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 v^S
in
V
PRISM
international
W*    Mullim
.
DREAMS
FALL 2018
*                                       '"fii    i&ii?®       HP1""*^?
  PRISM internationa
2018 EARLE BIRNEY PRIZE FOR POETRY
PRISM international is proud to announce the 2018 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 Lydia Kwa for her
poem "Letter to My Former Selves," which first appeared in PRISM 56.1 :
Liminal.
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.
THE GROUSE GRIND LIT PRIZE
FOR V. SHORT FORMS
GRAND PRIZE
"Birdhouse" by Gregory Brown
FIRST RUNNER-UP
"Melt" by Spencer Lucas Oakes
SECOND RUNNER-UP
"Calgary" by Jon Flieger
READERS
Molly Cross-Blanchard, Laura Anne Harris, Jessica Johns
Ahmad Danny Ramadan, Jasmine Sealy, Kailash Srinivasan
Erin Steele, Peter Takach, Karin Zuppiger
 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:
circulation@prismmagazine.ca. PRISM is printed in Canada.
Website: prismmagazine.ca
Copyright © 2018 PPJSM international. Content copyrights remain with
authors. Cover image © Keneilwe Mokoena, "Dreamscapes."
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 prismmagazine.ca/submit, or can be requested by
mail at the address above.
Advertising: For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM, please
visit our website at prismmagazine.ca/advertise.
Our gratitude to Dean Dr. Gage Averill and the Dean of Arts Office at the
University of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial
support of the UBC Creative Writing Program, the Canada Council for the
Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
September 2018. ISSN 0032.8790
|UBC|      a place of mind
THE  UNIVERSITYOF  BRITISH  COLUMBIA
UBC
CREATIVE
WRITING
PROGRAM
BRITISH COLUMBIA
ARTS COUNCIL
Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
for the Arts du Canada
 PRISM
nternationa
PROSE EDITOR
POETRY EDITOR
EXECUTIVE EDITORS
FACULTY ADVISOR
DESIGNER
Jasmine Sealy
Jessica Johns
Molly Cross-Blanchard
Olga Holin
Sharon McGowan
andrea bennett
EDITORIAL BOARD
Jennifer Amos, Mikaela Asfour, Arlene Avila, Wendy Bone
Alison Braid, Esther Chen, Robert Colman, Anne Denning
Dechen Hangkar, Laura Ann Harris, Matthew Kok, Kyle McKillop
Jeff Miller, Emilie Moorhouse, Cara Nelissen, Laura Nicol
Shyamala Parthasarathy, Emily Pate, Issie Patterson
Deborah Patz, Loghan Paylor, Cindy Pereira, Kiri Sawyer
Owen Schaefer, Liam Siemens, Natalie Southworth, Erin Steel
Colin Sterling, Peter Takach, Shristi Uprety, Deborah Vail
Elaine van der Geld, Catherine Young, Mormei Zanke
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Esther Chen, Emma Cleary, Chimedum Ohaegbu
Eleanor Panno, Claudia Wilde
 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. Joyce Carol Oates,
Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are just a few names
from PRISM'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
worldwide.
The searchable archives are free for anyone to access, and can be
reached through https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/prism
PRISM    Asrassr"   O
BRITISH
Columbia
digital archive
 CONTENTS
DREAMS
Keneilwe Mokoena      7      Dreamscapes
Jessica Johns & Jasmine Sealy     8      Letter from the Editors
RISE
Michelle Poirier Brown
10
Wake
Dallas Hunt
12
stretchmarks // sundogs
Elizabeth Mitchell
14
Black Girl Dreams
Sara Tilley
16
Crystal
jaye simpson
24
the raven returned
MA|DE
26
A Bad Dream Bent Ends Wet
Gregory Brown
27
Birdhouse
Samantha Nock
28
dear friend
Dizz Tate
30
Feast
EDGES
Billy-Ray Belcourt
45
DRUNK ON HOPE
Arielle Twist
46
D/REAMME
Vanessa Carlisle
47
Surrender Akimbo
Jan Guenther Braun
49
Insterstice
Jenny Mary Brown
51
Metakosmia
Tessa Yang
52
What Do You Dream?
Lindsay Nixon
59
bawajigaywin
Matthew Stepanic
61
The Greatest Olympic Comeback
Sanchari Sur
62
The Lady and the Beard
Trish Salah
68
What I remember
RIPPLE
Spencer Lucas Oakes
71
Melt
Austen Lee
73
Sleepovers at the Edge
of the World
Sachiko Murakami
75
Field Research
Jack Wang
76
Belsize Park
 Amanda Baker-Patterson 89 5-Year Plan
Jason Purcell 90 Men in the Gut
Hannah Abigail Clarke 91 Cherry Pie
Lida Nosrati 96 On Topography
Contributors 98
 Keneilwe Mokoena
DREAMSCAPES
The Dreamscapes series explores the multidimensionality of dream states. The
multi-layers of space, texture, and self intersect and recreate a visualization
of subconscious dreams. The work evokes a sense of nostalgia and reveals the
intimate and surreal relationship between Self and Space.
 LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Dear Reader,
We are thrilled to offer you PRISMs DREAMS issue: a collection of
stories and poems from emerging and established writers who invite
you to question reality, to embrace the unfamiliar, to venture into the
dreamscape, the inbetween. DREAMS pushes the boundaries of lived
and imagined realities. We are answering a call, we are talking to those
who came before us, and dreaming a world for those yet to come.
In this issue, we explore the non-linearity of dreamscapes in three sections.
In RISE, the writers dream their realities upstream, tether lines between
a present and a returning. In EDGES, we have one foot in reality and
one in a dreamworld, uncertain of which is which. Lines are blurred,
gender deconstructed, paradigms burned to the ground. In RIPPLE,
the beginning and end of the dream journey, the writers reach through
generations, cast queer spells, and stage quiet revolutions with infinite
echoes.
DREAMS are radical. To dream is to create an opening within yourself,
to dare to say no, or yes, to wish for other, better, more. So when you
finish the last page, go back to the beginning, experience the worlds these
writers have created as never-ending, as existing now and in the future, as
living and dreaming in all directions at once.
Yours,
Jessica Johns & Jasmine Sealy
PRISM  57.1
 RISE
 Michelle Poirier Brown
WAKE
you dream me still. Racialized, de-racialized, de-colonized. You ask if I
have or use a "pre-colonial mind." You suggest edits to my biography, tell
me my stated identity doesn't exist, and that you know this because you
are getting a phd in indigenous lit. You ask me flat out if I'm queer, if you
can tick off another box on the grant application.
You dream we are friends, and I become someone you get to say you
met for tea in the village. You dream we are friends, and you tell me
you've taken oranges to the tent city because, of course, that is something
I would want to know.
In your dreams, I am often too much, more often not enough.
Because of your dreams, you find me repellant, take a prurient interest in
my childhood. Your dreams make it hard for me to wake up. I dream I
am drowning. I have this dream while I'm awake.
I remember the time we met on the phone, your rude awakening
when I showed up at your door. I was still asleep. I checked my shoes to
make sure they were clean. As if that had to be the problem.
10 PRISM  57.1
 There was the year you told me it would be best if I chose a different
week to rent a cabin, that my daughters were two children too many.
You stood beside me on the river bank as I watched the children float by
in inner tubes, one of mine vibrant with excitement, the other grinning
with fear. I think you dreamed I would never tell.
The grief from that one dreamed me for a long while.
The past is a dream that streams around me, my voice rising through
it like bubbles void of vibration, their only sound an almost inaudible
pop when they reach the surface. What you cannot see of me fills my
lungs.
Always I am waking. I turn up in strange clothes, new words in my
mouth, people I no longer know smile as if I remember. I look for others,
also awake. Mostly go home alone.
Always I am swimming, cold and asleep, upstream. Bear dips a paw
into the stream, flips me breathless against the sky. Wake, he says. Wake.
11
 Dallas Hunt
STRETCHMARKS // SUNDOGS
i dream that
the sun is my
fat-bodied kin
glowing, their smile
blanching earth yellow
beach sands,
setting my chubby cheeks
ablaze
we embrace,
swollen,
sweaty, full
of love,
malevolent light
languishing &
strolling
across chunky
appendages
stretchmarks & sundogs,
accomplices
in bulbous joy,
me reeling as
pisim's luminous
touch
collides
with my
perfectly
un-moisturized
skin
12 PRISM   57.1
 they smile
and,
beneath pisim's grin,
mouth piquing,
crowded
by freckles and
insurgent
moles,
i smile with them.
13
 Elizabeth Mitchell
BLACK GIRL DREAMS
a wooden boat on which to lay—
soaks in sun, soft sounds of waves
brush beneath her.
books, some worn, yellowed dears,
others crisp breaths, her mother gifted
her keys to new worlds
& she's been collecting
keys since, she opens portals
to healing streams.
she gifts herself words
as a gardener tending
a beloved patch of wildflowers.
she believes herself beautiful—
mind fierce & full
of cherishable things.
wolves wither
under the glare of her eyes
& do not harm her.
rain touches her forehead,
slides through her curls—free
falls down her neck.
sunlight fills the places harm entered,
rainbows pour from her palms—
taste of new beginnings & forgiveness.
14 PRISM  57.1
 her body is her own safe harbour
where she gifts herself
permission to dream
permission to be
15
 Sara Tilley
CRYSTAL
it's been nearly a year since they ended it, and all Carrie can think about
is Phantom Baby. Phantom Baby doesn't cry, it goes "boo." Phantom
Baby doesn't need to be changed, it changes you.
The baby is made of mist, but the mist is like coral, porous and
hollow, and its nooks and crannies have sponged up real baby's blood,
so that this blood-baby thingy is red but gauzy, wet but nothing, and it
floats. It follows Carrie, sometimes from very far away, sometimes hiding
behind buildings so that she can't see it anymore, though she can still feel
the tug—a twinge in the weak side of her left wrist, not dissimilar to the
ache, in poor weather, of a badly-set broken bone.
Phantom Baby came in a dream at first, one or two days after they
were done. Carrie wasn't sleeping in the house. She'd given him a week
to get his things out. She was at her friend's place, her old friend from
childhood, her only real pre-Martin friend, Ginny, who was back in
town for just that one summer out of the whole decade beforehand, so
it seemed like The Universe had Carrie cradled to Its Universal Teats
even as her sternum cracked with so much crying. Literal heartbreak! It
16 PRISM  57.1
 actually made cracking sounds, like the river ice in springtime in Dawson
City, where they had lived together once, Martin and Carrie, True Love
Forever, the kind everyone else is jealous and suspicious of.
Carrie left Newfoundland two months ago. She knows that he left,
too. London. He's really doing it, now that he doesn't have her weighing
him down. In the old days, he'd joke about the tattoo he was planning to
get—an anchor, with Carrie's name on it.
Martin, in London. She tries not to care. She only knows because of
Facebook. Not because they're Friends—he removed her—but because
they have Friends in common, and when he Comments on a Friend's
Post it will sometimes show up in her Feed, like a hand reaching out of
the computer screen and dumping a cold glass of water on her. Today,
someone Shared this photo of him with his girlfriend. She's short, and
young, with no detectable thickening of her anatomy. Martin is smoking,
looking straight at the camera with a neutral expression, while GF turns to
look up at him, her mouth half-opened as if she's about to say something,
or maybe kiss him, or like she's his baby bird and he'll regurgitate a worm
for her. She sees only Martin, and he only sees us. The two of them are
wearing black on a British bridge, overlooking the British water.
In that dream Carrie had, in Gihny's parents' spare bed, one of
those first dark nights a year ago when she dove gratefully into sleep like
Ophelia—get at me, Death!—she dreamt that she and Martin were on
a bus, though he looked not like himself but like a younger man with
lighter hair, a teenager. They were on the bus nearing the house where
she used to live as a girl. They had bags of shopping at their feet—Value
Village—and her wrist was very itchy. Carrie scratched. No matter how
diligent, she couldn't get rid of the itch in her wrist, her left wrist, on the
soft part, underneath. A rash began to bloom, red as blood in a sponge,
dark and serious. On skin so pale as hers you could see it extra clearly:
the silhouette of a fetus in classic fetal position rising up on her wrist, on
the tender underside part, red and itchy, bubbled like a sponge of blood,
growing more and more pronounced as the seconds passed, about two
inches long between the furthest points of its half-formed anatomy.
"Holy shit," she said in the dream. She grabbed Martin's arm. "We're
pregnant. Isn't it beautiful?" The red fetus-rash-thing winked a pre-eye,
eye-nub, head-of-a-matchstick at her and opened its economic slash of a
pre-mouth right below its two tiny pinholes of pre-nostrils. It smiled, and
said its name was Crystal.
17
 Martin's stand-in was uncomfortable. He wouldn't look Crystal in the
"eye." He put his headphones on—it was Pulp—and even though they
were expensive, earmuff ones, the music now underscored everything. He
got off the bus, and Carrie followed him. The breeze picked up. Crystal
began to blow away. She was light as a feather, so small, a mere two
inches from top to tail. Carrie ran after her and called for Martin to run
too—"grab the baby, the baby's going to float away, Martin"—but he had
gone inside and she could see him through the window at the table. Her
mother, aged thirty or so in the dream, was feeding him lasagna. There
was a tugging on Carrie's wrist. A vein, snaking up! One had come loose,
snagged in her scratching. The vein tugged right out of her wrist and up
into the sky, a kite-string from Carrie to her floating daughter.
Crystal loved the wind. She sucked it greedily into her little half-lungs.
She was a sponge for it, expanding quickly like one of those vitamin-
looking capsules you put in a pail of water as a child to grow a foamy
dinosaur. Crystal swelled in the wind till she took up the whole sky and
the sun shone through her like stained glass. She was so beautiful. Her
cells grew bigger and bigger until they were a cathedral ceiling of crimson
wonders, a bisected, glowing pomegranate of perfection, and it was easier
to see the space between each cell, and between each thing within each
cell, all that space that's in all of us but which is easier to see if you are
a huge balloon-Phantom Baby-fetus-thing that never really existed, and
that appears in a dream.
The Baby is often there in the daytime, too. When in public, Carrie
pretends not to notice. No one else notices. Phantom Baby is exceptionally
bright for a thing of her age. She'd never appear when someone else might
see, not unless Carrie ran into Martin, which hadn't happened, not even
randomly, all year. A miracle, really, considering St. John's. Now that
she's in Calgary and he's in the UK, Carrie guesses she'll never see Martin
again, though you never know. The art world, in his words, is "pretty
fucking small."
All year, Carrie has lived with sadness. It's understandable, though
her friends are getting restless. They encourage her to try online dating,
swing dancing, gym membership. She doesn't know how to cut the
cord without letting her blood out. And why cut it? Her sadness has a
concrete form, better than the amorphous cloud she's seen swallow some
in similar situations. Phantom Baby is better than a nameless, shapeless
grief, unacknowledged until it ferments into cancer. Phantom Baby is an
impossibility, yes, but even so she laughs, her laugh is on the wind, it's
18 PRISM  57.1
 in the songs of birds, a distraction. She helps Carrie fall into the cotton
batting feeling of forgetting.
There are some days that she doesn't think of him at all, and others
when she conjures him up on purpose, dwelling on the way things might
have been, if only, if only, like a tongue rooting at the raw hole of a recent
wisdom tooth extraction. Her life was once so caught up with his. They
used to be a thing together, a single unit, even in her dreams. It's hard,
now, to remember the happy, early years. All tinged with the stuff at the
end. Maybe that's the kind of thing where you have to wait to be old.
Phantom Baby is usually about a foot long. Real baby size. But when
she laughs her impossible laugh and gulps the wind and begins to swell
and fill the whole sky with her cells again, like in the dream, Carrie knows
that a migraine is coming. The size of her baby is a weather vane. As the
months kept on and the lawyers were called, the papers were drawn, and
everything became quite final, Carrie found it too sad to think of Crystal
with a name anymore, like she was a real baby who'd really existed, so
Carrie just thought of her as Phantom Baby now, at least most of the
time. When she's tired, or in a lot of pain, she occasionally slips, and
thinks "Crystal" to herself. She can feel Phantom Baby, can feel the tug,
even while she's in the studio, or in the shower, at the grocery store, while
cooking or out walking the unfamiliar city blocks, and of course while
sitting and crying alone. She could feel Phantom Baby all the while, this
whole year, tug-tug-tugging on the vein, her kite-string. No matter how
far Carrie follows, Phantom Baby still keeps tugging. All the way across
the country. How far are we to go?
It was a little over a year ago that he'd brought up getting pregnant,
after a long while of not talking about it. They'd had sex that afternoon
and were lying on the bed and hugging. A freeze-dried moment. Martin
was tracing up and down her arm with his fingers and giving her little
kisses on the hairline. He said they should start planning out when they'd
have their kid, for real, because soon it would be too late for Carrie to
do it, and if they were going to Calgary this coming year it should be
conceived either in the next two months to make it old enough to travel,
or they should wait to conceive until halfway through her residency so
that she wouldn't be so pregnant they'd be worried about flying home.
Even though Martin hated Newfoundland and everything about it, he
wanted his child to be born there. He'd been thinking about it a lot,
it seemed, and she was happy that he wanted it, really wanted it, and
wanted her still, even though sometimes things got weird and hard and
19
 she didn't know what was wrong and he hit his head on the walls and said
she was making him want to kill himself. An ultimatum: "If you want to
make it so we never have sex, that's fine. Let's just be honest about it. I'm
done. I still love you, I'm still in love with you, but if you want to have sex
with me again you're going to have to do the work to make it happen."
A kiss was not an acceptable beginning move. He'd screw his mouth
into a tidy fortress of teeth. Sometimes when drunk he'd mimic her,
grabbing her by the neck, slamming his mouth into hers, ramming the
tongue in. "You think that's sexy?" Or, when she didn't try so hard: "You
know how many numbers I get every shift? You're killing me. I have to
fuck, you know, or I'm going to explode. No, you don't know, do you?
That's the problem."
She nearly always came. She never faked. She loved having sex with
him and she wanted to have it more, not less. She said this sometimes,
or wrote him letters, longhand, to that effect. "Prove it, then." When she
tried to dress in slutty things, she was too nervous about it and he'd say
she was just doing it for his sake and not because she was a genuinely
sexual person. Then he'd shut himself in his office with a case of beer and
his video games and smoke in there all night, even though he'd promised
he wouldn't smoke in the house. When the costumes did work, he'd often
rip the thing to shreds on the first go so that she couldn't wear it again—
cheap mail-order crap—and later he'd be put off that she didn't wear
the hot outfit and wanted to have sex with him naked, or starting off in
regular clothes. There was a specific thing he wanted, but he wouldn't say
what. "If you have to talk about it, it's not erotic." He thought it would
be a healthy step if more people were involved. She did claim she was
bi. His theory was asexual. Was she really a dyke? It was okay if she was,
they'd have a threesome. Or he could just watch. Orgy? Go poly? Why
does that make her cry? "I've never met anyone as fucked up as you about
fucking, Carrie, you know that?"
She wanted to have sex, but it wasn't dirty enough. She wanted to have
sex, but just with Martin. She was happy to have sex just with him, alone.
He'd say "I don't know what's wrong with you," and she wouldn't know
what to say back. This was when he was drinking. He only said these
things late at night after drinking and then he couldn't stop, monologues
he'd later have no memory of. He'd come home at six a.m. and wake her
up to say all kinds of things about how miserable he was. He'd say she
was just like her mother, and he didn't mean the migraines, he meant
she was the spit of her, repressed and frigid and stuck. Martin would tell
20 PRISM   57.1
 her that no one else would've stayed with her this long, as fundamentally
broken as she was, and Carrie would thank him for being so patient, so
very patient with all her shortcomings and flaws. He'd say, "How'd I get
the shit luck to fall in love with you anyway? How'd I get the shit luck?"
And she'd apologize. She meant it. Sometimes he'd threaten to hit her if
she wouldn't hit him first. "Just punch me in the face, just fucking punch
me or I swear to God I'll kick the shit out of you." She wouldn't, and he
never did, either. When it got to that point, she'd retreat to the bathroom
to sob with the door closed, letting Martin spew his thoughts, snort his
drugs, and pound his head into the wall until he felt like passing out.
Hit him? She guessed. Bought a riding crop for Christmas, wrapped
it with a note that said to report to his French Teacher, he'd failed his
examen de vocabulaire. She thought this was a way she could meet him
where he needed to be met. The character would help. She'd get some
use from her theatre degree, for once. Martin didn't even take the crop
out of the box. "I'm not into that shit." She never saw it again. Shame
freezing her up. He stayed out more and more and she got more and
more sad. They touched each other less, and even their lives touched less,
overlapping a little in the afternoon when she was finishing up in the
studio for the day and he was starting to wake up. That was no time to
try. Martin was tired. Hung over? It was his hour for email and coffee,
a game of hockey on the Xbox. Then he had to iron his clothes for the
upscale waiting job he hated, downtown. It was never the right time to
say "Let's fuck."
And then? A pull at the wrist. Phantom Baby leads Carrie back to that
particular day last year. A frozen day, trapped in amber, a perfect golden
day when she thought she was wrong about everything because of the
good sex they'd had, just regular sex that arose out of a little kiss, as it used
to very easily, and then the hugging in the bed and the baby that Martin
began to talk about again, in practical terms, like they were saving up for
South America. If he hadn't made getting pregnant real again, it would've
hurt less, she thinks, when some days later she found the letter—well,
Facebook Letter—open on his laptop by the couch, where he'd fallen
asleep with his hand down his pants. A letter to some person about her
vulva and its virtues, its tastiness and addictiveness. When can he eat it
again? There were a few moments of stillness, then, another little amber
moment where nothing happened. He was passed out and pale with
drinking, his shirt off and his mouth open, his hand on his cock. The
Profile Pic showed a green wig, fake lashes, black corset. A classic Selfie,
21
 the duck-face shot from above to cartoonishly enlarge the eyes while still
including crucial cleavage—the type of shot that'd usually get Martin
ranting, pacing up and down the living room kicking a book across the
floor, skewering whatever friend of his was idiot enough to take that kind
of picture of themselves and post it on the internet.
Carrie stood with her hand over her mouth for a while, and then she
watched that hand shake him awake. She watched from way up high
somewhere while he quickly flipped things. What was he supposed to
do, she was fucking killing him. He was drunk and maybe coked up. It
was eight in the morning. He said that even though she made him want
to fucking slit his wrists he'd have stayed with her until the end. "I'd be
miserable for the rest of my life for you." There were a lot more things
he said, but those are the things that float to the surface now, when she
thinks about it.
Carrie knows that out of all the many things he said, some were
true, and some were meant to hurt her. She never knew which was
which, and in the end it didn't matter. He said it all. She agreed with
him. Some feminist! There were these ruts in her brain, old tracks laid
down since girlhood. Carrie apologized for her incurable frigidity, the
catalyst for Martin's conquest. She felt bad for him, for his belief in his
own worthlessness, his own neural ruts, worn smooth as bobsled runs,
that made him act this way. She knew she had to leave him, and she
only had the strength to do it because of Ginny, who'd come back just
this one summer to housesit for her newly-retired, newly-globetrotting
parents. Ginny was an angel sent to hold Carrie while everything was
swept away, as in a floodplain situation. Half her adult life was gone in
that one moment, eight years and a bit, the million I love you's, the home
they made, the work they made together; Carrie had to tie it all up and
put it outside and cut it off and smush it because she could see now that
she didn't really know Martin, and that if she did come to know him, the
real him, then maybe she wouldn't actually love him. She didn't know
this man, Martin, anymore.
They say it takes seven years for a lover to fully make their way out
of a person's system. Some Facebook linky-thingy told her that. Carrie
can't wait that long. She mostly feels nothing, but sometimes she has
these unbearable waves of sadness when she thinks about him, or sees
some Post about his book or his art show or his girlfriend's ultrasound.
Carrie can well up if she sees someone put their hand on the back of their
lover's neck, or if Nick Cave comes on shuffle, or if her cabbie smells of
22 PRISM   57.1
 Ivory soap, tobacco, and artificial cinnamon. Those small candy hearts.
It doesn't take much. A wave of terrible loss smacks into her and knocks
her breath out. Then come the tears, in snotty torrents which are hard to
stop. Self-worth bottomed out. Cannot look in mirror, trouble going to
supermarket. Meals eaten over sink, for easier cleanup.
She finds herself scratching sometimes, her under-wrist getting red
and puffy with the suffering, but it feels good to feel something relatively
simple. A pain that is just scratches. Concentrate! Feel the teensy
heartbeat. Scratch out the shape of her, focus in. Scratch in time to the
wee breath. It is the breath of the last thing in this world made by the
both of them—one last fucked up, fictitious collaboration. She wants
Crystal to follow her forever, fluttering in the treetops, but she also wants
to cut that vein-string. A deft snip with psychic vibrations or legitimate
scissors, whatever works.
Carrie wants to rest. She wants out of the city. Too loud. She wants
some pure dark place, some cave, a spongy forest floor, somewhere without
stars, or, okay, maybe a few stars, but nothing else. No human structures
on the dark landscape, no people. No memories of people, no unborn
small people, and no fully grown adults. Not even the thought that there
could be people, somewhere. No sound. No sense of time. There's no
one else, and there never has been, and there never will be. There's not
even a you, not really, just a pure animal state, but one without a startle
response, because there's nothing to be afraid of. No predators, no illness,
no aging, no hunger, no worry. No self-awareness. No physical body.
Release? Relief. A tiny perfect world of dark and stillness, like the period
at the end of a lengthy sentence.
23
 jaye Simpson
THE RAVEN RETURNED
the raven returned
carrying the sunset
on their wings
pulling the wind
through the long grass
of the plains
the raven returned
when the children
awoke
their bodies milk
hungry smelling
of freshly crushed cinnamon
the raven returned
our languages
oflove
love that raised the grass
invited the children
into existence
love that brought
sage, cedar, salt
& tobacco back
the raven returned
as the wild strawberries ripened
across the sunset plains
sweet grass dancing
with the children
born from the sweat lodge
the raven returned
these young ones
with song & dance
24 PRISM  57.1
 words never heard before
ceremony in their souls
crying with laughter
the raven returned
having heard the music
the song & dance
the children's faces
sticky from strawberries
their tummies filled
the raven returned
one early evening
croaked a hello
salt water ocean cleansing
the wounds of old
the raven returned
bringing with them
dreams of tomorrow
futures built by the children
their laughter & love
the raven returning
the call of the Ceremonies
the raven returning
the call of the children
the raven returning
25
 MA\DE
A BAD DREAM BENT ENDS WET
A bubble is a globe in an envelope;
a dream is a bubble bursting.
An open envelope is an exit door
that leads to an unknown world:
we'll turn our backs into dirty windows.
Smoke can be trapped inside a bubble
but a kiss cannot, it gets caught up.
You dream of more, always keep
a jam wedged, stare at a thing that
isn't there. An exit door is
an open lung.
26 PRISM   57.1
 Gregory Brown
BIRDHOUSE
Pre-meeting chirrup, caw-caw. New face, old face, coffee, cigarettes.
Make a circle, little nest. What would you do if you only had one year left
to live? The addicts share out, one by one. I'd spend it with my kids, one
guy says. I'd take my moms to Disneyland. Me too, me too. Definitely
go travelling with my family. And on and on. Joanie's already tired of
this shit, the pep and preening. Three straight days: Everybody putting
on their brightest feathers. Forgive, forgive. Love, love. Blah, blah, blah.
She can feel the heat in her chest, the roil of bile rising up her throat, she
wants to cut these motherfuckers down, show them how un-special their
love. How wrong. She's seen the scars on her roommate's arms. Heard
Kevin O. confess to picking through his OD'ing girlfriend's sweatpants,
scoring a twoonie and a couple of crushed cigarettes. Nobody here who
hasn't fucked over, been fucked over. Joanie's in her head. Time flies,
but where? Then: This woman, Vola, is saying, I'd make birdhouses.
Birdhouses?Yeah, Vola says. You a bird lover?'No, Vola says, I don't really
like birds. Scattered laughter. Vola says, I just think it'd be a nice thing
to do. A small, nice thing. Vola looks down in her lap as she says this,
clasping her hands. Now it's Joanie's turn to speak, but she's not sure
anymore. She's forgotten something important about herself. It's flown
the coop. She's thinking about a thing her parents told her when she was
five or six, a lie to get her out of the house: Throw salt on a bird and its
wings won't work. Let you pick it up, take it home, love it. Joanie's trying
to remember: Did it work?
27
 Samantha Nock
DEAR FRIEND
the women in my bloodline have passed down:
thick thighs
long lives
small hands
big cheeks
and an overworked amygdala.
dear friend,
i am sorry that i met you before i knew the definition of
intergenerational trauma, please tell me that my handed down survival
doesn't scare you as much as it scares me; i have been dreaming of a
version of me that doesn't take every full moon as an opportunity to
collapse inwards.
kokum tells me
that we come from
a family of dreamers.
dear friend,
there was a time before a time when i didn't spend hours counting the
steps i need to take down the sidewalk, there was a time before a time
when the number didn't have to be divisible by four, there was a time
before a time.
i read once that deja vu is you returning
to a place you've been before—
it's supposed to tell you
you're on the right path.
dear friend,
in the privacy of my own thoughts, i have shown myself gentleness-i
have lost the words in my language that explain the concept of wanting
to run because i'm too comfortable, i don't think we have a verb that
describes the urge to leave before they leave us.
28 PRISM   57.1
 i read somewhere else that deja vu
is just your brain telling you
you're experiencing something new
but you're processing it as something
familiar.
dear friend,
lay yourself in the centre of the alfalfa field and let the flat prairie sky
float clouds passed you. forget forget forget that i said i have a recurring
nightmare of you leaving me.
i don't know what theory I accept:
brain malfunction or premonition.
i just know that i have dreams that come true.
i have felt the grasps of my grandmothers
sending stories in the form of feeling
like a familiar stranger in a new place.
dear friend,
i never knew that surviving is different than living, last night through
my open window the northern lights whispered that i have been
spending too much time focused on getting by. i need to stop holding
onto the words of dancing ghosts.
these gifts from my mother's passed-down generations
sometimes feel more like a burden
but it's hard to see between the lines;
when i was little i knew the names for the trees
before anyone introduced us.
dear friend,
thank you for witnessing me put myself back together at the waxing
gibbous.
29
 Dizz Tate
FEAST
her father left her mother and this was normal, it seemed, among
her friends in the city, though not necessarily in that order, it could be the
mother just as often or even more likely it was both. She has followed her
father in a way, having just left home, too. She lives in a converted office
block with a hundred other students, all nervously developing drinking
and smoking habits to the best of their abilities. She has found that stories
of parental pain are like party tricks. Her flatmate's father had a whole
family, ready-to-go, on the side, but a girl downstairs had it worse, there
was some complication with a sister-in-law. Still, once shared, no one
seems to care much about their parents' divorces, if they are happening
or happened long ago. There are more pressing concerns and betrayals
to deal with as they swap around their filters and papers to build shaky
cigarettes. She supposes she should not care either. Her name is Milfred.
This choice alone is enough to harshen any relationship with her mother.
Her friends and her father call her Fred. Her mother refuses to.
She moved to the city to study writing. On the first day of class, they
were asked to describe the city in metaphor. Amongst the rubble, light
30 PRISM  57.1
 scattered on water, a pile of jewels in a cave. Milfred said it was like a
scrunched-up napkin holding a particularly luminous sneeze.
"That's technically a simile," said one boy, the one who, at first, she
had liked the best, due to the sheer shock of his hair. It rose off his head
like a Minnie Mouse bow, and he strung his hands through it all through
class. She had even found herself imagining the hair at night, a bit drunk
off three-pound white wine, having watched her flatmate coax another
boy into her room through the promise of introducing him to her pet
hamster. It was a foolproof move.
Milfred listened to the bed creak, the hamster running, endlessly
impressive and ignored, in her squeaky wheel. She imagined the boy's hair.
She loved that a lot of hair would be called a shock of hair, as if its mere
existence was enough to pierce the observer with a mild electrocution.
She wrote this down and blushed. She imagined her teacher in her head,
leaning forward on his clasped hands, opening it up to the room, Is
anyone else seeing a sexual subtext here*.
She calls her mother on her way to class.
"Julia speaking," she says.
"Mum, I know it's you, I called you," says Milfred.
"Who's speaking?"
"Mum," says Milfred.
"Well, how am I to know if you don't announce yourself, Milfred?"
"My name comes up on the phone," says Milfred, her teeth already
clenching. She blows smoke, marching up the hill, white wine stinging
the front of her brain.
"Are you smoking? Your breath sounds volcanic."
"No," says Milfred. There is no point in lying, her mother would not
care in the slightest. Still, she enjoys the slight power gained back by the
falsity. "I've never had a cigarette in my life. I find them abhorrent and
disgusting and selfish, due to the dangers of second-hand smoking."
"Why do you ring me so much, sweetie? Do you need money?"
"If I needed money, I'd ask Dad."
There is a sweet little silence. Her mother starts to hum.
"Have you spoken to him lately?" asks her mother.
"Sure," says Milfred. She adds, quickly, "But I call you way more!"
"How lucky I am," says her mother. "How is he?"
"He's started curing meat," says Milfred. "He's set it up in the shed in
the communal garden. He says the neighbours are young and don't mind
as long as he gives them ten percent of any meat-turning profits."
31
 "Well, hasn't he evolved into a whole new man?"
"I suppose."
"Not missing anything, really, is he?" There is a crack, a rivulet in
her mother's voice that seems to seep down the phone, drippy and
unappealing.
"I miss you," says Milfred. Her mother hangs up.
Milfred marches up the rest of the hill to her writing class, which
takes place in what was once a greenhouse for the university's failing
botany program. It turned out writing was much more lucrative than
flowers, at least at an undergraduate level. She can see the greenhouse
in the distance, catching the autumn sunlight so it seems almost aflame.
Her father had left her mother for no particular reason, it seemed,
not because there was another woman or man. He just preferred to live
life within his own orbit. She can understand why this would be almost
harder than anything for her mother, to have been left for nothing, to
know that a void could be preferable to the space she took up in the
world. Her father didn't talk about it much, but he had taken up many
hobbies. She calls him for equilibrium, climbing the hill.
"Father!" she shouts.
"Daughter!" he shouts back. "Two days in a row? You okay?"
"Fine," she says.
"You give your mother this special treatment, Freddie?"
"Never," she says. "How's the meat?"
"I've started using juniper," he says. "It's great in the herb mix. Gives
it a real zest. The latest batch will be ready by the weekend for you."
"I can hardly wait," she says.
"You going into writing class now?" he asks. "Got any good dreams
to report?"
She had made the mistake of telling him that her teacher recommended
they keep a dream journal, and he now asked her to tell a dream every
phone call. She mostly made them up, but she had, in fact, had a good
dream the previous night. She had been wandering through a field of
still-closed corn when she came across a clearing. There was a large oak
table set for a feast, but the feast was all birds, bodies of birds, glazed
and plucked. There were condiment dishes full of feathers and tiny bird
eyeballs. There were no plates or glasses, just little bird legs laid in evenly
spaced increments along the table like cutlery.
Her father chuckles. "There's a lot going on there," he says. "The corn's
interesting. Maybe you're feeling a husk of your former self?"
32 PRISM  57.1
 She sighs. She had forgotten the cornfield. She did not think this
to be an important aspect to her dream. But dreams were like lies, she
thought, their meaning was all in the delivery. "Bye, Daddio," she says.
She sees the shock-haired boy skulking around near the greenhouse
door, one hand tucked up to his forehead, squinting at her against the
sun. She shakes her mother and father's voices away and steps forward
into her own radiance. She is wearing a ratty green T-shirt that belonged
to her first boyfriend. It is large and shapeless as a sack, a muddy green.
Still, even though her and this particular boyfriend never got further than
somewhat heated and clumsy kissing, she still felt good in his clothes that
she had surreptitiously managed to steal, like she was putting on a whole
other person. He had also loved her, which was pleasant to remember was
possible. She once cried to him at a house party, drunk in another parent's
bedroom, photos of another family strung around the room. She said she
felt her father had broken his promise to her as well as to her mother.
Her boyfriend wound his tongue between her lips and she pushed him
off, hot tears coming out so quickly and ridiculously that they seemed to
be on some kind of feedback loop, running both up and down her face.
"Well, let's make a replacement promise," he said. "You promise to
love me and I'll promise to love you, and then we'll prove they don't all
break."
He said this with such simpering pride that she would have burst out
laughing if she hadn't been so busy crying. She said, "I promise." She
dumped him the next week.
After that, her encounters became seedier and more desperate. She had
a friend who she circled the local pubs with, the carpeted kind, the ones
so sticky they seemed to salivate. They drank vodka cokes until closing
time, when suddenly a gaggle of boys and strange men would surround
them, and they took their pick and drove somewhere. She enjoyed this
part, the teasing and the control, as she felt a hand tucked into the fold
of her waist, the cove at her back. Sometimes, it went further, sometimes
not. When she allowed it, and found herself in car parks or fields, lights
from passing cars wafting over her, she somehow separated herself from
her body. The moment transformed, as though whatever was happening
to her occurred behind a wall and she was far away from herself, her
body an insignificant speck on the lightless landscape. She would turn
silent, smoking cigarettes on the hoods of cars after, waiting for her friend
who always took longer. As soon as they were home, in their childhood
beds, in their mother's kitchens, it was fine, they screamed with laughter
33
 for days at their antics, everyone becoming more beautiful, every joke
funnier, the runs through the fields, the hums of the motorway, the sun
rising in the sky, these were all markers of a youth lived well. Milfred
enjoyed this, she came to depend on it, this storytelling as separation. She
knew how to do it, keenly well, from years of watching her mother. Her
thoughts mainly occurred in third person.
She reaches the boy. He smiles at her. "Hey, you know, that city simile
was pretty good, for a simile," he says.
"What have you got against similes?" she says. She watches his hair
shiver in the wind, feels it in herself, cutting right through like a jagged
line.
"There's a line, somewhere," he says.
He rummages in his bag, pulls out a book. She wonders how planned
this moment is, enjoys the probability of being considered quite carefully.
"Similes are a crock. There's no more time for similes. There used to be
that kind of time, but no more. You shouldn't see what you're seeing thinking
it looks like something else. They haven't left us with much but the things that
are left should be seen as they are."
He finishes, a little breathless, perhaps not having considered how
long it would take to read. He blushes. She smiles at him. She likes the
lines. She tucks them away inside herself.
"What's that from?"
"It's called the Last Generation," he says, his voice finding its time
again, she thinks, knowing the answers. "It's this lady called Joy Williams.
She wrote it like thirty years ago, but look at us, still here, generating."
Lady, thinks Milfred, with a little twinge of pain.
"I'm not generating too much," says Milfred.
He stretches his arms. He is wearing a long-sleeve black shirt and a
thin, dark green scarf. The scarf, she thinks, is too much.
"You can't be self-deprecating if you want to be a writer," he says.
"I thought that was the point," she says. "Self-loathing is my poetry."
He laughs. "You know, I think we've actually got it pretty good. We're
the only generation with one foot in and out of the internet. We've got
such a good angle to write from. Like, who else is going to be able to nail
Tinder in a story? Not even someone from five years ago is going to get
the whole enterprise from a personal standpoint."
"Yeah, but who wants to read a story about Tinder?"
He raises his hand.
34 PRISM  57.1
 She scuffs her trainer on the pavement. Inside the greenhouse await
the other budding authors, pens poised, surrounded by the dying
succulents and failed cross-seedling experiments of the botanists who
were given up on.
"Do you want to get out of here?" she asks him. The sun dips behind
a cloud. His face is suddenly thrown into clarity, his patched stubble,
chapped lips. His eyes are somewhat bugged, swollen. His eyebrows look
disconcertingly alive. The extravagant hair sends an exquisite half-shadow
across his face, so he looks like a person split in two. The sun pops out
again.
"Yeah, all right then," he says.
They walk into a pub near campus, strung with spider webs for Halloween.
The bartender has cat ears pinned to the front of her beehive, which
is spray-painted an impressive purple. They go through the awkward
fumblings of ordering. They settle on Guinness, which the bartender
pours with exceeding style, swooping the glass beneath the stream, tilting
it frozen, allowing it to settle.
They find a table tucked in the corner, a sketched portrait above them
of a farmer and a pitchfork, and a signed autograph from Cilia Black.
"To Cilia," says Milfred, raising her pint. She looks in it. She looks
in his. The perfectly drawn clover of his has been deformed into a
masterpiece of phallic imagery in hers.
"I think this is for you," she says.
"I know the bartender," he shrugs.
"Oh yeah?"
"From Tinder," he says. "That defining trope of our generation."
She remembers the last story he shared in class. There had been a
scene in some detail of a blowjob he once received beneath an underpass
in Bangkok that turned into a solo, contemplative jaunt through the
city, ending with him buying some noodles. The blowjob only received a
paragraph, the noodles a page. Milfred had marked this as "asymmetrical."
"What else do you think we should be writing about then?" asks
Milfred, sipping her pint. She feels it stick to her upper lip and wipes it
with her wrist. She thinks of those weird "Got Milk?" ads she had seen
growing up, how they used the slogans as jokes at lunchtimes, along with
answering the phone by saying "Wazzzzzzzzzzzzup?" like the Budweiser
commercials. It disconcerts her to think that American advertising had
35
 managed to singe its way so unironically into her young humour. She
suddenly feels ancient. She looks over to the only other person in the
pub, an old man with a pint of fizzing lager and a whisky with a single
ice cube in it, untouched.
"Oh, you know, all the old stuff," he says. "Like, love, or whatever. But
we shouldn't be afraid to mention the stuff that's really happening, going
through our heads. The way we're starting to see people as disposable.
Like, people dying, people kicked out of their homes, and we don't care,
so long as we can drink and pretend to get angry about it." He bumps his
glass on the table. "I get the irony," he says.
She looks at him. He has grown red in the face, and she has a sudden
overwhelming desire to reach out and smooth the lumps out of it.
He clears his throat into the silence. "What are you working on at the
moment?" he asks, politely.
"A story about my parents getting divorced," she says.
He rolls his eyes.
"The nuclear family exploded a long time ago," he says, and tips his
pint to touch hers.
She visits her mother in her new place on the outskirts of the city. The
train journey takes an hour and she reads the same poem over and over.
There has been a shooting in a nightclub, and this poem has gone viral,
and she mutters it to herself, her whole body tight as she reads about the
shootings, and then the poem, and back again.
She only stops occasionally to glance out of the window at the houses
spread out beneath her, their zig-zag roofs, the chimneys and antennas.
The sky is a blank blue stripe, forceful and remote, like a horizon pressed
down by a child's harsh blue crayon. She watches the pigeons gossip on
the rooftops. It is the week before Christmas, and the air outside is harsh
and cold. Christmas music plays at the stations, floating into Milfred
between stops.
Milfred gets confused at the station. There are two exits and she waits
at the wrong one, her phone dead. When she moves to the other exit, her
mother has driven off to find her, so they miss each other again. It is half
an hour before her mother tries the first exit again, honking the horn and
making Milfred jump back into the world.
36 PRISM  57.1
 "For god's sake," says her mother. "When have you ever gone out of
the other exit? Didn't you see everyone else from the train coming out
this way? The road's closed back there."
"Sorry," says Milfred.
"We were never very in sync, were we, sweetie?" says her mother.
"Give me a kiss."
She is already driving, and the transaction is awkward, Milfred leaning
over, strained by her seatbelt, to plant a fluttery breath on her mother's
cheek. She catches her mother's smell, the deepness of her attachment to
it, and she feels suddenly as though she has fallen down a dark well. She
is very aware of her own heart beating. Her mother used to hold her in
her lap after she bathed her, sing to her while the talcum powder sunk in
to her skin. For every loved child, a child broken, bagged. She is thinking
of the poem again.
"Are you okay, Milfred?"
She has started crying without noticing.
"Oh, darling," her mother says, impatiently. "I thought you sounded
like you were doing so well."
"I am doing so well!" snorts Milfred, hunting in the glove compartment
for a Kleenex.
"Is it your time of the month?"
"Only misogynists say that!" says Milfred.
Her mother hoots. "Don't get your tampon in a twist," she says.
Milfred leans her head against the dashboard.
They sip tea in her mother's new kitchen. Her flat came, like her father's,
readily decorated, and Milfred tries not to be bothered by the fact that neither
of them has changed a thing, not even to put up a photo, a fridge magnet.
"When are you bringing this boyfriend to meet me then?" asks her
mother.
"Never," says Milfred. "We're not involving families in our relationship.
It's better to be just the two of us, you know, against the world."
Her mother lifts her teabag in and out of her tea. Her mother only
drinks Sleepytime tea since her father left her and she drinks it all day
long.
"That doesn't sound like you," she says.
"I'm discovering myself afresh," says Milfred.
37
 She thinks of the shock-haired boy who has become her boyfriend.
Each time she thinks of him, she shakes, but just a little. When he told
her he loved her, a few weeks ago, she became unbearably sweaty, goose
bumps rising on her arms. He said it so lightly, without any sign of joy or
pain, that she knew he delivered it as a line delivered in a play or a story.
Her own words stayed choked in her throat, she felt them so keenly and
exquisitely that she thought she might vomit if she said them. Eventually,
she went ahead and said them anyway, and they carried on drinking and
teasing, as though nothing had changed.
He thought everything she wrote in class was about him, whether
human or animal, inanimate or animate. One story she shared was about
a woman with bad dandruff walking in the snow, the one place she felt
true and safe. The story had a magical realist tilt, or at least what she hoped
someone in her class would refer to as a magical realist tilt. She hummed,
Carrington, Marquez, as she wrote the way the woman separated from
herself, not prettily or gracefully, but flaking, scabbing, until she turned
to snow herself. The night after the workshop, her boyfriend said to her
in bed, "I'm not trying to be cold to you, you know, I just have a lot of
different aspects to my life." He blew the dandruff from Milfred's roots,
spooned her more tightly. "I love you," she said, to make him roll over.
She no longer wanted to vomit, saying it. It quickly lost that essential
power, like a song listened to too many times. Snow slapped at the
window, and she stared at it for a long time while he snored.
"Discovering afresh sounds fun," says her mother. "Almost tempting.
Do you think I should sign up for a dating website?"
Milfred chews on her thumbnail. The sleeve of her sweatshirt falls
down her arm, revealing the birthmark on her wrist. Her mother reaches
across to touch it, but Milfred is too far away, and her manicured nails
miss by inches. Milfred feels the swat of the air pass between them.
"Tell me the ketchup story," she says.
"You were three or four," says her mother. "You wouldn't eat anything
without ketchup all over it. Ketchup soup, you called it, it's all you
wanted. Of course, you spilt it everywhere, all the time." Milfred smiles.
"I can't remember, what was the story?"
"You don't remember?" asks Milfred, incredulous. She points at
the birthmark. "You said if I spilt ketchup one more time, I'd never be
allowed it again. And I put my wrist in the ketchup by mistake and you
said, you said, when you washed it, the birthmark just appeared. After
four years. The ketchup stain." She resents the story in her own voice.
38 PRISM   57.1
 There were holes in it, that was for sure. "It wasn't there before and then
it was," she adds, defiantly.
"Oh yes," says her mother. "But you always had that birthmark,
darling."
Milfred glares at her, glares at the mark on her wrist, irritated that her
mother has taken some belief in magic that against all odds had managed
to last so long. Still, she supposed she was being unfair. Her mother had
made her body. Why wouldn't she want her signature upon it? It was
inescapable, this ownership. She had tried to write a story once in which
the mother died, but found she could not.
"Let's have a glass of wine with lunch," says Milfred, standing up. The
clock'on the oven flashes 12:03. Milfred fetches a half-drunk bottle of
white from the fridge and her mother spreads out a ready-made cheese
board, the tiny wedges wrapped individually with cling film on a plastic
board printed to look like wood. She warms tomato soup on the stove,
and they sip wine quickly so by the time the soup is hot and poured in
their bowls, they have moved onto the second bottle. The oven flashes
12:20. Milfred wonders how long she must stay, what excuse she can
make.
"You went quiet, when I said about the dating website," her mother
says.
"Yes," says Milfred.
"You don't think I deserve your happiness," she says. Milfred bites
her lips. Was she feeling happiness? She thinks of her boyfriend, coming
home drunk the night before, hours late. He stumbled in and lay on top
of her, his skin hot to touch. He quickly got up again, and she watched
him, sleep-ruffled, as he lifted open her window and the whole room
seemed to rise to the height of his shoulders.
"I didn't say that," says Milfred.
"I thought we could do it together," she says. "You're meant to be the
writer. You could help me with the profile."
"No," says Milfred.
Her mother rolls her eyes. Milfred is crying again accidentally.
"You care too much about things that don't matter and too little
about the things that do," says her mother, and this time, by leaning half
her body across the table, she manages to grip Milfred's marked wrist. It
is aggressive, the touch far from tender.
"You'll end up penniless," says her mother.
39
 Later, on the train journey home, Milfred writes, I'd rather end up
penniless than broken like you. Then she crosses out the "like you" in order
to sound wise and not just sullen and hurt.
She takes the boyfriend to meet her father, just after Valentine's Day.
He has consented to this, despite their rules to keep their lives separate.
She suggested her mother, first, but he shook his head. "Mothers are too
much," he said.
Her father shows them his meat-making operation in the shed,
taking a long time to explain its component parts. There are two giant
Tupperwares with industrial lights shining on them in order to cure
the meat. She watches the fillets of purple beef turn gracefully in their
spotlights. The floor of the shed is lined with bags of herbs: rosemary,
juniper, thyme. Her father opens up each of the sacks for them to bend
their heads into so they can breathe in the scents. Milfred is happy, here
with her father and his eccentricities. They chatter in their old ways,
using their hands too much.
They drink bottles of beer in the tiny kitchen around the stainless
steel table, chewing on strips of cured, smoky meat. When her boyfriend
begins talking about the advantages of using local butchers as opposed to
online retailers in terms of ethics and carbon footprint, Milfred goes to
the bathroom. She peers in the small cabinet above the sink, at the travel-
sized shaving cream, the single rusted razor. A toothbrush, aggressively
worn, a lonely rose in a pint glass. She feels something inside herself curl
up and begin to rock at these markers of singularity. They leave soon
after. She waits for her boyfriend to ask her what is wrong.
As they march off to the train station, the boyfriend's arm loose
around her, he says, "You know, it's funny."
"What?" she asks.
"You made him sound so much stranger than he really was," he says.
"The way you told stories about him."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he's just a normal guy," he says. "A nice, normal guy," he adds,
hurriedly, seeing her face drop.
It is the coldest March on record, and Milfred goes to see her mother
every weekend. Her boyfriend is busy. He is running a twenty-four-hour
40 PRISM  57.1
 playwriting marathon, he is putting on poetry nights, he is attending
lectures and protests. He is happy.
"My mother needs me," says Milfred to him on the phone. She is
wearing a book on her chest like a bib. A program on pageant children
and their mothers plays on the television.
"Goodness, how could a mother dress their child that way?" says her
mother. It is the third episode they have watched in a row. Her mother
has said this ten times already.
"She's very depressed," Milfred stage-whispers down the phone to her
boyfriend, and her mother glares at her.
"Sucks to be you," says her boyfriend, before hanging up.
Her mother has started dating a vicar, who she sees only on
weeknights, due to Milfred's insistent presence on the sofa on weekends.
One Saturday night, they embark on a hair transformation, and her
mother prattles endlessly about the vicar while Milfred pulls her hair
through a holed skullcap. The smell of the peroxide blue dye beside them
swivels up their nostrils. Her mother will do Milfred's hair afterwards, and
Milfred will enjoy once they have dried their hair, seeing their matched
highlights bright as if lit by wires.
"Oh, darling, he's fabulous," says her mother. "Not at all stuffy like you
think a vicar would be. No, he took me to one of the nicest restaurants in
town the other night, not even a chain place, no, it's a stand-alone one."
"What did you eat?"
"What did I eat? Darling, you're no good at this girlfriend talk. But
since you asked, we had oak-smoked salmon for starter, sharing, you
know, and then I had the roast cod, it came on this sort of bean thing,
and he had mussels marinere. I should have got that, but I didn't want
anything too messy, as we still haven't been dating so long."
"Three weeks," says Milfred.
"Do you think three weeks is too short to fall in love, darling? You're
the writer, how long does a love story take?"
Milfred cringes. "Nine to twelve months, conservatively," she says.
"And longer when you get older."
Her mother twists around to look at her, clamped between Milfred's
knees, looking, with the strands of hair pulled out of her head, like
someone about to undergo a very risky experiment.
"Why don't we double date, my boyfriend and your boyfriend?"
she says. Milfred looks at her eyes. In that moment they are so bright
that Milfred cannot think of comparing them to anything less cliched
41
 than stars. Her mother can manage to maintain beauty at the most
extraordinary of times. Milfred feels the effort of her own lined eyes,
the highlighter she has started to put on her cheeks in an effort for them
to look skinnier under her growing weight. The T-shirts she steals from
her current boyfriend are tight and uncomfortable, her body clinging to
them.
"Sure," she says.
Her boyfriend does not come to her flat the night before they are meant
to visit her mother. Eventually, she meets him on a park bench on the
green field that separates the buildings of their campus. The days are
warming up mockingly. They are late for their train. She pulls on the
ends of his green scarf so it is tighter and tighter around her throat.
He fumbles around for words. "It's like...I mean...I've, like, met
someone else, kind of," he says.
"Don't break up with me with a simile," growls Milfred.
She knows exactly who it is. There is a girl in their class, dark-haired
and skinny, who writes extraordinary poems about masturbation.
"A poet!" She screams onto the green as he walks away, the birds
pecking at the grass rising in one dramatic swoop. She watches the
released arrow they form, escalating up past the trees, idiotically offering
up for the millionth time their pretty leaves.
She goes to the dinner on her own. Her mother decides home cooking
will be less stressful than a restaurant for a broken heart. Although Milfred
knows her mother owns four chairs, she notices that she has removed one
from around the kitchen table and hidden it somewhere, so that there
is only room for Milfred, her mother, and the vicar. Her mother roasts
a chicken slathered in lemons and makes gravy as pale as water. Milfred
picks at her pink chicken. She stares opposite her at the empty space
where her boyfriend would have sat. The silence is whole and spacious.
She imagines her boyfriend filling up this room with opinions, and thinks
perhaps this silence could be a holy thing.
"So, your mother says you're a writer?" says the vicar. He is bird-like
and whispery, the opposite of her father. He reaches a gnarled hand over
to touch her mother's, and she is reminded, repulsed, of a dream she had
a long time ago.
42 PRISM  57.1
 "I dabble," she says. "Evidently, it's harder than it looks. I use too
many similes and all my stories are about my parents' divorce." She takes
a large gulp of red wine, her third glass. She spills some on her wrist and
down her sleeve, which she scrunches up to her elbow.
"Well, it must have been hard for you," he says.
Her mother glares at her. "Milfred can be a tad dramatic," she says.
"Fred!" shouts Milfred. "Why can you never call me Fred?"
"I named you! I get to call you what I named you!" shouts her mother,
louder.
Milfred starts to cry. She thinks of her boyfriend opening the window,
her father's single toothbrush spinning in its glass. She thinks of her
and her mother's twinned hair, their shared map of highlights, moving
independently through the world. She even thinks bitterly of all those
botany students she so undeservingly replaced, those unread books in
the library full of flowers, growing stale with lack of attention. She cries
harder.
The vicar reaches across the table. Milfred looks down at his boned
fingers spread out across her wrist. She smiles a sudden, untarnished
smile, as she notices the inexplicable disappearance of the birthmark
beneath his hand.
43
 EDGES
 Billy-Bay Belcourt
DRUNK ON HOPE
Drunk on hope,
which is of course the most NDN of all NDN feelings,
we hold hands as I drive recklessly through rush-hour traffic
even though we know that we are risking our lives
and that this is founded in empirical data somewhere.
But right now, all that matters is that we are amateur physicists
who make matter from something outside of ourselves
and no, I'm not talking about bareback sex
but also, ain't I always talking about bareback sex these days?
Oh shit, did I just break the fourth wall or whatever?
Anyways,
I belt out every song on the radio
about love at the top of my asthmatic lungs
But don't read too much into this,
I yell,
I just have poor taste in music!
Drunk on hope,
which is of course the most NDN of all NDN feelings,
we gather in the ash of possibility
tongues tied
our slurred words
exploding with honesty.
45
 Arielle Twist
D/REAM ME
I lost it.
sixteen silken with
durex play
luscious flavoured
lubricant,
passion cherry,
popping cherry.
PDR didn't prepare me,
fail me harder,
daddy.
d/ream me harder,
daddy,
my asshole wasn't ready,
daddy.
how does a fag get fucked,
without a fissure
a cut?
without
bleeding out?
'cause what they don't teach,
we learn in hospital beds,
on the bathroom floor
of every mall.
and every bloody toilet.
46 PRISM  57.1
 Vanessa Carlisle
SURRENDER AKIMBO
THE DOOR SMELLED LIKE CHERRIES.
"Just go in," Frieda said. Then she rolled her eyes and pushed me
through. Inside, a party was tilting on the edge. Lazy laughter and
staccato trumpets. Pink lights. On the ceiling, a mural of the night sky as
it may have looked before human longing killed everything.
I followed Frieda through a crowd of sinuous costumes. We wore
sage-green latex minidresses. Frieda's curls were piled high and loose. She
had a tiny vagina tattooed inside her bottom lip and glittering piercings in
her neck. I had conjunctivitis. I'd dyed my bob black and wore polarized
prescription sunglasses. My collar was white vegan leather. Frieda held
the leash.
My eyes burned. "Don't scratch," she said.
"I need help," I said. She pulled a wipe from a pack in her purse. I
removed some gunk and sniffed the baby-powder freshness.
She saw something or someone over my shoulder. "It's happening,"
she whispered. "It's finally happening."
47
 The floor shifted quickly down on one end of the room. We all
scrambled to stay upright, all except for Frieda. The furniture tilted and
crashed. A void. A vacuum. We were headed in.
She tugged on my leash and I saw her wisdom. I let my butt hit the
floor. I couldn't see. I slid. Chafing, ripping the end of the skirt.
Time turned elastic. People found ways to stabilize. Screaming
stopped. We slid on and on. I hugged Frieda from behind, imagined we
were in a bobsled. I nuzzled her in the dark. She squeezed my calf, and I
remembered to enjoy it, enjoy even the terror, down to the microsecond,
down to the electron, this was what we'd been waiting for, this nothingness
and falling, this was the only mystery left. And it was ours.
48 PRISM  57.1
 Jan Guenther Brawn
INTERSTICE
I have a lawn chair. It's dark outside
but I know that even the plants are staring
at me. In between my jail cell and my backyard,
what I don't want to think dreams me
half-awake. If only I had a voice in these midnight
conversations where everyone's got something to say
about my time except me. I see questions coming
on the necks of carrier pigeons.
Should I paint a still life? My daily bread,
counting the words that fit into a twenty-minute
phone call, the ritual enacted to fall asleep
under lights that never go out. My mind is littered
with pencils. The simple lines I wrote to lovers,
distractions down to the day, and every time I heard
"I can't wait until you're out." Now my cat,
free from her bell, holds a press conference
in the alley behind the house. Releases statement
after statement on my behalf. You're still
watching me. Strategizing with the raccoons
who tell themselves that all they're doing
is dividing up a quarry of garbage. Even with
no plexiglass, no filtered friends or censored mail,
49
 I see you seeing me. The blinking unfocused gaze
between the TV version and every last fucking thing
I have no clue how to say. It's easier to imagine
the purely political, the big picture, the giant fuck-you
to the state than to see the bare bedroom walls and to hear
the ease with which my oldest friend
is snoring down the hall. It's in the nighttime
that I realize how clearly I'm not dreaming.
50 PRISM  57.1
 Jenny Mary Brown
METAKOSMIA
Sleepwalking, I travel the space
between worlds like a tiger stolen
from a zoo—free, but confused.
I find myself in the bathroom,
having time-travelled from asleep
to the sink light burning into my open eyes.
Rose has died, and I'm unsure why I'm here.
It's always 2 a.m., or 4. Never light.
It's as if those hours of sleep fast-forwarded
by quick-cut sequence. A nanosecond swipe.
The truth is that I don't get her back,
and I can't redo anything.
I'm only in-between somewhere, asleep,
awake, maybe dreaming. The room shape-shifts
from flannel sheets to tile under toes. I'm cold
and nude. I retreat, disappear back to bed,
wrapping the blankets around my arms, clutching
it with fingers, attempting to reset the clock.
I get a grasping glimpse of time, past
and future, like a late-night phone call
when you're barely awake enough to catch
who's talking, but they thought of you,
and needed to hear your lips parting to speak.
51
 Tessa Yang
WHAT DO YOU DREAM?
they have been dating around four months when Neil begins dreaming
Maria's dreams. All the shining wreckage of her childhood scatters itself
through his sleeping hours. He wanders the Tulsa ranch house where
she grew up, bow-tied teddy bears cackling from their high shelves. He
watches as her mother—dead ten years now, breast cancer—glides from
room to room on a pair of old-fashioned roller skates. He sees Maria's
old teachers, college roommates, ex-boyfriends, childhood neighbours,
the half-brother with the mouthful of spotted teeth who never calls.
He explores the dream-addled version of the office where she copyedits
textbooks (quicksand in every cubicle, tentacles swaying from the ceiling
like birthday streamers). He looks on helplessly as the small white bunny
rabbit named Pancakes, which Maria had loved as a girl, flops down the
driveway toward its death beneath the wheels of her father's Ford Taurus.
"Pancakes was a brown bunny, not white," says Maria when Neil
recounts this dream fragment to her over breakfast. "Why would you
name a white bunny Pancakes? That doesn't make any sense."
52 PRISM  57.1
 "I don't know what to tell you," says Neil. He finds himself saying this
a lot around Maria, who remains just as mysterious to him now as she
was on their first date.
In some ways, she is reliably boring, like Neil. She has a boring job,
and a large square face that is unremarkable except for her wide-set eyes,
with their swirls of emerald, gold, and brown. Sex with Maria is consistent
and undemanding. She gets off quickly, without much fanfare. After,
she usually wants him to bring her something salty to eat, like Fritos or
Pringles. She devours these snacks in bed with a palm cupped under her
chin to catch any crumbs, though when she's finished, she dusts off her
hands and the crumbs fly everywhere. Her diet is normal, which is to say,
not very good.
In other ways, though, Maria is completely bonkers. From each
paycheck, she sets aside twenty dollars to go toward her marble collection.
Has any sane person ever collected marbles? They arrive in tiny square
boxes from all around the world. Maria stores them in a jewelry box with
a velvet divot for each one, and Neil is not allowed to touch them. And
her hair! It's so long she can wrap herself in it like a trench coat. She looks
like one of those fanatical Christian women on TLC.
Strangest of all to Neil is the fact that Maria can apparently speak
something like twelve languages. She has an insane gift for it. She picks
up new dialects on a whim, the way other people pick up hats or shoes.
She'll scold and grumble in French, Arabic, Korean, German, Swahili.
Does Neil believe she can actually speak this many languages? Is he
absolutely certain she's not discharging rounds of gibberish in what is
either a very drawn-out prank or a more vindictive exercise in belittling
his intelligence? No, he's not certain. Not at all.
This dream business is just the latest in a long list of oddities Maria
has brought into his otherwise unexceptional life. As he smears butter
over a slab of burnt toast, Neil decides that he's going to accept it, because
he would like to shape himself into the sort of boyfriend who is accepting
of such things.
For her part, Maria is unimpressed by this new dimension of their
relationship. "It happens with all the guys I date," she says, reaching past
him for the sugar, and Neil tries hard not to wonder just how many guys
that might be.
53
 After breakfast, they go to the gym in Neil's apartment complex, a
starving little suite of squeaky machines and mirrors smeared with greasy
handprints. They are both trying to lose weight, though Neil suspects he
is trying harder than Maria. He mounts an elliptical. She wanders from
station to station as if sleepwalking—two reps on the shoulder press, four
minutes on a bike. She never adjusts the resistance. She uses whatever
settings remain from the last person, like some aerobic leech trying to
sponge up the remains of a stranger's successful workout.
Does he love her? Neil ponders this question as he puffs away on
his elliptical, sweat burning his hairline. His parents would prefer he
found someone different. Someone more sociable, more grounded, more
Asian, just more than Maria, who seems always to have one foot planted
in the room with you and one foot somewhere else entirely: Narnia, or
never-never land, or wherever it is she goes when her face fogs over like a
breathed-on window.
And yet. He is infatuated with her. He can just sit and watch as she
rubs lotion into the flaking skin on her knuckles, or strains pasta over
the sink. It takes almost nothing to turn his thoughts in her direction.
At work, hovering over a pair of grossed-out high-schoolers slicing
into their fetal pig, he finds himself thinking fondly: / wonder if Maria
would like pork chops tonight. When he drives, he always imagines she's
in the passenger seat. He pays special attention to the things he thinks
she would find interesting. A woman waiting at the bus stop with four
balloon animals and no children. A squirrel that has been completely run
over except for its tail, a stubborn poof that stands perfectly erect and
flutters in the breeze like a flag.
Neil's sweaty neighbours have begun eyeing Maria as she meanders
back and forth across the room. She wears embarrassingly clean, traffic
cone-orange sneakers. Whenever she passes in front of the oscillating fan,
her hair comes alive, thrashing like a nest of snakes. He is torn between
wanting to reprimand the gawkers—it's a free country! If a woman wants
to wander around the gym like a lost child, let her!—and wanting to
bark at Maria to please just pick a station and stay there for more than
five minutes.
He dreams himself inside Maria's body. Or maybe it's Maria inside his
body. They stumble through jungles, playgrounds, nursing homes,
construction sites, classrooms, dorm rooms, and restaurants. They spill
54 PRISM  57.1
 down staircases and waterfalls. They sprint after buses and cruise ships
they'll never reach—this monstrous Maria-Neil who speaks in a guttural
voice that belongs to neither of them.
Sometimes Neil recognizes the scenes of the dreams in which he finds
himself. More often, he requires Maria's interpretation the following day.
"A castle," he'll recall as he drives her to her office, "with a huge lawn
full of cakes on platters. Water in the distance. A guy in a tuxedo playing
the violin."
"Oh, that must be the hotel where Meg's sister got married," says
Maria, rummaging through her giant purse for sunglasses. "I've never
been, but she said it was like a fortress."
Or he'll say: "There was this woman? Pearl necklace? Teeth falling out
of her head?"
"Aunt Fern," Maria informs him. "She always wears these huge fake
pearls. I don't know why her teeth were falling out. She has perfectly
good teeth."
For every setting or figure she can identify, there are a dozen Maria
can't tease out. Neil finds himself frustrated by this. These are the dregs
of Maria's days, the lingering ghosts of her childhood. If she can't shed
light on them, who can? He presses her. She tells him to fuck off. They're
having sex less and less these days, though in some bizarre tradeoff, they
attend more events together as a couple. He brings her around to the
student vs. faculty bowling night. Over the clatter of struck pins and
the whoops of over-caffeinated teens, he introduces Maria as his partner,
because it sounds more serious than girlfriend, though he cannot hear
the word without a cowboy twang. Howdy pard-ner. This is my pard-ner,
Maria.
She drags him to her company's holiday party. The publishing house
has rented the back room of a popular Italian restaurant. Platters of
shrimp, zucchini blossoms, and garlic bread cover the tables. Little plush
elf toys sprawl across the rafters and perch on windowsills. The effect
is supposed to be festive, but Neil only feels surveilled by their manic,
glossy eyes.
Maria introduces him to a few people near the door—she says
boyfriend—then promptly abandons him. It feels vengeful, though he
cannot imagine what he's done to deserve it.
At the bar he orders a beer, then two more. He's a bit nervous around
all these book people, most of whom are older than him, married, and
white. He finds himself talking to a pretty middle-aged woman with
55
 large breasts and red jingle-bell earrings. She says she had a dream about
this party last night. It was just like this, really, except there was a giant
bonfire eating through the floor. Every once in a while, a person would
dive into the flames. There'd be a shower of gold sparks, like fireworks,
and a smattering of applause.
"What do you think that means?" asks the woman.
"Social anxiety?" suggests Neil. He drinks deeply from his beer. "Last
night I dreamed I was walking through Barnes and Noble when this man
tried to kidnap me. The only way to escape him was to transform into
different animals. I was a parrot, a swan, a mouse."
"How colourful!" cries the woman.
"It wasn't really my dream," Neil feels obliged to confess. "It was my
partner's. Maria's. I only dream her dreams now."
The woman throws back her head and laughs, and her earrings jingle.
Obviously she thinks he's lying, but she's enchanted all the same.
"Don't you miss having your own dreams?" she teases.
"Oh, no! My dreams were so—so uncreative. The night before a big
test, I'd dream I had to take a big test. Stuff like that. If I even remembered
them. Maria's dreams are so rich. Everything comes at me so intensely.
Plus, I get to meet people in her life I never would've seen otherwise. Like
her brother. He's this meth head. Lives out in Michigan. Total loser. But
in dreams he's wonderful. He's always got a rope for me to climb when
I'm stranded at the bottom of a cliff, or a laser gun to fight off the evil
lizards ..."
He feels a tug on his elbow—Maria, hauling him out to the patio
where a group of smokers shivers in the orange glow of the outdoor
lamps.
"You're making a fool out of yourself," says Maria. "You're making a
fool out of me."
"I was just telling her a story."
"You're drunk."
"So?" He doesn't know why she's getting so upset. He sits down on
the low stone wall encircling the patio and pats the spot next to him.
Reluctantly, it seems, she sits down as well.
"I don't know why this dream stuff happens," she says. "I don't control
it any more than you do. But it's not right to go around bragging. It's very
self-serving." She takes the beer from where he's clamped it between his
thighs and drains it in two gulps. He finds this sight oddly arousing and
56 PRISM  57.1
 wishes, more than anything, that they were home in bed together, rolling
in sheets full of Pringle crumbs.
The smokers finish up and return inside. Neil's beery warmth has been
replaced with a creeping cold that saps all feeling from his extremities,
but Maria appears unbothered. She's looking up at the restaurant's roof,
drifting away from him in that way she does, jaw slack, hands limp and
open at her sides. Searching around for something to bring her back, he
asks a question that he will later wonder how it possibly took him so long
to ask: "What do you dream? Do you see the same stuff I see, or is it all
new?" An exciting thought occurring to him, he blurts, "Do you dream
my dreams?" What a lovely balance this would be: each voyaging nightly
into the forests of the other's mind, mapping all the roots and snares and
dark, winding paths. But Maria shakes her head. She murmurs something
at him under her breath in a language he does not recognize, but he can
tell by her tone it's an insult or a curse. Small man. Fuck off. Stupid.
"You really don't get it, do you?" she says. "I haven't dreamed in years."
They don't break up right away. They peter out over the next few weeks.
They lose steam—a phrase a friend had once used to describe his failing
marriage, and which had recollected for Neil the wheeze of his mother's
old Saab as it struggled to turn over on cold mornings. One day shortly
after New Year's, he's cleaning his apartment and realizes it has been
completely scrubbed of Maria. She's taken her toothbrush and hair
scrunchies, her face cream and razor, her deodorant and the extra set of
clothes she used to keep in the bottom dresser drawer. Her fatty dessert-
flavoured yogurts have disappeared from his fridge.
He calls her. He feels like some sort of closure is in order. To her
voicemail he says, "I guess we both knew it was coming. For what it's
worth, I had fun. I hope you did, too." She does not call him back. Neil
searches himself for feelings of loss, but finds only bafflement. Did he
do something awful to drive her away? He sifts through his memory. All
he can think of is their argument at the holiday party. But that had been
nothing! That was stupid. A drunken little tiff. (Well, he had been drunk.
He tries to remember if Maria had also been drinking and decides that
yes, she must have been).
57
 He throws himself into mid-term prep, crafting overly detailed review
packets on cellular parts and functions. He says, "If I were in a band,
it'd be called the Endoplasmic Reticulum," and his students gaze back
at him dumbly, grimly. He resurrects his OkCupid profile and goes on a
date with a nervous Korean woman who breeds labradoodles out in the
country. All he can talk about is his dreams, Maria's dreams, which have
only grown sharper with time. The night before, the amalgam Maria-Neil
had stormed through a blinding tundra, pursued by dancing women in
purple sports bras. Neil awoke from this vision sweaty and disoriented,
with items strewn around his bed. Pens and spoons. Hangers. The salt
shaker shaped like a baying wolf.
"I teach my students that dreaming is a process of memory
consolidation," he says as the waiter appears with their entrees. "Or else
it's just an epiphenomenon to sleep. A random response to the electrical
activity of the cortex. But the way I've been dreaming lately—it's hard not
to feel like it's something much bigger than all that. Like I'm receiving
messages. Like I've been chosen. You probably think I'm totally crazy."
The dog-breeder cuts into her steak and offers him a weak smile that
says yes, she thinks he's totally crazy. "Last week I had a dream two of
my dogs got out," she says. "I crossed oceans looking for them, but it
turned out they were in my old piano teacher's house the whole time.
I think I have the ability to will happy endings out of my dreams, to
circumvent the truly awful situations." She gives him a significant look,
and Neil, if he had been listening, may have wondered whether he were
being labelled an Awful Situation to circumvent, or one out of which she
might yet wring a forcibly happy ending.
But he's not listening. He is thinking of Maria with a belated sorrow
that floods him so suddenly, he wishes only to slip beneath the tablecloth
and curl in a ball on the floor. Maria's purses. Maria's hair. Maria's half-
assed makeup. Maria's palm full of marbles, their cream-and-peppermint
swirls, how a boyish longing had risen within him to take those tiny,
precious orbs to a steep place and scatter them down the incline.
Someday soon, he understands, Maria-Neil will scrape their way to
the surface, plug their feet into his slippers, and carry him still groggy out
the front door. He will wake in a place he does not recognize, a smear of
bright lights dazzling him from above. Then all propriety will leave him.
He'll break the break-up code. He'll call her just as soon as he can get his
hands on a cell phone. "What does it mean?" he'll beg into her voicemail,
and keep begging until the three-minute recording cuts him off.
58 PRISM  57.1
 Lindsay Nixon
BAWAJIGAYWIN
That fucking hair
of hers.
It always creeps up on me.
Golden and smelling of jasmine, glinting in the sun,
at dawn, when I did acid and it started raining when the
drugs kicked in.
Her,
and that fucking hair.
I smoke as ceremony, and smoked long before I knew what ceremony was.
Cheap rez cigarettes.
I smoke, much unlike the good NDNs who lay down only the best tobacco.
#MoreNativerThanYou
I smoke smokes that you buy on the side of the highway, sold in plastic bags.
By 100s for $10 a bag.
I smoke the same rez cigs for months, and store them in the freezer to keep.
A real low budget bitch.
I smoke to pull that sweet tobacco into my lungs, and feel it cleanse me
the way city NDNs like.
Like a fucking meteor.*
59
 I smoke when the sadness seeps into the bones, when it settles in and
makes a home.
Like a lonely prairie wind.
I smoke to distract myself from my feelings, another dissociative coping
mechanism.
Fuck "bad" coping mechanisms.
I smoke when I start having visions of her, crying and blubbering to
someone.
Another cliche first love story.
I smoke and say, / had planned to take her away. I could've made it work.
"So why didn't you?"
I smoke and watch the sun rise sitting amongst my self-pity and doubt.
Out there, in the rain.
in.
Reprieve or obsession?
That fucking hair.
It will come to you in dreams,
sitting on rocks out in the ocean.
You can only see that fucking hair,
and never her face.
There are few things I regret more,
than the love I was unable to give.
""Reference to an Audre Lorde quote.
60 PRISM  57.1
 Matthew Stepanic
THE GREATEST OLYMPIC COMEBACK
I am painted up like Tessa, shrouded in ruby chiffon & pirouetting
into Scott Moir's sparkling arms. I want our sexual history to be as
translucent as the nude mesh of your shirt, Scott. Still, only I will
witness your nip slips.
Our bedroom is an ice rink & there's room for the whole nation in it.
We came back for this:
After we defeat the Russians & they cast our bodies in Olympic gold,
they'll give us all the keys & we'll free the queers from their cages in
Chechnya. Listen.
This is urgent. I want to hold the blade so close to your femoral artery
we'll fall together to Hades.
When we quaff pints of golden brew & yell at the judges, we are yelling
at toxic masculinity's every biased call.
I forgive you for all the times you pictured Adam Rippon sans sequins.
Mirror skating, we perform the cantilever then the Charlotte spiral;
each skate's slice of the ice decimates the patriarchy.
My body above your head, you lift with me all my fallen sisters
& then we spin & jump tighter & tighter—
toe loop, now Lutz, now Salchow—
as two threads on one spool,
we entangle our genders
so utterly that we are
no gender.
In the kiss & cry,
your mouth so near
my neck
I can hear
the clasp
click
61
 Sanchari Sur
THE LADY AND THE BEARD
[A] ghost/ who has always already/ haunted [you]... / through you.
—Lucas Crawford
"Your Fat Daughter Remembers What You Said."
she wanted a beard. One like Freud's would have been ideal; neatly
trimmed, debonair, available for stroking with approval or derision,
whichever suited the moment. He always did look so well turned out. But
no, it wouldn't do. She wanted one that was longer, like Moses perhaps,
but without the religious connotations.
She wasn't sure when the desire took a hold of her, her hand
unconsciously reaching to stroke her chin amid discussions. It was an
itch she needed to scratch, and scratch constantly. She supposed it was
soon after she came across a photo of Harnaam Kaur on social media, her
elegant, delicate face framed by a Sikh turban and a lush beard. She was
taken by Kaur's confidence, the femme-ness that Kaur portrayed with a
62 PRISM   57.1
 beard. It was fierceness of a different kind, something she wanted to tap
into.
She wondered about the narcissism of her desire. She'd never had
polycystic ovary syndrome, like Kaur. It couldn't have been easy, growing
up different. It never was. With facial hair came the bullying. The social
isolation. The snide remarks followed by laughter—always the laughter—
ringing in the quietness of a bright, sunlit day...
And yet, her desire to become a part of this community of bearded
women wouldn't leave her alone.
She found herself searching online for images of women with long
luxurious beards. In libraries, she rifled through yellowed pages. There
wasn't a whole lot out there, but the little that she found was enough to
sustain her. She coveted the lavish beards of Annie Jones Elliot, Julia
Pastrana, Jane Barnell. Women who mostly worked in carnivals and
circuses. She longed to become one of them, confident with their hirsute
faces.
"In Gothic convention, it's the skin that houses the body," she said in
her graduate film class, as her right hand automatically reached for her
chin. "So, the monstrous body, and not the monster per se, is the 'other.'"
She leaned forward, animated by the idea, beginning to punctuate her
thoughts with chin strokes. "The body only becomes monstrous," stroke
"in its otherness."
The week's discussion was devoted to Silence of the Iambs, the class
debating on which antagonist was more dangerous—Professor Hannibal
Lecter, or the killer-kidnapper Buffalo Bill.
"Do you mean Bill's deviancy is what makes him the other?" the
professor said.
"Yes, because the deviancy is the other." Stroke. "The real monster is
Bill's desire to be a woman—not his desire to kill."
"But isn't that obvious?" another student piped in. "I mean, horror
conventions have historically played on fears within the social system of
the time. The Exorcist, for example, demonized female sexuality."
"True, but my point is—it is the demonization of Bill's desire to be a
woman," stroke "that makes the movie inherently transphobic and sexist,"
stroke "and by extension, makes Bill's desire the true monster."
"Boy, you sure love your imaginary beard," the guy next to her said.
The class broke out in laughter.
63
 Once there were two lovers, separated from each other by a vast body of water.
They were so far apart, that they couldn't see each other even if they stood on
their shores. The only way to keep in touch was by tying a twine from one
coast to the other. When the twine turned taut, they knew that the other was
having thoughts of happier days.
Or perhaps, a fish of some sort was trapped, trapezing on the line.
One night, in the moments after sex, she mentioned her desire to Nitin.
"How would you feel if I got a beard?"
"Like, for Halloween?"
"No, I mean.. .a beard. On my chin."
"Like mine?" He rubbed his stubble.
"No.. .not like yours. A lo-ong one."
"Jaan, you have such a lovely chin. Why would you want hair to cover
that up?"
"Oh, but think!" she got up to face him, "my beard swinging between
us." She mounted him. "While we have sex," she leaned back, "back..."
she moved forward and kissed him, "and forth!"
"I will run away!"
"I thought you loved me!"
"I do love you," he kissed her chin, "minus a beard."
Such beautiful genderqueer creatures jelly fishes were, open to both sexual and
asexual relations. They didn't have brains, like amoebae. They didn't mean
to hurt, the sting a defense mechanism. Such beautiful and misunderstood
creatures.
Jellyfish phoenixes especially were rare, but they did exist. Turritopsis
dohrnii. They were special, just one of their kind. When life ended, they
contracted into themselves, curling inwards, withering. Only to rise again,
death an exit to rebirth. Another body, another chance.
For some, it was possible to reinvent forever.
It wasn't easy getting hold of a beard in the Canadian city of Kingston.
There was only one Halloween store in the entire city, and she had to
change two busses to get to it. But even then, after the effort of a long bus
ride, the store was a disappointment.
64 PRISM   57.1
 "These are the only kinds we have," said the store clerk, her black liner
having bled into the creases of her eye bags. "Which one would you like,
sweetie?" The woman held up a moustache and a beard, one in each hand.
It had to be the beard, no question. It was a long, dark, bushy affair,
held back by elastic strings she would have to tie according to the size of
her chin.
"You will have to remove it each time you eat or drink," the clerk said,
ringing up the purchase.
On Halloween evening, she began to get dressed early. Donned in her
towel, she held up the beard to her face, staring into the mirror. The
reflection wasn't what she had hoped for. This was clearly not the beard of
her dreams. But it would do. It would do for now.
She kept the beard on her bed, splayed, letting it have its own space.
She reached for her moisturizer and rubbed the cream across her arms,
legs, back, and chest. She let it soak into her skin.
She went for her underwear first, pulling on the black silk panties she
had bought as a treat after a successful conference presentation, never
having the occasion to wear them before. To match, she chose a black
bra. A push-up, Nitin's favourite kind. Even though she had explained
the illusion of the push-up once to him, he still loved her in them. He
was easy like that.
Next, the black lace dress. Tight across her chest, and flaring out right
underneath her breasts. The most femme of femme dresses, she thought
each time she wore it. Fabulously femme.
The make-up was basic for the most part. After a round of concealer
and foundation, she accentuated her eyes with black mascara, pale coral
blush highlighting her cheekbones. For her lips, she reached for her
favourite red lipstick, Ruby Woo.
Finally, the beard. It wasn't difficult to settle it over her visage, the
synthetic hair caressing her face. She expected it to be uncomfortable,
but it fit, snug. She looked like a messiah, a woman with a vision for
the future. Her short bob and straight bangs framed her face, not unlike
Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. The ruby lips were hidden from sight, but
she knew they were there. Just beneath the beard, waiting.
She smiled at her reflection, the beard smiling with her.
65
 The mermaid fell in love with the shark's warm bloodedness, the heat similar
to her own. She stalked him while he fed, watching him gorge carelessly. She
touched him in passing, letting his warmth seep into her hands, his armoured
skin invading her dreams.
But the shark didn't care. And if he wanted to, he could have her nestled
in the heart of his belly.
They were drunk and back at his place, reaching for each other like they
always did.
"Take it off, take it off!" she laughed, fumbling with the buttons of his
shirt, "why is it so complicated!"
He laughed with her, his hands reaching for her face, "My cute
bearded baby," he said as he kissed parts of her face above the beard, his
hands fiddling with the apparatus, "take it off now, so I can kiss you."
"Leave it on, no! I like it on my face," she said, leaning in for a kiss.
"No," he dodged her, holding her back with one arm, "Halloween is
over. Come on''
"No, you come on," she aimed for his lips again, "just one kiss."
He stopped, staring at her, pouting his lips, his nostrils flaring. He
was going into his fight mode. "Really?' he said.
She stopped as well, matching his stare, considering for a moment.
It was the beard, or sex. She had to choose.
"Okay," she said, removing the contraption, pulling it off over her
head, "okay''
It was close to dawn, the chirping of birds outside the window alerting
her. She hadn't slept all night. She looked over at Nitin's defenseless face,
sleep claiming all of his protestations. She focused on the traits that
made him physically desirable. The cut above his lips from a childhood
accident, a marker that captured her eyes almost a year ago. His dark
curls—"my Maggi noodles," he called them—that she loved to run her
fingers through, and clutch and pull during moments of climax. And,
that nose. That sharp hawk's beak that added to his profile, regal in its
mere existence. Even in darkness, she could make out his features.
She turned on her side, her back to him, her eyes wandering to the
cast-off item on the floor. The neglected beard lay strewn, a messy ball of
hair, helpless in its discarded state.
66 PRISM  57.1
 In a few moments, she would get up and cradle it. She would comb it
out with a hairbrush, untangling the long fibres. She would find a cover
for it, a plastic bag maybe, one from the stash under the kitchen sink. She
would put it away somewhere safe, away from Nitin's eyes.
In a few moments, she would do all of these things. But for now, she
stared.
67
 Trish Salah
WHAT I REMEMBER
In this one I am dead. No, with the dead
In this one the ground
In this one voices are chanting
In this one voices are mechanical
In this one roads, thumb out
In this one walking along the shoulder
In this one the waters prefer I still fall
In this, dawn's bleak order
In this past uncanny lambent apartment
In this, the girl, lightning beneath her eyes
In this on repeat, floating, on grey seas
In this one no waking even for the wake
In this one voices are heated
In this one I am overheard
In this one you/her wave goodbye
In this one tidal well, scale crushed
In this one satellite science lab
In this one voices at chorus
In this one I'm found, dragged out
In this one not knowing when or if
In this one wolves hunt Manhattan
In this one a satellite, the last
In this one my next oldest mirror
In this one limbs crumbling
In this one R v R, with matches
In this one love's unnameable
In this, how many alleys, fire escapes?
In this, world one remembered
In this one, you too. You two
In this one kisses wake me
In this one three o'clock summer sun
In this, our bodies tangled in grass
In this one next year, a papered room
In this one stay dead
68 PRISM  57.1
 In this one snow squall or the beach
In this one try to stop crying
In this one voices are tinny, tiny
In this one are they voices, theirs?
In this, mirror, one cracks in long drops
In this one dream your mechanics
In this one make a phoenix with your hands
In this one hazard your hope
69
 RIPPLE
 Spencer Lucas Oakes
MELT
I SIT AT A DESK.
Sometimes I sit at a desk and I melt. I sit at a desk for thousands of
hours and the hours melt too. The hours melt into the floor and the walls
and the plain furniture. The desk is familiar to me and so is the computer
on the desk and the keyboard and the mouse and mousepad and the
succulent and the phone that never rings. The phone is a relic. Sometimes
I feel at home and sometimes I don't. Her words, not mine. Sometimes
I don't melt but the office does. I can relate to the phone. Other times I
try to work and most of the time I don't know what I'm doing here. A
co-worker is standing by the printer waiting for something. His face is
plain. I ask him what he's waiting for.
"Anything," he says.
I shake his hand like it's the right thing to do.
The brain in my head melts a bit and I go back to the search engine
on my computer and look her up but I still can't find her. The white-grey
walls of the office melt again, making lines like wood-grain and then a
phone rings.
71
 I lose days like I lose hours. This is office melt. The unsystematic
slippage of time like what I guess a wormhole would be like. I should quit
this job, but I am disappearing anyway. She fell into the earth and maybe
I can fall into the earth too.
72 PRISM  57.1
 Austen Lee
SLEEPOVERS AT THE EDGE
OF THE WORLD
Distance used to be measured by
how far I was from your house.
I'd count power lines on the way,
arms stretched out like men
ready to shock me.
At your place, we flew
down the driveway in a wagon,
smeared our blood on gravel
while our mothers drank beer
and made raspberry jam.
When you tell me you're pregnant,
I begin to see you in dreams.
We're always nine years old and
you're teaching me Britney Spears choreography.
We swing our hips and shine our
teeth in the dark basement.
We pretend the field
outside your house is white sand on
a beach so long we can't see the water,
play lifeguard in the bathtub
and take turns drowning.
We eat Toaster Strudel
with our hair wrapped in towels,
scoop goo from pastry then
smear our mouths pink.
At midnight, our mothers tell us
to sleep, and we listen to them
73
 laugh through the ceiling.
That drunk echo melts
into my own headache,
wakes me alone in my apartment.
I reach for you,
but you have long gone home
to feed your girl raspberries.
74 PRISM  57.1
 Sachiko Murakami
FIELD RESEARCH
I talk about my dreams like there is some factual evidence that will
survive the trauma of waking and realizing the truth of my life; its
plodding linearity, the plumb line that follows a bullet's path to the next
day, and the day after that.
I'm told I should stay present. I'm told there is safety in the out-breath,
there is a space between thought and thinker I would see if only I held
still long enough to measure the distance.
Between here and Vancouver, most of a continent. Between a mother
and daughter, a sinew stretching city blocks. Pluck it and it twangs at
the same frequency as the knotted trapezius, the first long note of a
dirge you've been humming since early childhood.
Check her breathing. Prepare a plausible story for why you're still here,
a lie you will tell to tomorrow. When the doctors arrive they will hold
the usual instruments close to our lives, listening for signals of the past.
When does chronic bronchitis become a child you can name, a treatable
condition?
My out-breath her in-breath, a chain that follows generations backwards
to the first woman leaning over, heaving out sorrow into a man's empty
bed. I lie down with my mother on her single mattress. Lions reach into
me, following the lines I laid out for them, on her dresser.
We sleep for days, the litany of Tuesday mornings marching past
windows, facing courtyard, a place where exhaled sleep gathers. I dream
I read her diary and find all the secrets that will answer all the questions.
I stand poised and ready to ask.
75
 Jack Wang
BELSIZE PARK
"you should come to LONDON at the end of term. Meet my parents."
We were lying in bed in her room overlooking the High Street. A
month earlier, we had gone down to London to see a band at The Half
Moon in Putney, but we hadn't made our presence known to her parents,
who lived in Belsize Park. I had agreed: no need for introductions yet.
But apparently the time had come.
"Really?"
"Why not? We're going on six months."
This wasn't exactly true. We had met at the end of second year and
rendezvoused intently for a few weeks before going our separate ways
for the summer, I to Stoke-on-Trent to work in my parents' takeaway—
Lucky House, it was called—and she to France to summer with her
family, with no particular understanding between us. Come autumn, we
did start up again right away, but all told, we'd only been together for a
term.
"My parents need my help in the shop."
76 PRISM  57.1
 A little moue appeared on her face. "Can't they spare you for a day
or two
In the beginning, I couldn't quite believe I had fallen in with someone
like Fiona, so clever and lovely and thoroughly English. The only way
to manage my fear of losing her was to take it as a given. Since London,
though, we'd spent nearly every day together, and despite myself I'd
started to hope for more. If I hesitated, it was only to be sure she wasn't
just being polite. But her little pout told me all I needed to know.
"All right, I'll go. But only if you come to Stoke."
She stilled, recalibrating. "Will your parents like me?"
I wasn't sure, but I said, "They'll love you."
My first week at Oxford, I had sat high in the upper gallery at the
Sheldonian in full academic dress, listening to the Vice-Chancellor
intone gravely in Latin and feeling as I often had in grammar school, that
I was an interloper and none of this was my birthright. That same week, I
wandered the deluged stalls at Freshers' Fair but couldn't bring myself to
join the Pooh Sticks Club or the Heterosexual Decadence Society or even
the Chinese Students Association, despite the doe-eyed looks of the two
young women behind the table. Instead, I spent most of first year alone
in my room or in a study carrel at the Bodleian Library, where I had to
swear an oath not to "kindle flame."
In second year, though, I found myself a coterie of friends who took
an equally cynical view of the goings-on around us, the college balls
especially, but at the end of Trinity term, we decided for a lark to crash
one. The men went down to Shepherd and Woodward on the High to
rent evening wear, in the spirit of Achaeans entering a Trojan horse. But
when I put on the black tie and tail coat and looked in the mirror, there
in the privacy of the dressing room, I thought for the first time, / could
be one of them.
When the time came, we infiltrated the milling crowd at Radcliffe
Square, with its battlements and spires, burnished at that hour in deep
shades of gold. A row of women in taffeta posed for pictures in front of
the Radcliffe Camera. One had thin, straight, mousy hair, this at a time
when hair was all about volume, and her decolletage sagged, which made
my heart go out to her. I caught her eye and saw myself refracted: tall,
reedy, exotic. Then the moment passed and we both looked away.
77
 Later, after I had breached security and found myself in a lantern-lit
quad, I saw her again, this time standing alone, peering over the rim of
her glass and looking rather abandoned. "Hello again," she said, which
should have bolstered my confidence. Instead I mumbled the usual: hello,
how are you, which college are you at? When she told me, I cooled. If any
college still embodied the spirit of bright young things, it was Magdalen.
"What about you?"
"Lady Margaret Hall."
"The women's college?"
I bristled. I was proud of LMH and the fact that it was on the outskirts
of town—orbital, like me.
"We have something now called co-education," I said.
My comment struck the mark, a little too well, it seemed. She took
an injured sip of her drink, and I waited for her to flag down a friend and
flee. Instead, she described her years in public school as part of a flotsam
of girls in an endless sea of boys. Her school didn't have a girls' house;
rather, every house had a couple of girls in each A-level year, and they
had been tormented. "It's no better here," she said bitterly. "My junior
common room debated the motion 'College women should be hired out
on the same basis as punts.' It's astonishing."
My ears burned, and the only thing I could think to do was tell her
about grammar school, how my only friend was a boy named Ramesh
and how we had gotten all the usual abuse. I thought it might have been
too little, too late, but she softened, said, "That's awful," and something
like recognition passed between us.
We kept talking. In time, standing gave way to sitting, and sitting in
turn to lying down once we vowed to make it all the way to the champagne
breakfast. There would soon be far greater intimacies between us, yet in
some ways nothing surpassed that first intimacy, the two of us lying face
to face, right there in the quad, in full view of the dwindling ball, Fiona
safe enough to close her eyes and fall asleep.
From the time I was old enough to peer over the counter, I'd spent long
hours at the front of my parents' takeaway. The summer Fiona and I were
apart was no different. But unlike the summer before or the many years
before that, when I whiled away the hours dreaming vaguely but intently
of love, all my restive longing that summer took the form of someone
real. When the school year ended, I said I would write, but she didn't
78 PRISM   57.1
 know where her family would be staying in Paris and couldn't remember
the address of their summer house in Colmar, so all I could do was give
her mine. Every time the shop door chimed, I looked up hoping to see
her, and every day I waited for the post, hoping for the smallest word.
At the end of each night, after my parents and I had trudged upstairs
to our flat above the takeaway, I would retreat to my room and listen to
records on my old Garrard Zero, and the track I played the most was
"The Paris Match" by The Style Council. The song was a moody ballad
about wandering the streets of Paris, looking for a lost lover. I liked the
version sung by a woman, sad-eyed Tracey Thorn, which made it easier
to imagine that Fiona was out there looking for me.
At the end of the summer, I finally received a postcard of brightly
coloured houses lining a canal. Fiona wrote breezily of dry heat and
mountains and drinking Alsatian wine, her words circumnavigating the
card in ever finer script. She said nothing about us, but I didn't care. She
hadn't forgotten me.
As soon as Michaelmas term ended, we took the train to Paddington
Station. We'd done the same on our first trip to London six weeks before,
sat rocking side by side on rough-hewn upholstery as the chalk and
scattered scrub of the Chilterns streamed past, but the feeling then was
different. Then, we'd had London—the whole wide world—to ourselves.
This time, I was hurtling toward a brambly sense of entanglement, and
the feeling sar uneasily.
Fiona's father came to retrieve us in his Vauxhall Cavalier, a
hearteningly ordinary car for a banker. He pressed his greying beard to
his daughter's cheeks, and his evident joy in seeing her extended itself to
me. Belsize Park was a suburb near the Heath, blanched by row upon row
of white villas. Theirs was semi-detached with a pebbled front garden and
a raised ground floor.
"Mum, we're home!" Fiona cried as we stepped through the door.
From somewhere below came audible instructions to the cook,
instructions that seemed prolonged, as if we were being made to wait.
Then footsteps rose from the lower ground floor, and her mother appeared
in a navy blue dress and pearls, her hair short and peppery. She accepted
Fiona's kisses with hands hooked, like a mantis.
"You must be Peter," she said, flicking a smile, eyes darting.
"Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Turner."
79
 By way of welcome, she showed me the reception rooms. Both had a
fireplace and a chandelier and dark scrolled furnishings. Then she led me
up not one but two flights of stairs to the uppermost floor, where I was
shown to my room, florid as a garden. Fiona made as if to speak, then
thought better of it.
"I hope this will do."
"Yes, of course. It's lovely. Thank you very much."
When we were alone, Fiona pressed her forehead to my shoulder.
1 m sorry.
"No, it's fine," I said, thinking how in Stoke we would have to share a
room, since there would be nowhere else to put her.
The dining room was downstairs, on the lower ground floor, an open
space with two sliding glass doors and a large picture window, all of
which looked out onto the garden. On my way in, I passed the cook
finishing off in the kitchen, a woman of indeterminate middle age who
greeted me warmly. The dining room table was long; I sat across from
Fiona while her parents sat at either end. After raising our glasses, we
started on the Sunday roast, and I wasn't sure whether to speak or only
speak when spoken to.
"This is lovely," I finally ventured. "And you have a lovely home."
"Do you know where the name 'Belsize' comes from?" Mr. Turner
asked. "From the phrase belassis. French for 'beautifully situated.'"
"It is," I said.
"This neighbourhood is nearly a thousand years old. Ethelred the
Unready granted the manor of Hampstead in 986—"
"Dad."
"—part of which later became the manor of Belsize. Richard Steele
had a cottage on Haverstock Hill. Queen Victoria came out here for
country drives."
I was compelled to say, "I grew up on Gerrard Street in the building
where John Dryden once lived," then heard how strangely that sounded.
But Mr. Turner just smiled.
"And how did you come to live on Gerrard Street?"
"Here we go," Fiona said.
I flashed her a look to say it was fine. "My father moved to Chinatown
when he came to London in the early sixties." Dad had been a rice
80 PRISM  57.1
 farmer in the New Territories, squeezed out by the so-called "vegetable
revolution," and the only work he could find was in catering.
"I thought your parents lived in Stoke."
"They do now. My mother worked in catering too, but they didn't
like working for others, so they scrimped and saved and started their own
takeaway. But it wasn't easy. They weren't just competing against other
Chinese but Indians, Italians, and Cypriots. Plus Sainsbury's, Tesco, and
M&S, which started making Chinese ready meals—"
"You have something in common with mum," Fiona said happily.
"She doesn't like Tesco either."
Mrs. Turner cleared her throat and stiffened, now that the spotlight
was on her. "I'm part of a preservation society here in Belsize Park."
"And they don't want Tesco moving in," Fiona said. "It wouldn't be...
consistent with the character of the neighbourhood."
"It wouldn't be," her father said. "Next thing you know the streets will
be full of lorries and car parks and we'll go the way of American cities."
Fiona smiled, as if she had goaded them. "Sorry, Peter. I interrupted
you.
"Where was I? Yes, too much competition, so my parents moved
farther and farther from Gerrard Street. When I was nine, we moved to
Birmingham, but even Brum was too crowded, so we moved to Stoke. If
you've ever wondered why Chinese run takeaways in every lonely corner
of the world..."
"So your parents met in London," Mrs. Turner said, taking a different
interest.
"Actually, no. After a year, dad went back to Hong Kong and married
mum. But the funny thing is they could have met here."
"How's that?"
"My grandfather—mum's dad—worked as a stoker on the Blue
Funnel Line, which sailed from Hong Kong to Liverpool. During the
war, he was part of the Merchant Navy. Helped to win the Battle of
the Atlantic. He would have liked to stay after the war, but he was...
repatriated."
"Killed?"
"No, deported."
After a silence, Mrs. Turner glanced at her husband and said, "Both
our fathers served in the war."
"Yes, of course," I said.
81
 At the end of the evening, I let Fiona and her mother catch up. After
the pudding, Mr. Turner had excused himself and retired to his study, at
which point the evening had entered a different phase, Mrs. Turner more
relaxed somehow, maybe because the meal had come off.
Nonetheless, I lay in bed replaying the day, wondering how I'd done,
if I'd said too much or too little. Eventually a knock came, and Fiona
peered through the door. When she stepped in, I laughed. In Oxford, she
lounged around in knickers and large off-the-shoulder T-shirts; here she
wore a flannel nightgown, florid as the bedspread.
"Look, it's Laura Ashley."
She smiled ruefully, slipping into bed.
"How'd I do?"
"You were brilliant, darling."
"Was I?"
"Yes. Sometimes my parents need to... see themselves, you know?"
"I just hope they like me."
"They do, they do," she said, pressing her lips to mine, softly at first,
then more ardently, with no intention of stopping.
"What about your parents?" I whispered.
At this, she sat astride me, crossed her arms, and pulled off her
nightgown, tousling her hair in the process.
"Never mind my parents," she said.
By the time we awoke, we had the house to ourselves, her father off to
work and her mother off to a meeting—the preservation society, perhaps.
Today was our only full day before we would leave for Stoke.
"Let's go shopping," she said over breakfast.
"Didn't you want to show me the Heath?"
"I do. But let's go shopping first. I need to get gifts for my parents."
We got off the tube at Green Park, across from The Ritz, and walked
alongside black cabs and buses to Old Bond Street, celestial with little
white lights.
"It's pretty," I said.
"Have you ever seen Paris at Christmastime?"
"I've never been to Paris."
"Never?"
"I told you, we never went on holiday. But maybe you can show me."
She looped an arm through mine. "I'd like that, darling."
82 PRISM   57.1
 The day we left Oxford, Fiona had encouraged me to bring a dress
shirt, a blazer, and my one decent overcoat. It was only now, browsing
Valentino, Chanel, and Saint Laurent, that I understood why. Within a
few shops, she bought a jumper for her father, offhandedly, as if he were
easy to please. It was her mother she seemed concerned about.
When she still wasn't done by lunchtime, we stopped to eat. After
lunch, Fiona ran into someone she knew, a fellow in tweed whose foppish
hair fell in a perfect wave. He leaned down to offer his cheek, arms laden
with bags. From what I could gather, he was a friend from public school
and on break from Cambridge.
"Paul, this is Peter," Fiona said.
"Peter and Paul!" he said, extending a hand. "Where're Mark and
Luke?"
We stood on the pavement, chatting. Paul was nothing if not pleasant,
one of those people so undaunted by the world that he would never think
to be anything but nice. What struck me, though, was how quickly Fiona
fell in with him, how easily she too moved in the world. I had never quite
seen it, or hadn't wanted to, and it made me feel cynical, the way my
friends had been cynical when Fiona and I first got together.
Afterward, my feelings came out sideways. "You let go of my hand."
"Sorry?"
"You let go of my hand when you saw Paul."
"To say hello!"
"Was he your boyfriend?"
"Please. He never looked at me."
"But you wished he had."
Her eyes sharpened. "Now you're being ridiculous."
Fiona settled on something at the very next store, where purses were
sparsely arrayed like artifacts in a museum. The purse she chose seemed
plain save for a clasp in the shape of omega. Nonetheless, it cost £150.
Sorry that I had nothing to show for myself, I bought the least expensive
thing I could find, an umbrella, claiming it was for mum, though I knew
she'd only be angry at the extravagance.
When I turned to leave, Fiona's eyes were raw and trembling.
"What's the matter?"
She left the store without answering, and I followed with a sense of
dread. Outside, she said, "Did you see the shop girl?"
"What about her?"
"She was so rude! She didn't say a word to you!"
83
 I pictured the girl: pencil skirt, blonde updo, cinched lips. I was so
relieved that Fiona wasn't angry at me that my fear turned quickly to
irritation. She knew that bricks had been thrown through our shopfront
window in Stoke. That Ramesh and I had been chased through the streets
routinely by boot boys and even boot girls, with their shaved heads and
sidelocks. What was a buttoned-up shop girl next to all that?
I took Fiona in my arms. "Trust me, I've seen worse."
"You shouldn't have to."
It occurred to me that she could have spoken up in the shop, could
have promptly returned the purse and vowed never to return, but I felt
the surge of her breathing, the angry pulse of her love, and didn't say
anything.
As soon as we got home, Fiona said, "Be a dear and say hello to mum. I've
got to hide the presents."
I found Mrs. Turner at the dining room table, staring at the garden
over a cup of tea, so deep in thought I almost backed away, afraid of
disturbing her. But she sensed me, turned, and smiled.
"There you are, Peter. Come sit. Let me get you some tea."
On the table sat a teapot in a knitted cosy, but she rose to put on
water, then came back to the table with a teacup and saucer.
"What did you get up to today?"
I didn't want to give Fiona away, so I said we went to lunch. "We ran
into a friend of hers. Paul."
For some reason, Mrs. Turner pursed her lips. Until that moment,
I hadn't seen much resemblance between mother and daughter, but
suddenly I caught a glimpse of Fiona in the palimpsest of her mother's
face.
"Fiona tells me you're reading accounting."
"Yes. To help my parents. Partly."
She paused, as if she'd run out of things to say, or as if she had plenty
to say but couldn't decide where to start. "What was it like growing up?
In catering, I mean."
Some of my earliest and fondest memories, I said, were of working
alongside my parents, peeling shrimp and snapping bean sprouts until
my fingertips were pruned, but as I got older, the work began to chafe. I
wanted to do what other kids got to do: go to the cinema, go on holiday,
muck about.
PRISM  57.1
 "One day when I was twelve or thirteen, I decided I'd had enough. I
stayed upstairs and watched telly instead. But I couldn't enjoy it, not with
mum and dad banging about downstairs. I could hear them rowing too,
so I went back down just to keep the peace. In the end, it was easier to do
my part. To be the kind of son they wanted."
Mrs. Turner absorbed this. "You haven't had it easy, have you?"
I was encouraged. We were getting somewhere, the way she was
taking an interest, seeing other sides of me. "I suppose not. That's one
reason Fiona and I get on," I said, thinking of her years in public school.
"She hasn't had it easy, either."
Mrs. Turner reared back. "Don't listen to Fiona. She had a perfectly
lovely childhood and only the best education."
Before I knew what to say, the kettle whistled, and Fiona came in
crying, "Mummy!"
Fiona and I were going to dinner alone. "You don't want a couple of old
fogeys tagging along," Mr. Turner said when he got home, and I took this
for the gesture it was. As Fiona got ready, I waited in one of the reception
rooms, perusing pictures of her at the awkward ages—glasses, braces,
mushroom haircuts—which brought back snatches of a Larkin poem I'd
read in grammar school: Too much confectionery, too rich: 11 choke on such
nutritious images.
Not surprisingly, Fiona chose a French restaurant, a bouchon in South
Kensington with tightly packed wooden tables and walls full of copper
pans and bric-a-brac. "I think you'll like tete de veau'' she said over rhe
menu. "Calf's head." She had pinned her hair in a barrette, which made
her ears look elfin. By the wavering light of the votive, she looked thin-
lipped and shy, and very much the person I wanted to be with.
The meal began with an entree of three salads and ended with cheese
and pruneaux au vin. Toward the end, Fiona said rather anxiously, "We
only have two terms left." I sensed the subject she was trying to broach,
one I'd been hoping to broach myself, even before she asked, "What are
your plans afterward?"
"I'd love to move to London—"
"So would I," she said, and we looked at each other happily.
"What do you think you'll do?"
"The only thing one can do with French—become a governess."
85
 I laughed. "I guess I don't have much choice either. And I'll still have
to help my parents."
"Of course. You can do the books from anywhere."
"No, what I mean is, I'll still have to help in the shop."
She gave me that little moue of hers. She had never liked the fact that
I went home once a month to help with the weekend rush.
"Even after you're working in London?"
"You'd be surprised how many Chinese leave London at the weekend
to help in takeaways."
"Can't they hire someone?"
"They could. But they don't make much as it is."
She paused, measuring her words. "You'd make more than enough to
hire someone yourself."
At that moment, I realized there were two kinds of people in the
world: those for whom family meant leisure and those for whom family
meant work.
"Remember, my parents don't speak English—"
Fiona kinked her brows. "They don't?"
Perhaps I'd kept this to myself. Nonetheless, her innocence vexed me.
"Have you ever heard me speaking English on the phone?"
She scowled. "That's no reason to assume. They run a takeaway."
"They cope, yes. But people are always taking rhe piss our of them.
That's why I'm at the front of the shop. And why I go home."
Fiona's eyes fell.
"Look," I said gently, "my parents never taught me how to cook.
Never let me near the woks, even when I begged them. Trust me, they
don't want that life for me. They just have to hang on for a few more
years."
She considered, then shook her head at herself.
"Of course, darling. I'm sorry."
By the time we left the restaurant, rain and fog had descended. We
hurried to the station hand in hand, to the wet sizzle of traffic, the world
dark and shimmering.
After the cold and wet, their villa felt warm and inviting. Getting
ready for bed, I thought of my parents, who would work late, then pop a
tape into the video. It was what they lived for, it seemed, a little Chinese
telly at the end of the night. Whenever their friends went back to Hong
86 PRISM  57.1
 Kong, my parents would ask them to tape the latest hit serial on TVB.
Their favourite was Seung Hoi Tan or The Bund, about gangsters in 1920's
Shanghai and starring a baby-faced Chow Yun-fat. I could picture dad
sitting in his sweat-stained BVD, rubbing Tiger Balm into his shoulder
until the whole place reeked of menthol. Suddenly I was sorry I had
asked Fiona to come.
I went downstairs to say goodnight. A light was on in the study, but
I ignored it, drawn by voices on the lower ground floor. Halfway down,
I heard a voice rise and another rise to meet it. Instinct told me to turn
around. Instead, I kept going, drawn by morbid curiosity. The door to
the lower ground floor was closed. It wasn't until I was nearly outside that
I heard Mrs. Turner say, "—even if it isn't Hampstead." Suddenly I was
sure Mr. Turner would emerge from his study. I hurried back upstairs.
I lay in bed, heart skidding. It sounded like mother and daughter had
been arguing about the past, the kind of life Fiona had had, but even
then, I sensed it had to do with me.
In time, Fiona appeared. Without a word, she got into bed and held
me.
"Everything all right?"
"Everything's fine. Why?" Without waiting for an answer, she said,
"Let's get some sleep. I still want to show you the Heath in the morning."
I didn't press her, just glad to have her close. Whatever the tide, Fiona
would protect me.
Mum and dad worked seven nights a week and served lunch every day
except Tuesdays and Sundays. Today should have been a lie-in day, but
they were getting up early to cook for Fiona. Our plan was to see the
Heath, catch the midmorning train, and be in Stoke by noon.
We got up to trickling grey light. The need to whisper and tiptoe
made the hour seem even earlier. On Haverstock Hill, bakeries and coffee
shops were stirring, their windows burning brightly through the gloom.
In one, a woman was wiping a table like someone out of Vermeer, and
I wished we weren't in a hurry, that we could sit down and take in the
morning. It was something of a strange errand, going to the Heath first
thing, but Fiona had always loved the Heath and wanted me to see it.
After rounding the Free Hospital, we took Pond Street to South End
Road, past a row of bookshops, charity shops, and chemists. Fiona was in
a queer mood, not exactly distant but not exactly talkative either. It was
87
 the peaceable but still-delicate air of people who'd made up after a row.
Only we hadn't rowed.
When we came to the edge of the Heath, Fiona waved at the next
street over. "We don't have time, but Keats House is just over there."
I'd read my share of Keats in grammar school. He wasn't my
favourite—Larkin was—but I'd learned some things nonetheless. "When
Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne, her mother disapproved," I said,
"but eventually she came round."
I thought Fiona would laugh. Instead she turned to me, stricken.
Then she started up Parliament Hill, past red-bricked houses trimmed in
white, and I followed doggedly, breath pluming. At the entrance to the
Heath, pavement gave way to a footpath. Without stopping, she took
the path through open fields, the grass still hoary with frost. Six months
earlier, we'd gone walking in Christ Church Meadow, the spires of Oxford
jutting in the distance. Cattle had lolled in the fields, their strange horns
curled like pincers. Fiona and I had just been together for the first time,
and highstepping through the meadow, we couldn't stop grinning. How
long ago that seemed.
At last we came to the top of the hill, and there she was, the great
city herself, downy with fog, which made us seem much higher than we
were. As we sat on a bench catching our breaths, the hillside empty save
for the two of us, I thought of all those since Ethelred the Unready who
had conquered this view and all those who had yet to or never would,
like my grandfather, who had been surprised to find a long-established
Chinese community in Liverpool, seafarers, mostly, like him, some of
whom had taken up with locals, poor English, Irish, and Welsh girls who
then became a kind of scourge, even to their own families, and I knew
that time was not a line or an arc but a sine, a wave, forever vacillating.
"You aren't coming to Stoke, are you?"
For a long moment, Fiona squinted fiercely into the distance. Then
she pressed her forehead to my shoulder, and I felt ashamed that my first
feeling was relief.
"And we'll never see Paris, will we?"
She wrapped her arms around me, the cold wedge of her nose buried
in my neck, and I saw it all: the long walk back to the house, the longer
train ride home, the baffled looks of my parents. And I knew how I
would spend my last two terms: in orbit, far from the centre of town, or
in a study carrel at the Bodleian, where despite the rules, the threat to the
precious past, I would cup my tiny flame.
88 PRISM  57.1
 Amanda Baker-Patterson
5-YEAR PLAN
^
In my new life I'll fold
towels in a grown-up fashion, get rich
with nutrients, learn
all the spices and buy us
a spice rack—no, build one. Be sage.
I'll have all my jack-o-lanterns
in a row. Visit Scotland
and make the most of the moors. Won't wish
for downpours but enjoy
dry thunder, sitting on the veranda
reading recommended books. Know every
constellation and remember
my myths, pronounce Greek
names right and never
be boring. I don't have a dog yet
but he's out there somewhere.
At night, in the stairwell,
I can almost smell him.
89
 Jason, Pureed
MEN IN THE GUT
Scrape the inside of sleep the belly wall
tasting like yoghurt cooked broccoli
its emptiness leaving something
on the tongue. Escaping the body
that wants to quit from the inside.
It unlaces you all the tethers sliced
away from this world. When I dream
of this body ending of opening the germ
of the pain and going I am on the side
of the road. My hands hold out my stomach
my second brain to the men who already want
me to die. This failing organ with a ruby
wound kissing the place it is so easy to be
stabbed or shot. A punch to the gut I anticipate
violence here one cell layer deep shallow
spreading roots a memory system in my body.
On the side of the road a drive-by for men
homophobic in trucks swallowing spit.
When I was a teenager I let them disembody me
internalizing everything through the mouth and
now my stomach wants it out. I am interested
in self-diagnosis. When I dream it is of trees
budding from my stomach that will shade
this heating world and of all the wounded men
who masculinity failed who will lay their Oilers
caps on my wrists say I'm sorry and their fingers
will touch and they won't be scared of it.
90 PRISM  57.1
 Hannah Abigail Clarke
CHERRY PIE
I regret to inform you that the valisprat skewered you even before you were
born. It happened in a sterile room. Some nurse slicked your mother's
abdomen, projected your blotchy amphibian likeness on a screen and
said, what a little, lovely, precious baby girl! and your parents said, a girl!
a girl! and everyone fell into a rapture. They had always wanted their very
own darling girl, they said. They joked about buying a shotgun, because
they prophesied how your adolescent beauty would lure hordes of rabid
men panting to your bedroom window. It was like an incantation. The
valisprat manifested fast. It bloomed like mold on the ceiling, became
viscous and molasses-like and oozed down onto your mother's starchy
sheets where it writhed, grew limbs and the twist of a mouth. Your
mother was so happy. She failed to feel it crawling closer, and how it
licked all the gel off her womb.
It rattled the bars of your crib every night. It whispered and touched
your soft head. It chanted mantras that you would memorize, mimicked
the voices of your father and the television screen. It said that you liked
Snow White and Grease. It said you wanted a veil that swept behind you
91
 forever like Princess Diana's. It said you wanted knee socks and a nice blue
dress. It taught you to love meanness, told you it was good if someone
grabbed a fistful of your hair and yanked, was good if you were torn from
a swing, was good and indicative of a pure and deep affection. It said you
should boil in Coca-Cola. You should become a cherry pie.
It clung to your shoulders when you learned how to walk. At first
you did not notice how the valisprat had hooks for hands. Recall how
you asked a fellow Girl Scout to marry you when you were six, how you
kissed her on the knuckles in your garden. Your parents saw this. They
sent your fiancee home, never to return. They dragged you sobbing by
the elbows to your bedroom and said, what a vile thing for a little girl to
do, how inappropriate, how unclean. The valisprat drooled. It slipped
its hooks between the notches of your spine and thrashed you for hours,
howling, snapping at the lobe of your ear. WHAT A VILE THING, said
the valisprat, WHAT A VILE THING I HAVE WHAT VILE WHAT A
VILENESS HAVE I IN YOU.
It goes on like that. It is habitual, and consistent.
So you grow up nervous and crook-backed from carrying this valisprat
around. You acclimate to the hooks, develop a sort of numbness. By the
time you make it through adolescence, you have accepted the valisprat
as an extra sort of limb, a scaly part of your body that is unworthy of
remark. It is the half-angel/half-albatross invertebrate that bites you and
lives on your body. It is not special.
But then it is, because you read that book, or watched that film, or
saw the girl across that lecture hall and felt your ribs expand. You denied
it and then you couldn't deny it. You buried yourself in a weird and
previously unexplored section of the library, and you lurked on niche
forums and cried in your bedroom and found new humour in music and
laughed so hard that you nearly cracked your sternum wide. You told
your parents. You stopped talking to your parents. You met some friends
in a classics class and moved in with them, and now everyone there lies on
the floor and feels the Earth move together. You dress significantly better,
or perhaps much worse. You forego eating meat. You chop your hair
and your nails. You drink more, maybe. You embrace an all-consuming
explosion of technicolor pride.
That thing on your back is a monster. It is not you. It is something
else.
You figure out how to talk to girls.
She wears your sweaters to the lecture hall now.
92 PRISM  57.1
 You watch her leave for class. You are hungover, wearing torn denim,
and feeling insurmountably happy. You rub the skin on your neck where
she touched you. You snag the edge of a claw.
A housemate finds you in the throes of a death match. The valisprat
has fit its jaws around your stomach and you thrash and kick so it squeezes
harder. Its teeth are longer than your femurs. It has punctured you twenty
times through. You bash your fists against its mold-pink skull and you
sob so hard your lungs pop. It clings tighter. Your capillaries burst. Your
friend scoops you off the floor and drops you in the bathtub, and the
water is scalding and loosens the valisprat's grip, but it's not fucking over.
You friend sits on the sink and sings Elton John and you regain control
of your organs, but the valisprat keeps watching. It floats heavy in the
bubbles by your ankles.
You never mention it to her. You never mention it to your housemate
and he has the grace not to remind you. You scarcely mention it to
yourself, for shame of recognizing that the valisprat exists at all. You are
not a monster. She is not a monster. Why should monsters exist?
You watch her pull your sweater on in the morning. The valisprat
drags its fingers through your hair. It coos, YOU SHOULDN'T BE
WATCHING HER YOU VILE LITTLE THING AND YOU'RE
JUST LIKE ME UNSALVAGEABLE JUST LIKE ME HAVE YOU
TRIED BEING LESS OF A PREDATOR HAVE YOU TRIED THAT
YET? IF YOU LOVE HER YOU WOULD NEVER LOOK AT
HER YOU WOULD KEEP YOUR CROCODILE EYES OFF HER
SHOULDERS AND BE LESS VILE. WHEN SHE LEAVES YOU
WE WILL SCRAPE YOU OUT OF YOU AND PLACE YOU IN A
NICE BLUE DRESS NOT A SLUTTY BLUE DRESS A NICE BLUE
DRESS. WE WILL FIND A MAN WHO WILL HAVE SEX WITH
YOU AND YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELF OR ELSE YOU WILL
BE VILE AND YOU WILL HAVE CHILDREN THAT YOU WILL
LEARN TO WANT OR YOU WILL BE VILE AND YOU WILL BE
GOOD AND HURT NO ONE. YOU WILL EAT HAMBURGERS
AND CHERRY PIE IN A NICE BLUE DRESS WITHOUT YOUR
VILE CROCODILE EYES ON LOVELY SHOULDERS AND YOU
WILL BE GOOD. YOU WILL NEVER BE GOOD. YOU WILL
ALWAYS BE VILE.
The valisprat has this trick. It speaks only venom, because it knows
that you would never repeat that venom. You recognize it as venom. You
love your housemates. You love her. You are trying to love yourself. You
93
 would never repeat the ravings of the valisprat, because it would come
across as satire, or else a gesture of violence. You are not violent. Your
insistent lack of violence is your primary form of resistance.
You suffer the yoke.
Listen: this is not just about you. This is a fungal sort of demon. Its
rotten touch reaches further than the eye can see. Your valisprat is one
apple on a tree that is centuries wide. It is and is not unique. It is only
one fruit, after all. The tree from which it sprung has been nourished by
radio waves and holy folk and hospitals and your grandfather. It has roots
and precedence that coil underground and puncture the foundations of
nearly every building in town. So, say you kill your valisprat. Say you
have this grand victory. Would you be liberated? Your housemates retain
their own incarnations of the valisprat. Lighter, perhaps, or far heavier
than your own. You wouldn't know that, because you're too ashamed to
broach the subject.
Stop. You are retreating into yourself.
I need you to stay with me.
The valisprat has been with you since always. You have never not been
haunted. I know. I know. The more you recognize it, the less you can deny
its interference with your everyday life. I just need you to understand that
this is a tree metaphor, not a hydra metaphor. Healing yourself first isn't
useless, or counrer-productive. It just can't be the end. Audre Lorde had
the right idea.
So you've got to gather all your kind for a cleanse. Spin a ritual. Cast
a spell to free yourselves from the toils of current circumstances. Stop
blaming yourself for the times. They aren't your fault. Tell yourself and
then the mirror and then your lover and then your housemates all the
truth. Tell them that you need them and that you need this. Wave off
cynicism. Insist. Perform it twice or perform it backwards. Perform it
with every friend you meet. Rewrite it when the time comes. Just know
now that it's yours.
With love and fire, just like this:
1. Build an altar in your living room. Use a rainbow gown for the
cloth and place upon it emblems of truth: that book, and that
film, and the sweater your girlfriend keeps stealing.
2. Take a picture of yourself, and a picture of your household. Place
the pictures on the altar, even if that means leaving your phone
with your sweater. Hold proof of your own existence. Consider
yourself worthy of art.
94 PRISM  57.1
 3. Burn something. Don't be an idiot about it but burn something.
Candles work. Printed out retro posters for Grease work better.
4. Pour glasses of cold water, one for each housemate. Drink them
in one go.
5. Clutch the hands of the gays on either side of you. The valisprat
buries its hooks muscle deep, sometimes deep enough to puncture
bones. Hold on tight.
6. Chant this mantra to replace the old: how vast and spiralled and
strange I am. How human, how ridiculous. I am a prism and a
flock of geese. I bleed and breathe and am flush with life, as life
does, and I am whole and without tarnish. I am more red honey
than I am red penny. I am beyond the stretch of words.
7. Say this until your vision fuzzes, then twice more.
8. Recognize the silhouettes above your heads. Watch the fumes
of the valisprats as they buck and twist and sizzle. Watch the
snapping of maws and split flopping tongues. Squeeze the hands
a little tighter. Be alright when your T-shirt shreds.
9. Say, I banish self-loathing from these bodies. Say, I banish archangels
and dead albatrosses. Say, I banish all meathooks from the small of
my back.
10. Say, Baby, you're beautiful. You're so fucking beautiful. Say, Baby,
you're like the dawning sun.
95
 Lida Nosrati
ON TOPOGRAPHY
They say one forgets dreams because of the absence of a hormone
in the cerebral cortex
I say I would have dreamed of an ordinary tree
standing un-tall in the backyard
delaying the kindly descent of its leaves
in total disregard of promise
I say I would have dreamed of salt crystals waiting to hold the snow one
last time
of a notebook acutely aware of the economy of scarcity
of all the ways of saying your name in February
of how type three conditional ("an unreal past condition and its
probable result in the past") almost always confuses me—and let me
be clear that this has nothing to do with English being my second
language; it confuses me in my mother tongue too. Speaking of which,
did you know how ashamed I am of not being able to form even a
simple sentence in your mother tongue and how the shame deepens
every year on the day that marks mothers and the tongues they speak?
I say I would have dreamed of a father who keeps tabs of sunrises
in more than one city
I say I would have dreamed of a birthday without guests
Truth is, I dreamed of flying over a city known as Nesf-e Jahan
Truth is, I never made it to half the world
or its most important river
before it completely dried out
96 PRISM  57.1
 Truth is, this was the first flying dream I had
The first I didn't disremember
97
 CONTRIBUTORS
Amanda Baker-Patterson is an award-winning and Pushcart Prize-
nominated Canadian poet living in Seattle. Her writing has appeared
or is forthcoming in The New Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2, Grain,
Arc Poetry Magazine, Soundings Review, and PageBoy. "5 -Year Plan" is
dedicated to her husband, Josh, and their dog, Ruby June.
Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation and lives in
Edmonton, AB. His debut collection of poems, This Wound is a World
(Frontenac 2017), won the 2018 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize. His next
book, NDN Coping Mechanisms (House of Anansi Press), is due out in
the fall of 2019.
Jan Guenther Braun lives in Toronto and is the author of Somewhere
Else. She has previously published poems in Rhubarb Magazine and on
the inside of unsuspecting cases of beer while working on the line at
Great Western Brewing.
Gregory Brown is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro's MFA program in
Creative Writing and Memorial University's MA in English. His
writing has appeared in Paragon, Postscript, Pulp literature, Tate Street,
and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of Virginia's Young Writers
Workshop and the Creative Writing for Children Society in Vancouver.
Jenny Mary Brown's work has been in Tipton Poetry Journal, Berkeley
Poetry Review, Sugar House, and DIAGRAM, among others. Jenny lives in
California and teaches at College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State
University. She attempts to play piano, autoharp, and accordion.
Michelle Poirier Brown is a Cree poet, performer, and homilist living
in Victoria, BC. Her creative nonfiction "The House on Strathnaver
Avenue" appeared in The Fieldstone Review (2017). "Dialogue as Seditious
Act" will appear in the anthology Dis(s)sent in 2018.
Vanessa Carlisle, PhD, is a writer, podcaster, activist and educator in
Los Angeles, California. Her work centers on LGBTQ and sex worker
characters. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in both literary and
trade magazines, and her first novel is called A Crack in Everything. Find
out more at vanessacarlisle.com.
98 PRISM  57.1
 Hannah Abigail Clarke is an undergraduate at Miami University with
a triple major in Creative Writing, Classical Humanities and Women's,
Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has been previously published in
Chaleur Magazine. She is here and also queer.
Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapisewsipi (Swan River First
Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. He has had creative
and critical work published in Arc Poetry, The Malahat Review, and
Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.
Austen Lee is an emerging writer from Edmonton. This year, she won
gold at the Alberta Magazine Awards for a series of poems about taking
selfies. You can find more of her work in Glass Buffalo.
MA|DE is a collaborative writing partnership comprised of
interdisciplinary artist Mark Laliberte, author of asemanticasymmetry
(Anstruther 2017) and writer Jade Wallace, author of Rituals of Parsing
(Anstruther 2018). MA|DE is based in Toronto, Ontario and are
currently working on their first full-length collection of poetry.
Elizabeth Mitchell is from southeast Michigan in the United States. Her
writing has appeared in several journals including Blue Heron Review and
Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She builds websites for nonprofits
and tutors girls for a living.
Keneilwe Mokoena is a Johannesburg-based visual artist and curator.
Mokoena is a Fine Art graduate from Tshwane University of Technology.
She received the 2015 Reinhold Cassirer Award and completed a residency
at the Bag Factory Studios in Fordsburg, South Africa. Mokoena is
currently a participant in the Talent Unlocked Mentorship Programme
with Assemblage Studios and the Visual Art Network of South Africa
(VANSA).
Sachiko Murakami is the author of three collections of poetry, most
recently Get Me Out of Here (Talonbooks 2015). She teaches, edits, and
writes in Toronto.
Lindsay Nixon is a Cree-Metis-Saulteaux curator, award-nominated
editor, award-nominated writer and McGill Art History Ph.D. student.
They currently hold the position of Editor-at-Large for Canadian Art.
Their forthcoming memoir, nitisdnak, is to be released in September
2018 through Metonymy Press.
99
 Samantha Nock is a Cree-Metis poet and writer from Treaty 8 territory
in Northeast BC. Her family comes from Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan.
She has been an uninvited visitor on Coast Salish Territories for eight
years.
Lida Nosrati is a literary translator whose poems and translations of
contemporary Iranian poetry and short fiction have appeared in The
Capilano Review, The Apostles Review, Words Without Borders, Anomaly
and lunch Ticket, among others. She works as a legal worker in Toronto.
Spencer Lucas Oakes is a Canadian writer. His work has appeared or is
forthcoming in Emerge, Daily Hive, Shirley Magazine, Occulum Journal,
Soft Cartel, and elsewhere. Along with the Vancouver Whitecaps, he
created and edited MAJOR Magazine. He is currently enrolled in Simon
Fraser University's 2018 Writer's Studio.
Jason Purcell is a writer living on Treaty 6 territory (Edmonton, Alberta).
He is co-editor of Ten Canadian Writers in Context (University of Alberta
Press 2016). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Contemporary
Verse 2, Poetry is Dead, and Glass Buffalo.
Trish Salah lives and writes in Toronto and teaches Gender Studies at
Queen's University, Kingston. Her books are Wanting in Arabic and Lyric
Sexology, Vol. 1. She has new writing in Action-Spectacle, Angelaki, Anomaly
and the collections Women of Resistance and, Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science
Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers.
jaye simpson is an Oji-Cree trans femme two spirit writer, performer,
and villain living on what is colonially known as Vancouver, they enjoy
disrupting white narratives and challenging such colonial workings
within the world of CanLit.
Matthew Stepanic is the editor of Glass Buffalo and poetry editor of
Eighteen Bridges. He is a co-author of the collaborative novel, Project
Compass (Monto Books, 2017), and the author of Relying on that Body
(Glass Buffalo Publishing, 2018), a chapbook of poems about RuPaul's
Drag Race.
Sanchari Sur is a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow, PhD candidate in English
at Wilfrid Laurier University, and the curator/co-founder of Balderdash
Reading Series. Her work can be found in Matrix, The Unpublished City
(Toronto: BookThug, 2017), Arc Poetry Magazine, Humber Literary
Review, and Room. She (temporarily) resides in Mississauga.
100        PRISM  57.1
 Dizz Tate has had previous work published in The Wrong Quarterly, No
Tokens Journal, and 3:am magazine. Her pamphlet Nowhere to go but back
again was published in 2018 by Goldsmiths Press. She lives in London.
Sara Tilley's work bridges writing, theatre, and Pochinko clown. She's
published two award-winning novels: Skin Room (Pedlar Press, 2008),
and DUKE, (Pedlar Press, 2015), and written/co-created twelve plays.
She was Artistic Director of feminist theatre company, She Said Yes!,
2002-2016. Sara lives in St. John's, NL.
Arielle Twist is a writer and sex educator from George Gordon First
Nation, Saskatchewan, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a Cree, Two-
Spirit, trans femme supernova writing to reclaim and harness ancestral
magic and memories. Her debut collection of poetry Disintegrate/
Dissociate is forthcoming spring 2019 with Arsenal Pulp Press.
Jack Wang was longlisted for the 2017 Journey Prize and shortlisted for
the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He was the 2014-15 David
T.K. Wong Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia in
Norwich, England and teaches writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New
York.
Tessa Yang received her MFA from Indiana University where she served
as the Editor of Indiana Review. Her fiction has appeared in journals
including Joyland, SmokeLong Quarterly, and The Cossack Review. Tessa
teaches at Earlham College in Indiana, and you can find her tweeting
about writing and sharks @ThePtessadactyl.
101
 PRISM INTERNATIONA1
THE PACIFIC SPIRIT
POETRY PRIZE
JUDGE:
Billy-Ray Belcourt
DEADLINE:
October 15, 2018
THE JACOB ZILBER
PRIZE FOR FICTION
DEADLINE:
January 15, 2019
OUR ANNUAL
NON-FICTION
CONTEST
DEADLINE:
July 15, 2019
CONTEST PRIZES:
Grand Prize: $1,500
First Runner-Up: $600
Second Runner-Up: $400
Entrants receive a one-year subscription to PRISM.Visit our website for contest entry guidelines:
PRISMMAGAZINE.CA
 WILLI
WRITERS
LITERARY
FESTIVAL
A
-   &&
ovember 2-4, 20 . _
Individual Tickets Available-
August 1
wildwriters.ca
presentedc by:
thenewQuarterly
CANADIAN   WRITERS   &   WRITING"'
 EVENT Magazine's 31st Annual
NON-FICTION CONTEST
Increased Cash Prizes
$1?500 • $1,000 * $500
New Deadline:
October 15
Non-Fiction Contest
winners feature in every
volume since 1989
and have received
recognition from the
Canadian Magazine
Awards, National
Magazine Awards and
Best Canadian Essays.
All entries considered for
publication. Entry fee of
$34.95 includes a one-
year subscription. We
encourage writers from
diverse backgrounds
and experience levels to
submit their work.
BRITISH COLUMBIA
ARTS COUNCIL
An agtwy d the Pravinct ol British Columbia
Canada Council   Conseil des arts
for the Arts du Canada
Visit eventmagazine.ca
  PRISM is contemporary writing
Amanda Baker-Patterson
Billy-Ray Belcourt
Jan Guenther Braun
Gregory Brown
Jenny Mary Brown
Michelle Poirier Brown
Vanessa Carlisle
Hannah Abigail Clarke
Dallas Hunt
Austen Lee
MA\DE
Elizabeth Mitchell
Sachiko Murakami
Lindsay Nixon
Samantha Nock
Lida Nosrati
Spencer Lucas Oakes
Jason Purcell
Trish Salah
jaye Simpson
Matthew
Sanchari Sur
Dizz Tate
Sara Tilley
Arielle Twist
Jack Wang
Tessa Yang
'You dream of more, always keep
a jam wedged, stare at a thing that
isn't there. An exit door is
an open lung
—MA\DE, "A Bad Dream Bent Ends Wet"
7 ' 72006 " 86361' 2
pnsmmagazine.ca
$12

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