without the uncertain wooden bridge over this swamp
without the white combi that carried us all here in darkness
without flashlights that scan for the red eyes of alligators
without any other modest statements against nature
I would be standing hip deep
in primordial soup
where I could enjoy a sky full of stars
and a night that saves heat for the next day
until the life around me began to move
toward my naked body
36 an easy meal after all
without my civilization
8.)
steal my shoes,
they want to steal
my white Nike hightops
bought for this trip,
now dusted red
with Pantanal soil
I did not know
my sixty dollar shoes
would turn me into a mark,
make someone want to rob me
they watch my feet
at the markets,
in the stores of Manaus.
I wear one set of originals
in a city stacked with fakes
one boy makes me nervous
with his shameless inspection,
his desire
to walk in my shoes
9.)
My crude camera adjusts to a sunset
which will not lie easily on film.
I know I will stare at my failed photograph
and wonder what it is.
Two yellow rings
as seen through welding glass.
At the end of a Brasilian summer day
we stalk through the field of scrubby grass
toward a flock of Blue Macaws.
37 I use a glass eye to see them,
high in the giant tree,
while through their natural lenses
they have sensed us
but are not threatened.
We have come to gather images on film
like paper gravestones,
pale markers of the past.
I walk toward the perfect shot
and stumble on my bones in this field.
My foot crunches the bones of a capivara
a piglike dog
a doglike pig
with teeth like a beaver.
I take a picture of my own death
and back away
while the field tells me to lie down.
The field tells me to lie down among my bones.
The field tells me to lie down among the bones.
The field tells me to lie down.
The field tells me
To become a provider
I should lie down with my pig dog friend
and wait for the first sharp teeth
to claim my warm meat, fresh blood,
then the beak to pick flesh
from those awkward spots
between the joints,
spearing my eyeballs like cherries.
Into the night
the mouths get smaller.
Insects, the worms
demand that I surrender all my protein.
38 My bony fingers,
free from any button or lever,
make a chewy meal.
A million mouths take me
in every direction.
I cling to a linia with tiny claws.
I swim after a bleeding tail.
I lie half submerged in this swamp.
I expand into this territory
consumed and consuming.
The animals that I have become scream
and macaws scratch their way
into the face of the sky.
39 The Sign
Mary Walters Riskin
The night when Rosamond's husband left was the night which followed the day when the butterflies lay with their wings spread flat
along the ground. The children, not knowing that Joseph was
about to go, lifted the butterflies by their wings and flung them into the
air, but they drifted back down to settle on the pavement and the grass.
The children tried not to step on them.
The night when Rosamond's husband left was the night before the day
when the men in white noticed that Rosamond was living in the third floor
suite. She'd been there six months by then, her fatness draped in bright
scarlet and turquoise dresses which she washed in the men's room sink,
her gold-plated jewellery ringing and clicking as she walked from floor to
floor, urging her silent children from doorways and alcoves and out into
the incessant sunlight. Her eyes were dark, and glittered.
Joseph was small and silent, and he went about his business—which
was mending shoes—from early in the morning until long after the others
in the building had slipped their money into small grey drawstring bags
and gone to sit through the long bright evenings with their wives and families.
Joseph had come alone in March from the sunlit street to speak to the
building supervisor about the space to let. The supervisor was a tall thin
clothing designer who called himself Antonio and wore a gold ring through
one ear. The men in white—a barber, a denturist and a chiropractor-
saw Joseph pass their doors without looking in, and all of them saw the
coolness on him despite the heat in the old building.
Antonio warned him about the light that poured into the window of the
third floor suite, but Joseph pressed the deposit money into his slender
hand. Antonio told him that the third floor suite was bad for business
(he'd had it once himself): his customers would never find him there.
Joseph shook his head. "I have a sign," he said.
It was the only time the people in the building ever heard him speak.
The sign came on the morning of the following day. It was covered in
flecks of silvered sequins, thousands of them that shimmered with the
40 wind, and his name was on it, and his business, in strands of tiny coloured
bulbs that formed the script. Joseph Fanon, Shoe Repair. The words
were hard to read in all that sunlight, but no one who saw the sign could
fail to imagine how it would look at night.
There were two men with Joseph in the cab of the pickup truck that
brought the sign, and the men in white came outside to watch where they
would put it. For a long time, Joseph's companions stood in the back of
the truck, while he stood on the sidewalk looking up at the brick face of
the building. At last he nodded and the three of them went to work with
ladders and screws and wires, and when they were finished the sign was
immense above the door, as though the whole building were Joseph
Fanon, Shoe Repair.
The men in white went in to phone their wives and after discussing it
for a time, they did nothing. After all, their signs, small neatly lettered
black on white beside the door, had not been hidden.
As soon as the sign was up, Joseph went upstairs to unpack the two
trunks of shoes which had been under the sign in the back of the pickup.
By the middle of the afternoon, the smells of leather and boot polish had
reached the office of the denturist, and he glanced up from the neat rows
of headless teeth on his work bench to glimpse the scarlet hem of
Rosamond, who was gliding past his door.
In time, the rich smell reached the street and the halls were full of
people carrying shoes, following the smell past the chiropractor's office
and up the stairs to the second floor where Antonio watched them, raw
silk and scissors in his hands, and up again until they found the third floor
suite where the scent was fullest. The procession grew, bearers of heel-
less slippers and broken-soled shoes standing patiently in line, talking to
one another about the things they'd read in newspapers and seen on television. The whole building buzzed with their quiet waiting-talk, and the
air grew thick with the smells of waxes and creams.
And all the time the small children watched the people silently, listening, until Rosamond drifted through and sent them out into the sun.
The chiropractor saw that his own clients had to sidle past the line for
Joseph Fanon, and that sometimes they became entangled in it and took
off one of their shoes to wait the wait and talk the talk and smell the
smell. The chiropractor had to go out and remind his clients about their
pinched nerves and their spinal realignments before they got too far into
the building. Once they were past the designer's door on the second
floor, they would not come out of line no matter how he begged them.
He sent his wife up there one day, all the way to the top, for he could
not go up there himself and leave his own business unattended. He nodded only briefly at her when she reached the place in line that passed his
41 doorway. When she came back down much later she told him that Joseph
Fanon had shaken his dark head at her evening shoe and handed it back to
her. There was nothing, his expression had suggested, that could be
done for it.
Others in line had told her that if you watched his hands while he was
working, sometimes you didn't hear when people spoke to you, and Joseph had to push your mended shoe into your hands to wake you up. She
wanted to try again with her day shoes, but the chiropractor shook his
head and gave her a little money, and told her to go home.
Rosamond's children heard the men in white talking about the line of
people, about Joseph, and wondering if they should complain to the authorities about the sign. But the sunlit days went on and on, one after another, and the line continued to be there every morning after Rosamond
had washed their feet in the men's room sink and put their shoes on and
sent them out into the sun, and the authorities did not come.
In October, there was that day when the butterflies came down.
Rosamond went to urge the children away from the line, the alcoves, and
the doorways, and she found they were not there. She went out into the
street and saw them stepping over nymphs and emperors and tossing
monarchs into the air.
Rosamond in a dress of vermilion and turquoise, in silver slippers with
straps across the arch, crossed into the square and lifted a purple emperor into her hands, bending so close that her earrings nearly touched
its trembling antennae. She looked up into the empty trees and placed the
butterfly on the grass again, and then she stepped carefully to the edge of
the square where she stood for a long time, looking at Joseph's sign.
Then she crossed the hot street and went back into the building.
In the morning the butterflies were gone and so was Joseph Fanon.
The men in white were pleased when the procession dwindled and the
leather-polished smell began to dissipate, but they soon tired of going out
into the hall to tell the people with the shoes that they needn't bother to
climb the stairs because Joseph Fanon had gone.
The children were always in the hallways now. Rosamond no longer
came to send them out because, although the sun still shone, the air in
the streets had grown very cold since the day of the butterflies. When
the men in white asked if their mother was in the third floor suite, the
children nodded, and the barber and the chiropractor and the denturist
climbed the stairs past the designer with wool and scissors in his hands,
and they knocked on Rosamond's door.
She opened it, and they saw the sun which poured in the window of the
third floor suite and struck rows and rows of shoes against the opposite
42 wall. With the light behind her, the men could see the outlines of
Rosamond's fat thighs through the carmine and turquoise of her dress.
They saw that her bare feet were firmly planted on the wood floor, far
apart. She was holding her silver slippers in her hands.
"Your husband is gone," the barber said.
"He is looking for better shoes to fix."
"But people are still coming."
"He says their shoes are not worthy of his talent."
Rosamond's voice was deep and slow, so that her earrings barely
moved when her words came out.
"Then the sign should be taken down," said the chiropractor.
"It's up to Joseph to take it down."
"Is he coming back?"
"He has always come back," she said. "Each time, it takes him longer,
but he has always come back for the sign."
"And what about you? What about your childrea?" asked the denturist.
"You have nothing here." They looked around the room. "No stove. No
beds." They looked through her skirt at the outlines of her thick bare
thighs. "You have no warm clothes, and winter has arrived."
"But I have shoes," she said, tossing her head at the opposite wall so
that her long hair swung around her shoulders and her fat bare arms, and
her jewellery jangled. "When we found Joseph, none of us had shoes.
Now we have two hundred shoes."
She carried the silver slippers to the wall, and put them in the space on
the top shelf.
The men in white went back down the stairs and told the building supervisor that the sign must be taken down so that the people (one went
by just then and the barber had to go out in the hall and tell him that
Joseph Fanon was gone) would stop coming. The dress designer said that
as soon as he'd finished with the seam binding, he would take care of it.
The authorities came the next day, three people in blue uniforms: a policeman, a by-law enforcement officer, and a social worker who shook her
head at the silent children. The men in white stood at the foot of the
stairs and watched the authorities go out of sight at the second floor landing. They smiled at one another.
"The authorities will take care of it," they said.
When the dark began to come, early now that it was winter, the people
in blue came back downstairs and walked past the offices of the men in
white.
"Is it taken care of?" the barber called, snipping hair from the neck of
the chiropractor.
43 "We told her the children would be taken away if she did not keep their
feet clean," the social worker said, her voice echoing through the building.
"We told her we'd take down the sign," called the by-law enforcement
officer, farther away, "and she'd have to pay the costs."
"We told her we'd evict her," the policeman shouted, "if she didn't pay
the rent."
When the men in white came out of the building, they saw that the policeman had put canvas bags on the heads of the parking meters in front of
the building.
"They told me that if I got Joseph to mend their shoes," Rosamond
called from the third floor window, her hair falling over her face and her
breath turned blood red in the winter sunset, "they wouldn't do any of
those things."
It was soon after that when Rosamond began to dance. The denturist
looked up from an improvement he was making to the second molar in his
hand and saw her whirl past, jewellery flashing, bright fabric and dark hair
spreading through the air around her as her bare feet moved down the
hallway. She danced only a little that morning, her children watching
wide-eyed and silent, and then she climbed the stairs to the third floor
suite. But as the winter went on, she danced more often, longer, and
swung her children around with her until they learned the way, and then
all of them danced together or alone from the morning to the night.
"When will Joseph come?" the barber called as she whirled past.
"When he has found what he is looking for," she said into the door of
the chiropractor and added to the denturist, breathing hard, "then, he will
need the sign."
With the lineups gone and winter here, there was no need to prod her
children out into the sun and she whirled for the joy of all that leisure
time, gold and red and blue and skin through the empty halls of the building. She spun with the children up and down the stairs, hugging them
close to her, and their laughter clicked and shimmered like the sequins on
the sign.
Rosamond, the men in white discovered as she swung past in February
and her skirt flew up to expose bare thighs, was dancing herself thin. The
chiropractor looked over the back of the barber, to whose spine he was
making an adjustment, and said to the denturist, "Now, no one comes. It
was better with the lineups."
"How much longer can she dance? She'll have to stop eventually."
"When Joseph comes, he'll put a stop to it. He will make them put their
shoes on."
44 "The children's feet are no longer clean. They're black, from all that
dancing."
The barber said they should come in the middle of the night and take
the sign down, in order to save their businesses.
"But if the sign is gone," the chiropractor said, "Joseph may not find
her."
"And then what will she do?" the denturist said. "She has nothing but
those shoes."
"The authorities will take care of it," the barber said. "That's what authorities are for."
They met at the church in the darkness, but even from that distance
they could see that the light from the sign was shining up the sky. As they
came closer they saw that the square was filled with people, hundreds of
them in parkas and scarves and mittens, all of them looking toward the
building. The huge sign sparked and glittered and shivered and shone,
the coloured lights that said Joseph Fanon, Shoe Repair illuminating the
thousands of shining sequins. And under it, on the pavement where the
heat of the sign had melted the snow, Rosamond danced barefoot on the
pavement.
She danced and danced until the men grew so tired from watching her
that their eyes glazed over and they forgot why they were there. They
watched her bright colours spin and twirl, and they watched her leap so
high that she became a silhouette against the sign. When she was done,
many hours later, there was a long silence and then she made two corners of her skirt and lifted them, and the people from the square crossed
over to drop money in the pouch that she had made.
For a while the men in white tried to keep busy with the dentures and
the alignments and the haircuts of one another and one another's families,
but there was no money in it. And so, instead of removing Joseph's sign,
they took down their own and they went home to spend their remaining
years with their wives and their grandchildren. This soon bored them and
they found themselves sleeping late in the mornings to cut short the
days, which left them wide-eyed as adolescents when midnight came.
They took to meeting in the square to watch the silent dance of
Rosamond, to watch her slim bare thighs when her skirt flew up, and her
black hair brush against her slender arms. Behind her in the building,
Antonio cut through silk and wool and silk, silk with all manner of butterflies printed on it, and he watched her sleeping children, and in the morning while Rosamond slept he washed the children's feet in the men's
room sink.
The winter came again and the men withdrew money from their banks
45 to buy white goose-down parkas, and they dropped the change into
Rosamond's skirt. They wished that their wives would dance.
One night in February, when the dance was ended and the people had
all gone except the men in white, when Rosamond was putting her money
into a grey canvas drawstring bag, a pickup truck with three men in it
pulled up to the hooded parking meters. Joseph Fanon got out and looked
at the sign and glanced at Rosamond. But he didn't know her thin, and he
went past her into the building and up the stairs and the men in white saw
the light in the third floor suite come on. Joseph lifted the rows and rows
of shoes, and packed them out of sight, even the silver slippers. At last
the light went out.
Joseph came back down and nodded at his men, who began to take
down the sign with ladders and wire clippers and screwdrivers. Afterward they went and got the trunks of shoes from the third floor suite, and
put them in the pickup.
Rosamond stood in the shadow where the light had been and watched
them work. They loaded the ladders and the big dark sign into the back of
the pickup truck, their breaths white as ice and coming fast from the effort. And then they drove away.
When all sound was gone, the men in white watched Rosamond. She
took a step, and then another, spinning and twisting until she lifted herself right off the ground. The doors of the building opened, and
Rosamond spun laughing down into the street, and gathered her children
into the air with her.
The men sighed and lay back in the snow, too tired to find their black
and white signs and put them up again.
Rosamond ran into the square and danced over the men in white. She
danced barefoot across the snow, her feet never quite touching ground,
and disappeared into the darkness of the trees—her children dipping and
fluttering like butterflies behind her.
46 Richard Exner
two poems translated from the German by William Cross
Passion
for Ingrid
The entire lake aglitter
from shore to shining
shore beneath a waning
moon, and above
the mist which makes indistinct
the still-open blossoms
that will be gone by morning.
All this I give you
for just the nod of your
hand.
Everything I learned
from the smiling Angel
and the eternity-
crazed windows in
Chartres, the castle
with its steep plunge into
the sea, and the filtered
sun on the floor smashed
into colours in the streaming ark,
Aquileia, where like
never before I was walled in
alive within infinity's
belly:
47 Take all this quickly
out of my sight, it's
yours. Let your outstretched
hand run over me gently,
without hesitation, lightly,
while my eyelids are closed,
already quavering,
just before waking,
hold all of me.
48 August 6, 1981:
for Heinz Piontek
The arrival this time
smooth and
very bright,
swans on either
side of
the pier,
then the recognition,
quick, light
and sure,
running just above
a squadron of
fishes.
2
Reflectively bright
day. Clocks still.
No ticking.
And no trace
of the scythe.
Not even between
sentences.
3
Different than before.
Words and glances
met up. We
could almost have done without
the other.
* (Translator's Note) The anniversary of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
49 An entire eight hours.
Naturally, no talk of
aging. Few words about seeing
each other again. And of death:
not a word about its anniversary.
4
Before night came
we were once more
alone. Complete
and fragmentary.
A chapter from
life.
5
On the seventh
the wind shifted.
50 Catherine Hunter
two poems
my skeleton visits the
casino
the roulette table is a small city,
hopscotch and coloured parking lots,
lopped-off chimney stacks, a brass rail
like a railway track
my skeleton gambles the contents
of its begging bowl, nightly
thigh like a pool cue, leaning on the green dark felt,
hip like the handle of a crutch, merely leaning,
and whether advisable or ill-advised, it clacks
the chips against each other, taunting the other players
for what they lose, they can lose
once only, while the skeleton knows
a delicious repetition of loss
over by the slot machine
a woman rolls a cigarette with one hand
counting up lemons and cherries, her lips
flecked with tobacco, she looks out the window
there in the sky is her last dime
ripe and waiting to be spent
the one coin she can never quite
get rid of
51 afterlife (3
on the third day my skeleton sadly discovers
it has not shed everything
rain water gathers in the wide scoop
of the pelvis, and the birds
still have more wings than humans do
I have not paid the ferryman enough
or else I disembarked too early
the earth persists, a memory scuttles
like a mouse in the blank skull,
the skeleton turns its brittle neck
toward home
52 C. E. Hull
two poems
in-drought
1. arrival
there is nothing much on the coolibah road
except sheep pubs & petrol stations
the hot smell of in-drought &
rotting foxes
rotting pigs & kangaroo
carrion in dust hit by trucks that
only travel at night
an emu chick trips in dust & the moon is
ochre reflected from dust
a pile of wild goats like shag pile carpet
pushed together in a heap even the glutted
black crows cannot penetrate
in-drought ribs protrude & breathe
within the living corpse of misery
kangaroo come into bre to feed on r.s.l.
lawns to drink from plastic water bowls
i drive into town with a broken exhaust my
spirit broken my
facial skin ochre stretched across bone
in-drought
visions of dying wheat wool & meat i try
to find some spirit of place
but everyone here is already drunk
2. township
ten years ago i came back to live in bre
was sober/ in love with the stillness/
the river country/ a local koorie shouted
me drinks at the bowling club/ now
the aboriginal fisheries are crushed brown
53 glass/ reflected on the skin of our eyes/
locals drift from house to house/ drunk &
stoned/ all trying to save a few extra dollars
from their pensions/ the first night i stayed
in a house/ weatherboard & close to the past/
an inland wind shrieked in me/ the people who
knew me cooked yabbies/ shrieking & boiling
i died in the pot/ the second night they gutted
cod/ during the heat of in-drought afternoon
they talked of killing heifers/ killing time/
this is the slow death of the outback town/
gateway to the miserable west/ the polluted
darling winds slowly down to south australia/
there is no relief from the big crop duster/
in-drought no-one leaves their houses &
the safety of inside air conditioners/ only
at night to fish to death the polluted rivers/
ten years on this town is a heartbreaker/ in
drought the wild flowers/ snatched from the
grave of this dying land/ the blood of an angry
culture/ still fresh on the claypan
3. departure
on the road out of brewarrina the red dust
covers us in hellish blankets my
father waves to me from its midsts his
face hard & red from grog & sun & dust
i drive away from death too fast i
see him as reflected in my rear
vision mirror i see him as first my
father & a man & a stranger & a dot
of karki almost as red & olive & brown
as the tired trees that thirst
in-drought
he walks slowly back into town
thongs stepping over the carcasses of
rotting fleece
he disappears from the face of the present
54 into his own world his own life chosen
in-drought
in bre he is happy but i feel i have
lost him like a coin in the dust
the cattle grids thunder beneath
me the hot wind shrieks in me i will
leave my past to die here my
father to live in the cemetary
55 out of town tonight by
7 o clock
im quick to slip a few clothes into
a suitcase
i can be out of this city in a few
hours no questions
you cant trace a name through a
ghetto blaster
you cant trace a name through stolen
no. plates from s.a.
especially since youve been living in
v.i.c. for 6 months
living on the smell of a smith family
dishcloth
i smashed up a taxi im not insured
anyway my mother used to say you cant
get blood out of a stone
in 48 hours im getting out of this
town dont tell no-one
id tell my friends if i had some
if a few would come with me/ on the
dole/ to look for work in q.l.d.
if that doesnt stick im pleading
insanity
they call invalid pensioners the
untouchables
most well get paid for something
takes 6 weeks for the estate agent
to get you through the tribunal
it takes an hour for me to slip
a few boxes into an e.h.
thats with a roof rack
it takes a tertiary institution 12 mths
to trace a false tax file no. to s.a.
56 from victoria
return to sender/ no fixed address
im pretty good at getting out when the
goings tough
im tough there right along with it in
two seconds i split
they cant touch what they cant see i
wear dark glasses for invisibility
and runners
the s.e.c. never question your name
on a new account neither does gas
phone home on a friends phone try
reverse charges first
always live alone as ive said im
out of town tonight by 7 o clock
sometimes i get tired & forget my
own lies
they would repossess my head if it
wasnt screwed on
57 Heart Red Monaco
Christian Petersen
He yanks the night back as if it were a ragtop. The splintered
windshield is tinged with chlorine light, dawn of the third Sunday
in July. We speed over the steel beam bridge, above the green
current, through the river mist and mill steam. As the car growls up the
hill south of town stars are just fading in the rearview mirror, way back in
the purple black west of the Nazko country.
Thomas whispers, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." He grins, half a cigarette
gently clenched between ivory teeth Then he squints his dark eyes at
me and casually with his left hand rips the old car screeching off the highway, down through the scarred log arch entrance to the rodeo grounds.
The Monaco crowhops in the dirt ruts, raising a flurry of dust. Muscled
quarter horses stand tethered to aluminum trailers, curtains are drawn in
the cowboys' campers, and the pickup trucks wear wry chrome smiles.
He cuts the headlights. We approach the warped backside of the wooden
arena, and the corrals where the circuit bucking stock is held, the long-
horn bulls and the broncs. There is an overrich focus to this, lingering
chemical static in my blood, sporadic shooting flares of hyper green joy,
then icy fear, joy, fear. In my jean jacket I slouch against the passenger
door, shiver slightly, rub my knuckles in my eyes as the silent tires press
over the turf. In draughts through the car vents come scents of trampled
bluegrass, fresh-cut sawdust and horseshit. Thomas exhales spicy
smoke of his Winstons. A sort of rinsed mind is what I feel, an awakening, and along with it the steady arousal that comes from any night spent
on fast miss psilocybin.
Six feet from the corral fence the wide red car halts and the V8 idles
quietly for just a few seconds. I watch his hand brush the steering column
and turn off the key. Silence rushes the windows. Thomas searches the
floor and finds the J&B, very last of it. No, I can't drink, can't keep up to
you, crazy fool. He downs it himself, then drops the empty green bottle
over his shoulder, thuds behind the seat. His anger suddenly fills the car
interior and I have to get out, open the door, swing my boots in the
grass. I stand and lean against the unfailing body of the car, slide myself
forward, haul up and sit on the hood with my back against the windshield.
58 The cooling engine ticks twice. The drugs are wearing off smoothly and
the sky is now precious silver. Don't change, don't ever go away. After a
time Thomas joins me there, our legs stretch out down the hood of the
Monaco and the big light at the end of the rodeo arena makes our boots
shine. His are made of lizard skin.
The animals are quiet inside the corral, a faint steam rises from their
broad warm backs, the bulls have settled in deep sawdust nests and the
broncs doze neck to neck. The horses are roughened and musky. Just
one is wide awake, curious and stepping forward. He's a dark buckskin,
with a black mane and tail, black legs, and his thick neck arched attentively. Thomas lights another Winston, the quick flame startles the
horse. He swings his head and mane, his muscles roll and the line of his
strong flank deepens as he wheels away.
My father was a bush pilot. On the afternoon of October 12, 1979, he
got caught in a freak snowstorm and crashed his floatplane while trying to
set down on the Blackwater River. The accident made headlines, mostly
because his two passengers happened to be the manager of one of our
town's largest mills and the representative of a Japanese company looking
to invest big money. All three were killed, and some people suggested
that my father was at fault, for flying in bad weather.
At school that following winter I stuck to myself, spent lunch hours in
the library, and pretty much lost touch with the friends I'd had. My studies became an escape, I suppose, from the stupid sort of attention I got
after the accident, and from different questions I didn't want to face. But
never did I doubt my father's skill or judgement, I'd like to make that
clear.
Quesnel was a small place. Rumours ran like stray dogs there, rarely
worth much, but sometimes troublesome or mean. And for the rest of
the time I spent in that town, the spring of my final year at school and the
summer after graduation, it seemed that I lived with different rumours
concerning myself. Perhaps we always do, and I was just becoming
aware of this. Anyway, rumours first involved my father, as I've said,
then my mother's seeing Harold Nelson, and finally they got to my own
friendship with Thomas Ross.
The memories of Thomas are what I'm dealing with now—they are disordered and somewhat crazy, as we were then. But certain moments we
shared, and words he said, have stayed with me. The time between then
and right here seems only as long as one hard screaming all-night drive,
though it has been more than ten years, and I can't say anything about
where Thomas Ross might be now.
59 There was another weird rumour going around that spring, which was
that a volcano had erupted out west. Somewhere way off in the endless
jackpine, not simply another fire, but an honest-to-god volcano. About
forty miles out the Nazko road, someone said, past Puntchesacut. Apparently from there you could see the smoke. I imagined the cone rock lip,
rising white ash, orange lava.
"Listen man," I said to Thomas, while chalking my pool cue, "you and
me could be the first to actually see this thing. This is like a big chance." I
placed my fingers on the green felt, slid the stick excitedly against the
rail, and missed a straightforward shot at my last highball. Thomas then
snapped the black eight in the side pocket, and dropped his cue down on
the table. He smirked, "Yeah right. Nothin' else to do, I guess."
We climbed into the Monaco, Thomas swung by the Billy Barker Hotel
and I galloped into the bar to buy a case of beer. We were just nineteen,
and being able to do that still seemed a terrific deal.
Thomas was not as keen as I was about looking for that volcano. Whatever that country offered he took for granted, even mention of white
bears, wild mustangs, or spirits that inhabited the canyons and springs of
the Itcha mountains. None of that surprised him, and he seemed to know
of stranger secrets. His mother was a Carrier, and as a kid he had lived
for a time out on a reserve. He knew that road. Top down, we blasted
out of town and our music mixed with the wind. After a fast hour he
pulled over onto the gravel shoulder, shut off the engine, stuck out his
hand for another beer. He took off his mirror glasses and glanced up the
steepness of the mountain. Then he gave me a look which said—This is
going to be a real hike, and it better be worth it.
It was slow going because we were half-drunk and the smooth leather
soles of our western boots slipped backwards on the fine speared grass
that grew beneath the pines. Already the ground seemed unbelievably
dry, yet the slope was shining with that wild grass, blue juniper, and
waxy, thorny Oregon grape. Thomas was a ways behind, crisscrossing
up the slope with a beer in one hand, and sidestepping the rocks so he
didn't scuff his beloved lizard boots.
Up ahead, wisps of white smoke rose from a blackened crust of rock
into the sharp blue sky.
"I see it!" I yelled back excitedly. His expression didn't change.
There were no splashes of lava, but there was a queer smell. My steps
had slowed as I got closer, Thomas caught up and stood beside me as I
peered over the lip.
He laughed, "You're right, this was some big chance, to see a cave full
of smoking bat shit." He laughed harder then than I had seen him laugh
before. And I laughed with him. He hurled his beer bottle into the cave. A
60 second passed, then the echoed shatter came out like the cave's own guffaw. My foolish attention had been so focused on the volcano that when I
turned around the view nearly knocked me backward. Thomas turned
and grew silent. Vast pine green country swept out before us, countless
jagged valleys, and in the distance blue peaks that stretched away like
lifelong promise.
Thomas had a hard leaning to violence. He was as physical, as contained as a cougar, and usually he was that quiet. But you could never be
certain what would set him off, and if something did, then he was dangerous. From the time he was sixteen no one in town had nerve to fight him.
Whenever any guy got close to it, Thomas would stare at him and softly
say, "D'you wanna bad time?" A teacher tried to guide him forcibly out of
a grade ten gym class. Thomas dropped him on the floor. The man's collarbone broke, and Thomas was expelled.
By then I knew him by reputation, but how we first met was like this.
He lived in a house-trailer, in a dumpy sort of trailer court not far from
the senior high school, and he sold dope. The trailer was owned by his
uncle or someone who was never there. One lunch hour Jimmy Gillam
took me along to this place to buy a quarter ounce of grass, and then, he
suggested, we'd leave in a hurry. Thomas was unfriendly and stared at
me when we went in the trailer. But we smoked a joint, and he and I got
talking. Turned out we were both Bruins fans.
After a bit he looked right at me and said, "Your old man, he was in that
plane crash?"
"That's right," I replied. A chill crept up my neck and I straightened in
the chair. Jimmy was watching me closely and I knew he'd got a bit
scared suddenly. What I felt was a mix of tested pride and readiness, because of my father. "He was the pilot," I said.
Quietly Thomas said, "Nobody coulda known that storm was comin'."
I watched my own hands on the table, traced the grain in the arborite
with my little finger. Jimmy Gillam was nervous with the silence, and he
kept checking his watch, then looking over at me. I paid him no attention.
Thomas started to roll another joint, and as he licked the paper his dark
eyes held mine for just a moment. He said, "Jimmy, you're gonna be late
for school." Jimmy Gillam picked up his baggie of dope, looked at me curiously when I made no movement, then he left the trailer. Thomas lit the
second smoke and passed it to me. Then he put a record on his stereo
and took a bottle of Southern Comfort out of the cupboard. As he poured
the liquor into coffee cups he said, "Least you know who your old man
was, that's more than I do."
That first day was probably in March I remember sunshine and wind,
61 with silver ice still thick on the windows of the trailer. The only furniture I
recall was the pool table, bought by his uncle from the hotel. The felt was
ratty, wood finish gone, and we had to stick quarters in to get the pool
balls back, but it was most of our entertainment. There was a small tv
too, and I know the Bruins got to the quarter-finals that year, but I do not
remember who won the cup.
It was around this same time that Harold Nelson began visiting my
mother. He sold real estate and sat as alderman on the town council. Although I can see that situation somewhat differently now, at the time I did
hold certain mean feelings for my mother, and I had no use for Harold
Nelson. He bought a new car every two years, and he thought that was
some big deal. And he seemed to think I needed guidance, which maybe
my mother encouraged, I don't know. However they saw it, my view was
different. It became simplest to avoid much time at my mother's house.
The last few months of high school I somehow lost the interest I'd had
in my studies and began spending more time with Thomas. Often I left
school at lunch hour and spent the afternoon at his trailer. The guys that
came to buy dope were puzzled to see me. Supposedly I had been a real
school boy, but there I was standing in the kitchen with a can of beer,
while Thomas divvied up the skunk weed on the table and took their
money. They were afraid of him. They saw the two of us as pretty different, which we were I guess, though it didn't always seem like it.
But magic mushrooms or LSD, for instance, were things I had not
tried until I met Thomas. Two paper hits: extremely soon the trailer begins humming like a microwave—what day what time is it? Tuesday,
1:43,44pm—white clay sun—turquoise aluminum windowsills—rusted
sink—creased cracked brown fake brick linoleum—3:14,15,16pm—
please, let's sit on the April rain soft cedar steps—breathe the textured
air—cartoon salamander eyelids—my palms sweat glass—wash my shaking fingers in the honeycomb snow in the shade of the decomposing
trailer—see new subdivisions' gravel crossroads encroach on the muddy
Fraser—water flat and fierce—5:35pm see fear, flood, suffocation—
urgently Thomas says, "Hey it's okay man, this is the peak right now,
you can ride it out from here, just ride it out."—but I feel naked and
strapped to an alien velocity—crawl into the silent Monaco—curl up on
the seat like a child—stare fixated at the red vinyl dash and dials of the
Dodge Music Master—moocow coming down along the road—spring pink
sundown in the mirrors—ride it out...
One afternoon, when I was not there, two patrol cars pulled up at the
trailer. According to Thomas the police were not polite. When he resisted their search one of them winded him in the guts with the butt of a
62 shotgun. But they did not find the marijuana, which was stashed in the
Cheerios box sitting right on the counter.
Thomas and I really did not talk a whole lot, but when we did the topic
always seemed important—like different girls we knew or whether the
Monaco could make it to Cape Horn, the availability of Dodge parts in
South America, or the way to properly pass and catch a football. Thomas
could be stubborn. He would insist on teaching me things he figured I
should have known, how to catch a football, for instance, no matter what
I thought. And he could be funny too, though he did not often intend to
be. In a very straightforward way he sometimes asked questions which at
first made me laugh, because they were impossible to answer, yet he
clearly expected a reply from me. As if I knew anything. As if I knew one
way or the other if there was a God, or what time really meant.
The old Texaco garage up from the BCR tracks had been converted
into the town's first nightclub, and we often ended up there on a Saturday
after midnight, because we had nowhere else to go. Music hammered
against the glossy painted walls, and coloured lights flickered at the edge
of the dancefloor. We tended to kick off with tequila, to try and get in the
mood, and then drank a mean succession of beers. Always we grabbed a
corner table, out of the way, but Thomas still drew a strange amount of
attention. People were wary of him, his cutting eyes like wet chips of
shale, his sullenness, and occasional violence. Yet they seemed impelled
toward him too. Led by nervousness, they would show up at the table.
The guys wanted to talk about hockey, or bush work or buying dope,
anything just to talk with him it seemed. Girls would come and ask him to
dance, which was not a customary sort of thing in that town. It was certain that none of this impressed Thomas. Sitting there, across from him, I
could sometimes feel invisible. And I enjoyed this because it allowed me
to look at people more freely, to study them a bit, especially how they responded to the charged quality in Thomas. For their part, they only
seemed to wonder why I now was his friend.
As the snow melted and mild breezes carried into the nights, on any
weekend there was commonly a party on the outskirts of town. It was often at the stockcar track. Or it happened in a field or a gravel pit where
the cops were not likely to appear. Someone would have stereo speakers
set out on the roof of their pickup and the volume cranked full. One or
two roaring bonfires formed the centre of the gathering, and there might
be hundreds of people. Drunken faces ringed the fire. Bottles were
hurled into the flames where they whined, hissed and exploded. There
were always fights going on. It was at these parties, well before I knew
63 him, that Thomas made his name. Rumbling vehicles came and went,
with just their parklights peering through the dust. Now and then somebody passed out in the grass and got run over. Once a young girl was
crippled this way, but I don't recall that anyone was ever killed.
One green evening in June we sat on the steps outside the trailer, looking across the new town development to the bank of the Fraser and its
muddy highwater. The sun just hung around. We'd been stoned and
drinking half the day and now faced another aggravated night in town. It
was bronze light in the whorls of the river current that made Thomas
think of the hotsprings, and he decided we should drive out there. So we
yanked the top down and cruised by The Billy for a case of beer.
Jumping into that car always gave me the great sense of doing something. This was partly, I believe, because at that point in my life I really
did not know where I was going. But once in the heart red Monaco any
direction we headed seemed all right. Plus, with a tailwind that old beast
could do a hundred and ten miles an hour.
The hotsprings were a fair distance southwest of town, and the rough
road slowed us down so by the time we arrived, though the air remained
warm, the sky was dark. We were not too happy to see the light of a
campfire. A new four-wheel-drive was parked in the trees, and two couples sat by the fire. They did not leap up to greet us either. We were bent
out of shape, of course, but still eager to be soaking in that sulphury hot
water. Weaving around, we managed to tug off our boots and strip and
tiptoe grinning into the steamy pool. I had not been out there before, or
to any springs, and it was wild to lie back drunk in warm bubbling water
and watch the first stars revealed above the jackpines. The water filtered
up between the bed stones, and rippled against the pads of my feet. As
the current reached the surface it became visible, faintly traced with silver light. On my tongue the taste was like warm coins and I took a sip of
beer.
Wanting a cigarette, Thomas turned his shoulders, looking for his shirt
which lay just out of reach. He leaned out of the water and stretched his
arm toward his Winstons. The sight of his wet body startled me. I had not
seen him naked before, not close like that, and I had not really imagined
it—though physically, as I've said, he always made himself felt. Now in
one breath I was more conscious of myself, my own body. First came a
panic that nearly made me shake. Suddenly those rumours were whispering again, bitterly in my mind—maybe others had seen something all
along that I had just not figured out, or had the guts to face? But right
away an even stranger rush of faith pushed this aside, as if my fear were
unimportant. Thomas' body was chiselled and corded with muscle, ex-
64 tended only for a moment while these things passed through my head.
Then he settled back in the water holding the lit cigarette in one raised
hand. I was staring up at the stars, aware of him watching me now, as if
he might have read my senses. Our hair was curly damp and our faces
had begun to sweat.
Before long we were too hot and both pulled ourselves out onto the
smooth stony bank to cool, leaving just our lower legs submerged. I still
felt his gaze. Finally he said, "D'you know, I got a question for you..."
Then, right before he asked whatever it was, a woman appeared silently between us at the edge of the spring. It occurred to me that I might
be hallucinating, but I shifted forward about to duck into the water when
Thomas stopped me with a taunting jab of his dark eyes.
The woman was somewhat older than we were. She waited half a moment, almost as if to get a power over us, which she did. She said something, I don't remember what she said. Then she dropped her hiker's
shorts, pulled her t-shirt over her head, and, murmuring softly, she lowered her body into the pool. Her breasts swayed and shadows caressed
the curve of her belly and thighs. I was breathing through my mouth, and
could feel the pulse at the back of my knees against the smooth wet rock.
She had long coppery hair which she held up with one hand at first. Then
she snugged her neck against the stone rim of the pool and there could
keep it dry. In the heat her lips expressed a deep-lung sigh. Her white
arms circled gently through the water. They folded under, lifting her
breasts while the water lapped between and into the hollow of her throat.
She moved beneath the water, her leg pressed to my own, and within me
came a sudden fierce stir.
A breeze parted the steam rising from the spring, and with it drifted
the spicy pitch smoke of the fire at the edge of my vision. Light scampered like spirits bent on mischief in the pines. Thomas was leaning toward the woman with his weight on one rigid arm, and a perfectly calm
smile on his face. He looked strong, but not at all threatening at that moment. The woman arched her back, so that for a moment my eyes
touched her breasts, then fastened on the stem of her throat. She was
smiling too. Gradually I caught my breath and then I tried to smile—it appeared to be the thing to do. All my nerves were keen and focused, and
briefly it seemed that I had a grasp of some mystery, but then of course
she slipped away.
"Barbara? Barbara?!" A man's loud voice, angry and very drunk, intruded on the night. Thomas turned his head, I saw the violent glint in his
eye and I thought—oh Jesus.
The woman in the water had a look on her face that seemed uncertain.
Moments passed. And they passed too slowly for me now, because the
65 thought of her husband confronting Thomas had me frightened. We were
out in the middle of nowhere. Finally she stood. We were watching her
closely. Her skin had flushed with heat. The water on her body ran with
starlight. And no trouble did occur, thanks to Barbara, who had the sense
to put her clothes back on and return to her husband. She left us her
smile.
Dawn of the third Sunday in July—Thomas lights another Winston, the
quick flame startles the horse. He swings his head and mane, his muscles
roll and the line of his strong flank deepens as he wheels away.
I shift my back, still reclined against the windshield. Thomas turns his
head, toward me but not far enough to meet my eyes. The edge has gone
from his mood, or the anger has been replaced by another feeling that at
first I can't recognize, not coming from Thomas. His profile is highlit by
the big light at the end of the rodeo arena.
He asks, "D'you ever wonder what's gonna happen later, like, from
now on?" Then he looks right at me, and I nod yes. It is fear. He too is
frightened. He says, slowly, "D'you know, what's gonna happea?"
He keeps looking at me, and all at once seems so much like a young
brother, also without a father, almost innocent—not a tough guy, and
sure not a guy with much idea of a future. I want to touch his hair, put my
hand on his shoulder, but naturally I don't. More than that I want to tell
him that whatever happens it might be okay, the future, but I can't do
that either. I look down at my fingers splayed against the warm red metal
hood of the Monaco.
"No," I say. "I don't."
Thomas stares out at the horses. That buckskin bronc is frisking
around with the first rays of light, twisting its meaty neck, glaring at us,
but most of the bunch are still dozing. Thomas says, "Fuck it anyway."
Then after a moment his face flashes with a grin, a devilish sort of look.
He says, "Hey man, I got an idea." He hops off the hood of the car,
swings over the rails of the fence, and walks in his shiny lizard boots in
the soft sand and sawdust inside the corral. Just like a fool he goes over
and opens the gate. And then starts walking right at that crazy buckskin
and waves his arms. Horse bolts and kicks. He walks around behind the
bunch clapping his hands. "Gdyap!" And he chuckles.
He moves with a sort of strut, but grace as well. And for all his cowboy
boots and jeans and Bruins hockey sweater he looks like some damn
Comanche in an old western movie, running off the cavalry's mounts. I
laugh aloud. Then I whoop, jump the fence and join in the chase. We run
those knot-headed horses helter skelter through the gate. They throw
66 their heels, they whinny and snort, and their hooves pound as they gallop
over packed dirt of the parking area.
"Heeyeeeeeah! Heee! HEEYEEOOOAHEE!!" Thomas shrieks and
howls, while I laugh with each stride, I stumble and reel from laughing,
and it seems my laughter bucks along with the freed horses.
Cowboys and women step out in their underwear from the doorways of
the campers. Their legs are much whiter than their arms, and their hair is
all askew. They express an irritable wonder at what the hell is going on.
Now Thomas and I are hightailing it for the car.
67 Alice Tepexcuintle
two poems
toxic WHAT
toxic   WHAT   air pollution   so you cant
breathe   if the air is all plugged up
with carbon monoxide fumes   OH NO   cars
and motorbikes   do it   WHAT   pollute   like
crazy   wish i could   drive one now   but
some people might get mad   SO WHAT
riding a motorcycle   is a lot more fun
than breathing anyhow dont ask me to
give it up please and smoking cigarettes
is great too   i like   doing it   right
in the middle of gas station puddles
WOW   psychedelic colours   look so beautiful
swirling on the pavement   i cant wait
for them to   EXPLODE   yeah bits of
metal scrap   flames   and the smell of
burning rubber   black smoke   filling the
atmosphere   looks like   i dig it   and
the noise pollution   too   is my favourite
loud explosives   pieces of machinery
scraping the pavement   and sparks    shooting
everywhere   is totally cosmic   yeah
smashed gas tanks   smoldering   sending up
big filthy clouds   of exhaust   so
TOXIC   i love   running thru it   and
breathing deeply   delicious   my head
reeling   i cant bear the responsibility
of my addictions   QUICK   get me back
to the seventies   when it was still okay
to drive fast
68 So nobody told you
So nobody told you kid the summerjunk makes you an addict
head home head home kid thru the huckleberry crush
so nobody knows you kid lay down the hucklegrass
yer veins feel the summerjunk push
so nobody told you kid thought you could hold the hucklerush
yer small blood delinquent yer red stained dress
better head home head home collect yer summer spoils
yer nowhere kid the summerjunk fools you
stay too long in the bitter sun better
head back to where you lose inspiration
the cool summer love dwindles to a seed
This wild dirt knows yer foot print
the huckleweeds swish to cover yer head
the trucks fool past this is the honey kid
yer heart black pulling you the vacuum cleaner wind
this is the honey the hucklejunk thirst
you force forward against the sidewalk scorch
you make this pact with the purple darkness
pull yer honey down drink like
its the last time kid yer nowhere just
caught red handed in the ramshackle bush
better lay down lay down kid let the
huckledrug hit you dont remember anything just
yer red stained dress yer red stained dress
testimony to the first summer killing
But sometimes you cant get it sometimes you cant
find the trick no bush to ransack in the twilight august
all the huckles crushed so you cant
lose it kid you cant forget
this summers crash landing in the primitive dirt
just the shock the sudden realization you wont
be getting off the huckletrain the buck stops
69 here the late summer finds no fix
the huckleweeds swish grab you dream you cant
wash the huckleblood from yer hands
you dream the thick guilt the criminal
red yer dress forever witness you cant
lose it yer bones remember the summer massacre
the dust in yer lungs the dust in yer lungs
yer mind blown to seed you can only
lay down lay down kid pull the night around you
like a shroud nobody to save you from this
wasteland of longing
So you finally blew it kid you finally lose
yer passage thru the summers tangled bush
yer eyes grow deluded so the bulldozers
fooled you thought you could
hang around summerlong freeload the huckledrug
birds dont flap like they used to
the flowers push down blow yer soul to seed
you taste defeat now the flavour of gasoline
the grass blades cut you dont care you just
hang around an empty bottle nobody to fill
yer veins running restless across
the bulldozer shadows
getting larger now plowing you watch the hucklebush
go down crash scintillating yer dreams squash
all yer summer squalor turns to dust
well you lose kid yer scooped up the bulldozers
know you cant last one clean season
yer red stained dress brands you stand exposed
yer body needs the hucklejunk like oxygen
better go home go home kid better go back
to where you ramble the twilight august
to where you hit the infinite hucklerush
the lawless horticulture of yer
desperation
70 Richard Harrison
two poems
At the Hockey Hall of Fame
I saw
the Russian sweaters from '72: they were homemade and eccentric-
wool with tiny felt letters sewn on, the letters curled from the wool, like
the bits on the costumes my mother sewed for the school Centennial play
where I was a boy transported 100 years into the future, to the Canada
I'd never see: smooth-running, and prosperous and completely English,
like the school. Above their old clothing, the players move in ways only
skating can offer: hips extended, heads leading, the hands forging a perfect circuit with the stick and the padded shoulders, legs together to the
side, an angle only speed delivers from falling.
71 An African hockey story
When the manager of the art gallery in the Hotel Ivoire sees the flag on
my pack, he tells me he loves my country and he plays hockey on the rink
that lies chilled like a pie in the middle of the hotel on the equator where
leaves rot as they grow and the air is sweet as apples with their dying. I
say What positkni? He says Left wing. I say Like Bobby Hull, and
Bobby's name makes it: he draws his hand up and it smiles at the end of
his arm: This is The Shake, the one that begins with the slap of palm
against palm, the one between men who've found enough between them
to confirm the world for the day and go on. Tomorrow I will skate on this
rink like the pros back home, way ahead of schedule and nature; I will tell
you I touched the ice and I could be any boy in love.
72 Georgie's Habit
John Isaacs
My mother was a collector of volume ones. Her shelves were
packed with free first volume tomes that didn't quite make it to
the letter "b." She knew all about allotropes and antelopes and
Anchorage, Alaska. Ask her about baboons or zeppelins and she
frowned. Yet her fascination with the "a" section was diversion enough to
prevent her from investing in a complete Rand McNally, Funk & Wagnall
set.
She was on "attic" the day she found my things. It was attic conversion
day, a useful idea she had gotten licking her way through volume one of a
"do-it-yourself" encyclopedia. She had this notion of turning the attic into
a playroom, complete with red cedar ceiling and skylight windows and
tongue-and-groove subflooring that would prevent my little brother and
me from crashing through the ceiling of my room. I was twelve then, but
that's not what stopped her. She scrapped the idea when she found the
habit I had put in the attic.
She climbed up and down the attic ladder four, five times before calling
her sister-in-law, the sister, on the kitchen phone. Buzz and I came out of
hiding to listen on the upstairs extension. We put our ears together and
did our best not to laugh at Mom's voice. She changed it so when she
talked to Sister Georgeanne. It was softer, milder, cherubic, but we
couldn't tell Mom this without her raising it and proving us right.
Mom went on and on about the habit. "It's as if Nate wanted me to find
it," she said in her soft telephone voice. "He knew I was going up there!"
Sister Georgeanne promised she'd come to the house sometime the following week—sooner if she could get a break in her teaching schedule-
to have a talk with me. She was the closest thing to God Mom knew.
Mom stopped going to Mass the day Dad died. She never told her sister-
in-law this; instead, she told her how Buzz and I went to St. Sylvester's
every Sunday and obligation day. Mom made sure we did.
Every so often she begged Sister Georgeanne to come over and put
God back in me, something my mother had always relied on my father to
do. That's why she called Sister Georgeanne after she found what I put in
the attic. Sister Georgeanne calmed Mom down and assured her there
73 was nothing that serious to worry about (Georgie was good that way).
When Mom had finished talking to Georgie, she called me into the den
and made me stand in front of her while she checked her references. She
selected two home medical encyclopedias and thumbed her way through
the volume ones.
"Why would you take that?" she pointed. We both looked at the habit,
draped on the sofa, looking like Georgie's shadow. "And from your Aunt
Georgie! She's so good. She's been so good to us."
"I know," I said. And I meant it. Georgie had always been special to
us, even more so after my father died. She had a strength, a vitality, that
rubbed off on Mom, my little brother Buzz, and me.
My mother pulled me closer to her and rubbed my scalp like she was
looking for something. "You never took anything of mine, did you? A
dress? A blouse?"
"No," I said, and that seemed to ease her a bit.
"What else have you taken?"
"Lots of things," I said.
"Like what?"
"I took some of Dad's things you wanted to get rid of." I was sure she
knew this already.
"What else have you takea?"
I looked away from her.
"Answer me."
"Once I took a frog's liver from school."
"Have you even taken anything else from Georgie? From your friends?
From me?"
I didn't answer her.
She raised my eyelids with her thumb, placed the back of her hand on
my forehead, then flipped her way through the volume ones. "Look what
you're doing to me," she said, closing her books, bothered that she had
tried to find something in the "a's" to explain me.
Mom didn't say much about the other things I put in the attic. There
was Dad's pocketwatch and protractor and corporal stripes with black
thread still looped around the edges, and a girlie magazine and three
packs of lubricated Trojans I found in his sock drawer one day. Mom just
mentioned these things like she was reading them from one of her books.
All she cared about was Sister Georgeanne's habit, and what it was doing
in the attic.
I took Georgie's habit one summer week she stayed with us between
teaching semesters. Georgie taught voice at an all girl's school just
twenty miles from our Pittsburgh home. She never wore her habit during
74 her stays, just when she arrived and left. She had her own special wardrobe, suits and skirts, mainly; strong twilled fabrics with diagonal ribs for
winter, and over-the-knee, over-the-elbow rayons and cottons for summer. Once in a while I saw her in one of Mom's things, and she smiled
and blushed when I told her how nice she looked.
Her habit was easy to steal. I just went into the guest room the day after she arrived and took it from the closet. She didn't miss it till the end of
the week, while she was packing to go back to the convent. It was black
gabardine, belted and pleated at the waist, with a big white collar that
looked like angel wings. Georgie had also brought a simple black bonnet
which tied under the chin. I took this also. Mom and Buzz had searched
the house, but Sister Georgeanne looked at me and said it would show up
sooner or later.
My mother sent Georgie's habit to the cleaners the day after she found
it. She made it clear to me that I would pay for my sin—first in the confessional, then at the cleaners. I did what she said, but not exactly. The day
the habit was ready to be picked up, I went to the cleaners first, then carried the habit four blocks to the supermarket, where I bought a pack of
baseball cards and a volume two that was on sale before I went to St. Sylvester's.
The priest was finishing up morning Mass when I walked into the
church. I found a pew and watched him work. He wore a loose fitting
outer garment over his sleeveless chausuble. Both looked white and
clean, though I suspected he was sweating holy water under all those layers. But he didn't appear flushed at all; rather, cool and reverent with a
silk embroidered band about his neck and a short stole hanging from his
wrist. The way he moved in his vestments made me think of Aunt
Georgie, how her habit brought out the best in people. She had said so
many times—people behaved when they saw her in full habit. My mother
always laughed at this. Georgie's habit may have brought out the best in
people, if only for a while, but it was Georgie herself who always brought
out the best in Mom.
I thought about the weekends and holidays Georgie spent with Mom
and Dad and Buzz and me, gutting fish in the summer, fingering the piano
and spinning records in the winter. During Christmas, Dad often asked
her to sing for us, and he and I sang along. Dad was flat and I was loud,
but somehow Georgie made our trio sound good. Mom was always too
embarrassed to sing, but she liked to slow dance with Dad when Georgie
sang a capella. I felt bad for Georgie then, while she sang alone, watching
Mom and Dad in each other's arms. I'm not sure why I felt that way—
Georgie looked so happy and content. She usually talked me into dancing
with her, and after a while, we'd cut in on Mom and Dad.
75 I liked to watch Mom dance with Georgie. They taught each other the
latest steps, spinning and tapping and waltzing and dipping, finally flopping onto the sofa, all teeth and giggles. Mom laughed a lot then, with
Dad at her side, Buzz and me in the chorus, and Georgie in the house, orchestrating it all.
I stopped daydreaming when the priest said the final prayer and walked
past me on his way to the confessional box. I practiced what I would say
to him, how I would tell him about my mother, but I thought too long, and
a line of people got ahead of me. The longer I waited, the more I decided
I didn't need to confess anything. I ran out of church and down Sycamore
hill, the cellophane over the habit rustling in the breeze.
When I got home, the first thing my mother asked was if I went to
church. I nodded and handed her the habit. She was checking it over
when the telephone rang.
Buzz answered it. He pulled the cord away from us as far as he could
and mumbled something into the mouthpiece before hanging up and running upstairs to his room.
"Buzz!" Mom yelled. "Who was that?"
"No one," he answered. "It was for me." Mom and I knew he was lying. Buzz was only six. He never got phone calls, though he liked to make
them. Mom had tried masking tape over the dial and no television for a
week, but that didn't stop Buzz. He liked to see who he could get by picking ten numbers.
Mom got out her telephone index and dialed a few wrong numbers before she screamed out my name. "Get in here," she said. "And bring
your brother."
I ran upstairs and pulled Buzz out from under the bed. "Nate," he said,
"it was that same man. He asked for Mom again. I hanged up like you told
me to."
"Good work," I said. "Now come downstairs. Mom wants to yell at us.
No snitching."
Buzz ran down the stairs. When he got to the bottom, he put his hand
up to his mouth and zipped his lip.
"Which one of you has been playing with my telephone book?" Mom
asked. She looked at Buzz and he pointed to me.
"Nathaniel!" she said. "This has to stop. The phone bill is out of sight.
Andyow!" she said, pointing at Buzz. "Keep your fingers off that dial."
"But I'm trying to get Dad!" he said.
"Oh, Buzz," Mom said, squatting down in front of him. "You're making
Mommy poor. You just can't call heaven. There's no telephone pole up
there."
"Are too," Buzz said. "Nate said so. I can get through if I try real
76 hard." Buzz glanced at me then ran upstairs and slammed his door.
Mom turned her back to me. "I don't know what's gotten into you,"
she said, flipping through the Yellow Pages. She dialed then put her hand
over the mouthpiece. "Go check on Buzz," she said. "He's too quiet."
I knew Buzz was all right. When Mom wasn't looking, I took her directory to my room and thumbed through the pages. She got a new directory each year, adding and deleting names, addresses, numbers. I was
amazed how different Mom's directory was from the year before. There
were the schools and Georgie and both sets of grandparents, but most of
the names I didn't know. Mom was always updating, redecorating,
throwing away the old. But I recognized Dad's work number on page
one, a spot it had in all the directories I could remember.
Some of the numbers I changed, turning threes into eights, ones to
sevens and fours. Others I changed to Georgie's number.
After she had finished her call, Mom came upstairs and took the directory away from me. "What did I just say?" she yelled, waving her phone
book in front of my face. She carried Sister Georgeanne's habit over her
shoulder with two fingers curled around the hanger.
"You keep it nice for her," she said, handing it to me. I hung it in my
closet. "And you better apologize to her when she comes to get it."
"When is she coming to get it?" I asked.
"Hopefully, by the end of the week," she said. "And I think she deserves a damn good explanation."
"She can't come sooner?"
"No," Mom said, squinting hard. She walked to the doorway, looked
back at me, then shook her head all the way to Buzz's room.
Georgie's habit rocked gently on the hanger. The collar was stiff and
turned up at the bottom—too much starch, Mom had complained. But it
looked pretty to me, flapping against the black gabardine, white and fresh
and clean.
All I knew were the sounds of the night, and they told me that Sister
Georgeanne wasn't expected early next morning. There were the whispers, the giggles, and before that, the rattle of a car, the click of the front
door. And later, not much later, the squeak of the stairs, the rhythm of
old springs.
There were other sounds too, one that frightened Buzz enough to
seek the protection of my covers.
"Hey, Nate," he said, shaking my shoulder, "that man was peeing in
our bathroom."
I had heard it too. I knew it wasn't Buzz. His was a spray, a trickle in
the middle of the night. What I heard was the product of a bigger bladder.
77 "It's OK," I whispered. I picked him up and sat him next to me. He put
his head under the pillow, and I went under with him. "He'll be gone before breakfast," I said. "You'll see."
Buzz slid closer to me. "What's he doing here now?"
I took the pillow off our heads and put my arm around him. His breath
smelled sweet, like new bubblegum. "Mom let him use it," I said. "His
toilet's broken."
Buzz laid on his back, thinking over when I told him. "Couldn't he stay
home and use a can or something?"
"Oh no," I said.
"Can't he fix it?"
"He's not like Dad," I said. "Dad could fix anything."
"Even toilets?"
"You bet."
"He didn't even flush."
"Dad always flushed."
"I don't think he washed his hands good."
"Dad always washed his hands." I told Buzz about Dad then, the way
he fixed things, things Buzz wouldn't have remembered. He was only
three when Dad died.
When I thought he was asleep, Buzz tapped me on the back. "Why
didn't he pay someone to fix his toilet?"
I rolled over and thought hard. "He's too poor," I said. "He can't afford
it. Can't even pay his water bill. Ain't got a drop of water. That's why
Mom let him use our bathroom."
Buzz covered me with the sheets, and I left them on, although it was
warm in my room. "Poor man," Buzz said. "Can't even afford jammies."
He covered himself with the sheets and turned his head.
Just then I felt the need to tell Buzz something, something real, something true, but he fell asleep before I could articulate it. I tossed and
turned, thinking about the man in Mom's room. Then I thought about the
next day, and how it would differ from the Labour Days we celebrated
when Dad was alive.
My father had taken legal holidays seriously. He always complained
there weren't enough of them. But he believed that commemorating the
same person every year (always male, usually president) or the same
event (usually war related) was a redundant practice that displayed a national lack of imagination. Dad insisted that the actual commemoration
was not as important as the family celebration, and he went out of his way
to give us days we would always remember.
Sundays were common law holidays around our house. No one was allowed to work. Labour Day, when my father was alive, was the ultimate
78 Sunday. We'd take a trip on a liner up the three rivers, or spend the day
in the dark of a movie theater, or just get in the car and take a long drive
to the country.
Dad never drove on these trips. He sat in the back of our VW, pointing
out sights of interest while Mom kept her eye on the road. I sat next to
her, the map spread out between us. Mom didn't read maps well, and she
counted on me to tell her where to turn. That was my job, Dad told me.
"Make sure your mother doesn't get lost."
Mom was a good driver, and she had a good, preconceived idea of what
roads she should take, but once she got behind the wheel, things flashed
by her too quickly, and she needed me to point her in the right direction.
Dad pointed at cows and cornfields and places here and there that
might be good stops for homemade country grub, but Mom kept her eyes
straight ahead. "Tell me what it looks like," she said. Dad described
grasses with dark red grains, silos and cattle I could never see, and the
way the sun reflected off the ponds, making them appear as smooth as
ice. Mom had this thought then, I was sure—how Dad's eyes could be
bad enough to have her drive, yet sharp enough to see detail roadside and
beyond. Mom never articulated this thought to Dad, at least never in my
presence. I hoped she had figured it out, like I had.
Our country trips stopped soon after Buzz was born. Buzz was a restless traveller, and the smell of field fertilizer and Buzz's diapers was not
Dad's idea of holiday celebration. Dad's blood sugar had been fluctuating
then also, to the point that he had to tell Mom to pull over two or three
times a trip so he could get out his little vial and reagent strips and check
how sweet his urine was.
"Dad was sweeter than the man in the bathroom," I whispered to
Buzz, and he turned around and put his arm around me.
In the morning, my mother made me go to church again, and she told
me to take Buzz along. She insisted Labour Day was a holy day of obligation. The morning was hot and sticky and I didn't feel like dressing up.
Buzz was still toddler enough to get away with shorts, but I had to slip on
my Sunday pants and stiff shoes, which meant socks, something I wore in
the summer only when I went to St. Sylvester's.
Mom cracked ice from a tray. She rubbed the cubes over her neck and
forehead. She did this slowly, in little circles, her lips parted and eyes
shut. She slid two cubes between her lips to let me know the subject was
closed.
I told her I didn't think Labour Day was a holy day, but there was no arguing with Mom when she wasn't arguing, which meant she wasn't sure
she was right.
79 "I hope Georgie's coming over today," I said. Mom bit down on her
ice. "If I didn't know better..." she said, then she pushed Buzz and me
out the front door.
The walk to St. Sylvester's was ten minutes up Sycamore. Buzz ran up
the hill and waited for me outside the church door. He stopped next to
three pews before he found the one he liked. He flattened his palms
against the seat and pressed himself up and down.
"Sit still," I whispered. "You got a bug up your shorts?"
Buzz motioned for me to come closer, and I lowered my head. "I got
Texas yesterday," he said, curling his dialing finger. "He was nice." I put
a finger to my lips as Mass started.
Buzz tapped me on the shoulder. "How far is heaven?" he asked.
"It's far," I whispered. "Now be good."
"It's too far, isn't it?"
I slid closer to Buzz. "No way!" I said. "You just have to keep on trying. It's like a game. You pick the lucky ten numbers, then you can talk to
Dad."
"But Mom says I ain't allowed," Buzz said. "She says I'm making her
poor."
"She doesn't care about the money, Buzz! She just doesn't think you
can do it. She doesn't want you to be disappointed. It takes a clever fellow to pick the right ten numbers. I don't think Mom thinks you're smart
enough to do it."
Buzz's eyes lit up. "You think I'm smart enough, don't you?"
"You're Einstein. Now shut up."
I had a feeling this Labour Day was starting off wrong. I missed those
Labour Days when my father was alive and healthy. He started Labour
Days off with a bang. He'd always have something planned for us.
Georgie spent few Labour Days with us. It was usually a busy day for
her, preparing for the first day of school.
Our last Labour Day with Dad was spent at home. It was a rainy, dark
day spent sprawled out on the living room floor around a Monopoly
board. We kept an eye on Buzz so he wouldn't put houses and hotels in
his mouth. Dad rolled the dice and told us about the squares he landed on,
Pennsylvania Avenue and Park Place and jail, like he had been to these
places many times, though we knew he never had.
Mom never won at Monopoly. Dad teased her about this. She was
quite fastidious about the rules though, and whether Dad and I had followed them or not. I think she suspected some sort of conspiracy, but
the truth was Mom was a lousy player. She was better as a partner,
when she teamed up with Dad against the Quinns and O'Reillys.
Once I saw her sneak a few extra houses on her property, but she put
80 them back after looking at Dad, who hadn't noticed, I was sure. Mom always settled for less, Baltic and Mediterranean, Connecticut and Vermont and Oriental, instead of fighting her way around the board and trying for bigger, better things. She gave up easily too, hinting we should
start over again when the dice weren't rolling her way. And when Mom
lost spirit, she'd take herself an extra deed or two, only to put them back
when Dad went on about Marvin Gardens and B&O Railroad and other
spaces on the board. Dad was a player, and he never did lose spirit, even
when it rained and we were stuck in the living room, listening to the
drops splattering off the barbecue. I think that's what Mom loved most
about Dad, needed most, and what I missed too, especially on Sundays
and Labour Days.
There were noises in the night again, and I jumped out of bed and saw
that car in front of our house. I heard music downstairs as I checked on
Buzz. He was asleep under his bed, already hiding from the morning, his
first day of school.
As I tiptoed to my room, I heard that deep voice downstairs. I grabbed
my flashlight in my sock drawer and opened the door of my closet. The
plastic shimmered as I slipped the habit off its hanger. I tiptoed into
Mom's room and spread the habit over the pillows, sitting it up against
the headboard. I heard that deep laugh. The habit wasn't enough. I found
my father's picture in my mother's drawer and laid it on the habit. The
music stopped playing and I ran to my room.
Metal scraped against the staircase railing, a bracelet, a watch, a ring,
I could only imagine. There were sighs and whispers, then the sharp,
quick click of Mom's bedroom door lock. I waited and waited before I
heard that scream, Mom's, twice, loud into the night.
Buzz ran into my room and jumped on my bed, hiding under the pillow.
"It's just the television," I said, but Buzz didn't come out. I heard muffled
voices—my mother's mostly—then the click of the bedroom door, and
heavy footsteps down the stairs and out the front door. The car door
slammed and the engine started and the house was quiet again.
Mom walked into my room and put on the light. She hung the habit in
my closet, slowly slipping it under the plastic, then turned around and
looked at me. She stood there for a while, arms folded as if she were
chilled. I looked her straight in the eye. She flicked off the light and
picked up Buzz and put him back in his own bed.
Mom avoided me the next morning. She spent the morning selling
Buzz on his first day of school, and I checked Georgie's habit for dust and
wrinkles. Buzz said it wasn't fair that I didn't start school for a few days
yet. Mom agreed. She hugged Buzz extra tight before she helped him get
81 on the bus. She squatted down in front of him and ran her fingers through
his hair. She looked at him with her "my little boy is growing up too fast"
face, and it didn't wash off with her morning shower.
Later that morning, Mom got out of her volume ones, the "do-it-
yourself" decorating guide, and flipped to the antiquing chapter. She went
downstairs and spread newspaper on the basement floor. She came back
upstairs and I helped her carry Dad's old rocking chair to the basement,
the chair she had started refinishing many times before. She cleaned off
the old surface with paint thinner and a rag, and roughed up the glossy
exterior with sandpaper. But, again, she had trouble with the old chair
that morning, trouble actually continuing once she started. She opened a
can of satin-finish enamel and stirred it with her brush, looking through
the backboards at nothing in particular, it seemed to me. She smoothed
the brush against the edge of the can, but she just couldn't get the base
coat on the rocker. Mom spent the rest of the morning in the attic with
her blueprints, probably to get away from me.
Buzz was playing with the phone again when Georgie arrived at 5:30
sharp. "I'm getting closer," he said to me. "I think I'm in the clouds."
The doorbell rang and I opened the front door. Georgie hugged me
then snuck up on Buzz and gave him a peck on the cheek. I saw her old
red Ford parked in front of our house, newly waxed, as usual.
"Aunt Georgie," Buzz said, looking guilty. He put the receiver behind
his back. "Guess what?"
"What?" Georgie asked. Buzz stood on the kichen chair and whispered
something in Georgie's ear. Mom came downstairs and hugged her
sister-in-law, but Georgie kept her eyes on Buzz, who handed Mom the
receiver.
"He's trying to call heaven!" Georgie said. Mom picked Buzz up and
carried him out of the room. I nodded to Georgie like it was old news.
Georgie fluffed up her hair with her fingers. There was a line under her
chin where her bonnet strap had been.
"Sure is hot," she said. I opened the refrigerator and grabbed her a
beer. Georgie liked beer in summer. She tilted her head back and
swished the beer around like mouthwash.
She sat down and took another sip. She looked funny licking the froth
off her lips.
"Your mother thinks you need help," she said.
"I do."
Georgie looked surprised, the same way she looked when Buzz told
her about calling heaven. "I didn't expect that," she said.
"Not the kind of help she thinks, though."
82 "Uh-huh," Georgie said, tapping the glass with her fingernail. "What
kind of help then?"
I looked at her eyes, light and clear, the colour of the beer. "I need
your help. Mom needs your help."
"What is it, Nate?"
"She misses Dad."
"So do I," she said. "Don't you?"
"She misses him at night."
"I see," Georgie said, finishing off her can. A line ran down her chin
and dripped onto her blouse. "Oh dear," she said, wiping her mouth with
the back of her hand. "Oh dear."
Georgie looked me straight in the eye. "The way a wife loves her husband ..." she said. "It's special. It's not like any other kind of love. It's
deeper than you or I can imagine. It's the kind of love that creates life. Do
you understand? Can you see how she would miss that?"
"I remember how they danced when you sang for them," I said. "I remember feeling bad for you because you didn't have someone to dance
with."
"There you are," Georgie said. "Your mother misses that. It's not that
she doesn't remember your daddy. It's that she remembers him too
much."
After dinner, Buzz and I left Mom alone with Sister Georgeanne. They
talked late into the night, past Buzz's bedtime. Every so often I'd hear
Mom cry out, and I imagined Georgie dancing with her, holding her up,
telling her what steps to take.
Buzz ran into my room that night and put his head on chest. "I think
Mom's crying," he said.
"You got it wrong," I whispered. "Georgie's teaching her how to sing."
Buzz giggled. "She's pretty bad, then."
I flicked his ear with my finger. "She'll get better. You wait and see."
Buzz fell asleep before Georgie left. I apologized to Georgie and
thanked her for not getting angry about the habit. She kissed me on the
forehead.
"Where is it?" Mom asked. She looked away, like Buzz did when she
caught him with his finger in the dial.
"I'll put it in your car, Aunt Georgie." I went upstairs to my room.
Buzz was sleeping on his back—it was the only time of the day he didn't
look like he was up to something. I opened my closet door and took the
habit off the rack. Both collar tips poked through the plastic covering. I
pulled off the plastic and laid the habit on the bed next to Buzz for a minute. It seemed right there.
83 It took Mom and Georgie a while to say good-bye. It was dark outside
when I put the habit in Georgie's car. I looked back at the house to see if
Georgie and Mom were watching me, then stuffed the bonnet under my
shirt and folded my arms over it. Georgie hadn't noticed the bonnet
wasn't in her Ford, or if she had, she didn't say a word. I think she noticed. I felt good, knowing she'd be back for it soon.
Buzz put one hand over another and thumped on my chest. It was his
way to wake people up. He had seen it so many times on medical shows,
the way doctors brought people back to consciousness. That's what he
told me, in his own way, when I yelled at him for pounding my chest in
the middle of the night.
He grabbed my hand and tried to pull me out of bed. "Please, Nate,"
he said. "Hurry, before he's gone."
I jumped out of bed and looked out the hall window. There weren't any
cars in front of the house. Buzz tugged at my arm and led me down the
stairs. His hair was messy and it stood up in the back, grazing my arm
with each step.
"I got Dad!" he said. "You were right. There are poles in heaven!"
Buzz pointed to the telephone. The kitchen light was on, reflecting off
the white phone plastic. The receiver was on the table, and the cord dangled close to the floor.
Buzz jumped up and down. "He misses us. We can go visit him. Ask
him how we get there."
"Buzz, you can't call heaven. You just can't."
Buzz pointed to the telephone. "Pick it up, Nate. Hurry!"
I lifted Buzz with one arm. "Listen to me," I said. "I was playing a joke
on you. You can't call up there."
"Talk to Dad. He misses you too."
"It isn't Dad."
"Ask him what it's like up there. Ask him what the number is so we can
call him tomorrow. I forgot what numbers I did."
Buzz stood on the kitchen chair and put the mouthpiece against my
chin. I put my ear against the receiver. The connection was bad, a loud
crackle, a hiss, but I heard someone on the other end of the line. "Who's
there?" I asked.
"It's Dad!" Buzz screamed. I was ready to hang up when I heard my
name through the din. I made a face at Buzz. "You told him my name."
"He already knows it," he said. "Tell him I miss him. I'm gonna get
Mom."
I pressed my ear against the receiver. I thought I heard Dad call my
name, low but clear, as if he was sitting behind me in the VW, but I knew
84 I had imagined it all. Mom followed Buzz down the stairs, and the line
went dead.
"He hung up," I said. Buzz's eyes started to water up. Mom made a
face at me. "But he wanted me to tell you something, Buzz. You're only
allowed one phone call in heaven. It's like jail that way. So he told me you
can't call him anymore. But he said to look for him at night."
"Where?" Buzz asked.
"Look at the moon, Dad said. Look at the moon, the stars, the sky,
and he'll give you a sign."
Buzz ran upstairs and stood on his bed, pressing his nose against the
window.
Mom was talking insulation the day after Georgie's visit. She found the
volume two I had placed on her book shelf, the "b" section of the "do-it-
yourself" decorating guide that I had bought at the supermarket. Fiberglass batts, expendable aluminum foil, Mom wasn't sure, but she talked
excitedly about getting on with the attic.
First she wanted to finish what she had started in the basement, and
she spent most of the day there, putting a coat of enamel on the rocker
between laundry loads. She let me help her, but when she saw I was getting paint everywhere except on the rocker, she asked me to go upstairs
and check the mailbox, then to get her a glass of juice, then to watch for
the weather forecast on the noon news. Each time I returned to the basement, the mess I had made was gone.
During one of my trips, I blasted one of Dad's albums on the stereo,
and as I descended the basement stairs, I heard Mom singing. She was
scrubbing her hands in the washtub. She didn't hear me come downstairs, because she never sang to be heard; in fact, I never knew she
sang at all. She had a sweet, soft voice, almost as nice as Georgie's. She
leaned over the washtub, swinging her hips, shifting her weight from one
leg to the other. She shook-her hands over the sink, rocking back and
forth to the beat of her song.
When she turned around to dry her hands on the towel on the clothesline, she saw me. The blood rushed to her cheeks and she covered her
face with the towel. I took the towel from her, placed it on my head, and
tied it under my chin. "You lead," I said, humming loud and flat as we
danced clumsily across the basement floor. Mom laughed long and hard,
in a way I hadn't heard in a long, long time.
85 Contributors
Sean Brendan Brown teaches English at Washington State University and has had
poetry published in Ariel, Re Arts & Letters, Sunstone, Rocky Mountain Review, Sisyphus,
Weber Studies, and the Windsor Review. His fiction has appeared in Pinehurst Journal and
The Silver Web.
Karen Connelly is living in Avignon, France. Her first book won the Pat Lowther Award.
She is now working on a book of short stories.
William Cross' translations of Richard Exner have appeared in North America and the
United Kingdom. He is currently at work on a collection of short stories.
Richard Exner is a German poet-in-exile now living in California. His work is gaining recognition by the major newspapers shaping literary reputations in the German-speaking
world. Translations of his work are also beginning to bring him notice in North America.
Richard Harrison lives in Toronto. His latest book is Recovering the Naked Man (Wolsack
& Wynn, 1991).
C.E. Hull was bom in 1965 and lives in Sydney, Australia, where he works as a poet and
artist. He received his Bachelor of Creative Arts from Wollongong University, New South
Wales, in 1987, and has published in magazines in Australia, Canada, U.S.A., India, and the
U K. His first manuscript of poetry In the Dog Box of Summer has been accepted by
Penguin Publishers, Australia.
Catherine Hunter is a poet living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
John Isaacs is a pharmacist and writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a
recipient of the Raymond Carver Short Story Prize. His work has previously appeared in
PRISM 30:1. First North American Rights for "Georgie's Habit" purchased by Carolina
Quarterly.
Joan Lennon is a Canadian living in Scotland with her husband, four sons and a cat named
Jeoffry.
Oscar Martens has work forthcoming in Event, Prairie Fire, and Queen's Quarterly.
Van Newcomb is an artist living in Baltimore, Maryland.
Christian Petersen now lives in Williams Lake, B. C. His fiction has appeared in Event,
and is forthcoming in various other magazines. The "Monaco" story is "one for the boys."
86 Alison Touster-Reed has work collected in two volumes, The First Movement, and Bid
Me Welcome. She has been widely published in the U.S.A., Canada, The United Kingdom
and Australia in various magazines, including Carolina Quarterly, Jeopardy, Midwest
Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, Oxford Magazine, The Fiddlehead, Queen's Quarterly,
The Cambridge Poetry Magazine, Poetry Wales, Poetry Australia.
Gayla Reid grew up in Australia and now lives in Burnaby, B.C. She has only recently
begun to write fiction.
Mary Walters Riskin lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where she works as a freelance writer
and editor. Her first novel, The Woman Upstairs, was published in 1987. She has since
completed a collection of short stories and is now working on a second novel.
Jerry Saviano is a student in the creative writing programme at the University of Hawaii.
Alice Tepexcuintle is a Vancouver based performance poet, rattle manufacturer and university drop-out.
87 The Vancouver International Writers
Festival is pleased to present the fifth
off-site event at UBC co-sponsored by
Prism International
Foremost Italian Writer
Dacia Maraini
with
Genni Gunn
Dacia Maraini's bestselling novel, The Silent Duchess, and winner of the
prestigious Italian literary prize, Premio Campiello, has just been published in
English by Peter Owen. Contemporary writer and alumni of UBC Creative
Writing Department, Genni Gunn, is Ms. Maraini's Canadian translator.
The Frederic Wood Theatre
Thursday, October 22 ~ 12:30pm
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL
WRITERS FESTIVAL
GRANVILLE ISLAND
OCTOBER 21-25
INFORMATION 681-6330
PROGRAMS AVAILABLE AT: FINE BOOKSTORES, COMMUNITY
CENTRES, LIBRARIES AND OTHER OUTLETS. p? 1
liadleheaa
1992 Wilderness Writing Contest
Better Homes and Gardens
(including cats & vegetables)
Since so many seized the opportunity to address nature issues and ideas
we've decided to offer a contest with a slightly different twist,
(and yield to the overwhelming pressure from vegetarians and felinophiles).
Interpret the title as imaginatively, or as literally, as you like.
Submissions to be no longer than 10 pages per entry;
the deadline is December 15, 1992.
To permit blind judging, please submit entries without your name
on individual pages.
Type your name on a special sheet.
No submission previously published, or accepted for publication,
can be considered.
The Entry fee is $16 and includes a year's subscription to
The Fiddlehead. Please send a self-addressed envelope and
Canadian postage if you wish the manuscript returned.
Prizes in honour of Fred Cogswell
$200 each for Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction.
Winners, and honourable mentions,
will be published in
The Fiddlehead.
Send submissions to:
Better Homes & Gardens Contest
The Fiddlehead
UNB PO Box 4400
Fredericton NB
Canada E3B 5A3 1990 is International Year of Literacy.
Five million Canadians cannot read
or write well enough to function in
today's society. Every Canadian has a
fundamental right to the freedom that
literacy gives. You can help. Become
a literacy volunteer. Write to your
member of parliament. Read, and
read to your children.
For more information, or to
make a donation, contact:
Canadian Give the Gift
of Literacy Foundation
24 Ryerson Avenue
Toronto, Ont. M5T 2P3
(416) 595-9967
Canadian Give the Gift of Literacy is a project of the book
and periodical industry of Canada. A NOVEL IN 3
DAYS?
15th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL
3-DAY NOVEL CONTEST
Labour Day Weekend, 1992
ANVIL PRESS of Vancouver, Canada is pleased to
announce the 15th Annual International 3-Day
Novel Contest (formerly sponsored by Pulp Press). The
contest will once again be held during the Labour Day
Weekend, September 5-September 7,1992.
Since its inception in 1978 as a barroom challenge, the
3-Day Novel Contest has gone on to garner international
attention and a reputation as the cheeky and
uncompromising rebel of literary forms. Attracting
writers, both professional and first-time, from around the
world, the contest remains in a league of its own: The
world's most notorious literary marathon.
Since its birth, interest in the contest has grown steadily,
now attracting over 400 writers annually.
Contestants can enter by sending an entry form to Anvil
Press (address below) postmarked by September 4, and
including an entry fee of $10. For a copy of the rules, an
SASE (International Reply Coupons if from outside
Canada) will ensure prompt return.
For more information, contact Brian Kaufman or Dennis
Bolen at
AN ,   LPR [SS
LITERAKY PUBLISHERS
#15-. .     s,B.C. Creative Writing M.F.A.
The University of British Columbia offers a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Students
choose three genres to work in from a wide range of
courses, including: Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Plays, <n. Screen  &.  TV Plays,  Radio
dren,   Non- "tyafa^S^&g^^ffi   Fiction    and
format or tutorial.   ^^B-^^^ The thesis con
sists of imaginative writing. The Department of Creative Writing also offers a Diploma Programme in
Applied Creative Non-Fiction.
Faculty: Sue Ann Alderson
Han Hanson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C.  V6T 1Z1 EPOCH
SINCE 1947       FICTION, POETRY, ESSAYS
.   %   *
Published
three times
per year.
Sample
copy
$4.00
One year
subscription
$11.00
Painting (detail) by Richard Estell. Courtesy of Ruth SiegeL Gallery, New York
Available from 251 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 PRISM internati°nal
$2000 1st Prize
and
5 Prizes of $200
plus publication payment
Judge: to be announced
Deadline: December 1, 1992
For entry form and rules, please send
a SASE (outside Canada enclose SAE with IRC) to:
Fiction Contest
Prism international
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1
Canada    Poetry
Sean Brendan Brown
Richard Harrison
C.E. Hull
Catherine Hunter
Joan Lennon
Oscar Martens
Alison Touster-Reed
Alice Tepexcuintle
Fiction
Karen Connelly
John Isaacs
Christian Petersen
Gayla Reid
Mary Walters Riskin
Jerry Saviano
In Translation
Richard Exner
ISSN 0032.8790

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