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   PRISM internationa
PRISM international is proud to announce the 2015 Earle Birney Prize
for Poetry. This prize is presented annually to one outstanding poet
selected from our outgoing Poetry Editor's volume. This year's winner is
Emily Tuszynska for her poem "The Bonesuit," which first appeared in
PRISM 53:1.
Earle Birney established UBC's MFA Program in Creative Writing in
1965—the first university writing program in Canada. The Earle Birney
prize, awarded annually and worth $500, is PRISMs only in-house
prize. Special thanks to Mme. Justice Wailan Low for her generous
ongoing support. PRISM digital archive
PRISM is excited to announce that our archives are going digital! With
the generous support of the British Columbia Arts Council, we will be
digitizing PRISMs 200+ back issues this summer, bringing 56 years of
literary history online.
We've partnered with UBC's Digitization Centre to complete the
project, which will be integrated with our website. The searchable
archive will be available before the end of the year, providing a free
resource for historians, literary scholars, and writing enthusiasts.
Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are just a few
names from PRISMs long history, and we look forward to sharing our
archives with readers in Canada and worldwide.
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
Megan Barnet
Nicole Boyce
Connie Braun
Melissa Bull
Sonal Champsee
Rhonda Collis
Robert Colman
Elaine Corden
Tara Gilboy
Jill Goldberg
Esther Griffin
Tyler Hein
Sarah Higgins
Melissa Janae
Keri Korteling
Laura M. Kraemer
Curtis Leblanc
Kirsten Madsen
Judith L. Major
Kim McCullough
Sarah Richards
Robert Shaw
Matt Snell
Rochelle Squires
Catherine Stewart
Tania Therien
Mallory Tater
Meg Todd
Carly Vandergriendt
Catherine Young
Matthew Walsh
Alison Braid
Leveret Burnspark
Nadine Clark
Maegan Cortens
Kelsey Savage
Hannah van Dijk PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary wriring, is published four
rimes a year by rhe Creative Writing Program ar 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, Circularion:
Copyrighr © 2015 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain wirh authors.
Cover image © Oleg Oprisco, "The Fiery Umbrella."
Subscription Rates: One-year individual Canadian $35, American $40,
International $45; two-year individual Canadian $55, American $63, International
$69; library and institutional one-year $46; two-year $72. Single issue by mail is $13.
US and inrernational subsetibers, please pay in US dollats. Please note that US postal
money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable to PRISM international. All
prices include GST and shipping and handling. PRISM occasionally exchanges
subscribe! lists with other literary magazines; please contact us if you wish to be
excluded from such exchanges.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American
Serial Rights at $40 per page for poerry and $30 per page for prose. Contributors
teceive two copies of the issue in which theit wotk appeals. Submissions
are accepted online or by mail. Electronic submissions are preferred. All
submissions musr adhere to our submission guidelines, which can be found at, or can be requested by mail at the address above.
Advertising: For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM, please visit
out website at
Our graritude to Dean Gage Averill and rhe Dean of Arrs Office at the University
of British Columbia. We grarefully acknowledge the financial support of the
UBC Creative Writing Program, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the British
Columbia Arts Council.
September 2015. ISSN 0032.8790
a place of mind
Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
for the Arts du Canada CONTENTS
Jon Paul Fiorentino
Jonny Did Not Want to Participate in
the Panel
Joe Davies
Oskar's Feet Get Wet
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Husband Wife Lover
Sophie Rosenblum
Chung Hee
One Page May Hide Another
Emil Osrrovski
Jessica Block
Robin and Doug
Megan Callahan
The Day We Buried Augustus
Carleigh Baker
Dinner with the Vittrekwas
Chris Donahoe
Fight and Flight
Vincent Page
Why Don't 1
Lately I've Been Drinking NyQuil
Tanis MacDonald
Stella for Star
Dani Couture
Black Sea Nettle
Nathan Curnow
Arrows Arrows Heart
Swimming (my lane)
Teresa Plana
Stevie Howell
Birding in Wolfville
Jessi MacEachern
Come and Measure a New Self
Kyle Kinaschuk
a pair in theses
Adam Day
Elegy in Apalachian, Kentucky
The Birthday Patty
John Wall Barger
Plastic Surgeon Song
David Romanda
Squawking Penguin Poem
80 Jon PaulFiorentino
I onny did not want to participate in the panel. He did not like the other
participants and he did not like himself.
The panel took place on a Januaty afternoon on one of the many stages in
the largest convenrion centre of the city. The city was the only city that mattered
to people for whom books mattered. The city was where lireratute happened.
That weekend, rhe city was host to a bold new venture called Invoke! Invoke! was
a book fair/writers' fesrival/industry evenr. Invoke! was hard to put in just one
box, but relatively easy to put in just one convention centre, and so that's where
rhey put it.
The moderaror of the panel was Rosalie Fuentes, the senior editor of The
Quail Reader. Tloe Quail was one of the city's most important publications, and
everyone knew ir. The Quail ran book reviews, industry news, and think pieces
by people who could really think. Sometimes the think pieces would be the
topic of discussion for other thinkers throughour the city for weeks on end. They
became talk pieces, it was said. They were that good.
The topic of the panel was "What Makes Short Fiction Last So Long In Our
Hearts?" Jonny objected to the title of the panel; he claimed that the language
was trite and imprecise, but his protestation fell on deaf ears. Rosalie's deaf ears.
The othet members of the panel were the acclaimed shot t sto ty writet Gwendolyn
Preakness, a mulri-award winning author who was scheduled to appear ar many
more high profile evenrs at Invoke!, Gary Crosby, an emerging shorr story
wrirer who had recently won his firsr blogging contest—The Quails "Hot Take
Takedown" competition (his appearance on the panel was part of his prize), and
of course, Jonny. Jonny rhe C-lister, small press aurhor, loser of the lot.
The panel began. "Welcome to Invoke! for what will be one of many, many,
many ptactical and wondetful discussions on the craft of writing and the art of
living the writing life," Rosalie said. "And indeed, welcome to our panel, which
is a discussion, if you will, about the short story. The short story is a genre that is
best known for its shottness in length. But don't be fooled. Size doesn't matter!
Haha! For it is precisely in the shortness of rhese narratives, if you will, that
we who love books, find a largeness. A largeness of spirir, and generosity, and
wisdom, if you will, to see outselves, and indeed other human beings as well!"
Rosalie gestured toward the crowd and the crowd applauded. "Let us tutn to
our fabulous writers! Now, I have nor had rhe pleasure of reading any of your
work, bur, ro be honest, yout reputations precede you. Gary. You are the young
whippetsnappet of the group, and so I suppose I shotild pose the first question
to you. Gary? What does shorr ficrion mean ro you? To YOU, Gary. Whar does
shorr fiction mean to YOU."
PRISM  54:1 "Well," Gary statted, "I suppose you could say I am a traveller. I don'r know
where I'm going and I don't know whete I've been. But when I get into the groove
of writing, I think to myself'Hete I go again!' and then a new adventute begins.
Every road winds and every trail is dusty, but no stone can be left unturned in
the realm, if I can risk that word, of the short stoty." Gary popped his acid-
washed collar and conrinued. "In this country, this tidiculous country we live in,
which, truth be told, is a land of exiles... and I want to emphasize this point: we
are all in various states of exile. There is no point in denying it. To deny your own
status as an exiled subject is to subject youtself to further exile. We, the exiled,
need to EXHALE and accept that this country is a fiction. There is no counrry.
There is only exile. But I digress. Whar I want to say is that we are all in flux. Our
identities are never static in this country, and it is ptecisely this incompleteness
that makes it possible for us, as exiled citizens, to find some sort of identity. We
write ourselves into existence. We ate our own short stories. And, if I can risk this
conclusion, out short stories are us." A thin, fifty-something man in an oversized
lumberjack jacket began to fan himself with his programme.
"Hmm. I really like what you said about exile," Rosalie said. "Gwendolyn,
do you want to pick up on that? Expand and, if you will, espouse? Hmmm?"
"Yes, well as you know, I have been writing my way out of various states
for YEARS." The audience laughed and so did Gwendolyn. "But I have to say,
with all due tespect to my deaf young compatriot, that I do not consider our
country to be a land of exile or a land of exiled denizens, but father, a community
garden. I believe our country is a vast community garden. There are marvelous
things in this garden: tomatoes, peppers, radishes, cucumbers! Oh, such variety!
But there is a trick ro living one's life in a garden. For you see, rhere is always
so much spadework to do. And teaders are much like gophers, and they may
gotge themselves on the tomatoes before rhey are ripe. The tomaroes, that is.
And bewate, be very aware, and beware of that indeed. As you grow, you must
cultivate and gather the goodness of the garden for the sake of the gophers and
for the sake of the gatdener!"
"Positively delicious!" purred Rosalie. "Am I the only one getting hungry in
here? Hahaha! Oh, Jonny, you've been silenr on this issue thus far."
"What issue?"
"Well, the issue of shorr stories! YOUR short stories. Speak, Jonny! Tell us of
yout short stories. Tell us what short fiction means to YOU."
"Well, I suppose I am primarily a poer."
"How fascinating," Rosalie said. "Tell us about the difference. What's the
difference between poetry and short fiction to YOU?"
"Well, shott fiction is a thing that allows you to tell a story in significantly
shorter amount of time than a novel. And I suppose poetry is a thing that allows
you tell a stoty or convey an emotion in an even shorter period of rime than a
short story," Jonny said.
"That's not what I meant and you know it!" Rosalie said. "On this magnificent
panel today we have heatd of gophers and exiles and dusty roads and tomatoes!
What ate YOUR tomatoes, if you will, Jonny? What are YOUR romatoes?" "Ok. So, here's the thing." Jonny glanced over at Gary who was playing with
his participant's badge. "Writing short fiction is like cheating on your parrner."
Gary stopped and paid arrention. "Wriring shorr fiction is like cheating on your
attractive, patient, wonderful partner. Poetry is your parrner. Your partner is
poetry. You love your partner. Your partner is always there for you when you
need someone. Your partner provides you with comfort and kindness. You turn
to your partner for wisdom, guidance, and companionship. Bur here's the thing.
You are a shitty fucking human being. You are less than a human being. You are
some sort of amalgam of skin and bone and pride. It's not short fiction's fault.
Short fiction is great. Short fiction is amazing, as a matter of facr. Short ficrion is
a respecrable and open-hearted person. And you? You're a greedy motherfucker.
You're a coward. A straight-up greedy motherfucking coward. Days go by and
weeks go by and poetry loves you jusr the same, if not more, but you don't think
for a moment about poetty. All you think about is going to that subway stop in
the middle of the night, meeting short fiction, and then going to the patk and
fucking. That's all you can think of. And that's all you are living for. And you
meet. And you share five rallboys of Colt 45 in that park. And the humid spring
nighr does irs sricky magic. And you fuck under an oak. And you whisper while
you fuck under that tree. You whisper: "I will leave my partner. YOU are my
partner. I love you." But the moment you say that, you feel empty. And, if you're
being honesr with yourself, which you almost never are, bur if you are being
honest with yourself for once, you know rhar you prefer to REMAIN empty
because the only thing you have to fill yourself up with now is guilt. Guilt for
the fucking disgusting, shitty thing that you have done. You rid yourself into
poetry and you have emptied yourself into short fiction. There is nothing inside
of you any more. And you realize as you slink your sorry self back home, rhar
you are not enough of a human being to feel one fucking thing. And as pathetic
as all of that is, and as pathetic as every aspect of you is, the most pathetic thing
of all is that you know poetry will be rhere. And poetry will forgive you. You will
run back to poetry. Soaked in the shame of short fiction and Colt 45, you will
run back ro poerry. And poetry will rake you back. Poetry will know. And poetty
will know that you know. But poetry is better rhan you. Poetry has always been,
and will always be, better than you. And poetry loves the pathetic, the weak, the
wtetched, the abject. So poetry will take you back, you miserable, ghasrly brute.
Those, Rosalie, are my tomatoes."
PRISM  54:1 Vincent Cage
whisper my fetishes to you from the opposite shore
of a frozen lake ro see if you can hear rhem?
Send smoke signals back to ten-four?
I promise to wash my cumtags weekly.
There was this conversation today:
Occam's tazot as case for Christianity
so lately I've been thinking of selling my organs.
Need towels,
a tub of ice.
The light here makes things look like L.A.
Someone told me the Segway
is the way of the future
so I started thinking of my dad dying
but ate some birthday cake instead.
Datling, tell me, how many mote times
will I open the oven with my glasses on?
At whar point does martyrdom begin to pay off?
Darling, remember that time I could only speak
one sentence at a time?
to fall asleep
remembering the 141 neat Huntsville ar night
as sleep comes on like wintet
from behind
I tried explaining ro everyone
the most precious rhing I saw this year:
a little paisley girl plug her ears
when a wasp flew near her
a winter wasp
a wasp near her ears in winter
the thing about the 141 neat Huntsville in wintet
is how many cigarettes I've smoked
on the side of the 141 in winter
wairing for an older man to pick me up
in his F-150 on the 141 late in wintet
you know how I keep everything in my pockets?
I keep my hands in my pockets
though my eats are cold
I want to cover my ears on the 141
but my hands in my pockets
or my hands and cigarerres
my hands in a rruck behind a boatyard
and how behind a boatyard
we smoked and drank cough syrup
I want you to know how in winter
behind a boatyard under some trees
I smoked and drank NyQuil
to fall asleep
PRISM  54:1 Tanis MacDonald
Casseopeia, north
star, queen whose beauty bought
het a sea monster Joan Crawford in the
biggest shoulder pads ever: Cassie
dearest. She's in the sky on her back with
het feet in the air: oh my stats. A turning
world crammed with huntets and animals,
bully-boy Orion and Venus on the horizon,
dtinking gourds ro guide people north
to this place, with its freedoms and its
insults and its killing frost.
Connect the dots. That's one
skinny goddamn beat—
Utsa Anorexia. Er in Arcadia egomaniac,
princess. In Zeus we can't trust and thete's
more than one way to skin a poplar.
By the time starlight rravels to earth,
it falls through us like a hangman's
hand, creeps into our vinegar
bones. It sifts down on to the boulevatd
elms and drops forest tent caterpillars
one by one on our heads, making us not
Medusa but her maid-of-all-work. Time
to put out the stars with out skyhooks,
smash their stone lamps. 11 TIN
She will fly entirely off her handle
wirh a tin shriek like
it's quitting time all over rhe breeding
and bled world. She will
have no truck with it, will tefuse
the bed's hard feathers,
and drum her heels on his chest
when he says "Peaches,
it's for your own good." She will hear
wild rabbits scratch at
the parging each midnight. The next
morning, the sheets
will sigh and the coffee will look
down irs brown nose
at her, but she will not give a flute
for rerror tactics. She
reeks of certitude and pepper,
tastes of howl and
the birches in Bird's Hill Park.
Calm as the Buddhist
doubt of dawn, she'll jimmy the lock
on her legs and sprinr into the sky.
La donna immobili, she rhumbas
like a wreck. She'll scream in rhe shower
when she sees the water droplers
leer jusr before they
fall on her.
PRISM  54:1 Joe Da vies
V^skar stands at the sink, half-shaved. In his hand is the razor, paused an inch
above his cheek. He has been standing this way for some time. Days, in fact. Weeks.
In truth, he has not, but his mind has inclined in this ditection. If he had stood
there that long, the patches of skin he'd just shaven clean would by now have grown
to stubble, and from stubble into beard. This has yet to happen.
Water streams from the faucet into the sink, slowly filling it.
Yolanda had spoken in her sleep—not a lot, just a few words—and Oskar had been
awake enough to hear.
She'd said, "Meant nothing at all. It meant nothing."
In the stillness of the room, the windows open on the summer and rhe silence
of the dew settling on the gtass, Oskar remained more awake than asleep, mulling
these words.
Weren't there already enough things that meant nothing? That thete was
anorher was not a welcome thought. His fears dressed themselves like suspicions
and gamboled about in the dark.
Now, here is the tazot, held static above his cheek. His eyes gazing into his reflection
in the mirror. The foam of the shaving soap he's applied, dissolving. How strange
the eyes are if examined too closely. How strange are any eyes. Just objects, after all.
The sink slowly fills.
For days and weeks the sink slowly fills. The bathroom slowly fills. The house,
beginning to bulge at its seams, springs a leak. Warer trickles down the street to
the middle of town where a pool begins to form, first in the park near the library,
then spreading to the drugstote and the public housing across the street. A century
latet, the whole of downtown is knee deep. Aftet several millennia, it's the county.
Lakeside homes succumb, as do cottages and summer resorts. In time, the whole
province—the whole country—becomes something of a swamp. And here is
a question, academic, to be sure: If evaporation is no issue, and given a steady,
inexhaustible flow of water from his bathroom tap, how long would it take to fill
rhe world to his eye level. How many lifetimes?
What had they talked about the night before? How much did they drink? One and
a half? Two bottles? Whichever amount, if knowing is so important, the empty
culprits are sure to be standing on the kitchen counter.
He recalls one image, sees her sirring across the table from him wearing a look
that said one thing or another about her growing impatience.
"All I know," she said, "is I don't trust it when people only give you glowing
reports about things. Sponsored optimism is dangerous. If the only answer you
ever get is that things are great, what's the point of asking? You already know the 13 answer. All it says is Tm trying to make this work; I'm hoping to make this work;
I'm willing to lie to make this work.' And that gives such a small parr of rhe picture."
"You don't think staying positive is important?"
She hesitated before answering.
"Not if that's all it is—'staying positive.'"
The Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Gteat Wall of China, the Sydney
Opera House, the Empite State Building, all the playgrounds.
When rhe waters rise, not one thing is inviolable. Water trumps everything;
everything succumbs. To borrow a hackneyed saying: all good things come to an
"But," Oskar wonders, "isn'r ir true for all bad things as well?"
He has not just wondeted this. He has said it out loud. In the bedroom across
the hall, he hears Yolanda stir.
Though it's scarcely possible, he gazes even more intently at himself in the
The strands of filament that make up the greenish-brown of his iris do nor seem
real. They seem, along with all the other parts of his eye, to be soul-less. How is it
the eyes communicate so much? Up close, they are clearly incapable of it.
He imagines her legs twined in the sheets, hears the bate skin of her calves and feet
slipping across the smooth cotton, followed by a small sound. A yawn? A groan? The
floor creaks as she stands. Without loosening his fixed gaze on his own iris, in his
mind he picrures her leaning over rowards the camp chair in the corner, reaching for
her robe, then swinging it around to cloak the gentle arc of her shoulders the way
he's seen her do so many times. Artful, habitual.
By the time the water reaches his eye level, however many lifetimes from now, he
will of course have drowned, since rhe water would have engulfed his nose and
mouth many eons before and he would long have been unable to breathe.
"Do you want this, or don't you? It's simple."
He stared back at her. She held something in her hand. Whar?
She was talking about one thing; he was thinking of another.
"You don't have to say what you think I want to hear."
She was smiling this time. Another time, another place, it would all be different.
Pethaps it would be last night, if he could only remember a little better.
Things swim round his body. They twine through his legs as he stares across the
smooth sutface of the imagined water into the reflection of his own eyes.
By now his skin is sure to be pruning. That much is cettain.
One time, they were out for coffee, seated at a small squate table made from an
old piece of wood, the surface uneven and grainy, so brown ir was almost orange.
Oskar kept bending to adjust the napkins he'd just put under one leg to prevent it
wobbling, when before he knew it, she was saying, "You done?"
PRISM  54:1 "Sure," he said, though there was still plenty in his cup. Why did he say that?
He knew that he needn't have. Had it been just blind reflex, or something more?
She stood, hoisted her bag to her shoulder and saw him try to empty his cup.
"You're not finished?" she said. "We're not in any hurry." Her voice was soft
then. He temembers that.
She sat down again, but her body language said she was still waiting.
And that was a question, wasn't it? If she was still waiting—and she quite clearly
was—but she wasn't waiting for him, then what was she waiting for? Why the
"I'd rather not be troubled by any of it," he says quietly to himself in the mirror,
to the eye he is scrutinizing so closely. And he repeats something to himself he has
recently heard, something that has stuck with him:
"Perceptions are more important than reality."
Where had he heard that? Never mind. It was something he recalled. Words and
more words.
When the water rises above the level of his eye it will be too late. He'd prefer not to
see what's below. He'd really rather not.
"What are you doing?" says Yolanda, breaking the spell.
He turns to her, his face half shaven, the soap nearly dry to a crusr he has been
standing there so long. She smiles.
"Are you hungover?" she asks. Her eyes are sleepy. She stretches het atms above
her head. What he wants to do is crawl back into bed with her. He could say this,
but won't. His head is aching a little.
"I didn't sleep very well," she says, her robe pulled tight around her, the sash
knotted in front.
"I kept hearing this one song over and over in my head."
"What was it?" he asks, his voice as dry as sandpaper.
She shrugs. "Ir's gone now. I just remember it spinning inside, over and over."
She looks at him. He looks back with a curious lack of expression that seems to
suggest he is not really there bur somewhere else.
She steps forward and kisses him on his clean shaven cheek and notices there is
water on the floor, that the sink has been slowly ovetflowing and a small puddle has
formed. She turns off the water and pulls the plug.
"Look at you," she says, "and yout wet feet." She throws a towel on the floor.
"There," she says, folding her hands under her arms. "You want me to put on
some coffee?"
He stares back at het and says, "Sure." He practically croaks. It feels positively
ages since he last used his voice.
She trails a hand over his shoulder and disappears, saying, "I'll make you some
eggs if you like."
Yes, he thinks, he would like that, but says nothing.
Slowly, he re-soaps the unshaven side of his face. In the next minute ot two he
has finished up. He goes down to the kitchen for eggs, unable to sense if the floods
around him have crested. 15 Dani Couture
If the relationship to one's body is expressed
algebraically, ler every variable be a decorative
tuber. A golden mean of worry buried
by one animal and dug up by another.
What's tucked up or down and nor ralking?
Consider the colour, the space of days
between what we know to be good, other,
or another, and decide. The story of a woman
who cut her foot and died within five hours.
She was pregnanr, or had a tumour. Ir was
a black spor on her left shin after having
mown the lawn. During an eclipse,
she looked at the sun without het
daughter's pinhole camera. She was
a neighbour who hadn't washed her hands
after breaking eggs for bread pudding.
She was eighty-five, unmattied, no
children. Mail snowed the summer
door until they found her. She was never
born. It was her fault. It won't happen
again. During a dare, the other woman
offers rhar she exisrs in a medical rextbook
in England. Parts of het collapsed
early. A bottle in, she invites you
to feel how the small bones are fused
like mercury. This is a fairytale where
the woodsman's axe draws the wrong blood.
Except the woodsman is you. Is also her.
Sheet stain and the indifferent shrug
of something you can do without,
but ate you sure? You've made a blood
oath with so many things some days
16 PRISM  54:1 your body begs to follow. From rhe inside
out, jelly fish, the soft slip of fingers, tentacle
reversal. A confusion of predatory intent.
Once teenaged, in the back of a red Renault
in Chrysler country, the driver stated
into the flat tooth of his rearview mirror
and said, L don't trust anything
that bleeds for five days and doesn't die. 17 DIVISION
Every day, you are an amnesiac skeptic
who defaults back to factory setting. You
learned early that if something is called
by a second name, it will answer
to both, some trick or intracellular wish
to keep splitting. Foam over the pursed lip
of rhe tub. These mountains are wet
with doubt, an 80-million-yeat-old backdrop
to basic plot progression. The range,
an ancient telemetty that peaks
and valleys with no indication of where
the heart lies. Atmosphere
a misting veil for every identifiable
feature that could place you. A trick
of the light, or purring a different shirt
on the same man. Cloak,
cloacal. The release, rhen pinch
of what can't be. Couldn't. You don't
believe. You could be anywhere,
but you are here, coupled
with your waning beliefs.
From highway motel, the last
of them rise through bow river neon,
indifferenr pine. Past defunct satellites.
Cosmic debris. Then, wake-up call
and re-entry—a slick burn that strips
you down to what you were
the day before. A hundred days
your partnet, but when he calls, you pick up
the phone, ask who he is, who you are.
PRISM  54:1 Bonnie Jo Stufjlebearn
We wanted you anyway. Even these days, when we come across an item you left
behind, your toothbrush buried in the bathroom cabinet, we can't quite figure
out what it was about you. Maybe we just wanted someone to hold, new skin. It
didn't hurr rhat you were beautiful. You had a way about you, the most magnetic
presence at yout cousin's patty. All of us ttapped inside like that, breathing the
same ait for so long, no wonder we grew attached. The rain pounded on the
roof, you remember this, and all the guests huddled in the living room looking
out, wondering when it would stop so we could all go home. The rain ruined
"Damn rain's coming more and more," you said. Your name was Cathryn.
We knew rhat much already. "I would rhink that means something, 'cept it nevet
really fucking does."
"It means the rain is coming more," I said. "Name's Donovan."
My wife smiled, lowered her eyes. She did rhis somerimes, when she wanted
to play coy. "Heather," she said. "We already know yours. A gorgeous name."
"You're nice," you said. You shook our hands ar the same time.
We didn't know what we wete getting into. We couldn't have known.
What was it like before you came around? I don't remember. It was a while ago.
I know what my husband tells me—it was good but unremarkable. I know what
the ttuth is; things were simple back rhen.
I used to garden. You never knew whar that felt like, to touch the soil with
your hands. Donovan, he was always a poet. His day job has him working
behind a desk in a debtor's office ttying to locate relatives to pay the debts of
the thousands dead, but I know better Something about the way he speaks.
He never writes a damn wotd, but once, when we were young and drunk, he
admitted he composed strings of words in his head. You never knew that about
him. We didn't let you know things like that. Was that our mistake? You studied
art history at the local college, for fun. That much I won't forget, because you
brought me books on Mucha, promised someday to take me to Europe, to pay
me back for all I did for you. With so many of our generation gone to rain, you
didn'r need rhe degree. You could have done whatever you wanted without one.
But you wanted it, and that was enough for you. I should have known bettet
about Europe. You were, after all, just a girl.
My husband was hesitant. That first night at the parry, he pulled me into an
empty bedroom, shut the door.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked. He had read my eyes. There was a 19 window in the room. The rain banged on the glass. Back then, it scared me.
"Whar if ir changes things, for us?"
"That's whar I wanr," I said. "I want to be changed."
He kissed me hard, fast, we couldn't keep you waiting, and we left the room
and found you by the buffet. You had a face someone could forget if it was all
they saw. You weren't eating. I wondered what you looked like when you ate. I
handed you a chocolate eclair. You took it, studied it like I imagine you would
one of your painrings. You took a bite. Chocolate lined your lips. You wiped it
off with the back of your hand.
"Good," you said. You handed the rest to me. "You finish it."
I had never wanted anything more in my life.
I wouldn'r have done you like that, either of you, if I didn't think you could
handle it. If I wasn't mistaken. About what we wanted from one another. In
some ways I wanted you guys as much as you wanted me, and in some ways
I wanted nothing you could give me. Because you gave me a lot, most of it
unasked for, and I'll admit I didn't know what to do with it all.
The rain was starting to wig me, and I needed someone to take the rain away.
It had been a while since I'd lived with my parents, and I needed someone to
hold me and let me know it was all gonna be okay. That the rain was temporary.
Neither of you had children. I didn't want to be your children. Bur I wanted
more rhan lovers.
If you haven't figured it out already, I don't really know what I want.
I'm twenty-two years old. I'm not supposed to live in a world wirh this kind
of rain.
I think a lot about that night we met. When the rain ler up, we slipped our steel
boots over our party shoes and left, the three of us, in my wife's old Dodge. She
pulled her steel gloves from her dress purse, slipped them on, and opened the
doors for us.
"I feel like such a lady," you said.
"Madame Cathryn, your chariot," I said. I was trying to be clevet, but I was
nervous. You were rhe sweetest thing I'd seen in a long time. I knew in the back
of my mind you never would have come if not for Heather. She had the looks.
But you know that already. You know all of this already. I just need to tell it
again, to make sure there was nothing I missed. No small detail, no phrase you
murmured into our ears as we rook that long drive back to our house. The roads
were slick, the concrete shiny like a sheet of ice. The trees looming to either side,
affected by the rain in only the best of ways, thick and tall as giants. Unlike us,
their thick skin could take it. But you know that too.
Heather drove ten miles per hour with the brights on. The danger wasn't
gone. It had tained a lot, and the rain shone brighr in our faces in the headlights'
glare. You said you felt safe with us. I always hoped that, of all the things you
said, that thing was true.
Don and I were again able to breathe once we'd got home safe rhar night. No
accidental spray of rain had come in rhrough the car door, the front door. It
had been so many yeats, we were used ro the precautions. They felt to us like a
habit we could never forger abour. I wondered if, to you, who had never known
anything but, they were as second narure as earing. Removing our shoes, dipping
them into the barrel of antidote by the door, for gloves, boots, to soak. Washing
out hands with chemical soap, the smell like grape medicine.
Our house was dirty. The floors hadn't been vacuumed that week, and there
were smudges of dirt on the tile inside the door from the day before. I apologized.
You said rhe polite thing, that it looked okay to you.
"You're just saying that," I said.
"I'm not, it really does look good." You smiled. It was the smile that always
made my stomach jump a little, like the way it used to, bringing home a girl or a
boy, before it felt familiar to hold someone's hand. I'll remember that smile even
if I've already forgotten your face.
"Really, you don't have to say that." I said.
"I'm serious," you said. "I live in an aparrmenr," you said. "I'm in college,"
you said.
I remembered whar that was like. Dust settled, and you let it settle. You
wouldn't even notice, not till you got sick and your mom told you it was dust
you must have missed the last time you cleaned. And you laughed, because you
wouldn't let your mothet come over and she didn't know you hadn't cleaned
since you moved in, maybe since that one night when you got too drunk to sleep
and couldn't do anything but clean, but that was long ago. I remembered rhar
life, and I was jealous. I wanted to take it from you. I wanted to push you on the
bed and suck that life from your bellybutton.
I didn't want to scare you away. But I ached for it. I think you could see it in
me. What could I see in you? A curiosity. One I would stoke.
When I say that I don't know what I want, I mean the big stuff. I mean life
stuff. That firsr night with you guys, I knew this kind of clarity. It was knowing,
right then, what I wanted. I saw myself pressed between two people. Two naked
bodies sheltering me from the rain. In my far-reaching fantasy, a place where I
was spoken for. I will never work again, I thought, these people will let me live
with them and love them. We will love each other so much it will dty us up. I'll
admit, I also saw the things you would provide, material sruff my parenrs refused
me: original Kiefer sculptures, instrumenrs to bring our the hidden talent you
alone would see in me, booze—I was only twenty then and couldn't buy it
myself. It sounds stupid, but it's the ttuth.
I tell you this so you will know how nai've I was then. And still am, nowhere
near the two of you in what I know about the wotld.
I don't remember a rime before rhe rain. I was too small. You already knew
each other when it came. You had friends who were victims of the first wave, 21 before they figured out what was kill
ing them. You probably had close calls
yourself, which later you looked back
on and cried for. It gave you skin
like a
shell, so fragile I sometimes feared I mi
ght break you.
We never talked about any of this,
nor in the whole
year we were to
Why not? There was a lot in you I never learned from
. That was one
of my
Once we'd stood around the kitchen and poured our glasses of Malbec, we
rerired to the living room where we gathered on the couch, you in the middle.
It would be that way always. I turned on the stereo, some Pink Floyd, Wish You
Were Here. You looked surprised.
"What, not what you expected?" I asked.
"No Mozarr, or some classy shit?" you asked. "From the size of this house, I
expected some classy shit."
When you drank, we came to learn, you spoke like an old-school construction
worker. It was one of the things we would learn ro call endearing. Unril we felt
betrayed, and then it turned for us into an unfortunate quality we had been
forced to accept.
"This is from the musical golden years, missy."
"It's cool," you said. "I like it."
I can't listen to that song anymore.
It was Heather who kissed you. I've always admired her for that. You were still
holding your glass, and you let it rest between your legs so you could press both
your hands into her cheeks. I watched, conflicted. I took the glass from berween
your thighs and put it on the coffee table. I set mine next to it. I unbuttoned
your blouse and slipped my hand inside your shirt. My wife gripped your thigh
on top of your jeans.
I wanr ro remember this moment, our first. I want to remember how warm
you were, how soft rhe skin, how when you turned and kissed me your mourh
was red with wine, and you tasted of alcohol and curses.
"Fuck," my wife said. She was already absorbing you in little ways, like a
language. "Fuck, let's go to bed."
Outside the tain began again.
I made the first move. Really, you could blame the whole thing on me if you
wanted. I took yout hand and led you to our bedroom, the bed already unmade,
waiting. Where our clothes came off and blended into the pile of laundty on
the floor.
It was all the awkwardness of rhat first time again. I unbuttoned your jeans,
and you lifted your rorso so I could pull rhem down over your hips, your legs.
They caught at your feet. You laughed, I laughed, and I yanked them off each
foot. You lifted your arms, and we slipped the blouse from your body, you didn't
weat a bra, and there you wete, naked. Your legs pressed together. I sruck my
PRISM  54:1 hand berween your thighs. Left my clothes on. My husband removed his shirr,
his pants, kneeled at your feet.
We kissed you all over.
After, we lay naked and breathless together. I pressed my breasts into your
back and felt as though I was pressing our bodies inro one. We fell into a sleep
so lighr the rain should've woken us. It didn't. What woke us was the sound of it
Enough. Enough about that night. Never mind that I lay there, in the best sleep
of my life, that feeling of safety. Dry warmth. That I knew I would be with
the two of you as long as I could stand it. Yeah, I knew it wouldn't be forever.
I thought you knew that too. I nevet once imagined that you could want it
differently. Aftet all, you were married. You had a life together you'd worked
out separate from me. There was a picture beside yout bed of the two of you at
a beach, your hair dark, your skin smooth and firm and red with infatuation,
your arms around each other's shoulders like you were compering for control.
Hearher, you were winning. In the photo you had a power in the way you stood,
btute, shoulders squared, and Don's brows were furrowed so slightly that I'm
almost sure I'm the only one who ever noticed. It would be impossible for me ro
rap into that history, to ever catch up. I would spend out whole lives catching up.
Remember how we woke and rhe air was like mist? Like dreaming.
The next week was more of this new same. I skipped out on class each
morning, though the week after, Don forced me to go, even gave me a tide on
his way to work. But that first week was the bomb. I stayed home with you,
Heathet, curled up on the couch watching old DVDs of Happy Days. Your guilty
pleasure, you told me.
"This is mostly what I do with my time these days," you said. You used to
work, but when the rain came, even with all the jobs opening up, you couldn't
bear to be out there in the wotld.
So I did this with you, but on the last day of that first week, that Ftiday, I
took your hand and led you to the doot and slipped your steel boots onto yout
feer and my boots onto mine and we went outside and looked up at the gray sky.
Your body shook. It hadn't rained all day, but the ground was still wet, and we
stayed on the patio because you were too scared ro slip into the grass.
"One time," you told me, "back in college, when I was your age, I had this
boyfriend, right, and he drove me out to a field in the middle of nowhere. He
had a bottle of wine, some fruity blackberry stuff, real cheap, but he'd forgotten
the corkscrew. I had a joint in my wallet, and we smoked that in the grass. Then
we did it, nothing undetneath us. Just lay fight down in the grass and fucked.
Afterward we rhrew the condom in this little stream. I always hoped some old
farmer guy found it. That it made him think about what he was missing."
"I've never touched the grass," I said.
"Yeah, well," you said. "It's better that way."
"What does it feel like?"
"I don't know. Leathefy. Slick, like. Green." 23 "I rhink I know," I said.
"Trust me, it's nothing special," you said. But I could tell you were lying.
You'd loved the grass, the green, being parr of it like that. You wrapped your arm
around me and kissed the top of my head. You stopped shaking. I wondered
what it was that had comforted you. Had you realized I could be taken care of?
I always gor the feeling that you just needed someone to take care of. Don was
never rhat person. In rhat moment I decided I could be that petson, at least for
a little while. But I was a lot like you, and I needed someone to take care of for
You know I always wondered if I liked one of you better. I tried not to. I
did my best to pay equal attention to you both. Now I have to admit, if I had to
choose, I would've taken you in an. instant. It was the way you looked at me. I
could see that you needed it like no man could ever understand.
Did my wife fall for you the way I fell for you? I don't think she did. In you I
think we always saw what you were: a temporary person. We knew you would
go, but she held on a little tighter, tried ro swallow as much of you as she could
before you went. She won't talk about you in the light, you know. When the
sun's out, I can't even mention your name. We try to make it through the day
without a reminder of you, but you've left all these artifacrs around. I rhrew your
Toothbrush away, and the art book you gave her. When I walk down rhe hallway,
past the painting Heather and I bought at an art auction when we were newly
married, I remember that night we left the bed for a slice of toast and found you
there before ir, near to tears. It was an abstracr piece, and we wondered what you
could've seen in it to upset you.
"It's the brushstrokes," you told us. "It's about loss."
We stepped up close to it and studied the lines: jagged, spasmodic. Red and
blue teatdrop rain shapes and a thin line of green through the middle. Heather
held you. I stood back and watched, knowing there was something there I
couldn't touch.
Yes, my wife fell for you in some differenr way. When I saw her kiss you,
saw her lips cross the pale hairs all over you, I caught my breath. There are some
things about her I will never know. Moments and thoughts I can't touch. I'm
aware that we do not think the same things when we fall into bed at night. I
don't think about the roof over our heads, the thin line between us and the drip
of burning water. I don'r visualize water scarring my rhroat as I take a sip from
rhe glass on rhe nightstand. Heather abandons so many glasses of water, uses
them instead to water the potato plant she has begun to grow on our back pario,
which she thinks I do not know about. I've seen her writing her letters to you, as
I'm sure she's seen me wriring mine. I'm aware that for each of rhese rhings that
she does not know I know, there are more that will remain hidden from me.
Somerimes I'm glad you left. Always I wish we had never raken you home.
Ir's redundant to say I miss you.
I wish you would come back to me.
I'm also weak sometimes. Because I remember you, I do. I lied.
Did you leave because of Don, because of the way he crossed his arms across
his chest and scowled, because of the way things were just a little stiffer with him
around, ot was it because of the way he reacted when you began to disappeat?
I know why you left. I'm not kidding myself. Maybe Don can pretend you're
the bad guy, but I can't stomach the idea of hating you.
Your new woman can't love you like I love you.
I know that year we had a rourine. I know routine was something you guys
clung to, something you made the defining factor of your life. I stayed over every
night, after classes were through. I did homewotk while you, Don, made dinner.
You were a great cook. Let me assure you, your cooking is not what chased me
away. It was something indefinable. It was a chance at building something better,
this competitiveness. I saw what you guys had, and I hated it, and I wanted more
than anything to top it.
I broke routine. Instead of staying with you, I stayed home. You thought it
began the first night I didn't show up, but it didn't. That night I was alone in my
room with the quiet. It didn't rain, and for that I was grateful. I knew I would've
panicked had it rained, wanted nothing more than to run to you, which of
course I wouldn't have been able to.
But the sky was clear. I looked out my window and pretended I could see the
stars you told me about.
The next day you guys asked me no questions. I told you nothing.
A week later I went to a party in the apartment across the way from mine
instead of going to you. Some of my friends were there, happy to see me. It had
been a while, since I was caught in the spell of you. They told me I looked older,
darker. I felt funny when they said that, like that wasn't the way I was supposed
to look. Having you should have made me brighter.
I stopped coming on the weekdays. Thutsday nights I fotind fun, can you
believe it, the kind of fun that seemed muted in yout company. Not to say we
never had it. But you guys were roo serious, too often. I blame it on the tain, on
having something and it being taken away. It was better never having it at all.
This is the best memory I have of you, of all my memories, maybe: we're in
the kitchen, Heathet, me and you. You're making dinner, a rare thing, Portobello
mushroom sandwiches with creamed chipotle dressing. Gourmet olives from the
Cook Islands. We both wished aloud we could live there, or on any of the other
islands that had been tepurposed, free of the tain we knew here. But they wete,
of coutse, closed to residents. We had lettuce too. It had been a long time since
I'd had decent lettuce; the stuff in the dining hall at school, where I usually took
my meals, was stringy, too green, artificial. This was real. I held the lettuce to my
nose and took in the smell. 25 "What's it smell like?" you asked.
"Like nothing," I said. "A little like water, maybe. And green." I grinned.
"Oh? Like green, huh?" You reached over and grabbed ir from me, tossed it
onto the counter Came at me with your palms bared.
I tried to run, but you were on me fast. Your hands wedged under my arms.
You tickled me until I couldn't brearhe.
"Truce!" I cried, and you fell for it.
After I took your breath in that other way, I ate the lettuce from rhe countet
in one bite.
"Damn," I said. "That is fucking food."
Heathet, your cheeks burned pink the whole night, and when Don came
home he thought you'd been drinking wine. Bur we hadn'r been drinking at all.
You had this smile stuck to yout face, this hungry glow, like you could at any
moment open yout mouth and swallow the kitchen. Hell, swallow both of us.
The wotld. The rain. That look on your face is how I want to remember you.
I hope I never see you again.
We worried about you, you know. When the rain poured and you weren't in
our bed, we worried if you were safe. We knew you'd taken to parties. We closed
our eyes and prayed ro no one that you were safe inside. I remembered what it
was like, in college, how invincible you could feel. Back before the rain, it was
easy for us ro feel that way, even after college. We hoped you were smarr abour
whatever you were doing.
I don't think we suspected that there was another man involved, ar first. It
didn't occur to me that you could want something othet than the lavish life we
gave you. After all, didn't you love the food? The films we found for you? Artist
biopics from rhe 90s, rhe early 2000s? We knew you didn't have that where you
went at night. We thought we were giving you all you ever wanted. I've said that
before. I keep repeating myself because I don't understand.
Maybe I am, like Heather says, at a disadvantage, because I was never a young
girl, and I was never someone who looked at paintings and saw the brushstrokes
and knew the sorrow in rhem. I've never known much about sorrow. When the
rain came, I saw the brightness; we'd had a long time, after all, ro appreciate the
way of the world before the tain. When bad things happen, I accept them and
move on. I try to make the most of what I've been given. I've tried to make the
most of you. I try to help het see things the way I do. Except regarding you, why
you left. I let her think the man you left us for is a woman, despite what I know.
I'm not as dense as you think I am. I know that, being who I am, I can
nevet understand her like you undersrand her. Because you could read her
This is why I needed you. No other reason. And you gave me that, for a little
bit. And I thank you. I wish this were easier to say.
I knew about your new woman before you did, I think. When you first
mentioned her name—your friend, Abigail—I knew in rhe way you said it. You
said she was a new friend. Don never pieced it together. In fact, he still doesn't
know. He thinks it was a man. He's sure ir's a man. But I saw in the way you said
it that she would be something to you. I know, too, when you found her, at one
of those patties. I know how she got you, the way she cattied herself. It was in the
walk, wasn't it? She had the walk down, so sure. She had the voice, a little gruff,
and that way of saying your name: as if ir were a piece of arr.
I like to think I said yout name like that.
But let me be clear, I don'r blame you. You saw a chance at your own rhing,
and you took it. Part of me hopes you're happy. The othet part hopes she'll break
your naive heart.
All of me wishes, every day you're gone, that you'll come back.
Listen to this; I'm a broken record of broken-heart cliches. It makes me sick
how average you were. How ordinary. How you could have been any woman,
anywhere. But you were you. And that makes the difference.
The day I knew you'd chosen was during rhe week right aftet my birthday,
when we were supposed to meet up at the house, then go out for a change,
anywhere, maybe to the coffee shop, maybe to the market to pick up the supplies
for dinner. I wanted to go out for you. We could make food togethet; I always
wanted to repeat that memoty. But you didn't show up.
I stood at the window. The rain began. I watched it fall. The sun went down.
The hour when Don usually got back came closer. I was glad he'd be home soon.
I wished the damn tain would stop. If it would just stop, I would find you. I
would go into the cold for you. I wanted to hold you. I want to hold you. We
both want to hold you again.
His name was Clark. I think his parenrs named him after Superman, but he was
the skinniest dude I'd ever seen. So skinny I didn't mind when he pressed his
weight on top of me. I liked it, even. We didn't meet at a party, and he wasn't the
love of my life, but he was something of my vety own and I had to have him.
He was often sad, and I could kiss him and make it okay for a little while. There
are these little moments of knowing what one wants, and if you don't gtab them
they just go away.
I'll spate you the details. But know that he was special to me and not special.
Know that you were too.
Don't worry, Don. I'm not going to tell her. I'll keep our secret.
I'm sorry. I have to say it, while I can. Maybe it's why I'm really writing this. For
whar I did to you, I'm sorry.
The truth is I was shocked to see you again. You didn't text, didn't call. You
just showed up at the door. I opened it and saw you and that grey sky above you, 27 and I wanted to let you in, but Heather was asleep. You going, you see, ir did
something to us and for us. When you stopped returning our calls, we wrapped
our arms around each other, and she cried into her pillow. I cried a little too.
You meant more to us than we let on to one anothet, and to realize that we had
held these similar feelings buried when we should have shared them, it meant
something. In losing you, we were bonded in our grief. So when you showed up
ar our door that day, I didn't let you in.
"It's him," you said. "I don't know why he did it."
Your face was streaked with red.
"Him?" I asked.
"You know. Ir was too fast. To see his fucking skin like that."
"This is the guy?"
"His skin. I've never seen anything like it. It just... the smell."
Like burnt lubber. I remembered. I had seen my share. We didn't know
better back then. "It's a hatd thing to see," I said.
"Please, can I come in?"
"Please? She'll want to see me. If she knew I was out here..."
"You can't come in." I stepped out and shut the doot behind me. "What you
did to us, of course you can't come in. We can't take care of you anymore. You
made a choice. Ir's roo hard to go back once you've left."
"He died," you said. I hated the word. I knew you were rhinking on ir too,
how short, how harsh a word. "It fucked him up, and he—"
"You need ro go home." I pointed up. "It's going to stait again. Soon. Go
home, take care of yourself."
I kissed you, a cruel thing. You tasted like salt, whiskey.
"Please don't tell her you were here," I said. "It'll hurt her."
You didn't respond, just got in your car and drove.
I'm sorry I did rhar to you, but you have to understand. When things are
over, rhey're over, and there can be no turning back. I found the conclusion I was
looking for, and you were asking for a differenr end.
I've lied to you a little. It's not all bad since you left. When I'm with him, I feel
like I maybe do love him like the day we met. I think what I loved in you was
an idea. I think you might have healed something in us I didn't think could be
fixed. I sing in the shower now, and when I emerge from the bathroom steam I
wrap myself in a towel and sit before the window and watch the rain drip down
the glass, leaving trails down the RainAway chemical window treatment like the
snails used to leave down the sticky leaves of my zucchini plants. These days I
don't cry for you or for him. I cry because it empties me of the salt that once
dried me up, because I've lost something I've held onto most of my life: the
sadness, my old friend. I keep potatoes again, though they ate genetically altered,
the dirt synthetic. I feed them with bottled water. Don and I have even begun
to open up to each other, admitting all the secrets we've kept from one another.
I told him about the time we made cupcakes but ate them before he gor home.
28 PRISM  54:1 Also, the time we did it on his desk.
Still, I'll ask you one more time: come back to me.
There. It's over That's all I'll say.
I'll leave you with a memory. We were all three together, one of those first
weeks. You asked how we met.
"At a party," I said. "He had rhe walk."
"And she had the beer." Don laughed. He used to laugh a lot, less so in recent
years, and that moment I realized he was, in many ways, the man I mattied still.
We never had children, and we didn't want you for that, but we wanted you to
complete us.
It was too much to ask of a young woman. I will ask no mote of you, except
this: be sure, when someone in your future asks how you and your woman mer,
that the answet doesn't shame you.
This piece is hets; if you ever want me, ever in your whole long life, I'm still
youts. No guatantee on how long I'll last, but I will come to you.
This, his; take her outside, to a field of grass you can touch—find it wherever
you can, if ir takes the whole of your life, and let her bathe in the green. 29 Nathan Curnow
I don't understand it
any more rhan how dinosaurs gave us birds
or how birds gave us dinosaurs
any more than when a kiss is a hustle
I don't understand the sorcery of ir
the deep stir of the cauldron's boil
why everything becomes so turn-heavy
how to wake from irs daily coma
I don't understand where mermaids find harps
or why monkeys never tire of parkour
who packs its passionfruit grenades so tight
why it comes with a whirlpool belly
I don't understand its call-out for fools
or how ir leads to the plucking of petals
but I know how to covet another man's wife
and rhe thud of a bull's eye shot
the beat of the moon that nothing beats
the jam like Pooh stuck in a hive
I know the glamorous foyer of whimsy and kick
the hairy seed that comes with desire
the thrill of two sonnets that just might work
but for the resounding will of the people
I know it can happen at a Nazi demonstrarion
or as someone rries to steal your pen
rhe world suddenly rests upon drunk turtles
and every balcony belongs to Juliet
I know it is a tettifying nakedness
falling arrows arrows heart.
The bug is in my lane, drowning fast,
tiding the ripples I make, picking at the water
wirh hopeless oars, franrically gathering loss.
My rimes are slipping bur I still have reasons
for getting wet evety day, hauling myself
up that long, black line, the monologue
I have to follow. The print keeps me straight,
a fat-stemmed gift I steet to a sudden T.
I've seen so many junctions, crossroads
relapsing every twenty-five metres. All I do
is cry out, kick off, go back like moving forward,
up and down that stem, flushed by routine,
the teach and rob of consttuctive habit.
So I scoop the bug in the pool of my palms
and don't think of Anne Sexton right away.
It's latet I recall her posthumous title,
The Awful Rowing Toward God. Over again,
keeping the beat upon waves of my own
making, wresrling at daybreak above
tissues of light that shed with evety stroke
I'm attempting. Holding the course, rowing
the surface, working these bags of breath.
I scoop the bug just to cup my hands
as in the days when I had fairh to receive. 31 Carleigh Baker
What the hell are we doing here, standing around like a bunch of chumps while
Calder gets his money shot? Little guy with a big camera, following a bull moose
down the beach. He doesn't need to get that close; surely rhe lens can zoom righr
in. Still, he looks pretty primal, sralking like a hunter for shots to fill in the spaces
around rhe action. B-roll, he calls it. The moose does his moose thing, lopes
down to the watet and takes a dtink.
Emma, the lead scientist on out team (and Calder's girlfriend), stands next to
me, clucking and sighing about his proximity to the moose. She's righr: it's risky
to get too close, especially in September. Rutting season. The moose could decide
he likes the looks of Calder and take a run at him. But the bull is swimming
away now, soft brown nose raised comically above the water. Anothet reminder
that the noble and hatrowing Yukon landscape isn't particulatly interested in us.
This isn't the first rime I've wondered whar I'm doing here, but it's too late
to back out now. We are fourteen days into a 500-kilometre paddle through the
Peel River Watershed. Six artists, two guides, two scientists, and a film crew. We
began just off the Dempstet Highway at the Ogilvie River and connected with
the Peel at its confluence with the Blackstone River. In a few days, we'll cross
the Arcric Circle and eventually paddle into the Norrhwesr Territories, ending
up in Fort McPherson, just upriver from the Mackenzie Delta on the Beaufort
Sea. We're making a documentary, ot I guess Calder is making the documentaty
and we're in it. As one of the artists, I'm supposed to be here to write, and maybe
convince young urbanites like myself that they should pay attention to what's
happening in the North.
At the moment, what's happening is that the Yukon governmenr has
decided ro open the area ro extensive oil and mining exploitation. The Peel
Watershed spans nearly 68,000 square kilometres, and is one of rhe most striking
mountain river ecosystems in Notth America. It's home to the Na-cho Nyak
Dun, Tr'ondek Hwech'in, Vunrur Gwirchin, and Terlir Gwich'in people. A legal
battle is unfolding in the Supreme Court of Canada as we paddle, First Nation
of Na-cho Nyak Dun et al. v The Government of Yukon. Most of us watched the
ttial in July, via live stteam, or listened to the podcasts. Now we're meeting
this land we're hoping to protect, via the kind of soft-sell attsy approach to
envitonmentalism that's having a lot mote success with millennials than the
No one could mistake us for the epic historical explorers who preceded
us. The drone camera is a dead giveaway. The film equipment—and there's a
canoe full of it—runs on what precious solar power Calder can collect each
day. We've had sun, but the camera crew misjudged the effects of the cold on
their equipment—batteries drain in minutes, and the GPS on the drone camera
32 PRISM  54:1 doesn't work well this far norrh. Ar night, Caldet sleeps with camera batteries in
his sleeping bag.
It's not all pain. Sometimes it's pain freckled with pleasure. Yesterday we
left the tall, stratified stone walls of Aberdeen Canyon ro meet the cold sun in a
wide open sky. Scrubby spruce on rhe tree line, golden-leafed willow bushes and
silver driftwood on the shore. Smoke billowed in the distance, which caused a
bit of a stir as people speculated whether it was a foresr fire or campers. Turns
out it was neither. Smoking Hill, our guide explained, is a coal seam that was
hit by lightning ages ago and ignited; it's been holding at a slow burn ever since.
There are mining claims all around us, but Smoking Hill is a surreal reminder of
the minerals that make this place dangerously valuable. Lasr night the fire was
my inspiration, lighting a Jack-o-lantern grin inro the side of the hill. Undet
a sepia sky, I wrote poetry by the glow of my headlamp with only a hint of
pretension. Such moments need to be stolen, subtracted from valuable sleep
time, but they're worrh it.
We're looking for ourselves, right? That's what these transformative, Canadian
journey stories are all about. Actually, most of the time, we're just looking at
Caldet to tell us where to stand, or the guides to tell us what to do. Hold this
paddle, set up this tent, don't look directly at the camera. "This is going to look
amazing," Calder says sometimes, and we have no choice but to believe him.
We're friends, and when he asked me ro come on rhe trip my trust in him made
it easy. He's had this impermeable shell around him since, but I assume that just
makes sense for the director. Protect the vision. If this was a controlled film set,
he'd have his own trailer. Insread, he and Emma get their own space, while the
rest of us bunk three to a tent, aligned like mackerel.
The artists are the stars of the show, or so we're told. Katie and Daniel are
from Calgary; she painrs and skerches, and he's known for some ambitious
installation art. On one of out paddle days, he tells me about weeks spent
fasting while painting the inside of a cave in Turkey. He did a similar project
in a plexiglass box in downtown Calgary, gradually painring himself off from
the world over a period of five days. Callan takes photographs, and Tony is a
musician. They're both from Toronto. Tony brought a banjo and a violin on the
ttip, and occasionally there's enough time for him to play for us. His hands are
usually so cold and cracked from the daily paddle—thitry to sixty kilometres a
day—he can'r play for long. The violin is particularly strange and spooky in the
tundta, bringing the tavens out from the trees to investigate.
We all did a moving-water certification course in Whitehorse just days before
the trip. Apart from that, Aurora, a glass arrist and welder, has never paddled or
camped at all. Ever. She's from Toronto as well, and a direct relative of Chatles
Darwin. She jokes that that little connection might get het through the ttip.
I'm more experienced than Autota, and consider myself "outdootsy," but I have
never done anything this outdoorsy. Not even close. All the camping I've done
before now looks posirively wimpy.
My bloodline is Cree-Metis and Icelandic, which, between the Voyageuts 33 and the Vikings, has led to joking about how well-suited I must be to the trip.
But if Calder poinred his camera at me right now, I'd have nothing useful ro say.
Just whining. I'm sore. I'm cold. I imagine myself spending twenty days bitching
into Calder's camera about how hard everything is. Opening the tent to a frost
shower every morning for the firsr ten days. The daily endurance of a light, spitry
rain, with nowhere to dry off, ever. Bundled up with our noses in journals and
sketchbooks, trying to find the right synonym or brush stroke or camera angle to
express cold. Chilly, cool, freezing, icy, snowy, wintty, frosty, frigid, gelid, bitter,
hiring, raw, bone-chilling, nippy. It's too cold to work. Since we're packed three
to a tent, there's no chance to work in bed, even rhough rhe northern lights make
much of the night as bright as dawn. My sleeping bag is rared for minus forty,
but it's still not paiticulariy warm.
I shiver myself to sleep most nights, thinking about where I fit in this
landscape. A landscape I'm pretty pissed off at, honestly. One night, after sipping
the drop of Scorch my body allows before a headache sets in, I proclaim that the
best way to save the Peel would be to fly moneyed urbanites overhead and serve
them dtinks, because the river vistas are amazing. Acrually being here is just
Just past the Arctic Circle, we find the bloody remnants of a moose at the river's
edge. Bloated lungs and intestine, and a perfectly good pelt left behind for some
reason. It's pretty fresh—birds of prey circle overhead. This is our first indicator
of hunters on the river, of anyone besides us, actually. They could be local, or
from some fly-in backcountry ourfit. The whole scene makes me queasy. The
others are all benr over, turning rhe pelr bloody side up and taking photos,
poking the organs with a stick. "Don't puncture it," somebody says. "The smell
will be deadly."
I'm annoyed by my squeamishness. I'm annoyed that I can't handle being
cold and wet. What on earrh convinced me that a diluted drop of Cree blood
might serve me in rhe North? I'm an urbanite Metis wanna-be, raised white, and
I have no place stomping through rhe Norrh like a fool. I head down the beach a
little. We're not supposed to get too far from rhe group, for safety reasons, but it's
all treeless shoreline here. No sand, just polished rocks so round and colourful
rhey look like decorative landscaping fill. I circle the group like a goldfish while
they take a million photographs of the moose carcass. Then we all have to pose
for more photos, as part of our crowdfunding obligations.
Calder's idea was to write personalized notes to our funders on a whiteboatd
and then take a photo (right at the Arcric Circle, folks!). But the dry erase markers,
like the camera batteries, the GPS on the drone, and our tender exrremities,
don't wotk well in the cold. After a few tense minutes with everybody talking at
once, it's decided that we'll take just one photo and Photoshop everyone's names
in later. This gets us to snack time faster. Finally, a silver lining!
Snack time means a handful of cheese and one "fun-sized" chocolate bar each.
"Fun-sized" means inadequare. Then it's back on the river. Today is particularly
challenging—the rain has been constant since we woke and pulled ourselves out
34 PRISM  54:1 of tents we'd set up in thick dead grass that smelled like wet dog. The river here
is rhick and brown and sluggish. Paddling is rhe only time I get half warm, and
the spray skirt that covers the canoe and cinches around my waist keeps heat in,
so it's hard to leave. When lunchtime comes, we don't pull off the river to picnic,
just tie the boats together and pass around some food. Pasta salad with a little
bit of precious tuna broken into it, and some beans. Eatliet in the trip rhere was
lemon juice and dill, but ovetzealous chefs used more than they should. Now
those preparing rhe meals are left with ground ginger and chili powder to get
creative with.
It's not just the condiments that are getting low. Nobody wants to say it, but
we're running out of food. I've heard the guides whispering to each other. Meal
portions have been insufficient for days, and people are edgy. Most small talk is
about what we'll eat when we get home. Our days on the rivet are now about
marking off kilometres; we need ro make forty to sixty kilomerres a day ro make
up for a slow start. At the end of each day, everybody is famished and can'r help
looming like vultures over whoever's preparing the food.
It's not just the quantity but also the quality of the food that's so depressing.
Chocolate granola, while tasty, is a sugar crash wairing to happen. Gtated cheese
is a sad substitute for quality proteins. The meat is canned—canned tuna,
canned ham, canned chicken—and there is precious little of it. Callan has a nut
allergy so severe that nuts are banned. Seeds are okay. Bird food. I feel like a bird
fairly often, a bird eating cheese. I remember Calder and one of the guides going
out to buy groceries, telling us everything was raken care of. I don'r want to
admit it, but real concern is starting to grow inside me. If I had the internet, I'd
Google "northern adventure starvation," or "arrogant colonial explorers." We're
not starving. But I'm so hungry I can'r help musing about what starving would
be like.
The North has seen many ill-prepared Travellers run out of provisions and lose
their lives, and we're only a few days' paddle from the memorial site of one such
group, known as The Lost Patrol. One of our guides has probably told the story
to wide-eyed ttavellets a thousand times, but he agrees to do it again on camera
for Calder when we arrive. They'll set him up with a lavalier mic and fuss over
light and angles for a few minutes, the kind of Hollywood ctap we're used to
On December 21, 1910, Francis Joseph Fitzgerald left Fott McPherson with
three RCMP constables to lead the annual patrol to Dawson City. For some
reason, he carried a lighter-rhan-usual supply of provisions on the 750-kilometre
trek. There's speculation that he'd hoped to make record-breaking time. After
wasting nine days trying to find the route across the Richardson Mountains
in heavy snow, the patrol was forced to head back towards Fort McPhetson.
Records show the temperature dropped as low as minus sixty-one degrees that
winter. When the food ran out, they began eating their dogs. Fitzgerald's diary
was found at the site, his last entry dated the fifth of February. He reported
that there were five dogs left, and the men were too weak to travel more rhan 35 a shorr disrance each day. Their bodies were found only a few kilometres from
Fort McPherson. Three men died from exposure and srarvation; one committed
The search party had been led by William Dempster, the namesake of the
Dempstet Highway, where we began our trip. Dempster had done the patrol
successfully many times, but in March 1911 he must have set out with a heavy
heart and some trepidation. The bodies of all four men were moved to Forr
McPherson, where they were buried.
The annual parrols continued until 1921; measures were taken to ensure
that the tragedy wasn't repeated. Cabins and tegular caches were esrablished
along the trail in case of food shortages, and subsequent patrols always included
an aboriginal guide. Our guide is not aboriginal, but he's very knowledgeable.
Besides me, no one claims ro have any aboriginal blood, and several members of
the team haven't had much contact with First Nations people at all. Patt of out
plan involved hanging out with some of the folks who call the Peel home, but
since we're so cold and short on food and behind schedule, it was decided we'd
bettet make a beeline for Forr McPherson.
Fortunately, the Vittrekwas happened to meet us on the way.
When we heat a boat approaching, our firsr outside contact in sixteen days, I
have a little panic attack. I get this feeling that I might not be able to think of
anything to say to somebody new, or that all the wrong words might come out.
It probably makes more sense to be nervous abour who the hell might be in the
boat (maybe the same creeps who wasted that moose hide?) and what they want
from us. But for whatever reason—exhaustion or the de-sensitizing effect of
being surrounded by unseen predators like wolves and grizzlies—danget never
crosses my mind.
"Shhhhh," somebody says, and we all listen, faces screwed up in
concenrration. We've been tafting for a bir, the boats loosely tied together so we
float as one. It doesn't seem real, but suddenly there they are, bundled-up figures
in a long, skinny, flat-bottom river boat, less curious abour us than we ate about
them. Grandmorher and grandfarher, it turns out, Ernest and Alice. Alice's sister
Margaret, and Kirk, an adopted son. They have guns. Looking for moose, they
tell us. With unnaturally loud voices, we trip over each other to tell them about
the carcass, wondeting aloud why the pelt would have been left behind. Ernest
and Alice say little about it, so the topic is dropped.
"Late in the season for canoe trips," Ernest says finally.
I cast a glance at Calder. So. Even the locals think it's late for us to be here.
The women are wearing serious Arctic parkas, no messing around. Kirk is a
typical teenager, underdressed, jacket unzipped. Ernest has a baseball hat and a
down jacket; he's grizzled and missing teeth. He mumbles a little when he talks,
so Alice repeats what he says. She is tiny, tough-looking, probably a few years
younger than he is. She's looking us over wirh a grandmother's concern. Her
brow creases when somebody makes a joke about not having enough to eat.
"Why don't you have enough to eat?" Het voice is shatp.
PRISM  54: Meek backpedaling: we kind o/Tiave enough to eat, we're not that cold, we'll
be okay.
"Well, you bettet get to out camp," Ernesr says. "Ir's just down the way."
When no one responds, Alice tells us they've got coffee and sugar. Since we
ran out of both days ago, it's a mind-blowing thought. "There's a fire, and an
ourhouse," Alice adds. No ice-cold hole in the ground? Also mind-blowing.
They leave us to hunt farther up river. At the promise of hot drinks and toilets,
we ptactically fly down river to theit camp. A collection of old mattresses and
lumber at beach level leaves no doubt that we've attived. I use rhe tetm "beach"
loosely; it's more like shin-deep mud. We pull our boats up as far as possible and
I bound up the stairs to Etnest and Alice's camp. The proud outhouse stands not
far from a slack-roofed shack, and a blue tatp we saw from the watet covets the
outdoor common area. There's a hearth, and a table covered with coffee fixings.
Beyond is the main cabin, simple and weathered, with a small deck out front.
Piles of split wood ate everywhere, and the whole property looks ovet the Peel.
It's humble, but we might as well be on a five-star cruise ship overlooking the
Mayan Rivieta.
Despite having been invited to make outselves at home, Calder hesitates.
There's some question whether we'll stay, even whether the invitation was really
an invitation. Much to my frusrration, I'm told to wait on the fire, wait on
the coffee. "But, we've been invited," I bleat. Not accepting their invitation
feels to me tude at best and, at worst, something like paternalism—rhe politest
of discriminatory behaviours. Maybe my fellow travellers have decided the
Vittrekwas don't have enough to share? Watching the others look around the
camp with eyebtows raised, this is what I suspect. But then who the hell am I, a
Metis wannabe, to speak up for the Vittrekwas?
When our hosts return, we're still standing on the beach with a big question
matk over our heads. I take the lead for once, running up ro the boat and
accepting an armful of Ernest's gear to take up to camp. One by one, uncertainly,
my camp mates follow.
"Why didn't you start the fire?" Alice says. Nobody answers.
Swept up in the current of our hosts, things happen. The fire gers made,
coffee gets brewed in giant pots. Cups are disrributed, and I fill mine first. Alice
leads us into the sway-roofed shack, where a wood stove throws a heat none
of us has experienced in weeks. She says we can sleep there for the night. The
idea is intoxicating. Food is produced at such a fate that we can barely keep
up. Cookies and biscuits; bannock with buttei and jam; dried fish and candies
and, of course, bottomless coffee. After dark, wieners are brought our to roasr,
mustard and kerchup passed around. For our part, we make fudge, which is
nibbled on delicately by Matgaret and Alice. Kirk has not shown himself since
they pulled up in the boat. "He's shy," Alice says simply.
With the firelight dancing between us, Alice, having cotrectly identified me
as the oldest female in rhe group, pulls me aside.
"Why didn't you have enough food?" she asks sternly.
"You're asking the wrong person," I srart, raising my voice comically to
implicate those who were in charge of food, but I can see she is genuinely 37 concerned. Ir's nor the time for jokes.
"Why didn'r you call ahead, ask us for help?" By "us," she means everyone ar
Fort McPherson, a town full of experts in Northern rravel.
"I don't know, Alice. I was told there would be enough food, and I trusted
the people in charge."
"What do any of you know about being up here?" she says, with compassion
cutting her ire.
I could tell her rhat our guide is a local, and rhat Calder's done plenty of
tripping—the same script I'd been reading to myself for days now.
"Norhing," I answer finally. "We were getting into trouble. We should have
asked for help."
Ir feels good saying rhis. Fault is ifrelevant at this point, as is anger. More
exhausring emotion, and we need all the strength we can get. She nods, lower lip
protruding like a vindicated child. And then, without another word, she resumes
her grandmother role.
That night, I can tell by the energy in the cabin that few of us acrually
sleep. The coffee didn't help. But there's also the feeling of wanting to enjoy
every moment of warmth and comfort. In rhe morning, mosr people confirm
my suspicion. They didn't sleep and couldn't care less. The sensation of being
nurtured, after feeling so deprived, is gigantic, overwhelming. In less than
twenty-four hours, our mood has changed from grim acceptance to celebrarion
and oprimism. I have nothing sardonic to say about it.
Fof breakfast, it's oatmeal and boiled eggs and dried fish. Then the
Vittrekwas load us up with coffee and more than enough supplies to keep us
fed until the end of the trip. We take ouf time packing and cleaning the shack,
savouring every moment inside. Calder does an interview with Ernest, Alice,
and Margarer. Callan rakes some photos. One of the scientists sharpens Ernest's
axes, then chops and stacks wood for an hour. Nobody wanrs to leave. When we
finally do, we're happy, full, and—rhough nobody mentions it—foolishly guilty
of continuing in the tradition of unprepared white explorers in the North.
Last night, Ernest told us that when a successful moose hunt comes home
to Fort McPherson, ir's radioed in and any surplus is shared. That's how
community works. That's how Norrhern river culture works. And ir makes room
for outsiders—even srupid, well-intentioned tourists, self-anointed prorectofs of
the Peel, become beneficiaries of this kindness.
"Just make sure you tell people about the Peel," Alice says in my ear when I
hug her goodbye.
Back on the mighty, muddy Peel, the cold continues, the rain continues. Now,
instead of talking about what we're going to eat when we get off the river for
good, we talk about Ernest and Alice. When we reach rhe Lost Patrol memorial,
a weathered wood pyramid with a plaque on it, the Vittrekwas pass us in their
boat, headed home for the season. We wave. Three days away, in Fort McPherson,
they'll welcome us again.
38 PRISM  54:1 Teresa Plana
We are no longer at war. Bur we keep forgerting, and wear
combat boots to pick up the girls from the pool
and fatigues to the thifd grade piano recital.
How will you enjoy peacetime if you're always sweating, our wives ask,
their red parasols soft tatgets in the bright light of oh-nine hundred.
When our daughters bring home the sons of old enemies
we check theif pockets for grenades and refuse them our blessings.
Daddy, we have won, they all say, stop it,
but we retreat to Danny's to break out the dominoes
where the boys have swept the perimeter. We draw tile
aftet tile and remember we did win, we are victofs,
a platoon of sitting ducks focusing on double-sixes,
outflanked by the soldiers we didn't see behind the hilltop. 39 Stevie Howell
A dyke trail forms a marsh tail.
Cormoranrs grip a PVC pipe,
exclamation points over fumes
of the municipal sewage lagoon
on the farm side. Don McKay and I,
birding in Wolfville,
Traversing our elevated bluster.
Breathless on a valley mound,
spiders parachuted
onto the rock of Earth's shoulder.
A merlin dives its priesrly bow
and rhe herd of whatever
that's called of sandpipers divides,
flips their white guts in unison,
like a classroom giving the middle finger.
I want to make a biider out of you!
—McKay. The teacher's back is turned.
Headwinds weep me, as leeches
blood-let, I accept and daub a Kleenex,
and hiss like a gutter at myself to tise.
To swallow, fur and all, my reified
undergrad dissonance ar Greek gods
who unfreeze, squeeze into skinny jeans,
get dtunk with human beings and
fall off bar stools.
The eye can see too far
for its own good. Get over it.
Don patting the chest of his down
vest to pluck out his
famous binoculars.
PRISM  54:1 'A dog few paces ahead
and this would be so Colville-esque.'
The thread fell out of my head
again. How could Lake Erie
have banned hawks? Did they put up a net?
Oh, they band hawks.
REDRUM finger-beak rammed
inside a clean can. Ir's not unique
to out discipline, this dive-bomb desire
to chart. The Merlin kites. Which side
you want to win? Shoulder to shoulder,
squinting into matsh. I always
want the prey to escape.
Which is also hafsh.
Ya. Right... Me too. 41 Sophie Bosenblurn
We went to see what the pandas had made: the cub, black and white, fur like
a duckling, nursing on its mother's chest. And, oh! We were excired! Utah's
fitst-born panda son! And we named him Derby. And then someone said, More
authentic! Have a little respect! So we named him Chung Hee, after the restaurant
in town, and we all tried saying it, and felt a little worldly in our mouths.
I love the story so much rhat I buy an X-ACTO knife at the art supply store and
cut it out of the journal. I don't want the other stories in the journal. The other
poems. In fact, I hate that this story even had to be beside them for a minute.
The pages come out easy; they're, thin, wispy like the Norton anthologies I've left
at home. When it's out, I don't want to fold it, so I buy a frame at Target. Cheap.
It's a dollat (On Sale!), and I put the stoty in the frame, and then I pack it in my
suitcase like it's a shift. When I go through security at the airport, the guatd says,
"Whose is this?" And it's my luggage he's got both hands on, and I say, "Me, me,
that's mine." And then I'm over there by him, and he's riffling through my stuff,
looking down, going, "Anything dangerous in here?" and I almost say, "Hope
not," but my husband looks at me like, "Don't make this complicated," so I say,
"No, sit," as if I'm from the South, and then he picks through my clothes and
a few books and finds the framed story and says, "This art?" and I say, "Bettet
than," and the guard looks again as if he can understand all five pages just by
staring at the first. And he turns it upside down as if it's just the image he's got
wrong, and I almosr want to unlock the frame and let him read ir, bur there are
people behind me wairing, and no one has the patience to wait. 43 Emil Ostrovski
It started in late May, just after we arrived at the lake house.
My sister was in the shower.
Her showers were hour-long affairs and my parents had taken the boat out
earlier in the morning, so it was just me and her boyfriend, Cameron, lounging
on a sofa watching a cold front skirt up the northeast on the weather channel. I
knew him vaguely—same college, different circles. As the older brorher, I knew it
was my job to vet him. Somehow in the vetting process his legs wound up around
my neck.
At fitst I thought it was a joke, and smiled at him, and I kept smiling, even
after he statted to squeeze.
I tried to pry his legs away from my neck, and when I couldn't, I began to
pinch and claw, so he grabbed me by the wrists and that was that. I lay there and
he squeezed intermittently while the TV played the five-day forecasr.
I slipped my right hand out of his grasp and punched him in the balls.
He grabbed hold of borh my hands and squeezed unril I peed myself. Only
then did he let me go.
"This place smells like piss," my sister said upon emerging from the bathroom.
When I didn't rise from the sofa, she asked, "Aren't you going to come out to the
beach with us?"
"I'm rired," I croaked.
"It's ten a.m.," she said.
"Yeah," I said.
Cameron put a hand on her ass.
They left.
Eventually, I changed.
Took a shower.
Two showers.
Stated out the kitchen window at the lake.
We'd been fooling around, I decided.
And now I was tired.
My head hurt.
I didn't see Cameron again until dinner—Mom made burgers.
He made a joke to me, said "Hey, do you come all the way out here every
summer just to watch the weather channel?" and I laughed good-naruredly. He
passed me rhe ketchup when I asked, and I felt reassured that nothing at all had
happened between us.
But that night, after everyone had gone bed, he tried my door, found it
locked, then slipped into my room from outside, through the open window,
and again I couldn't breathe. The more I struggled, the tighter he squeezed, so
44 PRISM  54:1 eventually I just let him do what he wanted. It wasn't sexual. He left after a while
of this, but before he did, I blurted out, "Did I do something to you?"
"Why would you say that?" he asked, sounding sutprised.
Before I could put words to feelings, he shut the doot behind him.
I couldn't sleep for a long time, so I googled "types of chokes."
Accotding to Wikipedia, a triangle choke is "a chokehold rhat strangles
the opponent by encircling the opponent's neck and one arm with legs in a
configutation similar to the shape of a triangle."
The nexr day, I sent my friend John a text that said i was triangle choked
He replied a few minutes later: sounds hott. didn't no u were into that sorta
I deleted John from my contacts.
May turned to June, and Cameron invented new techniques to keep things from
getting old.
Sometimes he would dunk me over and over again in rhe lake.
Once he made as if to hug me, then held my face pressed againsr his chest.
When I began to convulse, he held on, and pretended to dance with me.
"You guys are so cute," my sister said absentmindedly from rhe kitchen table,
where she was doing her nails.
I mumbled "I can'r breathe" into Cameron's chest.
"I'm thinking tavishing pink or Aruba blue," she said. I imagined her frowning
at the bottles of nail polish, and mumbled "I can't breathe" into Cameron's chest.
"Aruba blue it is!"
"Good choice," floated Cameton's voice, somewhere above my head.
I thought of killing him, but figured the more likely outcome would be that
he would kill me. Instead, I called the police from a rusted payphone at a gas
station a quarter of a mile down the road from our lake house, and asked for rhe
definition of assault.
"Just out of curiosity," I explained.
"Hold on, let me look it up," the officer said. "Says here. . .'an intentional act
by one petson that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful
or offensive contact."'
"Huh," I said.
"There's also battery," the officer said helpfully. "Would you like me to read
you battery?"
"Sure, while I've gor you on rhe line," I said.
"Battery," the officer repeated. '"An intentional unpermitted act causing
harmful or offensive conract with the "person" of another.'"
"Huh," I said. "And the legal definition of a petson—"
"We're getting into juristic metaphysics here!" the officer said excitedly.
"'Petson: in general usage, a human being; by statue, however, the tetm may
include firms, labor organizations, corporations, associations—'" 45 "Okay, okay," I said, and hung up.
I bought a bag of chips at the gas station and on my walk home pracriced
"I have been battered."
"I am in the process of being battered."
I even rried, "Hey! Don't batter me!"
Nearer to the lake house, I saw Cameron's car back in the drive, and kept
"Hey," I repeated. "Don't batter me!"
"Hey," I said. "Don't batter m—"
And then his arm looped around my neck.
Dad was in the bathroom, my sister and my mom lazing outside on the deck.
I gurgled.
Through the thin walls I heatd Dad fart.
I wanted ro say not here.
I wanted to say Dad might come out any minute.
Nights were preferable, because there was no possibility of discovety, and the
longer it went on, the more I dreaded discovery.
If he'd done it once or even rwice, and then been discovered, it wouldn't
have been so bad. But I could only imagine the look on my father's face when he
realized I had a history of battery, of allowing myself to be battered.
"How long?" Dad would ask.
"A month," I would say.
"How many times?"
"Dozens," I would say. "Sometimes sevetal times a day."
And Dad would look at me with the same mix of pity and disappointment
he'd been unable to hide when, in middle school, I told him I was being bullied.
So I made things easier for Cameron; ir became our secret.
I would say, "I think I'm going for a walk alone now," and wander through
the woods, out in the direction of the abandoned lighthouse.
I would leave my door unlocked at night, and when I heard it open, remind
him to "Make sure to lock it."
Nights were also the worsr, because there was no need to break off at
a moment's notice. He would go at it until he got bored, or tired, or sleepy,
which could take awhile, unless I pissed myself again, which sometimes I did on
purpose, because then he'd get disgusted and leave. One night at about three a.m.
as I was waiting for my sheets to finish their cycle in the dryer, I leaned up against
its metal bulk and felt relief that Cameron wasn't raping me, because Dad would
never forgive me for rhat. Ir had been a blow, learning that I was gay, but I think
Dad found solace in the delusion that I would at least be the one giving it.
At breakfast the next day, Cameron was congenial. He refilled my glass of
milk, asked if I had any cool dreams.
I told him about my cool dreams and felt as if, in that moment, we were
almost friends, that it was all a great misunderstanding.
46 PRISM 54:1 One evening Dad and I went out fishing together out by the old lighthouse.
We cast and reeled, ripples spreading our from where our lines sunk.
"Jay," he said, "Whar you think of your sister's boy toy?"
"He's nice," I said, because any other answer would've prompted questions.
Because I had no proof, othet than the slight discoloration of my throar.
"Nice," Dad said, and chewed it over. "I guess he's nice. I just don't like him."
"He's nice," I repeated.
"Yeah, well, a man's entitled to his own opinion," Dad said. "I saw you two
horsing around in the lake the other day. You're friends now, that it?"
"Friends," I agreed.
"I guess I'm alone in it, but I don't like him," Dad said. "He seemed a bit
rough with you." He looked at me with concern. "Boys will be boys, I know,
It hurt, to see that he cared.
I wanted to tell him.
But I could not decide what to say: "I've been battered," or "I've been
triangle-choked," or "I've been dunked repeatedly in five feet of water," or "I've
been purposely urinating on myself as a defense mechanism."
I almost wanted to laugh. It all sounded absurd.
"Jason?" Dad asked, his voice soft.
"We were hotsing around," I said, wiping angrily at my eyes.
Dad misunderstood. He patted me on the leg. "You'll," he cleared his throat,
"find someone too," he said, though he looked severely uncomfortable, and
wouldn't meet my eye as he said it.
"Thanks, Dad," I said.
"Yup," Dad said.
He reeled in his line, and cast off again.
It was mid-July when it occurred to me that if he was battering me, he might be
battering my sister.
I approached her in her room when Cameron went out on a beer run, and
said, "Cameron seems nice?"
I posed it as a question.
She barely looked up from her laptop, where she was Facebooking.
"He's grear, isn't he?"
"Great," I agreed, and waited.
"I have a question," she said, and turned her laptop towards me. "Which do
you like more? For my profile pic." She showed me two virtually identical selfies.
In the first, het hair was slightly mote fluffed.
"Is he nice to you?"
"Yeah, I guess," she said. "As nice as a guy can be. I'm thinking the first,
because my blouse matches my eyes."
"He's never hurt you?"
She blinked at me in sutprise. "God, no." She let out a small laugh. "Are you
playing protective older brother now? You need more muscle mass for that."
"I just want to be sure he's nice to you," I said. 47 She shrugged. "He drove all the way out to Albany and filled my dorm room
with bouquets for Valenrine's."
Later that day, Cameron triangle-choked me until I passed out, woke up, and
passed out again while my sistet wondered aloud from her room why he had to
go and buy a six pack of Bud Light, of all the beers in the world.
I walked out to the lighthouse that night with every intention of throwing myself
off the top floor and onto the rocks below.
If Cameron was as nice as he seemed, then he'd be sotry.
The thought of hurting him made me happy.
I heard foorsteps behind me and began to run.
The door and most of the fitst floor windows were all boarded up, bur local
kids had pried away the wooden boards on one of the windows. I pulled myself
through, and landed hard on rhe stone floor inside. I stumbled through the datk,
my hand on the wall.
The footsteps behind me quickened as I stumbled up the stairs.
One flight, two flights, three flights, four...
At a window on the sixth and top-most floor I looked out at the moon. There
was no glass between us. I put one foot on the sill as the footsteps behind me drew
to a stop.
"Don't," he said, and it sounded like a command.
But for once, I was not in his power.
I did not have to listen to him.
I did not kill myself, but I suspect I should have.
I would see him on campus Fall semester, so I applied to transfer to a different
And when I arrived in the spring at this new university, hundreds of miles
away from Cameron, I could not sleep.
I shared a room with a fellow sophomore named Charlie, a sweet, southern
boy that said "ya'H" all the time and kept inviting me to have dinner wirh him and
his friends.
I stayed up all night waiting for his bed to creak, his feet to hit the tile, his
steps to approach my bed.
"I'm nor hungry," was my persistent answer to his overtures, until he stopped
Instead of listening to Professor Donna Coltrane lecture about how James
Madison argued rhe U.S. President should be an elective monarch, I imagined
her beating students into submission with her newly released book, The American
Monarchy, during office hours.
She would not hit them any place that would show, and they would not
admit to being abused by the frail sixty-three yeat old Chair of rhe Political
Science department.
I went on a date with a guy I knew from one of my classes, but when he
pushed me against the library wall at night and leaned in for a kiss, I couldn'r
48 PRISM  54:1 "You alright?" he kept asking.
"No," I said.
I decided to only date boys that were smaller than me.
I found one such a boy by the name of Kithute.
"Call me Kit," he said, when we met at a bar on Franklin Ave, across from the
He looked fragile and bookish, born in Nairobi. He had thick glasses and an
awkwatd gait.
I did not fully trust him, but we drank beer and ate pizza, walked the
picturesquely vacant college grounds at night.
He kept asking me questions like: "What do you want to do now?"
He kept saying things like: "I want to go bowling. Don't you?"
So we bought ten cans of soda from a vending machine in Willmore Hall, set
them up on the pavement outside, and rolled a sodden tennis ball we'd found at
the cans, without bothering to keep track of turns or scores.
Later, in his room, as I fucked him, I pressed my lips into his shoulder, and in
that brief span of time where love and pleasure are hardesr to parse one from the
othet, I decided I loved him, because he was small and unlikely to hurt me, so I
mumbled, "I was battered, I was battered, I was battered," into his skin.
I said it louder, and he seemed to undersrand, because he stopped me, he
turned towatd me, and he nodded, and I said it louder still.
"Scream it," he said.
And I did.
I screamed until there was a knocking on the door.
He srarted to rise, but I touched a hand to his ann and he stayed, because I
wanted, for just a few seconds longer, to keep the moment between us. 49 Jessi MacEachern
Narrow women were the sky itself.
Narrow women were a distracrion.
Narrow women were less fertile, she supposed,
than plump women.
She snapped out her rhoughts
in time to hear a whisper.
She wasted some seconds.
She jumped on the past.
Grimsdirch was dead.
Napkins, trousers, dusters, a double bed;
she knew who had been responsible
for the violent disruption
in the royal bed.
She shor srraight on again.
The doot opened. She could see time had passed.
She lit a cigarette and puffed, times all a'ticking.
An old bumboat woman meant more
than this particular self.
The boots might well be wrong
bur the accent had never changed.
50 PRISM  54:1 III.
Anorher self came. She stepped short
upon seeing a second
cottage self come in. She wondered if
she should change her skirt.
The selves were silent now. Great branches,
lovers dallying from a lighthouse,
the intricacy of a whole town
demolished for some unknown danger.
A voice answering
a voice white as snow.
was alone.
A voice answering
a voice with a beautiful, glittering name.
She felt a little weary.
In the distance, some glass-house
where all was lit. She loved all of it. 51 Chris Donahoe
-Lvespite fourteen houts in bed, Michael is almost impossible to wake. We take
turns banging on his bedroom door, reminding him of his mother's court date.
He's told us he wants to be there when she's sentenced. Even if she's released, it's
unlikely that he'll get to return with het to Black Diamond. His social worker
tells him she thinks it's a bad idea, but it's all he talks about.
Sandra opens his bedroom door while I stand in the hall. A pungent
concoction of body odour and Axe spray deodoranr wafts out. She doesn't flinch,
marches in and opens the window to the cold spring air. He rolls in his bed under
an ourdated poster of 50 Cent.
Shut the fucking window.
Get up.
Shut the fucking window, Sandy.
Get out of bed and I'll close the window.
He throws off rhe cheap bedding and stands in front of her, his pecker semihard in his Buzz Lightyear boxers. She looks up at him, right in his eyes, long
enough for him to see she's not afraid. Then she begins picking his filthy clothes
off the burn-stained catpet. He plops down on his single bed, the sheets rolled
into a cocoon, the mattress wrapped in thin plastic. He rubs his small black eyes,
foetal alcohol syndrome written deeply into his pale face.
Just leave it.
She stops with an armful and dumps them into a plastic hamper the only
othet furniture in the room besides a scatred wooden schoolroom wardobe and
a plastic chair. He pulls on a FUBU sweater and finds a pair of crusty, browned
socks. His black school bag is packed and ready with essentials at the foot of the
It's almost noon and our day in the group home has begun.
Michael stands in the doorway of rhe upstairs corner bedroom, converted
into an office for the staff. The bottom half of the solid-steel dutch doot is closed
and latched, the top half swung open into the room. He knows he's not allowed
in unless we invite him, so he waits, dtaped over the half-door.
Take me to Tim's!
Sandra stops wriring in her file and looks over. I offer to make him breakfast,
oatmeal, toast, cereal, his choice, but he continues to stare at her. She flips the
latch. Come in here.
He stumbles in, sitting on the chair beside the desk. I lean against the wall as
she begins. We need to have a talk about P's and Qs.
He watches a point in the near distance, his large, misshaped head hanging
from his arched neck. He> knows what's coming and tunes out.
/ take you guys to Tim Horton's like twice a week. The least you could do is say please.
Michael dips lower with each sentence. His spine protrudes, holding his head
52 PRISM  54:1 ar what seems an impossible angle.
Being polite builds positive relationships with people and will make your life
He sits motionless, his body a question mark in the chair.
So, will you take me!
She sighs and I offer to make him breakfast again. He declines and asks for
some transir rickets. She gives him two and marks rhe exchange in a book. He
grabs his jacker from his closet and walks to the front door. She yells after him to
take his toque, but the door closes and he's gone.
Jesus Christ.
She leans back in the office chair and forces out a laugh. Sandra is the mother,
whethet she wants to be of not. She is curved and soft, with spray-curled red hair
and glasses. This isn't just a job to her and the boys know it. In her wallet, she has
a picture of her dog that she is convinced will nevef be replaced by pictures of her
own children.
Metallica blasts from Daniel's rusted Corolla as ir pulls up to the house. His
straight black hair is shaved almost to the skin on the sides and the back, the top
pulled into a ponytail that sticks straight out the back of his head. He is slightly
hunched with his thinness, the fine bones in his face severe. As he jogs up the
dfiveway, he carries a small cotton drawstring bag in his hand, the same one he
brings every day.
In the office, he gives Sandra and me a nod and empties his lunch onto the
floor between the filing cabinets filled with the folders and histories on all rhe
kids. Sandra's shift is over, but she stays longet anyway, checking thatTrevot is up
and getting ready to attend his parole-ordered education program. Daniel looks
at me. Want to help with some ceremony!
He pulls out four small satehels and a little potted plate blackened with soot.
I kneel down next to him as he pinches out bits of dried leaves and stalks. I ask
him what they are while he mixes it on the plate.
Anishinaabe medicine. Four ingredients of the sacred wheel. Tobacco, sweetgrass,
sage, and cedar. We're gonna smudge this mother, smudge it good.
We walk down to the split enttyway and he pulls out a book of matches. A
woody smell fills the hall as it catches, the clean, sweet smell of cedar togerher
with the thick roughness of tobacco. The flame burns slowly until he blows lightly
into the embers.
Now we clean ourselves.
He lays the plate on the banister and uses both hands to cup the smoke,
washing it over his head and face. He pulls it through his ponytail and down
his neck as if in the shower. With his atms stretched out front, he bathes them
each carefully, pushing between his fingers, wrapping his palms. The grey cloud
follows his hands down his chest to his legs and feet. He stands back and motions
for me to get in. Afraid that the smouldering pile will burn out before we finish,
I hurry, washing myself hastily, incompletely. He gives me an encouraging smile
when I finish.
He walks around the landing holding the plate up so the smoke fills the area. 53 He mouths words I cannot make out and perhaps wouldn't undersrand even if
I could. Downsrairs, he enters every room that is not occupied, watching the
small pile turning to ash, billowing from rhe blackness. I follow him, keeping my
distance, careful not to distutb his motions or the trail he is leaving behind.
Upstairs, he dedicates special time to the kitchen, walking clockwise around
the cupboatds and appliances. He blows rhe embers again in rhe living room,
fanning the small flames still visible at the bottom. The whole house is filled
with a light haze, a peaceful fog that engulfs us. He ends the ceremony in the
office with some final words under his brearh. A palpable calm descends on rhe
house as he returns to the landing to deposit the small pile of ash in the open
doorway. Back in rhe office, he puts the medicine away and rerrieves a store-
bought brownie from his lunch container. I stand waiting.
That's it, he says with a smile and a bite.
Sandra enrers, swinging her keys on the chain. Oh man, smells so good. Like
my dad's woodshop. I wish I could get potpourri that smelted like that.
Daniel laughs and wipes fudge from his lips. Sandra grabs her purse from
the desk. Trevor's up. I've talked to him about having a shoiver before he heads to
program. It's been three days now.
I comment on how disgusting it is that they don't shower and wonder aloud
why they refuse. Daniel brushes the crumbs from his fingers and kneels, his back
againsr the wall. It's usually a sign that they ivere sexually abused in the shower, or
that they committed an abuse. The bathroom is often filled with pretty bad memories.
And then he is up, nonchalantly on his way to the kitchen. I sit with that
for a minute before meeting Sandra's eyes. Thar simple fact was not something
pulled from some sociology rextbook ot psychology class, but rather straight from
the life he has lived. Daniel is open abour the decade he spent on the streets of
evety major city from Thunder Bay to Vancouver. During staff breaks, he declines
offers of cigarettes with honest confessions of his addictions. He dreams out loud
about setting up his own retrear focusing on the traditional healing methods his
elders used ro save him. The kids look up to him because he's seen everything they
have, and more.
Trevor srumbles down the hallway, still half asleep. At nearly seventeen, he is
the oldest in the house, shiftless, sprouting blonde hairs on his chesr and carrying
a frayed towel. Smells like iveed in here. Who's blazing without cutting me in?
I step out to meet him. He looks at me, picking at the acne that covers his
face. / know it was you. You 're high, I can see it in your eyes.
He goes into the bathroom, but leaves the door open, singing rap lyrics
Motherfucker don't act like a. Bitch! She sucked me off, don't kiss that. Bitch!
Watch her deep throat, see a D.P. In and out both holes like it's easy! Why'dyou marry
that? Bitch!
I tell him to cut the swearing. He runs the water, but continues talking out
loud to himself. Aftef a minute, he comes out and complains the water's not hot
enough. Sandra comes out of the office and stands behind me. You gotta go in
there, buddy.
I don't have to do a goddamn thing.
54 PRISM  54:1 Jordan's a shapeshifrer. One day, he's going to school, helping set the dinner table,
looking for a part-time job, quiet, passive, keeping to the background. The nexr,
he disappears in the night, his backpack, and whatever fits into it, missing.
It's hard to pinpoint the trigger. The house is full of meltdowns, threats, and
tension. We write everything down in log books, documenting for social workers
and corrections officets, for ourselves in case there's an incident. We have staff
meetings at shift changes, discussing our interactions with him, trying to uncover
anything sour. I rhink it's dinner two nights previous. Jordan's stirring rhe pasra
on rhe stove. Michael and Trevor are splayed on the old furniture in the living
room watehing pop-music videos, calling all of the men fags.
Like Jordan, says Trevor, Michael agreeing.
Jordan pretends not to heat, making them worse.
We know about you, Jordan. We know.
I give Trevor a warning and tell Jordan to ignore them, but he keeps stiffing
without looking up. In the othet room, rhey srart whispering together and
laughing, until it's time to sit down.
Daniel's out funning errands for the house because he has a car. I decide to
eat without him, hoping food will quell the brewing situation. Trevor srarrs up
with his first forkful. Jordan?
Jordan stops eating, but doesn't respond. I tell Trevor to stop.
He looks at Trevor in a way that makes me afraid.
Jordan, would you say you prefer cock in your mouth or in your asshole?
Jordan fists his butterknife and stands up. We all stand up. He walks around
the table with his hands at his waist, unaggressive, but staring at Trevor. I call
Jordan's name and he turns, continuing into the living room, down the stairs to
his bedroom. Trevor and Michael break down laughing. After, Jordan lets Daniel
into his room and surrenders rhe knife without a wofd. Two nights later, he's
When he's broughr back by the police the following week, his eyes are glazed
and red, his fingers blackened. His dirty white t-shirt looks like ir has doubled in
size and is stretched out around the neck. The gold chain his mother gave him
is missing. The only emotion he shows is anget, when we confiscate the giant
flathead screwdriver he's been using to lift cars.
He sleeps for days, if you could call it sleep. The sleeping heartrate for many
people abused in the night is often highef rhan most people's active heartrates.
On overnight shifts, I wondef what dreams come from his basement bedroom.
We prepare a suicide watch schedule and forcefully enter his room every hour
to check on him. He yells and throws whatevef is in reach. He appears from the
dafkness now and again, to play the old Gamecube in the fee room, or to eat
numerous platefuls of food.
Then one Saturday, Jordan is up early, helping to prepare the group breakfast,
asking advice for his resume, practising his haif styles in the bathroom mirror for
school on Monday morning. He's the one I have the most hope for, but he's also
maybe the most hopeless. It seems impossible to know. 55 It's like any other house on the street, invisible to passetsby. But the neighbours
know. When the screaming begins, or when its sliding windows birrh adolescent
boys into the midnight world, or the police arrive silently to drop off or pick
up. Despite small gifts left on the doorstep during Christmas or Eastet, the
neighbours fear the house and everything in it, their wishes of good luck like
little offerings in hopes to be spared when the violence erupts.
I always stop in front before going in. It seems necessary to pause and prepare
myself, to re-adjusr my bearings. I wait for a moment, staring into the drapeless
windows, soaking in the silence, storing it for larer in my shift. I'm not trained
for this. I have no frame of reference, I'm not a psychologist or a social worker.
I've been hired for my recreation background. I don't know what to do of say, so
I try to make life in rhe house as normal as possible. I turn on Satutday morning
cartoons and make pancakes. I find rhe donated sports equipment in the boiler
room and drag it out, luring them to the yard to play. I assemble the hockey net
and bring some old sricks to the streer in front of the house. I yell 'caf' when one
of the neighbours drives by with a hesitant wave and fake smile. On overnights, I
fix the cheap, broken bicycles, then beg them to go on afternoon rides wirh me.
Every now and again, ir works and for a minute or two, they're kids again,
laughing, breaking a swear from running around, from pedalling into the city
foorhills. They're noricing the black terns and the sunshine, the prairie dogs that
scamper through the grass beside the trail. There's always a quiet moment that
follows a water break or breather, a minute when they're outside theit lives and
able to appreciate some distance. Sitting on the curb, stick in hand, of at the top
of a hill enjoying views of the suburbs, rheir fear or shame or guilt is far enough
away that they can see it. In the clarity, they recognize where they are. Without
tears, they tell me what's happened to them, and what they've done. They're too
young and too close to it to have perspective; they're living one day at a time and
this is all they know.
It compels me to say something helpful, but who am I in their lives? A broken
record of useless words: strengrh, work, attitude, faith. I know, is all they say, as
if they know that, statistically, their odds of living healthy, productive lives are
marginal, or that they have only a slightly higher chance of nor spending rhe bulk
of their lives in prison, or, for that matter, of surviving at all.
For now, they play video games, watch the TV, eat out family dinners. But
their lives are always wairing, creeping around, inviting them back to what they
know better than anything. The comfort of putting a fist through drywall, of
repeating sexual jokes they've heard about young girls they know, of sucking
sweet jaw pain at the thought of getting high. The carefree streets, the anonymity
the prospects of the unknown.
Jeremy says nothing when the police drop him off, won't even shake my hand.
He's four feet tall, small, even for his age.
It's two in the morning, all of the boys are asleep. The cops don't say much
except that he had to be removed from his home for his own safety. They tell us
he's been assigned a social worker who will phone in the morning.
I've never done an intake, so I stand there, unsure of myself. Luckily, I'm
56 PRISM  54:1 only covering the first part of Sandra's overnighr shift so she could attend another
fucking tvedding. She's downstairs, out the back doof having a smoke before I
leave for the night. She appears at the bottom of the stairs looking up at us all.
Jeremy's adorable, with perfect brown skin, a round face, and deep dark eyes.
He's got a ballcap too big for his shaggy head, his hair growing down over his
ears. I can see Sandra fighting off her tears, wanting to wrap him in her arms. His
silence is entrancing as he takes in his new surroundings. He assesses every word,
every action.
We get him some fresh mismatched sheets from the cupboard and ser him up
in the room at the end of the hall. It's the coldest room in the house and Sandra
cranks rhe thermostat. I help her make the bed and try to ask him questions,
while he stands in the centre of his new room, his small backpack draped over his
Where you from, bro?
His expression doesn't even reveal rhat he's considering my question. He
looks right into my eyes and follows me until Sandra speaks. Are you all right? Are
you hungry?
He stares at her, but says nothing. We finish making the bed and turn to look
at him.
Wanna put your backpack down? You can put your clothes in the drawers here.
She points at the old set of dressers in the comer while I wonder how much
he could possibly have in his little pack. He lowers the bag onto a plastic chair,
showing for the fifst time that he's heard us.
All smiles, Sandra leads him into the washroom. It's disgusting. Haif gel
and bits of toilet paper are smeared on the counter, the sink lined with scum.
The toilet bowl rim is yellow with urine, but smells minty from the urinal cake
hanging below. Embarrassed, she wipes down the counter while I do a quick turn
of the toilet. Jeremy looks around for a minute unril his gaze returns to us. We
lead him to the kitchen.
If you get hungry, you can come in here and get what you want, or just ask us, we
can help you make whatever you feel like.
The pantry doors reveal boxes and packages of food on every shelf. The light
of the fridge hits his face as he looks deeply inside, then to us, as if wondering
what he's supposed to be seeing.
Are you tired? You must be exhausted.
On the way back to his room, we show him the office and tell him to come
find us if he needs anything, anything at all. She sits him on the bed and sits next
to him. Are you ok?
He's not sure where ro look, ar me by the doot, or at her, warm and maternal
beside him. After a minute of awkward silence, she gets up and joins me at the
Ok, well, if you need anything, just let me know. The light switch is right here if
you ivant to go to bed.
She flicks the switch off and back on before we close the door to a crack.
In the office, she sits at the desk and holds her head in her hands. When she
looks up, her lip is quivering. You're back again in the morning, aren't you? 57 I nod.
You should go.
I start to say something, to ask her if she's all right.
I'll see you in the morning.
I squeeze her shoulder before I leave and lock the front door behind me.
Jeremy's social worker is unsure of his situation and doesn't give us any clear
idea of what he's supposed to do of where he's supposed to go. Jeremy silently
follows the staff around the house during the day, and the other boys at night.
He plays the Gamecube better than any of us and laughs at the endless stream of
obscene jokes. He stands to the side during chores or activities, and eats all of the
food he's given. Sandra checks on him in rhe night, his door open a sliver, his tiny
body cutled in bed, the light always on, his backpack on the chair, unopened.
At the end of the week, I at rive early in the morning, at the end of Sandra's
shift. I find her sitting at the desk in the office, searching her purse for her keys.
She's exhausted and ready ro go home.
Where's your car?
What do you mean!
It's not in the driveway.
She gets up and runs to the front door, rhen returns as quick as she left.
Opening the boys' bedroom doors one-by-one, she advances down the hallway
yelling at everyone ro ger up. At the end, Jeremy's door is closed, his bed made,
the surfaces of the room covered in the pen-graffiti that have been accumulating
with each new resident. The walls, pock-marked wirh holes, contain no sign of
him or rhe cheap school backpack he arrived with. He's rwelve years old and has
been wirh us only three days.
The RCMP will find him a week later, high on cocaine, in another stolen car
doing one-sixty up rhe highway to Edmonton. Sandra's car is recovered shortly
aftet, undamaged in a Walmart patking lot, the doots locked, the keys missing,
containing nothing but empty vodka bottles and a picture of her dog swinging
from the rearview mirror.
Jeremy's room is filled the next day. Colin's family has had him removed from rheir
home for his younger stepsister's safety, but I don't know this when I arrive for
my shift. I meet a pimply kid with natural orange hair pacing rhe hall, twitching
with his hands in his pockets. He has arrived with a packed suitcase, wearing a
shark-tooth necklace and a fire-breathing-dragon t-shirt. It's easy to see that he's
scared of his new surroundings, his new bed, his roommates.
He asks if I play chess and we proceed to distract ourselves with little
checkerboard warriors. He tells me he's reading Stephen Hawking and speculates
on the nature of time. Staring at his finger still on his pawn, he says he's pretty
sure it's linear. And I'm slower-than-light.
I can take his knighr, but I don't. I make myself vulnerable instead and listen
to him skift his guilt with physics. He forks me and sirs back in the beaten chair.
Have you ever done anything bad!
I look at him and he smiles, but it's not a happy smile. It seems he knows that
I'm playing soft. I mean really bad.
58 PRISM  54:1 I know my answef won't satisfy him, even if I had. It's not even a question;
it's an admission. We smell Sandra's casserole cooking and raise our heads in the
direction of the kitchen. I give up my rook to save my queen.
I remain silent and let him make his move. He folds his freckled arms across
his chest and looks uncertainly at the board, at the empty spaces, at the few pieces
that remain. 59 Kyle Kinaschuk
a  pair  in   theses:   and  you  shout  always   have
began, according ro my mum, with and & ended
with and her face before dearh was closed like a
parenthetical re mark so i got nothing more to
speak you about her even tho you never met but
could   have   seen   her   she   was   tall   and   wore
running shoes lors and gave our cat away to the
neighbof with a shovel & she drive a ford (way
before you got the red taurus) cause the cat ated
her beautiful pink shoes one some her day and
was so sad sirring on the steps of our blue deck
paint chipping away flaking like
desiccated and peeling skins with
my duddy's lightef in our palms
pouring cola coca down the cracks
of the side walk and fingers nails
sunk in doritos bag while mom
cigaretted on the latest alimoney
couch waiting for ants to come up
all sticky so we could burn them
bad and watch them suffer in the
sun   light   on   the   pavement   &
so   that's   all   i   know   about
mum my and may be this too // (
her face around the time of death
) me you
and all else // dog + ford + toothbrushes + old couch + coffee + boots + and
PRISM  54:1 Adam Day
For Sam Fugate
The deep mines are sighing in relief
at your going. Black Chevys and Plymouths,
fallen out of time, nose down
cold hillsides, dark fish gulping, pumping out
exhaust—landscape of unclaimed ash
and ochre. The seams of strip-mines
split like wet paper.
There is a woman in her flower
garden, lightly pregnant, thinking
of you, milky, blue-veined skin
at the tops of het breasts. Turned
towafd the phlox, and beyond,
cowbifds progress along
a fallen gutter. Cats haunt
the house, shifting photos
and soup cans. Butter skating
across a cast-iron skillet
infecting potatoes with its weight of salt.
Cocooned in a yellow slicker
you walk out into the wheeze
of cicadas and stoneflies
in the wet and craning trees,
the exhausted morning. A bus
leaves every half hour, bur nothing
escapes, not the dust climbing
windows like snow, not the mass
of shared senses put away:
slice of pumpkin, a warming
radiator's rick, the slap of wet and chapped hands. 61 THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Morning ferry
after a night
of carnations,
a deserved toast.
Now, the rail station
telephone in the dark.
Too much wind
and cigarettes.
Green night
in my haif.
Eyes all over.
62 PRISM  54:1 Jessica. Block
JLvoug spells out their names with macaroni letters on the kitchen table. Take
away the 'a' from 'and' and their names touch: robinnddoug. Add a little water,
they might stick together.
Robin with the rosy cheeks. After lovemaking, Robin red-breasred.
He is going to give her the letters tonight, maybe string rhem into a necklace
the way that children do, or just leave them spelled out on the table, unfinished
and primary.
He has ro give her something. She is always bringing him gifts—a special
burn-resisrant set of oven mitts, pumpernickel breads, pounds of his favourite
coffee. She knows him so well.
He has told het not to buy him presents. She tells him only presenrs rhat
are edible. The mitts were an exception, and still food-related. She swore that
something so practical could never become sentimental.
It's their two-year anniversary, so Doug has decided that two will be the
theme of this picnic: two candles, rwo orgasms each, and a rwo-year-old cheddar.
Robin loves cheese.
Normally he wouldn't play music. It is one of the more dangerous memory
keepers. But he has to slow-dance with Robin tonight. He wants to take her in
close and smell her honey. Even after two years, he still feels almost anaphylactic
around her.
Doug spreads out the picnic blanket on the living room floor and brings out
the plastic wine glasses. At least the wine is breathing well. Robin won't arrive for
anothet hour, which is just enough time to go for a run.
A cold March rain races him as he avoids going anywhere even close to
the border of his old neighbourhood. If he were to accidentally cross over, he
would find the cypress under which he and Jennifer always kissed; or the Polish
restaurant on the dead-end street where they ate petogies after a spontaneous
winter swim; or the old-fashioned one-screen movie theatre where rhey ttied to
watch the same film every day for as long as it was playing.
Because of Jennifer, because of Julia before Jennifer, and Andrea before Julia,
Doug had to throw out entire sections of his music collection, favourite t-shirts
they wote as pajamas, mugs they cupped their coffee in.
Those were easier fixes than the countless moves to new neighbourhoods and
even new cities a couple of times, when the break-ups became too unbearable.
Now, as Doug runs, he passes a pine and ir is jusr a pine, a street is only a streer,
and Jennifer's ghost doesn't haunt him anymore.
Sometimes he feels tempted to cross the boundary into pain again. As a child,
when he saw a fight with his brorher coming on, he would purposely punch his
own stomach. 63 "See, I did it to myself. You don't have to hurt me now."
After a pause Erhan would always punch him anyway.
The park is the halfway point of his route. Turning back towards home he
notices a flower stand at the end of a laneway and stops. They've taken the roses
from their garden and bunched them into tin cans. They trust him to leave $5.00
in the slot, so he does, and takes two for Robin.
He has to walk the rest of the way because the force of his arms in motion
shakes the petals off, which causes him to be late.
She arrives just as he is pulling off his wet jogging clothes and pulling on his
jeans. He answers the door with one arm pushing into a t-shirt. Her eyes follow
the flash of his belly button then shoot back up to his face.
"I'm sorry, I'm a little behind," he says.
She holds both sides of his jaw in her hands and kisses him.
"We have to talk. I can't hold it in until the end of dinner."
She walks quickly past him into the apartment. She never rushes. And they
never talk.
Robin doesn'r even look at the picnic and instead turns around to face him.
For a momenr Doug is unable ro keep himself from a helping of her cleavage,
carved out of the top of a pretty black cocktail dress. Her voice commands his
eyes ro move up ro her face.
"This isn't working."
Doug tries to catch up to the moment.
"But you just kissed me."
We have to talk.
"Not that. We're working."
She smiles. "The picnics are the problem."
His heart stops flooding his body with adrenaline. He looks at the spread, at
Robin's cheese, the grapes golden under the glow of candles, the silk pillows for
seats, the roses.
"Okay, whar can I do better?"
"How many indoor picnics do you think we've had?"
"Is it the plastic dishes? You know I can't compromise on that."
"How many picnics, Doug?"
"I don't know."
"How many movies have we watched on your couch, how many baths have
we taken, how many pizzas have we ordered in?"
Doug still doesn't know.
"I've loved them all, Doug, but I want to eat in a restaurant with you, I want
to walk down the street with you. I'm tired of being in this apartment. Take me
"But you agreed to these conditions. You said you undetstood me."
Back in the beginning, after rhey'd had the talk that would allow Doug to go
forward in theit relationship, not going anywhere together hadn't seemed like a
big deal for Robin. They had happily defaulted into always being at his place. In
fact, she had told him she found the restrictions kind of exciting.
64 PRISM  54:1 By confining his relationship with Robin to his apartment, Doug figures they
are cutting down on so many potential memories of their time together that
when they break up rhe pain will have little left to feed on.
Robin doesn't realize how much easier this will make it on both of them.
That's because she doesn't want to think about breaking up. But how many
couples actually make it to the "death do us part" part? Jennifer gave up right
when they got to the important questions.
At least with this arrangement there is no need to move anywhere new or
throw anything away. There is no need to change much of anything.
"I thought that I understood you," Robin says, walking to his fronr door and
back. Robin always has to be moving when she thinks. When they first met it was
in a patk during one of those rare chance encounters that seem to only happen
in the movies. He wasn't sure whether she was interested because while she was
talking she kept walking backwards away from him. Just as it seemed like she was
going to make a run for ir, she walked slowly forward to stand direcrly in front of
him, so close there was barely any space between them. He knew then that they
would wotk, that she couldn't be afraid of anything.
"I do understand you. Bur ir's been two years, and you seem perfectly
"I am."
"Doug, I know that going out there with me is a big deal."
She kneels and scoops some antipasti onto a cracker. She has never been one
to wait for the othet to start eating first.
Doug sirs down on rhe blanket and cuts off a piece of cheddar for her.
"And I know that I agreed to this atrangement."
He wants to touch her ears, her breasts, to make het shiver, to make her
"I just can't."
Robin comes over behind him, their bodies clicking together. She reaches
through the space between his arms and waist, her hands cupping under his.
Doug's fingers dredge across the fine grain of her skin. She rests her cheek on his
"I know. I sometimes wish you didn't worry so much. I'm not going anywhere.
I love you, Doug."
"I love you, too, Robin."
He understands how Robin can trivialize his fears into careless worries. She
isn't scared of anything. She can stand the kind of pain that cripples Doug. Robin
doesn't know it, but she is a superhero, and he wishes he had her powers.
Over rhe next few months, to make Robin happy, Doug agrees to bringing a little
more excitement into the apartment.
Robin hires a dance instructor to teach them ballroom. They waltz, they
foxtrot, they tango in tight circles around each other
A new dartboard and mini bar dress up the living room for double-date
night. Edward and Joanne find a used ping-pong set for rhem on Craigslist,
which replaces the dining room table. A weekly tournament begins and Robin 65 and Doug joke that they can always be the home team.
Robin checks out a stack of library books on container gardening so they can
start a garden on Doug's balcony. They find enjoyment in growing vegetables
together. They read up on pickling and sun-drying tomatoes.
They tell each other this is the most fun they have ever had in a relationship.
And for a while Robin is happy. Robin is radiant. And then she is not.
"Can I get you some tea?"
"No, I'm fine."
Doug wraps her in a blanket. He squeezes in on the couch but she tutns her
hip in such a way that leaves even less room for him.
"I'm not cold."
"You're just really enjoying the rainy days, right?" He snuggles his chin into
her back.
"You'd bettet go," she says. "You're going to be late."
"What about you?"
"I think I might be getting sick."
She gets up to leave.
"You can stay here for rhe day if you're not feeling well."
Tableaus of Robin on the couch fill Doug's week. There she is, each day after
he rerurns from work: chin-resring-on-her-folded-hands-in-front-of-the-bay-
window Robin; upside-down-legs-elevared-on-the-back-cushions Robin; sitting,
napping, reading Robin.
He is almosr disappoinred when she rerurns ro work, because he has to wait
for her to attive again. As soon as they've kissed she heads straight for the couch.
"I'm beginning to see wear marks," he half jokes.
She glances up from her Ultimate Guide to Container Gardening book,
looking so cared-for in his dark green flannel bathrobe.
"I can move."
"No, it's okay. I've become used to seeing you there."
He is happy she seems so content now, happy that she stopped asking for
their relarionship to "progress" outside of the apartment. Progress. As if rheir
relationship has no progression. They are growing all the time, expanding into
each other like two joined trees.
When Robin finally loses inrerest in the couch, she stops sitting on anything.
Instead, she spends houts on her back on the floor.
"I didn't know ceilings were like the sky," Robin tells Doug one day. "If you
stare at them long enough shapes form, like in rhe clouds."
"Whar shape do you see now?" Doug dips his head into her frame, making a
funny face, thumbs up, like an unwelcome stranger in a photograph.
"Come join me," she says, her face so serious.
They are quier for a moment.
"We get along so well," Robin says.
"I love your imagination," Doug says.
Doug suggests they make love right where they are. Even though they are as
close as they can be, it strikes Doug that they actually feel very far apart.
66 PRISM  54:1 Moments after they finish, Robin rolls out of their spoon to stare at the
"Why don't we go to the movies tonight?" Doug says in his head. He says it
again, but the words stay inside of him.
"You look like you want to say something, Doug."
He hadn't noticed het reading his facial expression. He'd always wanted to
be more mysterious, but with Robin it was impossible. He needed her ro see
everything, to know who he was right from the start so there wouldn't be any
sutptises later.
"Oh no, I'm fine."
Robin returns to looking at his ceiling from different angles. Maybe he will
add some glow-in-the-dark stars for her.
"I'm going to go for a run," Doug says jumping up.
"Isn't it a little cold?"
"No, it's only October."
"Ir's only October?"
Her eyes squint. "Is that...?"
"What?" Doug asks.
"I think I see myself."
"You're amazing." He leans ovet and kisses her forehead.
Cold night ait weighs down his lungs, but it feels as if somebody recharged
him with a defibrillator. All relationships go through difficulr stages and he hopes
that she will move quickly through her ceiling phase.
When he returns home she's gone. There isn't a note, but Doug knows that
she went to her apartment to feed the cat and may not come back until tomorrow.
The next morning, Doug feels like cleaning. He opens the broom closet and
yelps. Curled up at the bottom like a banana peel is Robin.
"What are you doingV he says, almost shouting.
"I'm pracrising staying in place," she says all sing-song.
The vacuum pushes into her back, the mop and broom hover above her feet.
There is dust in her hair.
TLis is where she spenr the night. Practising.
"What do you mean? What does this mean?"
She sits up so that her back is pressed against the wall, seeming so small now
without anywhere to go.
"There's no meaning. I have to practise, that's all. It's not coming naturally to
me anymore."
"You're talking about staying in the apattment, right?"
"Close the doot please. I really need to practise."
Aftet leaving het in the closet, Doug lays down on the couch he now thinks
of as Robin's. This is a good thing, he reassures himself. She's practising for him.
That she would do this for him says so much. He needs to suppott her He will be
her supportive sidekick.
The next day, as soon as she comes over after work, she uses his front-loading
dtyer to practise. Unable to fit in her whole body, her legs hang out while the rest
of her reclines inside the drum. 67 "Need anything?" Doug asks. "Dryer sheets?"
"My phone. I have to make a few calls."
Standing outside the laundry room, he listens to the tin echo of her voice. She
sounds far away.
After a week of using the dryer she takes over a kitchen cupboard, removing a
shelf and pots and pans to fit inside. Doug decides this is a good time to reorganize
the spices. Robin reaches out and caresses his legs as he tops up the paptika.
The one time he tries to pull her out of it, she yells, "Don't you understand
how imporranr rhis is?"
Everything else continues as normal in their relationship. They still go to work,
they still have their separate apartments, they still have a regular ping-pong night
with Edwatd and Joanne, who think Robin and Doug's relationship is edgy but
could never do it themselves. They say that a lot. Soon Robin and Doug stop
playing ping-pong with Edward and Joanne.
Robin begins to change physically during rhe weeks she occupies the small
spaces in Doug's apartment. Like the arrival of spring, the day-to-day details are
easy to miss. They only become apparent when Doug returns after a week away
at a conference.
Robin now stoops and shuffles, as if something is pressing down on her from
above. The skin around her eyes is a hollow purple. She complains of a general
ache filling her body, and her limbs begin to fall asleep at random. To help, Doug
rubs her skin vigorously.
She is also crankier. "I don't have hypothermia. I jusr need ro sttetch more."
"Ate you happy?" he asks, opening the watdrobe where Robin's face surfaces
in a pod of his blue dress shirts.
"I love you, Doug."
Those words are normally so soothing; today they disappoint him.
Doug notices that she is now spending more time in the small spaces than
with him. When she comes out she only wants to watch television. Her body is
stiff and hard ro touch.
Doug hires a massage therapisr ro come to the apartment.
"The pain will pass, Doug. I'm still adjusting."
On massage nights Doug leaves. At first he is uncomfortable allowing the
poster boy for hot massage therapists to kneed Robin's dough without constant
supervision. In the neighbouring room, where Doug hid for the first few sessions,
every rising moan tempted him to open the oven door.
Robin claims that clean fingernails and loose blond locks don't do it for her.
She likes her men grittier, dingier.
"I think I'm losing her."
"Is she with Wasabi Man again?"
It feels nice to sit across from Edward, eating a greasy breakfast with clattering
silverware and "More coffee?"s all around them. Doug has barely been spending
rime with friends. Everything has been about Robin.
68 PRISM  54:1 "She told me she's starting to remember what it feels like to feel good again."
"Just get rid of the massage therapist," Edward says, sitting back into the
booth with his hands behind his head as if this is something that could never have
occurred to Doug. Doug imagines Edward's decision-making at his video game
company is this simple, too.
"I want her to feel good."
"Of course you do. But his part in doing that is over. Now it needs to be you
Ihe massages were his idea. They've had benefits. Physically, Robin is back to
hetself. She no longer spends any time in the closets and cupboards practising,
which is a relief. Doug doesn't tell Edward that this morning she was striding
from one end of rhe apartment to the othet as if she were cross-country skiing.
She asked Doug if he will ever feel like going with her. She has begun to ask him
whethet he will ever feel like doing a lot of things.
"Doug, I know this is an obvious question, but have you considered taking
yout relationship to the next level?"
He frowns. That's where mosr relationships inevitably go. But he's not going
to the next level, where everything would be dangerous again.
Edward stirs a spoonful of sugar into his coffee and Doug asks for the bill.
The massage thetapist determines that Robin only needs to see him every few
months now unless the old problems return. Doug studies her from afar after the
last session. She looks more like herself and less like herself. Is he imagining it or
is she tallet? Her body was so hunched over before the massages she really does
seem taller
Not long after she is supposed to be well, Doug is surprised one nighr to find
het sitting in the broom closet again.
"I thought we were past this," he says, holding out his hand to her.
"Somerhing's happening," she says, raking ir, squeezing so hard his metacarpals
Under the covers, as Doug tries to sleep, her legs won't stop fidgeting. His
touch doesn't calm her. Eventually he asks if she wouldn't mind sleeping on her
couch. Even rhen he still hears her footsteps creaking the floor
From the moment he greets her good morning, she is unable to be still.
She walks from room to room wirhour stopping, alternating between brushing
invisible things off of her skin and holding her frame tight, as if at any moment
het limbs might break.
He forces her to stop and hug him, but instead of being face to face as they
should be, his face now rests at armpit height. Doug jumps back, knocking a
lamp off a table.
"What's wrong?" It's more of a statement than a question, as if she already
knows but needs to be told.
"Look at us in the mirror."
They slowly walk over together and stand side by side, lightly touching, closet
than they've been in weeks. He watches the wrinkled brow of confusion and rhen
recognition. 69 "What's happening to me?" she asks him, but without any alarm in her voice.
"Can we please hug again?" Doug asks.
They do, but nothing changes.
Two days go by and she does not shrink to size; in fact she grows even taller.
When she leaves for work, Doug watches her swing her head down and ro rhe
side to avoid the top frame of his fronr door. Ir looks like she is cheating at limbo.
Doug decides it is a bad idea for her to leave the apartment at all.
"Just until you're normal again. I don't think people should see this."
"I like what's happening."
"You do?"
"I feel closer to myself."
"But you're so far away from me."
He pulls himself into her chest. Doug's neck hurts if he looks up at het for too
long when they embrace.
"See, I'm not that fat away from you."
"I feel like a miniature man."
They try making love again. It's full of blind passes and personal fouls. Doug
doesn't want to make love to a basketball player.
"I still love you, Mini-Man," she jokes.
"It's not funny."
"Okay," she says and turns over to sleep, her gigantic legs sticking out from
under the covers.
Doug calls in sick the next morning and spends rhe day waiting for the day
to end. The crescendo inside his stomach won't stop building. Until she opens the
door. A giant set of legs fills the frame.
"How did this happen so quickly?" he asks.
Het response is muffled.
"I can'r hear you!" Doug shouts up at her.
Tentatively he steps forward so rhar he is partially out the door and able to see
her face. She is pressing hard on her eyelids wirh borh hands.
Only a couple of days after she leaves she calls him from a public garden. She tells
him she is sirting on a bench that is dedicated to people she never knew.
"The azaleas are browning around rhe edges but they're still beautiful," she
says, her voice as clear as if she is right beside him. "There's a spot on this bench
waiting for you."
Another rime she calls him from a hotdog stand.
"I know exactly how you like yours," Robin says. "I've got it dressed."
She describes a seagull stealing a man's hotdog when his back is turned. The
vendor is from Persia. He throws the coins from his tips into the nearby water
fountain. Robin gives him two dollars in quarrers. She asks him to make two
wishes for her and two for Doug, and ro keep the rest for himself.
Doug reclines on Robin's couch for these calls and pictures her without him
in each new place. He wants to hang up but he can't. He knows he will buy a new
couch. He knows he will probably move again. But until then, he doesn't know
how to do anything.
PRISM  54:1 At the movies she sits in the back row and whispers a play by play of the film
she's watching. The seats are green and plush. The movie has too many chase
"Don't you want to see what happens next?" she asks.
He does. He really, really does. 71 John Wall Barger
Oh—! Did I disturb your face
in the midst of a double somersaulr?
This face of yours has thrown
tantrums. Of course it has!
Any face that hasn't
is a wee cold moon. Ha ha—
you like that one? You like wee!
Me too. Let's open this book
of wee faces. Look ar this face.
Is this the face you want?
Here is a face that gives off
a minure lighr. Here is a face
that cannot be exhausted by use.
You think, heh, your face
gives off lighr? Think your face
is a circus animal that forgor
its tricks? Seriously now.
Your face is a dogfight.
A malevolent fairy rale.
Seriously. Your eyes are subzero spotlights in your head.
Who would step into such a face
to brave the Minotaut within?
Look at this face. This pretty
face, here: as if the wolves of poverty
had devoured the cheeks,
& fish of sadness the eyes.
Discard rhe one & rake the othet.
The grearest cutting does not sever.
Look at this face: "Ttuthful,"
Keats might have said.
But he was wrong. Beauty & Truth
are antithetical. The secret
of a face is it has no secrets?
Wrong. A face is rhe secret
of a heart. A heart is the secret
of a soul. A soul is the secret
of God. In my nightmare
the faces were impassive, hard,
PRISM  54:1 bleak: icebergs unmelting.
Let the river of your face jump its banks.
Let the animals of yout face
run into the light & let them fall. 73 David Bomanda
Penguins are fucked up.
They can't recognize faces.
Even those of theit mates, of theit children.
They recognize each other by voice.
Out of thousands of squawking penguins,
they recognize each orher by voice.
I've forgorren so many voices in my lifetime.
I've forgotten my father's voice.
I've forgotten my father's voice.
74 PRISM  54:1 Megan Callahan
J ack and I were twelve years old when we buried Augustus in the field behind
the tracks.
At least, the field is what we liked to call it. The grass was tall and unkempt
and there were wildflowers growing between the weeds, but in the end it was
just another vacant lot in the Mile End. Broken bottles and cigarerte butts were
scattered in the btush and you could see a dark strip of railroad track beyond the
northern gate. The place smelled of por and urine, like the grime of Montreal
streets and alleys. When we were young, Jack and I hung out there all rhe time.
It was our secret spot. We loved it in the way you love wild, untempered rhings.
It didn't belong to anyone, so we wanted to make it outs. Kids spray-painted
graffiti and burners, and carved their names into the big maple tree. They planted
sunflowers and small, sad vegetable gatdens. Maybe there were even a few dead
bodies buried in the earth. Jack used to joke about it. When I told het about
Augustus, she immediately suggested we bury him rhere. One more dead cat to
fertilize the field! she laughed. Jack always found the creepiest things funny.
On the morning of the burial, I folded Augustus's body into an old shoebox
and carried him ro the lot. Jack was waiting for me when I arrived. She was
holding her mother's gardening shovel, the kind with a sharp steel blade for
cutting through roots. I looked at that blade and thought of Augustus, cold and
heavy inside the box. My stomach cutled into a tight, intricate knot.
"Hey Maddy, I found a grave spot!" Jack said, gesturing to an exposed patch
of earth. There were tall bushes shielding it from the main path and cosmos
flowers growing nearby. I walked over and surveyed rhe ground.
"Okay. We should put the box in the shade while we dig."
"Shit, I'm exhausted from dragging this stupid shovel. It weighs a ton. Let's
take a break firsr." Jack dropped the shovel in the grass and sighed heavily. "Look,
I can barely raise my arms!"
Jack stuck out her arms for dramatic effect, shaking them like two limp
noodles. She made me think of Olive Oyl in those old Popeye cartoons and
for a minute I thought she was going to start wailing for someone to save her
I smiled and shrugged, and placed the shoebox down between the weeds. The
cardboard was still cold from my freezer but already the summet heat was thick
and oppressive. I didn't want to think about the body slowly thawing inside the
box. I didn't want to think about what it would smell like if we didn't get it into
the ground.
Jack pulled a pack of Belmonts from the back pocket of her jeans and stuck
one between her lips. She'd picked up smoking that summer and desperately
wanted me to start too. She hated doing things by herself and was always
convincing me to do the most ridiculous things. I watched her pull out a Zippo 75 lighter, the one she'd swiped from her brother along with the cigarettes. When she
flipped it open the movement was fluid and graceful.
"You'd look so sexy with a cigarette in your mourh," she said for rhe millionth
time, blowing smoke from her nose. "With your dark bangs. Like Uma Thurman
in Pulp Fiction!'
"Shut up," I said. Jack had started to say sexy a lot. I could tell she liked the
way it got people's attention. She was twelve years old but looked fifteen. I could
barely rhink about the word sex without getting nervous.
"Are you blushing? God Maddy. You're such a wimp."
"I said shut up Jacqueline!'
Jack hated when I used her full name. I only called her Jacqueline when she
really gor to me. Jack flicked ash to the ground and gave me a look. She had the
most amazing eyebrows I'd ever seen, thick and dark and perfectly tapered at the
edges. I think I saw those eyebrows and insranrly fell in love with her. Back then,
lots of kids were in love with Jack. She was chatming as hell. Bur we were also a
little bit afraid of her. She was taller than most sixth graders but she didn't mind.
She walked with her back perfectly straighr and her shoulders thrown back, and
in the schoolyard you could see her buoying above the other kids like a swan.
Her eyes were like two srones ar the bottom of a well, hard and wavering and
completely unreachable. She wore her big brother's hand-me-downs, billowing
T-shirts and old sneakers and jeans that were rolled at the ankles. Even then she
looked like a criminal.
Jack smoked her cigarette and pretended to ignore me. I knew she was going
to give me the silent treatment until I gave in. Sometimes I could wait her our.
Patience wasn't one of Jack's strong suirs. Bur that morning I felt weak and
malleable, like a rubber band that's been pulled too many times. I looked at the
shoebox in the grass and thought of Augustus, his body inside like a frozen slab
of meat. I'd found him the night before on the side of the road, just a bundle of
black fur marted with car grease and rainwater and blood. One leg was twisted at
an impossible angle. A sliver of shattered bone stuck out of his side like a perfecr,
white toothpick. His eyes were open. I had never seen a dead rhing before. My
dad once told me dying was like sleep, only forever. Like falling into a dream you
could never wake up from. But when I saw Augustus, mangled and glass-eyed in
the gutter, I knew that it was nothing like sleep. Nothing like sleep at all.
"Okay," I said, relenting. "Pass me one."
"Yes!" Jack whooped and tossed me her crumpled pack of Belmonts. I caught
it midair and wished I could throw it back.
"My dad will freak if he finds out," I said.
"He won't find out."
"But he'll smell it."
"So tell him some asshole blew smoke on you! Your dad's so out of it, he'll
believe whatever you say."
Jack plucked one of the cigarettes from rhe pack and held it between her
index and middle finger.
"This is how you hold it. Now here. I'll light it for you. Then you have to
PRISM  54:1 I put the cigarette between my lips in a way that I hoped was cool and natural.
My palms were sweating. I tried to look aloof.
"Deep breath," Jack said with an impatient wave of the hand.
Shit, I thought. This is stupid.
I inhaled. Smoke billowed into my lungs and I broke into a fit of coughing.
Jack laughed and thumped me on the back.
"Everyone coughs the first time," she said in a smug way that suggested she
most definitely had not.
"I'm okay," I said.
"Do you like it? I think it tastes like burning wood. You know? Like when
you make a campfire, all smoky and warm."
My chest hutt. My mouth tasted like garbage. I wanted to spit.
"Yeah. Just like that."
Jack lit herself another one and pocketed her Zippo, looking pleased. She
loved winning arguments. It was one of the things that made her really, ttuly
I took another half-hearted puff. The smoke tickled the back of my throat
and I swallowed anothet cough. I wondered if I looked sexy. I wondered if I
looked like my mom when she was my age. Did she hold her cigarettes like this?
Did she like the way they tasted? Did she cough the first time, too? I had no idea,
but suddenly these questions seemed impottant.
I was barely five years old when my mom died, so my memories of her are
mostly made-up. My dad used to keep photographs of her everywhere in the
house. Ihey were framed on the walls, stuck berween the pages of favourite
books, taped to the refrigerator door. I used to look at them all the time when I
was younger. Most of them were snapshors of their life before I was born. They
were faded and colourless like a shirt that's been washed too many times. In
some of them, my mom was pregnant. I would stare at her round belly, trying to
remember what it was like to be in there.
There was a small Polaroid that I loved most of all. My dad used to keep it in
his wallet and, when he was feeling sad or missing her, he would take it out. The
corners were bent and crinkled, but you could still make out my mom on the
white wooden balcony, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, a fat baby Maddy
propped on her knee. Her hair was loose and curling around her shoulders and
her bangs hung thickly above her eyes. When was rhe last time my dad took out
that Polaroid? When did I stop seeing the photographs on the walls? I couldn't
remember. Sometimes you don't notice that something's changing until it's
completely, irrevocably different.
"We should start digging," I said, gesturing to the shoebox. I could tell Jack
had already forgotten why we were there.
"Oh right. Shit."
"I'll get the shovel."
We took turns digging the grave. The heat was btutal, the sun a burning
thumbptint in the sky. Neithet of us had thought to bring hats or bottled water.
We were both sweating like crazy by the time we finished.
"Do you think it's deep enough?" I asked. The hole was barely two feet deep. 77 "Of course it is."
"But what if, you know..."
"What if another animal smells Augustus and, like... digs him up?"
I had to choke out that last part. The idea of something digging up my cat's
body was too horrific ro imagine. I felt nauseated again.
"What animals?" Jack scoffed. "We're in the middle of the city. Like, literally
two minutes away from the street."
"Maybe raccoons."
Jack threw up her hands in mock exasperation.
"It's too hot! I can't pick up that shovel again. I can't!"
"Okay! Okay. Hand me the shoebox."
Jack pulled the box from beneath its shroud of brambles and leaves. Together
we knelt in the discarded earrh and placed rhe box next to the grave. For a
moment neither of us said anything. I could tell Jack was waiting for me to lift
the lid.
"You do it," I said finally.
Jack wrinkled her nose and shoved the box towards me.
"No way! He's your cat."
"I don't want to."
Jack sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. It was her ultimate expression of
"You're such a pussy, Maddy. Why do I even hang our with you?"
I blushed and looked at my sneakers, conscious of the hot prickle in the back
of my throat. The air felt heavy and stifling and I pressed my hands into the cool,
freshly-dug earrh, rrying to ignore rhe balloon swelling in my chest. I didn't want
to cry in fronr of Jack. She'd never let me hear the end of it. I could tell the body
scared her too, but she would never admit it. Jack was always ctuellest when she
was trying to cover up her own mixed-up feelings. Like a srray dog that only
knows how to bark and bare irs reerh. Sometimes I think the worse she rreated
me, the more I loved her.
"Are we just going to sit here all day!" Jack said loudly, staring at the sky.
"Okay! Jeez. I'll do it."
My insides flip-flopped as I touched the cardboard box. I gritted my teeth.
With one swift motion I flung the lid to the ground. Jack inched closer and
peered inside.
"He looks a lot better now. My dad washed him."
"Can I touch him?"
"I guess so."
Jack poked Augustus with the tip of her finger and recoiled.
"Ugh! He feels so... stiff."
I slid my hands beneath his body and lifted him out of the box, trying not to
look. He was still ice cold. My arms broke out in goosebumps as I lowered him
into the hole. There in the dirt, surrounded by roots and pebbles and ripped-up
weeds, he suddenly didn't look like Augustus anymore. I didn't know what he
78 PRISM  54:1 looked like.
Jack and I covered rhe body wirh a layer of twigs and leaves. I thought it
might help keep the raccoons from smelling him. Jack laughed and said I was
being paranoid, but she helped me anyways. We shovelled the earrh back into the
hole and I placed a ting of stones around the mound. I wanted to be able to find
it again.
"Bye, Augustus," I said, patting the earth flat with my palms.
"Bye, Gus the cat!" Jack sang, tossing a handful of dandelions into the air.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a thick graffiti marker. Wirh a few
quick strokes she wrote my cat's name on a nearby rock, GUS WAS HERE in
her signatute fluorescent green. The marker's paint leaked onto Jack's palm and
dripped onto the grass, spattering rhe ground in bright green flecks. Part of me
knew she just wanted to tag something, but I felt better seeing those words on the
rock, bold and neon-bright and dripping in the sun. Jack stood up and admired
her handiwork.
"Shit, Maddy. This is officially the coolest grave. Like, ever."
"Do you think Augustus will haunt the field now?"
"Totally. Like that cat in Pet Sematary."
"Ew, no!"
Jack laughed and shook het head. Already she had forgorten the stiffness of
the body, the coldness, the way it had looked in the small, shallow gtave. I knew
she had erased the fear we'd both felt. Tomorrow, this day would be just another
of Jack's stories, exaggerated and deformed, bloodier and more thrilling than a
hotror movie. She couldn't wait to tell evetyone ar school about The Day We
Buried Augustus. Her eyes sparkled and danced in the hazy summer light.
"Shit, don't look so sad, Maddy!"
She reached over and tapped my face lightly, the way you would to wake a
sleeping petson. I must've looked as tired as I felt. Her hand was still wet from the
marker paint.
"You should come over. My mom's making lasagna."
"Okay. Thanks."
Satisfied, Jack turned and started down the beaten path, dtagging the shovel
behind her. For just a minute, I hung back. I watched her parr the tall grass, her
long hair tangled and covered with dandelion fluff, her jeans smeared with paint
and dried mud. High above us, clouds had begun to gather. The sun winked in
and out, casting long shadows across rhe field, until Jack was only a silhouette in
the distance, a datk shape waving at me from the side of the road. She looked so
small, so tetribly far away. I reached up and touched the fingerprints she'd left on
my cheek. And I ached in a way I'd never felt before. 79 CONTRIBUTORS
Carleigh Baker is a proud Metis writer, and winner of the 2012 subTerrain Lush
Triumphant award for fiction. Het fiction and poetry have appeared in Ricepaper
and Joyland magazines. She also writes book reviews for EVENT, Tl>e Malahat
Review, and The Globe and Mail. She lives in Vancouver.
John Wall Barger's poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies,
including the Montreal Prize Global Poetry Anthology (2011 and 2013), and Best
Canadian Poetry in English (2008 and 2015). His third collection, The Book of
Festus, came out with Palimpsest Press in rhe spring of 2015.
This is Jessica Block's third shorr story publication. She won second place in the
2007 Quebec Writers' Federation Writing Competition and was a finalist for the
2015 Writer's Union of Canada Short Prose Competition. She lives in Vancouver
where she enjoys rainy walks and saving banana slugs from being squished.
Megan Callahan is an emerging fiction writer and poet in Montreal. She holds a
BA in Linguistics and Creative Writing from Concordia University, and is currently
pursuing an MA in Translation Studies. Het writing has appeared in Matrix.
Dani Couture's most recent book is YAW (Mansfield Press, 2014). She is the
literary editor at This Magazine.
Nathan Curnow lives in Ballarat, Australia, and is a past editor of Going Down
Swinging. His work has been published in The Maynard, ARC, and Best Australian
Poems 2008, 2010, 2013 (Black Inc). He is a recipient of the Josephine Ulrick
Poetry Prize, and his latest collection, RADAR, is available through Walleah Press.
Joe Davies' short fiction has appeared in magazines in Canada, the US, England,
Ireland, Wales, and India. He lives in Peterborough, ON, with his wife and three
Adam Day is the author ofModel of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books, 2015).
He is the recipienr of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger,
Apocrypha, and of a PEN Emerging Writer's Award. His work has appeared in the
Boston Review, Lana Turner, APR, Guernica and Iowa Review, amongst othets. He
directs the Baltic Writing Residency in Latvia, Scotland, and Betnheim Forest.
Chris Donahoe writes from Halifax and has had work published in The
Malahat Review, Grain, EVENT, and The Dalhousie Review. Find him online at
Jon Paul Fiorentino is the recipient of the 2015 National Magazine Award
Silver Medal for Humour. He is the author of I'm Not Scared of You or Anything,
which was shortlisted for rhe 2014 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and Needs
Improvement, which was shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. He is
also the author of a novel, Stripmalling, and five poetry collections. He lives in
Montreal, where he teaches Creative Writing at Concotdia University, and is the
editor-in-chief of both Matrix magazine and the Serotonin/Wayside imprint of
Insomniac Press.
80 PRISM  54:1 Stevie Howell is the author of the book of poetry Sharps (2014), which was
shortlisted fot the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She studies psychology and
works as a psychometrist in a hospital. You can read more work at:
Kyle Kinaschuk is a doctoral student in the Department of English at the
University of Toronto. His poetry and prose have appeared in journals such as The
Capilano Review, Filling Station and FreeFall.
Tanis MacDonald is rhe authot of three books of poetry, including Rue the Day
(Turnstone Ptess). Recent work has appeared in CV2, Poetry is Dead, and Lemon
Hound. Her work last appeared in PRISM in volume 45, issue 1 (2006).
Jessi MacEachern is currently working on a project in which she writes through
Virginia Woolf's Orlando. She is a PhD candidate at the Univetsite de Montreal,
where she researches modern and contemporary feminist poetics. Her poetry and
criticism have been published in CV2, Lemon Hound, Matrix, and Tfje Bull Calf.
Emil Ostrovski is the twenty-five year old author of a young adult novel, The
Paradox of Vertical Flight, which has been published in the US, Spain, and Germany,
and nominated for the German Youth Literature Prize. His short fiction appears
or is forthcoming in The New Orleans Review, Lightspeed, The Atticus Review, and
Word Riot.
Oleg Oprisco is a talented photographer from Lviv, Ukraine, who creates
stunning surreal images of elegant women in fairytale and dream-like settings. One
significant difference that sets him apart from other artists is that he shoots using
old-school film photography instead of digital images.
Vincent Page's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Event, The Malahat
Review, Geist, and Plenitude. He lives in Toronto.
Teresa Plana is an aid worker from Barcelona who has studied in Ottawa and
Montreal. She currently lives in a small seaside village near Beirut, where she
works with Syrian and Palestinian refugees. This is her first poetry publication.
David Romanda was born in Kelowna, British Columbia. He currently lives
in Kawasaki City, Japan. His work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The
Dalhousie Review, Existere, Grain, and Vallum.
Sophie Rosenblum is the Web Editor for NANO Fiction. Her work has been
published in Tlje Iowa Review, American Short Fiction, and Wigleaf Links to
additional work can be found at Find her on Twittet at
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named
cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction has appeared in Room, SmokeLong
Quarterly, Lnterzone, and orhers, and has been translated into French and Polish.
She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine's
Stonecoast program and curates the annual Art & Words Show in Fort Wotth,
profiled in the March/April 2014 issue of Poets & Writers. Visit her online at or on Twitter @>BonnieJoStuffle. 81 PAD THAI.
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• Contemporary fiction and poetry
• Incisive and timely commentary
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• Feature interviews with writers and thinkers
• Book reviews and other related writing hews The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C,
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The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master
of Pine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.F.A. degree may also be taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen 8e TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics &? Libretto.
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Online Faculty CM.P.A.):
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id PRINTING LTD    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553  PRISM is contemporary writing
Carleigh Baker
John Wall Barger
Jessica Block
Megan Callahan
Dani Couture
Nathan Curnow
Joe Davies
Adam Day
Chris Donahoe
Jon Paul Fiorentino
Stevie Howell
Kyle Kinaschuk
Tanis MacDonald
Jessi MacEachern
Emil Ostrovski
Vincent Page
Teresa Plana
David Romanda
Sophie Rosenblum
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
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Cover image © Oleg Oprisco, "The Fiery Umbrella."


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