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 Fall
36:1
Contemporary writing
from Canada and around the world
1 997
PRISM
INTERNATIONAL  INTERNATIONAL  INTERNATIONAL
Editors
Sioux Browning
Melanie Little
Executive Editor
S. L. McFerran
Fiction Editor
Ian Cockfield
Poetry Editor
Miranda Pearson
Advisory Editors
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Submissions Manager
Loretta Seto
Electronic Submissions Manager
Lee Henderson
Editorial Board
Coleen Anderson
Oana Avasilichioaei
Frederico Barahona
Marita Dachsel
Shauna Fowler
Douglas Hadfield
Jessica Johnson
Jean Lum
Dawn Petten
Jeff Richards
Denise Ryan
Jessica Schaap
Rebecca Schaap PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times
per year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, B.C. V6T IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y. The magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals
Index.
E-mail: prism@unixg.ubc.ca
WWW: http://www.arts.ubc.ca/prism/
Contents Copyright © 1997 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration by Scott Bakal.
Cover design by Sioux Browning and Melanie Little.
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
should be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or
International Reply Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage
will be held for six months and then discarded. Translations should be accompanied by copies of the work(s) in the original language. E-mail contributors should
contact us for electronic submission guidelines. The Advisory Editors are not
responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights for $40.00
per page for poetry, and $20.00 per page for other genres. Contributors receive
a one-year subscription. PRISM international also purchases limited digital rights
for selected work, for which it pays an additional $10.00 per page.
Our gratitude to Dean Shirley S. Neuman and the Dean of Arts' Office at the
University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council
($16,000)and the Government of British Columbia through the Ministry of Small
Business, Tourism and Culture.
Thank you to our donors, Cherie and Julian B. Smith, and to the RE. fund.
Publications Mail Registry No. 5496. October 1997.
The Canada Council
for the arts
since 1957
Le Conseil des Acts
du Canada
Diruis 1957 Contents
Vol. 36, No. 7   Fall 1997
Fiction
Will Eno
Thomas E. Kennedy
Royston Tester
Joe Longo
Oscar Martens
Gary Knox
Wendy Mai Rawlings
Transcript: A Canadian Lies Dying on
American Ice   7
Young Lion Across the Water   16
Notfall  26
Date Rape Anthems  42
The Girl With the Full Figure Is Your
Daughter   56
Holding My Breath  67
Opposites   80
Poetry
Caroline Davis Goodwin
Robert Lietz
Susan Gillis
Ken Babstock
Billeh Nickerson
Elva Macias
translated from the Spanish
by Caroline Davis Goodwin
Brian Burke
Zoe Landale
John B. Lee
YueAn
Jay Ruzesky
Lazar Sarna
Things the Man Carried With Him
to Big Port Walter   12
Winter Hatchery   14
In Our Father's House  25
Sun Crossing Autumn   37
Toward Magnetic North  39
The Interior  40
What We Didn't Tell the Medic  41
Louisville Slugger   52
In the Shower   53
Pisces   54
Open House   55
Sign   55
Early Evening Train Station, Stratford  62
North of Deep Bay   64
Twenty Writers Discuss the Importance of
Knowing the Size and Weight of Testicles  66
A Christmas Card from Urumqi   79
The Creation of Adam  84
The Veranda  86
Contributors   87 PRISM international
congratulates
Joey Tremblay
&
Jonathan Christenson
Their play
Elephant Wake
(first published in PRISM 35:1)
received a coveted
Fringe First Award for new writing
at the 1997 Edinburgh Fringe Festival Will Eno
Transcript: A Canadian Lies
Dying on American Ice
ANNOUNCER: Wow, that kid got hit hard, that Canadian kid
is down, he really got creamed, this Canadian kid who has
come so far, so far from home, from the stronger beer and the
longer winter, this Canuck who worked so hard, coming like
he did from nothing, and what's worse, from Canada; after
the years of cold morning runs, of wind sprints and stitches
and drunk driving convictions, after the years of being
younger, and finally growing older, to get hit like that, and so
hard, and be lying there now, in the vitamin-rich blood and
the figure-eighted-up ice, with the popular music playing and
the fans stretching their legs, when all he ever wanted from
tonight was to be covered in champagne on the locker room
floor. It must be quite a shock—
COLOR MAN: Quite a shock, indeed. And you know that
somewhere up in Canada, a dirty blonde woman, in a puffy
down jacket, this fallen man's wife, is watching, much as the
world watches, in horror, in a wild anxiety, at that sight of this
broken Canuck going slowly into shock, and thinking to
herself, Who will provide for us? and thinking also of the
sweeter, less-injured times. The winter carnivals and new car
smell, the continuous soft hits, the acid rain and so on, the
cookouts and the marriage counsellor. In general, the life when life was simpler, when her man, her good Canadian knight,
was not writhing on the ice with practically bone sticking out
of his skate, struggling to just be breathing. And you know
she's up there somewhere, this angel of an athlete's wife, you
know there she is and she has to be, she has to be hurting,
watching him lying without moving, and you know the tears
are falling softly, they are falling from her softly like snow
onto the dark and bi-lingual Canadian soil.
ANNOUNCER: Hey, but we're a long way from Canada now.
Long we are, and far, from the wheat fields and metric system,
from the pricey cigarettes and the National Health, and I'm
wondering whether this hurt player, this gorgeous trope of
our infinite frailly, I'm wondering whether he isn't wondering
whether he should have just stayed home, and, given that he
didn't, I'm thinking that he's thinking that he just might as lief
hang it up, throw it in, call it quits for good, this colossally
hurt person, our neighbor from the North, who started out in
roller rinks, a funny haircut and fast-food skin, going around
the outside, holding on to the wall, trying not to fall. I bet he
can't believe the change, as he stares up into the spotlights,
this object on the ice, this dark spot on the white, your chance
to get a hot dog. The view must be breathtaking. And as the
great exchange of heat takes place, as he burns his shape
into the ice, what do you bet, how much do you wager, that he
has never in his sporting life felt worse. This poor kid is just
lying there—broken, all forlorn looking, all small—and he
must be feeling, he has really got to be thinking, I bet he's
lying down there saying, My God, 0 Canada, Why have you
forsaken me?
COLOR MAN: I bet he's feeling pretty forsook, indeed, and
you know, you yourself might find yourself forsaken, from
time to time, from almost every direction, and you might find that your Saviour is only an awful awful quiet, but, take heart,
because we'll be right here, bringing you all the action, with
all the latest scores, the latest lines, the latest latest. And if
you're just joining us now, we've got an injured defenseman
down there on the ice, an immigrant, a guy with the soul of
poet, and we're at the moment trying to feel what life might
be like for his currently long-suffering wife, a dirty blonde
woman, a probably slender build, who gets the games by
satellite, who is thinking Please just don't let him be dead,
who is pacing, whose arms are folded, who loves him, who
fellates him, who shovels when he is not home, whose heart
is racing, whose heart is fairly pounding out of her freckled
Manitoban breast, because she does not know, because she
is far away, because she cannot say, and she is helpless, and
we are helpless, and she is weeping, and we weep, we are
sobbing at the sadness of things, and all the world, the whole
stadium, is racked and shaking in anguish, and the souvenir
and program vendors weep, and the Plexiglas weeps, and the
ushers, the puck and referees, the rafters, the exits and
parking lot, all of it, the world, weeps, because tonight an angel
was slashed, was the victim of a high-sticking, and is laid down
to rest near the blue line.
ANNOUNCER: Yessirree! Yes, indeed! Nope, I'm not sure
what you just said. I don't know quite what we're watching. I
know hockey, but this ain't that. This is something else. This
Canadian. This paradigm. This injured injured man, whose
body is starting to stop sweating, who is hemorrhaging life
and heat. This sports figure. This person.
COLOR MAN: And his wife. Forget not her. His fellow citizen.
The dirty blonde. Her wringing hands. Her wettened eyes.
Her cracking voice and upset stomach. She is cramping. Mascara
is everywhere and, Oh how she thought it all would be different. ANNOUNCER: But it isn't, is it? It's like this and no different.
And who could have told us that it would be so, and would we
have heard if he had?
COLOR MAN: My God, this is no easy occupation. To have
to be up here, watching. Calling all the shots and putting a
name on all the violence. And to have to consider the families.
The loved ones who are home. Those who make sure the dog
is walked. The ones remembering birthdays, sorting cans
and bottles. They are dusting trophies, and being families,
despite this ugliness on the ice, and the children are studying
piano. And all this while, down here in our democracy, in my
own lovely nation, I grow weaker and my prospects further
dim. There is no dirty blonde nowhere, biting her polished
nails for me. And my own hands are old. And the gloves are
off and there is a bench-clearing brawl in my heart. Help me.
Forgive me. The icing is— I am slapshot. I don't know that I
can go on, coloring this commentary. Calling it like I see it, or
even seeing it at all. Speaking. Making any sound. So sick, so
sick. Oh, life!
ANNOUNCER: Tonight has been a long night, in fact and
deed, and this world is a long season, for every single body
involved. [A herald of organ music. ] And I'll tell you, it doesn't
get any more arduous than it does for our official organist of
these thirty-one years, Johnny Lispenard, our own Mr. Music.
Why, he can soothe the savage beast and the drunk who drank
too much, to boot.
COLOR MAN: I have given up. I have closed mine eyes.
Expatriate me! Deport me! The country that I love is home to
no one who loves me back. Kick me out, I don't need to pack,
nor need a souvenir. My nation, this nation. Country music,
country stores. A flag. People, waving. Girls. My wife-to-be,
10 who never was. The most beautiful most regular things. All is
lost or given to someone else.
ANNOUNCER: Why, I'll never forget the night I had a flat tire
on my car, and don't you doubt it for a second, there drops
Mister Lispenard to his knees into the snow, blood on his
knuckles, he's singing the Marseillaise, changing my tire, and
wearing a smile you could light your cigarettes off. A man
like this man only comes along every once in the world. A do-
gooder in the extreme, in the breach, in the crappy night of
the soul.
COLOR MAN: If you are just joining us now, I am leaving us.
Don't fear. Whatever you missed will be back again and again.
And don't anyone stop me. There are things that can't be
stopped. This, for instance.
ANNOUNCER: Yes, indeed. Well, his leaving leaves just me
up here. Hey, here come the crew out onto the ice. They're
going to smooth out the chips and gouges out there. Up here,
we are still waiting for a word from down below. Somebody
has just thrown a hat onto the ice. Some kind of a hat, it looks
like.
— end of transcript —
11 Caroline Davis Goodwin two poems
Things the Man Carried
With Him to Big Port Walter
Plate
Venison, rockfish. A steaming
mountain of rice. You consider
your hands, your lungs, the perfect
course of oxygen, the soul.
Here. Here. The full moon
grows behind the visqueen door.
Father
His memory an itch in your thighs
at twilight. Now is the hour
of the hunt, he would sing, nodding
and poking up the fire. Tonight
his words in your teeth.
You feel the sharp-shinned hawk
sailing across the muskeg, eyes hard
bullets, coal-red. The hoards
of king salmon shift in the bay's lap,
pointed at the throat of the creek.
Cup
Hard boots crack the night beach,
the ice like a porcelain skin.
Drapes of mist across your cheeks.
In your trail, nothing human: sign
of the fat bear heaped in fur and twigs,
the black-tailed deer. Shining
mussel, tiny as a child's eyelid.
Saltwater, the shape of a single tear.
12 Wife
Rope of pearls at her throat.
How she always kept a lean cat
on her lap, its black coat holding
daylight like a stretch of sea.
Almost asleep, you think you make out
her faint breath, rasp of abalone
scraping the walls of the abyss. Imagine
how strong they are, pink flesh pulling
to the rock with a single touch. Your tongue
swirls in the empty, iridescent shell.
Quilt
Layer by layer the drifts
catch the woolen sky. The bay
shrinks and expands like a great flank
in the patchwork of torn ice.
It is the muffled time,
your voicebox rusted stiff. Now
you spread your fingers, blue
prints the size of limpets,
and the moon casts its dim
stitches of light. Your mouth
filled with down, your head a mass
of frozen locks in all this white.
13 Winter Hatchery
i
in the wooden docks right down in the bay
a spread of hexagonal pools and nets
the hatchlings flash their skins
cool silver     the colour of nickels     steelhead
king salmon     circling the blue edges
a plastic owl stands guard on a pole
dead barnacle     mussel shell     oil stain
in the old house     orange windows     arteries
of rain     you snore beneath the blankets
your folded hands painted the blood
and bruises     your thick fingers
that moved like water through my hair
I circle inside the night rooms     feel
that tide of fish eyes somehow fixed on us
II
tonight we watch the tyson-
holyfield fight     your hand
waiting on my belly
just in case     and I press you
close     want you to touch
the quickening     tap     little fists
between us     the heavyweights
lean into one another     backs riddled
with streams     faces so shiny
I am reminded of the scar
on your thigh     the ghost
of a switchblade reaching bone and
because sometimes I am
afraid I say     consider the name
holyfield     a very positive name for a fighter
don't you think     such images
of stained glass     golden rows of wheat
14 Ill
once we find a screech owl
tangled in the nets     shivering
she snaps her tiny beak as if to scream
I grip the beating body     the fuzzy
cup of her skull about the size
of our child now     I think     and deep
in the soft wing you snip the net
cradle her in your palm
I see that face before
your face     that breathing
geometry of hollow bones
how her feathers leave
a dust on your fingers     I want
to breathe it     the light scent
rv
now I touch my belly as if to charm     tongue
backbone     nerve cord    because I have seen
how the sunstars grow in the mud below the docks
knuckle    wrist     huge wheels of arms     some
bent     twisted     some half-grown     kneecap
toenail    palm     one could get
chopped off and it just
comes back you know    blind clones
they glide through the shallows
backs hunched in the orange light
rim of hair    crown of the head
at bedtime you open the shades
night     black as a pupil    I believe
the whole sea is rising now
erasing each bright hump     I
grip your wooden hand in the dark
15 Thomas E. Kennedy
Young Lion Across the Water
Squatting by the fire, Alfus shovelled coals into a patch alongside,
for the egg pan. The rattle of the Land Cruiser hitting the bump
behind the far hill outside the camp told him it was time to put the
warthog bacon over. Nothing wrong with his ears. But his legs were
stiff. You can't go on forever. He grinned so his gums showed. But you
can go on pretty long.
On either side of the pan he placed a sprig of magic guarri to keep
the flies from the food, another one close to hand to swat them off in
case that didn't work.
The magic guarri was one of Alfus's best friends. It helped him all the
years he was a tracker with wood for his cattie that saved many lives,
including his own. More effective than the ranger's .450 soft noses. Out
in the bush he brushed his teeth with the ragged edge of a magic guarri
twig. And now he was a cook and a helper in the camp, the magic guarri
kept his food clean of flies. Trees were the kindest of the earth's creatures.
They stood and waited for your need and let you take without complaint.
They fed the elephants and the impala, the waterbuck, kudu, giraffe, gave
a place for the leopard to drag her prey. The weeping werbie provided
seats for the baboons among the rocks; the baboons ate the werbie fruit
and scattered the seeds. Leadwood gave perches where the buzzards could
sleep while they waited for an updraft. And what the trees did for men!
Wood for your fire, leaves to heal you—silver clusterleaf to stop you
vomiting, common spice leaves for a runny tummy, acacia thorns to pick
your teeth and leadwood leaves for toothpaste, boiled knobthorn for a
toothache, sour plum tree after too much wine or gin and the soft leaves
to wipe your bum. And how many things you could do with the buffalo
thorn: the leaf stopped a wound's bleeding and a branch would catch the
spirit of the dead if brushed across the place the person fell so you could
bring the spirit home to rest in peace. Impala ate buffalo thorn leaves
and an impala buck had to keep many she's happy. Helped a man, too.
Alfus grinned so his gums showed. He wasn't finished there yet either.
The trackers got first pick of the new young women who came to the
main camp, but older women knew things. He thought about the old
cook in the main camp and how she walked past him last week, what her
hip said to him, and then she turned and her shoulder folded forward so
16 he smiled now just to remember. He popped a buffalo thorn out of his
pocket and into his mouth. He would be back in the main camp next
week, drink wine in the compound, and then go out in the dark when
she was cleaning the pots and talk with her, tell her watch out for those
Dugger Boy buffalo by the water hole, scare her a little and pass the
bottle.
It had been long since Alfus's last woman, who left him because the
manager had scolded her for sloppy bedmaking. Alfus understood. She
had no choice. You could not allow another man to correct your woman.
Yet Alfus had no recourse. He had already been moved down in the compound when he could no longer track. The manager was young and knew
no better. There was no one to blame. Few people knew Alfus's real name,
his Xitsonga name, Mariband—too cool to lose his temper.
The bacon began to sizzle in the pan, and Alfus could hear the cruiser
not five mile beyond the outpost and remembered that he had not filled
the latrine buckets. One of the new guests, a fat grey-faced man, drank
and ate so much that Alfus had to fill the bucket behind his tent three,
four times a day. It was a sick smell of a man who drank gin every night,
sat up late laughing in the mess tent, so you could feel the animals fall
silent and listen all over the reserve. Alfus gave the man a secret Xitsonga
name almost like his own but for one sound—Maraband, one who eats
too much.
Alfus rose on his stiff legs and moved swiftly, tight-kneed, to the
watertank, filled both buckets and carried them up the rise, circling behind the Maraband's tent to place them on either side of the toilet. He
grinned to see that toilet there, glowing white against the brown dirt.
Crazy white men. That morning he had heard the Maraband out there
calling to his companion in the next tent, 'There is nothing like a crap
beneath this cool South African sky. God bless porcelain!" Maraband came
from America and the tracker had told Alfus he was wealthy.
Alfus waited for a moment to catch his breath there behind the plank
walls, gazing down into the dry pit of the river bed just behind the latrine.
The floor of the bed was dotted with fresh elephant droppings, bright
brown and orange melon-sized balls. He smiled, wondering what the
American might think if he knew elephant walked behind his tent at
night. They moved more quietly than he. All you heard was the crumple
of grass beneath their feet and the cracking of the trees they ate. Alfus had
seen them the night before standing in the dark on the little clearing
behind the place where he slept. He watched them there, huge black
shadows against the blue and green darkness of night while in the dining
tent, oblivious to it all, the American drank gin by the flickering kerosene
light and laughed at the stories he told the others.
A giggling lady flew past overhead. Alfus blinked. As he stepped from
17 behind the plank walls, the ranger was just killing the motor of the cruiser
at the foot of the incline. Alfus was startled. He hadn't heard the vehicle.
He smiled to cover his embarrassment. Moses slid down off the tracker's
seat mounted on the left front fender, and Maraband climbed down carefully from the middle benchseat. His face was pale as he hurried up the
incline, tight-mouthed, his camera and binoculars bouncing off his big
belly. Alfus could see it was good he had filled both buckets. He tore some
leaves from a common spice to put into the American's food, for his
stomach.
Another of the three Americans, a thin, crease-faced man, said, "Looks
like that rhino about scared shit out of Walter there," and the other one,
a bony, redhaired man, opened his mouth with silent laughter. The other
two stood apart—a young French woman and a German man. They
spoke quietly together, in whispered French.
Moses had his cattie out and was laughing, too.
"Can I try that?" the ranger asked and took the slingshot, loading it
with a stone and drawing back the rubber sling. Suddenly he turned,
aiming it at Alfus who laughed self-deprecatingly. At the last moment, the
ranger turned and fired his stone at the water tank. He hit it, but the
rubber sling recoiled, smacking his hand so he yelped and dropped the
cattie. Moses chuckled and retrieved the weapon as the ranger cooled his
stung fingers in the air. Moses loaded and fired at the trunk of a tall
slender tamboeti tree. The stone whacked the bark, chipping it. He quickly
loaded again and fired, slicing off a cluster of ticking seeds that fell and
lay twitching on the earth, eager to release their blood-sucking larvae.
The ranger shook his head with wonder and said to Alfus, "Never
saw anything like it. We got chased by rhino out on the Riebuck Plain.
Two of them. Whites. Male and female."
"And they were pretty damn big," the crease-faced American said.
"Caught scent of us from about eighty metres," the ranger said.
"Couldn't see us they're so blind, but they stood right there and it looked
like they could see us all right. Started to run at us. A rhino hits full
speed in three strides and full speed is forty miles an hour. They were
at stride two when Moses there let fly, caught the male right in that soft
lower flank, and they changed direction, ninety degrees!"
Alfus showed his gums, listening, ignoring the bruise to his pride
where the young ranger had teased him aiming the imaginary pellet,
thinking how many years it had been since he was out tracking. Next
week in the compound he knew Moses would tell this story and then
pick out which of the young women he wanted for that night. Alfus
remembered once many years ago hitting a Dugger Boy square in the
nose with his cattie. The owner gave him a fifty-rand bonus for that,
knowing the Dugger Boy was a rogue and didn't mock charge the way other animals would. The most dangerous, ruthless animal on the veld.
A buffalo in a herd, powerful as it was, would run from a sneeze into the
comfort and safety of the herd, but a Dugger Boy was mean and wouldn't
tolerate anything getting too close.
Alfus could still remember the way that bull had looked, raising its
nose so it could look at them when they stumbled out of the bush toward
him, twenty metres away. Alfus could smell him then before he even
saw him and had a rock in his hand before the bull could even start
running. He wished he could tell that story now, but it had been so long
ago.
"Alfus," the ranger said. "We got some hungry men here been walking
in the bush for moren three hour. Let's get those eggs frying."
Alfus smiled. "Okay, Mariband," he said. His private joke. He gave this
young ranger his own name to use, too cool to lose his temper, because he
knew it made him happy. The tracker's real name was a frightening one:
Die Lan. Alfus did not know what "Lan" meant but the other word terrified him, having been given as a name to a baby. He had heard the ranger
one night tell some guests about his name. He said that he had been
born by mistake and his parents had no name for him, but the nurse
would not let them take him from the hospital without a name. She
suggested this name, Die Lan, which she said was the name of a famous
writer, a poet, from a country called Wales. The ranger Die Lan had
asked the guests if they knew about this writer and when they said they
did, he said he had heard two different things about the writer. He had
heard that he had had many women in his short life and also that he had
had many men. The young ranger wished to know which was the truth.
The guests laughed, but Alfus, sitting by the fire alone with his plate,
had been terrified for the boy and decided to give him his own Xitsonga
name to make him stronger. He was a good young man, this tracker. He
stood firm before the lion and the rhino. He deserved a good name.
After breakfast, the guests and the ranger and Moses took a siesta
while Alfus washed the plates and cooking gear. The sun was high now,
and sweat rolled from beneath the rim of his cap as he swabbed the
plates, thinking about how many sausages Maraband had eaten, deep in
Alfus's hot onion sauce. He wanted to tell the man that it was not meant
to have so much of the sauce, the spices were too strong, but he did not
know how to talk to them. Instead he had crushed another handful of
silver clusterleaves into his coffee for his stomach, but he had been out
behind the tent again right after breakfast anyway, groaning, so Alfus
would have to fill the buckets again.
He decided to use the dishwater this time rather than drain off more
sweetwater. Otherwise they would run short. He worked at a plank table
19 set up on the edge of the river gully and stared out across the yellow
plain on the other side, across the silver water of the dam to the green
bank on the opposite shore where yesterday he had seen two young
lion running on the bank. Nothing wrong with his eyes. His hand had
shot up the way a tracker's hand does when he spots something and felt
satisfaction when the ranger responded, saying uN'goni," and the whole
group fell silent there outside his camp kitchen and looked across at his
lion running on the green bank, their golden flanks flashing in the sun. It
took them a while to see. The French girl never even saw them at all.
But the others, when their eyes finally focused, drew in their breath
sharply and fell silent, watching his lion. It was the best way to see the
animals, far off, when they had no idea they were watched. Young lion
across the water.
The young ranger, Mariband, had glanced at Alfus with respect and
nodded. He was a good man, young but strong and brave. Moses had
even invited the ranger into the compound once to drink with the trackers
and workers, a lone white man among black faces, eating rice with a
fork while they scooped it into their fingers. Alfus had been twenty years
old when the black and white were separated by the white law and it
made him uneasy to see the white man with his fork in the compound.
Alfus looked again now, hoping to see the two n'goni once more, but
all he saw was a hooded vulture circle in the sky and land on a dead
leadwood tree on a long narrow island in the middle of the dam where a
crocodile lay in the sun.
A cut-throat finch called out from a tree and a blacksmith plover clicked
overhead. Alfus stacked and covered the clean plates and cook gear, then
carried the pan of dishwater behind the American Maraband's tent. He
could hear the man snoring inside as he circled around the plank wall,
recoiling. The smell was very bad and there were many flies. He held his
breath as he poured the dishwater into the buckets and retreated.
Now his work was done, and he sat outside his tent, smoking a cigarette, staring out across the dry river bed and the glittering dam to the
green shore on the other side. Up above, on the crest of the hill,
silhouetted against the sky, he saw a giraffe running and an ostrich. There
were not many ostrich anymore. The lion ate them all. His mind was far
away, watching, as if he were in the air above the dam, moving across to
the bank there, a place he had tracked years before. Even now he could
see things he saw then. Here a leopard had climbed up with its prey,
you could see the bark chipped away by its claws. And here the elephant
had walked, dragging their trunks through the dust, and these were
zebra prints and there the lionness had overtaken it. That hippo floating
there so quietly with the oxpicker on its snout is called Sapo and it once
bit a woman's arm off who tried to beat it with a broom for stealing her
20 carrots. He was thinking about the American named Walter Maraband
with his bad stomach and his camera. All the pictures he took. Alfus
wondered what they used all the pictures for. The ones he saw always
seemed very flat to him and they shined in an unreal way. Some of the
guests who came had many cameras, and Alfus thought they didn't look
at the animals at all, never saw them, but only let their cameras see
them in order to produce flat pieces of paper with images of the animals
their own eyes did not see.
Once, a woman, a white woman with yellow hair, had taken a photograph of Alfus when he danced to chase away a lion who was too interested in the group they were leading. It was a hungry lion, a he with a
great black mane and too young to know it was better to stay away from
the people, and Alfus thought someone was going to be taken, so he
danced and shook his arms like a chimp up over his head to look bigger
and made his eyes big and barked like a dog baboon while the lion
decided what it wanted to do. And all the while the white woman with the
yellow hair circled around him with a camera in front of her face with a
very long eye in it and she took pictures of him dancing and pictures that
had both him and the lion. Before she left the camp, she gave him two of
the pictures and she looked very pleased with them and with herself, and
Alfus grinned at her so his gums showed, wondering if she knew how
close she had come to being food for a lion she never even looked at.
He heard footsteps in the grass, looked back to see the young ranger
approaching. "Alfus, I want you to do something. The American. The
heavy one. His toilet is all jammed up. Would you clear it for him please."
Alfus nodded curtly. He saw the ranger did not like asking him, he was
sharp enough for that even if he was still very young, so he said "please"
carefully, even if Alfus didn't care much for that word. Too many white
men said too much please and never enough thanks.
The ranger nodded, stood there a moment following Alfus's gaze across
the dam. "See more lion today?"
"No more n'goni today."
He nodded again and turned back toward the camp trail, while Alfus
thought some words. He thought, I am one of the Shangan, even if I never
knew my father. But he was a tracker for sure because that is where I got
my eye from, and his father was surely also a Shangan and had been a
hunter long before when the Shangan were free here, when they hunted
with spears and arrows, long long ago. Alfus was not smiling. On a dead
tree in the veld he saw half a dozen buzzards sitting, waiting for an updraft.
Alfus stood. His legs were stiff and his ears were weak, but his eyes
were still good. On the other side of the reserve in a fenced-in land he
had a place where he could grow vegetables, where he could sleep and
do nothing and be nobody at all, a man behind a fence on a little piece of
21 land.
Behind the plank wall the smell was even worse and there were more
flies. He lifted the seat and looked in, let it drop and backed quickly to the
edge of the river bank. He looked down into the empty bed at the elephant
spoor, orange and dried out now in the midday sun. Further to the right
were hyena spoor, white from the bones they ate. His lips moved wordlessly over his teeth, and he thought of living behind a fence on a piece of
land eating carrots and lettuce without ever again having a woman or
work to do.
Then he went out and got a bucket and a small shovel. The American
was already up and had washed his face in the metal basin outside his
tent. Now he was walking up toward the dining tent where the ranger
would open the bar before lunch. Alfus carried his tools behind the plank
wall and stared at the dirty porcelain and the flies, held his breath and
went to work.
Afterwards he took a drink of gin out behind the work tent. The American had eaten half an impala pie for lunch, smothered in onion sauce
with a bottle of red wine. After lunch, he had gone to Alfus and pressed a
ten rand note into his hand and nodded without a word, eyes closed, then
went back out behind his tent. The ranger said to Alfus, "He is a doctor.
He operates on people's brains." He tapped his skull. "In here."
Now, as Alfus swallowed one more draft of gin, staring across the
yellow plain toward the dam, he saw something strange. Out in the middle
of the plain he saw an ash-grey figure standing in waist-high grass
straight up with his right hand raised. It was a strange being. Not a man
but maybe a ghost. Maybe his father, whom he had never met. The
figure stood very still. Right arm raised. Hand out flat. In greeting. Or
warning. Or farewell. Some people when they left did not turn back to
look.
Alfus recapped the gin bottle and returned it to his pack, took out his
cattie and put it in his pocket. Then he slid down the bank of the river and
climbed up the other side into the yellow field. He set out across the grass.
He followed an animal path across, toward the figure. An animal path
did not swerve around thornbush as a human path would. It was a truer
path, better to follow. A brown snake eagle lifted from a tree as he approached and a yellow-faced little bee eater flitted away, green coat shining in the sun. Alfus kept his eye fixed on the ash-grey figure and out
behind almost at the dam he saw a wildebeest dancing madly, whipping
its head in agony with the maggots planted in its brain. Off to the left a
herd of bachelor impala, startled at his approach, leapt off into a run
through the tree line.
Alfus was sweating in the afternoon sun. He heard a baboon cry out in
22 the distance: WAhoo! WAhoo! He should not have drunk the gin so early
in the day he knew. It was not good. Yet he paused for a moment to get
his breath and let the blood settle in his stiff legs, and as he waited, he
unslung his pack and reached for his water bottle but took instead the
gin and uncapped it. Even as he swallowed it, his eyes were still fixed to
the ash-gray figure with its raised arm, and he began to think of his
mother when she died, the way her dark brown face had looked so grey,
and he remembered then stories he had heard from uncles, cousins
about the land where food was clay and drink was ash. His heart was
beating quickly. It did not matter. He would not run from a lion and he
would not run from a grey man who waved to him from the high grass.
He began to walk again, stepping high and stiff through the deep
grass. He saw things and he remembered things as he moved across the
plain and what he saw and what he remembered became as one thing. He
saw the hole of a baboon spider, big around as a fat plum and sheer as a
polished pipe and he saw a jackal pup asleep in a drain pipe, one he had
never told anyone about because he knew the guests would want to see it,
would go in poking at it where it hid there waiting for its mother in the
night. He saw a dozen giraffe in a great circle while two males fought for
the herd, swinging their necks, their skull horns down at one another's
belly. He saw the women who spoke to him with their hips as they walked
with burdens on their heads and smiles on their lips when Alfus was the
tracker and they smiled to draw his eyes to them. He saw bush babies
and vervet monkies, waterbuck, and zebra. He saw wild dogs with their
spotted hides and big ears staring up above the grass at him.
Now the grey figure was so close, on a low rise in the plain just above
him. He stopped, staring full at it. It was a dead tree broken by an elephant, one branch hooked upward like an arm, but there was a face in
the bark. Even here, this close, he could see the face in the bark, eyes and
nose and mouth, all black, like a ghost, this face that had stared at him
across this plain where he stood on the bank of the dry river. It was a
leadwood tree. Leadwood lived a thousand years and stood two thousand
after death. Rhino came and scratched their hides on its dead bark for
more seasons than any man, any tribe, any nation lived.
Alfus pressed his face against the ash-grey bark of the dead tree,
closed his eyes and breathed deeply. When he looked up again, across
the dam, he saw the young lion once more running on the green bank of
the other side. He watched them there and had no further thoughts,
thought only with his eyes, informed by the colour and the movement
of what they took in.
That night after dinner the young French woman and the German man
asked Alfus to fill their shower bucket for them and went off to their tent.
23 Then Alfus cleared away the dishes and washed them by the firelight
before walking down to the other side of the camp and slipping into his
tent. The three Americans and the ranger sat up in the dining tent by
the kerosene light. There was much laughter because there had been
more danger that afternoon, and after danger there was always laughter
and gin and stories in the dark by the flickering light of the kerosene
lamp. The American laughed so loudly that Alfus could see the animals
lifting their heads in the dark all over the reserve, heard the screech of
a young baboon followed by the silencing grunt of the dog leader, heard
the cry of a spots owl, then a bat, then the burbling of a zebra.
The American's laughter was distant now, and Alfus was far away, in a
dream, where two young lion ran through the grass on the distant shore.
24 Robert Lietz
In Our Father's House
Would I resist the subject now, the feel of blocks,
the years it takes to get the adverbs straight,
the lag of how many seductions? Birds scavenge
the fresh-cut green. And boys, sixteen, struck
by the afternoon's false weight, by the evening's shades,
will turn down streets, beneath the banked light
and the commanding dark of the gazebos, riding
the spin of quarrels and sex, the sway of housecoats
persuading men indoors, the tug of dreams already
present in their making. Could we mistake
the gaze, boys, like small fish, crossing the shallows back,
behind a woman's ear, speaking the names and dates
that marked her once for lifetimes?
Quickened by all the influence, reddened by first wines
and by the climate brought to scale,
we turned down streets, body, blood, notes shaking out
meantime, the time-being lost in drag and echoing,
rehearsing the looks of creatures pawing their disgusts,
as if a mind had reached the full light
of its compass. Would I resist the subject now, tearing
my nails as ghosts watch? And would this hand,
raised now to spite the chill of its botched chording,
applaud these kids, averaging for mean,
fall now to entertain, to enter again among the violence
as its houseguest, imagining a mannered kill
prying the heavy lids or tugging the drawers wide,
asking what's to prize, and asking what
beneath these longitudes of moonlight,
under the one bare bulb suspended
toward swept bins?
25 Royston Tester
Notfall
Ripped, cut off, torn: all dad's gear's like it. And just last night I
was sitting in the back seat of our Austin Standard Eight, just like
I am this evening—three hours so far, outside The Saracen's
Head—looking at his woolly mitts. He uses them for fishing. There's
another pair under the dash here. No fingers in them, either. When you
do this, your bare fingers stick through; like upside-down underpants
with leg-holes and one for the tiddler. So you tie hooks and floats and
shot in them. It's easier to feel the bits and pieces that way. Dad even
rolls his Rizlas in them, and picks bogeys like there's no tomorrow.
Everything. Ties knots. He should have been wearing them last night
when Nancy and Fanny, who are not my real aunts by the way, made him
go all seismic; writing's difficult in these gloves, see. It's the wool. Much
too thick. Gloves would have saved him. But he got caught out. Right
kettle of fish it was.
***
It was The Peacocks' car park last night. Foggy, wet. Thursdays it's cod
and chips, then the Pig and Whistle; Fridays: faggots and peas and The
Jolly Fitter; Saturdays: corned beef hash and The Peacocks. And Sundays:
bread and dripping and The Saracen's Head. Like clockwork. Quiz for
you!—Saturday night, guess where we were? Mum and dad were
inside...The Peacocks!!! Yeah, yeah, right. I'd finished the Vimto and crisps
hours before. So I picked up my Scout's Handbook. Daft, really, because it
was getting dark and dad won't let me put the car light on. Boy Scouts
are fantastically twisted, you know. Toy soldiers with shorts on aren't
they, lighting fires and howling at each other. Sick. Tangled up in reef
knots and sheepshanks and simple whipping. Lashing poles together like
Crusoe gone bonkers. I hate it all. But mum has ambitions for me, so I
dug out a torch from under the old man's half-finger gloves and found a
page called 'Scout Vocabulary—foreign terms.'Great, I thought. Something
that doesn't involve rope.
***
I tried it—writing with these underpant-mitts of dad's—at Oddingley, a
few weeks ago, while he was weighing-in along the canal somewhere. It
was the huge annual Birmingham Anglers' Association contest. Freezing
cold, sunny, Sunday morning. Oil patches on the water. Even on me the
26 gloves were tight. Shows how tiny he is. I was squirming about on his
big, homemade creel, trying to keep warm, while I practiced joining a
few letters together in an old Letts notebook. What happened? Well, my
fingers cramped, didn't they, every time I tried to fiddle them into an
adult—longhand—sentence. I kept sliding down the pen. I was doing a
George-and-the-Dragon routine trying to write in longhand like a grownup. Stabbing at the paper, twisting, turning. Like dad tying a hook. What
a mess! Zigzags all over the ruled lines like some heart attack; definitely
a job for Thunderbirds. I'm already eleven years old, I thought. How am
I going to be ready for grammar school if I'm still printing letters, one by
one, like a junior?
***
But I got visitors, last night, in the Austin Standard Eight. Parked outside
The Peacock for hours in that wet fog. The first arrivals I pretty much
asked for; I'd been staring at the pub sign for too long. Drinking too much
pop. I started imagining a quiz with Dougal the dog, and Mr. Rusty, from
The Magic Roundabout on kids' TV. "Ever had a Notfall, Dougal?" I was
yelling in our crazed scoutmaster Mr. Wimbledon's voice, like we were
on a parade ground or something. 'That's German," I said. "It means
'emergency.'" Dougal seemed unimpressed. I couldn't once get him to
notice me. And I imagined him leaving Mr. Rusty, his pal, and taking Mr.
Wimbledon through Sainsbury's on a Saturday afternoon. Our
Scoutmaster's a forty-year-old schoolteacher who's always wearing his
beret and badges, even in the supermarket. And Dougal, with his huge
furry paws, was explaining to all the customers how Mr. Wimbledon holds
his neckerchief together—and himself probably—with a phony plastic
toggle in the shape of a grizzly bear's head. You get a hell of a lot of
grizzly bears in the city of Birmingham. All the customers applauded as
Dougal pointed at Mr. Wimbledon's toggle. And in my mind I kept on
pulling at Dougal's collar to get him to see me. "And now that I've passed
the eleven-plus exam, Dougal," I started yelling again, at the windscreen
wipers now, "I'm having a really major Notfall. If you're interested? I'm
scared!" I wrenched the gear-stick from reverse to first, back and forth.
"I'm fucking scared!"
The page was so ugly that I laughed out loud right there on the canal
bank at Oddingley. Where was International Rescue when you needed
'em? I looked across the inky water. There's a knack to joining up letters.
Maybe it's like pubic hair, I thought. It'll kind of grow on me.
***
I imagined Mr. Wimbledon shaking his head and looking very stern.
Dougal was standing at the checkout next to him, one paw on his hip like
27 he was impatient, looking me dead in the eye.
"Eleven-year-old boys—the special ones—go from junior to grammar
school, Billy," he said, doggily. "Leaping Wolves have to leave Akela
sometime."
"Cubs join the Scouts," said Mr. Wimbledon, cheerily, walking his
shopping cart out of the building as Dougal and I watched. "Part o' life."
"We don't all end up like Mr Wimbledon, do we?" I said, feeling
depressed. Dougal wrinkled his nose. Headlights washed over me from
the parking space opposite as a car drew in. A couple climbed out, giggling,
and hurried inside the pub.
"Dib-dib-dib," sang Dougal, all of a sudden, turning himself round and
around. He sounded like Ringo Starr on helium. "Dub-dub-dub," he
spluttered, turning the other way, barely containing himself.
"Aw, fuck off, Dougal," I said, yelling into the car's rear-view mirror.
"Get on your dizzy roundabout."
And when I turned around myself, there were two strange faces at the
back window. For a second I imagined they were peacocks. Or Mr.
Wimbledon and Dougal's Mr. Rusty. But in a panic I dropped the torch.
Yes. These were more visitors. Strangers. But not in my mind. Real
visitors, now. Outside the car.
The car door flung open. Light shone everywhere, blinding me. My
head spun. In my mind's eye, Dougal's Magic Roundabout did a loop the
loop. I was stuck. Spinning. Let me off! Peacocks squawked. Feathers in
the air. Dougal fell off into Mr. Rusty. Mr. Wimbledon's toggle turned
into a real bear. Chewed up his head. There were bears in Birmingham!
Chomp, chomp, chomp. I started to scream as two hands reached in to
catch me. "Notfall, Notfall," I was shouting, "Notfall, Notfall."
■k-k-k
"Billy!" shouted dad, jogging along the canal with his keepnet in the air.
Wiry as he is, he's not a runner. "Out of my way, lad!" His cheeks were
red blotches, his breath pop-popping like a steam train on the railway
behind us. "Out of my way, Billy!" The fish were wild: thrashing against
the net; scales and water all over his jacket and on me. My pen and pad
tumbled into the reeds as he charged past me to the edge. 'Whoa, lads!
Steady on!" Dad knelt in the mud, shaking the fish out into the canal. His
eyes were their eyes—and I stared at them all.
*•*
"Oh, Billy. On your tod again. My poor dear."
Fanny! One of my aunts-who-aren't-really-my-aunts. Her lips were
shaking.
"What's wrong, Aunt Fanny?" I said.
"We just heard the news," said Aunt Nancy, who was behind her. "And
28 we're so pleased. We've got a little surprise for you. Come on out of that
damn car." She was grinning, but uncertainly, from ear to ear.
"It's last call in there," said Aunt Fanny, hugging me into her damp,
woolen coat. She gestured at The Peacocks. "Your mum and dad'll be
over to our place in a minute. We've invited them too. Come along."
Fanny's eyes looked so sore.
Theirs is the last caravan in the row, down in a dell. Six down from
ours. Every spring, daffodils and primroses shoot up all over their lawn.
And that's how I see it all year. Even when it's really dandelions. And
inside the caravan, heavy curtains and wood make their home seem like
a real house. They practically frog-marched me in; I stopped, breathless,
to pat their dog. He's a plaster of paris cocker spaniel. Sandsy. Life-size.
And named after another lady officer like Aunt Nancy, a famous one,
called Flora Sandes. I always stroke the dog when I go in. Aunt Nancy
says he is a she. But I always forget that. And there he-she always sits, on
the lemon-scented sideboard, on a doily, smiling. Eyes following you
everywhere, like in a famous painting.
"Isn't Man from U.N.C.L.E. on, Fanny? Maybe William would like to
watch it?" said Nancy, trying to fit the poker back into its rack.
"No, dear," Fanny replied, helping me out of my wellies. "He wants his
surprise, don't you?"
"Well. Yes. What is it?" I said, looking all over the place.
"Or The Fugitive or The Saint? Thunderbirds? Surely...?"
"Nancy. Please. You do get them jumbled up." She rolled her eyes and
I sniggered. "It's gone ten o'clock anyway. William knows we have rules
about TV, even if he is such a clever boy. Grammar school, my dear! Now
tell me, which one will it be? King Edward's, Kings Norton?" Fanny
staggered about on the rug, shaking my anorak dry. "Oh heavens!" she
cried as bundles of string, like guts, tumbled out of the pockets. "Look
what I've done!"
***
"Back in the drink!" Dad said, almost singing. He always says that. "Whee!
There they go, son!" he goes, pointing into the darkness, still smelling
the trail they all leave. Fish. He loves that part; it's like watching ghosts
sinking away, I suppose. Tossed coins or something. And he looks like a
boy then—on his first day. The keep-net lies in the grass like it's tired
out, all the muscle gone. And you feel like you've done no harm.
***
"Silly me!" said Fanny, picking up the piles of string.
"My knots," I said. "It's okay."
"Let's see, here," said Nancy, moving away from the stove and towards
me. "I remember these damn things."
29 Nancy was a soldier in the First World War—and then an officer in the
Second. She's always talking about the photos she has up. But Fanny
pulls a face whenever Nancy gets going on her army days. And that makes
me laugh.
She and Fanny seem quite old. But they might not be. It's hard to tell.
And they're both very fat. They shuffle about the caravan, making it rock
and creak ever so slightly, like a boat.
It's never like that in our caravan. Even though we're only three, we
seem to make a hell of a lot of noise. Nancy, by the way, never sits down.
Ever.
Suddenly there was a loud banging on the caravan and the sound of
someone's hand sliding along the side.
***
Dad wiped his hands on the grass and cleaned off the rod-rest.
"Keep an eye on the maggots, did you, Billy?"
"Here, dad," I said, holding up the container with its punched top.
"Good lad. Gotta watch those blighters. Get everywhere, they will."
I reached amongst the reeds for the pen and paper I had dropped. And as
I bent forward, I felt his fingers grip my neck hard.
"Back, lad," he said. "Away from the water."
And he took the pen and pad from me, wiped them with a rag, and
slipped them carefully—very carefully, like they were precious—into his
hand-carved float box. I stared at him. He'd never done anything like that
with my things. Handled them so gently. My pen and pad were in his
creel—the first time ever—amongst his quill floats and all their orange
tips and dark tails. I was one of the lads. It was like he'd invited me into
the pub or something. I couldn't take my eyes off him.
***
"Oh my!" said Fanny, shuffling past the kitchen and opening the door.
"Hello there, ladies," said my dad enthusiastically. Like I said, there's
a lot about him that's way, way out. Sometimes he's all silent like he's
scared or angry. Then, like last night, he's all shakin' like the Beatles,
chatting away ten-to-the-dozen.
"Drinks all round," said Fanny, opening a cupboard while my mum
and dad took their coats off. "Then we'll give the boy his treat, huh?"
"You're a terror, our Billy," said my dad, wagging his finger at me as
soon as it was free from his coat, "leaving the car unlocked like that. I
dunno..."
"Sit yourselves down," said Fanny, setting some bottles of beer on the
table. "Billy was showing us some of his knots, weren't you dear?"
Dad took out his battered tin of Al and started to roll. Nancy, who was
standing by the stove again, offered him a Park Drive.
30 "Don't mind if I do," he said, closing the tobacco tin.
She put one in her mouth and struck him a match.
"Well that's a sheepshank," said Nancy, pointing to one of the knots.
Her cigarette was bobbing up and down. "A..sheetbend, clove hitch, reef
knot and...damn, what's that one?"
"Round turn and two half-hitches," I said.
"Eureka. Yes," she said, taking up a bottle of beer. "You're good. Very
good."
"Don't we know it," said my mum. "Proud as Punch we are."
"I'm better at Knots than Lashing and Simple Whipping," I said. "And
I'm lousy at Tracking."
Everyone seemed to nod.
"But I don't know whether to do Axemanship after that, or First Aid."
My dad belched and excused himself.
"Yes," said Fanny, grinning. "What to do next?"
"First Aid," said Nancy.
"Obviously," said Fanny, "it'll make the axe-wielding easier on the rest
of us."
"On civvy street, that is," said Nancy.
"And then I've got the Scout Law and Promise," I said, thinking I
shouldn't be wasting time like this. Maybe they should hurry up and
give me my surprise.
"Scouts, new school, church choir," said Fanny. "What an exciting time.
Not to mention the elections. Did you follow the voting at all, Mr. Jones?
"Frank. Please."
"Frank, yes."
"Well...," my mum began.
'They're all the same, aren't they?" said my dad.
"I think Labour will do it, you know," said Fanny.
"Expensive lark this grammar-school stuff," said my dad.
"One of the schools sent a list," said mum. "Now what was it?"
"Don't ask me," said dad.
"Rugby outfit, cricket, tennis," said my mum. "Then there's the uniform
with macintosh, Oxford dictionary. Hymn-book. I tell you."
Fanny glanced at Nancy.
"Got to get to the school every day too from Wythall here. It's not
easy," said my dad taking a long drag, like he was holding a cigar. He was
enjoying himself.
"Perhaps with you and Vera both working, Frank," said Nancy, "it won't
be so bad."
'There's hire purchase at the department stores," said Fanny, "and of
course we'd love to buy the school tie."
31 "On the 'never-never'? I dunno," said my mum.
"We'll see, we'll see," said my dad, turning to me. "In time." He took
another swig. "Now what's this little something you've got the lad?"
"We're all eyes," said my mum, hunching her shoulders like a little
girl.
***
"Is this homework, Billy." he said, snapping the creel shut, "what you've
been writing?"
"I've written what Aunty Nancy says every tea time. Look, dad. Even
when I'm not there Nancy says it. Fanny told me! Look."
I showed him the inked page but he was throwing the remains of the
ground bait into the canal.
"To Our Three Selves," I recited, wishing the O's were written rounder.
"To Our Three Selves."
"Longhand or printed?" he said quietly, smacking the bread crumbs
from his hands. I stared at him. I couldn't believe what he was saying.
Not after last night at Fanny's and Nancy's caravan.
"Both," I said, putting the landing net and rod into the canvas hold-all.
"Longhand and printing."
Dad nodded.
"Longhand's important now," he said.
And my stomach turned over and over.
"Yeah," I said, trying to sound casual.
***
Fanny did her waddle into the back of the caravan.
"One more?"
"Don't mind if I do, Nancy," said my dad.
And the three of us sat in silence, like we were on the bus, while Nancy
dug about in a cupboard, cigarette still hanging from her mouth.
"Surprise!" said Fanny, returned just as quickly from a bedroom. She
handed me a small package wrapped in silver paper.
"Another Corona pop, William?" called Nancy.
I nodded.
"Yes, please, Aunty Nancy,'" said my mum.
"Oh!" I said, opening the lid. "A Parker pen!"
Every day this month I'd seen the advertisement on my way to school—
and I'd told Fanny about it. A boy in glasses looking very sad: / hate my
best friend, it says. He may have a Parker 61, but at least he's stupider than
me! And now I did have a Parker and I wasn't stupid after all. This was a
major league present. I leapt up and hugged Fanny and Nancy.
"Oh, you're very welcome, Billy," said Fanny.
"Easy! Easy!" said Nancy, holding her cigarette away. "Now get the
32 ink into the infamous 61 and let's christen it."
"Oh, it's beautiful." said my mum. 'Thank you both so much."
"Yeah," said my dad.
Fanny laid out a huge card with "Thank Your Lucky Stars" on the front.
I was hoping mum and dad weren't going to shout when we got home;
they don't think it's a good idea to give children gifts for the eleven-plus
exam. "It's like a bribe," my dad said, when my friend Gary got a bike.
'That's it, Billy," said Fanny. "You write your name and we'll do the
same. As a memento."
"Write a wish, too," said Nancy. "So we all can see."
I'd been practicing my signature for weeks. I couldn't wait.
***
Dad was grinning. I couldn't work out why. He led off along the canal
towpath with his creel and tackle, cinders and stones crunching under
his wellies. I followed with the empty keep-net. Then it dawned on me.
"Have you won something in the fishing contest, dad?"
He turned slightly.
"Have you, dad?"
***
"Look, mum," I said. "I can sign my name."
"Very good, Billy. Now write your wish like Aunty Nancy says."
Slowly I joined the letters, curve by cautious curve, into the continuous
flow that had for so long seemed impossible. Finishing, I looked up at
everyone, then back down at the handwriting: William Jones—A Scout
smiles and whistles under all difficulties. Fromprinting letters to this! With
a Parker 61! I was full of it.
Fanny held up the card and showed it to Nancy and my parents.
"An elegant hand, my boy," said Nancy. "What a standard you've set
us all."
'That's not a wish," said my mum. "A Scout smiles and whistles under
all difficulties."'
"Oh, it's a nifty saying," said Nancy. "Like watchword. More than
enough for the eleven-plus."
"You go now Aunty Fanny," I said.
And so she did. Then my mum, then Nancy. Each signature followed
by a message that I couldn't see because the card was upside down.
"And we should be off, now," said my mum, laying the pen in its box.
"Get your anorak, Billy."
"Don't forget Dad's John-Henry," said Nancy, pushing the card his
way.
'The wife's taken care of it, haven't you, love?" he said. "Yes I have,"
she replied, looking up at Fanny. "Get your coat then, Billy," said my dad.
33 I headed for the cupboard.
"No, no, Frank," said Fanny, retrieving the pen. "You must."
"We can do it later, Fanny," I heard my mum say. "It's well past Billy's
bedtime."
"I insist," said Fanny in her friendly way.
My dad sighed. And when I turned around, he seemed to snatch the
card from Fanny's hand.
***
Dad winked and turned away again.
"Dad?"
"Eight pounds, nine ounces, four drams, Billy," he said as I hurried to
keep up.
'Wow!"
"And one hundred and twenty-five pounds, seventeen shillings and
sixpence."
He patted his back pocket.
"Wow, dad! That's the first prize! You've won the first prize!"
I caught hold of his sleeve and he shook me off.
"Congratulations, dad," I said. "You wait till we tell mum!"
***
I came back to the table wearing my coat. My dad was sweating, his hand
moving so slowly, like he was tracing something religious. Nancy stoked
the fire. Fanny watched him and then looked at me very seriously. My
mum stood up. My heart started to race.
"Billy, fetch your mother's coat," said mum. "And your father's. It's so
very thoughtful of you both to buy him a present. Billy, you take great
care of it. He's always losing things."
"Just a little gesture," said Fanny. "For such an important exam."
I held my mum's coat for her. And we all stood there waiting for dad to
finish. Fanny looked at me and rolled her eyes. Just like she does with
Nancy's World Wars. And I giggled.
"Come on, slowcoach," I said. "I'm quicker than you, dad! Aren't I,
mum?"
I looked down at the card. Love Dad, he had written. Carefully he
pressed a full-stop, like a dart, into the page.
***
"Thunderbirds are GO!" I yelled out loud, doing a hop, skip and a jump.
'That'll give that mother of yours a hand, eh Billy? Bit of dough," he
said, struggling over the stile with all his tackle.
"Yeah!" I said.
"Put a lid on her for a while, eh, Billy?"
34 "What about a message, then?" I said to my dad. "I want a message."
"You'll get one later," said my mum. "Come along now."
"I want a long message. A longer one," I yelled. "And there's a comma
after'Love.'"
"You keep it down, Billy Jones," said my mum. "You're tired and it's
late. Aunty Fanny and Aunty Nancy want to go to bed."
"Not me," said Fanny. "You write on, Frank Jones."
Dad looked at my mum, then bent over the card again. She glanced at
the two aunts and sighed, just like my dad had done. So I did the same as
I watched him.
"Do you like my sentence, dad?" I said.
He didn't reply. I went over to stroke Sandsy, killing time.
Suddenly there was an ear-splitting yell. Like someone was hurt. My
dad. Then a clattering sound against the wall. Sandsy almost came to life
under my hand. My dad. He was on his feet. "Fuck!" he was screaming.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" There was a line of ink all down a curtain and on the
rug. "Get me outta here!" He knocked past the table.
Fanny was holding out the stain on her blouse. Rubbing it gently. Dad
rushed past me and out the door. There was ink on Fanny's face.
"Out," said my mum, pushing me outside. She looked really angry.
"I'm sorry," I said, noticing my card still open on the table. "I'm sorry."
"So you should be," she said.
"What about my pen?" I yelled. "Dad threw my pen!"
But she grabbed my hair. And I hated her and him. And them. This
was another Notfall, wasn't it? A real one. We were in the middle of a
living Notfall. Fuck, I thought. Notfall! Notfall!
"Frank, you idiot," said my mum as we headed up the field.
'They're like Myra Hindley. The two o' them," he said.
"Don't be stupid, man. They mean well enough," she replied.
"You keep the lad away, mum. You hear? Lessies," dad hissed at her.
"What?" said my mum.
"You heard."
'They love our Billy. What the hell's wrong with that?"
"Need all the help they can get, those two. Women like them."
"Oh, Christ."
'They're not picking on our Billy, love."
"Frank? You're a real donkey's arse. You know that?"
And when we reached our gate, he started kissing my mum like he
was really hungry. It didn't sound right; my mum kept trying to speak.
35 So I ran back. We hadn't even said goodnight. But it was too late. Only
the bedroom light was on. Peeping in, I could see Fanny standing in her
bra holding the stained blouse. She was shaking her head but smiling at
the same time. Nancy came in and slipped her arm around Fanny's waist.
Now they were finding something very funny. Fanny was wiping her eyes.
I didn't understand.
As I walked back up the field to our caravan I got nervous. So I started
whistling The Avengers theme tune. The lights weren't on in our caravan,
but the door was open. I could hear mum giggling, just like Fanny and
Nancy. So when I stepped into the darkness, I smiled too—just like they
tell you to do in the handbook—even though my stomach felt like the
tightest reef knot you've ever seen. And I kept on whistling, so they'd
know I was home.
***
"Here," I said, handing him these fishy mitts which he'd dropped on the
canal towpath. If he'd been wearing them last night, none of it would
have happened. But how can you indoors?
I gate-vaulted the stile and followed him over the tracks.
'Thanks, love," he said, as though speaking to my mum, marching
straight ahead across the railway lines. In his mind he was home already
with the day's winnings. And I looked right, left, and right again for him
and for me. Like I was muttering some crazy prayer.
"Wait, dad!" I yelled.
But he was through the hawthorn hedge on the other side before I'd
even started across.
36 Susan Gillis
two poems
Sun Crossing Autumn
for Robert Kidd
The field we moved in, expansive, to
quiet throatings, to the river, birches,
five o'clock, the stitched horizon. I am happy
Yes, holding this eggplant, grinding cumin,
coriander, mustard seed, I can say that.
The weight of the pestle against stone.
Tendons that slide over bone,
small crushings in my wrist.
Our feet as they were on loam
getting us somewhere.
Put your fork down.
This is the old way,
fingers, hands, direct.
The oil is kind.
Garlic never lies.
The sun crossing autumn draws light, leaves
after it, evening.
The plate, your mouth, my eyes
This is the angle we turn on
And it turns on itself
Seed, stone. Think of a woman
planting in a field
under a darkening moon. Think of her
with the scent of earth in her
hands, feet. Forgive me. Your kisses.
Whispers brushed from our tongues.
Outside, a hinted-at blue. Asters, maybe.
Stars.
37 Toward Magnetic North
The needle maddens,
red end swings across
south's fluorescent stars.
My hand wobbles.
Routinely,
you tell me, nights around there
break. Chorus the snow pink,
sugarshine, I imagine.
Sweet burnt weightlessness, air.
Early on, say June, Indian paintbrush tip
red into lichen, moss. Against
that pale glow you could walk to infinity
in any direction, pulled to it.
Those were your words. Pulled to it.
Well, I've felt that.
Holding the compass in my left hand I let you
trap it in your open right
because you are demonstrating.
We are preparing for a trip.
It's simple, you say.
Fix the needle, you say, good at this,
on the point you wish to attain, then
follow it.
When I laugh, your face shuts.
Listen, hiking down the Peloponnese
you're unprepared for red,
red poppies, heat, slumber.
Your word. The midday pull to rest.
How air webs your skin. And,
Ln the mountains gravity makes you—
Sometimes I think I understand.
Anyway
38 I picture you in canvas,
slumpy socks, boots. The stories
you tell: I'm in none of them.
You can tell them over and over.
Pale green, dark red,
a landscape I don't know.
Where is it again we're supposed to be going?
The shadow your body casts at each end of the day.
39 Ken Babstock two poems
The Interior
Moss laid a lime rug, quilted
by shade, early spores speckled
the air between columns of spruce. Bears
came out routing the loam, huffing.
Advancing on equinox, winter's
stunted days begin to
expand,
light cleaving the afternoons
and the choked cold gush
of the Kispiox.
Returning here for seasonal work,
where a friend sings elegies
for a biker who cocked a rifle
at himself,
opened his chest like a long vowel, spooking
grouse into daylight.
40 What We Didn't Tell the Medic
When the bike dropped it jammed
a foot-peg into asphalt. Blue
sparks spat off chrome, a dead-stop
catapult sent it clear up and
we slid right under,
holding each other.
Time stalled. I stared
at the Honda hovering there—
mid-air—could have sketched
the scraped tank, the locked
sprocket and axle, forks skewy-bent,
wracked frame and lolling
headlight-eye—it was an ill-framed
Guernica horse strung
up in the sky.
It felt good though, holding
my friend as we spilled onto tarmac;
I wanted to pull his helmeted
head back and kiss him—
for passing those semis,
for muttering God as we fell,
for being there with me, ripping south
on the 401 in a stink of coat-leather
burning, arms apart, like he could
wrestle the back bumper
of the Datsun ahead, and that sky,
that ovoid of impenetrable blue,
pressing in, pressing down, the way
sea-swells can pinch a whole ship, just crack
it in two. My eyes flickered, then calmed;
like a deckhand's last glimpse
of the Grand Banks, they caressed
that porthole 'til it sank.
41 Joe Longo
Date Rape Anthems
I hate wearing my fur. It's like everyone in New York sneers at me
when I walk down the street. I feel self-conscious, almost guilty. I've
heard about those groups that splatter you with animal blood if they
catch you wearing fur. It's scary. Sometimes I'll hear people make
comments, always indirect but loud enough. I want to tell them it's not
my fur. I got it out of my mom's cedar closet before I moved to New
York. It's the warmest coat I own. Besides, only the collar part is raccoon.
I don't even think the rest is real. Tommy, my boyfriend back home,
calls it a roadkill blend.
Last time Tommy came to visit, he made me wear the fur every time
we went out. He said, "Fuck the dead raccoon, Monica, you look badass."
He said the fur went well with the whole retro thing that's going on. But
I think he just liked to pet it. Whenever we stood close in a crowded bar
he'd run his hand up and down my back. It felt good, but I wished he
didn't call so much attention to the fur. I almost think he wanted people
to say something. He was like that sometimes.
I tell all this to Stephanie, my roommate, as we get ready to go out.
The wind chill has gone below zero so there's no doubt I've got to wear
the fur tonight. Stephanie is bent over at the refrigerator, drawing white
wine out of a box and into a Dunkin' Donuts "Big One" cup.
"Will you support me if someone takes offence?" I say, putting my
arms into a black turtleneck.
'To the death, Monica," she says. She closes the refrigerator door and
takes a long gulp from the Styrofoam cup. "Just remember. Anyone hits on
us, we're lesbians."
I grab my fur and Stephanie's black leather trenchcoat from the rack
on the bathroom door. Stephanie's been in New York longer than I have.
She's better at things.
It's twelve blocks from our apartment to Boxer's, where we're supposed to meet Christian and Dinesh. For the first block the fur keeps
me warm. Then an icy breeze races up Houston Street and we have to
walk backwards to shield our faces. Stephanie offers me some of her
wine and my quivering lips manage to get some into my mouth before it
starts to run down my chin and onto the raccoon part of my coat.
42 I hand Stephanie back the cup. She drinks up the rest in a series of
short gulps. Then she lets go of the cup and it sails up Houston Street. I
follow its path as it flips and rolls its way back to our apartment. The
cup's movements seem almost choreographed, as if manipulated by
something much smarter than a northeasterly wind. The bright white
of the Styrofoam shines under the streetlights. I search my fur coat for
something else to let go of, eyeing the cup the whole time.
At the Houston-Sullivan intersection the cup is mashed by the front
tire of a speeding cab. I flinch when I see what happens. I step up on my
toes to get a better view of the street, putting my hands up to my eyes
for better focus. But when I do the wind gets up under my fur and my
whole body rattles.
"C'mon, Monica." Stephanie is standing at the open door of a cab.
"C'mon, I'm freezing."
I walk over to her carefully, checking the front tire before getting in.
"Such beautiful ladies! Where are such beautiful ladies going to?"
"We're celebrating," Stephanie tells the cab driver. "And we already
told you where we're going."
"Celebrate, what you celebrate?"
"It's our anniversary," Stephanie says.
I look over at her. She smiles, wanting me to play along.
"Anniversary? What, you married?" The driver begins to laugh.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, we are." Stephanie manages to sound insulted.
I look at the hack license taped to the back of the seat. It reads,
"Xayaboupha, Khamhieng." I want to ask Khamhieng if he turned onto
Houston from Sullivan before picking us up. But now he's stopped talking
to us.
Stephanie turns to me. "If Christian tries to embrace me again, I'm
gonna have to kick him."
'That was two weeks ago," I tell her. "He knows you're not interested. We can still all be friends." I work at the Tisch student center with
Christian and Dinesh and the three of us go out for drinks a lot. It's good
to have guy friends. Then other guys don't hassle you as much. Even
Tommy agrees with me. But the first time Stephanie came out with us,
we pretended to be two couples and Christian got to like the idea. When
Stephanie wanted to go home, he offered to walk with her. I stayed with
Dinesh for another pitcher, until he told me he didn't want a girlfriend
anymore. I left him at the bar and grabbed a cab. When I got back to
Sullivan Street, I saw Stephanie at the window table inside Lucia's, the
all-night deli/wine bar next door. I joined her at the table and ordered
two Chiantis. She told me about the embrace.
43 "Are you sure it was an embrace?" I said to her. I didn't want her to
make false accusations.
She got up from the table and came around to me. "Stand up." When I
did she reached around me and squeezed me around the ribs. I wasn't
wearing my thick fur so she really got a firm grip. For a few seconds I just
held my breath, a little bit afraid to pull her off me. She finally let go.
"Is that an embrace?" she said.
Since then, she no longer trusts men to keep men away from her.
Standing outside Boxer's someone hugs me from behind.
"Ooh, you're so warm," the stranger says over my shoulder. I smell
the beer on his breath, feel his hands sliding all over the fur.
'No, I'm quite cold actually." I shake free and turn around. Basic frat
material, but he wears a black Providence College cap that makes me
think of home. I resent him all the more.
"Well, let's get inside then," he says. "We'll warm up together."
"No, really, I'm a bitch," I say before Stephanie steps in.
"Let's go, hun," she says, hooking her arm in mine and leading me to
the door. Whistles and catcalls from frat guy's friends follow us into Boxer's.
The bar is far more congested than usual. I spot two or three more
Providence College caps, along with sweatshirts from every other Big East
college. I remember that the tournament is this weekend. I made the trip
to Madison Square Garden myself three years ago when I went to PC. The
atmosphere in Boxer's is exactly like Club Eagle's back home. I start to
feel silly wearing my fur.
Stephanie spots Dinesh at the far end of the bar. She pushes through the
crowd and I have to hold onto her hand to keep up with her. Smashing
Pumpkins blasts from the overhead speakers. A group of girls wearing
Boston College sweatshirts dance together, draft beers in hand. They shout
in unison, "Let me out."
'This place was empty an hour ago," is the first thing Dinesh says to
us. "How did these people find their way downtown?"
I lean towards Dinesh. "Where's Christian?"
'Who cares," Stephanie replies. "Let's have some tequila." She stands
between me and Dinesh on the brass foot rail and stretches out over the
bar. I lean behind her so I can hear Dinesh.
"Christian's loving this. He's pulling his Princeton snob routine on these
kids. He was at the jukebox last time I saw him."
The bartender takes Stephanie's order with a monster scowl on his
face, as if there are limits to what he'll serve. His scowl slowly subsides,
approving of tequila and a pitcher of Bud. He turns back to the bottles,
ignoring everyone else waving money at him.
I feel someone petting my fur. I ignore it for awhile, figuring it's some-
44 one trying to squeeze through. But the stroke is consistent, like the
way you'd pet a cat on your lap. I turn around and it's the frat guy again.
"Is this a mink?" he says.
I think of Tommy. He'd love this scene.
"It's fucking roadkill," I say.
'You're not lesbians," he says. I look at Stephanie. She turns to hand
me a shot glass. Dinesh comes over with a shot glass and a beer in either
hand and stands next to frat guy. Frat guy watches the three of us make a
silent toast before we down our tequila.
"You're not lesbians," he says again.
'They certainly are," Dinesh says. "I gave Monica away at the commitment ceremony."
"Kiss, then," he says.
"Buy us more tequila," Stephanie says.
While frat guy tries to flag down the bartender Christian returns.
"You won't believe this," he says. "I met a girl with a Billy Joel theory."
"Huh?" Dinesh says.
"She has a fucking Billy Joel theory."
"What's her theory?" I say.
"You gotta hear it from her. I can't do it justice." Christian slides back
into the crowd to look for her.
Frat guy hands us all tequila shots, this time with lime and salt. "So
now you have to kiss," he says before downing his own shot. Are all the
guys at Club Eagle's like him?
'Take off your fur," Stephanie says. I obey without thinking about it.
She pulls down my turtleneck and rubs water and salt just underneath my
chin. She hands me a wedge of lime. "Put this in your mouth backwards."
I do that, too. She adjusts the lime in my mouth, turning it upright like a
crescent moon. Before I figure out what she's doing she's licking the salt
off my neck. Then she throws back her shot and puts her mouth around
the lime. She holds still for a second, our lips grazing, then sucks the lime
out of my mouth and into hers.
"Wow," frat guy says.
Even Dinesh looks stunned. Stephanie never carried it out this far before. It takes him a minute to readjust his role.
"Okay, my turn," he says, dipping his finger into his beer. He reaches
over to frat guy's neck and sweeps his finger across. Frat guy jumps like
he's wired to something. He looks to Dinesh.
"It's only fair," Dinesh says.
Frat guy leaves us alone.
Christian returns to the bar with a short, drunk girl wearing a Providence College sweatshirt. She has bobbed blonde hair which makes
45 me wonder if the orange scrunchy on her left wrist is just for show. She
looks familiar, like a face I'd seen on campus that never became a person.
"Guys, this is Wendy," Christian says. We all introduce ourselves. "She's
a big fan of Billy Joel," he says.
"Oh, he's the greatest," Wendy says.
"Christian told us you have a theory about Billy Joel," I say.
Wendy looks over at Christian, who nods in eager approval. She begins
to explain. I don't catch all of it, partly because everyone in the bar is
singing along to "Brown-Eyed Girl," and partly because the tequila is
starting to take effect. But more or less, Wendy seems to think that in the
early days Billy Joel knew how to convey the yearnings of unrequited love
with sincerity and sentimentality. He knew what it felt like to be hurt and
betrayed.
"That's why everyone can relate to his songs," she says.
What happened was that when he married Christie Brinkley, his heart
filled to the brim with happiness and the overflow soothed his tortured
soul. He was truly happy and could no longer write of heartache and
pain, because he forgot such things existed.
"So how do you explain his divorce?" Dinesh asks Wendy.
'That's my whole point, don't you see?" She looked at all of us as if we
were parents who would never understand. "Now that he's lost his true
love, he can go back to writing honest, heartfelt songs again. I can't
wait."
"Guess what, Wendy," Christian says. "Monica and Stephanie live on
Sullivan Street."
Wendy's face flushes. "Near Mr. Cacciatore's?" she says.
"Right next door," Stephanie says. "Except now they call it Lucia's."
Even though I know she's kidding, Stephanie lies so well I'm always tempted
to believe her.
"Ooh, take me there, take me there. I want to see it." Wendy is jumping
up and down.
"Whattaya say," Christian says to all of us.
"Let's go," Stephanie says.
As I put on my coat Wendy says to me, 'That is such a cool fur. You are
so cool."
We talk the cab driver into letting the five of us pile in. Wendy has put
us all in a giddy mood and we sing "Honesty" at the top of our lungs.
Dinesh, sitting up front, asks the cab driver if he's heard of Billy Joel.
"Of course," he says in a thick German accent.
"See," Wendy says. "Billy Joel has world-wide appeal. Remember that
concert he did in Russia? He really knows about the world."
I realize how thoroughly drunk Wendy is. I feel bad for small girls
46 because they can't hold their liquor. She's about two heads shorter than
me and Stephanie and just as thin. I remember her saying something
about being filled to the brim.
I'm glad Stephanie is happy. All that wine and tequila and the fact that
Christian is hassling some other girl did a lot for her spirits. I worry about
her, and because she's smarter than me it makes me start to worry about
myself.
Lucia's is empty when we walk in. The four of them take the table by
the window while I go up for a bottle of wine. Lou the bartender says
hello.
"What can I get for you, sweetheart?"
"Something dry and red."
He smiles and doesn't say anything, inviting me to read some
perverted thought in his mind. It's our little ritual.
'How about a bottle of Corvo?" he finally says.
'That'll have to do," I say. He chuckles and goes to fetch the wine. I
notice a stack of wrapped sandwiches layered like a pyramid on the deli
counter. I count from the bottom. 6-5-4-3-2-1. Before I can do the math
Lou is back with the wine.
"Why all the sandwiches?" I say.
"Want one?" he says.
"One of those?"
"Sure." I don't know why I say yes. He goes over and snatches the one
on top. 'They're all roast beef," he says. "I made one more than I needed
to." He hands me the sandwich, the wine, and the corkscrew. "I'll bring
over the glasses," he says.
"Hey, Monica," Wendy says when I get to the table. "You didn't tell me
you went to PC."
"Yeah, Monica. We had to rat you out," Christian says. I put everything down on the table.
"Did you used to hang out at Eagle's?" Wendy says.
"Now and again. I'm from Providence so I knew other places, you
know."
Stephanie starts to uncork the wine.
"I'm from Duxbury, Mass.," Wendy says.
"Why did you go to school in Providence?" I say.
"I heard there were a lot of Italians there."
Christian laughs out loud at this. "It's right out of Kerouac," he says,
his snobbery seeping out again. "There must be a lot of Italians in
Sausalito," he says to Dinesh.
Lou comes over with the glasses. As he sets one down in front of
Wendy she says, "Is this Sgt. O'Leary?" and laughs.
47 "Who the fuck is this?" Lou says to me.
"Wendy," I say, trying to make it sound like "try to understand."
"You know the song." Wendy sings, "Sgt. O'Leary is walking the beat,
at night he becomes a bartender."
"Oh, right," Lou says.
"How come you don't have any pictures of Billy Joel hanging on the
wall?"
"He's shy," Lou says. "Doesn't want to turn the place into a tourist
attraction." I have to put my head down to keep from laughing. I think of
the saying, 'Too dumb for New York, too ugly for LA," and decide that
Lou is just another genius, just another New Yorker who'll lie to your face
and love it.
"Does he ever come back to the old neighborhood?" Wendy says.
Lou takes the open wine bottle from Stephanie and fills Wendy's glass.
He points to the deli counter with his free hand. "See those sandwiches,"
he says. "I'm not supposed to say anything, but there's a private party
going on around the corner and I think..."
"No!" Wendy is hooked.
"Sometimes, when he just wants to be with his close friends..."
"Really," Wendy says.
Lou looks around the room, then leans down near Wendy's ear. "No,
I'm just fuckin' with you." He gets up and lets out a deep chuckle. "Second
bottle's on me," he says, walking away. Wendy tries to laugh but it's clear
she's confused. Still, it's almost humane the way Lou owned up at the end,
like he felt bad for her. I suddenly feel like we're being too cruel.
Stephanie empties the rest of the bottle into her glass. "Okay, time for
the question game," she says. Evidently, she doesn't feel we're being cruel
enough.
"What are the rules?" Wendy says. She seems relieved to change the
topic away from Billy Joel.
"You ask someone a question, the silliest one you can think of," Christian says.
"And the person you ask has to ask someone else another question
without hesitating or laughing," Dinesh says.
Lou comes back with another bottle and disappears just as fast. "Do
you have to answer the question?" Wendy says.
Stephanie uncorks the wine and fills up her already empty glass. "Fuck
no," Christian says. "We respect people's privacy around here. You just
have to keep from laughing, that's all."
"I think I understand," Wendy says.
"All right, I'll start," Stephanie says. "Monica, are you going to eat
this sandwich?" I laugh out loud. I'm terrible at this game.
"No," I tell her, breaking the rules. Stephanie unwraps the sandwich
48 and takes a bite.
"Okay, Monica, your turn," Dinesh says.
I take a breath and turn to Christian. 'Where's your girlfriend tonight?"
Christian to Dinesh: "Have you ever fellated a kangaroo?"
Dinesh to me: 'Will you please go down on my dog?"
Me to Wendy: "Do you fear for your life?"
Everyone but Wendy laughs. Instead, she says, "You don't like me,
do you, Monica?"
I miss a half a beat, tempted to answer, then turn to Stephanie. "Are
you an angry young woman?"
She smiles but says to Christian, "Do you think you've got Wendy in
the bag tonight?"
Christian to Wendy: "Do you think Stephanie is an evil dyke?"
Wendy to Stephanie: "Are you an evil dyke?"
Stephanie to Dinesh: "Am I an evil dyke?"
Dinesh to Christian: "Should I answer her?"
Christian to me: "Should Dinesh answer Stephanie?"
Me to Dinesh: "Can you do it tastefully?"
Dinesh to Stephanie: "Do what tastefully?"
Stephanie to Wendy: "Can Dinesh perform oral sex on me tastefully?"
Wendy to Dinesh: "Can you?"
Dinesh to Stephanie: "Would you even appreciate it?"
Stephanie to Christian: "Appreciate what?"
Christian to Stephanie: 'Would you appreciate Dinesh performing oral
sex on you tastefully?"
Stephanie to Wendy: "Would Dinesh let Monica show him the proper
way?"
Wendy to me: "Would you?"
I laugh, but it's forced.
Wendy bounces in her chair. "Monica laughed, does that mean I win?"
I decide Wendy is right. I don't like her.
"You know, Wendy," I say, pouring myself some more wine. "I've got
my own Billy Joel theory. It has to do with his fans, actually."
"What's your theory, Monica?" Wendy says.
"I think the girls who believe his songs are sincere and heartfelt are the
very same girls who wake up in strange dorm rooms with their underwear missing."
"You're right, Monica," Stephanie says. "I always thought that song
about wanting to fuck Catholic school girls was his most honest piece of
writing."
"I agree," Christian says. "His songs are date rape anthems."
"Although," Dinesh says. "'Brown-Eyed Girl' is the all-time number
one date rape song."
49 "I have to agree, Dinesh. I have to agree," Christian says.
There is definite concern on Wendy's face. "But I really like Billy Joel,"
she says.
"I'm not saying it's a bad thing, Wendy," I say. "I understand your situation. You're out at Club Eagle's. A big, blowout Friday night. You've had
a few drafts. If you're smart you didn't pay for them. You grew up in
fucking Duxbury, so you're feeling a bit wild, a bit decadent, out in Providence. You're bonding with your roommate, whose name is probably
Jen, who hates the name Jennifer because that's what her dad calls her.
You find out that Jen, too, likes Billy Joel, and that Jen, too, thinks the
guy with the baseball cap is cute. No, the other guy with the baseball
cap. No, the other guy... and you have a big giggle over it.
'Then 'Only the Good Die Young' comes on, and at that moment,
truer words were never spoken. So you and Jen start to dance, right
there at the bar. Everyone knows the chorus and sings along.
Immediately you bond with everybody. You think, 'I am in the right place.
Everyone is just like me.' When the song is over someone yells
'Jagermeister' and the last thing you remember before falling on your
back somewhere is that you're among friends."
"Are you a lesbian?" Wendy says.
"Is that your last hope?" I say.
"What if we were?" Stephanie says, putting her arm around my fur.
'Then it would be four against one. Well, three. Because I'm about to get
sick."
Christian touches Wendy's shoulder. 'Tell me Wendy, do you have a
place to stay tonight? I've got a couch."
Wendy is out the door as if she heard a starting gun. I worry she might
not find a cab or know where she needs to go when she gets one.
"You guys owe me one," Christian says. "I gave her to you."
"You did the gentlemanly thing," Dinesh says.
"Follow her," I say to Christian.
"Fuck that," he says. "She's liable to mace me. You go."
Stephanie leans on my shoulder, on the verge of passing out or throwing up.
"Monica, I need to get home," she says.
I help her to her feet, then tuck the rest of the sandwich under one arm
and Stephanie under the other. Her face is buried in the raccoon part of
my fur.
"Christian," I say. "Just because you're not a rapist, doesn't mean
you're not an asshole." That seems to clear my conscience. I walk
Stephanie to the door but I'm not all that qualified to keep her upright
myself. We get out into the cold night. The wind has died down but I
certainly would not want to be Wendy right now. I almost think she'd be
50 better off with Christian, but it's an impolite thought and I chastise myself.
We get inside the hallway. Only four flights and we're home. "Monica."
Stephanie's voice is muffled. "I'm not sure how I feel about your fur
anymore."
At the foot of the stairs I hoist Stephanie up so she can see where
she's going. She pulls away from me and throws up on the first landing.
I put the sandwich down and hold onto her head.
"Fucking roast beef," she says between retches.
"Billy Joel's roast beef," I say. She starts to laugh.
"I'm sorry," she says.
'Take your time, I'll clean it later."
She gets it all out and we negotiate the stairs as best we can. After
trying three keys, we tumble through the door of our apartment and
without stopping rush headlong into Stephanie's bedroom, where she
collapses on her belly with her trenchcoat still on. I roll her on her back
to get her arms out of the sleeves, then back onto her belly so she won't
choke.
"Monica," she says.
"You're home, you're safe." I go over to her stereo and flip on the CD
player. Natalie Merchant comes on at a nice, mellow level.
"Monica," she says.
"Sleep well. I've got to clean up downstairs."
When I get back downstairs I realize I forgot to bring paper towels. I
unwrap the remainder of the sandwich and wipe up as much of the vomit
as I can with the white butcher paper and throw it in the recycling bin
under the stairs. I start back upstairs, but decide I don't want to go there.
I run out the door and into Lucia's. Christian and Dinesh are gone. I
walk over to the bar. I hear Lou in the back. The sandwiches that were
on the deli counter are gone. A half-bottle of Corvo remains on our table.
I grab it and leave.
Standing outside, I drink the wine and think about Wendy. I imagine
being her, back in Providence. Then I picture Tommy hitting on her at
Eagle's, pretending to like Billy Joel. I take off my fur to see how cold it
really is.
After finishing the wine, I turn back into my apartment. The stairs
aren't any easier to manage without Stephanie than they were with her.
If anything, I used her for support. Now I've got to grab the rail and
hang on.
I struggle with the lock. I close the door behind me and head to my
room.
"Monica," I hear faintly. I walk slowly to Stephanie's room. Natalie
Merchant is barely audible. I stand in the dark for a minute, wondering if
my eyes will adjust.
"Monica."
I stand in the doorway, swaying.
51 Billeh Nickerson two poems
Louisville Slugger
Think baseball he tells me
hut it's difficult
on hands and knees—
the way I'd play
horseback riding
when my sister was five
& I was nine.
Think baseball and I knew
it would come down to this,
a day when I'd let this happen,
but I never thought
I'd be thinking baseball,
my uncles during the World Series,
my stiff leather mitt,
my grade eight gym class when
even the teacher laughed
because I threw
like a girl.
52 In the Shower
My lover feeds me mango
with his switchblade
close against my lips.
This is when my tongue
glides easiest,
licks strings of fruit
off our skin,
into my mouth.
I want to tell him—
warm water trickling
down our backs,
my thumbs circling
his nipples—
I'm afraid the blade
might slip
but there's so much
being said right now
as he thrusts the fruit
against my stomach,
guts it
like a small animal.
53 Elva Macfas three poems
translated from the Spanish by Caroline Davis Goodwin
Pisces
Father, your feet—
ornate fish in their sandals—
slip cautiously
into the dark sea.
You yourself are the deep
that contains it all.
You search for a Sargasso Sea,
your place
to put down your life that is ending.
We are the long train that follows you
into a current you grew accustomed to
with the wisdom of the blind.
Since you no longer keep an eye on us,
we believe everything has changed.
But inside you, we are the same sea;
three children lashed to your clothing,
we shudder
while the rainy season
laid up in your shirt
flows in.
54 Open House
In the stables the animals are panting;
they have hauled in the benefits of the orchard,
the smell of freshly cut bales
invades the yard.
In the garden, peacocks, ducks
and plovers pick over the ground
among the roses, the almond trees, the tamarind.
Bare feet lavish their freshness on the corridors.
The customary fruit is laid out on the table
and everything is feasted with its task and spell of leisure.
Every morning
the doors swing wide,
both madmen and beggars sit back
in the hall
and travellers, without
lifting a latch,
secure a shelter from the midday sun.
Sign
What hand, opening, does not unfold its shadow?
55 Oscar Martens
The Girl With the Full Figure
Is Your Daughter
His place is cold, he lives like a slob and I really don't want to be
here. I always get a sore throat, sometimes before I'm even in
my father's apartment. That makes as much sense as standing
in the hallway in front of his door with my stomach clenched while the
plastic handles from the grocery bags cut off blood from my fingers.
I have many ways to explain the tension. Arthur seems to be getting
worse. He writes things down on index cards and leaves them around the
apartment so he can remember things. My job is to determine his level of
functioning and compensate for the lack of it. I might be the one who
decides he can no longer live on his own.
It stinks inside. It's hard to find room on the kitchen counter where I
can set down the groceries. The dishes that aren't mouldy have dried food
stuck to them. The TV is on and there are porn magazines laid out on the
couch. A pair of dirty underwear hangs off one of the arms of the recliner.
YOU ARE TRYING TO REDUCE YOUR INTAKE OF FATS AND SUGARS.
Using my new method of cleaning, I walk around with an orange Hefty
bag and throw out anything that is objectionable. And I've bought rubber
gloves so I don't actually have to touch anything. I trust his memory not to
miss these things and his sense of shame not to mention them if he notices. I don't know if this is evil or not. It probably is.
Arthur sputters whenever I talk about moving him to a nicer place, a
place where he can be cared for properly. He tells me I should take care of
him properly and then he would be happy. Arthur wishes I would be like
his wife who was a real woman. Comments like that make me realize
that if it weren't for the weekly doses of intimidation and shame from Cal,
I would have written off Arthur long ago.
YOU WERE A UNION ORGANIZER UNTIL MAY 18,1978.
56 Arthur walks in naked again. It doesn't matter how many times I tell
him. I see him in my periphery but I can't face him. We play this scene
one more time. I skirt the perimeter of the room until I can make it to
the bathroom to get a towel to put around his waist. Sometimes he blocks
the way to the bathroom.
I can't do it today. I've got the towel, but I can't put it around his waist.
I can barely stand the smell of him. I hold out the towel and tell him to
put it on. He ignores me. I order him to do it, almost growling out the
words.
He finally puts it on and sits down to watch television. Today, lesbians
who have battled both sexism and prejudice to become ministers in the
church.
THE RENT IS DUE ON THE LAST DAY OF EVERY MONTH.
I vacuum around him. I dust around him. I send his filth down the
garbage chute. His cards seem to be breeding. I try to put them in places
where they will be most helpful. The people ones go by the phone, the diet
ones near the fridge and so on. There's a new one on top of his radio in
the bedroom:
THE GIRL WITH THE FULL FIGURE IS YOUR DAUGHTER.
My throat begins to throb. I search for a reason for my sudden anger.
Arthur bumps into me from behind and then I'm staring at the light cover
from my room in our old house.
There were two sockets but only one worked. A dim, covered 40-
watt bulb lit the room. I had studied it so closely, all the frilly designs
etched into it and that pile of dead bugs darkening the centre.
I remember a big mayfly, hearing that zapping sound as it hit the light,
maimed but not dead. I could see the shape of its body fairly well through
the cover. It twitched for a while and I imagined myself in that strange
glass bowl with the savage electric flame roasting me, leaving me too
weak to escape.
When I sit down, Arthur sits down beside me setting the right side of
my body on fire. I have to move. Make tea. I have to make tea, find the
kettle in the kitchen where it is cooler. I have to search for a tea bag but
when I find one I just stand there squishing it, sweat from my fist mixing
with the tea, staining me.
I leave Arthur's apartment and catch a bus on Hastings which is
strange because I drove here. It's a few blocks before I've realized what
I've done. A guy offers me his seat and it makes me want to kick him in
57 the balls. This isn't even the right bus. It's an express and it won't stop
until Brentwood Mall so I'm committed to a 45-minute bus ride in the
wrong direction.
I'm going to get home eventually and when I do I'm going to put on all
the locks, pull the blinds and moan quietly into my pillow. For days, if
necessary. Everybody is looking at me because they all know how dirty
and useless I am.
I'm in the apartment before I can afford to think of it again. Simply
this: looking up at the light cover while he did things. Then later, looking
up at the cover while he did things and his penis was in my mouth.
Choking me. Making me sticky. Later, his lecture on becoming a woman.
Memory hurts. Without it, I can function. With it, I'm lying here gasping for air. What's the point, then? With more knowledge I am less able.
There's a tree on East Georgia that I can't go past anymore because the
branches are shaped like erect penises and when the wind blows they
bob and dangle like the real thing. It's so rude I don't see how people can
have that on their lawns. Why don't more people run screaming?
And I'm fixated on microphones now so that eliminates any kind of
concert or lecture. I can't go to the Malcolm Lowry Room on Wednesdays
anymore. That's ruined for me. But worst of all is the men around me,
men I used to trust, relationships I used to find appropriate and now I just
don't know. There is no one who can guide me.
I wish I could go back in time to last month, before that tiny nut of
information in my brain cracked open and poisoned everything. I was
happy before. At least I think I was happy, which is the same thing.
I can't go back to his apartment now. That seems impossible. One night
Cal calls me and starts scolding me for avoiding Arthur. He says if he
were here he would handle it himself. He wonders if I can do anything
right. He forces me to promise to visit Arthur.
It takes three weeks to get to the point where I can stand stupidly in
front of this door again. How can it be possible that I have returned to do
kind things for Arthur? What is wrong with me that I am able to do this?
Arthur's out, thank god. I see why he requested extra cards. They're all
over the apartment by now. There's guilt as I think of him alone for three
weeks followed by anger for feeling guilt.
Among the cards on the table there is an incomplete one which says
You have. I finish it for him, easily imitating his wobbly scrawl. I reach
for a blank card. After twenty I plan to mix them with his cards but it
seems better to collect his and throw them out. An hour later, I have
replaced all of his cards with my versions.
YOU HAVE NO REAL WORTH.
58 Cal phones three days later. Something is wrong with our father. Arthur's
really shaken about something but he doesn't know what. Cal said Arthur
sounded confused and hurt and close to tears.
YOU WILL ALWAYS BE ALONE.
I think this is beautiful while I try an appropriate response for a loving
daughter. Cal might hear my smile if I'm not careful when I speak. He's
flying out from Calgary on the weekend. My stomach clenches as I think
of ways to prepare for his arrival.
YOU WILL BE PUNISHED FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.
Everything I can remember goes into my notes, all the things that happened to me, with approximate dates. It's a heavy thing, this feeling of
doom, but I'm hoping a script will prevent me from feeling like a child. If
I don't have one they'll just roll over me. I'll start crying or become weak.
Cal is worse in person. It's only on the phone that I can distance myself
from his insults and belittling. He's a small man with wound-up tension
that makes him seem close to violence. Wrinkles that might make other
men look wise and gentle make him fierce and severe.
When I open the door to Arthur's apartment, Cal steams toward me
with all his force and anger. He holds up a pair of Arthur's underwear and
yells at me for the place being such a mess. There is crap everywhere but
no more than usual. Cal wants to know how this is possible. Don't I care
about our father? How is Arthur supposed to be happy in a mess like this?
I have a lot of explaining to do.
I say I will be happy to explain everything and ask them to sit down.
My hand is in my purse, gripping my notes. I have been so scared of losing
them, or Arthur destroying them, that I made a copy and mailed it to
myself.
As I pull out my papers, they sit on opposite ends of the couch, suspicious of what I am doing, impatient for me to start. The notes probably
make me look ridiculous but I start reading anyway, without looking up.
When I'm finished I wait for a response.
Cal grabs my notes and asks if I've been spending all this time writing
short stories, all this time leaving poor Arthur on his own so I could
practice creative writing. And it's not even very good writing. And why
would I want to write about some disgusting thing like that? Why would
I want to make up all those horrible things about my father?
Arthur calls me crazy, wonders if that's what an education does for
59 you, makes you crazy, makes you talk trash to your father. Cal won't let
me have my notes back, holding them above his head as I try to reach
them. I'm getting flashes of scenes from a homicide, yellow tape covering
the door.
I go for the old suitcase under Arthur's bed because Cal's got to know
what a sick fucker this old guy is with his mountains of porn. There's
some kiddie stuff in here, I know it. I'd like to see Arthur explain that
away. There's so much of it in the old case and most of it's new. This
isn't a classic daddy-stash with Penthouse and Playboy going back two
decades. This is Californian hardbodies in the open air, bright flash
colours, nothing older than a year.
I know he has some kiddie stuff here, he has to. I scratch my way to
the bottom of his mess, furious, hysterical. There's a tear in the orange
lining of the case and I rip it wider thinking I've found his secret stash.
This must be his unpublished collection. Polaroids with me as a baby
and Arthur over me, Arthur with his finger in me, Arthur licking me,
Arthur with his cock in my mouth. The colours change so quickly in my
head that relief over proof of my sanity is changing to anger as I take the
photos into the next room.
Arthur seems jolted seeing the pictures in my hands but he quickly
buries the surprise. He's the victim in all this. He wants to know where
I got the dirty pictures. Pictures of that young man and that dirty girl.
Where did I get those?
I'm standing over him screaming that he's the young man and I'm the
dirty girl. He's the dirty man and I'm the young girl. I'm pointing out
these two people in the photograph in case he doesn't get it and then
there's this tug on my hair. Cal's behind me and pulling my hair until I'm
crying with the sudden knowledge of who took the pictures.
There is no one who will help me. There are the two men who pushed
me in, standing at the edge of my sinkhole, but they just watch. There's a
limit to how long I can hold my head above the muck.
Back out, leave, run from this place. They laugh now and will laugh
forever. If Mother were alive she would be on my side, protecting me.
She must not have known. She knew nothing of what went on because
she loved me and would have died for me and that's the truth because I
said it.
Karen's mother ends up being the one I tell, not Karen herself because
she wouldn't be able to take it in, but her mother because she is solid and
can hear this. Tuesday, I tell her, when I know Karen and Roger have gone
to a movie. It's raining and it takes about an hour to get it out. If she had
been impatient I wouldn't have told her but she keeps pouring cup after
cup of tea and makes that the whole focus of the hour, as if it is very
important work, which it turns out to be.
60 When I'm done she holds me and feeds me those stupid, cliche, comforting lines that seem so impotent but actually work, like spells that
aren't much to hear but do their magic anyway.
A week later I'm returning to my family of origin. The key still works
in the lock. I suppose that means he's not afraid of me, but why would he be?
This is the way he used to approach me in my bedroom, quietly at
night, a concerned parent checking on the child. Here I am at last, with
freedom and power. I am conscious. He is not. But even as I fantasize a
knife near his throat or a pillow over his face, I know I won't do it.
Back in the living room, I look around at the things I have given him to
make him comfortable. The rice cooker for his birthday, the fountain pen
set, the cordless phone, all gifts from the dutiful daughter, scattered with
no particular care.
THERE IS NO MERCY.
Only the VCR seems to have attracted some pride of ownership and
that is why I unplug the cables and pull it off the shelf, begin my final
evacuation. I imagine the old man looking around his living room, wondering why he has so many video tapes, the problem briefly wrinkling his
forehead, then fading.
61 Brian Burke
Early Evening Train Station,
Stratford
in the absence of an instant be-there machine
the one we failed to invent
I fly cross country
ride the jet stream & wild winter storms
that blur the cold prairie stars
the airport a blur too
utility vehicles askew on a lone graded runway
catch a bus carrying me to trains
by the fifth of five lakes
each coach overheated
steeped in slow motion
for two people who can't be together fast enough
who could never be
too soon
trains that graze the countryside receding
that linger along this lunar landscape
like night hesitant to fall
& the snow-burdened station in Stratford
that spins out like a scene from Dr. Zhivago
so we thought then
trains pluming & pulling darkness into town
straining beneath the worrisome weight of winter
horses heaving slick with foam & their own salt
in need of feed & water & heedless sleep
& like you swirling through the early evening snow
falling cold & small
—negative temperatures times negative windchill
equalling a positive warming trend—
the two of us
62 unsteady in the pirouetting solstice
snow-kissed
one last degree clinging to the station thermometer
like trains
pushing dusk further west
the only cossacks here costumes in your workshop
that disappear under swirling swatches
for clothes not yet sewn
from a thousand bolts of cloth I delivered by truck
for boots & shoes
belts slings scabbards
for duelling & for battle
collapsing finally beneath the weight
of all these winters chased cross continent
the distant moonscapes forming
& like I could trick this creeping entropy
trick the lakes & prairie stars
& Stratford swathed in departure
ice-bound
like I could fend off night lowering
the trips west longer
schedules of withdrawal slower
against the grain of the streaming jets
honing the peaks along our continental divide
pushed onstage I'd bury a sword hilt high
speak my lines much more slowly
where once I was swirling speechless
snow-kissed
so we thought then
I would invite some rusted Pendragon encased in iron
to pull the sword free
to set us all in motion once again
the clouded stars
revolving lakes
wild winter
hesitant night
63 Zoe tandale
North of Deep Bay
Home begins with the fir trees
getting bigger as the train slips north,
the yellowed energy
of cedars, straightening. Mountains reveal
their curved blue testaments against the sky;
they are my own bones, gleaming.
Home is the wild coast, softened
with gardens, with copper dahlias.
Scarlet runners flame up rough sticks.
Horses, so glossy I see the child
(grown or not) who stands beside them,
currycomb in hand
a mouth full
of endearments.
Home is the sea which rims the land
with susurrations of herons,
of gulls,
the wet red cling
of turkish towel seaweed, surprising in its hearth
colour—when old, it fades to pink.
The more conventional sheen of sea-lettuce,
kelly-green.
64 Home is the sky clamped down
in a winter gale;
rain sideways like blown smoke,
shining.
The deep clamour of trees, branches
to the wind
and groaning with movement, the joy
of air that slides by, austere
and filled with secrets
of salt. Black surf scoters,
ridiculous with their hooked orange
bills. Fish ducks
we used to call them.
Home is always firs,
their sweet blackberry fragrance
in sun; the piercing through of scent
a delight. The eager snuffing along damp trails
after rain.
As the first stars come out
in a dusk sky
across it, the shapes of firs stamped inky-black.
Silent reverberation of their needles.
65 John B. Lee
Twenty Writers Discuss the
Importance of Knowing the
Size and Weight of Testicles
And yes, it is essential, if you would write rurally
to see how a ram's well plummed
his scrotum hanging to the clover
like a bee hive
the bull, butter-nut heavy
the boar, his boarhood
knocking around the yard
like two bricks in a bag
the tip of his penis come out its sheath
like curlicue of a wood bit seen spiralling from a brace
and
dog stones, and stallions' gonads
and even men, hung like pokes of gold
containing cojones the size of onion bulbs
meanwhile
squeamish virgins
lift their pencils to their lips
and tap their teeth
to think
how the ruffling cock
sees sunlight and crows
like a strangled stranger.
66 Gary Knox
Holding My Breath
We are in a staff room of our high school. The other teachers
are joking around, and I'm not uneasy with them today.
Outside, I hear the wind scraping trees against the building.
The last bells before spring break rang a few minutes past, and we are a
noisy bunch.
There are two bakery cakes on the table, but I have no time to dabble
in sweets. I'm to meet Vera, my baby sister, soon.
"No, I won't," I say. They (two teachers) want me, Stephen, to put on
a blindfold. A trick of some sort for Sally, and for Sally I would shed
buckets of tears, carry the photocopier up a flight of stairs, but no
blindfolds, no silly tricks. "Let Manuel. His home houses abstracts and
darkness," I say, being cute. I don't see these people except at school,
and we talk this way.
I'm thirty-one and quite tall, more than six feet. Lean and clumsy. In
the classroom, stringy dark hair falls across my brow when I get excited
and strike chalk on a desk or rant because of a bias on a TV news
program, or something like that. Robin, my ex-wife, said my eyes are
intense, but a large jaw gives my face its presence. I am known for my
ranting.
I am the youngest teacher here, and we're saying good-bye to Sally;
she's really going away, and this honestly saddens me. All week I have
been saying good-bye to her.
Last night, Sally (she is a history teacher), a few others and I went to
a lounge downtown for drinks. We laughed and were silly, and everyone
except myself said they were catching an airplane next week; everyone
had a destination. Manuel kissed Sally's hands and cheek and she cried.
It was sentimental and pathetic but I nearly cried too. I rode a taxi home,
and this morning I wasn't sure where I'd left my car.
Manuel won't cringe at being singled out, although he appears to be
troubled sitting across the room in the corner. His messed greying hair
and straight back. He is a short, delicately framed man and a tiger around
the kids. I respect his gentle roar. He teaches mathematics and I teach
English. His tie is neat and white shirt fresh as a May daisy, but now his
eyes are troubled, fearful, and I am not sure why.
"Get Tom Wade or Waldo to help cut the cake, Sam," another shouts.
67 This is a different topic. Sam, our principal, blood veins showing on the
backs of his hands, is slicing a cake. Tom and Waldo are kids who recently
instigated a food fight.
Nearly two years ago. my first months here, exceptional credentials
and a trained drama voice were curtains that I used to hide from a sea of
bright faces. My voice boomed, and words flowed, and I was afraid, really
way out in left field. Sally understood and visited my classroom daily.
She became a friend.
And now she's leaving. She is across the room. A plump, short woman.
Her greying brown hair is tightly curled. Her beige suit is a little too
tight. One hand holds glasses, and the other rubs an eye.
"Don't be shy," one shouts, meaning me, the tall, young one.
Manuel shakes his head in a way that says we should stop. No more
of this blindfold stuff, these classroom tricks, and Sam is handing around
the cake, which I refuse. The curtains are drawn and windows closed,
and it's stuffy. Outside, the wind blows. There are a few of us, her friends.
These people deserve asterisks for all sorts of reasons (noble and silly)
next to their names, and this effort is what's being celebrated. However,
we're at once happy and sad. Sally's amazing success at our struggle
and promotion thrill us, but the catch is that she's going away.
I put on my jacket, grab my leather satchel and lurch forward. I
stumble, take her hand and bend to kiss her forehead.
She gently presses against me. We hold each other as though we are
alone, and it's almost embarrassing. She's wearing three rings on the
hand in mine, and she is warm, and her hair is scented.
Holding me, she leans back. "I know you're busy this week but people
are coming over on Monday for a packing party. I want to meet your
Robin."
Sunday, my Robin, my ex-wife, is flying here from the States for a
visit. Robin and I met in Boston where I did my grad studies, and soon
(too soon) we married. Sally had lived in Boston, and so we had that to
talk about, and of course Robin crept into our conversations. Robin has a
kid now, and Sally saw pictures of the kid too; she seems to think that
Robin is an adopted sister.
"I'll be there if I can," I say. As I go, everyone wears a happy face and
waves, but I don't believe their tense grins.
Bounding down the back stairs, I feel an explosion of anticipation (like
any kid on holidays) and know (at the same moment) there are dark
and complicated things near. At the school there were days when all
speech was a blur except for Sally's voice. My life will change here in
ways I don't understand.
And Robin's visit, our first sight of each other in the noisy chaos of
the airport.
68 The outside air tastes cold and good. The school buildings are two,
three storey concrete blocks, and wide gaps separate each. Tennis
courts, grass and ornamental plums in open spaces, and buds on trees
are filling.
Kevin appears from the basketball court. A nice kid and good student,
but bells rang an hour ago.
He is a Chinese kid nearly as tall as I. There is the least swagger in
his hips. He's wearing shorts and runners and a white t-shirt. "Are you
freezing?" I ask.
He shakes his head and yawns in a way that I do when I'm nervous.
As we walk, our shoulders bump.
"It's good to have time off," I say. "What are you going to read over
the break?"
He shrugs and nods at my leather satchel. "Our papers?"
"Yes. My spring reading. You want to make changes?"
He stares at me. "I have a chemistry project."
"I'm joking," I quickly add. What does he want? I remember my car
but resist asking if he has seen it.
"I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein."
We pause at the street. March's lengthening days are often such a
let-down. I expect heat and relief. Kevin doesn't seem to notice.
Frankenstein's monster tolerated the cold too. "Excellent," I say.
He takes in a deep breath, and one hand forms a fist and lightly taps
his palm. "It was such a set-up, you know, like the guy in the boat says
his thing and then Frankenstein and then the monster. They all make a
speech."
"You want a blending and weaving."
"It's like who's going to ring the bell next."
"It's not a modern novel," I interrupt. My arm lifts, and I extend a
forefinger. "Remember when the exiled family in the woods taught the
monster to be human. Remember the princess. How touching was the
monster's tale and believable but silly too. The monster was cruel and
awful but somehow compelling. He stole that story."
"Yeah, the princess and that was great," Kevin agrees.
A Chinese accent has crept into his words.
"A junkie broke into our house. Took money and Mother's jewellery.
I was reading it then. The monster broke into houses and that's what I
thought of."
'The monster sought food and revenge for the perversity of his
creation, not money," I say.
As though shyly disagreeing, Kevin shrugs.
'The monster contemplated his revenge. He despaired at it."
"Revenge," Kevin says.
69 The sun has set. Pink and pale, greyish-blue strips streak the cold
sky. "I have to go, Kevin. I'm quite late." What do I say? My ex-wife, or
put some clothes on? "Have a pleasant holiday, and I agree, the structure
leaves something to be desired. It's excellent that you noted that." I
wave good-bye.
I decipher, explain rhetoric to these kids, but they want morality.
Heart-piercing, bloody truth. Sally has a way; her geography and dates
are as akin to her being as the sound of her voice when she and the kids
chat.
I unlock the door to my building. My sister Vera is upstairs. I need a
refrigerator, and she knows a guy who sells them. I feel in my bones
that Vera is upset because of waiting. She may say it's too late to go to
the appliance store and try to con me into making dinner.
I open the door. I smell her presence, her shampoo or soap I guess.
She's sitting on the couch, her thin legs tucked under her and her long,
black hair hanging loosely down her back. I have not seen her for months,
but she is always Vera.
She winks at me like when we were kids. "Good-byes are not easy. I
understand." She's sipping a coffee. Her face is rounder than mine, and
happier, not gruesome. She is the baby of our family.
She lifts the paperback peeking out of my jacket pocket and smiles a
narrow pencil smile. It's Godot. I kiss her hair, and it smells of shampoo.
"Stephen, really. You're so serious."
"Beckett's a lark, he is." She nods. "Uh huh."
I sit down on the rug, shoving a carton and piles of magazines out of
the way, stretch out and lay my head near her legs. I close my eyes, and
we sit quietly.
"Has Sally adjusted to going?"
"She's still here."
Vera pinches my ear, and then her fingers comb my hair. She takes
Godot from my coat pocket and opens it. "When are you going to write
that novel?"
"Sally's ready for a change, and I don't know what to write."
"She's after a man. Green, mature pastures. Write about us. Your
dreary, demented family and childhood."
"Vera, please."
"Remember the summer you got the infections. You wanted me to
stay in with you. You wanted me so badly, and I was such a brat. My
music lessons and dance and fun. You sat all summer at the pool. That's
when you wrote the first novel. Dad was drinking and Mom was god
knows what. Write that down. That time."
"Rumple was my friend."
"Wonderful Rumple."
70 'There's a Rumple-like tom in this neighbourhood. The other night a
stack of boards was knocked over and sensor lights went on and
everyone was on their balcony. Two break-ins downstairs in the last
month. We're jumpy. Phone 911 was shouted. We need electric fencing,
high as a kite. A ways away, sitting on his haunches on the sidewalk,
calmly licking a paw, was the tom. I'm sure he was the crook.
"He looked like Rumple sitting at the pool-side watching while I wrote
my sick novel about kings that summer. Do you want a glass of wine,
Vera? I need a good swim. That's what I need, but I'll settle for wine."
She shakes her head. "Your writing is special. Do you do any these
days?"
"There is something. Is it too late to buy a fridge?"
"We're okay. This is a great jacket. Where did you find it?"
I tell her where. I tell her it was on sale.
She's wearing jeans and an expensive, tanned sweat shirt. She looks
at her watch. Her wrists and fingers are very slender, and her eyes are
tired, too sleepy. She pushes fingers through her thick hair and then
pulls my head back onto her lap. 'We better go."
I want to say that it's great sitting here, and I'll make dinner, and then
I'll explain the novel, read a few pages to her. We'll find a fridge another
day.
When Vera was seventeen, she phoned a rock and roll radio station
to answer a contest question. She and the DJ chatted more than an hour.
The phone call was interrupted only momentarily while he spoke a few
radio words. Of course Vera answered correctly. She knows rock and
roll. She told the DJ she studied philosophy at university, and in truth
she had another year of high school to finish. A few days later a manager
from the station phoned and offered her a job doing late night weather
and joe jobs. I was away at school and don't know how Mom and Dad
handled it (they were stricter than most parents) but Vera worked for
the station her first years at university. This is a Vera story.
Now she has an office on campus and teaches while she completes
her Ph.D. in Psychology or Communication or the two together. Vera
refuses to explain some things. We're on the street, and she's wearing a
snazzy, black, leather bomber jacket that really shows off her hips and
legs, even with the baggy jeans. Very chic for Vera.
It always feels good to be with her. Light escapes at edges of house
windows, and I hear family noises and imagine smells of cooking. "I have
finally given up driving. Cars are society's worst burden," I say
ponderously.
She lays a hand on my shoulder. "You make me laugh. Buy an avocado
fridge, Stephen. It will fit best in your kitchen."
I describe going to the pub with Sally and the others. She has met
71 these people. "So Manuel orders a coffee, likely his seventieth of the
day and everyone else (six of us I think) drinks and we're talking,
shouting the usual stuff and Manuel's legs are crossed, and his tie is
straight as a rod and Sally is across from him peering into her glass as
though something tremendous is about to rise out of it and Manuel stares
his intense, logarithmic stare at her and she looks up at him. Let's dance,
he says. It was out of a movie.
'There was no music, no dance floor. They waltzed around and around
the table."
"Stephen," Vera says. "A swan song."
"I wish I knew," I say. 'They're fifty or so."
"Some people reach that age and are alive," she says.
We are on Broadway, and it's noisy and neon lights glow in their strange
way. Car traffic moves fast.
Vera doesn't really live anywhere. Her books and everything else
are at home with Mom and Dad, but she rarely sleeps there. How she
presents herself at work—at once academic, aggressive, and docile—is
a mystery to me. Dirty laundry and personal items litter her car, always
have.
She rings a bell on the counter inside the store, and from the rear a
man's voice yells, "Just wait a sec." Bare tube lights shine overhead.
Two new refrigerators and a stove are on display, and faded posters are
pinned to soiled walls. The store feels forgotten.
She frowns. "So where's your car, big guy? Don't b.s. me, eh. A new
sweetheart?"
The guy interrupts us. Shorter than Vera and I, he has a pleasant
face. A gold tooth shows at one side of his smile. He wears a wrinkled
white shirt and slacks, and the sleeves of his shirt are rolled up to his
elbows. He is well into his forties and (I think) knows how to worry.
"Alex, this is my brother."
Alex shakes my hand, and his sad, brown eyes scan me. I notice his
eyes because his hair is light, nearly blond. "I'm Alex." His nose is
crooked. He motions that we should go to the rear of the store. "Lock
the door, please, Vera."
As well as the appliances and appliance parts in the back, there is
furniture and a TV. A girl, ten or eleven years old, watches the TV news.
She appears small in a big, fat, tattered easy chair. She wears a bright
green dress and a green plastic clip in hair that is thick and wavy like
Alex's.
I sit on a wooden kitchen chair which is wobbly, but I feel safe. Vera
and Alex are on the sofa. Donna, the little girl, quietly slides out of the
chair, goes to the sofa and climbs onto Vera's lap. Together, they loosen
strings of Donna's clunky shoes. It's perfect Vera not to explain any of
72 this. Donna embraces Vera, and they kiss.
Alex watches them, then turns to the TV and offers to make coffee,
but Vera says no.
"Stephen, the pen in your shirt pocket is leaking."
'The stain is from last month. New pen, old shirt."
She smiles mischievously.
There is an ad for a car on the TV, and a woman lounges against the
sleek car.
Three guys are discussing sports news. They're discussing Mike
Tyson being released from jail. They wear bright red and blue blazers.
Is he our hero? And OJ. The links are obvious, if you want to sell TV
commercials. And now they include Michael Jordan.
It's dusty and tacky here, and the lighting is weird and the TV glows
like a pertinacious icon. I'm becoming tired and weak. 'These prime-
time idiots," I say.
Vera looks at me, and I see a weary need verging on distress. She
smiles, the concern disappearing somewhere inside of her like she did
when we were kids and she was about to tell a tale. "Where's your car,
Stephen?"
Vera is so cool, so smart. She deserves her Ph.D. "It's
downtown...after that party at the pub I took a taxi."
Beyond the TV are more appliance parts and junk, and along one wall
is a counter and sink. Next to the counter is a door to the outside, and
someone is knocking on it. Two security bars are across the door. The
knock is loud and I flinch. Alex heads for the door, saying, "It's likely
towed. Find what company services that street and phone. I hate those
bastards. They take plastic." Alex is removing the bars. "It's my
appliances."
"You dog, you lost your car a dozen times," Vera says and then adds,
"Donna and I will go for something to eat, Alex. Come with us, Stephen.
There's a Thai place down the street."
"I'll be two hours," Alex says and opens the door. Two Asian guys
stand there. They wear green delivery-men clothes, and one smokes a
cigarette and holds a pair of leather gloves. Alex nods in a friendly way
and speaks. I don't hear what he says.
"I'm meeting some guys downtown," I say.
"Come here and show Stephen the album. That's important," Vera
says.
Alex stares at Vera, and his face opens. I see that gold tooth. "Right,
just a sec." He speaks to the two men.
He sits on the couch, and the photograph album is on his lap. He
stretches his short legs and relaxes them. He waits, catching his breath
or centering himself for a moment. His forefinger taps the album and
73 then touches his crooked nose. He gently elbows Donna.
Vera motions, and I position myself behind the sofa and look at my
watch.
"See Stanley Park and the university and it's beautiful, eh." His voice
is gentle, subdued, and his hand brushes a photograph in which ducks
float on the water, and billowy clouds are overhead. "Look at those
anchored ships."
The next page shows a big house being constructed on the West
Vancouver shoreline. The previous pictures were shot from the same
property.
"It's beautiful," I say.
"West Van, Stephen. No bars on your windows. Near Mom and Dad."
"Poverty was my cradle," he softly says. We look at a few more
pictures, and he closes the album. He has fleshy, strong-looking hands
and they squeeze it, and in his eyes I see strength but he also seems
exposed by what is happening.
Donna has tied her shoes and put on a coat, and she and Vera are
standing. There is a moment when I don't know whether to respond to
Alex or to move toward Vera.
We are at the doorway leading to the front when we all remember
the refrigerator. Alex lifts his legs and stretches and then lowers them.
Vera and Alex discuss refrigerators, and Vera decides.
Outside, the wind startles us, and we button our coats. It feels cold
enough to snow. Car lights flash by, and I want to hug my sister and ask
what she's doing.
"Come to dinner."
I shuffle around, both hands in pockets. "I promised some guys I'd
meet them. I'm late as it is. And my car."
"Your suite is appalling, Stephen."
"Robin's coming on Sunday. Saturday is a cleaning day. No problem."
"You clean it and there won't be anything left. Where are your
paintings and cute porcelain things? You have not really moved into that
place. It's so spartan."
Miss Domestic. What a joke.
Donna is holding one of Vera's hands, and Vera casually lifts her off
the ground and swings her to and fro. Vera, if thin, is strong.
"I'm cold," Donna says.
"Vera, you look good." I hug her and step back.
She purses her lips but enjoys the compliment.
"I want to see Robin." Vera and Robin together are peas in a pod, and
eye contact is enough to communicate. They laugh and touch like kids,
and they do this to make me jealous, I'm certain.
"I'll have a dinner for us. I can still whip up something, and she knows
74 your phone number."
I'm sitting on a high stool in a pub, drinking a beer. There are two TVs
and a large screen hanging from the ceiling, and a hockey game is in
progress. Middle-aged men watch the game. Smoking and drinking their
beer. They look worn out.
Younger people are arriving. They are wearing stylish clothes, and
seem happy to see one another.
Godot is on the table, and my finger is on a page. My older brother
bought and sold cars when I was a kid. As a teen, he was a small-time
dealer. His cars were well polished, and he eliminated flaws that scarred
a finish. He taught me how to fill nicks and holes and sand the filler until
it was silky smooth.
I hear him now: This roadster, this here will be a classic in a few
years; I'm holding on to this.
He and Vera somehow inject meaning into their things in a way I never
do. Vera's dirty laundry on the rear seat other car is better conversation
than a week of my teaching.
Now my brother owns two old utility cars for his family. And Vera.
Does she even remember her radicalism? Is that what consumerism is,
finding a back alley for discarded stuff, ideals?
My player-coach and two other guys are near the entry door. At a
barbecue party last summer I met him, a chemist, and we talked baseball.
He is the huskiest and oldest of the three. Actually, the peachy faces of
the other two seem to be just out of high school. He phoned me the
other day and said he needs a first baseman for his ball team.
Right away the waitress is here, and they order shooters and a pitcher
of beer.
They drink the shooters and fill mugs. The guy I met at the party
looks at my book and then his watch. He says there is another ballplayer
to meet. He is thirty-five or so, and I don't believe I'm doing this.
He wears a baseball jersey and cap, and his eyes take in the scene, a
crowd that seems to bore him. It's not disdain on his face but a kind of
dismissal. People in this room are not ready for his team. Last summer,
I remember him often saying 'mental stamina.'
He offers me first base. "Damn, you're tall and those arms. Let me
see your palm." I open my palm, touched by his curiosity.
He wants more enthusiasm, and I want to comply. I am nursing my
first beer and aware of four Japanese women at another table. They're
fashionably dressed and watching the hockey game.
I'm sure he doesn't lie or cater to clever people, and I sort of trust
him because of this. I think he's alone in his universe, floating around:
his periodic chart and baseball lore, but most of his dreams have gone
75 out of orbit.
"Let me write that down," I say when he mentions the first practice.
"A backstop on a soccer field but it's okay."
"Grass?"
He nods and his fingers touch the brim of his cap. His face is a
ballplayer's face. He peers as though he wears glasses when he works
or reads or swings a bat. We drink our beer and watch the TV.
He casually flicks a finger pointing toward the bartender.
"I did a guy reminds me of him real harm in high school. I played for
the Trail Panthers, and he was the opposing catcher. Plowed into his
knees."
The chunky man behind the bar is balding and wears a thick, greying
mustache. I gaze at my coach's face, at his aqua-blue eyes and gather
that over the years this story has been whittled down from something
much, much larger to this essence.
'That's not him," he adds.
"When I was younger, I played some first base," I say.
"You hang out here?"
"My Aunt Bernice has a window job off the bus routes. She cleans
windows, and I loaned her my car. She's meeting me to return it. Here,
I should give you her business card." A hand searches my jacket pocket,
which because the coat is draped over a bar stool is a long reach, and
then I shrug.
His two companions wear ball caps, too. Their fingers touch hat brims
and then tap their laps to the music. They comment to each other on
women. They're crude. The place is filling up and becoming noisy. The
big screen has disappeared into the ceiling and a few people are dancing
on the stage.
My coach drinks his beer, sets the mug on the table, stands and taps
his watch. There is a very serious tone to his standing, putting his jacket
on, the whole bit. Leaning near me, he says, "I'm likely the best pitcher
in the league, bar none." He lifts Godot up and snaps it bang on the table.
"We're a long-shot but a possibility."
I shudder, not understanding that last thing, the face in my face and
slap of the book. All I want is a diversion.
The room is noisier. One of those Japanese women passes this table
twice and when she pauses near me, I try to smile naturally. Her eyes
show a tiny response.
"Dance," I say.
She turns to the dance floor where a few couples are and then looks
at me and rolls her eyes as though that is the dumbest thing she has
heard in years. "Okay."
She's wearing brown socks that reach above her knees, a short, black
76 skirt, and white blouse. I follow her onto the stage.
She watches me for a moment, smiles openly and looks away. Her face
and thighs are chubby.
Why did I put myself here? It's easy music, but I can't get into it. Her
gesture was correct, it was a dumb idea. My shoes are planted stones in
wet clay. I'm sort of moving my arms. Too much tension from work.
Her hands are on her hips. She slides away, some distance across
the floor and then returns, her face averted. The blouse has delicately
stitched cuffs. Her skin is pale, and she is young, and I'm this stick. I
imagine her naked, sitting on my bed, her small hands and fingers and
red fingernails.
A young woman far, far from home who can't easily converse. She
wears fancy shoes. Possibly I'm wrong. She teaches executives how to
sell Toyotas. She sells shoes and real estate and last summer hiked the
West Coast Trail and long ago forgot home and is happy as a lark. She
has taught in Paris. The day at the office tired her, but tonight she dances.
Her hands move down to the backs of her legs, pressing her skirt
against herself, emphasizing her thighs. She moves in near, and what I
see of her averted face looks bored, and I stop thinking, and then it's
over. Her fingers touch my arm, saying she enjoyed herself, and she
returns to her friends.
I put on my jacket and pocket my book. At the door, I look, and she
and her companions are chatting.
Pedestrians crowd the sidewalk, and air is invigorating. It has clouded
over and feels like rain.
I pause in front of a store front. Possibly, I need a leather bag or new
shoes.
I hurry across the street and into a residential section. Apartment
building lights light up grass and shrubs. The thought of Robin's visit is
tumultuous and unclear and now I'm signed up for a baseball team.
I open the door of my car and climb in. I sink back in the seat and for
a moment close my eyes. No parking ticket, nothing. I hear the music of
the pub and watch her dancing until I feel the cold.
The streets are narrow. I drive too fast. Pedestrians turn their heads.
I race through the neighbourhood, doubling back on myself. The engine
howls and tires squeal. I'm smiling. The car turns a corner, slides
broadside for a second, a millisecond, less than three feet and then stops.
I lift my hands off the steering wheel. They're trembling.
My car lights are on half a dozen teenagers who stand at the edge of
the sidewalk. They're staring at me. My body shudders. They should
be home watching TV or reading a good book.
I straighten the car around and drive toward the park. Sally sat on
many committees at the school. One included kids and dealt with racial
77 problems. What did she accomplish? I must talk to her. I will assume her
position. It makes me feel better thinking that, and she'll feel better too.
I drive to the swimming pool being built next to Second Beach. I climb
from my car. Above the beach is a low rock wall, and I place one shoe on
it and stare across the harbour. The house that Alex is building is on the
far shore, but I'm not sure where, and who is Alex?
There is one thing that Vera and I have in common. We believe in this
city. Like any North American city, it's a crazy place but less so than
most: not too crowded, not too spread out. We have chatted for hours
about what changes in lifestyle and attitude would create a better place,
and now she's (I think) moving back across the water to where we grew
up, where salmon spawn in the rivers and every spring bears knock
over garbage cans.
I shake my head. Vera and I are so wealthy in a Bohemian sort of
way, so cool, so Canadian-made. Our walk is correct, and we laugh at
our own tears.
They must be testing the pool. It is full, and the water mirrors all-
night lights. My leather shoes slip on the metal fence, but I am able to
scale it.
I strip off my clothes. Cold tiles sting my feet. I hesitate and then dive
and surface. My breathing, my lungs. I gasp for control. Jerkily, I swim
one, two, three, four lengths and then crawl out on hands and knees and
sit, my back against the fence. My breathing is fast and feet look funny
in the outdoor light. Above the trees is a hole in the clouds and in the
centre of the hole is the moon, a slice, rising late.
Mary Shelley giving her monster the insight of his own betrayal was
perfect. The creature despised his creator for creating such a monster;
he yearned not to be alone, to be able to share with another.
Sally is the sort who instantly grasps the beauty, complexity, and
sorrow in such a story. Vera would understand too. The lies we learned
in our youth and came to own growing up and (as adults) are not able to
discard. How do I make myself clean of them, now that I am fully grown?
It's freezing cold. I stretch my arms out, my fingers. My torso is
shaking. It won't stop shaking, but I feel better, much better.
78 Yue An
A Christmas Card from Urumqi
From October to the following April
sometimes even May
this long time white
as snow & lifelike as death
I can't remember
for how many days
I haven't been outdoors
drinking at home alone
Often I lift the cup over my head
but stare elsewhere
as if examining some disaster
Nothing yet has ever happened
And I fling myself abed
swimming into a dream like a fish
79 Wendy Mai Rawlings
Opposites
The changing room at Jones Beach is filled with mothers and
babies, long wooden benches, cement floors dotted with clumps
of wet toilet paper, dripping showerheads, diapers soiled and
clean, pale light that filters through the plastic roof, wet heat, sounds of
mothers that aren't words. My bathing suit is all black. Yours has
bunches of balloons. You stand in the middle of the room and stare.
In the ocean I hold you over the waves. We spit seawater at each
other, you through the gap made by your lost tooth. He crashes out
past the breakwater and gets knocked over. In the shallows you show
us you can be a blowfish, starfish, mean fish, upleg fish. Your head
underwater, leg in the air, his arms on my waist, tongue salty in my mouth.
Then you're up for a breath.
I saw you kiss.
That's right, doc, he says. He lifts you high in the air so when I look
up it's just you and the sky.
Sometimes he gets up for his shower without saying anything. Good
morning Eamon, I say as he leaves the room. In your sheets on the
trundle bed you click another loose tooth with your tongue.
Do you not say anything to each other in the morning?
He teached me to be like that.
I like driving the van. It's high up and airy, a moving hallway. When he
drives we both sit in the passenger seat, you in my lap. It's not safe. We
examine each other's palms and eyes with a magnifying glass. There is
a powdery new smell always in your hair.
Happy.
Sad.
Healthy.
Sick.
Girl.
Boy.
Hope.
No hope?
We like this game, Opposites. No hope, I say, is also Despair.
80 I thought I was going to have to tell him I lost you. In the pink hive of
dolls and girls I could see Bridal Barbie, her gown lit by a lightbulb
underneath. Aerobics Barbie leaping on her impossible tiptoes. In the
centre of the room life-size Barbie, my prettier mirror, though all her
sayings were canned. Ballroom Barbie was where I found you, waltzing
to the water fountain. He had left for a pretzel from the vendor outside.
In the train on the way home we had a Cinderella coin bank, the bottom
of her bell-shaped dress a trap door that opened with a plastic key. We
had corn chips in a shiny orange sack. The key wouldn't turn in the
bank and and broke. So you have my luck with money, he said. I unbent
a paper clip and yanked it open. Inside was a purple barrette, flower
earrings, a tiny useless pink comb. In went the chips. Our nands got
greasy quick.
The man in front of us had a red shirt with a sheen and a black veil.
He's sad, you said. The man was on his way from a ceremony in
Chelsea for his lover. You asked for the veil and he gave it. You posed,
flirting: I'm lovely. I am.
You are.
You try.
I sat the black netting over my eyes and the man held his hands up
and clicked one finger against the air.
Now me. No, with the veil. I'm the bride.
Take it, the man said when he got up to leave. Tomorrow I'm going to
buy something velvet.
So we gave him our purple barrette and flower earrings and tiny
useless pink comb.
I only drive when he isn't with us, at work or the gym. We play the game
with the steering wheel. I quick-swivel it and we yell through the curves.
The van, being big, only swerves a little.
Big.
Little.
Love.
Hate.
Pineapple.
Pineapple doesn't have an opposite.
We buy a pineapple. The spikes are prickly and when we eat too much
our tongues sing with the acid.
Hot Sundays in August we go to the pool at the Y. He likes to sit on the
edge and read The Irish Echo. You like when I walk along the diving
81 board and pluck at the air, picking imaginary daisies. Then wander off
and topple headlong. Belted in your Styrofoam bubble you leap in and
save me. One of his hands drags in the water. The next time he waves
his fingertips are black with newsprint.
He goes in for dips, never swims. When you grab for him he turns
and kicks up a foamy wake. For dinner we have tuna and ketchup
sandwiches and cans of root beer. You drop yours, shrieking, and we
catch the froth on the floor with our hands.
At Christmas he gives me a bottle of Emmett's Irish whiskey and two
small goblets. We wait in the landlord's living room for you to fall asleep.
On the couch he and I lounge and kiss, lazy against each other as
shadows in summer. We peel an orange and the acid stings where I
have chewed my fingertips. On the bedroom floor we cover ourselves
with a sheet and move together. Above me in your bed you whisper in
your sleep.
In the night you wake me and ask if there are ghosts.
There are no such thing as ghosts.
He got you a ring.
I tell you to stop playing fibs and go to sleep.
In the night he runs his tongue down my back until I shiver. I ask him
if there are ghosts.
In the west of Ireland the sheep that dot the hills are marked on their
backs with blue or red dye. The fur is not called wool until they shear it
off. In Ireland when you drive around a bend a statue of the blessed
Virgin blooms by the side of the road, a blurred white blot.
I worry that you won't remember my face.
Water, I think.
Alive.
Veil.
This is what he tells me:
In Clonakilty there was a woman all in white at the bottom of a well.
When they turned her over the back of her dress was soaked with blood.
Once a year at daybreak the doors of the houses open and all the women
come out wearing white.
In the morning you turn in my arms and ask why there was blood on
her dress.
The night before I get in my car to drive across eight states he drinks
pint after pint. Late in the evening he leans on me, slurring and smoking.
It always comes to this.
82 I am the one who drives the van home. Up high, my feet squeaking in
new sandals, I like the van even better when I am drunk. By the time we
turn onto Northern Boulevard he is snoring. On the parkway I quick-
swivel the steering wheel and whisper Whoa Whoa Whoa on the curves.
Before I leave we take you to the House of Pancakes, to sweeten it with
syrup. When I order chicken soup and tuna salad so do you.
Why can't she go to school here? I love you. I hate you: pummeling
me in the place where my ribs split.
In the van on the way to drop you off at your mother's house I hold
you and say Hello.
Goodbye.
Near.
Far.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, half of Indiana, the windshield smeared grey with
insects. On postcards they don't give you room to write much of anything.
I send one per rest stop and say a lot of nothing. What is the opposite of
cornfield? How can I draw you this endless American sky?
In Nebraska there are box elder bugs on my pillow. I flick them away
and pretend not to see where they land. I chose this Econolodge because
of the pool. At night I go and hold my breath underwater for a minute,
then two. There is no fun in a tea party alone, no one to lift a cup to, pinky
out.
Across Wyoming I play my tape deck all the way. I sing, but softly.
There is a lot of land here, little water.
Alive, I once said, and you said Drowned.
83 Jay Ruzesky
The Creation of Adam
On the spring sidewalk the boy
is drawing God,
the long white hair flows
in the right direction:
two kinds of chalk
to get the colour of the robe right.
He's turned the Sistine Chapel
on its head, even puts
jagged lines where the paint cracked
a hundred years after Michelangelo's death.
Then he draws Adam,
reluctantly reaching up
to God's accusing finger.
Stretch as he will
God can't touch him.
A few people have stopped to watch
and when he wants to draw under their feet
he levitates them.
I want to bring the kid home with me.
and set him to work in the kitchen.
"Do something Italian-pastoral" I tell him,
and he starts drawing on the west side,
beginning at the window and working out.
In half an hour the wide wall
has disappeared.
84 He's put a bean field
in the distance where my neighbourhood used to be,
and a garden with tomatoes, basil,
a grapevine up close to the kitchen.
Even better, he's made it late summer
so the fruit is ripe
and painted a wooden table
stocked with homemade wine and with cheese.
"Don't stop now" I say,
"I'll be back":
and when I return in an hour
there's someone making pesto
by the stove, grinding basil and garlic
so the room stinks with edible love.
In my daughter's room I find a manger
surrounded by farm animals,
sheep nudging me for grain
as I look down on her
glowing so brightly
I fear she'll set the straw on fire.
My wife takes my hand, leaving the baby
with her admirers,
to float to where the bedroom
used to be. Our clothes erased,
we are standing in a garden
by a bed of clouds and light
and I'm thinking of the artist,
where he went and
how much money I must owe him,
when she pulls me down
under the tree of knowledge of good and evil
so the last thing I hear is her voice:
"He's good, really good."
85 Lazar Sarna
The Veranda
The neighbour's veranda plays
Benny Goodman and arias.
The skirt-to-skirt cedars sway their elbows
at the railing
as he enters their cool evening
to look at the moon
hazy as an Eddie Fisher croon.
The grass mown into satin
feels to the eye like a carpet sample
that could stand a high cha-cha
or a Jo Stafford pond
where water lilies open to her voice.
86 Contributors
Yue An is from China and teaches English at Xinjiang Industry Institute in
Urumqi. His poetry has been published in Interim, Berkeley Poetry Review, and
New Orleans Review.
Ken Babstock was born in Newfoundland and grew up in the Ottawa Valley.
His work has appeared in several Canadian quarterlies including The Malahat
Review, Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, and Quarry. These poems are from
an unpublished first collection called Mean.
Scott Bakal graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1993 with a BFA in
Illustration. He has exhibited throughout New York and has done illustration
work for magazines, books, record covers, and advertising agencies around the
world. "He Dreamed of the Moon" (oil on paper) was inspired by the nursery
rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle" and the artist's desire to break boundaries.
Brian Burke's poetry and fiction have appeared in The Fiddlehead, Canadian
Literature, Quarry, and other literary magazines. He won first prize in the 1987
PRISM international Short Fiction Contest with his story "The Undiscovered
Country." His story "Martinique" was published in PRISM 25:4.
Will Eno lives in New York. His fiction has appeared in The Quarterly, Grain,
and elsewhere. He is a recent recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and is a
Fellow of the Edward F. Albee Foundation.
Susan Gillis has published poetry and travel essays in various Canadian publications. She lives in Victoria and is the author of a chapbook of poems. Attar of
Rose (Reference West).
Caroline Davis Goodwin holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University
of British Columbia and now lives at a remote salmon hatchery in southeast
Alaska with her husband and baby daughter, Naomi. Davis Goodwin's translations
of Elva Macias' poetry first appeared in PRISM 33:3.
Thomas E. Kennedy's books include five works of fiction and four volumes of
literary criticism. His stories, essays, poems, interviews, reviews, and
translations appear regularly in Europe and the US and have won Pushcart, 0.
Henry and The European prizes. He lives in Denmark and serves as Advisory
Editor for The Literary Review. He is also International Editor of Cimarron Review,
for which he recently visited South Africa to gather contemporary literature for
a forthcoming special feature. His most recent collection of short fiction, Drive,
Dive, Dance & Fight, is published by the University of Missouri-Kansas City
(BkMk Press).
87 Gary Knox lives in Vancouver, BC. His work has appeared in The Antigonish
Review and Echo Magazine. California Stories, his collection of short fiction, was
published by Medea Publishing (1993).
Zoe Landale's most recent book is Colour of Winter Air (Ronsdale Press, 1994).
Her poetry and creative non-fiction have been published in over twenty
anthologies in Canada and the US. She has a Master's degree in Creative Writing
from the University of British Columbia and works as a freelance writer for
magazines such as Harrowsmith Country Life and Chatelaine. Landale lives with
her family in Courtenay, BC.
John B. Lee won the Milton Acorn Memorial People's Poetry Award in both
1993 and 1995. He also won the 1995 Tilden/CBC Literary Contest for poetry.
His most recent books include Tongues of the Children (Black Moss Press, 1996)
and In A Language With No Word For Horses (Above/Ground Press, 1997). A
new book, Never Hand Me Anything If I Am Walking Or Standing, is forthcoming
from Black Moss Press.
Robert Lietz is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the Ohio Northern
University. He has published poetry in more than one hundred journals in the
US and Canada, including Epoch, The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, The
American Review, Shenandoah, and The University of Windsor Review. Seven poetry
collections have been published, including The Inheritance (Sandhills Press,
1988), and Storm Service (Basfal Books, 1987).
Joe Longo was born in Providence, Rhode Island, where he lived for 23 years
before graduating from Rhode Island College and moving to New Orleans,
Louisiana. He is currently earning an MFA from the University of New Orleans.
"Date Rape Anthems" is his first published story.
Elva Macias was born in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. She studied arts and letters
in Chiapas, Mexico City, and the Soviet Union, and taught Spanish in the People's
Republic of China, to which she fled in 1963 after falling in love with Eraelio
Zepeda, storyteller and member of the group of poets known as La espiga
amotinada (The rebel ears of wheat). Her books include Pasos contados
(Numbered Steps) and Lejos de la memoria (Far From Memory). Five of her
poems were published in PRISM 33:3.
Oscar Martens has work appearing or forthcoming mArc, Event, Geist, Prairie
Fire, Quarry, Queen's Quarterly, sub-TERRAIN, and Rampike. A long poem,
"Brazil," appeared in PRISM 30:4.
Billeh Nickerson recently completed a BFA in Writing at the University of
Victoria. Some of his poems appeared in Chasing Halley's Comet (Laughing Willow Books, 1995), an anthology of emerging BC writers.
Wendy Rawlings is working on Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Utah and has published short fiction in New Letters, Cimarron Review, Exquisite
Corpse and other magazines. Her story "Kissing Back" appeared in PRISM 30:3.
Jay Ruzesky lives in Victoria, BC. His work has appeared in Canadian and
American journals such as Caliban, PRISM international, Event, and Saturday
Night. Books include Writing on the Wall (Outlaw Editions, 1996), Blue Himalayan
Poppies (Reference West, 1995), and Painting The Yellow House Blue (Anansi,
1994). He is on the editorial board of The Malahat Review and teaches at Malaspina
University-College.
Lazar Sarna was born in Montreal in 1948 where he currently practices law.
He is the author of the poetry collections Mystics on a Picnic (1972) and Letters
of State (1978), as well as the novel The Man Who Lived Near Nelligan (1975).
His poetry has appeared in the anthologies Cross Cut (1982) and Jerusalem (1996),
and has been published in PRISM international, Canadian Forum, and The
Fiddlehead.
Royston Tester was born in England's industrial "Black Country" and grew up
in Birmingham. He has lived in Spain and Australia and came to Canada in 1979.
He has been published in Quarry, Blood and Aphorisms, The Globe and Mail, and
the Golden Horseshoe Anthology. He is currently preparing a first collection of
short fiction titled hands over the body.
PRISM international seeks submissions of creative non-fiction,
drama, and translation. Creative non-fiction and prose in translation
should be literary rather than journalistic in tone; translations must
have been done with the permission of the original author.
Submissions must not have been published elsewhere and should
not exceed 25 double-spaced pages. Plays should be one-acts or
excerpts which can stand on their own. To submit work, or to receive
more detailed guidelines, please send a SASE to:
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buch E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z1
89 Tell us a story...
You could win $2000
For more than a decade, the PRISM international Fiction
Contest has drawn entries from writers around the world.
Now it's your turn. Send us your work and compete for the
chance to win the $2000 grand prize or one of five runner-up
prizes of $200. All winning stories will appear in our popular
Summer Fiction Contest issue, and receive $20 per published
page.
The details:
Entries must be typed, double-spaced, with a maximum of 25 pages. Judging is
anonymous, so put your name, address, and story title on a separate cover page:
put the title of the story on each page but do not put your name on the
manuscript(s).
There is a one-time $15 entry fee. plus a $5 reading fee for each story submitted
($20 total for one story). Non-Canadian residents must pay in U.S. Funds.
Cheques or money orders are payable to PRISM international. All entrants get a
on- year subscription (or subscription extension).
Entries must be original, unpublished and not under consideration elsewhere.
Winners will be notified on or before .June 1998. Include a SASE for list of winners.
Entries will not be returned.
Open to anyone except students or instructors in UBC's Creative Writing Program.
Final judge: MAC. Farrant.
Send to: PRISM international Fiction Contest, Creative Writing Program
University of BC, Buch E462 -1866 Main Mall, Vancouver. BC, Canada. V6T IZl
Contact: (604) 822-2514 o prism@unixg.ubc.ca « www.arts.ubc.ca/prisni
Entries must be postmarked no later than December 15, 1997.
The 1997 PRISM international
Fiction Contest Announcing the 3rd annual
Pottersfield Portfolio
Compact Fiction / Short Poem Competition
Once again Pottersfield Portfolio is on the hunt for stories of 1500 words
or less and poems of 20 lines or less. Authors of the winning entry in each
category will receive a cash award of $ 150. Winning entries will be
published in Pottersfield Portfolio.
Entries can consist of up to either 3 poems or 2 stories. A non-refundable
fee of $20 must accompany your first entry in either the poem or story
category. An additional $5 fee must accompany each subsequent entry in
the same category. The initial $20 entry fee entitles you to a 1 year
subscription to Pottersfield Portfolio (3 issues) beginning with the May
1998 issue. Those who pay to enter in both categories will receive a 2
year subscription. No email or fax entries please.
Your name must not appear on the manuscript. Please type your name,
address, phone/fax number, story or poem titles, and (for the fiction
category) an accurate word count on a separate sheet. Material that has
been previously published or accepted for publication cannot be
considered.
Entries cannot be returned.  If you include a self-addressed stamped
envelope you will be informed by mail of the competition results.
Final Judge for Poetry: David Zieroth, former editor of Event, author of
The Weight of My Raggedy Skin and Clearing.
Final Judge for Fiction: Susan Kerslake, author of Middlewatch, Penumbra,
The Book of Fears and Blind Date.
Entries must be postmarked no later than February 14, 1998 to be eligible
for consideration.
Send entries to:
Compact Fiction /
Short Poem Competition
Pottersfield Portfolio
P.O. Box 27094,
Halifax,
Nova Scotia
B3H 4M8 Creative Writing M.F.A
U.B.C.
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, Screen & TV Plays, Radio Plays, Writing for Children, Non-
Fiction and Translation. A course in Editing and managing a Literary
Magazine is also offered. All instruction is in small workshop format or
tutorial. The thesis consists of imaginative writing. The Creative Writing
Program also offers a Diploma Programme in Applied Creative Non-
Fiction.
Faculty       4bJ^—-
Siip-Ann Alrlpr^nn             ^^^^ESSB^^.
Keith Maillard                 \M  9t&&&*
George McWhirter          l^^^^^^^M
Jerry Newman                flriSS-•-*"''. f***'-^
Linda Svendsen                 ***9(^PpBSg -
Peggy Thompson                  %S&^^^^
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write:           [
«a f  M
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6T IZl Subscribe to PRISM
international
And receive a year of contemporary writing from Canada
and around the world. Take a moment to fill out this slip,
and we'll ensure that you won't miss an issue of the
magazine Writer's Digest listed alongside The New Yorker,
Harper's, and Cranta as one of the "magazines that matter."
Subscribe now for two years, and your
second year will cost only $8!
To subscribe, please send this form along with your cheque, money
order, or Visa/Mastercard information to:
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buchanan E462, 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver BC V6T1Z1 Canada
YES!  I'd like to subscribe to PRISM international for
□ 2 years — $24 (plus $1.68 GST for Canadians)
□ 1 year —    $16 (plus $1.12 GST for Canadians)
I am paying with □ cheque/money order, □ Visa, □ MasterCard
Subscribers from outside Canada: please use US funds to cover the
international mailing costs of your subscription.
Name     	
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Expiry
Cardholder's Signature The Malahat Review
NOVELLA PRIZE
Judges for 1998 will be Sandra Birdsell, Keath Fraser and Michael
Kenyon.
Submissions for the 1998 Novella Prize must be received in the
Malahat office by March 1,1998. For practical reasons we cannot
consider works longer than 60,000 words. Submissions previously published, or accepted for publication elsewhere, are not
eligible.
Entrants' anonymity is preserved throughout the judging. Please
write your name and address on a separate page.
If you wish your manuscript returned, please enclose a self-
addressed envelope and sufficient Canadian postage.
Entry fee per novella is $25. This entitles you to a subscription to
Malahat for yourself or for a friend.
Prize $400
plus payment for publication
The Malahat Review, University of Victoria, Box 1700, Victoria,
British Columbia V8W 2Y2 The Vancouver International
Writers
(& Readers)
Festival
on Granville Island
Pick up the program at your local bookstore,
library, community centre, cafe or art centre
October 22 - 26,1997
Information 681-6330
PRISM international is proud to sponsor a reading by
Jane Urquhart
at the Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC, October 23rd, 2:30 PM   I    BET   HE   CAN'T   BELIEVE   THE   CHANGE
AS   HE   STARES   UP   INTO   THE   SPOTLIGHTS,
THIS   OBJECT   ON   THE   ICE,
THIS   DARK   SPOT   ON   THE   WHITE,
YOUR   CHANCE   TO   GET   A   HOT   DOG...
Will End,  Page B
PRiSM international
fiction
drama
poetry
translation
creative non-fiction
Yue An
Ken  Babstdck
Brian Burke
Will End
Susan  Gillis
Caroline Davis Goodwin
Thdmas  E.  Kennedy
Gary knox
Zoe Landale
John  B.  Lee
Robert Lietz
Joe Longo
Elva Mac [as
Oscar Martens
BlLLEH    NlCKERSON
Wendy Mai  Rawlings
Jay Ruzesky
Lazar Sarna
Royston Tester
Cover art by Scott Bakal

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