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   PRISM internationa
PRISM international is proud to announce the 2016 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
Amanda Paananen for her poem "It's the Chicken Parable," which first
appeared in PRISM 54:2.
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 international is proud to announce the launch of our
digital archives! With the generous support of the British
Columbia Arts Council, we have digitized over 200 back issues,
bringing 56 years of literary history online. Margaret Atwood,
Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are just a few names
from PRLSM's long legacy. Digitization of our archives is an
important step in preserving and promoting influential literature,
and we are excited to share our publication history with readers
The searchable archives are free for anyone to access, and can be
reached through
PRISM    &
digital archive
British Columbia
arts council
Art agency of ihe Province of British Columbia
Christopher Evans
Shaun Robinson
Selina Boan
Curtis LeBlanc
Anita Bedell
Timothy Taylor
Sierra Skye Gemma
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
Megan Barnet, Wendy Bone, Nicole Boyce
Alison Braid, Melissa Bull, Sonal Champsee
Rhonda Collis, Robert Colman, Karla Comanda
Max D'Ambrosio, Bryce Doersam, Lesley Finn
Alanna Francis, Tyler Hein, Sarah Higgins
Kyla Jamieson, Melissa Janae, Rachel Jansen
Keri Korteling, Mica Lemiski, Kirsten Madsen
Judith L. Major, Kyle McKillop, Amber McMillan
Adam Meisner, Karen Palmer, Cindy Pereira
Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Sarah Richards, Meaghan Rondeau
Anjalika Samarasekara, Kyle Schoenfeld, Robert Shaw
Mallory Tater, Meg Todd, Jessica Torrens
Carly Vandergriendt, Cara Violini, Matthew Walsh
Jane Wood, Catherine Young
Alison Braid, Matt Cardinal, Mariah Devcic
Keagan Perlette, Mormei Zanke PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Specific back issues can be ordered from the Executive Editor, Circulation:
Copyright © 2016 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain with
authors. Cover image © Evann Siebens, "Keyhole."
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 international subscribers, please pay in US dollars.
Please note that US postal money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable
to PRISM international. All prices include GST and shipping and handling.
PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists with other literary magazines;
please contact us if you wish to be excluded from such exchanges.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North
American Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $30 per page for
prose. Contributors receive two copies of the issue in which their work
appears. Submissions are accepted online or by mail. Electronic submissions
are preferred. All submissions must adhere to our submission guidelines,
which can be found at, or can be requested by
mail at the address above.
Advertising: For details on how to place an advertisemenr in PRISM, please
visit our website at
Our gratitude to Acting Dean Kathryn Harrison and the Dean of Arts
Office at the University of Brirish Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the
financial support of the UBC Creative Writing Program, the Canada Council
for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
September 2016. ISSN 0032.8790
UBC       a place of mind
BRITISH COLUMBIA 8®     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
Michael Meagher
Used To It
Carolyn Watson
The Swallow and the Squid
Rachael Moorthy
Waning Moon Swells
Ann S. Epstein
S.C. Bayat
Katherine Murray
This Problem with Malloty Pete
Tanya R. Ward
How Do You Like Them Eggs?
Matthew Hollett
Comfort Zone
Paisley Rekdal
Knitted Thylacine
Ben Ladouceur
Cameron Carpenter
John Wall Barger
Night of the Purse Poodle
Last Words of the Old Man with the
Photographic Memory
Laura Ritland
Arrival at the New College
Michael V. Smith
Prayer for Promiscuity
Prayer for Paternal Love
Laisha Rosnau
Top Reasons Why Women Check
Into Psych Wards
Jamie Sharpe
Poor, Delicious Nine
Eve Joseph
Three Prose Poems
Iheoma Nwachukwu
Postcards from Dystopia:
II. Drifting to Pescara
Laura Farina
The Wind
Plot for an Episode of Scooby Doo
Stephen Brown
Bus Window
Rebecca Rustin
Rip Tide
Lisa Baird
Hard Rime
Tom Wayman
The Door
88 Michael Meagher
W e wash and dry those big entrance mats you see slopped down inside
offices and government buildings and banks. Our guys drive all over the
city in cube vans, picking up those dirty mats before backing up to the
bay doors. From the outside, the warehouse looks like a giant storage
shed. Rusty, corrugated sheets of steel gunned into concrete. The floor's
grey and cracked, and there must be a million clean mats, stacked neatly
on shelves. Row after row after row. Waiting to be taken away. Rubber,
carpet, studded, 6'x8', 6'xlO', 8'xlO', 10'xl2'. They all have their proper
place among the barrels of chemicals and cleaning solvents.
A couple guys unload the vans, and one runs the washers, and another
the dryers. When a dryer bell rings, two buttons are pressed—the first tilts
the hulking machine forward, the second spins the mats into a twisted
mess, spitting them onto a cart in the process. I dabble a bit, but mostly
untangle. Imagine trying to straighten out a boxspring-sized pretzel made
of rubber. Then doing it a hundred more times. Heaving and jerking like
a tuttle on its back. The final—and easiest—step is folding and putting
away the mats.
Before my hands hardened and withered like sun-dried tomatoes, the
heat in the rubber would burn into them. Eat right through the Kevlar
gloves. The work's messed up the rest of my body, too. I'm only thirty,
but you'd probably guess forty, or maybe even fifty. A lifetime of steam
and cancer in ten years. Battery acid seeping into all the folds and cracks
of skin. My face and arms bumpy like a gourd or avocado rind. Although
I'm well set and you'd be hard-pressed to find a roll of fat, you might say
I've become ugly, or, at the very least, an acquired taste.
My shift runs noon 'til ten or eleven. Sometimes longer. That means a
good piece of overtime with each paycheque. The idea of an extra couple
hundred bucks every two weeks was nice in the beginning, but it quickly
became an expectation, so it's not so special after all.
Me and Simms are always the last to take off. He runs the final loads,
and I work apart the mats. "Grab the knot and tug," he said once. "If
it doesn't work, go to the other side of the cart, try another angle. You
always wanna be moving, always bucking. Like a bull. Never flatfooted.
Remember that," he said, "'cause I won't tell you again."
PRISM  55:1 Jonathan Skidmore was on the job only three days. The work seemed simple
enough: pour the chemical from a larger container into a smaller one.
The supplier label identified this chemical as flammable and combustible.
Jonathan knew that'flammable and combustible means more than simply not
smoking in the area. You also have to make sure that there is no equipment
nearby creating sparks, flames, or heat, and to take precautions to prevent the
buildup of static electricity.
Jonathan walked over to the larger container and removed the cap.
Without warning, the chemical burst into flames.
The fire burned eighty percent of Jonathans body.
How could this senseless tragedy have been prevented?
Jonathan's employer should have told him that certain liquids may cause
static electricity to build up while they are being poured.
The fire that burned Jonathan was started by static electricity.
To prevent static electricity from building up you must ground the larger
container to a ground in the building, thenyou must bond the larger container
you are pouring from to the smaller container you are pouring into.
Jonathan died three days later in the hospital.
The instructor got out of his chair and walked to the front of the
room, where he'd been standing before the video started. He'd dabbed
himself with cologne that morning, so he stunk of iodine and spruce.
He wore a polo shirt with an insignia on the shoulder. A tiny knight's
helmet. Probably the mascot of the business school he graduated from.
In the chest pocket, he'd tucked three pens. One each of black, blue, and
red. He wore creased khakis and a pair of dress shoes. Didn't look a day
over twenty, although it's hard to tell with men like him. Men who don't
work with their bodies.
The old guy, Art, would wear jeans and a Stihl or John Deere sweatshirt.
And he never stood while he talked. He'd sit at the table with everyone
while explaining how to clean a chemical spill. Then he'd take a stack of
laminated pictures out of his binder. "This is the sign for flammable,"
he'd say, holding up a picture of what looked like a boy scout's campfire.
"And believe it or not," he'd laugh, grabbing another sheet from the pile,
a drawing of a test tube or thermometer shaped like a condom, "this still
means compressed gas."
He'd turn off the lights for the video, to make the experience more
cinematic. And when he related back to case studies of guys whiffing
unlabelled chemicals, he'd look at us with this puzzled expression that
meant what fucking idiots. The new guy was all business, though. He
even put clinical photos on the overhead. Arms covered in blood blisters,
a pussing eye socket the size of a grapefruit.
"Did anyone take notes?" he said. "That's why I keep the lights on for 7 training videos."
"No one took fucking notes," Simms said.
"Easy, Charlie," Tony said. "He's just doing his job."
"Just give me the fucking test."
Charlie Simms has been working the washers for a couple decades.
Right out of high school, I've been told. But his skin isn't droopy like
some of ours. It clings to his face like plastic wrap. Like he's been given
Botox injections. So perfect it's off-putting. I'm sure that's why Tony,
the manager, hasn't canned Simms—who knows what demented cells are
pulsing inside, and if he's capable of charging into the warehouse with a
"It's all right," the instructor said. "I'll be out of your hair soon."
After he handed out the tests, he pressed a button on his watch and
said, "You have twenty minutes."
He walked to the head of the table and crossed his arms in front of
his chest. He hadn't been bothered by Simms—this wasn't the first time
a grown man had cursed at him—but the instructor still looked like a
schoolboy watching a tennis match.
Maybe the test was always meant to be twenty minutes, but Art was
laid back. He'd give out the tests and tell everyone to take their time, then
leave the room. Go to the bathroom or down the street for a coffee. He'd
knock before coming back. "Hope nobody cheated," he'd joke.
What should you do if you spot an unknown liquid on the ground? A.
Taste it to see what it is B. Smell it to see what it is C. Consult your supervisor
immediately D. Put on gloves and wipe it up. Nothing differed from
previous years. Questions, right answers, wrong answers. Even though
Art was gone, I was relieved—maybe we all were—because the whole
operation hadn't changed.
There are white collars like Tony. Older guys whose work has started to
catch up with them. It's happened right in front of my eyes. You can't
see it at first because it's deep inside. Then one day you notice a grey
moustache hair or a widow's peak receding. A step that's lost its spring.
Before you know it, sick leave. Ulcers and migraine headaches. I've never
worked an office job, but I've seen people come and go.
And then there are white collars like that young instructor. And like
Adam, the guy who'd been hired on as the new secretary. Adam's face
was clean and pale and his hair always combed to the side. Poking out
the sleeves of his button-down, his hands were white and chalky as latex
gloves. He reminded me of a fawn being exposed to the ugliness of the
world for the first time. So cute you want to kiss or snap its neck.
It was on the bench outside the warehouse I first talked to Adam.
8 PRISM  55:1 Right after the training video. I'd just tapped a cigarette on the pack a few
times and brought it to my lips.
"I always see people do that," he said, sitting beside me.
"Do what?" I said.
"Tap their cigarettes. I've never known why."
"Me neither."
We sat there for a minute, looking out at the field. It wasn't winter yet
but most of the weedy grasses had already died back. It was only in late
spring and summer they looked almost alive. A couple months later the
field would be hard with ice, and the garden plants on the warehouse-side
of the chain-link fence flattened-out and yellow.
"Do you have an extra one of those?" Adam pointed to the pack of
cigarettes lying on the bench between us.
"Go ahead."
He took one out of the pack and put it to his lips. "Do you mind?
It's the wind," he said. He shielded the cigarette with his hands while I
flicked the lighter.
"Thanks. I'm Adam, by the way."
"Tom." We reached out to shake hands. Me with my fat patsnip
fingers and him with his hairless, pencil-thin ones. By his grip, you knew
he was a typist or a secretary, and couldn't have handled a day or even
an hour downstairs. Steam and boiling water and splintered backs and
anger. Packed together like wet clay and chucked into the corner of the
warehouse. The Pit, it's called.
"How long have you worked here, Tom?"
"Long enough, anyways."
"I should've been looking at your test, then," he said, laughing smoke
out his mouth.
"That may not have helped."
"So where do you put the butts?" He held out the half-smoked
"Just anywhere."
He dropped it on the ground, twisted it out with his foot.
"Thanks for the smoke," he said, then got up and brushed off the
front of his pants.
I'd came out of the bathroom wearing my new uniform. Navy blue work
pants and a white t-shirt. "They're a little tight," I said to Tony.
"You'll grow into them in no time. It's like a sauna down here," he
said. "In a good way."
"Whatever you say."
"Great," Tony said, clapping his hands together. "Charlie here will 9 show you everything."
There were three dryers side by side. Each as big as an upright minivan.
At a right angle to the row of dryers were three washers. The machines
formed an L, and gave a sense of enclosure. At the near side of the dryers
was an open space with a large table. This is where Charlie Simms took
me. Wheeling a cart of hot, tangled mats behind.
"Watch closely" were the first words that left his mouth. While Tony
had talked, Simms just stood there, eyeballing. Trying to think of one
good reason not to go batshit crazy and scare me away.
Simms bent his knees and clasped one of those rubber mats. He
jerked his legs straight while tugging with his arms. He tugged again and
again. Like a shock absorber having a seizure. When he finally yanked out
the mat, like a tooth, he slopped it on the table. "If it's not working," he
said, "get angry. Anger's your friend here."
"What am I doing exactly?" I asked.
"What I just did there," he said. "And when the mats pile up on the
table, fold 'em and put 'em away. Now get to work."
Part way to the washing station, he looked over his shoulder. He saw
the dumb look on my face, and came right back to where I was standing.
"What the fuck did I say? Start ripping those things apart or you're
finished. You hear me?"
With most jobs, there's that awkward first moment—even if it's
only a minute or two—where you get your instructions, where you
look at one of the old-timers and try to follow what they're doing. But
at the warehouse, there was no real first moment, no moment that lay
somewhere between working and not working.
The door was opened. And as ir closed, I heard the brisrles along the
bottom sweep across the concrete. Then the scuff of dress shoes as Adam
came to the bench. He bent over beside me and put down an empty can
of tomato sauce.
"For the butts," he said, sitting down. "Do you mind if I have a
cigarette?" he said, slipping a few quarters out of his pocket.
"It's all right," I said. "Go ahead."
"Are you the only one who smokes around here?"
"No, a couple of the other guys do."
"And where are they?"
"I guess if we all took break at the same time, we'd fall behind."
"So what's it like working downstairs?"
"Well. We clean the mats and then we dry and fold rhe mats. That's
all there is to it. And before that, we unload them from the cube vans."
"It must keep you in shape, at least. Maybe not like pushing pens
10 PRISM  55:1 all day, though," he said, laughing while pretending to flex his biceps
A noise left the back of my throat, halfway between a huh and a
laugh. "Probably nothing like that," I said.
A guy came into the lunch room an hour inro his firsr shift. "I messed my
back up some good," he said to me. He was hunched over and reaching
around, squeezing his lower back with his hands.
"Then take a seat," I said. "Drink some water."
Simms stormed into the room and put his nose in the new guy's face
like he was acting out some sort of mating ritual. "Get the fuck back out
there," Simms said.
"I think I threw my back out, boss."
"I don't care what the fuck you did. We're falling behind. I'm gonna
see you in The Pit in thirty seconds," Simms said, then left. I'll tell you
now that Simms doesn't discriminate. What I mean is that nobody's off
the hook. It's fuck this and faggot that with everyone. His own mother
could snap her arm in half, and Simms wouldn't feel bad.
"I don't know about this, pal," the new guy said to me. "I've done my
share of construction over the years, but nothing like this. No, not like
"You have about fifteen seconds to decide," I said, pointing at the wall
Just as the new guy's lips touched the arc of water spurting out the
fountain, Simms came in. "What the fuck did I tell you?"
"It's my back, boss," the new guy said.
"Stop being such a pussy and get out there."
"I think I'm finished."
"When are you off break? Five minutes?" Simms said to me.
I looked at the clock. "Seven."
Simms walked out the lunch room and the new guy out the front
door. I once saw a guy quit after ten minutes. "Tell your boss 'thanks but
no thanks.' This work isn't for me," he said. Walking off. Something I
should've done by now. Before getting on at the warehouse, I'd jumped
around for a couple years. Dishwashing, food prep, mopping floors. It
was easier to leave those jobs. Sure, I was younger. But I also hadn't had a
ten-year habit in my system.
"Mind if I have a drag?" Adam said.
"You can just take one," I said, and grabbed the cigarettes from the
bench. 11 "I never smoke a whole one, anyways."
"I guess not." I blew smoke out the side of my mouth and passed him
the cigarette.
He brought it to his lips and inhaled. He took another drag, then
passed it back, a smear of saliva across the filter. "Sorry about that," he
"I don't mind." I brought the cigarette to my mouth, and my lips
covered the smudge. It tasted sweet. Like honey or jasmine. Kissing
him flashed through my head. Then jamming my dick down his throat.
Those lips. Soft as applesauce. That's what happens when you go so long
without touching someone—things pop into your head from nowhere.
I blew the smoke out my mouth, then took one last drag before
dropping it in the tomato can beside the bench. It was just a blotch of
glue keeping the label attached.
I lit another cigarette and gave it to Adam. After he inhaled the
smoke, he rested his arm on his knee, the cigarette dangling between his
limp fingers.
"How's it going downstairs?" he asked, giving me the cigarette.
"We had a new guy in there this afternoon."
"How's he doing?"
"I don't think he's coming back."
"He couldn't relax, is all. The thing is, no mattet what you do, the
mats keep piling up."
"So what happened?"
"The usual story. It was his back. And Simms."
"Simms," he repeated, as if turning the word over in his head.
"I guess there's nothing you can do, though." I took a long drag and
looked across the frozen field. I took another, passed Adam the cigarette.
"And how's it going upstairs, then?"
"The same as downstairs, probably, except that it's paper, and there
was no new guy," he said, laughing.
We sat there for a minute. I looked out at the icy field and Adam
stared at the ground between his feet.
"So what's the deal with Charlie?" he said.
"You mean Simms? He's a piece of shit is what's the deal with him."
'"Cause he calls me gay whenever he sees me. Nearly every day for the
past two months."
"You mean he calls you faggot?"
"And are you?"
"Of course not."
12 PRISM  55:1 "Then I wouldn't go around feeling special about it. He's called me
faggot for ten years, along with everyone else. If it's not that, it's fuck face
or shit hole or pussy."
"Isn't there something we can do?"
"Not really," I said. "I'd tell you he's still around because he's loyal.
And because he's a good worker. Bur that would be horseshit. Between
you and me, I think Tony's scared of him."
"Maybe. I don't see what else it could be."
"Jesus," he said. "And it's just the two of you every night?"
"For the last couple hours."
"How do you do it?"
"I ignore him. And that's what you should do."
"Still. Be careful, Tom."
"I'd worry about yourself."
Barney's teeth are bucked and crooked, and his mouth's always half open.
Like he's on the verge of talking. And his face sags like he's got weights
hooked into the cheeks. His shoulders are sloped and he's a little bent
over. As if he's constantly about to gtab something off the ground. He
goes fast, but doesn't run. Or even walk. He shuffles with varying degrees
of speed. Loading one dryer, unloading the next. Rolling carts of spun-up
mats to the folding table.
By the time I start shift, he's been running the dryers for an hour.
And there's a line of carts waiting for me. We've worked together a few
years, but I couldn't tell you much about him. If we're lucky, I have time
to say, "Hey, Barney," and he says, "Hey, bud," and the afternoon starts
off on rhe right foot. Otherwise, Simms tells us we're nor paid ro fucking
socialize before Barney can get a word in. So I grab one of the knots of
hot rubber and tug, feel the blood rush into my crapped-out back. And
Barney slouches back to the machines, ready for eight or nine or ten
more hours of steam and vinegar and bleach. Screaming into his eyes and
palms and gums like a shattered windshield.
Sometimes I'm on a roll. Yanking mats out of the rubber snarl,
flopping them onto the folding table. Like I have a gift. But sooner or
later, Barney brings a lump of mats that ruins my rhythm. Even if the
mind's still game, the body won't co-operate. It's irrational, but in these
moments I resent Barney. He seems like a decent guy, but I want to shove
his face into a vat of antifreeze.
On top of the thtee regulars—Barney, me, and Simms—and the
guys driving and unpacking the vans, there's a drifter. A guy who works
wherever he's needed. Untangling, folding, shelving. He might last a day 13 or a week. Or half an hour. For that, he can thank the muscles and joints
in his back. Shutting down before toughening up. He can also thank his
hands. Covered in blisters and boils, some of them bloody. And it's not
just the heat and friction. It's the rubber studs on the mat bottoms. A
thousand thumbtacks chewing across twisting palms.
This guy—the drifter—rarely straightens out a cart in under ten
minutes. But someone whose hands have been burnt numb, who's okay
with gripping a tar-hot mat and wrenching, not letting go 'til it's free—
someone like me—can tackle a load in six or seven minutes. Once or
twice—and only once or twice—I may've gone down to five minutes.
If I ever did four, Simms would cry to management. "We gotta knock
thirty seconds off the dryers," he'd say. "To keep him on his roes." Thar's
because a dry cycles twelve minutes, and there are three dryers. Which
means every four minutes, Barney wheels over a cart.
My back and hands may be hardened, but I've never gotten used to
the bells. A buzzer means something's ready, but a bell means something
needs to be done. A dryer bell clangs every four minutes, which is fifteen
bells an hour. In a twelve-hour shift, 180 emergencies. And double that
with the washing machines. No matter how far ahead you are, you're
always on edge. Like trying to sleep under a smoke alarm with a low
Bells take the place of familiar things—sun, moon, flower bud, nut
sack, nipple. Naked men are in line. Marching beside a sraggered row.
Pyramid cedars and drying machines. One of the men is Adam. A bow
tied around the base of his erecrion, his balls jingling. He tries to say
something, but he's got a dinner bell for a face. So a metallic screech
comes out. A bolt shot into my eardrum. Waking up wet. I sit, make for
the lump of tangled rubber beside the folding table. But I stop and go
back to bed. The people in those banks and office buildings don't know
about this. Or that I even exist. A mat's taken away, another's slopped
down. If my body hadn't been cut out for the warehouse—if I were a
drifter—maybe I'd have gone to college. And become a filer. Hiding
behind staples and pencils and stacks of paper by day. Cold sweating over
them by night.
Adam was already sitting on the bench, which meant something wasn't
right. He was looking at the field, all its grasses soggy from the spring
I sat down, then lit a cigarette and passed it over.
"I'll see if I can't quit once and for all," he said. "A fresh start."
"What's wrong?"
"Today's my last day," he said. "I wanted to tell you sooner, but
PRISM  55:1 couldn't. I don't know why."
I took a drag, then dropped the cigarette in the can. The label that
said tomato sauce was gone. The wind and rain had been sneaking under,
peeling the strip of paper from the steel. I don't know how many times
I've walked over to the green garbage container and dumped a full can of
butts. I never get them all out, though. Some always cling to the bottom.
Wet and brown and permanent.
"I don't think I've ever seen you leave a cigarette unfinished," Adam
I've spent my watehouse years losing touch with everyone I know. At
first, I'd still go out on weekends. I was proud of my thick arms and thick
fingers. Stained with sweat and solvent. Datk as tobacco juice. I'd even
bring the odd guy back to my apartment. Put my seven inches to good
use. But I changed with time. And could never sleep enough. Then Adam
came along.
"It's funny," I said. "How you get used to it. A job, looking out at a
field, sharing a cigarette on a bench."
"Have you ever thought about leaving?" he said.
"I've thought about a lot of things."
"No. Seriously."
I squinted at the clump of maples at the far end of the field. Short and
fat. Like candy apples stuck in mud. "Did Simms have something to do
with this?" I said.
"With me leaving?" he said. "I wouldn't say that, but just thinking
of him gives me the creeps. I had a dream a while back. I'm working
upstairs as usual. Everything looks fine, excepr I'm alone. I hear someone
walking up the stairs. Turns out it's Simms. Holding a gun in his hand.
'Hey faggot,' he says, pointing the gun at me. Just as he's about to pull the
trigger, I wake up. And I never even worked with him."
"So it's because of Simms?"
"I never liked ir here. The money, the hours, the work. None of it.
Except you."
"Let me talk to him."
"There's no use. You said so yourself. Besides, even if he had something
to do with this, it's too late."
"I guess you got a job lined up, then?"
"Yeah," he said. "It pays well."
"Maybe I can go work with you."
"A couple clerks riding off into the sunset together," he laughed.
"That would be the day, wouldn't it?"
"Let's go for a drink sometime, though. Here's my number," he said,
handing me a piece of paper. "I should get going, but call me." He put 15 his hands on his thighs, then sat up from the bench. He patted my back
and headed for the door.
I went with Adam the other day. This bar on the other side of the city. "I
came here in university," he told me. Oak tables and oak chairs and oak
countertop. Glazed and cloudy. Mozzarella sticks and fries and nacho
cheese bubbling behind swinging doors. The place was divey enough that
Adam could squeeze the inside of my leg under the table, slide his hand
up the denim. But not so divey that he couldn't have his red wine.
"When we were sitting on the bench and I asked you about men," I
said, "you said, 'Of course not.'"
"The same thing you would've said, right?"
He had his little boy's haircut and his collared shirt. But he drank, all
right. Until we stood and walked past the table of college kids. Past the
neighbourhood men slouched over the counter. So shrivelled they'd be
wasted—although you wouldn't know—off a single pint. Paid the tab and
fell into my car. Drove to my place. "Because I have roommates," he said.
His hand on the back of my neck, the other down the front of my pants.
My hands on the steering wheel. Raining outside. The red and green
and yellow lighrs like slits. Then fumbling for the apartment key and
teasing it into the key hole. Kitchen with a toaster oven, microwave, and
a buzzing fridge. Dishes teetering in the sink. A mattress, and a television
on a stand. Grey carpet. Musty like maggots on compost. And we're both
naked, lying in bed. He's how I imagined. Chest flat as plywood. Just
enough ass to grab onto. Nipples rhe size of fly bites. "It's been a while,"
I say. But no words behind his wine-pink teeth. Just his lips on my neck.
Wet bodies slow. And then fast. Like mats being slapped together.
The white collars clear our. Then it's the guys driving and unpacking
rhe cube vans. Then Barney. That leaves me and Simms. He's whipping
the last of those sandy mats through the machines, and I'm working the
folding table. I wait a good fifteen minutes after Barney leaves, then walk
across The Pit, right up to Simms. "What the fuck are you doing, faggot?
If we wanna be outta here by next week, get the fuck back over there," he
says, pointing to the backlog of bloated carts beside the dryers.
"I'm gay, Simms," I say.
"I know. Why don't you unplug your fucking ears?"
"You're not hearing me," I say.
I'd planned on Simms going wild. But after skipping a beat. Trying
to understand what I'd told him. It was in this confused moment that
I'd hoof him between the legs. Watch him drop to the concrete. Squirm
16 PRISM  55:1 there like a beetle. I'd roll him onto his back, press my foot into his
"Look at me," I'd say, but he'd wince.
"And this one's for Adam," I'd say, belting him a second time in the
nuts. And one last shot—a bent-over haymaker—to the nose. Just to see
him bleed. My wallet and keys and cigarettes would be in my pockets,
but I'd leave everything else behind. Jacket, street clothes, backpack.
Scrunched at the bottom of my locker. He'd be worming around like
burning Jonathan Skidmore. And I'd book it to the car and twist the key
in the ignition. Blaze home. "Come with me," I'd tell Adam. "Just shut
up and come with me." He'd say yes, and we'd drive the gas out of the
tank. Hole ourselves in a motel for the night, then keep driving. He'd
find another job. And so would I.
Simms looks like a boy lost in the rain. I even give him a chance to
rage, to justify messing him up. But he just stands there. This boy. So I
walk out the door and drive home. Go back to work the next day, because
who am I kidding? I say nothing and Simms says nothing. He never does.
On\y pussy and fuck-o. But no more faggot. What kind of logic is that? 17 Paisley Rekdal
Some still claim they are
alive, though the last known sighting
was in 1930, their skins so rare, London's
zoology museum has only one
knitted replica for evidence, its fecal blooms
of stripes laddering a tan backside: four-teated,
pouchless: belly a dirt-streaked cream stretched
like a child's sweater atop a hoop of willow switches.
You can make one
from a pattern you can buy, as you can knit
its spotted pelt on size 2 and 4 needles, which are
quite small, circular: you have to slit the shape in two
when finished, the way my grandmother did,
slicing my father's sweaters
through the sternum, sewing back the deckle edge
of each honeycomb and cable, as the farmers
in Tasmania taught themselves to do, lost
in the colonies of a world no white woman
would enter, and so began
to think like women, sitting before the same fire, knitting
socks and scarves and sweaters
until this work turned from necessity
to art. The first goal with knitting
is utility, and so I'm moved by the strangeness
of these yarn-pelts'
burrs and slubs, the mohair tufts
thin as a kitten's undercoat, though you can't knit
the cough-like bark, the shining teeth,
18 PRISM  55:1 you can't knit the jaw
that unhinges like a book
with a broken spine. The knitted skins
are smaller than their wiry
counterparts, delicate, soft
as the wives the farmers dreamed of, sick of work
their fathers would have said
made them soft, waiting for wives to come and make them
grow rough beards again and trim their nails
so as not to wound the thin
pink lips their fingers opened; though perhaps
for themselves they'd already kept
nails short, beards long: loving
how wet each others' mouths felt beneath
such bristles, each like a slick surprise: the buttery sex
cut out of the sea urchin, perhaps, a toy they made
from lumps of clay and rusted sewing needles
and slipped to a friend as a secret gift, look
what I have fashioned for you, the figure
conjuring forth alternately the spines
of hedgehogs, porcupines, the teeth
of the little cat-shaped devil that lives
in the bush and cries and cries
like the mating cats that used to draw
my teenaged father onto the porch,
swinging his flashlight into the dark
until he saw two green sets of eyes,
and shot at them with the gun his father left him.
Then he would take his spoils back down to the house where,
for curiosity's sake, he skinned them:
slicing the pelts up through the belly, soaking the remnants
19 in formaldehyde: trying
to get the shape of the animals just right
on his mother's table, knowing
what they should look like but unable
to duplicate it, not even knowing
what their last expression should be, that of pain
or of desire, for they'd died in both, as his mother
sat in the dark with a farmer
my father had to call Uncle.
While an ocean away men sat
in their strained circles and pulled
one strand of yarn through the back loop
of another, trying to approximate
their sisters' stitches, sending samples in their letters
home, telling their mothers: I am different now,
telling their sweethearts: I am changed,
but keeping secret their stories
of a tiger that would steal your soul
if it found you, which is why
they called it a devil, for the way
it slept under the porch; for the way it would cry,
sounding like a lover, a brother, a friend, a mother,
sounding like an ache rhat can never be sarisfied: how
how could they say they'd never heard it, these men
knitting and knitting the same dream over?
Of course they heard the cry. It broke them in pieces.
And when they woke,
they slipped out of bed, gathered their lights,
and rushed out into the dark to seize it.
PRISM  55:' Carolyn Watson
IVleg sat on the bottom step and listened. Upstairs, in the bedroom
with the best view of the mountains, her grandfather lay dying. His green
corduroy slippers were underneath the bed where she had hidden them.
People had been coming and going for hours, but so far, no one had
noticed. They were more concerned with her mother. "Poor Angela,"
they said as they made their way downstairs. "What a burden she's had."
No one said, "Poor Grandpa," and he was the one who was sick.
With this in mind, Meg moved up a few steps. She had stopped
counting the flower arrangements her mother placed around the house.
Every morning a man in a white van delivered more bouquets. "See how
important yout grandfather was," her mother would say, as if he were
already dead.
The doorbell rang, and a visitor ran to answer it. More strangers
entered the house, their voices hushed and concerned. The women
carried cookie tins and casserole dishes covered with aluminum foil. The
men held potted plants and bottles of wine. Like the others who arrived
before them, these people wore fancy black clothes as if they were going
to the theatre.
"How long?" someone said.
"The doctors gave him a month, but it doesn't look good."
"Oh, geez... Poor Angela. Maybe a quick departure is for the best."
Meg hugged her elbows and inched up another step. People patted her
on the head as they went by. Some smiled sadly. Others offered to bring
her a plate of food or a glass of punch, but she reminded them she was
seven years old and could serve herself. Earlier, she had stolen a container
of plain yogurt and a can of the strawberry stuff her grandfather drank
through a straw. The combination made her gag. No wonder he was sick.
"I need your help," he had said the last time she snuck into his
bedroom. "You mustn't tell anyone."
She put her ear to his mouth as he whispered his insttuctions. His
voice was raspy, his breath warm on her skin. Pale blue tubes went up his
nose. He hadn't sat upright in days.
"Never mind your mother," he said. "She has too much on her mind.
Can I count on you?"
Meg patted his cheek. She tried not to look at the poop bag hanging 21 off the side of the bed.
Downstairs, a woman invited everyone to drink coffee and tea.
"There's food on the table," she added, and Meg wondered if rhey had
run out of space in the refrigerator.
The strangers ambled in groups of twos and threes toward the dining
room. Their voices grew louder as they dug into the food. A few people
laughed. Meg slid her bum up another step. She hoped they ate the
stinky blue cheese on the top shelf of the fridge, but not the Nanaimo
bars on the bottom. She hoped they finished the case of strawberry stuff
and spared her grandfather further suffering.
"Not hungry?" said a voice.
Meg bristled. Lorraine stood at the top of the stairs with her arms
crossed against her chest. The nurse wore a peach uniform and a beige
cardigan that smelled like dryer sheets. Her pink stethoscope hung
around her neck. Everyone said Lorraine was Grandpa's godsend, but
Meg thought she looked like a squid. The nurse had been living at the
house for months. She rarely left the yellow armchair in the hall outside
the dying man's room.
"I could use a coffee," said Lorraine. This was a hint.
On principle (because who wanted to talk to a squid), Meg never
responded when Lorraine spoke to her. She pressed her knees together
and leaned forward. She wondered if she somersaulted down the stairs
if she would survive. Her grandfather told her that death made people
stupid, and she had been studying her mother for signs.
Lorraine paced from one end of the hall to the other, her white
Frankenstein shoes squeaking with every step. She made little noises that
some people mistook for humming, but Meg understood to be squid
talk. If she got thirsty enough, the nurse would say, "I'll be a minute"
and trudge down rhe steps to the kitchen herself. The minute usually
lasted an hour. Squids gorged on stinky cheese and crackers. Meg waited
The doorbell rang again. More voices, casseroles and cookie tins.
Lorraine licked her lips.
"I could use a little television right here," she said, and tapped her
knuckles on the narrow table across the hall from her armchair.
Another hint. If Meg relayed it to her mother, which she would not,
a television would appear within days. Lorraine needed to stay happy
because Grandpa was a pain in the ass.
Meg unbuckled her shoes and buckled them up again. Her morher
had insisted she wear her best dress. Meg was not sure if rhis was for
Grandpa's sake or to impress the people downstairs. Her mother had
dressed up, too, though she forgot to brush her hair. Not that Grandpa
22 PRISM  55:1 cared. He wore a blue hospital gown and his favourite black baseball cap.
He told Meg it was because he had tickets to the World Series, but her
mother said he did not want people to see him bald.
"Something sure smells yummy," said Lorraine. She picked up her
empty coffee mug, fingering rhe handle. "Where did your mother go?"
Meg pressed her lips together. On principle, she wouldn't tell people
where her mother was either.
Lorraine frowned. She replaced the coffee mug on the table, stretched
her arms above her head, and yawned. "A lot of people sure like your
gramps," she said. "Rich people, too."
Laughter drifted up from the dining room. The visitors told lawyer
jokes, comparing the dying man to pit bulls, sharks, and the plague. Meg
rocked back and forth, hoping her grandfather stayed alive long enough
for her to honour his request. Lorraine was making it difficult.
The doorbell rang again. Meg shot the nurse a sideways glance and
scurried up another step. In the dining room, someone told a joke about
a lawyer tricking the devil into signing something called a prenup.
"I should answer that," said Lorraine.
She jogged down the stairs, squeaking and huffing as she went. Meg
scrambled up another step. She smoothed her skirt over her knees and
stared at the nurse's squidgy back.
"Lorraine," said Meg's mother when she saw her. "You don't have to
play butler."
"I was on my way to the kitchen," said the nurse. "I could use a little
"Oh, by all means, help yourself. We have more food than we know
what to do with."
Meg waited until Lorraine left and her mother was busy with the
latest group of theatregoers. Then she raced up the remaining steps,
checked over her shoulder, and slipped into her bedroom.
"Amanda," she said. "Grandpa is waiting for you."
The Springer Spaniel lay on the bed curled in a nest of blankets with
her head resting on the pillow. Meg had smuggled the dog upstairs while
Lorraine ate breakfast. Since Grandpa took ill, Meg's mother insisted the
animal sleep in the basement. Amanda was fourteen years old. She was a
With effort, Meg coaxed the dog out of the bed. Amanda hung her
head. She had left a puddle on the mattress.
"It's okay," said Meg, and she threw a pillow over the mess.
They walked down the hall together, their progress slow. Amanda
dragged her hind legs and Meg kept darting to the top of the stairs to
watch for Lorraine. When they reached Grandpa's room, Meg knocked 23 on the door.
"Go away," he said.
She laughed. "It's me."
He cleared his throat. That meant, "Come in."
She opened the door and let Amanda enter first. Grandpa lifted his
head off the pillow. "There's my girl," he said, meaning the dog. "Put her
up here."
Meg wrapped both arms around Amanda's belly and heaved her
onto the bed. The dog stretched alongside him, putting her head on his
"Now lock the door," said Grandpa, and Meg did that, too.
He mumbled a few words to the dog, stroked her face and scratched
behind her ears. Meg smiled. After a while, he looked at her. "How are
you doing?" he said.
She shrugged. The room smelled like rotting vegetables and she
suspected he was to blame. "You're right," she said. "The strawberry stuff
is disgusting."
Grandpa chuckled. His eyes grew moist. "Want to help me die?"
Meg did not want to appear dumb, but from everything she had heard
he was well on his way. "You don't need my help," she said. "Lotraine says
the cancer is eating you alive."
"And how do you think that feels?"
Meg hesitated. She remembered the spider bite that crippled her the
previous summer. Her leg itched and burned until green pus spurted out.
"It probably hum," she said.
"When it eats my brain," said Grandpa, "I won't recognize you or
Amanda or those parasites downstairs. I won't even know my name."
"You'll be too doped," said Meg, quoting Lorraine.
Grandpa lifted his hand off Amanda's head and gestured to his bureau.
"Top drawer. There's a bottle of pills hidden behind the socks."
With a quick glance at the door, Meg tiptoed across the room. She
opened the drawer as quietly as possible. Her hands shook. Lorraine was
due back any moment.
"There are two pills," said Grandpa. "I'll take them both."
"What about Amanda?"
He kissed his fingers and pressed them to the dog's forehead. "Don't
worry about her. She'll know what to do."
Meg pushed aside his socks, which were all blue and black because
he was a pig-headed man who would wear norhing else. The pill bottle
lay on its side. As she picked it up, the doorbell rang. She heard running
Frankenstein footsteps and someone calling her name. Lorraine,
squeaking and huffing, moved upstairs, followed by Meg's mother, who
24 PRISM  55:1 clucked impatiently. "She was on the stairs two minutes ago," said the
nurse. "I didn't notice the dog."
"She won't leave that poor beast alone," said Meg's mother. "I wish I'd
left it at the vet's."
When they reached the top of the stairs, there was a pause. "This
place reeks of dog urine," said Meg's mother, whose nose was a powerful
weapon. "She's got the darn thing in her bedroom."
Grandpa waved to Meg. His eyes were huge, frantic. "Hurry," he
Meg remembered the spider bite, which had left a scar on her calf. She
tried to imagine her grandfather not knowing her. As it was, he looked
nothing like the man who had taken her to the park and pushed her on
the swings. He was a shrivelled, colourless shell. "They go through stages,"
Lorraine had told Meg's mother. "Like the Seven Dwarves. Angry. Scary.
Difficult. Dopey. 'Just embrace the morphine,' I say."
"The pills," said Grandpa. His eyes darted from the door to Meg and
back again. "Please."
Meg opened the bottle. Her mother had talked about putting Amanda
out of her misery, which meant giving the dog a needle so she went to
sleep and never woke. When Meg protested, the response always was,
"Amanda is in constant agony and that's no way for an animal to live."
She never said, "Put Grandpa to sleep," and he was in pain, too.
Taking a deep breath, Meg dumped the pills into his upturned palm.
He put them in his mouth and motioned for water. She held the glass
while he took a sip.
"You're my darling," he said, after he swallowed. This time, he meant
She sat on the edge of the bed and patted his cheek. She would not
let herself cry, though teats blurred her vision and her throat was so tight
she could barely speak. She was saving him from cancer, hungry squids,
and the people downstairs who had come for the food.
"What should I tell everyone?" she said.
He sighed, relaxing into the mattress. "Tell them Amanda and I went
to the World Series. If they don't believe that, just tell them we died." 25 /Sen Ladouceur
The organist insists the infinite is hidden in his edifice.
When we clap we confirm our consensus towards this.
So he does some jumping jacks on this fart machine of his.
The dress shoes heeled and sequined and a blur.
The teardrop mohawk flopping in the airlessness.
Ultraviolent notes shed the shock before long.
Minor key for times of loss major key for times of intimacy.
Thank God he talks between etudes.
The voice of God one voice too few.
His point must be the organ contains multitudes.
And I of course a human contain organs.
Sweetbread beneath where my hands rest.
I have an assigned seat and so does everyone here.
Beyond that though I sit where I sit for complicated reasons.
Before I came here I lived in the ground.
Therein I read the stoiy of the artist on the mesa.
Her suffering formed a bloom she rhrew her tongue into.
So faint her pencilwork we could not see it in 360p resolution.
You asked me what I saw in her.
It was a vast white plane.
It was damp and soft and yellow down there beneath the ground.
From below I saw the snow bisected by the dirty window.
The frost was a flash-frozen gossamer brittle and even and clear.
On the last night of that lease could you see me?
Backlit by the Keurig as its lasershow begged us for water?
If yes how whole was the form? 27 John WallBarger
I peed on her shoes.
She shut her eyes.
My legs are numb.
My head spins.
I peed on her phone.
She hurled a soda
can. She no longer
calls my name
when she wakes,
she winces,
holds me apart.
I, once so light.
She no longer touches
her nose on mine.
I cannot walk,
I crawl down
the backyard stairs,
out of my collar
—Big Girl—pink,
into an immeasurable weight.
I crawl to the grass,
I cannot take it,
the chirping cicadas,
summer bursting
on all sides. Evening,
cold is growing.
Under the porch, beer cans.
Silent objects.
I know what I know:
fire & youth rise;
water & old age
flow downwards.
I was a gift. Look,
the old blue rag,
my first bed. Darkness
issues like a fog.
PRISM 55:1 She was a gift
given when I had
ceased to look.
I crawl onto the rag. 29 LAST WORDS OF THE OLD MAN WITH
Born with eyes cast wide
as nets, I held earth together
by my total recall.
I suffered nosebleeds.
I had no friends.
I was nine & unprepared
for my sister
her beauty. She is three,
I hold her tiny right hand,
we are crossing
a field. In her left hand
she holds a kite
tall as her. She stops,
mouth open: a deer
at the tree line.
The shoulder of the deer
rotting. A hole
dark & gaping
like some terrible insight.
I run with the string,
I tear her kite.
She sits in tall grass
in her green dress.
She isn't crying
or smiling, just looking
where the deer was.
Today it is winter,
night, cold on the lino.
Outside, city dogs
freeze. I am the deer.
Again, again
the kite in the sun:
blue light like veins
of the world.
PRISM  55:1 Laura Ritland
I had prepared everything ahead of time. Books, boxes,
the electric toothbrush and the novelty
paperweight by which I'd labour at night, writing
by the light of a lonely incandescent lamp. Year 2013,
Anno Domini. Now the real century begins. Now
to flip over the antique hourglass and herald in
a new era of intelligent inventions.
I went out and bought an ergonomic chair
which I found only later to be too expensive.
My convection heater blew a fuse
but when I looked for instructions to repair it,
I couldn't read Latin. Past the high medieval clutter
and stiff crowns of green copper, the streets gave way
to sweaty palimpsests of glass, cigarettes, a wounded
mattress and ticket transfers. To be modern,
I would have to be ready to let go
of a few things. To step past the grassy precincts
onto the curb of roaring two-way questions.
I caught a bus. I got lost.
I travelled to the sky's lowering edge.
I heard the future singing above me on steel rails.
I knew then I'd missed it by two minutes.         31 Tanya II. Ward
JL hings my grandfather told me as a kid:
1. Eating my toast crusts would put hair on my chest.
2. Eating my toast crusrs would make me whisrle (effectively spraying
crumbs all over my mother's beige carpet).
3. There is no such word as "can't."
4. We didn't need to buy eggs, because I could lay them.
"Squawk like a chicken," my grandfather said.
We were in the living room, my grandfather sitting in a worn leather
recliner, me in fronr, on the brown shag carpet. The routine was simple:
squat on this area of carpet, and only this area of carpet, facing the
opposite wall, and be one with the chicken.
"It's not working," I said.
"That's 'cause you gotta flap them arms."
It never once occurred to me that the egg could not possibly drop out
of my corduroy pants. And yet, following my grandfather's instructions,
I would flap and I would squawk and I would push until my eyes bulged
{push like you're going to the bathroom, he said—a risky thing to tell a four-
year-old). And then the egg would drop onto the brown shag carpet, and
I would turn around to look, and my grandfarher would giggle; then my
grandmother would cook the eggs however I liked and I would eat them
with a huge smile on my face.
I want to tell you something now, but I'm not sure it's true. I have this
memory of me, squatting in the field at school, trying to lay an egg for
my best friend Lynn because she had forgotten her lunch. "Don't worry,"
I said to her, corduroy pants still intact, "I got this." Thing is, the field
I remember is all wrong for Kindergarten—grassy and open, not sandy
and small, and the little wooden structure we played in (complete with
a captain's deck and a captain's wheel and a fireman's pole for quick and
daring escapes), is curiously absent. And those pants didn't fit me in
Kindergarten. You'd think remembering that part would be suspect too,
but the clothes—the clothes I never forget.
And now I'm remembering the time I caught my cat watching the
Discovery Channel—it was a show about turtles, and one of the turtles
was laying a great big pile of glossy eggs—and when my cat turned to
32 PRISM  55:1 me, eyes wide and unblinking, I giggled and said, "That's where you came
from." And then the cat said, "For real, Ma?" And I said, "Damn straight,
love. I picked you out of a whole pile of eggs and took you home and
hatched you."
"Wow," the cat said, still unblinking. "That is so cool."
I embellish things a lot now.
This much is true: at the height of my egg-laying abilities, I peed myself
on the coatroom bench at school, partly because I'd waited too long,
partly because I was wearing a dress and assumed the pee would go tight
through the dress (and tights). And so I sat, tears welling, unable to stop
the wet collecting under my bum and at my feet, making my wool tights
damp and picky. That afternoon, I stood with my back against the brick
wall of the schoolyard and let a soccer ball hit me in the face.
"You okay?" David said. This was a time in my life when I believed all
Davids were beautiful, because I knew exactly two Davids and they were
both divine. Later in life, David would say cool things like, "When were
you born?" and I'd say uncool things like, "Eighty-firsr," but then I'd do
cool things like, a soccer ball would come flying across the field and I'd
stick my toe out and hook onto it just right and it would pop up into
my hand and my best friend would say, "Wow. Sometimes you can be so
Now, wouldn't that story have been more enjoyable if you didn't
know the truth?
I don't remember the last time I laid an egg, but I do remember the last
time I ttied. On this day, I turned around to ask my grandfather why it
wasn't working and I saw his leg swinging forwards, catapulting the egg
on his toe. When the egg landed, it didn't even wobble; it just sank into
the brown shag carpet. And then I stared at the brown egg on the brown
shag carpet and then at my grandfather's foot in his thin black socks:
first with disbelief, like when I peed myself in the coatroom; then with
frustration, because I had been fooled; and finally with sorrow, because I
would never lay another egg again, not even if I tried. And then, because
I was a child, not a chicken, I began to cry.
"That's why I told you," my grandfather said, "to turn around and
face the other way. Why did you look?"
"Come," my grandmother said from the kitchen, closing the
refrigerator door with a soft hush. "Don't cry. We can still eat. How do
you want your eggs?" 33 Michael, V. Smith
Midnight in Stanley Park,
the moon is an ally.
breathes into firs
a chill.
Men double
as tree trunks,
appear a darker
Within, your ears
are readied eyes, sift
animal sounds
from human, some differences
of intent.
The dark
will always
see better.
As though it hides
our lovers like the dead
dead before
we met them,
the night teaches us
to miss what we never had.
Across Lost Lagoon, the apartment
complexes rise,
a horizon
lonelier than childhood.
34 PRISM  55:1 If we'd been children
together perhaps
we could have saved each other.
When they lift
from the shadows of trees
what do your palms reach for?
Have you noticed
yout fingertips,
bark peppering the skin?
I could lick them
clean as silence
if they rested here
and here awhile. 35 PRAYER FOR PATERNAL LOVE
All eight fingers
on his right hand refuse
to make him lucky
so that even at the dinner table
he cannot pinch salt from
rhe crowding
of his digits.
Days after
he was born, Only dogs,
his father had said,
could ignore them.
Eight splayed
fingers on the back
yard stump, knuckles
around the wrist,
Hold still, the man says.
The boy prays the octopus
of his hand contains
a secret. Buoyancy,
or silt that storms
and settles, given time.
He has loved his father
less than either of them
would wish.
Now give it here,
his father says, and the boy
to prove the point
reaches for their axe.
36 PRISM  55:1 Laisha Rosnau
They are tired
They are itchy all over
They hear voices
The voices are always calling them
The voices keep asking and asking and asking
No one can hear the women's voices
They tefuse to speak
On the fall from bridge deck to water they believe they can fly and this
conviction helps
them not to hit the water so much as disappear into it and when they
surface the psych
ward is the place where they draw a breath and open their eyes
They have shown aggression
They have shown aggression toward themselves
They have shown aggression toward their children
They have shown aggression toward their husbands
They have shown aggression toward their parents
They have shown aggression toward their in-laws
They have shown aggression a way to move through them, to express a
lineage of
aggression, to take the aggression of their family of origin as well as their
spouse's family
and to express it as their own then pass it on to their children so that they
too can show
aggression a way to move through them
They ate excessively expressive
They are excessive
They are excess 37 They speak one language when awake, another when asleep
They refuse to speak their own language
No one can understand their language
They speak nonsense
They have been telling lies
They have told the entire village that the baby is not theirs, that the baby
belongs to the
soldier, but there are no soldiers in the area and this is very upsetting to
the husband.
They are not at war. There are no soldiers. They are not at war
They believe the lies people tell them
They keep telling lies
They refuse to speak
No one can hear the women's voices
The voices are always calling them
They hear voices
They are itchy all over
They are tired
PRISM  55: Rachael Moor thy
V eiled by the plum light of dusk, the moon reeled the ocean into itself.
Chandta could tell by the cove's high tide: cyclical teal waves glittered and
frothed as she wobbled on the slackline.
"Oi, Jackie Chan!" Nads slapped the board-strapped roof of her piece-
of-shit Civic and signalled Chandra to get in.
She cussed as she lost her foothold, swung the slackline over her shoulder
and skidded around the beachstone Inuksuk Nads built to kill time while
the park rangers were still lurking around. She dove into the passenger's seat
and pressed her cheek to the car window. The tide would last for another six
hours or so, before the moon continued on its orbit and let the watet recede
"Damn roots." Nadia groaned as she swerved around a hillock of cement
in the road.
Chandta's face conked against the window glass. Nads sighed, opened
and shut her door, and the 90s mixtape carried on mid-"Whatta-Man". She
figured there was a loose wire in the car. The radio cut out whenever they
drove over uneven terrain or turned a sharp corner. Somewhere between
the cold-pressed juice stop in Coombs and Ucluelet's gravelly back roads,
Nads discovered that this could be dealt with by slamming the dtivet-side
door. Her Civic had been confined to her parents' garage while she was
away at Uni. It reeked of patchouli and stale chlorine, and was filled to the
brim with almond-milk-macchiato-stained receipts, crocheted crop tops,
and tatot cards—the sort of clutter that made Chandta cringe in a tangle of
disgust and admiration.
They were en route to get a taste of Tofino's thirteen-foot waves before
Nads left Chandra for the mainland again. She hadn't seen Nads since
her last Skype call over reading break, before Nads started seeing that
"actot" (really, a barista with an agent) and went all neo-luddite on het. An
outdated online presence made it easy to underestimate how much she'd
changed over the past year. For one, she'd gained some weight. A scatf of fat
swathed her lower abdomen, and her tits, by some miracle of physics, had
ballooned probably two whole cup sizes. Her once cystic acne was replaced
by faint craters. Her tawny hair was thicker, shinier. Chandra figured she
was on the pill now and probably having lots of sex over in Vancouver.
Chandra, conversely, was not having a lot of sex. Chandra was not having
any sex. All the chlorine sweat and two-a-day swim practices had caused her 39 to break out. Red papules bloomed on her forehead, back and shoulders.
Unlike Nads' cupgrade, she was as flat as a placid lake. Her flannel button-
up sloped in between her broad swimmer's shoulders like a frown. She was
only fourteen percent body fat, sure, but she took up a lot of space. Bone
structure. Muscle mass.
It wasn't just the freshmen fifteen, or rhe fact that she lost her virginity
without telling Chandra, Nads was all "enlightened" now. One of her
Ashtanga buddies told her she had a "purple aura." When Chandra
mentioned she'd been doing hot yoga, Nads just rolled her eyes and told her
that it was a "bastatdization of the sacred practice." Then, she cut herself off
with an "Oh God, I know, I know, ha-ha. Kill me. I am such a pretentious
Vancouverite now," between sips of rosehip kombucha.
Chandra perked up as they rolled into the sardined lot. Looked like
every surfer up Island heard the coconut wireless: last good swell of the
summer. Nads pulled in beside a dingy Volkswagen. She parked and
slammed the door for the umpteenth time. Chandta slid out of the car and
tilted het head back to inhale the salty, evergreen air, reaching out to the
bruised sky. The waning crescenr moon looked like a toenail clipping; it's
muted light softly outlined the peaks of the Sitka sptuce.
"Alright, lets pitch this bitch." Nads chucked the bag of tent patts on
the gtound. Chandra set the lantern on the picnic table and got to wotk.
Nads connected the pole and assembled the frame. Chandra secured
the rainfly. Nads got a fire going as Chandra unloaded the chow into the
icebox: leopard bananas, blackberries, dark chocolate with toasted quinoa
and hemp hearts, gluten-free graham crackers, and jumbo gelatin-free
marshmallows. Carbs. Pure carbs. Chandra pulled out her precautionary
cans of albacore tuna, liquid egg whites, and pea protein from her backpack.
Then she squatted down to set the slackline up around a black Spruce. Her
quads were sore. She'd done back-to-back Bikram yesterday; her coach had
recommended yoga for cross training over the summer. No squat tack for
her—breaststrokers were supposed to be lean.
Nads tore the bag of marshmallows open with her teeth. "Want one?"
she asked, stabbing a stick through the candy pillows.
"Golden brown, just like you."
"Golden brown sugar and horse hooves."
"They're gelatin-free."
"That's what they want you to think." Chandra hopped off the slackline,
galloped and neighed.
"Don't be a dick." Nads pelted marshmallows at Chandra's butt. "Did
you eat anything today?"
After the fire thinned out, night's sea-chill shepherded rhe girls into
40 PRISM  55:1 the tent. Go-Nads was out like a light. The rhythmic undertow of her
whisrling snore came in at predictable intervals: sets of three breaking off
every two minutes. Chandra, who struggled sleeping at the best of times,
pulled her pillow over her head and tried to drown out the noise, fidgeting
and grinding her teeth until 1:56 a.m., when the snores came to an end,
replaced by Nads shuffling in rhe neighbouring sleeping bag, the sound
of the mesh door unzipping, and footsteps softening in gravel. Ocean air
wafted in thtough the mosquito netting, a wet, glacial whip.
Chandra groaned and scooched on to her knees to close the tent flap.
That's when she saw her: Nadia's heart-shaped face, framed by the stale
orange glow of the lantern, eating everything.
She inhaled what was left of the matshmallows, the browning bananas,
the hemp heart chocolate, the gluten-free graham crackers, the blackberries.
She swallowed it all like shame, like a secret, like lost virginity. Chandra
burrowed back in to her sleeping bag. She stayed awake until Nads wafted
back in: chocolate and overripe banana hot on her breath.
She woke to morning light stabbing through the rainfly.
Nads' face came into focus as she peered into the tent. "Hey man, you
have a tampon?"
"Hmm? No. Sorry." Chandra furrowed her brows and avoided eye
"It's fine, I'll check the car. Mother nature's a beautiful bitch." Nads
shook her fists at the treetops.
Chandra fumbled out of the tent to the humbling ctash and roar of the
ocean. It was going off, she could feel it in the way the air cowered. She
crouched in a bush to piss before suiting up, then mixed her protein powder
with bottled water and stirred it until it congealed. Protein pudding. How
late was she? Chandra lathered her shortboard with sexwax. She'd forgotten,
somehow, that petiods were a thing.
They treaded in silence, past the towering sea stacks, ignoring the galls of
the seagulls, focused only on the horizon. Hard-packed sand glittered like a
field of burnr sugar under the ashy overcasr.
Chandra gauged the conditions: low tide, perfectly peeling battels,
fifteen waves pet group with nineteen second periods and minimal chop.
Beauty. The water burned cold, like iced cayenne pepper. It flooded her
boots, then engulfed her whole suit, colder than usual.
A wave travels away from the atea of wind that created it, forming a
string of swells. The wave trains have smaller waves in the lead and the rear
while the big waves are at the hearr of the pack. That's where they were
headed. The spring swell lent itself a difficult paddle out, but God, was it 41 ever beautiful. Sashes of tangerine singed the melting blue sky. The kelp-
saturated water looked like gold broth filled with black soba noodles.
Chandra's shoulders burned with lactic acid as she dug towards the lineup. A ridge of liquid rose above the gold lip of the horizon. She aligned
herself with the freshly baked wave as it cascaded towards her. She dug
her arms into the water hard as it crested. She felt the wave surge with life
beneath her feet as she popped up, petfectly positioned. She envisioned
a quick bottom turn: she'd hug the wall, ride the wave all the way to the
sandbar. Instead, she wobbled and pearled forward, smacked in the face by
ice-cold green crush. The dulcer hum of underwater ear pressure drummed
on her temples. She broke the surface of the water, humiliated, with a gut
full of saltwater.
Nads gained a lead. She rose over the shoulder of a wave and dropped
in, her powerful legs crouched, wet hair plastered on the nape of het neck.
She catved balletically as the wave peeled, rotating het torso in the direction
she wanted to go. Nads carved away from Chandra.
Chandra gripped the rails of her board and duck-dived beneath an
oncoming wave. Cold. Hazy green. Underwater drum. Eight months. It
had been eight months since Chandia's last period.
Focus, she thought, as she hustled into position. She paddled until
het shoulders screamed. She caught the wave, just barely, but enough to
feel it roll and spread like butter beneath her board when she popped up.
That was it, the mastery. She was an athlete, she fought through pain, the
water was her territoty. But her quads stafted to tremble. She felt a lopsided
distribution of weight. Then she bailed. She was kneaded over by silver
wave after silver wave. Her atrophied legs like limp celery, her ribs tender
from the pressure of the board. She gripped her left leg: since when was it
so small? Her solid, elite-swimmer thighs had always been her greatest allies
in the surf. Her skull clanged, entire body panged. She had to tap out.
Chandra staggered in from the shore. Her celery legs gave out and she fell
to her knees, vomiting up a batch of stomach acid and brine between stacks
of driftwood. Planting her butt on the beach in submission, she cradled her
head between her knees until the ringing started to die down. Dty surfers
srared with fleeting concern, but she waved them off with an "I'm fine" and
their attention returned to the swell. She could see Nads out there: a little
dot of cherry-red, bobbing up and down in the turbulent water. She wasn't
even looking for Chandra, didn't even glance back.
In the lot, Nads gave Chandra her Cowichan sweater and cranked the heat in
her beater. TLC's Scrubs played in the background. Chandra's blood burned
as the circulation returned to her fingertips. It was that foggy feeling, when
PRISM  55:1 you come into a room looking for something but you can't remember what.
"Sorry man, lost you in the line-up."
"It's fine."
"You must be starving."
Chandra grinded her teeth. "Just had something on my mind."
"Probably a burrito." Nads twisted the ignition. She tan over a pinecone
as she backed out of the lot. The music stopped. Nads swore and smacked
her dashboard, "You're killing me car! The hell happened to you when I was
away?" She opened and shut het door and the music started again.
Chandra stirred stevia into her matcha, feeling pathetically domestic. She
hated to admit it, but she was relieved to be dty and indoots. Nads studied
the chalkboard menu as she lapped the whipped cream off of her maple
mocha. "I'd ride him like a wave."
Chandra swiveled her neck to eye the lumbersexual barista reorganizing
the baked goods in the display case.
"Still with that actor guy?"
Silence swelled between sips of synthetically sweetened tea. Nads went
to change her tampon. Chandra dragged her opened issue of Island Yogi
across the table: page 47. The Moon, Tides, and You. Below a diagram of the
lunar cycle, she learned that prior to the age of artificial light, all women
ovulated and menstruated in harmony, based on the moon's phases. To
resynchronize: pair ground pumpkin seeds and flax seeds during the new
moon, and for the full moon: sunflower and sesame. Witchy shit, but she
was into the idea of tides being at work inside of her. That's when Nads
interjected with the loud clink of a glass plate. She bought Chandta a seven-
dollat slice of raw vegan cheesecake.
Chandra sized it up: a lilac vat of cashews, coconut oil, and dates,
approximately a hundred calories per dollar. It settled in het chest—that
beneath-the-breastbone twinge, that pre-race anxiety. Nadia's healing-
crystal eyes met hets, and Chandra knew she knew, so she ate it. She ate the
offering to prove her fidelity to Nads, as much as it killed her. She held her
fork in a tentative grip and carved out dollop after dollop of cheesecake.
Her shoulders rose as the sugaty crescendo of lavender surfed her tongue.
She felt the phantom fat hugging her torso, petting her thighs. Nads smiled
and taised her fork to Chandra's; she had cheesecake in her teeth. Laughter.
Chandta's btain felt warm, and for a second, she felt normal. Like they were
back on the deck of the outdoor pool after morning practice, sharing pop
tarts and dishing the dirt to one anothet. 43 At the site, the air was warm and windless. The sky: rock salt spilled on
black marble. Chandra found that her balance was a little better on the
slackline. Nads realized she forgot to pick up pads and headed back into
town alone. Chandra decide to turn in; without the soundtrack of Nads'
whistling snore, she fell asleep in seconds.
Nads woke her up with a howl, holding a lantern to her face.
"What time is it?" Chandra groaned and reluctantly opened her eyes.
"Doesn't matter. Up, up, up."
Chandra rolled out of her sleeping bag with a gripe and groped her way
out of the tent. "What are you on about?" She yawned as she picked the
crystallized sleep from her tear ducts.
"Let's surf."
"Put your suit on."
"Are you high?"
"Sober as a church mouse," she said, a big, dumb smile on her face.
"Like I'd let you leave without a wave."
The swell had settled: sky and sea melted together into infinite charred-
indigo. They trudged calf-deep into the still water before mounting their
boards to paddle out into the indefinite space. The ocean became chameleonic
as they got further out; white star clouds freckled the opalescent waves.
"Hey!" Nads skimmed the water with her hand again, a ribbon of
sparkling bluegreen light danced after it. Bioluminescence. Chandra
remembered the firsr time she saw living light, how she and Nads had
chased it across the sandbar in PJs and gumboots. The time they swore
they'd never kiss boys with their tongues as they clung their knees to their
chests and denied wearing bras.
"I'm late."
"Y'know, my girl thing." Chandra traced electric-blue figure eights with
her foot.
"Are you like, pregnant?"
Chandta felt Nads' eyes searching for her in the darkness. "Not unless
it's an immaculate conception. I'd tell my best friend if I had my v-card
"Hey man, if it'd been up to me."
"What do you mean?"
"It was weird. I was drunk. Didn't really want to. I don't know."
"Oh." Chandra hugged her arms to her chest.
"It's fine."
They glided over constellations, over light emitted billions of years ago.
PRISM  55:1 The only wave Chandra caught was small. Its smooth, undulating surface
unravelled beneath her. It was as captivating as it was the very first time; the
living light, and how they were in the darkness, where Chandra could just
barely make out Nadia's figure. How little of our bodies we are. Chandra
splashed her heel in Andromeda's pancake-shaped speck of a galaxy; neon
blue embers glittered for a momenr, then disappeared. She tilted her head
back and breathed out, the thin white moon waning into nothingness. She
felt it reeling her in and wanted it to take her. To dissolve her into space:
formless, weightless. 45 Jamie Sharpe
You'll bloom.
A critical mass: everything
gravitates to you.
The sunset. Parked
on a nothing hill in a nothing town.
But, goddamn, a sunset!
Every town's light faded
and they made of it what they will.
You drank a milkshake.
For the cows, in Chilliwack,
400 suns set when they turned
out the factory lights.
Who knows what the cows made of it-
There's a statistically valid
number of you.
We're excited and confused
by outliers. (A heifer escapes
its farm and is hit by a train.)
We tell exceptional stories
that nudge extraordinary animals.
We call one such animal man
(the train engineer
who hir the cow).
Do we grieve specks—a cleansing
of flies against the windshield?
AG PRISM  55:1 Insects against glass,
not gas, powers vehicles:
why your Pinto sputters
in the Yukon at minus thirty.
One must eat the other.
The future assumes a past,
consumes each year?
No. Our prophesy begins, Why
is Eight afraid of Seven? 47 AnnS. Epstein
From the Journal of Colonel Richard Greville Arthur Wellington Stapleton-
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch on Anglesey, Wales
18 June 1915, 11:30 p.m.
Tonight, with great anticipation, I begin this journal, apart from my
routine daily entries, to record my undertaking to establish the first
chapter of the Women's Institutes (henceforth WI) here in Llanfairpwll
(etc.). If the effort proves successful among our rural populace,
perchance a historian will find these notes, albeit taken by an untrained
documentarian such as I, useful. The evening began with a jolly good
lecture by the diminutive Mrs Alfred Watt, whom I invited to speak
about the WI of Canada, where the organization originated. I believe WI
is just the ticket to enlist our own ladies in the war effort, conferring on
us a distinction beyond having the longest place name in Great Britain.
Olive, my beloved wife, accompanied me and steered my wheelchair
through copious rain and mud. She looked resplendent in a white skirt
and fitted jacket, her dark hair covered by a feathered hat and, above her
left breast, rhe matching pin I gave her for our fifth anniversary. [Note to
whomsoever shall peruse this record: I include such entries of what may
be deemed a more personal nature to pique the interest of lay readers like
myself, as well as studies by academics.] Olive, too, waxes enthusiastic
about a WI in our village. In fact, with scant urging from me, my dear
Cottontail proposed the following to the gathering of two dozen women
(yours truly and Tinker being the only males present): "Be it resolved that
we establish the seminal WI in Great Britain, identify a suitable meeting
place, and enact a charter of membership." Passage was unanimous. The
Marquess of Anglesey donated a plot of land, while Mrs James Pickstock
said she knew of an officers' mess for sale at Kinmel Bay army camp
that could be moved to the site to provide suitable accommodations.
I proffered the resources to do so, with Olive's audible affirmation. My
head bursts with agricultural projects the ladies might undertake. With
Britain's food self-sufficiency at a mere 35 percent, the German blockade
is resulting in dire scarcity. What a boon were our women to take up
chicken breeding, eggs being a good source of protein now that meat
is tationed. I, of course, cannot suggest this idea, given the Wis intent
to encourage the confidence and contributions of the ladies themselves.
48 PRISM  55:1 Hence, I shall entrust the deed to Olive, who readily acknowledges the
superiority of men's ideas. Imagine a women's egg cooperative serving
all of Anglesey, thence becoming a model for the whole of Britain! The
mind boggles. But it is long past my bedtime and incumbent upon my
health to sleep. I shall whistle for Tinker, ring for Cottontail, and awake
to devise a charter for her to propose at the first official WI meeting.
From the Journal of Olive Harriet Stapleton-Cotton
19June 1915, 8:00a.m.
Squelching my misgivings, as usual, I went with Richard last night to a
WI talk by a Mrs Watt from Ontario. My husband arranged the lecture
after hearing her speak at an advisory meeting on food production at
the Agricultural Organization Society. The gathering was exclusively for
women, but as Richard had called it, he was permitted to attend. Tinker
was the only othet male in attendance, and I was obliged to comb out
the terrier's snarls and wrestle him into his green wooly jacket. The dog
having nipped my right thumb eatlier, I protected it. So he bit the left.
It was pouring when we set out, miring the carriage wheels in the
red sandstone mud. It's a wondet farmers grow anything in this soil. As
we entered the hall, I maneuvered the wheelchair with one hand while
holding an umbrella in the other. Since his injury, Richard has gained
weight about the middle and jowls, and lost his hair, a sole tuft of which
crowns his pointed head. No longer the attractive man I married (whose
vigor aboard ship and in the bunk promised adventure and fulfillment,
unlike the drab swains I rejected), yet as vain as ever, he wore his silk vest
and plaid jacket and smoked a pipe even as I struggled—successfully I
might add—to keep him dry. Meanwhile, mud stained the hem of the
white frock he insisted I wear, while that hideous feathered pin drooped
like a tarantula that has eaten a poisonous toad. I wanted to sneak into the
hall unnoticed, but Tinker, having been kept as dty as Richatd, brazenly
barked our arrival.
Mrs Watt proved to be a lively and petsuasive speaker. Her stature
adds to her charm. She is both shotter and sveltet than me, adorns herself
with a simple strand of pearls, and mounds her white hair atop a smallish
head. Quite a conttast to my dark curls. I can see why Canada sent her
as the WI representative. She poses little threat to the menfolk, who will
therefore acquiesce to theit women establishing WI chapters in this part
of the Empire. It would not happen otherwise.
Alas, I fear the WI will be Richard's newest and costliest obsession.
I gasped in dismay when he volunteered to buy and move its new 49 headquarrers. I'm already stretched maintaining our small gentleman's
farm on his disability pension, and at times like this I resent how his
five siblings have squandered the family money, most notably his thrice-
divorced sister Alice and profligate brother Wellington. Not that Richard
isn't equally responsible for the waste. At first, I was sympathetic to his
betting on cricket. He'd been a champion bowler until his mid-20's,
so when he lost the use of his legs in the Boer War, I thought it fair
compensation that he follow the matches. Until his twenty-game losing
streak, that is, when I had to let the nursing aide go and take on his
toilet care and bathing myself. As Richard grows larger, were his arms
to weaken with age, I fear I will have to pay scarce shillings to a strong
countty girl to help me get him in and out of bed.
Just yesterday, I made another payment we can ill afford to the mason.
After abandoning cricket, Richard turned his attention to inventing
brickwork patterns. Cost-free, I cheered, until he began ordering our
entryway and chimney redone every two years, insisting craftsmen use
the Double English Cross Bond technique. It wouldn't be so bad if the
work were done in summer, when we can do without the fireplace, but
he gets impatient to begin while the air is still chill. Thankfully that
obsession is waning as his latest designs are indistinguishable from his
older ones.
For the past several years, Richard's main interest is in agricultural
projects to increase the yield of local farmers. He's trying to breed
chickens that produce eggs in different colots, each with a distinctive
taste, by crossing Ermine Faverolles, newly imported from northern
France, wirh White and Black Faverolles. Richard is enamored of the
scientific approach. Actually, this is the one project of his that I find
appealing, being fascinated by science myself. I therefore offered to be
his collaborator, but naturally he pooh-poohed the idea. Richard claims
women's minds are more suited to following recipes in the kitchen than
to experimenting in the laboratory.
During the refreshments that followed last night's lecture, my
worst fears about a fresh obsession gripping Richard were realized.
This morning, as I performed his ablutions, he said he'd stayed up late
beginning a journal "for posterity." Hence my determination to provide
this counterpoint, not for the annals of which he dreams, but for my
own peace of mind. An accounting ought rightly be kept by a woman,
and a local one, not a foreigner. Richard declares WI will be a great class
leveler, uniting farm laborers and cottagets with the ladies of the manor
under a single wartime banner. Perhaps that works in the Canadian
wilds, but it won't take root in rural Wales, where social distinctions are
as dug in as carriage wheels in the mud. Last night did breach some
50 PRISM 55:1 boundaries, however. By the end of evening, my husband was calling Mrs
Watt "Madge," while she progressed from referring to him as Colonel
Stapleton-Cotton to trilling "Richard." Is the vulgat "Dick" to be heard
next? The woman is more brazen than Tinker.
Richard, 16September 1915, 9:30p.m.
There was estimable progress at tonight's inaugural WI meering. The
ladies adopted with alacrity the mission statement I slipped to Olive to
propose: "To do all the good we can; to all the people we can; and above all
to study household good in any wotk which makes for the betterment of
our home, the advancement of our people, and the good of our country."
These words will appear on the membership cards which Mrs Pierpont
will prevail upon her husband to print gratis. Annual membership was
set at rwo shillings, substantial enough for affluent women to regard the
endeavor as serious, yet not so costly as to prohibit the less fortunate from
Olive was elected president. She was flattered, and who am I to point
out that it was more likely a nod to my having brought the WI actoss the
pond than a reflection of her competence? Madge proposed that I, and
Tinker, be the sole males accorded WI membership. The show of hands
only confirmed my belief that the women recognized a man's hand behind
their formation.
It was further decided to meet the second Tuesday of every month,
each session to have a speaker of an educational nature, a demonstration
whereby women could learn a new skill, and a social time with tea. Given
that food is in short supply, and that the produce now ripening will go
to waste unless it is preserved, Madge suggested the group begin with
jamming, much esteemed in her native Canada. Olive, pethaps feeling
her oats, said women already spent too many hours in the kitchen,
and proposed inviting a lecturer from Bangor University to talk about
advances in the science of nutrition. She said that were we to send
out boys to the front in better health to begin with, they might better
withstand the rigors of food deprivation. I humbly proffered that the
ladies concenttate on the home front and leave the conduct of war to
generals and admirals. There were murmurs of assent, but when my
Cottontail winked at me, I realized she had deliberately set the stage
whereby I could contribute my sage advice. Between Olive and Madge, I
am heartened that the Llanfairpwll WI is in good hands, with youts truly
steering inconspicuously from my perch. 51 Olive, 17September 1915, 8:00a.m.
Richard is still asleep, with a satisfied smile on his fleshy face, having
prevailed on every count at last night's meeting. Personally, I'd have
favoured a less subservient mission statement foi the WI. Why not
organize "for women's own good" instead of "fot the good of our
country," which really means for the benefit of men? Or will continue
to be the case until women secure the vote. Alas, given that a suffragette
in Llanystumdwy was nearly tossed over a bridge into the river Dwyfor
after she demanded as much from the Prime Minister, that is unlikely to
happen soon.
The election for president was even more distressing. I had to smile
and appear humbled that the women ttusted in my ability to lead them.
"You are too kind," I protested, "but I shall endeavot to live up to your
belief in me." Richard pretended to look on proudly. What a charade.
Did he think I didn't know that I was elected because of him? What
good is any vote if it means nothing? Well, I shall make the best of it
and surprise them all. I intend to push for rhe members to furthet their
own enlightenment, not just the welfare of husbands, fathers, and 10
Downing Street.
I sense that I may have some support, albeir furtive, for my initiatives.
When Mrs Watt (I refuse to call her "Madge" despite my husband's
urging) proposed that Richard and Tinker be the sole males admitted to
this exclusively female club, I was not the only one whose spine stiffened.
Raised to be gracious, we naturally applauded the idea but there was an
undertow of resentment. Richatd was no doubt unaware of it. As was
Tinker. Much as I dislike the beast, I can at least make allowances for his
being a mere dog. Let our chapter adopt him as a mascot. It is Richard's
membership that truly gets my goat, as he will use his position to push
his damned chickens.
As fot Mrs Watt negating my suggestion for a scientific talk on nutrition
in favour of jamming, I say she is a ttaitor to women everywhere. In fact,
her demeanor and conduct induce such tutbulence in my soul that I
cannot write further this morning. I shall instead overcook Richatd's eggs
in hopes of wiping that smug expression off his visage. (Oh, I am too
Richard, 10 July 1916, 9:45 p.m.
Ten monrhs into our adventure and rhings are going splendidly. There are
now forty Wis in Great Britain and that number is expected to ttiple in
the next year. A Girls' Institute has been created to teach those fourteen
and up the skills they need to be good farm wives and mothers. Olive
PRISM  55:1 piped up that some might be prepared to putsue higher education but
I said, "Cottontail, let city girls work their minds as they dither about
matriage, while our lasses use their strong bodies to wotk the land." She
grimaced and I feared I'd offended her, my wife no longer being young
nor slim. I reassured her she was still vigourous and lovely in my eyes, and
was rewarded with an angelic smile of relief.
Tonight's agenda was most ambitious. Miss Green opened by singing
"Sussex by the Sea," with the inspiring lines, "We plow and sow, we reap
and mow," followed by a brief talk on herbs. Thence came "roll call"
whereby each woman shares a household hint. Madge instituted this
feature, explaining it is a great equalizer as the wife of a farm laborer
might have a bettet idea than a lady of the manor. In fact, it was poor Mrs
Goodman who urged the women to try hay box cooking as a means of
saving energy. She shared a vegetable stew prepared by this method, and
although I am eager for Olive to apply it to roasting meat, I must admit
that it was rather tasty.
Cottontail called for the jamming report. Last month the ladies
preserved 500 tins of vegetables and 300 Kilner jars of fruit. Madge's
suggestion last winter that we save up out sugar rations for the summer
when they would be needed to make jams and preserves proved farsighted.
I commented, to hearty laughter, that it is fortunate the British have a
taste for bittet marmalade.
For social time and games, the ladies played pig-in-the-middle.
Madge pitied that I could not join in, but I assured her my heart thrilled
to see them run about. The less fortunate rarely ger a chance to simply
have fun. The evening closed wirh the announcement of the winner of
this month's competition (Miss Standing, fot knitting the finest jumper)
and next month's challenge (mending frayed hems and cuffs). Although
Madge assures me such contests are standard in Canada, it is the one
routine I find distasteful. Women are not competitive by nature, nor
should they be so encouraged. Leave it to menfolk to best one another, be
it in wartime or peace. I jocularly proposed that if the women wanted a
contest, they compete to knit a patriotic coat for Tinker. This was met by
appreciative tittets, but Olive chided me that making warm and durable
clothes was more important in wartime. I thought her remonstrance
would end the meeting on a dout note, but Madge tactfully suggested it
be a secondaty contest. The motion was seconded and voted in favour of.
Even Olive, ever the good sport, raised her hand, while Tinker wagged
his tail. 53 Olive, 11 July 1916, 8:00a.m.
A frustrating evening. I invited Professor Philips from Bangor University
to give a talk on "The Gathering of Wild Herbs for Medicinal Purposes."
He told the legend of the lady who rose from Lake Myddfai, married a
local man, and bequeathed to their sons her knowledge of curative plants
before re-submerging. Although she was a fiction, science is discovering
the truth of her legacy: feverfew cures bruises, rosemary prevents nausea,
and thyme eases respiratoty ills. Less plausible, he admitted, is that hart's
tongue promotes chastity ot wild clary prevents envy. Several women
proposed that scavenging ot cultivating the first three herbs be our
summer projecr, joking that fathets and husbands would favour pursuing
the latter two. Whereupon Mrs Watt stated forcibly that any effott taking
time from food producrion and preservation was contrary to the WI
The professor blanched, accepted tea, and hastily took his leave.
Refusing to be silenced, I decided to put a motion to gather and learn
more about herbs to a vote. Mrs Watt stood beside Richard's wheelchair
at the back of the room, fingers brushing his shoulder, while I held the
podium up front. A few hands went up, but after heads swivelled to the
rear, hands went down. Richard looked pleased. I expected Mrs Watt to
gloat as well, but she looked almost contrite. She approached me as the
ladies regrouped for roll call, but I busied myself clearing the tea things.
Mrs Goodman's demonstrarion on hay box cooking, which followed,
was well received. A mousy woman with six ragged children and a
husband prone to drink, it has been good to see het come into her own
since WI began last year. Not wanting to discourage her, I nevertheless
raised the problem of bacterial growth if food does not remain hot enough
duting the many hours it takes to cook. I'd read a pamphlet from the
University's Food Sciences division warning of the "danger zone" if food
cools down ro between five and sixty degrees. Rather than being cowed,
Mts Goodman asked to borrow the pamphlet and promised to obtain
more information in time for our next meeting. Meanwhile, she assured
us that no one in her family had gotten sick. "Although," she ventured to
jest, "Mr Goodman has enough alcohol in him to kill off most getms."
Richard was testy on the way home, clutching the dog and cautioning
me about every rut, as if I'd never before steered his wheelchair. Back at
the house, he demanded tea (he never drinks a cup that late) and cross-
examined when I'd had time to research hay boxing. "Was it when I sent
you to the libtary for a manual on brick patterns?" I said I'd come across
it while looking fot a book on pickling eggs, which placated him enough
to suggest I make a cuppa for myself too. "Why not invite Madge ovet
54 PRISM 55:1 before the next meeting?" he asked. "If you first ascertain her stance on
yout ideas, you can avoid anothet such fracas in the future. It won't do to
have my two favorite ladies at odds. It distresses Tinker, right boy?" He
chuckled and scratched the beast's head.
I silently sipped the tea I didn't want. Richard turned irritable again.
"Now if I can only persuade the dear lady to end those silly competitions."
He pushed away from the table. By the time I'd emptied the bedpan and
tucked him in, I was ready for my tea, despite its having grown lukewatm
and bittet. For a man who dislikes contests among women, I thought,
my husband rather enjoys the one between me and Mrs Watt. Perhaps
because he fancies himself the prize.
Richard, 09January 1917, 9:00p.m.
A great start to the year. Having bided my time on the sidelines, I now
felr confident enough to propose directly, instead of through Cottontail,
that the women raise chickens and start an egg cooperative. I described
my breeding experiments with Faverolles, admired for their cloddy build
and extra hind toes, to produce variegated fowls and multi-colored eggs
of diverse tastes. Mating Blue and White Faverolles with Coucou Malines
is popular in France, but has not yet caught on in the U.K. "Imagine
Wales breeding untold variations," I crowed, "and besting the French!"
The excitement was palpable. Madge seconded the idea, adding that
cooperatives were enjoying great success in Canada. In fact, she said,
women there competed for the number of eggs their hens laid, which not
only boosted the wartime food supply, but brought an unexpected profit
to their farms. I applauded. "Just the ticket to get their menfolk behind
the enterprise," I exulted.
Tinker being a full-fledged member, I voiced the motion by imitating
his tenor bark, to great merriment. Olive did not join in the laughter,
but dutifully called the vote. It passed handily, whereupon the women
fotmed a committee to present a plan at the next meeting.
Olive, 10January 1917, 7:30 a.m.
I'm more steamed than a cup of Eatl Grey tea. After Richard proposed
the women crossbreed his beloved Faverolles, I suggested they conduct
theit own experiments to detetmine the best types of chicken and mating
combinations. Richard not only ignored me, but when Mrs Watt extolled
the value of egg competitions among Canadian women, my avowed anti-
contest spouse figutatively leapt at the idea. It was all I could do to refrain
from announcing that I'd done my own reading at the University library
and knew for a fact that Faverolles are more suited to roasting in the 55 oven than laying eggs in the henhouse. I don't want to see the women
led down the wrong breeding parh, but my heart flutters with joy at the
thought of Richard's feathetbrained idea failing. Were I more generous, I
could ask Mrs Watt which types of birds were found to be most prolific
in Ontario. However, I'll be damned, literally I fear, before I seek advice
from that awful woman.
Richard, 12 March 1918, 10:00 p.m.
Jolly good jamming report. The monthly producrion of tins and jars now
routinely numbers in the thousands, thanks to the canning machines
donated by out Canadian WI cousins. Root vegetables continue to feed
us through the winter, and rationing has been the great social equalizer
dreamed of by the WI movement. Howevet, my dreams (Tinker's, too)
of pickled eggs must be laid aside. One year on, alas, the egg cooperative
is scarcely productive and we haven't time to establish a heartier Faverolle
flock. It is my sole regret, but I shall rally like the good soldier I am. My
nature does not succumb to the idea that a man's prospects be limited by
his circumstances. As proof, after battle injuries ended my active duty in
the Navy, I became a Member of rhe Royal Victorian Order, Commander
of the Order of the British Empire, and Companion of the Order of the
I thus proposed that the women replace their breeding initiative with
knitting, which, in addition to jamming, will aid the war effort. Men ar
rhe fronr, feet totting in flooded trenches, are in dire need of warm, dry
socks. Furthermore, I said a secondary effort ro mend worn-our clothes
will assist conservation efforts at home. When I inquired whether such
needlework accorded with Wis mission, Madge rewarded me wirh a
smile that registered "one hundred" on my inrernal thetmometer. Eager to
return ro the genteel crafts fot which the women of Wales are renowned,
the ladies acquiesced. Save Olive, who said that German trenches
aside, WI should help improve local sanitation. She'd taken the libeity
of inviting a speaket on clean water and the health risks of uncovered
rubbish tips. At lecture's end, the ladies were agitated enough to "take
action" until I remonstrated that Council could not concurrently fund
battles abroad and cleanup at home. "Help end the war first," I urged,
whereupon Madge's incandescence lit the hall and settled the matter.
Thence came roll call where, to my surprise, it emerged the chicken
matter was unsettled. Mrs Goodman, a little lady married to a big sot,
reported on her own "research." According to documents she'd obtained
from the University, ducks were better layers. If chicken eggs were still
desired, we should taise Anconas or Belgian Bantams, whose feathers had
56 PRISM 55:1 many intricate colour variations and were better layers than Faverolles,
ideally meant for eating. Mrs Goodman disputed evidence that breeding
birds of different stock resulted in diverse egg colours or flavours, but
concluded "the aforementioned A and BB breeds produce more eggs
which is, after all, our goal at this time." She sat down to thunderous
applause. I joined in, albeit reluctantly, but inwardly I was obliged to
concede the superiority of her knowledge. Is it possible that women too
resist the notion of being limited by theit circumstances? To act the good
sport, I proposed that the women and theit families feast on Faverolles
this month and that Mrs Goodman head a committee to research the
cost and availability of Anconas and Belgian Bantams. Evetyone smiled
at this idea including Olive, although were I a more sensitive sort, I might
characterize hers as a smirk. Is she perhaps now jealous of Mrs Goodman
as well as Madge? Good Lord, to think of women fighting over yours
truly. Surely this is not the "war efforr" the WI was intended to support.
(Tsk, tsk.)
Richard, 13 March 1918, 1:00 a.m.
I am too agitated to sleep. Not because of the foofaraw among my own
dearest ladies, rather because I begin to see all women in a different
lighr. Their collective willingness to rally around rubbish tips, and even
mote, Mrs Goodman's independent pursuit of scientific evidence, remain
lodged within my brain. Granted, I may be prone to exaggerate their
significance due to fatigue and discombobulation. Nonetheless, I am aroil
with thoughts. By rights, I should share them with Olive, but fearing
another smirk, I prefer to express my thoughts to a more sympathetic
female. Hence I shall write the following lettet and mail it tomorrow,
provided I can figure out the means to do so without my wife being
apprised of its addressee. If only I'd ttained Tinker to use the post.
Dearest Madge:
Before the war, I was one of many who doubted the capacity of
women to conduct even their ordinary business with success, but
as a result of the WI, I have learned more about women these
past three years than in the previous forty. I see and believe that
women can bring together all classes, denominations, interests,
and schools of best thought in that common brotherhood of love
which we all long for in our innermost hearts. Women have
the opportunity, capacity, and will to accomplish that which,
judged by results, has been beyond the wit of man. Thank
you for your support as I urged the establishment of the WI 57 in Llanfairpwll, and indeed your gentle chiding at those times
when I went astray.
My sincerest respect and admiration,
Olive, 13 March 1918, 6:00a.m.
I've been awake for hours. Richard not only had the audacity to propose
we ladies return to "the womanly arts" to support our troops, he
disparaged my scientific attempts to improve health on the home front.
I suppose I should be glad he's given up propounding his ridiculous
chicken breeding theories, but why he consistently resists my suggestions
is beyond toletation. I did gain a small measure of satisfaction when
he conceded the validity of Mrs Goodman's research. His capitulation
vindicated my belief in a woman's capacity to study science, proven by
the farm wife least likely to demonstrate it. I am admittedly a bit jealous
that it was she, not me, who stated what I have long since known, but my
peevishness is cancelled by the fact that for once it wasn't Mrs Watt who
persuaded him to accept an idea I had originally broached. No doubt
Richard now imagines a three-way fight for his affections. My husband
has scrambled eggs for brains.
Richard, 10 December 1918, 9:30p.m.
Tomorrow marks the one-month anniversary of the signing of the
Armistice. So vital was the WI contribution to winning the war that
the government has awarded us an annual grant of £10,000. I humbly
accepted the ladies' accolades for initiating the movement, and
acknowledged Madge for inspiring me in the fitst place. I moved that
we also hail Olive for masrerfully steering our chaptet as president and
Mrs Goodman for her scientific redirecrion of our egg enrerprise. It was
so done.
The applause having gone to het head (ot fair rump), Cottontail then
proposed that with the Great War ended, the ladies focus their attention
at home. She raised the question of suffrage, suggesting that once women
had the vote, they run for local council seats and campaign on issues
such as employment and education rights, healthcare, and child welfare.
My growing admiration for the fair sex notwithstanding, this went too
far for me. "Madame President," I protested, "I have come to appreciate
women's competence running farms, bur as men rettirn from fighting, it
is best we let them handle the broader concerns that affect our villages,
towns, and cities." My attempt to soften this criticism with the quip that
Olive not worry her pretty head about such mattets failed. Dear Madge,
58 PRISM  55:1 ever the peacekeeper, ventured that "Men will be so busy on the job that
women can help inform them on these issues. Then men will cast their
votes wisely." I agreed. As long as, I reiterated, women don't actually vote.
There was not a peep of disagreement in the room. In fact, the agenda
having been suspended in lieu of a celebtation, the talk over tea, scones
(a two-month ration of buttet and sugar), and deviled eggs turned to how
the WI could welcome the men home.
Olive, 11 December 1918, 5:00p.m.
I was too entaged to write this morning and otherwise engaged this
afternoon, but I must put pen to paper before Richard expects dinner
If I feed him. If I am not too busy sotting out my own needs. How dare
that man pat himself on the back for the success of the WI, as if women
were not responsible. I should mince and preserve him as Bittet Richard
Marmalade, no sugar required.
Yet anger may be the least of my emotions at the moment. What a
tutbulent day I have had, and what it will take to make sense of it all, I do
not know. Shortly after breakfast, having had enough of being thwatted
by Mrs Watt, I confronted her in her tidy cottage. Silly Richatd thinks me
a jealous spouse. Howevet, it is not theit mutual affection that aggtavates
me, but rathet her professing to favour women's empowerment, all the
while using coquettishness to get her way. Even when she advances
reasonable ends, such as encouraging women to conduct studies and
chait committees, she plays up to him instead of outright demanding our
Expecting her to get defensive, I was instead flabbergasted when she
readily admitted to using subterfuge. "Olive," she explained, "there is
method in my meekness. By pretending to agree with Richatd, I not
only allow him to acquiesce, but in the end, because he is as dense as
most men, he is hoodwinked into accepting ideas anathema to him."
I could not see how this pertained to last night's discussion of women's
suffrage. "Simple," she said. "My ulterior motive is for women to inform
themselves and thus be ready for the day they can vote." When I inquired
about other times she'd stymied me, she again had petfectly reasonable
explanations. In the matter of putting wild herbs to medicinal use, for
example, she said women risked being called witches. "We must protect
out image, choose out battles, and never fail to keep the big picture in
Mrs Watt disatmed me, much as she'd defused any threat Richard
may have felt in her presence. Yet, despite the logic of her argument,
I admitted to being discoutaged about women's progress. Men would 59 return from the war, victorious and more arrogant than ever in the face
of out desire for change. "Never underestimate a man's ability to change,
too," was her reply.
She served us tea and plain biscuits, nary a jar of jam or preserves
visible in her panrry. "I don't care for the stuff," she confessed, eliciting
my first laugh in days. I inquired as to what she planned to do next.
"Return to Canada." Her smile was radiant. "Now that women have
tasted power, they will not easily relinquish it either. I intend to recruit
them across the continent." Then she made me a proposal wilder rhan
any herbs. "Come wirh me," she said, "I can use your help."
"But Richatd." I pointed to my legs and stuttered. "He cannot... on
his own..."
"Statting next yeat, the organization will publish a bimonthly
magazine, WI Life. You could write a regular column on science in the
home, with fact-based tips for health and safety."
I am sorely tempted, but guilt makes me hesitate. Much as Richard
infuriates me, I was raised with a British sense of obligation. Besides,
suppose the man does change, as Mrs Watt suggests, although I see scant
evidence he's capable of it (besides adding "please" when requesting an
extta egg at breakfast). "Richard is a cripple," I finally said straight out. "I
cannot leave him."
Mrs Watt winked. "The WI ladies will gladly take on the Colonel
and his dog as one of their projects this winter Richard will love the
attention, especially now that he trusts women to handle matters with
competence." I must have scrunched up my face because she laughed and
added, "You can come back ar any time, especially should yout husband
write of his evolution."
I thanked Mrs Watt for the invitation and said I would think hard on
it. "Please call me Madge," she urged. I said that I would think on that
proposition, too.
Richard, 17 December 1918, midnight
Befuddlement. Olive departed for Canada yesterday afternoon, with
Madge. She packed so many bags that I asked, affecting lightheartedness,
if she planned to come back. Cottontail only smiled distractedly until,
placing her new hat atop her ttunk, she observed, "You'll be well looked
Where is Tinker to warm my lap? The house is chilly. Mrs Goodman
promised ro send the Mr around to stoke the fire twice daily, but he
won't attive until seven hours hence. Sobet, I'll grant, thanks to his wife's
newly forceful nature. Mrs Pickstock, in rotation with six others ladies,
60 PRISM 55:1 will keep me fed, and Olive and Madge atranged for the WI to set aside a
pottion of jam proceeds to hire a nursing aide to tend to my bodily care.
I've grown rather used to my wife's attentions in these matters and frankly
do not relish a return to professional help. On a more positive note, the
Marquess will send a carriage round each month to escott Tinker and me
to WI meetings. I am curious to see what projecrs the women take up
now that the country can look forward to a prolonged peacetime, and
will continue to document their endeavors in this journal. Nevertheless,
given recent personal developments, I am of two minds whether to make
these jottings available to the public. There are lessons to be learned, no
doubt, but of what nature I remain puzzled.
An article in the North Wales Chronicle lauded the WI for helping to
raise Britain's food self-sufficiency from thirty-five to sixty percent over
the course of the war. It cited my enthusiasm in particulat fot spatking the
formation of a hundred WI chapters throughout the U.K. and said, given
the great loss of life, women will play an important role in rebuilding.
Madge is eager to return home and grow the otganization there, and has
enlisted Olive's help. I asked Cottontail why she did not remain here
to carry on the wotk. She said she'd appreciate my no longer using that
nickname as she had a perfectly respectable first name, same as Madge. I
will address my lettets to her thus.
And so, with 208,000 vegetable tins, 132,000 fruit jars, 1,517 knitted
jumpers, and 12,644 pairs of woolen socks produced since 1915, the
Llanfairpwll WI deserves to be deemed a success. Objectively speaking.
I wonder though if my enthusiasm got out of hand, a contagion that
spread from me to my wife like a bad cold or worse, the Spanish flu that
now tages across the continent.
Olive set her luggage by the doorway, running a hand along the new
bricks. She kissed me gently, ignoring Tinker, who growled at her. Did he
feel slighted? I joked that she must return and commence jamming come
spring, or else the fruit in our orchard would rot. "Preserve me, too," I
almost pleaded. Olive hesitated, stuck the feathered pin in her hat, and
then she was gone. 61 Eve Joseph.
Cockroaches swarmed over the decks. They cascaded out of the cutlery
drawer and fell with a click into the stainless steel sink. Each one was an
otacle. On calm nights, when the moon was a porthole through which
our ship sailed, the pantty hummed with their prophecies. God spoke
to us directly through them. I gave leftover table scraps to the workers
in port—pickled herring and dark bread—and they brought me burlap
sacks full of green mangoes. On long voyages, we wore gloves in bed to
keep the roaches from gnawing our fingernails.
62 PRISM  55:1 The train blew through the station without braking. Babies lifted out
of theit carriages and dropped back down into the arms of sttangets.
Nobody could figure out who belonged to whom. It was a lottery of
mothers and fathers, lonely aunts and childless couples. A man who
looked just like me scooped me up and together we went home to meet
my mother who was working on a jigsaw puzzle at the kitchen table. I
fit right into place but my father didn't. He was not blue like the sky or
grey like the arched bridge. The platform was littered with hats. I set up
a booth and sold them for a slight profit. My father glowed with pride. 63 Now that I live by the sea, I am never sure what the day will bring. Gulls
stomp on the roof like heavy-footed prowlers causing me to wake in
alatm. Broken shells lirter the garden: clam, oystet and torn crab pincers
serrated like nutctackets. I'm standing at the window, drinking my
morning coffee, when I see her. My mothef is rowing against the current
in the rain. I cup my hands and yell come in for a gin and tonic. It's not
that awful rowing toward God, nothing that dramatic. It's just her, after
all these yeats, the creak of oarlocks and a small wake ttailing behind.
Like the hapless Aeschylus I walk bareheaded, forgetting to look up at
what might be hurtling towatd me.
64 PRISM  55:1 Iheoma Nwachukwu
Have you ever travelled
a blue land where the sky is blue
like you? Seventy long-faced women
squatting on a tight little boat
with sunken-eyed men
A box of Frutasol apples on a coiled hose,
black barrel of water mixed with
pettol (so every sip is prudent)
have nourished us this past week
On a sunny day like this
in Etitrea, I hoed the Chtistian
land of my fathers. Now
only the ruins of that memory speak
when I touch the Coptic cross on my wrist
How could Jesus let boy-soldiers
bomb our church? And the Al Shabab
hotde who shot my mother
as she cooked a chicken
when you kill us all
who will live in your dreamy lands?
Night falls like India ink
on the water. A man in a hooded jacket
prepares to raise a flashlight.
It will flicker several times
a British ship or an Italian ship might come
or a car or a bird or a sesame seed
or Sicilian Jesus bouncing softly
on the blood-warm waves cracking
knuckles like a nervous teen asking
in a jumpy way, Have you all been good Christians? 65 Matthew Hollett
Xvcidic air scalded my lungs and the walls oozed putple mucous. My
boots sank into boggy gunk. I waded upwards through the dark, ducking
pasr pulsing amoebas that jabbed through the air like fists. I crawled our
of the stomach and into the natrow gullet. The curved, ribbed esophagus
reminded me of drainage culverts I'd crawl through as a kid, the floor
squishing and squelching like the algae lurking in rhose pipes. I slopped
onward. Finally, the roof arched and daylight glimmered through a jagged
crack in the wall. I was standing on the slime worm's tongue.
I can recall bright fragments of the videogames I played as an eleven-
or twelve-year-old. Mostly, though, my memories are fuzzy. Blocky
landscapes crumble further into abstraction, half-remembered chatactets
jostle fot attention, labyrinths hopelessly entangle. It's hard to know
which details are from memory and which are imagination amplified by
nostalgia. It feels like centuries since those universes meant much to me.
Its from this distance that I want to write about videogames, especially
the places inside them that captivated me as a kid, the dead-ends, empty
rooms, and liminal zones where I happily lost so many afternoons.
Plopped into a platform-srrewn obstacle course, haunted foresr, or
asreroid field, I would ransack every nook and cranny as if looting a
couch fot lost coins. I was a relentless adventurer, and one of the thrills
of the 8-bit games I grew up with was that it was possible to exhaustively
plunder those wotlds. Even years before the internet wound its way to my
small town, I could be reasonably certain that I had picked evety pocket
of the little planets that fit inside those plastic cartridges. There were
fictional cities I knew more intimately than my own neighbourhood.
I'd draw maps of the wotlds I conquered, cluttering graph paper with
latticed tunnels and annotations. Invariably, the sprawling cartography
of the overworld would give way to the intricate hives of hidden
dungeons, maps folded within maps. Excavating one underground lair
as meticulously as an archaeologist, I had plotted a tidy grid except for a
gap that stuck out like a missing tooth. On a hunch, I bushwhacked back
through bats and skeletons to the lone wall that might conceal a secret
door, and placed a bomb in anxious anticipation. Its familiar rumble was
PRISM  55:1 followed by the glittering trickle of harpsichord that meant the game had
relinquished a secrer. The difference on the scteen was just a few pixels
going black, but I felt those bricks fall away, the broken wall as agape as
my open mouth.
When my gtandparents moved to Alberta to live with my aunt, my
father drove six hours to pack up their small house in Little Harbour
East, where he'd grown up. He came home with the cat crammed full
of belongings they could neither bring to Lloydminster nor throw away:
photo albums, dishes and silverware, carpentry tools. My latge bedroom
in our basement had formerly been a storage space, so the cardboard
boxes ended up there, stacked against one wall almost to the ceiling. A
few weeks afterwards, I became convinced that I could hear a soft noise
in my room, a sort of hiss, like a distant waterfall. I decided it was just the
pipes in the wall, and ttied to dismiss it as best I could. One evening, lying
in bed in the dark, I noticed a faint glow between two boxes. I reached
in and pulled out an old radio, its tiny red light warm, the volume dial
barely on. It had been whispering static for weeks. I switched it off and
there was a subtle shift, a suddenly perceptible silence, as if someone had
just stopped breathing.
After exploring every corner of a gameworld, I'd begin to probe the
edges of its rules, pushing against the limitations of the system. In acts
of absutd rebellion, I'd drive backward along a racetrack into a hurricane
of hurtling computer opponents, use the ctates meant to be thrown at
the final boss to build a shelter instead, or adopt a wandering monstet
as a pet and follow it around. Sussing out smuggling routes across the
software's borders, I loved discovering those moments when the game
let its guard down. I'd sometimes find myself in half-constructed rooms,
whisked unceremoniously past locked castle doots, or wading through
waterfalls of glitched pixels. Other times I'd nudge the cameta past its
limits and realize I could look through walls, benearh floors, or peer our
at the world through the thin polygons of my own hollow head.
In elementary school, anyone who knew the most arcane secrets may as
well have been a wizard. I remember a friend's older brothet laying his
controller on the catpet with a grin. He had stomped on a turtleshell
with exquisite timing, causing it to ricochet tapidly between his boot
and a brick staircase, accumulating points in an infinite loop. The tiny
numbets at the top of the screen whizzed past twenty, fifty, then ninety-
nine lives, and onwards into scrambled glyphs rhat could only indicate
transcendence. It was the closest any of us could come to immortality. 67 On Sunday motnings, if my younger brother and I woke up early, we'd
conspire to sneak out of our bunkbeds, past our parenrs' bedroom, and
downsrairs to the Nintendo. We'd be careful to turn the volume down
before switching on the screen, so the sound wouldn't wake anyone. If by
some mitacle Mom and Dad slept in, we knew, we wouldn't have to go
to chutch. Occasionally this sttategy actually wotked. On othet Sundays,
we'd be hurried into uncomfortable clothes and herded, yawning, into
the stern pews of St. David's Anglican. I'd hold the hymn book open and
mouth the wotds, but rarely sang. Sometimes I'd skip the words God or
Father or Thy or Heaven. Our who art in hallowed be name.
There were spellbound afternoons when my body didn't budge from its
slump against the coffee table, while my eyes and my hands ttaversed
entire continents. There were winter mornings when snow slowly drifted
to covet the windows and darken the basement, and my horizon narrowed
ro the width of our small TV, but I skipped between worlds as easily as
blowing a flute or blowing dust out of another plastic cartridge.
My eyes squeezed shut against the sandstorm, I slipped through the
mouth of a vase. The tall room's ceramic walls shimmered wirh light from
the opening in the roof. The dusty depths of the vase were empty, quiet,
with a serenity and symmetry that was hard to come by in the madcap
world above. In the vase there was space to think, to catch my breath. I
could live here forever, unwinding my brain into a thin bright filament.
I felt incandescent.
I have been shot by a million projectiles. I've perished hundreds of
thousands of times. My body has been impaled on spikes, dissolved in
acid, devoured by beasts of all sizes, and obliterated by colossal falling
objects. I have stood on exploding planets. I've been drowned, poisoned,
starved, frozen, and burned. My knowledge of the wounds caused by
atrows probably rivals that of many medieval sufgeons. There are
countless bottomless pits where I suppose I am still falling, my fist thrust
skyward in triumphant denial. There are hundreds of worlds I have failed
repeatedly to save, their desperate populations destroyed or enslaved due
to my inadequate hand-eye coordination. I have been cannonballed,
captured, tortured, boiled in a cauldron. Occasionally, mercifully, I have
simply faded into nothing.
I kept thinking I could hear Nikki snoring under the couch. There was
rhe spot in the dining room where she died, shortly after Boxing Day.
Then there was the spot in the backyard where we buried her, beside the
PRISM  55: tree that Dad likes to string Christmas lights on. It was as if there was an
invisible line strung between these two points. Whenever I tripped the
line it flipped a switch in my head, and I could hear her toenails clicking
across the kitchen tile.
What did all those lost lives teach me about death? We got Nikki from
the SPCA, so we nevet knew how old she was.
10? She collapsed in the dining room and couldn't breathe.
09   I press buttons but my body doesn't do anything.
0 8 Btight digits counting down on a screen.
07 Darkness, falling.
0 6 My torso slumped against the table.
0 5 A lapse, a setback, a failed attempt.
0 4 A row of empty heatts above my head.
03 Silence, then a knell, then another.
0 2 A clock ticks in a circuit, a subtle subtraction.
01 An urgent plea to press a button, any button.
0 0 One last pulse. Game over
Slipping into the river, I swam hesitantly under the arch of a heavily
guarded bridge. When my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I was startled
to find a fisherman standing on the riverbank. The stone bridge loomed
protectively above us, and the archway felt peaceful, safe, an unlikely
oasis where the evils of the world couldn't reach. The fisherman seemed
similarly at ease, minding his own business, seemingly unaware that the
universe above had been ripped asunder by sorcery and greed. He traded
me a glass bottle he'd pulled out of the murky water.
On summer trips to Nan and Pop's cabin, we'd fill up the armrests in
the back of the cat with treasures. The trail winding down ro Gin Cove
beach was made of loose gravel that left clouds of dust behind us. The
ocean regurgitated mysterious plastic bits, worn wooden floats, and
glossy rocks, but it was glass that we wanted most. Beachglass was the
Atlantic trying to whispet you something, slipping glistening beads into
back pockets of rock, each as precious to a nine-year-old as a newly lost
tooth. Our grandparents called them metmaid's tears, mostly green and
amber, sometimes cleat, occasionally deep cloudy blue. Once in a while
I'd come across the bottom of a wine bottle, a foggy lens it was impossible
not to hold up to my eye. The rarest, most brilliant bits were always pale
teal, the colout of ice lucent with sunlight. 69 From this distance, looking down, the shack was as small as I was. Entering
through the only door, I found myself in an odd trcehouse, modestly
furnished wirh a wooden bed and table. Berries danced in the branches
overhead, and tiny bitds hopped across the roof. I touched a mailbox
and discovered a lettet from the house's inhabitant, who seemed to have
been kidnapped. I was accustomed to such mysteries, vast adventures set
in motion by the slimmest insinuation of something missing. A sword,
an incantation, an island. The most promising quests began with a letter
from the princess you were intended to rescue, her apparition hovering
in the air, wondering if anyone was looking for her.
I wrote so many letters like that. On the internet, girls couldn't tell that
you wore glasses and were bad at sports. I sought out kindred spirits,
the kind of sixteen-year-olds who scanned coloured pencil drawings of
dragons, and wrote to them for years, exchanging hopes and heartache,
sotrows and sympathies, half-finished poems, half-hearted plans to
meet someday. Around the same time I became enamoured with E.E.
Cummings, and some of my email cotrespondence from those days
is almost incomprehensible, an all-lowercase clutter of lackadaisical
punctuation, cryptic signatures, ASCII art, and wordplay. Kingdom come,
will be done, on earth as it is.
Sometimes, having managed to save the world, I'd triumphantly return
to the town where I'd found my first fusty sword, only to realize that no
one was the wiser. Mothers, mentors, and townspeople would still wish
me luck, fret about the bandits converging on the village, or hint at how
to access an inventory screen. I'd rap on the innkeeper's door with my
enchanted battle-axe and they'd warn me that the path through the foresr
was guarded by porcupines. Time, in games, had a strange consistency. In
some ways it was comforting to know that, even though my hometown
seemed frozen in a state of distress, nothing there would ever change.
In backyards, on beaches or in the woods behind our homes, we started
fires. Concrete Bottom was a frequent spot, a low riverbank out of sight,
accessed by a trail well-marked enough to be navigable when drunk.
Maria, Bob, Jessie and I retreated there on one of the last weekends
before we graduated, coaxing a fire out of cold river driftwood. We
confided intently, feeling ourselves spiralling into the metamorphosis of
graduation, full of questions and assertions. I won't change, I want to
change. A fire crackles, whispers, speaks so you don'r need to, and we
gradually grew quiet, the four of us drawn to the same warm glow. We
clung to firepirs, cigarettes, bottles, and promises, gathering ourselves
70 PRISM  55:1 togethet against the world. We thought we were shielding ourselves, only
to find we were building cocoons.
My companions and I had hacked a path through hordes of demented
enemies. There were spinning knights in spiked armour, savage toothed
plants, grinning spiders that trapped us in balloons. I had used my last
reserves of magic to lay waste to the undead horror in the final room.
Humbled by gratitude, the townspeople unlocked a cellat full of treasure.
We'd heard rumours of murders in a nearby forest, and my party was
urged onward to vanquish greatet foes. But I lingered in town fot days. I
spent evenings at the tavern where peasants told the same sad stories over
and over, listless nights at an inn where I was ever the only guest. We'd
banished all trace of evil from the fortress on the edge of town, leaving
it uttetly vacant. And yet, whenevet I ventured back through its twisted
gates, the same doomful music played. I ran through the echoing halls,
ttipped switches, checked and double-checked all the secret passages.
There was nothing left to find, nothing at all to challenge a resrless
adventurer. It was all mine now.
Strolling home from school, Nadine said gently: I know something
evetyone is saying about you. I said: I don't want to know. She asked
if I was sure. She didn't tell me. That was when I realized we were close
Our Atari 2600 arrived with an eclectic assortment of contiollets: a pair
of Pong paddles, two plastic joysticks, a steeling wheel, and a square
pad of buttons with paper overlays for each game. Stacks of black game
cartridges soon accumulated beside the faux-wood Video Computer
System, and my brothet and sister and I swapped them out compulsively.
When one of the paddle controllers snapped during a feverish session of
Breakout, my dad repaired it with the dial from an old thetmostat. For
the final year or so before our Atari was eclipsed by a Nintendo, I'd pilot
gunships by twiddling a ring of temperatures, my thumb hovering over
the words comfort zone. 71 Laura Farina
I concede
that sometimes
the wind is
to slow dance
at the afternoon's
awkward bat mitzvah,
the limp commas
of its hands
slung over
the shoulders of trees.
And sometimes
in the blue
Freezie of the sky
it whispers
the name
of its secret crush
and then snatches
the syllables
before they rush
to the leaves
in the parking lot
of the mall.
But these days
I only write poems
to the tamed wind,
invisible and dog-shaped,
curled outside my door
like that patty trick
65% of people
can do with theit tongues.
A comet
hyped up
on Froot Loops
could not
those pesky
The following things
are see-through —
this statement —
/ left something
in the van
you guys
go on ahead.
A map is found.
A flootboatd creaks.
A cobweb is,
and then isn't.
Now there is nowhere
to go but down
and this darkness
has no
pauses. 73 Stephen Brown
Bus Window
The overpass is a clearspan project.
The concrete rruss is concrete reinforced
with rebar, Vierendel, and overlaid
with olive and ornamental fig. Is this
the difference that makes a difference?
The architecture is agiel, combusting
with a recalcitrant scrap of retaining wall
scarred with car exhaust. If the role
of illustration is allegory, and clouds are
preconditions of rain, we can say that the
only reason you have either is because you
have both. And we can say that for almost
Airstrikes. Redundant handicap signage
has its effects on hospital morale. Smoke
machine fog at least once a year to simulate
the meaning of mall fashion. An early
burial for irises that irisdescent. Tectonics.
Shifts in the structure of dress shirts. Karaoke
dry ice. Pocket size spermidical handcream.'
Daisy flowers fibonacci the fence
line. The thrown items, tennis shoes,
badminton rackets, beer bottles,
retain an energy, an energy of lift. It
can be released—as the energy in
anything lifted isn't lost. These patio
lights strung from I-beam, doubling
down, dumbshow originality over 1st
world practicality. So cumbersome
was the guncotton. Hashtag guncotton.
Hashtag 20th century. Smacznego!!
/\ £4 ^=> ^h>
We keep the ducks on the back deck.
We cause a ruckus when they ransack.
We got the goat to cut the grass.
We've given thought to giving back.
We've excluded the ornamental.
We've made the absence of decor
an ornament of decor. We opiate in mini
vans—then enter the buildings in a blur.
PRISM  55:1 Rebecca Rust in
Zeus claims you keep beside you a most unlucky man
... send him off with all good speed:
it is not his fate to die here, far from his own people.
—Homer, The Odyssey, Book 5 (ttans. R. Fagles)
Calypso so not suiprised
you brought the big no
with you across the boozy sea.
She guesses every thriller has its cat's meow.
The day hides so many nos
inside its yeses.
skips home to the mountain
unwhipped by longing.
Her lovet gone
Calypso dropped
onto a silken sealskin
with a pitcher of Hillary Wallbangers.
Artemis and Demeter texted back i know tight???
And grief
ot maybe emmenagogues—vanillin and vitamin CD-
unloosed a sort of flow in her
She tan to Marathon and tried
to make mottal rites on a shell-shatded shore.
The gods shook their heads.
She envied the dead.
Wanting him felt like when
she stole something small at the drugstore,
or that time she did a whole quattet 75 in a bathroom stall at the club
telling het friends who were wairing outside
that the dealet was on his night off.
Thar clean swipe to the right side
of the brain. Sweet clarity
to the sinus cavity. Is she wolfish.
She slept on the beach
and stained the sand.
It had to be stanched.
Aegean lichen
like a bitch.
The Ogygian queen foraged on all fours for leftover fleece
from a sheep-shearing,
waited for moonfall to mine the alley
behind a barbershop, loitered around a Worshipful
Company of Launderers for discarded linens and things that wouldn't sting
her weeping womb.
She missed her shuttle and loom.
Out of absorbent materials one
claw-fingered morning she undid
a shining braid
and rrimming its tail made
the saddest pad in the world with muslin
lifted from an Athenian haberdasher.
The seven-year seducer of whom
King Alcinous heard, too
shy to go on scavenging through beaches
and backalleys fot her own bloody sake,
hacked away at het lovely braids until
76 PRISM 55:1 her head was razed.
She went to her father
who was shouldering the sky
but he didn't recognize
the suppliant in tattered robes
as his own immortal
flesh and bone.
She went back to the sea.
"Poseidon," she said,
"Come get me."
And Poseidon, whose hatred for her hero
needed no fuel
took her in his mighty grasp
and wondered what to do.
"Scatter me," she said. "I'm ashes.
I'll whisper when the waves retreat."
Poseidon agreed. When a wave
climbing bravely up a foreign shore
turns back on itself with a sigh—that's her. 77 S. C. Rayat
X ou must be despetate or something. Only the desperate agree to a
set-up. Go anyway. You never know, say the people who know. Rita called
him cultured. He's Russian. A ballet dancer You make a note to ask his
thoughts on Black Swan.
You get to the bistro, Cayenne—how exotic. My husband and I met at
Cayenne, you'll tell them. It is very dark, and loud with jazz music and
muddled chatter. Stand in the middle of the room with your coat on.
Look for someone who could be him. Your eyes are still adjusting, and the
only Russian that comes to mind is Putin in a tutu. Curiosity catches the
crowd and you're eyed like a five-tailed skunk. You've lingered too long.
Consider bolting. At last—at last!—you find a lone man at a table by the
wall. He is very tall and has sturdy thighs. He is not Putin, thankfully.
You sit and smile with your whites out, and the candle between you
illuminates his smooth chin and hollows his eyes. This makes him look a
bit ghoulish, but then so must you. Close your mouth. He tells you his
name is Sasha Mikhailov (sp?) or possibly Molotov, like the cocktail. Say
that yours is Anne Jones, like the soda.
"Tell me what you do." He speaks slow, but doesn't enunciate.
"I'm a butcher."
He looks at your hands, possibly to check fot blood. Put them on
yout lap.
"You're a ballerina," you say.
He winces, as if the word is sharp. "No longer."
"How come?"
He exhales. You feel his breath on your upper lip and dab at it with
your fingertips. He begins to untie his shoe, which is black and bulky, the
kind that old ladies wear. He removes the shoe and puts it on the table.
The candle shuddets. He stretches his leg and shows you his foot. It is
deformed—the arch too high, the toes bent severely up and then down,
like a claw. You think of chicken feet hanging in the display case at your
"Looks painful," you say.
He stuffs his chicken-foot back into the old-lady-shoe. Don't bring
up Black Swan. The setver arrives. The special tonight is guinea fowl.
Possibly-Molotov orders this. You ask for the steak salad with no steak.
"I thought you were butchet," he says.
PRISM  55:1 The music is louder, the shift abrupt, as if someone has inadvertently
knocked the volume knob.
"I'm a vegetarian," you shout. "Two yeats, now."
He responds but you can't quite hear him. Something something like
fraud, he might have said, but you aren't certain.
"Your English is very good," you yell.
He blinks at you. The jazz quietens.
"Your English is very good," you say.
So is yours.
"It's my fitst language."
"So is mine," he says.
Put your elbows on the table, and then remove them. "Guinea fowl
are monogamous," you say.
"What this, mog-a-moos?" He observes the convex cling of a pencil-
skirt as it walks across the room.
"How do you know Rita?"
"Once, I buy cafe at her cafe." He scratches the bottom of his nostril
then leans back in his chair.
"So you don't know Rita?"
The food atrives. You both begin to eat. He fotks fowl into his mouth
with gusto. The dressing on your salad is spicy. You wish the setver
brought water.
He extends his fork to you, guinea-breast speared to its end. "Want
Before you can respond, he snaps it into his mouth and chortles while
he masticates. A small piece falls to his shift. Don't tell him. The seivet
retufns. How is everything?
"I take go, please." He relinquishes his fork.
"Me, too."
The setvet takes yout plates. You both watch the room.
"It's very dim," you say.
He doesn't seem to heat you.
The server returns with yout boxes and you split the bill. Maybe-
Molotov stands and shakes yout hand—it's as limp as his gait must be.
You each take yout box and leave.
You arrive home and call Rita. She doesn't answer. You sit at the
kitchen counter with all the lights on. Pour a glass of merlot and open
the box. Inside, the exhausted remains of a guinea fowl, water-logged in
its own oils. You drink some wine. You drink some more. 79 Lisa Baird
The air here is so dry
the nosebleed scabs
on every inhale. A man
in Boston is selling his snow,
sending it away
in styrofoam coolers.
Last week frozen fog clung
to trees & cars & houses,
a billion tiny ghost teeth
on the windwatd side of everything.
It's called hard rime. When the ice
particles are less dense,
more like sugar: soft rime.
I caught a ride to work today;
40 below with windchill, Metro
Morning said. You could hear the
wince in Matt Galloway's voice.
The new ergonomic shovel hurts us
less, and sometimes the neighbours
blow out the driveway.
The ctystals on rhe window
over the sink spiderweb out
and melt back depending on
how long we leave the dishes,
whether the water heatet
gives us hot or tepid.
Sunrise whispers over
the garlic bed, splashes tangerine
on the south-facing wall a
moment eatlier each day.
It still takes 25 minutes to trudge
down the hill to the clinic.
PRISM  55:1 I miss my bike. Two of our plants
have died this month,
won't even compost until spring.
The river starts and stops, talks then falls
quiet, fills with the needle-like clusters
often found in fivers, did you know there's
a name for that too?
Frazil ice. From the bridge, the
Speed River seems like so much slush,
but climb down to the riverbank and
Zrha. "Frazil," I announce to the ducks.
They huddle togethet on the shore,
18 gteen & brown & blue, feet tucked
undef feathers, not waiting
for anything. 81 Katherine Murray
t was called a cotillion—a charity debutante ball. Sandra was almost
eighteen; was pushed up on a stage wearing gloves and a puffy whire
dress; handed off by her father to a well-meaning cousin who escorted her
onto the dance floor. She felt embattassed and resentful, and her sistet,
Rochelle, who had made it all happen, was tadiant in her delight.
Rochelle, with het delicate features and soft, cutled hair, hanging off
of their father. So pleased by tradition. So pleased to be pleasing. Blushing
with pleasure at seeing this long-wanted moment atrive. Sixteen, and
dancing with boys from good families. Pious at doing it all fot a cause.
And Sandta, dtagged there as patt of the set. Theit mother got misty-
eyed pinning her hair. She said, "You're all grown up, now. It's time fot
the wotld to see who you are."
The pipes thump, the watet runs; she's got maybe ten minutes to hack
Andrew's phone. His birthday. 0420. The year Tupac died. The screen
says "denied" every time, but there's nothing to limit the number of tries.
1111. 6666. The year he's supposed to graduate—2016. Paul's birthday.
The year of the move. The street numbet of the house that they lived in,
with Paul.
"I think my ex-husband is calling my son. No, you don't understand. He
isn't supposed to do that. Look, I pay for this phone—can you give me
a list of the callers? Yeah, I know there's a record saved on the phone. I
don't have the passco—I don't want to call the police. I'm not—can I talk
to your supervisor?"
1000. 0000. 0001. Apartment number and street address. Outside
corners of the keypad. Cross. Zigzag pattern. 5555. Last fout digits of
the phone number. Last four digits of his driver's license. 5050.
"I can write what I want on my body. It's mine." The grease-stained
kitchen with papet-thin curtains; a busted old card rable off to the side.
The rust that wouldn't come off of the drain. The fridge that was older
than Sandra and came with the house.
"You're doing this to prove some kind of point to me," her mother
said. Her lips were thin and het eyes were still fixed on the unhealed
82 PRISM  55:1 tattoo. "You're angry with me, so you're hurting yourself. Your fathet
didn't even want me to come here."
"I don't care what he wants."
"Well, maybe if you cared a little bit more, you wouldn't be living in
some rathole, carving rude words on yourself. Your fathet kept you in
a very nice home for eighteen yeats, and he gave—and he gave you the
best education that we could afford. You want to add being poot to yout
misery? Fine. It's a stupid decision. It's shortsighted and spiteful. You're
throwing your whole life away."
2222. 3333. 4444. 7777. 8888. 9999. The pipes thump again. The
splattering sound of the water stops. The cell phone goes back in his
Paul had a truck that belonged to him and nobody else. It was all in his
name; it was bought with money he made from his job in construction.
He had an apartment he kit out in second-hand furniture, and he dtank
pretty hatd—so did Sandra.
He told her, one time, that she was a poseur He didn't say "poseur"—
he said that her life was all pretty and pink; that she'd grown up in "la
dee da dee da land," and that he would not be a servant to her. He said
she didn't talk like real people talked, and got snotty when he would
explain things to her. He said, "That's not the way things ate, the way you
think they ate. Real people aren't like that. Real people have to fight fot
evetything they get."
He waited long enough to say it that Sandra already felt sorry for him.
He was having a really tough time with his boss, and he had had a tough
time with his dad. His older brothers were always picking at him—he felt
like he was small. Paul didn't have any othet friends, and she felt like the
kind thing to do was to just let him talk. There was nothing he could say
to her that was wotse than she'd already heard. She was nineteen and she
didn't know better.
The police show up at the doot, asking for Andrew. It's fast and efficient.
They have him put his hands on his head, tell him he's undet arrest, talk
about calling a lawyer The cuffs go on before Sandra can ask them what's
happening. The TV's still on in the background; theit half-eaten dinner is
still on the table. Andrew says, "Get me a lawyet, Mom." He's calm, like
he's done this before. The second cop tells het, "We have reason to believe
your son assaulted one of his classmates," and gives het a number to call. 83 Malloty Pete. Seventeen; chipped nail polish; thinly-plucked eyebrows;
dark, messy hair. She says that three boys lured her into the trees behind
school—to the populat smoking spot, just past the basketball court—
where they forced her to take off her shirt, shoved their hands undet het
clothes, and said they would hit her if she didn't give them a blowjob.
Andrew is one of them.
Mallory, with her hair scraped back in court, and her shirt buttoned
up to her neck, sobbing her way through the story as the prosecutor
nods his head. When the defence attorney asks her why she went with
them, she says, "To have a smoke." He asks her, incredulously, if there
wasn't somewhere else she could have done that. He asks het if she wasn't
dating one of these guys just last year. If this isn't something that she does
sometimes, go off and blow het boyfriend in the woods.
Andrew stares sttaight ahead through all this; the courtroom is stating
at Mallory. Sandra doesn't know quite where to look.
"Men are just like that, Sandta. They're boorish. They're children. They
can't control themselves." Het mother "You have to worry about yout
own safety. You need to stay out of his way when he's like this. If you see
a tornado coming, it doesn't do you any good to stand there and say it's
not fair. You can shake your fist at the wind all you like; it's still gonna
blow down your house."
Macaroni and cheese—the kind with otange powder; gritty, off-brand; a
chalky but comforting taste. Andrew told her he wanted to go live with
Paul. He was sixteen years old. He'd been ten when she'd held his hand at
the airport; given him their tickets to carry, her other arm still in a cast.
He had had questions then, but he'd also been scared. He'd heard the
dull, wet crunch when Paul swung the baluster, seen her scrabbling with
him on the stairs.
They hadn't talked about it since, and she wasn't sure where those
memories were locked in his mind—if he thought of them often, or
ever, at all. He'd been forced to eat charity lunches at school, lining up
separately from the wealthiet kids; his friends, when he made some, were
poor and rough, too. He was angry that she couldn't afford to buy him
belonging—the sneakers and jackets he'd need to fit in. She wasn't sure
what kind of life he imagined with Paul, ot why he imagined that Paul'd
even want him, but she told him that the resttaining order was there fot
a reason. She wasn't unkind.
Andrew exploded, knocked over his glass; said, "Bitch, you made it
so I can't know my own father. Don't think I fotgive you for that. Don't
think I forgive you for kidnapping me, and running away from my dad.
84 PRISM  55:1 Like I've got no choice in it—like it doesn't mattet what I want."
And she remembered that scared little boy, and standing between
them, and trying so hard to save Andrew from anything evil, and said,
"What do you think he was going to do to you aftet he killed me?"
It was the wrong thing to say. She was the adult and she should have
had something better ro give him. She didn'r, and Andrew stalked off to
meet up with his friends.
The verdict is returned: acquittal. Andrew is happy. He takes off the
khakis and tie he was wearing in court. He starts texting his friends, and
Sandra asks him—she just has to ask him—to tell het that he didn't do
it. She's been focussed the whole time on helping him get through the
trial; she has kept this question to hetself—but she thinks about Mallory
Pete, and the nervous twitch in her leg while they waited to hear, and the
way she collapsed when the vetdict was read. Mallory, who's had to be
home-schooled since she came forward—who has people sending pizzas
to het house, and calling het a whote on Facebook. Malloty who said she
just wanted to go have a smoke—that she thought that these guys were
her friends. She thinks about Mallory and, now that its over—now that
he's not facing prison—she just has to ask.
Andrew looks up from his text and says, "Jesus, of course I'm not
guilty. How do you tape a girl who's been giving it out since sixth grade?
You can't do it. It's something that can't be done."
The family tree in the parlout; a story of men, their wives severed branches
that did not exist before marrying into the family. "These are your father's
"Bur who were my great, great, great grandmorher's people?"
The answer, a mystified shtug. Just a few generations ago, we were
There was one visit, only, after rhey moved. Sandra's morher got on a plane
and flew out to see them; muttered something about the "colourful" people
who lived in the neighborhood, the girls with puffy pigtails who liked to
play jumptope outside the front door Andrew was almost fifteen and he
knew his grandmothet only as the woman who sent them small cheques—
one or two hundred dollats to keep them from getting evicted.
Rochelle had two sons by that time, and the youngest was learning to
play violin. They spent Sunday afternoons at theit grandparents' house;
Sandra's mothei would make lemonade. "You could have come home to us,
aftet what happened with Paul," she said. "Your fathet would have allowed
it. Evety time I see you, Sandta, more and more of you's been sttipped away." 85 Her mother picks up on the fifth ring and says, "Well, is my grandson
in jail?" And Sandra, her voice gone all thick, awake until three in the
morning, begins, "You know what he did to me, tight?" Non-Sequitur.
"You know that I left because—all of those years that you stayed, and
you didn't protect us, because, what? You wanted to have a nice garden?
And someone to buy you a car? Because you couldn't stand the idea that
we could be poot, so you never tried to do the righr thing? That you have
the audacity to judge me for the way I live, after everything that I tried
to do fot my child.
"Sandra, did they send him to prison or not?"
"He raped that girl. He took het out into the woods and he raped her,
and how did I raise a son who would do that? I did everything—what did
I do? I took him away from Paul, and I took him away from Dad, and I
did everything for him myself—how did this happen?"
Her mother says, "I can get you a bettet lawyer, all right? It's not the
end of the world. They win these things on appeal all the time."
"You're not listening to me. He isn't in jail. They acquitted him—he
did it, and they said he wasn't guilty. I can't believe you're asking me
about a lawyer right now."
And het mother says, "Sandra, the wotld can't be what we want. If
Andrew's a free man, then count that a blessing; you don't want to know
what they do to these young guys in prison."
"It's what they do to girls in fucking life."
Her mothet says, "You can blame me, if you want to. Say I was a
terrible mother, for keeping you fed—for choosing to stay in a household
where you would have the best possible future. Blame yourself for whar
happened with Andrew—for this problem with Malloty Pete—ot blame
het, if you like. A girl of that age should know better No mattet who you
blame, it isn't going to change anything. It's like they're made of metal,
Sandta; they start to oxidize as soon as they hit the air"
Andrew, five years old, in the house by the creek. Mid-afternoon, dust in
the ait—they sat under the kitchen table, and pulled the chaits in behind
them. He said, "This is our hideout. This is our place where we'll go to be
safe, and no one from the outside can ever come in, unless they knock,
and we let them. And we'll just stay here, you and me, and nothing out
there can come get us."
Warm, and unlocked—the phone just set down. She scrolls through his
texts and his call log. There's nothing from Paul.
86 PRISM  55:1 Tom Way man
T escape to the same places, the same words. "
—Tomas Transrromer, "Alkaline Reaction" (trans. John F. Deane)
A door in a wood:
two four-by-four posts capped by a crossbeam
rise from the duff of a hillside
of fit, spruce, pine.
Hinges on the squared timbers
are attached to the door: a hollow fabrication of
brown veneer, marked and scarred
with use, and with a circular hole
where a knob and lock once secured it
to a frame set in a wall. Now a tusted sliding bolt
holds the portal fast.
No sign a house or shed
once stood here. Not even a fence line
of rotted split-cedat supports for
shards and lengths of bat bed wire is evident.
Easy to climb past this door on either side.
Easy to see that a doot in a forest is absutd,
functionless, unnecessary.
To unbolt the door and step through
almost certainly would not lead to a new destination
nor would I be wiser
if I crossed this threshold
which can be reached only from downslope.
My behavior would be no different.
I would acquire no unfamiliar vocabulary.
In any case, I am convinced when scientists
have shown how words
do not constrain the imagination.
Yet a door srands improbably
in a wood. 87 CONTRIBUTORS
Lisa Baird is a writer, a performance poet, a facilitator, a community
acupuncturist, and a queer white settler living on Attawandaron/
Attawandatonk/Neutral tetritory (Guelph, Ontario). Her work appears
or is forthcoming in Plenitude, Arc, Rattle, Winter Tangerine Review,
Poetry is Dead, The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health
Care, and elsewhere. Visit her online at
John Wall Barger's poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies,
including The Best Canadian Poetry in English and The Montreal Prize
Global Poetry Anthology. His thitd collection, The Book ofFestus (Palimpsest
Press), was a finalist fot the 2016 JM Abraham Poetry Award.
S.C. Bayat currently studies Cteative Writing at the University of Victoria,
and plans to putsue her MA next fall. Her short stoty, "Cascadia Fault,"
was previously longlisted for the 2016 PRISM Short Fiction Contest.
Stephen Brown is a Canadian poet living in Mexico City. His recent work
investigates the spatial (intet)textualities of psychogeographic urban life
on the mind-body of both the city and its occupants. His poems have
appeared in Canadian Literature, The Indiana Review, Rampike, Geist,
Vallum, CV2 and, most recently, Exile Literary Quarterly.
Ann S. Epstein s novels in press are On the Shore (Vine Leaves Press) and A
Brain. A Heart. The Nerve. (Alternative Book Press). Het stories appear in
Sewanee Review, Long Story, Passages North, Red Rock Review, William and
Mary Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Copperfield Review, Normal School,
Carbon Culture, TIk Offbeat, and othet journals.
Laura Farina is the authot of two books of poetry, This Woman Alphabetical
(Pedlar Press) and Some Talk of Being Human (Mansfield Press).
Matthew Hollett is a visual artist and wtitet in St. John's. His wotk has
most recently been published in Riddle Fence and Arc, and previously in
collections such as The March Hare Anthology and Shift & Switch: New
Canadian Poetry.
Eve Joseph's two books of poetry, The Startled Heart (Oolichan, 2004) and
Tl)e Secret Signature ofTlnngs (Brick, 2010) were both nominated fot the
Dorothy Ltvesay Award. Her nonfiction book, In the Slender Margin was
published by HarperCollins in 2014 and won the Hubert Evans awatd for
nonfiction. The book was named one of the top 100 picks of the year by
Tl)e Globe and Mail.
PRISM  55:1 Ben Ladouceur is a writet living in Ottawa. His first collection of poems,
Otter (Coach House Books), was awatded the 2016 Gerald Lampert
Memorial Award for best debut poetiy collection in Canada. He works at
Arc Poetry Magazine as prose editor.
Michael Meagher recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from
the Univetsity of New Bmnswick, where he was the 2015 recipient of the
David H. Walket Ptize. His writing has appeared in journals such as The
Antigonish Review, Canadian Literature, CV2, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat
Review, Queens Quarterly, and PRISM.
Rachael Moorthy is an emerging Canadian writet of First Nations, Sti
Lankan, and Austrian heritage. She is a recent graduate of the Univetsity
of Victoria, and her writing has appeared in publications such as This Side
of West and Young Writers of Canada. She enjoys astronomy, learning new
languages, and swimming in open water
Katherine Murray studied Creative Wtiting at Saint Maty's University and
the Univetsity of New Bmnswick, where she also seived as co-managing
editot of Qwerty. Her writing has appeared in such places as Grain, Room,
Bright Lights Film Journal, and Bright Wall/Dark Room. She currently lives
and wotks in Toronto.
Iheoma Nwachukwu has won fellowships from the Chinua Achebe
Centet for Writers and the Michenet Center. His poetty has appeared in
Forklift Ohio, The Rusty Toque, and elsewhere. His fiction has appeared or
is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, Internazionale,
and elsewhete.
Paisley Rekdal's most recent collection of poems is Imaginary Vessels
(Coppet Canyon, 2016).
Laura Ritland completed her B.A. in Creative Writing and English
Literature at UBC, and is a graduate of the Mastets in Creative Writing
program at the Univetsity of Toronto. Her poems have appeared in places
like The Maynard, The Hart House Review, CV2, The Malahat Review, Arc,
and Maisonneuve. She is the recipient of the 2014 Malahat Review's Fat
Hotizons Award fot Poetry.
Laisha Rosnau is the authot of three poetry collections, Pluck, Lousy
Explorers, and Notes on Leaving, and the novel The Sudden Weight of Snow.
Het wotk has been published in journals and anthologies across Canada
and internationally and has been nominated fot several awards, including
the Fitst Novel Award, the CBC literary awards, and the Pat Lowthet
Awatd. She lives in Coldstream, BC, where she and het family are resident
caretakets of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary. 89 Rebecca Rustin lives in Montreal and works as a freelance writer and
Jamie Sharpe is the authot of three poetry collections, Animal Husbandry
Today (2012), Cut-up Apologetic (2015), and Dazzle Ships (forthcoming
from ECW Press in 2017).
Evann Siebens makes media with movement. Based in Vancouvet, she has
exhibited her projects at Centre Pompidou, MOMA and on PBS. Evann
recently won the Istanbul Identities Best-Video Prize, was in ISEA2015,
and had photos in the VAG and Presentation House auctions. She is
represented by Wil Aballe Aft Projects.
Michael V. Smith is a writet, petformer, and filmmaker who teaches in the
intetdisciplinary faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the Univetsity
of British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley. His most recent book is My
Body Is Yours, published by Atsenal Pulp Press.
Tanya R. Ward lives and writes in Toronto. Her creative non-fiction
appeats in Little Fiction \ Big Truths. She is a graduate of the University of
Toronto and Yotk University with an MA in Philosophy. She is currently
working on a collection of short fiction.
Carolyn Watson's short fiction has been nominated fot a National
Magazine Awatd and the Journey Prize. Her stoties have appeared in Slice,
Indiana Revieiv, Redivider, Grain, On Spec, and elsewhere.
Tom Wayman graduated from UBC in 1966; 49 years larer, the Vancouver
Public Library named him a Vancouver Literaty Landmark with a plaque
on the city's Commercial Drive. His newest book, The Shadows We Mistake
for Love (Douglas & Mclntyre, 2015) won the 2016 Diamond Foundation
Prize for fiction,
90 PRISM  55:1 i\ ■;■; ;>.-,: \;Y:'< nr>t) sod;
falling in love with poetry:
The Anthology
Twenty-seven Canadian poets speak
about the poems that summoned
them to poetry and influenced
the kind of poet, and reader, they
Presenting our 26* Annual Literary Contest
$5000 in Prizes
Deadline: postmarked by 1 December 2016
vebsite | email | twitter @TheFiddlehd creative
core faculty and instructors include
T>ionne Brand, Catherine Bush, Kepin Connolly,
Iris TurcoTT, & Michael Winter
associated faculty include
Margaret ChrisTasos, Camilla Gibb, KaThrtnKuiTenbrouwer,
Our MFA Program, located in Toronto,
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We offer workshops in the genres of
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and the chance to design and teach
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ffrllUMRF.R   I   O'HUMBER
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Write and learn on our breathtaking campus in Vancouver,
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Charles Demers
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Wayne Grady
Tariq Hussain
Sarah Leavitt
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Annabel Lyon
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Susan Musgrave
Andreas Scnroeder
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Sheryda Warrener
a place of mind
UBC Poem of the Year Contest
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Si PRINTING LTD    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553  PRISM is contemporary writing
Lisa Baird
John Wall Barger
S.C. Bayat
Srephen Brown
Ann S. Epsrein
Laura Farina
Matthew Hollett
Eve Joseph
Ben Ladouceur
Michael Meagher
Rachael Moorthy
Katherine Murray
Iheoma Nwachukwu
Paisley Rekdal
Laura Ritland
Laisha Rosnau
Rebecca Rustin
Jamie Sharpe
Evann Siebens
Michael V. Smirh
Tanya R. Ward
Carolyn Watson
Tom Wayman
7 ' 72006" 86361' 2
Cover image © Evann Siebens, "Keyhole."


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