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  - PRISM digital archive
PRISM international is proud to announce the launch of our digital
With the generous support of the British Columbia Arts Council, we
have digitized over 200 back issues, bringing 56 years of literary history
online. Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are
just a few names from PRISMs long legacy. Digitization of our archives
is an important step in preserving and promoting influential literature,
and we are excited to share our publication history with readers
worldwide. The searchable archives are free for anyone to access, and
can be reached through
If you are a former PRISM contributor, and you would like to have
your work removed from the digital archive, please contact us at to opt out.
PRISM     &
digital archive
An agency of the Province of British Columbia
columbia PRISM internationa
Christopher Evans
Dominique Bernier-Cormier
Jennifer Lori
Claire Matthews
Timothy Taylor
Sierra Skye Gemma
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
Max D'Ambrosio
Wendy Bone
Alison Braid
Melissa Bull
Rhonda Collis
Elaine Corden
Bryce Doersam
Jill Goldberg
Tyler Hein
Melissa Janae
Kirsten Madsen
Karen Palmer
Anjalika Samarasekara
Matt Snell
Catherine Stewart
Meg Todd
Cara Violini
Jane Wood
Megan Barnet
Nicole Boyce
Connie Braun
Sonal Champsee
Robert Colman
Danielle Daniel
Lesley Finn
Esther Griffin
Sarah Higgins
Keri Korteling
Judith L. Major
Sarah Richards
Robert Shaw
Rochelle Squires
Tania Therien
Carly Vandergriendt
Matthew Walsh
Catherine Young
Alison Braid Maegan Cortens
Kelsey Savage PRISM international, a magazine of conremporary wriring, is published four
times a year by rhe Crearive Wriring Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Specific back issues can be ordered from the Executive Editor, Circulation:
Copyright © 2016 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain with
authors. Cover image © S0ren Solkser, "Don John."
Subscription Rates: One-year individual Canadian $35, American $40,
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International $69; library and institutional one-year $46; two-year $72. Single
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Please note that US postal money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable
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PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists with other literary magazines;
please contact us if you wish to be excluded from such exchanges.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North
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prose. Contributors receive two copies of the issue in which their work
appears. Submissions are accepted online or by mail. Electronic submissions
are preferred. All submissions must adhere to our submission guidelines,
which can be found at, or can be requested by
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Our gratitude to Dean Gage Averill and the Dean of Arts Office at the
University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial
support of the UBC Creative Writing Program, rhe Canada Council for the
Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
January 2016. ISSN 0032.8790
UBC       aplaceofmind
BRITISH COLUMBIA Q88     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL <3>    f°'«heArts du Canada
:H^n>*lD*^f (hEhl>nv'ilJ^ll^',rr.v-r^^(^)l PRISM CONTESTS
FICTION: J AN.. 15, 2014 .  WW
POETRY/JAN. 15; 20Iff   >    V
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1st prize: $1,500 + publicatioi
1st runner-up $600
+ publication considered
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t publication considered
Entrants receive a one-year subscription to PR/SMVisit our website for contest entry guidelines:
Sharon Bala
Reading Week
rob mclennan
The city is uneven
Craig Takeuchi
Guest Room
Alex Pugsley
Karin Finally
Annie Reid
Glorious Kingdom
Ben Merriman
Stories in Abstract
Lucy Bashford
Barry Dempster
Elizabeth Horneber    30     In Considering Henry Kissinger
Kim Fu
La Traviata
Amanda Paananen
It's the Chicken Parable
I Am Bluebeard's Wife
The Colour of Ash
Mallory Imler Powell
Again, I Insist I Don't Want Ashes
John F. Buckley
Open Your Other Heart to Me
Joseph Kidney
Solvitur Ambulando
Elizabeth Morton
Robert Nazarene
Pamela Langevin
The Oracle
Head Full of Pink Glass
Donovan McAbee
Anecdotal Evidence for
the Existence of God
Anecdotal Evidence against
the Existence of God
Jami Macarry
Matt Rader
When For a Time I Loved Two
Captain Ahab and the Great
Shroud of the Sea
89 Kim Fu
Backlit panorama of blue sky and tree tops
on the ceiling above the MRI machine.
"La Traviata" comes through faintly,
headphones wrapped in woven tissue paper—
the same sanitized fabric as the gown and pillowcase.
The tenor sings Libiamo! Libiamo!
Let us drink! Let us drink!
A shadow voice to the skull-rattling kachunk-thunk,
the Do not stare into the laser sticky label
two inches from the eye. Sung from a booming belly
yet uncertain, elevator muzak played soft
and low as a hallucination.
I think of you, who died.
That comes first, with its own operatic rhythm,
easy to rhyme: you died. You did other things—
you lay patiently inside machines,
resisred staring into the laser, shivered thin.
You drew their innards, builder and designer,
as they later drew yours, exposed your faulty wiring,
your speckled organs and blackened brain.
You did other things, but then you died.
Grief rises from the unstirred deep,
not as it used to, not like a man-shaped monster
dripping with bog weeds. As a vision:
I am the technician behind the glass.
You are alone as you will always be alone.
I turn up the music. I have that power,
to make it swell in the chorus:
In questo paradise ne scorpa
il nuovo di.
Let the new day find us
in this paradise.
PRISM  54:2 I can make the sky spread over the tiles,
fluff the picture-frozen clouds
until they travel on the wind.
I can make the thin fluorescent filaments
into a near and beloved star.
I can make the treetops rustle, send flocks
of bird silhouettes across the burning blue.
I am a limited god. I can turn hospital linens
to field grass and wildflowers,
I can bring your body to rest
in any heaven I desire.
I cannot bring you back. DISSECTION
Cut into a lobster, a crow, a mouse,
an ape, your mother.
See the economy of space inside the body:
a shared rented room in the city.
Fat crowds against the walls,
shoots heroin into its blubbery sac.
Coils of intestine unwind on the futon,
motel maids squeezing shit
through caterpillar rooms of clogged drains,
ruined sheets thin as tissue paper.
Organs sleep tangled in hammocks
like tree-fulls of mutant bulbous fruit.
They wake up late for sweatshop jobs
with hair in their mouths.
This is all we are. The grade school maps
have neat highways, systems separate,
one machine function and then the next.
How shocking to see skin split
like dandelions rhrough concrete,
to see how everything is jammed
together with no air between,
no hollows and tubes,
just meat and compression like a sink
against a bed against a door.
PRISM  54:2 Sharon Bala
l\ room. Seventeen by seventeen. Opposite sides like inverse images.
Something like that. Outside: a knock. Soft. Uncertain. Inside: guitars,
bass, drums. Late-90s alterna-rock. Angry. Angst-ridden.
Girl at a desk. Hair, ponytailed. Or turbaned in damp towel. Doesn't
matter. Plaid flannels. T-shirt, possibly frayed. Abbotsford High. Bare
feet. No. Slippers. Once plush, now worn. Pencil. Tap, tap, tap against
textbook. Bits of twisted rubber, eraser crumbs everywhere. Goosenecked
Another knock. Louder. Nine steps to the door. Distracted. Product
Rule (fg)' =f'g +fg. Pencil clamped in mouth. Teeth bared. Door swings
Now, everything in slow motion.
At first Jo doesn't recognize him. His flecked, green eyes, the turning
down at the mouth, the scar under his left ear. Who is this guy standing
expectantly in the doorway of her room? She takes her pencil out of her
mouth, ready to ask. But then the stranger sinks his fingers into his hair
and it is Jeremy.
All these years he's remained frozen in her imagination: sixteen, a
child on the cliff's edge of adulthood. Two years ago, she had vaulted past
Grocery store cake. Carrot, her least favourite. Seventeen candles.
Pink wax dripping. Cream cheese frosting. Inside of eyelids: orange and
black. Make a wish. Exhale. Hard. Now, here it is: her wish come true.
Seventh time. Charm. Etc.
"Hi." They speak in unison, two sides of the same voice—male and
All the things she wants to say occur to her at once: What are you
doing here/Where have you been/Are you okay/Do you have any idea.
"How's it going?" This. This was what she has chosen to say.
"Can I come in?"
How long has she been standing here, mouth like a guppy? "Uh yeah.
Sorry. Of course. Sure." She steps aside and then her brother is in her
More things Jo wants to say: Oh my God/Do Mom and Dad know/
Stay. "Cool room. Nice tree."
"That belongs to Alice." Jo steps around the stump and waves her
hand around the far side of the room. "This is my half." She presses a
button. Radio silence.
"I like them too." He points to her CD player with his chin.
The conversation is too normal. Jo wants to dial back three beats.
"How did you find me?" Finally, a real question.
"I saw you. On Princess Street."
"You live here?"
"No. I'm going to Montreal. A guy in a pick-up dropped me off."
"And then you saw me."
"I wasn't sure. Not right away."
Jo tries to work it out. She had gone to the A&P for Kraft Dinner and
Jeremy had followed her home. "But I've been here since seven."
He doesn't respond and she doesn't really notice. Because she is staring
at him, trying to see her brother. His hand hangs limp by his side and he
looks like a stranger again. She can't comprehend what he has said. It is
too much to do all at once. "Wait. How did you get in here? You need a
"I walked in after someone."
"We're not supposed to...nevermind. What's in Montreal?"
Jeremy lifts his shoulders to his ears. "Dunno. What's in Kingston?"
1 m in Kingston.
He smiles and the stranger looks like Jeremy again. A taller, leaner
version of. And hungry. It occurs to Jo that she should hug him. She
holds her arms out and when he sees what she is doing, he does it too.
The mechanics are awkward and quick, and somehow they have their
arms around each other and she is patting his back. She comes up to his
shoulder now and he smells like sweat and stale coffee. The inside of a
stranger's pick-up. Not bad, all things considered. But this is not how she
remembers. And it is not how she imagined.
They have left the door open and Alice walks in as they come apart.
"Hi!" Alice has blond hair. Dreadlocks.
"This is Jeremy," Jo says.
"Hey," Jeremy says. He does not try to shake her hand.
"Hey," Alice says back.
Jo has never had a guy in the room before. She sees how it must look.
"Jeremy's family. Is it okay if he stays the night?"
Alice bends one knee and fiddles with the thin strap of a heel behind
her back. "A cousin?"
Jo does not look at Jeremy. "Something like that."
They make up a bed on the floor with spare blankets and sleeping
PRISM  54:2 bags. Alice hauls the communal vacuum from down the hall to suck up
the wood chips.
"I missed you, Joannie," Jeremy says, when they are alone.
"It's Jo. I'm Jo now."
Jo is an only child. Jo does not wear glasses. Jo has a fake ID that says
she was born in 1977. Jo is not a girl you needed to feel sorry for.
Joan is ten. Jeremy is sixteen. There is a note. Two sentences. I've gone.
Don't try to find me. The Centre called her parents and her parents called
the police. There was a search. The local news media came out. Every
night on the TV, her parents crying.  We love you, son. Come home. If
anyone has any information...
Patience is a well with a shallow bottom. From up above, it looks
deceptive. Go ahead—fall in. You won't drown. People lost interest; they
became unkind. Jeremy wasn't kidnapped. He'd gone willingly. What
kind of parents were they, anyway? To harbour a drug addict (this was
a nice community). To shove him into rehab. To not get him in fast
enough. What kind of parents.
Jo wakes up and it is Sunday. Her bed is by the window. A gust of wind
rattles the pane. It sounds cold. Victoria Hall is a time warp circa 1968.
The carpet is a pukey pink colour like Pepto-Bismol. You must use blue
tack on the walls; the posters are always falling down. Sometimes on top
of you so that you wake up staring into Liam Howlett's tortured face
emerging out of liquid metal.
She hears doors down the hall. Groggy good mornings. Slowly the
present comes into focus. Jeremy is here. She sits up. A thrill. Christmas
morning. In the middle of the room an open space. Bedding in a neat
pile. A shard of notebook paper on top. She doesn't want to look. Jo
knows what it will say. I've gone. Don't try to find me. She closes her eyes.
Counts to five. Slowly, slowly. Leans toward the note. On the other side
of the room, Alice is a lump under a flowered blanket. Jo stares at the
wall, turns her eyes only at the last possible second. What the note says:
Gone to church. Back soon.
Before Jeremy left, Joan's parents had done things: walked for breast
cancer, voted for (more book mobiles) and against (grade five sex-ed)
things at PTA meetings, insisted on family dinners. After, they found
excuses to skivvy off work. Sometimes on her way to the portables for
calculus, she would see them loitering across the street, watching the
stoners play with lighters on the edge of the soccer field. (Looking for
what? Ghost of teenage son past?) Her brother had left but Joan was the 11 one who disappeared.
"Are you like religious or something?"
They are walking to the library. Alice has gone away for Reading
Week. Home to Sudbury. Or Tremblant for skiing. It's not important.
She has left her student card behind for Jeremy to use. Already, they've
been to the dining hall in the building with the weird Gaelic name (What
was it called? Ban Righ?) where Jo watched Jeremy put away more food
than she thought it possible for a human to eat.
"I'm trying it out," Jeremy says. "Sometimes I go to the synagogue,
too. Depends on what's around."
Jo tallies this up. Give up drugs. Take up God. Grant me the serenity.
Jeremy wears yesterday's shirt—sleeves folded up to the crooks of his
elbows (no track marks, she'd surreptitiously checked)—and the same
pair of blue jeans. More worn-out than worn-in, the thread at the knees
near transparent, threatening to split. As kids, they had called these
potatoes—the round holes that appeared on the knees of pants or the
heels of socks. Mom would say: "Little spuds on my small fries" and Joan
and Jeremy would laugh, and inevitably one or the other would demand
french fries. It occurs to Jo now, and for the first time, that Jeremy had
gone along with the game long after he must have outgrown it.
"So where's the shelter here?" Jo has never seen a homeless shelter. The
hands held out from the sidewalk are uniformly young—highschoolers
playing at poverty for beer and videogame money.
"The shelter?"
"Well, yeah. If you hadn't seen me, where would you have—"
"Do you want me to leave?" He asks without anger, his voice flat and
"No. God. No. Just curious. Just...making conversation."
At first, Jo had been worried that Jeremy looked too disheveled, too
ratty, that he'd be recognized as an impostor and kicked out of the dining
hall. But they had walked in together and Jeremy had slid Alice's student
card through the electronic reader and smiled at the woman in the hairnet
who watched to make sure bagels didn't get smuggled out. Like this was
his morning routine. And Jo saw that her brother had confidence, that he
knew how to blend in. Mom and Dad never stood a chance.
"This is kinda like my church," Jo says, when they arrive at the library.
Stauffer is what a cathedral would look like if it was built in the 90s.
From the outside it is fascist, spiky and forbidding. But, through the
huge, heavy doors, it soars, full of light. Clean, straight lines. Lots of
Inside, Jeremy drops his cover. He stares up at the vaulting ceiling,
12 PRISM  54:2 the floors of books and reading rooms stacked on top of each other. He
is open-mouthed. Jo has to take his hand and force Alice's card through
the reader. It is the first time they have touched since the night before.
His skin is rough. His wrist bone bobs like an Adam's apple. It is a wrist
that belongs to someone else. Granny Edna at the end. She wants to give
him a hug. And maybe tuck him into bed, kiss his forehead and read him
a story. What life have you lived?
"This place is massive." Jeremy's head is back, crown straining behind
neck. "How many square feet?"
"What do I look like, a guide book? I dunno. Big. Let's go upstairs."
She takes him to the undergraduate reading room. They decamp on
the best seats in the house: two leather armchairs in front of the fireplace.
Jo gets cracking. The Krebs cycle. Okay.
Jeremy has brought his backpack (it is the same one he ran away
with—a blue beat-up Jansport that looks as though it's shared his life)
and his copy of Tolstoy. He'd taken it out the night before.
Tolstoy wrote children's stories?
Yeah. Wanna hear one?
She and Alice had fallen asleep to the sound of her brother's voice,
and Jo had dreamed she was six.
Your cousin's cool. Here, take my stud card.
Now, Jeremy is a fidgety reader. After a while, he stands.
"Fireplace reading room," Jo reminds him. "Second floor."
He returns with books. Mill. Augustine. Hume. Origin of Species.
Communist Manifesto. Great Renaissance Painters. Clamped down under
his chin. After that, Jeremy sits still. For hours. Book after book. Covers
snapping open, thunking shut. Onion skin turning.
Later, when the window has been black for hours and they finally
pack up for the day, Jo says: "Leave the books. Someone will re-file them."
Jeremy stacks them neatly in a tower and she watches. Out the corner of
her eye. He sees her looking. She turns away.
Ghost of teenager past:
1. Honour Roll
2. Last voice to crack/first face to break out
3. Slayer of imaginary closet monsters
4. Addict, thief, liar
First, their parents had worried about Jeremy having no friends, then
they worried about him having the wrong kind of friends. And then he
was gone.
Why did he insist on being the odd man out? Always. After a while,
he didn't even fit in with the stoners. Pot was a gateway only Jeremy blew
through. 13 A week without classes. What it looks like: Campus quiet. Empty and
anxious. Libraries. Common rooms. Dining halls. Writing. Cramming.
Muttering. Maslow's Hierarchy (physiological/safety/love/esteem/
self-actualization). J. Alfred Prufrock (objective dramatic monologue,
correlative of melancholy, bathos). Cloud classification (cumulus, stratus,
cirrus, nimbus). Atomic number of nitrogen (7). Everyone orbiting
around their own nucleus.
Guys wear the same pair of wrinkled jeans day after day. Girls pull
back their hair with their hands, not even bothering with brushes, tie it
up and then tuck the ends under, into something that is a cross between
a ponytail and a bun. Jo wakes up every morning and puts on an oversized navy blue hoodie. Jeremy wears one of two different-coloured
versions of the same shirt. They often walk in a not-uncomfortable
silence. Technically this is grammatically incorrect but it is also true. He
is working out different ideas in his head. The things he has read being
weighed and assessed. She knows this look.
Joan's university selection criteria:
1. far away
2. far away
3. far away
4. far away
Limestone buildings. Ivy. A guy on a rooftop picking out chords on
his guitar. Dress code: cargo pants, GAP sweaters. Scarves: the more
colours, the better. Perfect. She would live in a recruitment poster. She
would be girl in V-neck cable-knit on stone step, textbook in lap.
After Jo moved away to school, her parents—suddenly, conveniently—
remembered they had a daughter. Inquiries: classes, Alice, weekend plans,
prospective boyfriends (Is there anyone special? Be careful. You know
condoms are not always...Mom! Enough!). And exams! Always exams!
As if they were a daily occurrence, as if ninety-nine point nine per cent
of university wasn't about floating aimlessly with no real conception of
how you were faring until after the final. Until after it was too late. Calls,
emails; please, God, may no one tell them about ICQ (oh-oh). For the
first time, Jo had felt the burden of being an only child.
There is no photo of Joan shaking Principal Harris' hand in a blue
gown and stupid hat. Some woman on an online chat room claimed to
have seen Jeremy in Seattle.
"Hey, where were you in June? Were you in Seattle?"
"Seattle? No. June, I was in Toronto."
"Are you sure?"
14 PRISM   54:2 "Yeah. May is pretty foggy but June I know for sure. Toronto."
It is Tuesday and they are walking to the other cafeteria. The one in
Leonard Hall. Just for a change. Jeremy wears a thin jean jacket. Jo has
given him a scarf and a pair of mitts. She doesn't have anything warmer
that would fit. She wears something insubstantial too, an autumn-ish
jacket. She wishes he would leave so she could wear her wool coat, but
this is a passing thought, one that comes and goes so quickly, it leaves no
time for guilt. Jo does not know when Jeremy plans to leave. Or what
he is doing here. What she does know: when Alice returns on Sunday,
Jeremy will have to go. And: he has been sober since he arrived.
On the first night, she had shoved her vodka to the back of her
underwear drawer. Every time she is alone in the room, she takes a ruler
to the bottle. Then unscrews the cap and sniffs.
The residence in Leonard Hall is men-only.
"Have you ever been upstairs?" Jeremy asks as they swipe their cards.
"Once. It smelled like Dad's spaghetti."
"Dad's... the time he put cumin in the pasta?"
Jeremy's face blanks out. An unplugged TV. Someone else's brother.
"Nevermind. It smells like a locker room upstairs."
The air in the dining hall is also ripe. Boiled cabbage. Fried liver. Sweet
and sour pork. Jo looks around. All week, they have run into people she
knows—floormates, lab partners, occasionally a teaching assistant.
Jeremy introduces himself as her cousin. He does it with a straight face
and Jo can't tell if he is pissed off or hurt or what. Part of her feels bad but
another part of her doesn't want to care.
"The burgers here are good," Jo says. Actually, the food at both dining
halls sucks. They should have taken a bus to west campus where the food
is actually half-decent. Tomorrow. Will he still be here? She's afraid to
ask. Afraid to spook him. She can't bear to think of him in a shelter.
Jeremy is a ginger, freckles. He does not look like someone who would
survive on the streets. And yet, he has.
"What happens next?" Jeremy asks.
They sit across from each other and pick up their forks. Every time
they do this, Jo thinks of all the meals she ate facing an empty chair. Her
parents at either end of the table. Or more often, absent.
"After this... after graduation."
He was her older brother. He was fifteen and she was nine and he
knew twelve went into one-forty-four twelve times.
"Something in science, I think." The potatoes are tasteless. She looks
for the salt shaker. "But not... I don't want to be a doctor." 15 "What's your major?"
"Bio for now but we'll see. I might switch to biochemistry."
"Biochemistry." He repeats the word and she tries to remember if
biochemistry was part of her vocabulary at age sixteen.
She complains about her lab partner instead. "She doesn't trust me.
We split up the work and then she does my half before I can even get
"Sounds like a pretty good set-up." Jokey.
"She doesn't even give me a chance! She wants to be a nurse."
Jo could just see her butting in during surgery, snatching the scalpel
from the surgeon's gloved hand.
"Nurses are bitches."
Jo smiles. It takes her a moment to see he is not joking.
They walk along the lakefront. Jo shows Jeremy the outdoor sculpture—
two rectangles rising out of the ground, tilted and leaning toward each
other—and explains how they were built on a fault line.
"They're supposed to touch at the turn of the century."
Jeremy looks up. From some angles, from farther away, the two
columns can look like they already connect. Lovers in mid-embrace. But
from here, from close range, what is most evident is the gap. A peaked
roof with a hole in the middle. An imperfect shelter.
"I think they miscalculated," he says.
He takes the incline at a run. Jo wants to yell for him to be careful. For a
moment he's at the summit—right shoe on the edge of one rectangle, left
shoe on the other. Poised. Suspended at the top, between two mountains.
Behind, trees. Naked branches. His head becomes a moon eclipsing the
sun. Backlit, his body is a shadow. Jo's hand forms a visor. She squints.
Then he runs down the other side. Fast.
When he is most like Jeremy: first thing in the mornings, last thing at
night. Reading aloud from Tolstoy. The steady cadence of his voice, a
sleigh drawn by horses through a snowy Russian landscape.
When she watches him with others—librarians, people on her floor,
and later, at the bus station ticket counter—then, he is a stranger.
Sometimes Jeremy takes off. Needs air. To be alone. Never very long.
An hour. And a half, tops. On Thursday Jo puts on her wool coat. Pulls
up the hood. Keeps her distance. He walks with his head down. Man on
a mission. Years since she's watched him walk. All week she has only seen
it side-on. Now she sees the place where the rubber soles of his shoes peel
away. The stick-thinness of his legs. The hunch of his shoulders.
Earlier that day, she had come into the room with an empty laundry
16 PRISM  54:2 basket to find him standing by her desk, holding a photo of Mom and Dad.
"How are they?"
"Broken." The word had left her mouth. It could not be taken back.
Jeremy slumped into himself. He put down the picture frame.
"I screwed up, Joannie."
"It's not too late. Why don't you—"
"No. I can't."
"You came here."
"I didn't plan that. It just happened."
Jo is a magnet. Jeremy was drawn. Against his will.
"They're better off without me," he had said.
Did he think that was noble? It was selfish. No one was better off.
University Avenue past the library. Three students come out. At the
corner, a handful more. An impromptu crowd and for a step or two she
loses track of which one is Jeremy. Another cold day. Jeremy's hands fist
up. She knows without seeing. Halfway down Johnson Street: church
bells. Jeremy walks a little faster. Jo stops. Up ahead is St. Mary's. People
on the steps. Walking in. Grounding out butt ends. They look like Jeremy.
And they don't. After that, there is no need to check for track marks.
Heroin is different. Is what Jeremy says. It's like nothing else. "When the
smack was in me, I had no problems."
The problems of middle-class two-parent suburbia. Jo tries to think
what these could be.
All the bad things, being high is the opposite. Anxiety, inadequacy,
they're clustered up here. At the cold North Pole. And way over there,
Antarctica, is being high. Nothing could be wrong in the world when
Jeremy was high. He could do no wrong.
"It was like everything before was darkness and being high was the
And now? Was life black?
More like grey. "I'm learning to live with grey."
Jo still doesn't know what any of this has to do with Mom and Dad
and why he won't call them. She has patiently waited. Since the first
night. Now, it is Friday and time is running out.
Simultaneous: "What's with this tree stump?"/"Call them. They won't
be mad or whatever."
Jeremy shakes his head, stares at the poster that hangs like a headboard
over her bed.
On their walks through campus, Jo has only shown Jeremy the nicest
parts. She wishes he had come in September, when everything looked
scholastic and preppy instead of dismal and plaid. She has been hawking 17 an idea, a subtle suggestion. She does not think he is buying.
Jo gives up. "Alice whittles."
"Whittles?" The beginnings of a grin.
"With a pen knife. Swiss Army." Jo flicks a shaving of bark with her
toe. "The shape has yet to reveal itself."
Laughter. Relief.
Sometimes they speak of the past. Before the drugs. Always before. The
time he taught her to ride a bike. Holding the handlebar and seat. Then
just the seat, by the very edge. Until she lost track of the moment he was
holding on and the next when she rode free. A split second that moved
from present into past unacknowledged.
When Jeremy ran away, out of her present and into her past. When?
The exact time un-noted. How long before anyone realized? Her parents
in meetings. Markers on flip charts. Until someone knocked on the
door. Excuse me. Urgent phone call. Joan at the chalkboard. Conjugating
irregular verbs. Until the vice principal walked in. Bring your books with
you. A classroom of eyes on her back. Then and after. Always after. And
now here is Jeremy. Catapulted out of her past and into her present.
Three dimensional. A guy who both is and isn't her brother.
Her whole life. Every moment ever after. An exercise in re-creation.
Taking up the pieces, working out how they fit. Liquor bottles topped
up with water. The sharp chemical smell like concentrated detergent
that made her head spin. The piggy bank. Smashed. Slamming doors.
Red eyes. Long-sleeved shirts in summer. Report cards. Calls from the
principal. Things she witnessed but only later understood.
Jeremy's old room is there still. A museum no one visits. She wants to
tell him but holds back, waiting. A reckoning. On one side, her hurt. On
the other, his. Make the two sides equal.
There is a schedule. Little boxes shaded in different colours. Taped, it
hangs down from the shelf that juts out over Jo's desk. She does not worry
about midterms. She works hard. Of course, there is hard work. But there
is also a formula. Scantron. Due dates. These are things over which she
has control.
Evenings are for revision. Jo and Jeremy sit in her room and he reads
quietly or drills her. A tape is in the machine. Volume on low. Portishead
on one side. Tricky on the other. The music is languid and lazy. Like
floating underwater. Like drowning. Like dying.
In Jo's textbook there are diagrams of viruses. Each one is a funeral
wreath made of different kinds of flowers. She closes the book, stares at the
ceiling above her bed and tries to recall the genomic structure of HIV. A
18 PRISM  54:2 retrovirus. Genus lentivirus. Measured in nanometres. The size of a speck.
"Why not medicine?" Jeremy asks.
"Too much school," Jo says. Two strands of RNA at the centre. Protein
shell like a pearl necklace. "Too much expensive school."
"Dr. Joannie Halsham. I like the sound of that."
Average latency: ten years. A squatter taking up residence, settling in
for the long haul. HIV is small and cunning. It knows how to hide.
"There are easier ways to be a doctor."
Jo has thought about graduate school. But not in any serious way. She
is eighteen and time is still a luxury.
Jeremy   sits   on   Alice's   bed.   Cross-legged,   bodhisattva-like.   Jo's
psychology text is in his lap. He has quizzed her on Piaget {Four stages of
childhood development. Go!) but now she's moved on to biology.
Sometimes, Jo can fool herself into thinking. Sometimes, she can
look at Jeremy and think: If my brother had never been an addict, this is
how he would be.
"You'd be a great doctor." Jeremy scratches his chin and turns a page.
"You have the people smarts. Bedside manner."
"Yeah, you're the expert, right?" The words that tumble out are those
of a younger sister teasing an older brother. Normal people. But after she
has spoken and it cannot be taken back and Jeremy has not lobbed back a
joke of his own, she remembers. That she does not know. Anything about
Jeremy leaves on Sunday. Overnight it snows but only very lightly, and
in the morning the temperature spikes and everything is dripping and
melty. At the bus station, Jeremy skirts the puddles without looking. Jo
is glad about the twenties. An envelope shoved to the bottom of his bag.
No time for a note, and anyway, what would she write?
The bus hasn't arrived yet and they stand awkwardly by the folding
plastic chairs. One week ago he had gone to church and left her a note.
This. This is the moment when present becomes past.
Alice is due back in the afternoon. Jeremy used her card for the last
time at breakfast, and afterward, they'd snuck out bagels and fruit and
a couple pieces of cutlery for the road. Jo told him about how when it
snowed students would steal trays and use them to go sliding down the
hill beside the dining hall. At the exit, Jeremy and the woman in the
hairnet had exchanged good mornings. Old friends now.
"I'll be here in the summer," Jo says now at the bus station. "I got a
job. There's an ice cream parlour downtown..."
Already there's a fantasy—she's scooping Rocky Road, hand cramped
up and her brother saunters in, cool as you like. Jo feels furious. Angry at 19 herself for indulging in this daydream and angry at him because he will
not come.
"It's nice here," Jeremy says. "I'm glad you're a part of it." He nods his
head and glances around, as if they are standing on the green in front of
Theological Hall instead of the sticky floor at the bus station. He reminds
Jo of their father, of something he would say and the exact way he would
say it. Her anger turns a little to the left and then it is regret.
She wants to pummel and shake him. Take a class. Why not? Don't
He does not say: Sorry for interrupting your cramming, or, Thanks
for putting me up. There are unsaid things between them but also no
I'm glad we had this week, is what he says. "Now when I think of you,
it'll be in context."
The bus is announced at the same moment it pulls up. Around
them, people stand and heave up bags. It is not quite nine and the other
passengers go through these motions with exaggerated exhaustion, as if
they are Herculean efforts.
"You know where to find me. For the next three and a half years
anyway." Jo will not see him again. Already, she knows this. "Just. Send a
postcard or something."
They go outside. Jeremy has his ticket in his hand. It is white and
perforated. This time the hug is just righr. The way she remembers. The
way she imagines. Jo holds her brother close and inhales the scent of her
own soap, her Pears shampoo. He is thin and insubstantial. In Montreal,
he will disappear. A speck in the crowd.
"Wait," she calls as he turns to leave. She peels off her sweatshirt and
holds it out to him. She hasn't got a jacket and now the February air bites
her bare arms. "It's cold in Montreal."
Jeremy holds it close for a second, hands crossed, knuckles turned
in. Then he shrugs off his jean jacket and pulls it on over his head. The
university's name is splashed across the front. The tail of the Q trails out
like a ribbon. The sweatshirt has always been big on Jo, but on Jeremy, it
is a perfect fit.
She does not ask why he is going to Montreal. Why not somewhere
warmer. Instead she touches the lines around his eyes. "You need to wear
"It's February."
"At least SPF 15."
bye, sis.
He's trying to keep things light, to be silly. But Jo's feelings have seized
her and now she wants to seize him too. Don't go. Not yet.
PRISM  54:2 Everyone is on the bus. The luggage compartment underneath has
closed and the driver is waiting.
Jeremy hands over his ticket for inspection. He is about to put a foot
on the stair.
Jo grabs his arm. "You need to take the medication." She speaks
quietly. Looks him steady in the eyes. Her heart beats hard. She did not
know she would say this and now the words have taken them both by
surprise. "Don't miss a dose. Not a single one. It's really important."
"I won't," Jeremy says. "I promise. I swear, Joannie. I promise."
She can't recall what she said next. If there was anything. If it was just
a nod or a smile or a look or maybe another hug. She can only remember
her heart like a fist jamming up her throat. He waved from the window
and then the bus rolled away and then that was it.
Years later, when the memory of this week has grown so vague she
must reconstruct the details, an old photograph will remind Jo that
Jeremy was at camp the summer her training wheels came off. It was her
dad who taught her how to ride a bike. 21 Amanda Paananen
The Renaissance undoes all this: gravitas,
dignity. Mother puts her finger to the wind
and returns into the sea. There was blue grass,
bread and circuses,
supermodel bones. I consumed them
because I (am a thinking thing) pay the king's taxes,
while all the pretty faces scrape their tongues
along the ocean floor.
Begin here. In a vacuum-bottle, where the neck
narrows. Sealed between math and morals,
a message to the modern self: there's no one
left to crucify.
We could mention God, but words will calcify.
I've stepped on the shards with an intentional
blink. It's time to tear apart and shape a cell
the size of the Sun.
He left me for a mail-order bride with compliant skin.
There's no more myth than Marie Antoinette's breasts.
Other spiral organs funnel sound waves,
amplify Fibonacci. I'm innervated.
The cellar door is locked.
From the West, a deliberate echo, several
sisters gone. I keep a strict diet
and scratch my name on the wall.
Even how my hands are carved, I hold on. 23 THE COLOUR OF ASH
The French have seven words
for going down on a woman
but the dead won't talk,
not since Darwin.
My earliest memory: an eclipse,
sudden and unexpected.
I can't believe this is how I die,
with too much to be done.
I count the rings around the mirror,
curl my hair.
A nod to the man behind the curtain,
the rattle of his buckle so cliche.
/ miss the days of drunk and hopeful.
They say the eyes go first.
I once knew a budding naturalist
who loved a medium
who choked on plasma.
Now he translates Sanskrit
full-time in Manhattan.
24 PRISM  54:2 rob mclennan
Always in Alberta there is afresh wind blowing.
—Nellie McClung, Ihe Stream Runs Fast
Soon this space will be too small.
This is what I am trying to tell you: I am attempting to make it out of
the middle.
The middle of what?
This conversation occurs in a repurposed church, as part of a literary
festival. Her third such festival in the space of weeks. Perhaps this
particular thread only occurs in her head.
They were here to discuss Alberta's first book in more than a decade. They
declared: a triumph, a departure, a return.
Anglican-grey stone walls and tempered wood. Given the setting, she
is conscious to refrain from cursing, and makes a joke of it during her
reading. She recalls Christmas services from childhood, and the blessings
of the water. Her mother's belief in what the blessings provide.
Alberta wonders: if this is a return, where had she been? The same desk in
the same small room, scratching away. The penance of Sisyphus.
She squirms in her seat, attempting to not sound ridiculous. As part of
the on-stage interview, she is asked about the intervening time since the
publication of her previous novel. What were you doing?
The audience falls on a hush.
Alberta, startled. Writing, she says. I was writing.
They act as though she returns from the dead.
Her home office, with south-facing window directly across from their
neighbour's stained glass. Months of David Bowie's Heroes on repeat,
lining walls and coating the bookshelves.
One sentence, compounding. 25 Her house constructed on former farmland. Prehistoric grasses force their
way through the patio stone, and puncture the garden. The occasional
outcrop of rabbit, or stone.
Their bungalow roughly seventy-five years old, constructed in what was
once the outskirts of the capital. Now they may as well live in the centre.
One street over, the houses are thirty years old, but most that surround
hers are of similar vintage, if not slightly older.
The ghosts of dead livestock. A cornfield across the adjoining lot.
Despite the years, she occasionally forgets: a house purchased as a pair,
now singularly owned.
Mx. Her daughter claims the genderless prefix. She concurrently
understands, and is baffled. She wishes to remain supportive, but finds
the question confusing. How has her daughter changed? Or has the
change always been?
One question leads to another, which only seems to antagonize. Alberta,
who asks about plumbing, and is met with hostility. Once again, she's
informed, you've completely missed the point.
When change is constant, it becomes fixed. Perhaps, she realizes, this is
who her daughter was all along.
Emerged. Alberta refuses the word. It presumes she had lapsed into some
kind of pit, and perhaps she had. Spring forth, novel.
Fully formed, of course. At least that's what the newspaper profile
suggests. A decade of resting on her laurels and sitting on her hands, as
her novel sighed out of her.
Too old for this ongoing, restless rage. Everything her novel attempted
to purge.
The book was published, and yet, remained in her belly. Until this tour
completed, it would not disengage: they shared a bloodstream. She could
not find her distance.
Granted, it took longer than it should have. She wrote and wrote and
revised, abandoning far more than she'd written, running waist-deep
through plots, purpose, and pondering. So much time reworking and so
little accomplished.
Graeme, on his deathbed. Recalling her Mrs. Galloway: sometimes it
takes a death to prompt the rest into living.
26 PRISM  54:2 But he'd been dying for so long.
She might not be free until the first sentence of her next book.
The latest review concludes: "This is a book of transitions, composed
between point of origin and destination, neither of which are described
or explained but through absence. [...] writing out what can only be
determined through experience."
Eden posits, re-posits. Mx. Hones a personal precision. A clarification.
How does one explain to one such as their mother? The prefix so much
less important than stem, but the wrong one throws off all meaning.
Eden's mother focused entirely on the wrong things. As per usual.
There is so much that shouldn't need to be said.
This is Eden's articling year: a precision of self in ways beyond the billable
hour. A recycled math that evaporates, but for the admission of so many
more that will remain unpaid. The archivist, paid to research; the lawyer,
not. Is all of this research?
From co-workers: how shall we address you? Emily, shifting to Eden.
An interior monologue that requires stifling, while crafting bad jokes,
including "Sir Mx-a-lot," or "Hits and Mrs." Such terrible puns. The kind
that would cause Eden's mother to rankle; consider beneath them both.
How she could contain such a love of language but a lack of appreciation
for the pun. As Eden, in darker moments, has described the language of
Alberta's novels: "All work, and no play."
Get me to the point on time.
What did Alberta expect of writing? What does she, still? Over the years,
her answer has changed. Accomplishment, attention, occasional accolade.
Back to the beginning.
Alive only as long as one remains in print.
The ancient Chinese, who recorded no history because they saw the
world as cyclical. Here, again. I am. The Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz:
both books about home, and the pull to return. Adventures, be damned.
If all roads lead to Rome, so too, all roads lead away. Telescopic.
"She was loathe to admit," Alberta writes, "but she dreaded the lake." 27 MalloryImler Powell
Are you sure you don't want any
of his ashes? There's tons.
You could put them in a pretty box.
You could put them in a pill and take it.
The friend who might eat her placenta.
The mother who thinks eating one part of the animal
is different than eating another part of the animal
and doesn't want to be tricked.
You ate all of it for Christmas and didn't even know it:
sugar-free syrup, sugar-free cream.
Do you know what cardinals mean?
That there are souls or spirits around,
and there are always cardinals in the garden.
There always have been, I think.
I don't want to make it a shrine.
I don't even like the door shut.
I took the ashes already
and didn't tell anyone.
The law to inform death,
the distribution of wills.
They charge a fortune
to die, they make you do it
differently in different places.
I wanted to leave
but the moment was tender
and the wishbone
not yet broken.
28 PRISM   54:2 John F. Buckley
Time to level up. Open the one you bought in Spain,
scented like marinated octopus and smoked paprika.
You called my pricked ears your favorite tapas,
wrapped a plateful in napkins to be nibbled on later.
Open the heart I saw in the hotel laundry, where we
played hide-and-seek in carts of stained Catalan cotton.
Though I caught just a glimpse, I became your pebble forever.
But each day since then, standard issue—wet sawdust,
soft onions. What we've achieved is an anthill of numbers,
twenty gross of days, a municipal security with
a constant drip of interest. What we don't feel are
leafless branches in a Valentine's topiary, a bullheaded Cupid
shorn of his arrows and stripped of his ring.
You crack the casing. I'll cover the exits. Let's open
the vault of siroccos, the portal to Hadron collisions,
the one with the whirling and hums. Let's open
the other hearts, firedarts, vanguards of nuclear summer.
Metropolis needs us. Open your other heart to me. 29 Elizabeth Horneber
To be an artist in the People's Republic of China, one must consider
the eyes that will watch, some grateful, some suspicious. Welcome the
attention, desire it, but know the risk. Ai Wei Wei was once held for
eighty-one days by the government without any official charges filed.
He is an architect, a photographer, a sculptor. He makes films and
curates. He employs hundreds to assist him in his work—researching
demographics, crafting thousands of porcelain sunflower seeds. It is
not the physical act of creation that is dangerous. The government fears
the mind and voice. Sometimes all Ai Wei Wei needs to do is release a
picture, initiate a gesture or symbol. It catches and spreads across China
and to distant places of the world.
First it was the middle finger, photographed at close range with the
Eiffel Tower in the background, then the Mona Lisa in the back, then the
Cultural Palace in Beijing. Then, this: a photo of him raising his leg and
pointing his foot like a gun, his black-socked toes aimed, centered on an
unseen target. He's in a pair of boxers and wearing a straw hat, but his
eyes are focused, his lips puckered in concentration.
Was this yet another critique of governmenr? A critique of control
over media and expression? Though no one seemed sure, people around
the world responded with their own poses, their own cocked legs, pointed
feet, as though bullets could fly from such toes and the foot could be a
kind of protection.
Some wondered if the gesture was meant to echo The Red Detachment
of Women, a Chinese ballet that was one of the model operas the
Communist party promoted during the Cultural Revolution, when
other kinds of art were being purged and destroyed. This ballet spoke
the communist message. It urged an emboldened unity of mankind—a
loyalty not to the self, but to the masses.
Ai Wei Wei's pose resembles a position from that ballet. And in
speaking of a man to whom art is always political, a way of being, this is
not a stretch of the imagination—that feet curled in one context should
be bent and curled again towards a new purpose, one self-conceived, self-
They taste with their feet. This is their quest. They stomp on leaves and
flowers to release juices, and their feet bathe and quiver in the sweetness.
In 1972, Richard Nixon "opened" China when he took the diplomatic
initiative to visit. A few years later, the United States officially recognized
China as a country it was willing to deal and trade with.
The first American product imported into China was Coca-Cola.
In 1994, Ai Wei Wei took a Han-period ceramic vase—perhaps real,
perhaps forged—and on it he painted, in what appeared to be cracked
and aged script, the red curling letters of the Coca-Cola brand.
I have toes that curl unbidden. You'd think I've restricted them with too-
small shoes all my life. In reality, I am barefoot as often as possible, so
that when I do wear shoes, I quickly develop blisters, and so there are
permanent scars midway down the top of each foot, beneath my big toes.
I want the texture of the world against my feet. My feet are willing
to own me, to wander unprotected, since ways of protecting can also,
sometimes, damage.
My birth certificate says Elizabeth was born in Rochester, New York, to
parents with a German name.
Other documentation exists, traces of my life.
I am pictured mid-jazz-square in a newspaper clipping after being
profiled for my role in a musical.
I am in the school newspaper of my alma mater. The paper asks,
Where Are They Now? And there's a picture of me in Hong Kong, with
aviators and a hand on my hip. Teaching English in China, the school
paper said.
They quote me as saying that every day in China is something new.
I was thinking of the smells that would hit me outside my front door—
tofu, discarded animal bones heating in sun-bathed trash bags, and
somewhere, a flower I didn't know the name for in bloom and sweetening
the humidity of southern Guangdong. I considered the people I'd
pass on the street. Uniformed students singing for money into cheap
microphones and portable speakers, apron-clad women with sharp voices
bargaining at their food stands, sharp-suited businessmen. 31 What I meant was that every day you create yourself. Every day your
old self is challenged. My skin is canvas. My muscle is clay.
The French phrase pied de gru means "the foot of a crane" and is the
derivative of the English word pedigree because of the way a crane foot
branches and descends downward in various directions, like a starfish
hanging from a stick, much as a sketch of a family tree. Crane feet tell us
no one is alone. We are measured by our connections. We are connected
by solid lines of flesh.
"Lotus Feet" is a term for bound feet, after the old Chinese tradition
of breaking and binding women's feet to keep them small. The Golden
Lotus was generally agreed to be the ideal length for a woman's foot—
about three inches long. With such small feet, it was necessary for a
woman to bend her knees slightly while walking and sway to achieve
momentum and balance. It was this walk, this movement, this back and
forth blowing about that made men's heads turn and their mouths water.
This slow, uncertain movement was generally agreed to be erotic. The
desire, then, was only partially for tiny feet. The desire was for a specific
fragility, a body at the mercy of its foundations.
The human foot has thirty-three joints. A hundred muscles and more.
With twenty-six bones, it hosts one-quarter of the total bones in a body.
When the bones of the foot are out of alignment, the body follows suit.
Yet some are willing to tamper. A podiatrist in California has
renamed the hallux valgus correction with osteotomy and screw fixation
the "Cinderella procedure." He found a significant number of women
asking him for it, so he made the vocabulary easier. These women bring
in designer shoes that are fashionable, but painful. He says the main idea
of the Cinderella procedure is that women can put on a shoe that didn't
fit comfortably before.
Ballet dancers' feet endure constant wear and stress. Corns become ulcers.
Nails grow thick and the skin beneath them toughens. So the dancers
pop painkillers, never sticking to one brand for too long so it doesn't lose
its effectiveness. They take antibiotics and may consider a day of rest, but
32 PRISM   54:2 never much longer, and their podiatrists are cautious not to advise any
more rest at the risk of losing the patient, who will look for a doctor to
support their cause.
When in a large company, none of the dancers want to admit to
their injuries. None of them want to be seen as weak, as the one who
might drag down the group. To achieve status in the hierarchy, they push
themselves, especially the young ones who have something to prove.
Some dancers wrap their feet in tape or lamb's wool. They pack
stuffing into their shoes. They bathe their feet in glue. They come at their
feet armed with scissors and razors to carve them up for another day, and
Ai Wei Wei released a statement revealing the leg-gun pose as a protest
against the power a state takes and abuses in the name of counter-
terrorism. I don't think of this, though. This is what matters: that each
person who mimicked the pose found a new way to change it and change
the meaning, make it singular.
Until a new community formed, a new collective of those found
among the images. A new, single form. Thousands of feet pointed,
perhaps each at something different. But together, becoming something
more. And perhaps there is power in numbers, but the implication, then,
is that the individual is insufficient.
And the new form comes to be a thing one struggles to fit.
Before Nixon ever visited the People's Republic of China, officially
ending its separation from the United States during the week that he said
"changed the world," National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger had been
secretly visiting the Chinese, testing the waters. Could he have known
just how many lives would change as a result? I would like to meet him,
speak with him, explain myself to him, explain how my wandering took
me to China, how confused I became, how much I started considering
myself, that is, the self. How many ponderous walks I took, how vibrant
the world became, out of the shelter of a familiar world. How like myself
I became. How unlike myself. I would have shaken hands with the man.
I settled with shaking hands with an eighteen-year-old Chinese student
who chose "Kissinger" as his English name and was notorious for skipping
class to smoke and drink milk at the school canteen. 33 LOTUS
Legends of the protection god Nezha are found in various forms in India,
China, and Taiwan, and none are precisely the same. In Taiwan and
China, he is known to be mischievous, one who gets into trouble but
is staunchly loyal to his family. In one legend, he dies to save his family,
the people who are him in a larger sense, the people who signify himself.
He is later made new, resurrected from lotus. He is known by his feet,
their wheels of wind and fire that allow him to fly, burning, anywhere he
Xu Tienan had a weakness for shoes, and so had all kinds—knock-off
Nikes, dress shoes, white Birkenstock sandals. I recall one day he slipped
my shower shoes on and went sliding around the wet tile floor of my
apartment. Maybe it was his shoes and how different they all were, that
they seemed to gift him with different personalities, allowing him to
move among different kinds of people—one of the first things I told him
was that he was a social butterfly. He'd never heard this English phrase, so
I explained that he talked to anyone, everyone. After that, I and the rest
of his friends called him The Butterfly.
I have no wheels of fire, and yet Tienan gave me the Chinese name Nezha.
I never completely understood why (Nezha was male), and yet I wished
for his feet. I might have dismissed loyalty to my origins, my family tree,
if only to stay in China forever, in the sight of Tienan.
"Nezha," Tienan once said to me, "It would be best if we went
somewhere new, not America and not China. A place where we are both
foreign. Then we can be together."
Ai Wei Wei once wrote that categorizing people by nationality is mere
laziness, that a globalized society requires each person be judged as a
single entity. This, he says, is truth. Being identified by a nation is an
intellectual shortcut.
I find pictures from Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds exhibition at Tate
Modern. One hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds. Each hand
crafted, each hand-painted. A sea of them, stretched across the floor of
PRISM  54:2 Turbine Hall. They beg to be tread upon, to click and whisper as they
make way for the weight of disturbance. Each Made in China. I imagine
the seeds that were lost in the creation, lost in transportation, that were
lost in cracks or left behind at the end of the exhibition. They probably
weren't noticed.
The Chinese word meaning "to go." A leaving. A finding. Movement.
Isn't this what feet are for?
Or the opposite. Grounding. Foundations.
When Nixon came to visit China, Madame Mao took him to see a ballet.
He asked her about its author and composer, and she brushed off his
question, saying it was authored by the masses.
In reality, it was based on a film by Xin Jin. The film followed a
novel grounded in history. But by the time the story became ballet, it was
watered and nourished into pure propaganda.
The plot is simple. A housemaid named Wu Qionghua is abused by
her master until she is rescued by the leader of the Red Detachment of
Women, a troop of women soldiers. When the leader dies, she assumes
leadership, and together the troop overthrows the masters and executes
the warlords and liberates Qionghua's village.
Though the ballet seems to highlight power in women, state feminism
bears little resemblance to true feminism. In fact, as the stronger
communist ideas faded with the opening of borders to the West, the
status of women in society became clear. They are most valued when
married. They are still frequently expected to accept their husbands'
mistresses. Still expected to stick close to home.
But the ballet was beautiful. The arched spines, the pointed toes. How
lost every woman of that troop was, lost in the comfort of community,
prepared to toast glasses of Coca-Cola to Nixon and the success of
I loved Tienan, a Chinese man. Borders opened, crossed. A painful,
beautiful dance. An erotic movement. He fucked up my alignment. I
tattooed Coca-Cola across his skin. I asked where he'd come from. He
said he was the creation of the masses. I made him my canvass, his
muscles my clay. 35 TEETH
In China, though I ate everything from snails to dog, I couldn't bear to
eat chicken feet. Because when I did, all I could feel was the rough and
wrinkled skin against my tongue. All I could chew was rubber. All my
teeth could gnaw on were joints and phalanges that moved and bent
under the aggression of my teeth.
The Chinese never seem to have this problem. They eat feet so casually.
Here's another thing I'd tell Kissinger. Uniting the East and the West
leaves you directionless. But yes, and thank you, and Kissinger, no one
would guess you're so fearless from your pictures.
To elephants, hearing is a whole body effort, and elephant feet sense the
vibrations from another's call from miles away. And this is important,
because the social network is essential for an elephant's survival.
South of China, in places that have clung longer to their roots, that are
less prepared to change, babies are divine beings that have come down
from heaven. In Bali, they are kept from the ground for days and days.
Babies' feet cannot, must not touch the ground until the third, sometimes
sixth month of their life. I imagine the moment when, finally, the child's
feet touch the earth, the moment they cross over, the moment they resign
themselves to this world, this baffling life, their imperfect bodies, their
roughened, dirty, fragile feet.
For what would I destroy my feet? Survival? A man, perhaps. Love, a
created thing.
We once went barefoot to the roof of the apartment building where I
lived. There, twenty stories above the earth, surrounded by the factories
of southern Guangdong, we could look to the East and West and we
imagined we were somehow free of it.
But we weren't. He'd argue with his father in Chinese over the phone
while I listened, imagining shapes emerging from the sounds of his
language. The men argued over Tienan's education, his future career, his
duty to his parents and his nation—what was all this talk of drawing
things? Of harmonicas and guitars? Of travel? What, then, would he do?
36 PRISM  54:2 Tienan sensed a humming, perhaps—vibrations under their words.
And I? I tasted the snails and dogs of his country as if I were tasting
his skin. I wandered over its torn up sidewalks and pissed-in alleys as
though I were treading through the Promised Land. I breathed his name,
and butterflies made their home in my stomach, tasting acid with their
Our strange new selves, our unfamiliar shapes that we pressed upon
each other were just more shapes. This is merely the way of things. This
is survival.
It was easier, then, to return to the old ways. Not force anything. Not
break ourselves.
I discovered: feet will wander and wander, collecting everything they
encounter along the way, till you're full, wondering what to make of it all.
You become unaligned. Your shoes don't fit like they used to.
The first word I learned in Chinese. Yao, to want.
The word in English is bastinado, that is, the practice of beating someone's
feet as punishment. In the Chinese army in old days, the number of
thrashings was proportional to the seriousness of the crime. It was
considered a gentle correction. After a beating, one was to kneel before
the judge, bow three times to the earth, and thank him for the care he
took in education.
They used a bamboo cane that was several feet long, with a lower part
the size of a hand, and the upper part small and meant to be gripped.
And when a person was punished, they were thrown, face to the
ground and bared feet pointed to the sky. The judge would distribute a
number of canes, and a crowd of men would each take one. They'd each
swing. Each would let their cane fall, one after the other against the feet.
This, the loving speech of the masses. Bringing the wayward one back
into the fold. 37 Joseph Kidney
Too languid to sting, he had the more venom refluent in his blood.
—George Eliot, Middlemarch
The day that Opa died the cat learned English
but not the kind of understanding speech
impairs. He heard the snow depress the shingles
while his mouth confused pellets into crush.
Oma spoke; he listened to a voiding
river thaw and shrug its winter clutch
where they found the stale body of the boy
who was never quite right, but now less so.
And why, she asks herself, whenever I say
that Hilda's house is all alone now
do I see the sky as a plane and god as a dud
and the ear as a field and the siren a plough
when they battered Graz? The bombs fell like sleet
on the graveyard; the dead people came out.
This place is rampant with legs.
Everyone in this city has legs
and they know how to use them.
—Caleb Harrison
Everywhere I go happens to be here:
the clearing, the crowd, the sewers
that hawk up whiffs of chrism, notched
in air and reeking throttle. I, forager,
scramble along, slouched, mistaking
apathy for confidence, the net
for work, the squirming bycatch
for the radiant point out of which
the shooting stars open fire.
In withdrawal,
dawdling in spasms of dabble, empty-
handed for the postal boxes
red and blushing, plugged
with disembodied greetings, I salute
the facts in black and white, as a pike
in the stream uncolours the guppies, for even
though hunger is a paint-by-number
there seems no way to switch
my stomach off vibrate.
Let it be an art
awful as eating. Let it be, like a word,
provisional. Let the clouds be given
shoulders to cry on, as they move
with their bundles of water.
I move, shedding
shade, my leashed shadow
yelps at fellow obscurities,
many and random, named stochastic
so to make audacities of odyssey
audible; undersigned and under signs: 39 eight sides to stopping, three to yielding,
either/or, they shine like ore refined,
impurities lost in the yield.
Smelt them out,
desecrate alternatives, thresh and thresh
and see: on the pock-marked face of the apartment
block, AC units straddle the sills
as if about
to jump.
40 PRISM  54:2 Craig Takeuchi
X his is our breakfast: blueberries, roasted almonds, cappuccinos,
homemade orange juice, dark chocolate.
Hers: a hard-boiled egg, a glass of water.
She picks away the white eggshell to expose more whiteness underneath
"Sometimes I can't tell you two apart," she tells us. We nod. We know.
If she chopped off her hair into bobs like ours, we'd be triplets. Her
mother, our aunt, says the same thing.
She goes back to sleep, we head off to work, and we don't see her for
another day.
Our breakfast: yogurt with granola and leftover blueberries, glasses of
Hers: a hard-boiled egg, a glass of water.
"Sometimes," she says, "my stomach is so full of hope, there's no room
left for food." We nod. We agree. But we see where her gaze falls: upon our
fingers, our spoons, our lips.
Against the thin morning light flooding through the window, with her
white diaphanous nightgown draped over her slight frame, she looks goth.
Her cheekbones rise so sharply, they look painful and enviable at the same
time. This is her as we know her: stripped of makeup, hair, wardrobe,
agents, auditions, photo shoots, runways. She's an alternate version of
who we could be, had we chosen to pursue the spotlight of fashion, had
we sought to trade in small-town life for the urban crush of the city.
We tiptoe as she goes back to finish sleeping her 14-hour marathon.
We grab nuts and crackers and cram them into our mouths as we slip out
the door. We marvel at how we have become thieves in our own home.
Hers and our breakfast: bread and jam, glasses of water.
In the early morning, there's a change in the town. We see the clouds
part. We see people emerge from their homes, zombies hungry for the sun's
rays. From our balcony, we watch the weekend hordes mindlessly marching
towards Vitamin D. Their collective momentum, their gravitational pull,
is too strong to resist, she says, and she ends her hibernation. She tells us
it broke the spell cast upon her by the new moon. Of course we know it
was more than that, but we feel it's not our place to argue with her at this 41 point.
We surrender ourselves to the masses: their movement drags us down
narrow sidewalks, past cafe patios full of patrons plumped up in winter
jackets and hats and scarves and sunglasses. We stroll down the streets,
watching cars on an exodus out of town, to the hills, to the lake, to the
forest. But we three head to the riverside. The crunch, crunch, crunch of
the gravel beneath our boots makes us think of breakfast.
On a rock slab, we bask in the nutritious sunrays and listen to our
stomachs gurgle along with the river.
Our breakfast: bread, glasses of water.
Hers: a glass of water.
Some habits are so hard to shake, she says. She says she has a photo
shoot the day after she gets back to the city. We nod as we help her round
up her things.
Then the sky cracks.
"I don't mind the rain," she says as we drive to the station, where she'll
take a bus to the airport. "It gives me a feeling of release."
We take a booth at the cafe in the terminal. We have black tea; she has
a bottle of water and a large silver suitcase packed with a week's worth of
clothes she didn't wear.
She says she wishes she lived here, even though she's hardly seen
anything of our town on this so-called vacation of hers. She says she
resents the city. Too many people. Too many voices. Too much noise. Too
much to block out.
"These last few years, I almost lost myself," she says as we walk with
her across the parking lot to the rumbling bus. "I pushed myself so far
down that sometimes I felt like no one could hear me."
But we tell her we did.
"We've been waiting for you," we say.
42 PRISM  54:2 Elizabeth. Morton
She is sitting on a plastic stool
in a call centre in Bangladesh.
A paper cup holds
what is left of her heart.
She dials the numbers
with a chipped fingernail.
When nobody picks up the phone
she eats another Oreo biscuit
or drags on a menthol.
I am on the other side
of the universe. I grow yams
in a bucket, drive clay clods
into my carpet fibres.
I cultivate thistles and
hack them back on weekends,
watch the television only
for the weather forecast.
There is a cable line snaked
under the seabed. There
are satellites crawling down
the night's throat. There are
a billion copper wires tied
to our fat tongues. Hello.
I can smell the menthol
in her ponytail.         43 Robert Nazarene
Emmylou waved from the top of a banana split.
I love her. She slid down and we sat together
Among the asters and lindens. I would buy
A million of her records if I could sell my crops
To a billionaire. We could get married, too.
If I could make this come true I'd turn Christian
Scientist or search the world over for James Earl
Ray and catch him for free. We'd have jet-lagged
Children and go grocery swiping at Piggly-Wiggly
And throw our EBT cards into the trash—or
At some poor people. Same thing. My dad
Would just yawn and look bored like he always
Did before he wasn't dead yet. In this world,
With money, anything goes. See? And I'd never
Ever ever have to come from Hell and back again.
PRISM  54:2
_ Alex Pugsley
We were famous in the city, we were Halifamous, we were the punk band
with the dazzling singer, and kids from all over—heavy metal sluggards,
suburban preps, bluegrass hippie chicks—came to see the shows. What
thrilled me about a Changelings gig was the realization of the event, the
arrant circumstance, the doing of the thing. In the crash and splendor of
our shows, we transcended the grubby circumstances of Grafton Street,
creating moments which at once matched and expressed a restless, in-all-
directions punk wonderment. There was a song on Karin's mixed tape,
Kraftwerk's "We Are the Robots," but in the world of Halifax, we were the
robots. We were the clash and jam and damned, we were the generation
x—those were our stiff little fingers on the vibrators and sex pistols, that
was Karin wearing the x-ray spex. For Karin Friday was a magical name
in the city now. She was that girl you remembered forever and many were
the nights you might linger solitary in a car to listen to the end of a radio
song because it reminded you of her. She was the girl dancing on the first
English Beat record, the comic book sweetheart of a Roy Lichtenstein
print—she seemed a shooting star who streaked across the sky, fixed in no
one's orbit, and figures several and diverse were drawn into her gravities.
She was eighteen, no longer a stripling kid but a maturing adult female
and probably fully aware of herself as gorgeous. Karin was luminous,
make no doubt, she owned any room she walked into, if she wanted, and
wild was she to hold, though she seemed tame. "And so it begins," said
my older sister. "The Karin Friday Invitational." And Babba Zuber: "If
you look like Karin, you can pretty much go out with whoever you want."
This being Halifax, there were differences of interpretation. Mosey and
Posey and the hard-core followers of Scum would have allowed that Karin
was a dreamy vocalist but I'm sure they dismissed her as some dilettante
tennis girl playing at anarchy. Howard Fudge, a hulking endomorph
drug-dealer and my one-time mentor, famously did not care for Karin
Friday. "That scooter chick," he said to Gail and me, on the afternoon I
bought a dime bag from him. "The girl with the eyes? She's a little heart-
breaker. No question. But she's too much." Gail asked what he meant—
too much what? "Too much bullshit." "Bullshit comes in many forms,
my friend," said Gail, quick to defend a pal and confidante. But Howard
Fudge, whose fudge-headedness over time often proved relevant, may 45 have construed something, for I have not really detailed those instances
when Karin was too much, when she seemed to force her giggles, when
her girliness became presentational and semi-annoying, when phone calls
were never returned or never referenced, when her impromptu remarks
to the movie theatre screen felt disingenuous. Of course there were some
young women, those who moved in different circles, who risked harsher
"I hate that perfect girl Karin," Amy Disher confided to me one night.
"She would never be my friend. Even for a second. You can just tell." For
some dissidents, the impulses that motivated Karin Friday's magic and
charm were not so far away from caprice or even a kind of sociopathology
Later that afternoon, after the purchase of the dime bag, I made some
mention of these discrepancies to Gail, musing on Karin's shape-shifting
unpredictability, her flights and quirks, and made the mistake of using
Karin's nicknames for me and for Gail herself. Walking along Summer
Street, Gail abruptly stopped and chose to stare at the sidewalk. Every few
months Gail had begun delivering once-and-for-all sidewalk judgments.
These rulings were often introduced by a quick shake of her head, as if
to first clear her eyes of delinquent hair, but Gail had been serving in
the Naval Reserves for some weeks that summer, sporting what would
be described as a three-quarter-inch brush cut, and so in this particular
moment there were few curls to shake away. "All you guys are in love with
Karin," she said, finally, mechanically, conclusively. "You and Cyrus and
Jeremy and everybody. You say you aren't. But you are. And you always
will be." She marched on—she wore a worn-out cameo choker, indigo
vintage dress, and military boots, boots she clomped with authority along
the cement sidewalk. "And the name is Gail. It's not Gorbals or Birdy
or Boober. It's Gail. What are we—the island of misfit toys? No more
baby talk! It's like you doing drugs all the time—when are you going
to grow the fuck up?" I knew from last month's pronouncement that
Gail had decided there was within our set of friends, nicknamed by us
The Common Room, a troubling subtext of sexual repression—though,
to be fair, a troubling subtext of sexual repression was Gail's assessment
of any number of situations—and she thought our cutesy affinities an
exercise in avoidance behaviour. "The Common Room is totally fucked
up and incestuous," she said, speaking, as ever, as if the rest of us were
failing to confront a crucial social truth. "There's some fucking weird
telepathy between us, yeah, maybe, but I'm not sure I like it. Because it
feels like some retarded exercise in group dating! And the Changelings?
I don't know. Everything's always Cyrus, Cyrus, Cyrus. And I'll tell you
something about that guy. He's never fucking satisfied. Cyrus Mair? He's
46 PRISM  54:2 never fucking satisfied with anything. He has to be this little manic-
depressive, hypersensitive type who goes off hibernating and having
nervous breakdowns in his Never-Never Land, thinking everyone's going
to feel sorry for him and all his precious ideas but excuse me they just
aren't. Fuck it. He's an 'enigma.' Right. I get it. Whatever. But he works
pretty fucking hard at it." Anyone who has been in a band will recognize
these intervallic hissy fits and I knew, from previous exchanges, that it
wouldn't matter what I now said—the mere mention of these names had
made Gail fretful and reactionary—and, in these moods, Gail could not
be argued out of her verdicts or position. "But you? You're obsessed with
him. In fact, your compulsion-repulsion, thank you very much, is that
you're in love with her and obsessed with him. So—here's an idea—why
don't you get it over with, go fuck them both, and then talk to me?" Gail
and I were phasing in and out of an undefined relationship at this time,
in the same way Karin and Cyrus were phasing in and out of similar
undefinables, and I will add, without whipping out too much detail,
that Gail had disencumbered me of my virginity a few weeks before.
Although that conjunction, very much an expedient, get-it-over-with
affair, was organized by Gail in a spirit of gratuitous experimentation—
she was purportedly mixed up with another boy she'd met the summer
before at Camp Kadimah—I was beginning to understand that very little
was gratuitous in modern life. Somebody or other ended up paying for it.
Jeremy Horvath and Cyrus Mair were two of the latest in a long line of
Halifax Smart Boys. The city was rampant and replenishing with whiz
kids, prodigies, and brainiacs. "There's a lot of bright kids in this town,"
remarked my mother. "Not all of them make it. Not all of them can
handle being bright." I'm not sure if it's the isthmus mentality, or the
presence of so many universities, but smarter and snootier young men
you will not find for a thousand miles and I've often thought a fairly
long essay might be in order to explain the sub-set of the Smart But
Damaged Halifax Guy. Cyrus and Jeremy Horvath were two of the more
fulfilled expressions but the traits and glistenings were manifest in many.
I'm not talking about the amiable boy-next-door who rewires his phone
to make a radio or who constructs a practical two-boy hovercraft out of
balsa wood—that's Tom Waller. The Halifax Smart Boys, the talent of six
high schools, were young men of finicky brains, highly imaginative, often
socially stroppy or outright dysfunctional—and sometimes projecting
such dysfunction into others, especially attractive contemporaneous
girls. These fellows were needy and judgmental, derisive and awkward,
sarcastic and generous and insecure—snobby, funny, rueful, aloof—and
they existed in a space-time gamely managed by Monty Python, Star 47 Trek, Tolkien, Herbert, Gygax, Devo, Godel, Escher, Bach. Gail called
them the Cyrus Clones and roundly considered them too-clever-for-
their-own-good, pretentious, controlling, obnoxious, sexually stifled,
in a word—defective. And these were not all uniformly glabrous, smug
geekinoids either. They were just as often rugged-and-comely types,
long-lashed, well-formed and gifted, and in my high school years they
were to a man as follows: Brian Bremner, Henry Fleming Dunham,
Cat Glazov, Nick Flincher, Yi Lu, Michael Prsala, Winter Finley, Ewan
Wernick, David Feagles, Ian DeGroot, and Jeremy Horvath. Out of this
swarm, it was only the last three who jostled for true preeminence and
Cyrus reliably referred to these last three, for reasons never made clear
to me, as Mr. Hoobalee-Boobalee, The Fabled Ian DeGroot, and Jeremy
Fucking Horvath. They were a little older and a little more realized than
Cyrus Mair and me. David Feagles was absurdly dour in an Old Halifax
High Anglican manner, ever puzzling out philosophies he perceived as
reticulate. The first person to use in my presence the word Hegelian,
David would pursue notions of conceptual poetics and post-modern
modernity at the University of Sheffield. Son of Symphony Nova Scotia's
Principal First Violinist, Ian DeGroot was one of those slack-mouthed
power dweebs, slave to some repetitive fidgeting pattern, who seems
border-line autistic but who all along is picking algorithms out of the
middle distance. Ian would win a Rhodes scholarship, complete a post-
doc in complex adaptive systems, and end up in Santa Clara, California.
But Jeremy Horvath was the prince regent of these freaks and considered
the smartest of the Smart Boys. He had a habit of frowning and the fluid
mind of a clever young fiend. He was withdrawn and watchful, intuitive
and changeable—which may be why it is difficult to successfully pin into
a display case a considered analysis of his character. There was something
hinky about his eyes, his eyes seemed double-lidded, sleep-deprived, his
eyelashes pale and Teutonic-looking. "Creepily cerebral," was how Gail
described him. "There's something weird about Jeremy. He's not really
human. He's like an alien-lizard-human hybrid from the future. And
he looks like the sort of guy who's been sitting on the same piece of
cheese since he was twelve." Of Jeremy Horvath I was utterly emulous—I
wanted to be as good as or better than him and his lot. But Jeremy
Horvath was very good at being Jeremy Horvath. His teenage speaking
voice implied a multi-speed intelligence, alert to ironies and switch-ups,
and his smarts and moods, when taken with his musical success and
other feats more assorted, made him a supremely accomplished eighteen
year-old. He captained Dartmouth High to the finals ofReach for the Top,
a nationally televised quiz show. He was the only person I knew who was
offered a full scholarship to Harvard. He pretty much invented a side-
48 PRISM  54:2 kinking on-beat style of dancing, as if he were being sort of rhythmically
electrocuted, that would prove influential on male dancing in the city
for years to come. He was the best rhythm guitar player for days and he
was the first person I knew who recorded and released a vinyl record.
That summer, the summer after John Lennon died, The Silver Hornets
brought out, on their own label, a three-song EP called Girl Trap. Those
three songs, "High Numbers," "Radio Dial," and "Girl Trap," were not
exactly everywhere in the city, but in my brain they were ever-present and
astonishing. This was one of the earliest indie recordings to come out of
Halifax, later cited in anthologies for its spooky, droning pop, and Karin
Friday, I noted, our Karin Friday, the Common Room's Karin Friday, was
listed as guest vocalist on the last of the tracks.
Scene. Third floor, Mair House. Time: August afternoon. Cyrus is at a
table covered with papers, bent over a book, reading. He wears a dark
and rumpled second-hand suit—just passably acceptable as a mod suit—
under an overcoat two sizes too big. I recognize the coat as one of the blue
cashmere garments once owned by his grandfather and probably exhumed
from the clothes racks in the attic room adjoining. Outside the afternoon
is anything but frosty and inside, the way the heat is trapped within
the almost airless third-floor room—windows closed, sunlight steeping
through dusty smears of window glass—the temperature approaches
something you might encounter in an incinerator. Cyrus does not seem to
notice, however, and reads unbothered in his overcoat. No matter where
he is in the calendar year, Cyrus is partial to overcoats—even overcoats,
like this one, he may not grow into for another few summers. He sits
diligently reading, seemingly unaware of my presence and anything
else—unaware of the shiny reflection from his watch crystal that flashes
an oval spotlight along the surfaces of the room and unaware, further, of
a single white moth that, liberated from Cyrus's old-fangled clothing and
moving like a dazzle of confetti, chases this shimmer into the shadows
of the far wall. One of Cyrus's shirt collars, I notice, is twisted with the
knot of his tie and the collar kinks at an odd angle toward the ceiling
but Cyrus, being Cyrus, is perfectly willing to leave clothing details as
they are, if, indeed, he's noticed his clothes at all. He simply continues
reading. As explained, the projects of the Common Room are financed
by selectively pilfering and selling off the Mair family's surplus books—
the doubles and triples and over-sized volumes, anything spotted or even
faintly mildewed, and all of the encyclopedia sets. (I've seen in my stays
here at least two complete Eleventh Editions of the Britannica.) In this
way, vast numbers of books ex libris Mair have found their way back
into the world, dispersed into shelves and shops far and wee—Guzzie's 49 Book Exchange, Asher's Antiquarian Bookmart, Schooner Books—
and so, after a quart bottle of London Dry Gin has been delivered as a
surtax to Great-Aunt Emlyn, bulky uniform editions of Sir Walter Scott
and Charles Dickens and multiple copies of The Vicar of Wakefield we.
transmuted into Peavey amplifiers, microphone stands, cables and sound
boards and pre-amps. Cyrus often feels contrite if he has not read a book
before its departure and, even though I push him to retire his system of
read-and-release, often he withdraws, as he has done these first few weeks
of August, into kooky seclusion, sequestering himself hour after hour to
read through a stack of decrepit hard-covers. Deep in these ecclesiastical
phases, he might read three or four days in a row, oblivious to food or
weather, with wrinkled apples forgotten and teapots stone cold. "That kid
reads too much," my mother remarks. "How's he going to learn anything
about the world? He should get outdoors. Get some sun into his warped
little body. Didn't he used to play tennis? That boy—with his strange
mind and reading too much—why does he need so many books? Always
stuck inside. Up in some garret." I explain it's a turret. "Garret, turret, bell
tower—whatever you want to call it, get him out of it, Aubrey. He doesn't
need all those books. No one does. He could read from now till doomsday
and never finish a fifth of that crap. They'll be the death of somebody, I'm
telling you." But for Cyrus each book becomes, I think, in the very act
of picking it up, the center of the known universe. He is always reading
as if a line from a book might change his life forever so he is determined
to steer his eyes through every bit of text, even if, as my youngest sister
one afternoon discovered, the volume in question is a L'il Jinx Comic
Digest which, taking it from Katie in her sandbox, Cyrus regarded as
reverentially as if it were the first translation of The Upanishads. And so
he continues reading, staring into the pages of his book—but I notice it's
a glazed, unrecognizing kind of staring, as if he is waiting for the right
word or gesture to jolt him out of his reverie and back towards a specific
moment. With Cyrus I am never sure how to phrase my references to
Karin—I am not privy to their recent goings-on—and there is a migrant
silence after I blurt the news about Karin singing on The Silver Hornets'
record. With a quietude that speaks of a dozen ideas newly calibrating,
Cyrus makes a snuffle but stays silent, as if he does not wish his run
of thoughts to be interrupted, as if other people's understandings may
have become a hazard for him, and I become conscious, although I am
not sure I can properly quantify it, of a familiar sensation in the room.
Moving further into all his smarts and percipience has given Cyrus Mair
an identity but it has also isolated him within that identity. In his psychic
vicinity, my thoughts become weirdly reoriented. I feel as if my ideas are
being magnetized into a coherence Cyrus is slowly, stubbornly trying
50 PRISM  54:2 to generate. Immersion in this mental atmosphere does strange things
to people, I have noticed. He is a sort of Red Kryptonite to all Super-
Heroes. It attracts Karin, beguiles Babba and Tom Waller, but repels Gail.
She is very suspicious of his influence—in the Changelings the two have
been vying for psychological control—and his strangeness makes her
spiteful. Aand me? I sense there are contradictions present beyond my
seventeen-year-old mind, but as I stand there, having delivered my news
bulletin, heat prickles starting on the skin between my shoulder blades, I
feel that knowing Cyrus Mair will make me smarter—knowing him will
make everyone smarter—and I do my best to integrate his procedures.
"That's amazing," says Cyrus, speaking rapidly and with a conviction
that he will be perfectly understood. "That's very amazing, actually.
For Jeremy Fucking Horvath. And his silver hormones. But for us it's
completely irrelevant."
"Irrelevant. Right. That's what I was thinking. Know what else? Your
collar's messed up."
Putting aside his book, Cyrus stands and moves to the bookshelves,
his eyes taking in the title of a Penguin paperback. "Moonfleet?" he says.
"I don't think so. Who wants to read that again?" He tosses the book in
a half-filled box on the floor and chooses another. "Silas Marneri Print's
too small."
"You should fix it, I mean. Your collar. The one on your shirt."
"A Borges. That's a keeper. Do you know the Borges?"
"I don't know the Borges." My face is dew-dropping with moisture.
With my right thumbnail, I flick away the sweat on my eyebrows. "Hey,
could we crank up the radiator maybe? Anyone else feel a draft? Maybe I
could get a scarf?"
Cyrus stops in front of a hardcover. "Richard Adams? Isn't this yours?"
It's the copy of Watership Down loaned to Cyrus in our junior tennis
days. I tell him he can keep it.
"But isn't this where you record all your jokes and stuff from the city?"
Because of my assorted drug-dealing connections, Cyrus confers to
me an immense, and purposefully absurd, amount of street credibility,
often conceding to my expertise as if, say, I am someone who has survived
a number of stints as a professional street fighter in the Halifax Shipyards.
"Cyrus. That was three years ago. You read it?"
He nods and lifts the book free of the shelf. "Where did you get all
those jokes anyway?"
"What do you mean? I invented every one of them."
"But where did you hear them?"
"From a guy in Gdansk. Guy Lafleur. I don't know. Pliny the Elder."
Cyrus sets the book on the table with his papers. He seems unable 51 to leave it alone, however, and touches at it a few times so its edges are
in line with the corners of the writing table—and I realize the personal
force-field I've sensed in previous years has returned and seems now to
permeate all his goods and chattels. Watership Down, a tea cup, the piles
of papers, a sharpened Eberhard Faber pencil, these seem possessed by
a strange life force all their own. I stand very still in the center of the
room, wetly perspiring, pin-points of sweat now trickling down my
spine toward the waistband of my pants, very conscious of disrupting the
room's frittery hoodoo.
Cyrus takes the book he was first reading and holds it above his head.
"Do you know this book?"
"Is that the Borges? I don't know the Borges."
"No. The Mayhew."
He gives me the first volume of something called London Labour and
the London Poor—a collection of interviews with vagrants, mudlarks, and
low-lifes published in 1851 by Henry Mayhew. I open it at random and
alight on the following section about a street kid. I decide to read the
lines out loud, in a cheesy working-class accent, in my best Torben Fludd,
actually: "'Yes, he had heer'd of God who made the world. Couldn't
exactly recollec' when he'd heerd on him, but he had, most sarten-ly.
Didn't know when the world was made, or how any-body could do it...
Didn't know what happened to people after death, only that they was
buried...Had heer'd on another world; wouldn't mind if he was there
hisself, if he could do better, for things was often queer here.'"
I finish my performance and take a moment to appreciate the
excerpt—and the larger idea of Henry Mayhew. "The kid's right." I look
to Cyrus. "Things is often queer here."
Cyrus is quiet, eyes quickening with new developments. He steadies
his gaze by following on the wall the reflected shimmer of his watch
crystal and murmurs, "We could do that."
"Do what?"
"What Mayhew did. But for Halifax."
"Interview homeless people? There's only two of them—String Bean
and Crazy Maddy."
"No. Put Halifax in a book. Like your folklore of jokes. But every
person. Every thought. What everybody knows. Or not what everybody
knows. What we know."
"Everything we know? Oh. Sure. I get it." I pass the book back to
him. "Here's an idea. You're insane. And that's impossible."
"Maybe," says Cyrus. "Or maybe it makes everything possible."
"You mean put Crazy Maddy in a book or our experience of Crazy
52 PRISM  54:2 "Isn't it the same thing? Think about it."
"I am thinking. I don't get it."
"Right now Crazy Maddy is a secret we all know. But no one in the
future will know her. It's like the Borges. 'What will die with me when I
"I don't know the Borges. Just to be clear on that."
"But if we put into a book everything we know, every little thing—"
"She does is magic?"
"Then it becomes what other people think is possible. Even if they
"Still not getting it."
"Exactly. It doesn't have to make sense. Or be linear. It's just an
installation of moments. And the existence of a thing."
"The existence of a thing?"
"The existence of a thing," says Cyrus. "Because without it there aren't
It was called The Halifax Book. Other titles considered were The Halifax
Common, A Halifax Omnibus, Haligonia, Hafilaxity—but what was easiest
was The Halifax Book. It was to be a living history of the settlement known
diversely as Jipugtug, Chibouctou, Chebucto, Hali, The Fax, H-Town,
and it was to stand as a correcting intervention against all the bullshit,
flarf, and print-and-advertising that had come down to us about the
place. For this was to be a record of our Halifax—not the place evoked by
photos of oil rigs anchored off George's Island, or by postcards of lobster
traps heaped under stormy skies, or brochures featuring cheery, gap-
toothed fishermen with cormorants balanced atop their Sou'Westers. On
certain days your hometown can seem like a cavalcade of suckiness and all
of us in the Common Room were oftentimes worried for Halifax. I know
Cyrus considered it a sort of tribal accident, hopelessly superstitious,
heartbreakingly sectarian, and his general conception of Maritimers—
that is to say those fellows in matching rugby shirts who tunelessly
bellow "Barrett's Privateers" while wavering at the urinals in The Seahorse
Tavern—was linked with his general distaste for anything careless or
incompetent; all the muddy corruptions and general mismanagements
of thought at play in a city. Gail thought the place its own little hell
but it was Babba who came closer to my own view. "Halifax is sort of
frustrating and lovable," she said the night we were spritzing out a first
table of contents. "It's sort of crummy and magnificent." And it was
Cyrus's inspired insight to embrace the crumminess—to realize that in
our hometown crumminess and magnificence were inseparable—and to 53 seize the given moment in the city's life as moral fact. So in the remaining
weeks of that summer Halifax became our religion, we were its apostles,
and this imagined book was to be its scripture and creed, its songs
and psalms. We drew it up, we sketched it out, we collated blueprints,
schedules, a bibliography of trees—we were going to keep at it till we got
everything down on paper, every longshoreman's tattoo, every Pee-Wee
hockey stick, every word scrawled in once-wet cement... And of course
the thing never happened. Why? It was in possibility and conception the
most ambitious of our projects, but it was only one of many summer
ventures from The Common Room. There was our sponsoring of fifteen-
year-old Saul Swither's Death Tour of the South End for five bucks a
head, as well as a planned Super-8 music video for "Changeling Girl,"
comprehensive reviews of the city's draft beers... I loved The Halifax
Book, I day-dreamed on its proofs and fascicles—it seemed something on
the way to wonderful—and a plan to respond to the meanings of those
scheming and dreaming and living and dying all around us seemed the
best of our endeavours but the project was fated to be a perpetual work-
in-progress, impossibly super-abundant, it would never be as perfect
in practice as the entity we supported in our imaginations, and after a
rush of disorganized optimism, the thousand pages of Ihe Halifax Book
petered out in false starts, dead ends, and shared neglect.
The end of that summer was full of change. We were fluctuating,
life was varying, and The Common Room itself was closing. People
were leaving town, traveling into the world, flying into places far flung
and cities unfamiliar. We were dispersing, disbanding, differentiating—
and no longer invested in the possibilities a group once implied. The
Changelings would last only seventeen gigs, from winter grade eleven
through summer grade twelve, our last concert played at half-strength—
without Karin or Gail—at a drizzly talent night at the St. Mary's Boat
Club. Music was turning over. In the flicker of two years Sid Vicious was
dead, Paul Weller had become a rhythm-and-blues singer, and Jeremy
Horvath, after a few detours into substance abuse, was on his way to
becoming a claims adjuster in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The brief
punk vogue in the city was done. In September of that year, I remember
running into Robby Horvath, Jeremy's little brother and the bassist of the
Silver Hornets, as he wandered baked out of his mind from a Dalhousie
orientation session, slit-eyed and giggling, listening to something called
UB40 on a Sony Walkman—the device ubiquitous now—his wavy red
hair done over in Rasta dreads and festooned with beads and elastics, his
headphones leaking sounds of snare hits and saxophone. He was carelessly
humming along to a sluggish lament about Tyler-is-guilty-the-white-
judge-has-said-so...and I felt a gross distortion of the Zeitgeist. Mine
PRISM  54:2 was not nostalgia for an age yet to come, as the Buzzcocks lyric goes,
it was truly for a moment that had so swiftly come and gone. Musical
trends cycle fast, I know, as fast as it takes a kid to clatter through high
school, but I remember a feeling of queasy betrayal and dislocation. Why
should punk be so quickly dumped? And why should we on Grafton
Street co-opt every move from Carnaby—making over our styles to fit
the dubby rhythms of Reggae, the blitzings of the New Romantics, the
blancmange of the Synthpoppers? Punk Rock had seemed to speak to the
raw contingencies of Halifax, in all its rip-roaring, gritty, who-gives-a-
fuck wildness. And yet in its wake soon splashed a waterish New Wave,
the bars and clubs flooding with do-it-yourself pop combos like Jumper,
The Fade Aways, and The Thunderhouse Blues Band, this last act,
created around the boy-next-door appeal of Boyden Burr, an immensely,
incomprehensibly popular bar band that would go on to regularly
headline The Middle Deck, The Shore Club, and the great Palace itself.
These bands were cocky and talkative and looking to party, and theirs
was a music of cover tunes and happy hour, blazers and leggings, tanned
faces and popped collars, encores and last-call-to-the-bar—the good-
time vibe a gateway to misbehaviour of all kinds and prejudices. It was
in her guesting, paid gigs with Thunderhouse that Karin would become
known in the province, hosting a three-night home stand over Chester
Race Week, guesting on morning radio, and showing up in the weekend
arts sections of the papers. In Halifax, as elsewhere, beauty creates interest
and so it went with Karin Friday. Catch-lines for these features, at least
in my mind, would trend toward 'Pretty Girl Travels Fast' or 'Cutie
Ditches Oddballs' for there was a sense developing commonly that new
opportunities were opening up for our lead singer. This later version of
Karin would coincide with a time when the city's downtown, once a
mix of funky eclecticism and stately establishment, would develop over
the decades into a theme park for university kids—essentially a movable
drinking game for twentysomethings—as it remains today.
A Last Scene. The Public Gardens, Streets Various, and finally Conrose
Field. Time: a first Wednesday in September. The sun-bright hours before
evening twilight and, as near as I can determine, we Common Roomers
are dotted all over creation. Barbara Zuber walks along Hirtle's Beach
with her cottage sweetheart, a divorced lobster fisherman, considering his
proposal of marriage. After a second summer in the Naval Reserves, Gail
Benninger shops in the McGill University Bookstore in Montreal, yanking
from the shelves a copy of Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault.
Stalwart Tom Waller journeys towards Jadwin Hall in Princeton, New
Jersey where he will begin to pursue, as he is still pursuing, the Higgs 55 Boson. Cyrus Mair is—who knows where? The last I remember him was
after the final Changelings gig—Cyrus on Benzedrine like a madman
in the drenching rain, throwing amps and gear bags in the back of a
van. And me—I have gone on to spend the afternoon with Rasta Robby
Horvath in the Public Gardens, smoking spliffies, gabbing music, and I
walk out of the iron gates quite blasted, the world creating itself every
few moments, glimmering in candy-coloured pixels, and I glimpse Karin
Friday as she emerges from a jam of people along Spring Garden Road.
Her hair is long and loose and sun-lightened, with front-tresses pure
white, eyes green-glinting in the sun. Barefoot in open-toed sandals, she
wears cut-off jeans and a sleeveless gingham smock-top. When first I met
her, a few years before, she seemed to arrive out of the world's future.
Here on Spring Garden Road she looks as if she has come out of the city's
past, for she has swung from Tomboy Punkette to Hippie Chick Granola
Supreme—I have an impression generally of braided friendship bracelets,
couscous, and the swapping of home-made shawls. Whichever—she is in
the full summer of her beauty and as she moves to her Vespa, one hand
holding her full-face helmet, the other wiping back a rush of hair, she is
sort of continuously memorable. I have no idea what I say in my opening
remarks, nor how floaty and spaced out are my follow-ups, reconnecting
only with contingent reality after some minutes when I am behind Karin
on her scooter, listening to her Walkman as we motor down South Park
and Inglis streets, Karin waving here and there at honking cars, now
turning along Beaufort to race along the pavement beside the ocean
inlet and railway tracks, through sleepy streets and the scent of family
gardens, cooling barbecues, a sweep of darkling lawn. Everything seems
a piece with summertime abundance, green leafiness all round, the city
wide open, as if there are weeks of summer still on either side of us.
Underneath her spare helmet I listen to the final song of side two, "Why
Can't I Touch It?" by the Buzzcocks, electric guitars trading riffs amid
the hiss and flutter of the old cassette tape, and I take in a number of
synesthesial associations—a pink smell of shrubs and roses, eaves-trough
puddles evaporating near twilight, the jagged blue shale and clover of the
railway cut, the fragrance of a shadowing chestnut tree as we round the
corner, the scooter's side mirrors winking with daylight, a flutter of loose
butterflies squishing briefly into our faces, and I feel the entire evening
seep and sparkle around me in a kind of fantasia all along the dip and rise
of Beaufort Avenue. I sit close behind my driver, one hand secure around
the seat strap, the other hooked into a belt loop of her cut-offs, both of
us happy, pleased to be with each other, and I am aware of clean cotton
and perfect girlhood and the perfume of her shampoo. Living in a house
of girls and women, I know the colours and keynotes to a superfluity of
56 PRISM  54:2 shampoos, everything from Johnson's Baby Shampoo and Wella Balsam
through to Alberto-V05, Lemon Up, and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific.
From Karin I breathe the green organic smell of Clairol Herbal Essence
and this coupled with her hippie chick makeover sets off thoughts of
waterfalls and ethereal damsels, circlets of flowers and pagan meadows. I
contemplate the lacey white bra she wears, the shoulder-straps for which
are flagrantly visible against the fabric of her smock-top, and I remember
days when we smoked dope and drank and one night we were making
out, on the stairs of her back porch, her mother out of town, and we
had flirted randomly, truly, drunkenly, her blouse open, Karin undoing
the worn plastic button on the front-release of this self-same bra, the
swell of her breasts I kissed as she tried to calm her breathing when I was
kneeling down, pushing her skirt above her hips, and kissing between
her thighs as she pressed herself closer, her fingers filling with my hair,
and another midnight besides, on an island beyond Babba's cottage, on
the last of our group sleepovers, in the flaming light of a beach fire when
Karin, after swimming, was changing from wet clothes and I saw how her
pubic hair had been trimmed, the shaved area provoking a few pinkish
stubbles on the inmost line of her thigh, and I wondered at such grownup grooming decisions—and wondered, too, what she was thinking to
show such sights to me. For she was aware of it, I'm sure—we were aware
of each other in all moments—and now stopping her scooter within the
greenery of the Horsefield, removing her helmet, and fingering some hair
from her eyelashes, Karin turns away from me, almost as if she is privy
to my run-on ideas and embarrassed by their intimacy, closing her eyes
to angle her face toward the warmth of the setting sun. I close my eyes,
too, letting the sun blaze the insides of my eyelids scarlet, and for a few
moments I feel as if I am thinking back on this person from a time when
I will no longer know her—sensing a time in the future when I would be
recalling these very scenes.
"You ever been to France?"
I open my eyes to see Karin blinking at me.
"I was just thinking that."
"If you've been to France?"
"If you were going to ask me about France." Pulling from my pocket
the remains of the joint I smoked with Robby Horvath, I light it and
offer it to Karin. "You?"
"I did," says Karin, pinching the roach between finger and thumb. "I
just asked you."
"I mean are you going to France?"
"It's a plan, obviously." She sucks on the roach, one eye squinting
from the smoke. "As one does." 57 "Who were those guys you were waving to?"
"Oh," says Karin, exhaling a single plume of smoke. "Just some guys
who think they know me. Happens a lot now."
"Totally. Guys are noticing me a lot now, too, I find. It's actually not
that interesting. Whatever."
She swings her lower jaw to one side, quizzical, regarding me as if I
might be someone peculiar, and returns the roach to me. "There was a
psychic at Babba's craft fair today."
"A real psychic?"
"She said I was a very new soul."
"Where were you before that?"
"On another planet." Karin touches at a tiny blemish beneath her eye.
I am perversely grateful to see this blemish, an incipient pimple, on the
edge-point of her cheekbone. "Probably you were, too, Tudball."
I offer her a last toke but she shakes her head. "You and your magic
beans. Holy Frijole. Can I ask you a question? You know your friend
Cyrus Mair?"
"He's so unfair, that Cyrus Mair. That psychotic scheming freak."
"That's the one. Have you seen him?"
"Not so much. I think he's in an attic somewhere, you know, biting
the heads off pigeons. I called him a couple times."
"Yeah," says Karin. "That's a little iffy considering he hasn't answered
his phone in three weeks. As one does." Karin tugs on the frayed hem
of her cut-offs so that a loose, flapping pocket is properly covered. She
glances at me, her eyes revealing some concern. "Everything's a little
drastic at the moment. Not that it hasn't happened before. There just
seems to be a bunch of extenuating circumstances this time around."
"He's good at those."
"He doesn't really talk to you and then maybe you'll get a long, weird
letter from him in a year explaining it all."
"He's a weird guy."
"Everyone's a weird guy. And I'm not sure how everything works, okay?
I don't always have the right Super Decoder ring."
I am nodding, thinking what to say next, when I simply return her
Walkman. "Your mix tape, Madame."
"Thank you, kind sir." She reaches for it. "What would I do without
my mix tape?" Her hand closes around the controls, by chance her
middle finger squeezing the rewind button. There is a sound of highspeed whirring, a sharp click, and then the spools abruptly slow and stop.
Karin opens the casing to see the worn-out tape twisted off the capstan
shaft and coiled beneath the pinch roller.
58 PRISM  54:2 "It's busticated?" Karin picks at the damaged tape. "Crapsticks. It got
eaten by the machine. I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.
It's just—that was my favouritest thing." With a shrug, she closes the
casing, a ribbon of tape trickling into the wind, and drops the Walkman
in the front basket of her scooter. Karin gazes at the cassette, abstracted.
"I know this sounds silly," she says to no one in particular. "But my whole
life I've always wanted big boobs."
"Who doesn't?"
"Oh, Aubrey, I don't know. I really don't. Sometimes it's better when
it's just me and Babba and Boober. Not that we're always having, you
know, life conversations but I think I understand things better with girls."
"Boys are gross?"
"Not necessarily. Girls aren't always so great. I mean you can tell a
lot about a girl by how she gets you out of the way of the mirror in
the bathroom to put on make-up." Karin wipes at her left eye, fiercely,
pushing a finger deeply into its socket, then, as if she feels she can't
sustain such boldness, she arranges a wisp of hair behind her ear. "Boys
aren't always so perfect either. But you guys are different. Most guys are
usually scared to commit to stuff—because what if it doesn't work out?
Then they look bad. Then they think they suck at everything. I know I
do." Bending forward slightly, she tugs again on the hem of her cut-offs.
"Like that guy in Toronto who made me that mix tape. He talked about
doing lots of stuff. But he never did any of it. You guys did."
"You did, too, Wiggins! You were there."
"That's not what I mean. Because you guys keep turning yourselves
into so many projects and I'm always trying to be as good as you. But
you're always so much better than me at everything. And I'm not. I mean
I know you guys can be a little woo-woo but you're still out there trying
all these spiffy balls and, I don't know, maybe I fucked up all my gizmos
because I'm not always as with it and together as you guys think I am."
She closes her eyes another moment. "Plus the whole love, sex, destiny,
babies thing? I'm not really as up on those things as I should be."
"I think you have to figure those out in the next hour, Friday. Before
nightfall. What're you doing tonight?"
"Tonight?" With a backward flip of her head, Karin indicates the
ocean and the direction of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
"Dinner with Boyden's family, the whole schmear. And I'm already late."
"I see. Extenuating circumstances. Hog roasts." I have noticed a
butterfly, faintly flapping, in the wheel-well of the scooter's front tire.
Squatting to examine it, I see it's full-grown, mustard-coloured, and
presumably from the swarm we motored through.
"Tudball," says Karin. "Tell me something. And I know this shouldn't 59 be a big, giant mystery but—are you even listening? Aubrey?"
My outward attention is still on the butterfly—its thorax has been
dented into an edge of molded plastic—but inwardly I am considering
Karin and all her queries and variables, her unisex flirting, her sundry
senses of humour, her responses to life, these really have been like
revelations to me, the way her eyes gleam with fun-seeking girliness,
sharing the moment with you—and all through the evening I have been
grateful to feel the joy of her looks—but ultimately I am sort of glum and
disappointed. What bothers me is that she is able to smile so easily—and
they aren't dishonest smiles at all but they come so quickly, so reflexively,
they seem a reaction to almost everything and I want, finally, to be on the
other side of the smiles that matter. For I feel as if I am just one of several
young men Karin keeps in motion around her, the rest of whom are all
taller and more striking than I am. And to learn now that she is going
around with Boyden Burr's crowd—the great fraternity of Vuarnets and
backward baseball caps—more than dismays me. It seems a betrayal of
brilliance. All the different guys who drift in and out of Karin's life, some
in a platonic, recreational way, many not, the transience of the relations,
the almost disposable quality of the social life, I find curious, beautiful,
and appalling. And kneeling there in the Horsefield beside her scooter I
realize that not only will I never sleep with Karin Friday, and of course
this has been something I have thought about—a lot—but I feel I will
never really know her again at all.
"When I was little," says Karin, softly, watching me as I begin to
blow on the damaged butterfly. "I thought butterflies were flowers that
escaped." In the next moment, the creature falls away from the white
plastic. Alighting briefly on Karin's elbow, it rises suddenly above our
heads and follows an erratic up-and-down flight pattern before gently
floating off toward the sea and horizons unknown. "You have a big
heart—" Karin says, staring after it. "Aubrey McKee."
"Got to start somewhere." I turn to her. "Now what was it—what's
your big, giant mystery?"
But Karin has retreated into private quiet, the sunset off her right
shoulder, her face half in shadow, and though she is still vaguely smiling
at me, this smile seems to have lost some force around its edges, as if her
thoughts have moved on but her expression hasn't quite caught up yet.
She takes a step forward and lays her head on my shoulder, resting it there
a second or two, as if out of respect, or pretend respect, I am not sure.
"Not that interesting," she says, standing up straight. She plops the spare
helmet in the basket with the Walkman. "That was my moment and I
lost it." She pulls on her own helmet, swings herself over the scooter,
and spins the key in the ignition. For a half-second I see my own face—
60 PRISM  54:2 sunburned, scruffy—in the fleeting world of one of her side-mirrors. And
for a last time I consider the charm of Karin Friday, an enchantment
of spiffy champignons, crumpled butterflies, crapsticks and budding zits,
blonde wisps and bright green eyes, though I see it's a green that has a
way of fading to grey near sunset, as it fades now, and not knowing what
next to do, I push a swoop of hair off her forehead. "Funny little world
we live in, Wiggins."
"Mm-mm," says Karin, finding her way out of the park and vanishing
in a slant of evening light. "Everybody does." 61 Pamela Langevin
a cruel streak
splits the sky in two
as molten cattle
morph against the thorns
and webbed grass
by the station
where she reads hairs
snagged on a post—
a finch-light strand
knotted into a nest
smaller than a freckle
a nest for galactic mycoplasma
a nest for factual aches
the torched wind
rassles with a glossy wire
gone grey at the root
a wire stripped of migraines
a wire stripped of feeling
clipboard birds thwack overhead
bow-bellied and drenched in rust
she pulls hairs pronged and greenly
curious from the post like florets
like nerved offshoots—
the women are thinning into threads
too small to use
the women are deadfall in the ditch
the women are hairless nodding dogs
left at the station gone mad
62 PRISM  54:2
" she names hairs
for the train that doesn't come
amandine laurel June
she sings hairs to keep the sky
from splitting to stop
its clicking full of bones 63 FALLOW
the gelatinous arm
of summer stretched
red and steaming across
the highway when his mind
went to seed
he wavered between
knowing or losing
the wind's ripple: geese
overhead disturbing stars
you call him to the table
and his eyes skip
our faces the way a child
goes numb thumping
along a chain-link fence
the girl drifts
under a hemlock
she has begun
the climb, the slow deliberation of waking
a relentless wading
up to the brain
the brain gone
weightless: a sheaf
of brome grass
body heavy as a church
she treads slow
along the sun's red
reef, wonders if this
is the spine
of entropy
could her body
be extinguished
with a clap; the hook
in her side lugs her up
a cold green perch
her heads polyped
and full and good
on the line
65 Annie Reid
lie's waiting for me. He's just sitting there, in his car in the parking lot
outside the store, biding his time. The windows are rolled down, even
though it's a cold night. The red tip of his cigarette is all I see of him
from here at the front counter. One single glowing eye that never closes.
There'll be frost on everything by dawn: the blades of grass, the grey husks
of cornstalks still standing in the fields, coating the windows of trucks
stopped on country roads. I reach down and pull my skirt down over my
knees. I am not dressed for the cold. Everything is quiet and still, like
we've been locked away in a deep freeze. Right now it doesn't matter that
we are not the only two people in the world.
There's no moon tonight. You can barely make out the tips of the tree
line across the road. The only light comes from a single street lamp, and
the faint blue-and-white neon sign in our front window, the one that says
Glorious Kingdom. It burns all the time, day and night. From its dim
light, you can just make out the three tiny white crosses there on the side
of the road. They pick up that blue glow real nice. That's where those boys
from my school drove righr into the great oak at the bend, drunk and
hollering up until the first twist of metal, the first snap of the glass folding
in on itself. Lucas, Mark, and that big George Carson, sinners and bullies
all of them, and still the kids at school put on ties and dresses and cried at
the funeral, and talked into the news cameras about how nice those boys
had been and what a tragedy it was, even Steven who still had bruises
fading from his cheek from Mark's fist. Funny how in death everything
gets transformed. Almost like it cleans you right up. Just like the Lord
showed us.
I saw the first two policemen on the scene because I'm the one who
called them. I was sitting right there. I heard the crash. Got out of their
cars, shook their heads, might of felt a little sick, to tell you the honest
truth, knew it was too late. Those boys were beyond saving, though I
swear I still heard noises. Older policeman gave a little laugh, almost like
a cough. And that, he said, is the only way anyone gets out of this town.
I've been killing time tonight since closing, since the man pulled
up in his car and shut off the headlights. I've restocked the shelves with
conditioner and our good stiff hairbrushes and the mudpacks from the
Dead Sea that suck the filth right out of you. I've aligned each and every
lipstick according to color and gloss, counted the cash slowly into the cash
66 PRISM   54:2 register, the oily bills smooth under my fingers, the Presidents all face up,
slick in their compartments. I've smoothed out the receipts, labelled the
envelopes. Now I've put on my coat, buttoned it halfway, turned off the
lights. It's a nice white pea coat, polyester. Used to be real proud of it.
Now there's a stain on it, the stain from once when I drank red wine with
that sinner Lacey Collins at her graduation party, the only time I strayed.
She said she wanted to be my friend, but I see now that she was just trying
to break me. It spilled down this coat, my one nice coat, and the stain has
never come out, a constant reminder, like blood that won't rinse away. I'd
be a fool to think there was no purpose to that. When my mother saw
that stain, she turned away like I wasn't even there. A new coat is out of
the question. I'm to look at it, and remember how I strayed, how I was
punished. It feels good to know there's a purpose, that there is a purpose
to everything. If there was not, who could even imagine.
We're both waiting now, he in his car and me in my store. The door
is not locked, but he will discover that on his own soon enough. My shift
is long over. No one will come until morning. No one will notice I am
missing until long past when all that frost melts in the light of tomorrow's
sun. We are all alone, but for He who watches.
I work here at the Glorious Kingdom Beauty Supply House. We
provide a wide selection of beauty products to enhance a true believer's
glory in this world. As part of God's creation, we are part of His glory.
That's what my mother has always said, and that is why she started this
establishment. We help women to see their own inner beauty and reveal
it right on the outside, where anyone can see. Thus God's glory expands,
like a soft slow exhale out into the world.
The Bible talks about the Lord suffering for our sins, we hear it every
Sunday. And I've seen the paintings, the blood flowing down like rose
petals dancing in the wind. I've dreamed of the arrows that pierce the
hearts of true believers, so pure and ready. I could do it too, I know I
could. I could prove the fire inside of me, just like them. I could burn
like an angel, roll in wheels of blades, my flesh pierced right through,
blood like silk flowing behind. The Lord paid a price, he sacrificed, he was
redeemed and glorified, made whole again even as the blood came from
him, rivers of it washing him clean.
He's been coming into the store lately, this man who waits for me.
He has his hair shaved down to nothing and his scalp shines like the
sun under the bright lights of Glorious Kingdom. I can see the curve
of the serpent's tail just at the base of his neck, black thick ink seeping
in his skin, the lines new and precise like he was marked only yesterday.
His shirt is tight; his muscles swell like ropes, straining to keep a ship in
harbor under the onslaught of storm winds, his arms thick. I think of dogs 67 and bulls and horses when I look at him. I imagine him posing shirtless
for self-portraits in mirrors, hands firm around the black barrel of his
weapon, fingers aching and ready. I know what it's like to be unfulfilled,
to have desires that cannot be met. In my heart, I have strayed. But that is
ordinary. Everyone strays.
Most nights, at closing time, I roam the aisles of Glorious Kingdom
and take my penance. I find the very things I need the most. The curling
iron burns the skin of my ribcage, the soft skin beneath my arms, the
curve behind my knee. The peroxide burns when you leave it too long,
leaves scabs on your scalp where no one else can see, no one can know. I
melt down the blocks of wax in the kit—a glorious burst of pain, then the
slow welts rise on angry skin, splotchy and swollen, smooth, clear, pure,
waiting, hidden. The aisles of Glorious Kingdom are my deliverance, my
supplication; my practice for greater things, things that are not ordinary.
It was only a few days ago that the man came in for the first time. He
wore a long black leather coat, a thick chain around his neck, sunglasses
covering his eyes, though I am certain he looked straight at me the whole
time. He might have been the devil came to earth to claim his own,
surprise the Lord with his own kind of dark Rapture, suck up the dying
and the damned, leave their shoes smoking and empty all through the
land, took them all down below, leaving all the saved ones all shocked and
staring, their eyes flashing I knew you all along.
He looks at the bows, all pink and delicate, like he wants to take them
in his hands and crush them. We don't sell many men's products, though
there is a small corner of brown and blue bottles, to enhance the glory of
freshly shaven skin and combed hair. But he doesn't even look at that, he
walks right on by. He looks at the perfume, the barrettes, the skin creams
that smell like tea roses. He walks the aisles slowly, examining things,
as though imagining giving it to someone, imagining running his hands
over it, though he touches nothing. He is purposeful, he takes his time.
Whatever he is looking for, it must be perfect, without flaw. That is what
I thought, at first.
But he does not buy anything. Instead he spends twenty minutes in
the aisles. I watch. At Glorious Kingdom we do have security mirrors
installed at the end of each aisle. It is not that we don't think all of God's
children are not perfect and do not deserve forgiveness; it is only that we
must acknowledge that our garden of praise is also a garden of temptation,
for some turn a blind eye to the glorification of our Lord and see only the
earthly manifestations. We forgive, but we do not turn a blind eye. And so
I can watch him striding down aisles. And looking up into those mirrors.
More than he looks at what is on our shelves, he watches me.
Through the dark glasses I cannot see his eyes, but I know he is
68 PRISM  54:2 looking at me. I wonder if he is also thinking of weighing me in his arms,
imagining the way I'd feel to the touch.
Whatever he was looking for, he did not find. He left without turning
his head, without saying a word of thanks.
Our regular clientele is predictable, reliable even. Church ladies, shy
teenage girls who come in alone. We talk sometimes, about the Bible,
about lipstick, about what color flatters the palest skin. It's not that I know
so much, but I know more than them. It feels like my way of serving. You
can't try and deny a calling when it comes, that is what my mother has
always told me. Until recently I believed it was my only gift, the only
service I could offer. I can tell what shade of lipstick a woman should be
wearing the moment she walks through that door. I know when a shy girl
really wants to wear scarlet; I can see the shine in the old school teacher's
eyes when I pull the box of peroxide off the shelf. It's a gift, a God-given
one, and as such it is not mine to refuse. Still, some of them don't seem to
remember me the next time. Some of them don't even look at me when
they pay, don't say a thing when I tell them to have a nice day.
He came back yesterday. Again, he walked the aisles, but this time
he did not pretend to look at anything, not one thing. He watched me.
He stood in the aisle, stared up at the security mirror, and watched me
watch him. I could see the reflection of the mirrors in the shine of his
sunglasses. This time I noticed the black curls of hair coming from his
chest, the tightness of his jeans against his thighs, his hands thrust deep in
the pockets of his long coat, clenched and unseen.
He left without saying a word, but he paused at the door, stared at me,
locked eyes, though I could only see myself. Staring, afraid, clutching at
my arms. He nodded. I couldn't help myself, I nodded back. That's when
I knew.
This morning when I arose, I cleaned myself thoroughly, bandaged
my wounds. I put on my best garments, the coat with its eternal stain. All
through my shift, I waited, patient.
And just as closing time came, he arrived, just as I knew he would, just
as it came to me he would. Pulled up in his car, the only one in the lot.
Lately, the papers have said that sometimes girls go missing from
around here, girls with long blond hair like mine, young girls my age.
Plenty of girls run away, I know that. Sometimes they find them, piles of
clothes half-sunk in mud a few feet from their naked bodies all folded up
like birds, gone half to dust in some field no one uses anymore. They say
maybe there's a pattern. I surely hope not, I hope it's not him. Sometimes
girls get lost in the numbers, their faces and names, if one man does so
much. But no, that's not the way it is going to be. I know I have been
chosen. I am special. 69 He's putting out his cigarette. I look over at the phone, think of the
people I could call before it is too late—my mother, those fine young
policemen who know just where to go. But instead I stand, ready to face
him. This town is a small one, so small and so quiet. I could have spent a
life wandering the aisles of Glorious Kingdom, I would have. But bigger
things wait for me. Just outside this door, in that cold night, stillness and
calm that seem to spread all over the earth.
PRISM  54:2 Donovan. McAbee
Cotton candy
Chocolate-covered almonds
River stones
That time after praying when I would have doubted
my own existence before I would have doubted
The poor design and frequent malfunctioning of the male prostate gland
World War II
The Godfather, Part III
All those times after praying when I went away
Standardized tests
Every square inch of Orlando, Florida
72 PRISM   54:2 Ben Merriman
J_ he Algerian." Two men in an Amsterdam pay toilet discuss gun
"Alive." After realizing that he is living through the image of his future
self, a graduate student shaves his beard.
"The Anarchist." Two rail passengers argue about the place of repression
in modern life.
"An Audience with the Provost." A powerful academic recalls May of'68.
"Barb." An intoxicated ballerina slices up the narrator's fingers with a
grapefruit knife.
"The Bear." A black bear eats a can of household refuse while the childish
narrator cowers in fear.
"A Boring Evening." High on cocaine, the narrator fights a duel to defend
the honor of German critical theory.
"Dead Inside." After returning from the tropics, the cerebral narrator
considers the uses of the pathetic fallacy.
"Dead Louise." A friend's suicide is met with love and resignation.
"Distinction." A cloth roof elevates the narrator's ancestors above their
"DMV" Sexual desire is stymied by the lusty narrator's inability to pass a
driving examination.
"Donkinisme." Two authors switch identities before a violent poetry
"Downtown." A crowd of urbanites watch a man struggle to find his train
"Dream in Which I Receive a Major Literary Award." A dream reveals the
structure of the narrator's aesthetic and personal insecurities.
"A Failed Siege." An account of the death of an eel overshadows the birth
of the narrator's younger brother.
"First Time." Eros and the contemplation of natural resources law become
inextricably tangled in the narrator's young mind. 73 "Flayed." The narrator attempts to show affection and desire for a man,
but instead appears cold and detached.
"For a Slender Man." The wistful narrator scatters beautiful things on the
wind in hope that they will reach a distant lover.
"Foretaste." With obscure significance, the narrator is recognized by an
unfamiliar woman while exiting a bar.
"The Gar." A rotting fish disrupts a scene of eroticized mutual self-injury.
"Glass." Neighbors enlist the intrepid narrator's help in disposing of a
dying rat.
"His Companion." A man drowns while trying to save a friend who fell
into a frozen lake.
"Hope." A boy's desire to become a lesbian is thwarted by an Osage orange
"The Intellectual." The narrator maintains a cruel detachment during a
one-night stand.
"Last Thought." A man meets his own violent death as though he were
watching television.
"Last Words." A great soul leaves behind a paltry final thought.
"Legible." After surviving long-term abuse, the narrator sets aside self-
protection in order to submit to an attractive woman.
"Moral Luck." A freak traffic accident fails to stir the curiosity of the
people in a small town.
"The Most Inspiring Message." A debater's over-identification with his
partner provokes her to quit before an important tournament.
"Mouse Bells." A jeweler feels more at home after she affixes tiny bells to
the rodents living in the walls of her new house.
"Night Thoughts." While spending a night in the woods, narrator and
boyfriend contemplate death.
"Ordination." A spider bite gives a divinity student the power to see
through illusions.
"A Philosophical Dispute." A cynical graduate student distinguishes
between competing materialisms with the help of a boxcutter.
"A Real Philosopher." The youthful narrator admires the belligerence of
visiting philosophy professors, and therein finds a vocation.
"Recruitment." An army recruiter extols the sartorial virtues of military
PRISM  54:2 "Returned." The narrator's most important memories are found to have
escaped into the blooms of a poisonous woodland plant, which the
narrator then consumes.
"Richters." A traveling exhibition of Gerhard Richter paintings prompts
ruminations on the nature of time and memory.
"Samaritan." A heavily intoxicated bystander attempts to help a man
having a seizure.
"A Social Experiment." The narrator's attempt at personalized introductions
results in profound isolation.
"Something About Being." The purchase of a bicycle mirror averts a
dangerous confrontation with Being.
"Something About Cincinnatus." Cincinnatus suffers a private humiliation
after receiving the fasces from the Roman Senate.
"Stories in Abstract." A precis of fifty stories reveals an author's fixation
upon sex, death, and critical theory.
"A Trace." A lecture on grassland ecology devolves into an elaborate play
of pretense and misunderstanding.
"Token." A relic of an old love affair is discarded as a new affair begins.
"Union Talk." Student leftists are baffled by supernatural events in the
philosophy department.
"A Visit Home." An argumentative graduate student finds that it is
impossible to go home again.
"The Voice Imitator." A talented author cannot set aside her compulsion
to mimic the writing of ordinary people.
"Water Memory." A mysterious stranger shares the secret to cool drinking
water, with destructive consequences.
"Well Poisoning in Comparative Perspective." Fear of an adulterated
water supply reveals the kinship between paranoia and self-importance.
"You Are the Living Mirror of a Universe in Which I Have No Wish to
Live." A breakup letter affirms temporal discontinuity as the governing
structure of the universe. 75 J ami Macarty
While my mother waits in a room of my father's knowns
and unknowns, my mouth in a ruin.
I bridge thinking about the threat of death
to warrior around my childhood.
Not everything's worth
saving or repair. My father's
annoying sometimes. He refuses
salad with green peppers, leaves
the table if it faces a wall, says
I'm logic in the right argument, lobbying in the right era, free
and running down the beach.
Why did I leave—
to see a different world, to write my own writing on the wall.
My initials carved in cement, I
could have been a hometown wife, my antiestablishment wishes
taken out with the rubbish, painted over like the kitchen walls,
replaced by rural routines and local ideologies
while my motivation
hunts the Atlantic's shore and the metal horses
hostaged by Salisbury's carousel
wait to break free, for pretense to stop.
What kind of kitbag of solemn promise
was that?
A heart-to-heart so cystic, a heave so numeral
a bucket waited.
A lack was oracle in the larynx
of the poisoner.
Atlantic ice. Desert sun, a fire poker
till ears begged for a duvet.
Kissing bugs bed down in packrat nests
for a ready supply of blood meals.
What should have been a house
is a housebreaker.
There, a trial,
a triad,
a trespasser
to whom an illusory figment attached
There, a trellis
to which a fiend vined
There, a tremor,
a trench, 77 a fleshless trend
to which a trend-setter flaunted
There, a fight
to which a fighter trained
A desert of leafless trees
into which the rat exited its midden
punctual as an owl at dusk.
78 PRISM   54:2 Lucy Bash ford
IVoar of barking. 9 p.m. Movie on Pause. Stella turns on the front porch
light and pulls back the curtain to see a woman in a light yellow bomber
jacket and jeans standing outside. She unlocks the door and squeezes
through, taking care not to let Spike and Angel surge past. The woman is
thirty-something with short, curly dark hair, and brown eyes. Her talking
hands tell Stella she is deaf. Out of her bag she pulls a framed photograph
of herself and three children. Stella guesses them to be between the ages of
three and ten, all with dark curly hair and studio smiles. Then the woman
holds up a small laminated poster.
Flustered by the woman's boldness, Stella ties her long straight blond hair
into a knot at the base of her neck. The wind blows lightly. Rain spatters
the stairs. The two women stand looking at each other.
Stella is a single mother with one child and no job. Today, she applied
for three.
"Did you include an email address?"
"I don't have a computer," Stella told the woman at the Customer
Service desk where she filled out the application.
"We'll call you."
Stella and her daughter Annie have been on their own for eight months
now. At first, she accepted the invitations of friends and family. Charity
begins at home. But it made her feel desperate with shame. She sold her
Frye boots and guitar, and now makes pies for the Saturday market, sharing
a table with the tie-dye lady she met at the separation and divorce clinic.
The group of eight sat in a circle and the counsellor went around asking
each of them to offer something of themselves and their experience. Stella
and the tie-day lady, Rose, had grabbed each other's hands when the guy
in the wheel chair with no legs started yelling, "The fuckin' bitch won't
let me see my kids." After getting over the outburst, Stella wondered if
he was sure they really were his children. Grinding poverty, she thought.
Please don't let me slip into grinding poverty. The woman from the clinic
leading the circle asked him to watch his language. "Does anyone else 79 have anything they would like to share?" As the group broke up, Rose
and Stella gave each other a look like, Whoah, I'm glad that's over. They
exchanged phone numbers and Stella told her she'd get some fruit pies
made for the coming weekend.
During the week, Stella walks Annie to school, then takes her two
dogs, Catahoula Leopard X brothers she rescued from a high-kill shelter
in Arkansas before the break-up, down to the beach where she tries to
tire them out by throwing endless sticks into the waves. But she barely
makes a dent. You shouldn't really have those dogs, should you? This question
repeats itself in her head like a bad dream. "I'd rather eat crumbs off the
floor," she mutters under her breath, as she puts a bag of carrots back on
the shelf instead of into her basket. And some days are more lean than
The deaf woman stands patiently looking at Stella—the silence
between them somehow appropriate. Stella imagines the woman as having
migrated from a foreign place. Perhaps there is a war and her husband
has remained behind. Some kind soul in a church basement has helped
her come up with the words on her card. It's impossible to know if she
"speaks" English. And what about the photo? No father. Maybe he was
killed in a roadside bombing. Maybe she's a doctor.
She waves the card at Stella and looks expectant. As it happens, Stella
does have twenty dollars in her sock drawer that she's saving for a small
emergency. But the universe seems to know she has a secret cache and
makes it a magnet for "good" causes—Brownies in uniform selling Girl
Guide cookies, for instance. She's got to toughen up. That's what all the
get-out-of-debt books say. If you're serious, they say. / am serious, she says,
but the universe and the gods don't understand. They're working on such
a grand scale. Hey, what you've got there in your puny little wallet is chump
change. Maybe to you, she says back, but you have no idea what it's like
to live on earth. You're just a bunch of spoiled brats who start cities on fire
with lightning when you don't get what you want. Stella feels bold in her
thoughts. She knows there are no gods, only the universe is real.
She mouths to the woman slowly, / don't need the alphabet card,
shaking her head and pointing at it. She looks at the door and makes her
right hand bark, thumb and index finger opening and closing, then holds
her palm up and asks her to Wait. The woman smiles and nods and signs
something. Stella squeezes back through the door. Eager dog faces look at
her in anticipation. She can only disappoint. Her bedroom is just inside
the door and she looks down at her six-year-old daughter asleep in the
futon bed they share. Snoring quietly. She opens the top drawer of the
chest-of-drawers and pulls out her lucky buckskin wallet with the beaded
moose head from the jumble of socks and underwear. It's hand-tanned
80 PRISM  54:2 and still smells faintly of smoke. She looks at the twenty-dollar bill. How
do I know she's really deaf? Her jeans have a crease down the front. Her
daughter rolls over and hugs her blanket.
Stella goes back out and hands the bill to the woman who just smiles
back at Stella and puts her hand up in a gesture of No. Stella is puzzled
and watches her go down the stairs and back out into the night. As she
turns to go inside, the toe of her right slipper catches on the doormat, and
she realizes now why the woman kept looking down at her feet earlier as
they stood in silence. Both soles are detached from the toe to a third of
the way up each slipper, and the rabbit-fur trim is mostly worn off at the
"Tonight at least, I'm not alone," she says to her dogs as she goes back
inside. Who else will open their door at this hour? 81 Matt Bader
You lived as though no one knew your name.
Across the lake, hills hummed with wildfire
So at night a rash of red-orange eyes stared
Back across the surface, a tremble of beasts
Stamping and snorting within the black—
Possessed, vatic, mercurial—ready for you
To disrobe before the cool, dark altar of water.
Already the stars were redacted by smoke
While up canyon hikers and coyotes bellied
Down in the creek to breathe out the flames.
On those nights, when you stood naked, alone
Or with company, skin ringing through
The dark city park beyond the tennis courts,
You dragged laughter across your face.
We lived as though jokes were overtures
Unexplained. It is better, we thought, to set
A sea-green kraken of aloe in a window pot
Than to keep a good journal. The rubber
Plant steered its fleshy paddles toward a shore
Made entirely of light and we noted this
Grace daily over plates of pork and rice.
Already, we wore thin jackets to help us
Forgive the wind, while helicopters blew
Rain beads off acre on acre of dark cherries.
In those days, when spiders dressed the deck
In delicate knitwear the colour of water,
And all our friends drifted off in aeroplanes,
We'd not yet heard that one about birds.
82 PRISM  54:2 I lived as though the weather had nothing
To do with me and the tired August light
Was never disappointed to be light and be tired.
I'd swim out in the river with one woman
And then another and by a wry wave of hands
We'd hang in the current and watch galaxies
Of dust swirl by on warped panes of water.
Already crickets were assembling evening
With its failing memory for faces and light
While clouds flowed like fire across the sky.
In those years, when I saw a woman's face,
Above or below me, eyes stricken, perfect,
Closing on something too bright or distant
For me to see, I understood little of the hilarity. 83 CAPTAIN AHAB AND THE GREAT
The body lets no one forget. Even that child
With the cavity going right through her
Tooth to where the roots have not yet formed,
The child who falls now through the dark lake,
Opaque enamel of ice rising above her
And described in the ice a penetrating hole
Of blue light through which no one looks
Because she was just there and now gone,
Through which, after evening is inked,
Portable lights are trained. Even Jeff Buckley
In all his clothes following that speedboat
Down the secret of the Mississippi River
As if it could ever be enough to just disappear
With something as ancient and single-minded
As the Mississippi River, and go wherever it goes,
Full of mud and litter, the bodies of animals,
Abandoned cars, effluent, highway runoff
Emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Even
The Gulf of Mexico with its deep water
Wells trembling in another ether. Even
The diver with his pneumonic devices,
His flippers and searchlight and neoprene
Descending now through the portal of ice,
Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen in his mind,
And the poor family huddled on the shore
Beneath the willows, breathing out a cosmos
Of water vapour in the cold night, all the absent
Stars overhead like missing teeth in a mouth
Of such expanse that all things exist within it
And are cancelled in one last involuntary breath.
84 PRISM  54:2 Barry Dempster
It was a humid April afternoon at the Whitney when she happened upon
a particular Rothko Untitled. Her hair was damp and disobedient; trying to
pat down the sides left a thin film on her palms of what earlier that morning
had been hairspray, but now felt sticky like not-quite-dry paint.
She found herself underwhelmed by a Rauschenberg, and then a Haring.
An Alice Neel portrait of a woman the colour of a white crayon left her
numb. It was a mistake to seek out art on such a unruly day. Life was the lens
through which transcendence struggled. If she were miserable, even secretly
miserable, the canvases would soak up negativity and return it to her in
disturbing new ways. By the time she reached the horizontal colour palette
of the Rothko, she was so toxic she could have poisoned a Turner sunrise.
What little she knew of Rothko was dreary: his emigration from Russia
when he was just a boy; the death of his father soon after; the periods of
depression like blots over what had otherwise been an illustrious career.
And finally his suicide in 1970. She had visited the Rothkos at the Tate
Modern a few years back and had almost been driven from the gallery by an
overwhelming claustrophobia. She'd seen photos of the Rothko Chapel in
Houston that had made her think of tombstones being rolled into place.
There was no art in her childhood. Her father, a salesman with a cruel
streak, had frowned on creativity, hers and everyone else's. Her mother had
once mentioned that she'd briefly entertained the notion of becoming a glass
blower, to which her father had snorted out loud.
Rebellion at various crucial ages had been acts of survival. At fourteen,
she wore makeup that conjured bruises and black eyes. At sixteen, she dyed
her hair blond and wore it much shorter on the left side than the right. At
eighteen, she brought home a boyfriend named Scoot who always stood
with both hands tucked into the front of his pants, a stance that made the
serpent tattoos on the backs of his hands stand out more than if his arms had
simply dangled.
A stint in the design department of a city newspaper (after two years at
art college) was followed by what was supposed to be a temporary position
at a small advertising agency, dreaming up various versions of consumer
happiness: bath products, Italian sausages, wristwatches. After a year of this,
she was promoted to account manager. It wasn't until she'd been doing the
job for almost another year that she was struck by the irony of having ended
up in sales like her father. 85 Her artistic life was consigned to the occasional independent film, a
relish for the twangy heartbreak music of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch,
and Patty Griffith, and art galleries on business trips when she really should
have been back at the you-can't-tell-them-apart hotels boning up on pitches
and presentations.
It was the thick streak of midnight blue headlining the painting that
gave her an initial shiver that day at the Whitney. It had the presence of
something like fear, like endlessness. The woolly green stripe at the bottom
of the canvas was what grass would look like if it was made of polyester:
sensible grass that she could easily convince anyone to buy.
The yellow in the middle was egg-yolk buttercream or mashed squash
drizzled with maple syrup. It was the shade of an apricot that had been
grown on the sun. It was sex while still half-asleep, one hand trailing in
a wake of waves. It was a crayon tucked between a five-year old genius's
Untitled was more intense than anything she could have imagined on her
own. It was an accumulation of all that had gone missing over the last few
years. She longed to enter the painting, boost herself onto the green swathe,
reach for the blue, her bones melting the way sugar would when placed
directly on the tongue. Her right hand was one flicker away from touching
the painting. She could imagine the bumpy dryness of the canvas like an
old woman's skin, the old woman she would one day become. But she held
back, aware of the security guard keeping an eye on her from the far corner
of the room: a broad-shouldered fellow with an Adam's apple too big to be
It had been years since she'd felt anything close to passion. When she
was eleven or twelve, she went through a serious crush on Jesus that made
it difficult to sleep. Church had nothing to do with it. It was the fact that
a man, not just any man, the man, supposedly understood her inside out.
Christ seemed less complicated than her father. She knew that no matter
how many times she let Him down, He'd just keep loving her.
But the relationship didn't last. He started repeating Himself and refusing
to even consider the other side of an argument. He was already inside her
body, so sex was out. Real men offered a bit of titillation, at least.
She left the Whitney feeling glum. Her throat was so dry, she wished
she could cry a little, lubricate her breathing passages. Standing outside the
gallery on Madison Avenue with its infamous concrete air, she noticed that
the yellow cabs for which the city was famous weren't anywhere close to
the sensuality of Rothko yellow. They were pale canaries instead of flames,
breeze rather than wind.
86 PRISM  54:2 The next day began with a meeting at the Chrysler Building, the gaunt
boardroom table weighed down with platters of perfectly ripened fruit and
pastel coffee cups. Lunch materialized at the stroke of noon as shapely bits
of bread and garnish. Talk and more talk. She and her colleagues were selling
Ontario, not the actual rock and root province, but an idea of it, a holiday
contraption of verdant poses and storybook skies. When she was finally
free, close to four, the streets of Manhattan looked like they'd spent the day
indoors as well. She hailed a cab and almost said "Rothko" to the driver
instead of "Whitney."
A new security guard, a chalky black man who wore his wire-framed
glasses halfway down his nose, was standing close-by Untitled, but was
watching a pair of teenaged boys mesmerized by the Neel nude. Her right
hand darted across the distance and her fingertips brushed against the
painting. She then lifted her hand to her nose and sniffed: beneath the bitter
smell of cold coffee, she caught a whiff of oils as if she and the yellow had
exchanged molecules.
If anyone had noticed her, they would have registered nothing more
than a well-dressed woman strolling back through the lobby, flowing out
onto Madison with complete confidence that everything she needed was
just ahead of her. She kept up that pace as she made her way over to Fifth
and the long, stone wall that separated the street from Central Park. Her
gait was so purposeful that it might have seemed like she was about to leap
over the wall. But she stopped at the first bench she came to and sat down,
smoothing her grey silk skirt over her knee caps.
She felt the wooden slats of the park bench beneath her hips. She was
in control of the world now and could make colour lie or tell the truth,
whichever she pleased. Her fingers lay in her lap like quills or bristles. She
stretched them ever so slowly, blood rushing back into her knuckles. She
turned them over: there, on the tip of her index finger, was a yellow smudge
that continued to spread until half of her hand had turned yellow.
By the time she'd arrived back at the hotel to check out, the yellow had
extended up to her wrist. It felt as if the muscles beneath her flesh were
hardening. She went into the bathroom and scrubbed at herself until she
was raw. It wasn't the hand of an advertising executive anymore; it would
have to be stuffed deep into her pocket in order to sneak it onto the flight
home. She could already feel heat prickling in her left hand as well. And
when she glimpsed down at her feet, she had a brief vision of artificial grass.
This wasn't the first time that a foolish act had transformed her. Sex with
Scoot in the beginning had made her whole body feel like a huge vagina,
head to toe. She'd been forced to lock herself in her room until she could
feel the pulsing folds abating. And the day that her father died, her tears ran
black despite the fact that she wasn't wearing any mascara. 87 There was no option other than to outlast the irrational (or was it pure
recklessness?), patiently wait for her regular paleness to return. This wasn't a
two-way street. The Rothko canvas back at the Whitney wasn't being leached
of its golden yellow. The dab of her DNA was already disintegrating. She
was the one in danger of losing herself.
She boarded the plane as soon as Business Class was announced. She
tried to picture Toronto, wondering whether the April colours would be
less vivid than the ones she was leaving behind in Manhattan. But when
she closed her eyes, all she could see on the insides of her eyelids was a rose-
tinted darkness. It was such a beguiling shade that she didn't open her eyes
again for the entire flight, peeling back just a corner of one eyelid when a
flight attendant leaned over her like a hemorrhage, offering her a tiny bag of
pretzels, hardly enough to keep even a ghost of her former self alive.
Sharon Bala is a member of The Port Authority, a St. John's writing group.
Her short fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, in: Grain, The New
Quarterly, Room, Riddle Fence, and an anthology called Racket (Breakwater
Books, Fall 2015). Visit her at
Lucy Bashford has published creative nonfiction in Room, and fiction in
Grain. She lives in Victoria, BC.
John F. Buckley has been writing poetry since March 2009, when his
attempt at composing aself-help book went somewhat awry. His publications
include various poems, two chapbooks, the collection Sky Sandwiches, and
with Martin Ott, Poets' Guide to America and Yankee Broadcast Network. His
website is
Barry Dempster's collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian
Authors' Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2014, he was
nominated for the Trillium Award for his novel, The Outside World. And in
2015, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the
Arts for the second time.
Kim Fu's debut poetry collection How Festive the Ambulance will be
published with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2016. Her novel, For Today
I Am a Boy (2014), was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, winner of
the Edmund White Award, and longlisted for Canada Reads, among other
Elizabeth Horneber's essays have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI,
Hunger Mountain, Grist, Yemassee, and Monkey bicycle. She was selected as a
winner of the Loft Literary Center's 2015-2016 Mentor Series. She teaches
creative writing in Mankato, MN.
Mallory Imler Powell is a writer and editor originally from Kentucky.
Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Synesthesia Magazine
and Contemporary Verse 2, and she also writes about health disparities and
research. She studied at Transylvania University and received a Fulbright
award to Vietnam. Visit her at
Originally from New Westminster, BC, Joseph Kidney is an MA student
at McGill University. His poems have appeared in The New Quarterly and
Vallum. He is a poetry editor for Scrivener Creative Review.
Pamela Langevin lives in Victoria, BC with her fiance and her cat, Goblin.
She has poems in Grain and forthcoming in Prairie Fire. Follow her at
Jami Macarty is a poet, editor, arts administrator, and community advocate.
Currently, she teaches contemporary poetry and creative writing at Simon 89 Fraser University, and is an Advisory Board member and an editor of The
Maynard poetry journal. A recipient of a BC Arts Council creative writers
grant, her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Canadian and
America journals, including Arc Poetry Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal,
Drunken Boat, Grain, The Fiddlehead, Interim, and Slant, among other
necessary journals.
Donovan McAbee lives with his wife in Nashville, TN. His work has
appeared or is forthcoming in RHINO, Friends Journal, The Poetry Review,
Reflections, and other publications. He currently works as Assistant Professor
of Religion and the Arts at Belmont University.
rob mclennan is the author of, most recently, notes and dispatches: essays
(Insomniac press, 2014), Ihe Uncertainty Principle: stories (Chaudiere
Books, 2014), and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment
(BuschekBooks, 2014). He spent the 2007—2008 academic year as writer-
in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays,
interviews, and other notices at
Ben Merriman's writing has appeared in dozens of journals, including
Boston Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Democracy, n+I, and the
Threepenny Review.
Elizabeth Morton is a poet and sometimes student from New Zealand.
She has a keen interest in neuroscience. In her free time she collects obscure
words in supermarket bags. Her poetry has been published in Poetry NZ,
Takahe, JAAM, Blackmail Press, Meniscus, and Shot Glass Journal, among
Robert Nazarene founded MARGIE I Ihe American Journal of Poetry and
IntuiT House Poetry Series, where he received a publishers' National Book
Critics Circle award in poetry. His first volume of poems is CHURCH
(2006). A new collection, Bird In The Street, is upcoming in 2016. His
poems have appeared in AGNI, Beloit Poetry Journal, Columbia, The Iowa
Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, Stand (UK) and elsewhere.
Amanda Paananen is a Vancouver-based poet. Her writing has been
featured in PulpMag, Ihe Runner, as well as Misfit Lit.
Alex Pugsley is originally from Nova Scotia. "Karin Finally" is the tenth
published story in a narrative series about the Mair and McKee families.
Earlier excerpts have appeared in Eighteen Bridges, The Walrus, Brick
Magazine, and Ihe New Quarterly. Recently, he won the Journey Prize, and
last year he wrote and directed the feature film Dirty Singles, available now
on iTunes and The Movie Network.
Matt Rader is the author of three collections of poetry, Miraculous Hours
(2005), Living Things (2009), and A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the
River Arno (2011). He is also the author of the story collection What I
PRISM  54:2 Want to Tell Goes Like This (2014) and several chapbooks including / Don't
Want to Die Like Frank O'Hara (2014). His work has appeared in journals,
magazines and websites across Canada including Geist, The Walrus, The
Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Joyland, and Hazlitt. His latest book,
Desecrations, is forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart in Spring 2016.
Annie Reid is a video game writer and story editor, whose work has
appeared in publications such as American Short Fiction, filling Station, and
on the Canada Writes website, as a finalist for the CBC Short Fiction Prize.
She is currently completing a collection of short stories and a novel.
Soren Solkaer is a Danish photographer best known for his portraits of
musicians. Soren's photography is characterized by finding a tension point
between intimacy and edginess. His portraits are regarded as cinematic in
tone with a distinctive colour palette.
Craig Takeuchi is a Vancouver-based UBC MFA Creative Writing graduate
whose short fiction has been published in several anthologies, including Best
Canadian Stories 2000. He has also written for numerous local, national,
and international publications. He is currently a staff writer for the Georgia
Straight newspaper, and teaches creative writing at Langara College. 91   INDIANA!
f- W,i
:  *.:
■■::       .
" SB
19     7    6
inreview@indiana. edu totit^ at U3C
Eleven Genres Of Study | On-Campus or Online | All Levels
Write and learn on our breathtaking campus in Vancouver,
Canada, one of the world's most livable cities. Or participate in
a vibrant online community from wherever you live. UBC offers
world-class creative writing programs at the BFA and MFA level,
on-campus and by Distance Education. Join us.
Annabel Lyon
Keith Maillard
Alison Acheson
Maureen Medved
Deborah Campbell
Kevin Chong
Susan Musgrave
Andreas Schroeder
Maggie deVries
Linda Svendsen
Charles Demers
Steven Galloway
Sara Graefe
Wayne Grady
Nancy Lee
Timothy Taylor
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
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©peative Wpitep<d
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Si PRINTING LTD    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553 PRISM is contemporary writing
Sharon Bala
Lucy Bashford
John R Buckley
Barry Dempster
Elizabeth Horneber
Mallory Imler Powell
Joseph Kidney
Pamela Langevin
Jami Macarty
Donovan McAbee
rob mclennan      nj$
Ben Merriman
Elizabeth Morton
Robert Nazarene
Amanda Paananen
Alex Pugsley
Matt Raider
Annie ReicL
Craig Takeuchi
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