Touchy-Feely Map of Canada
Tobacco Lit: An Original Geist Writing Contest
FORGING THE PAST MARGINS OF ERROR HOW TO EVADE DEATH ON TRANSLATING YOUR MOTHER CANADIAN IN PARIS, TEXAS ANATOMICAL WHIZGIGGLE and THE ICEBERG THEORY
FACT + FICTION NORTH OF AMERICA
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B E L I K E T H E J E L LY F I S H • P H A N T O M R I D E W I T H S C H O P E N H AU E R Operation Enduring Freedom • Post-Apocalympic Photography • National Wardrobe
In Review: Maps of Paradise Anatomy of a Girl Gang What Poets Are Like Monkey Soap The Perimeter Dog Immigrant stories Scrooge McDuck stories Franco Moretti Collaborative poetry Instructional poetry
· Number 92 · Spring 2014
Gregory Betts Shall I compare thee to a summer chaos?
P H Y S I CA L AT T R AC T I O N
Katie Huisman You’re the one you want
GETTING IT WRONG
Eve Corbel We’re a lot more likely to be sure than to be right
A N O I S E I N T H E WO R L D
M.A.C. Farrant It was as if someone had stuck a finger in my eye
P O S T- A P O CA LY M P I C
Michał Kozłowski The half-life of Olympic infrastructure
E L E G Y F O R P H OTO G R A P H S N OT TA K E N
Sina Queyras A prize ham, a lost mutt, the game and a glass of beer
published by The Geist Foundation. publisher: Stephen Osborne. senior editor: Mary
first subscriber : Jane Springer. contributing editors : Jordan Abel, Bartosz Barczak,
Schendlinger. editorial group: Michał Kozłowski, assistant publisher; AnnMarie MacKinnon, operations manager. reader services: Jocelyn Kuang. proofreader: Helen Godolphin. fact checker: Sarah Hillier, Sigal Samuel. designer: Eric Uhlich. associate editor: C.E. Coughlan. interns: Jesmine Cham, Leslie Chu, Dylan Gyles, Jennesia Pedri, Roni Simunovic, Andrew Vaughan, Sarah Wong. accountant: Mindy Abramowitz cga. advertising & marketing: Clevers Media. web architects : Metro P ublisher. distribution: Magazines Canada. printed in canada by Transcontinental. managing editor emeritus: Barbara Zatyko.
Kevin Barefoot, Trevor Battye, andrea bennett, Jill Boettger, Brad Cran, Melissa Edwards, Robert Everett-Green, Daniel Francis, Lily Gontard, Michael Hayward, Gillian Jerome, Brian Lam, Jill Mandrake, Becky McEachern, Thad McIlroy, Ross Merriam, Billeh Nickerson, Lauren Ogston, Patty Osborne, Eric Peterson, Dan Post, Leah Rae, Debby Reis, Kris Rothstein, Norbert Ruebsaat, Jane Silcott, Paul Tough, Michelle van der Merwe, Carrie Villeneuve, Kathy Vito. support the geist writers and artists fund: geist.com/wafund
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farrant photograph: michael_swan/flickr; queyras photograph: pietro zuco
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N OT E S & D I S PAT C H E S
Stephen Osborne 7 Phantom Ride with Schopenhauer Karen Connelly 12 Lemon from Sheikh Jarrah Michael Prior 13 Canadian in Paris Rhonda Waterfall 15 Les Joyeux Lémuriens Moez Surani 18 Enduring Freedom Vincent Colistro 19 How to Evade Death FINDINGS
22 On translating your mother Dressing Harper, Trudeau and McClung World War 1 fiction Fake artifacts of the Royal Ontario Museum Frank White becomes officially Canadian Polish-Canadian wedding night Gould, Monk and the Iceberg Theory Staging the Battle of Wasaga Beach Sleeping in Cemeteries Anatomical Whizgiggle Hemingway aficionado stories Blah blah blah… and more COLUMNS
Stephen Henighan Alberto Manguel Daniel Francis
20 52 54
Afterlife of Culture City of Words National Dreams
D E PA RT M E N T S
AnnMarie MacKinnon 4 In Camera Letters 5 Geist staff & correspondents 57 Endnotes The Wall 62 Off the Shelf, Noted Elsewhere Meandricus 63 Puzzle Cassia Streb 64 Caught Mapping
C OV E R D E S I G N : Eric Uhlich C OV E R I M AG E : Veil, from Impressions of Africa, an
exhibition of photography-based, mixed media work by Andre Petterson, shown at the Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver, in early spring 2014. Pettersons’s photograph Top of the World appears on page 37.
C A M E R A
rom the late 1930s to the early 1970s the photographer Jean-Paul Cuerrier worked at Au Lutin Qui Bouffe (roughly translated as the Noshing Elf) in Montreal, taking photos of patrons bottle-feeding and pulling the tail of a beribboned piglet wheeled on a cart from table to table. The souvenir postcards touted Au Lutin as “the Restaurant Famous for the Little Piglet.” Little is known of Cuerrier’s equipment or technique. Most of his photos were anonymous but for a small stamp in the corner of each image. He was known to take as many as 250 photos in a single night. Pictures like the one above, found in an antique store, become parts of “found photography” collections and like most photos in the vernacular, the vacation snapshots,
4 Geist 92 Spring 2014
photo booth strips and class pictures that hide in family albums and shoeboxes in attics, the images are visually banal or at least unintentionally “artistic.” Cuerrier’s “pig photos” have come to form a collectible subgenre of their own. Michel Campeau, another Montreal photographer, has collected more than 200 Au Lutin photographs into a small book called In Almost Every Picture, which he describes as “an ever changing pageant of bracelets, necklaces, hairstyles and human interactions.” Au Lutin Qui Bouffe went out of business in 1972 after a fire destroyed the premises. —AnnMarie MacKinnon
R E A D E R S
W R I T E
can’t agree with the assertions in “Magical Thinking” by Daniel Francis, about recreational canoeing as “Indian masquerade” (Geist 91). I love to canoe recreationally. It allows me to spend time with friends on the water during the short Canadian summer. It is an entirely pleasurable way to enjoy life outside the city, I find, particularly when combined with camping. It does not make me feel Native any more than composting my food scraps makes me feel like David Suzuki. A non-Native wearing Native clothing is a fairly clear, offensive appropriation of a culture. Canoeing is an activity, like hiking or fishing, enjoyed by many yet presumably arbitrarily first practised in Canada by Natives. —Chris MacKenzie, Ottawa Daniel Francis responds: I appreciate that Chris MacKenzie enjoys the pleasures of the outdoor life but, as the books under discussion illustrate, there is nothing “arbitrary” about the fact that the First Nations canoe plays such a central role in the history, iconography and imagination of the country. Read “Magical Thinking” and more from Daniel Francis at geist.com.
hanks to Connie Kuhns for “Signs of Life,” about the demolition of a house that was home to four generations of a family (No. 91). I have a similar sadness about my childhood home. Kuhns’s expression is rich and electric and because of that, the electricity remains. I am sure I will read this piece over and over. And grieve what once was in my place, too. —Pamela Rogers, Vancouver Read more work by Connie Kuhns at geist.com.
Geist is published four times a year by The Geist Foundation. Contents copyright © 2014 The Geist Foundation. All rights reserved.
oetry is a subjective thing. I either “get” a poem or I don’t and, I’m sorry to say, some of those chosen for past issues of Geist weren’t ones I could relate to. Issue 91 is an exception. I liked the poems by Renée Sarojini Saklikar and Evelyn Lau, but Brad Cran’s “Science Fiction” outdoes them all. There were tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading it, and when I got up after and went to the fridge, seeing the snapshot on the door (me with my three-year-old granddaughter on my lap), my eyes filled again. Yes, Brad, parenthood (and grandparenthood) opens our hearts to the world in amazing and frightening ways. Thank you for reminding us of that. —Anne Miles, Gibsons BC Read poetry by Lau, Cran, Saklikar and others at geist.com.
have just come from Mavis Gallant’s funeral in Paris (February 2014), where there were about fifty people in a procession at the Cimetière Montparnasse and a small roadside Catholic service. It had been pouring; the sun came through the quince blooms and barren tree branches. Marilyn Hacker read a John Donne poem, and Mary K. Macleod, Gallant’s literary executor, read some biblical verses. Some of her other friends spoke. The gathered sprinkled holy water on her coffin. The minister read the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer, and exhorted us to kindness. Pallbearers carried Gallant’s coffin to the Péron family caveau and lowered it on ropes. Each of us then dropped in a long-stemmed white rose. I was surprised to see that the casket was perhaps fifteen feet or more down; it knocked the wind out of Letters 5
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me, this deep dark hole, this blond casket with its river of white roses way at the bottom, and I started crying. The cemetery workers struggled to put the lid on the grave, sliding it incrementally over a thick metal rod, with crowbars and fragments of wood, and finally settling it into place. I could not bear this. I’m sure I was not alone in my urge to rescue her, to lift her in my arms and run on swift feet down Boulevard Edgar-Quinet. Do something, do something, I longed to shout, but then it was too late, the lid was firm in its place. A man with a caulking gun sealed Mavis Gallant into the earth. At last, bouquets of flowers were set into place, and Mary K. gave us each a yellow rose to take away. —Jane Eaton Hamilton, Vancouver Read “A Table in Paris,” an appreciation of Mavis Gallant, and other works by Stephen Henighan at geist.com.
6 Geist 92 Spring 2014
ARTISTS IN THIS ISSUE
Photo by Jordan Turner, Ladysmith BC.
write to geist Thoughts, opinions, comments and queries are welcome and encouraged, and should be sent to: G
The Editor, Geist firstname.lastname@example.org Snailmail: #210 – 111 West Hastings St. Vancouver BC v6b 1h4 Letters may be edited for clarity, brevity and decorum. Authors of published letters will receive a Geist map suitable for framing.
William Kass is a photographer best known for his images of miniatures with food and objects used as sets. He lives in Brazil and at wkass.500px.com. Mark Kasumovic is a photographer whose work has been shown in exhibitions across Canada. He is originally from Hamilton. See more of his work at kasumovic.net. Andre Petterson is a multidisciplinary artist who works in photography, paint, steel-based sculpture, and music. He lives in Vancouver. Marjorie Taylor is a psychologist who studies the development of imagination and creativity. She is originally from Nova Scotia and lives and teaches in Oregon. Eric Uhlich, who designs and composes Geist, is an illustrator and graphic designer. He created the artwork for the graphic novel Green Skies and for several shorter comics. Visit him at oktober.ca.
NOTES & DISPATCHES F R O M
T H E
N E W
W O R L D
Phantom Ride with Schopenhauer STEPHEN OSBORNE
Reading Schopenhauer as I rode the bus downtown with my broken cellphone, I felt trouble coming in the Principle of Sufficient Reason
began reading Schopenhauer in February on the same day that my cellphone stopped working. The book was The World As Will and Idea; I found it in the neighbourhood bookstore, on the Philosophy shelf, in the Everyman edition, 2002 printing, a clean copy for $8.95. It seemed to be calling out to me, beckoning, or mocking me, perhaps: offering a rebuke for not having done something important photograph: urgeback
that I had always meant to do, such as reading the works of Schopenhauer, for example, or even more so to have become already someone who knew the works of Schopenhauer, and as I plucked the Schopenhauer from the shelf I couldn’t remember if it was in fact Schopenhauer I had always been meaning to read, or was it Spinoza? Stendhal, perhaps, or Kierkegaard, Husserl, Hegel,
Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, MerleauPonty? Might Schopenhauer stand for all of them, I wondered, my list of the not-yet-read, with their particular vowel arrangements, enjambments, exotic consonantals. The cellphone stopped working in the evening, when I dropped it—or, to put it more precisely, it fell—onto a concrete floor. The back popped off and the battery flew out; I snapped it Notes & Dispatches 7
back together again and switched it on. It seemed to be working; later I tried to send a text, and then a phone call, and each time a terse note on the screen indicated the extent of the damage: failure to connect to network. I began to understand that I was cut off from the world. The Schopenhauer was on the desk; so far I had read the blurb on the cover: “the expression of an insatiable will to life.” In the morning I tried to call the cellphone guy and got failure to connect again before I realized what I was trying to do. I googled him on the computer and saw that he didn’t open until eleven. It was a sunny day, cold in the shade and almost warm in the sun. I decided to walk over to the cellphone place, and as I strode along the sunny side of the street I leafed through The World As Will and Idea and turned finally to the first page of the introduction,
8 Geist 92 Spring 2014
which seemed like a reasonable thing to do while walking in sunlight with no working cellphone. At the cellphone place, the cellphone guy had stuck a note on the door saying that he wouldn’t be opening for another hour; I settled onto a bench at the end of the block, without phone contact but with a view of the door to the shop, and continued reading the introduction to Schopenhauer, whose mother, I learned, had mocked his first book as something written for druggists.
t noon the cellphone guy still hadn’t appeared. I had come to the end of the introduction to Schopenhauer, having covered the biographical summary, the philosophical context, the idea of the Will, the idea of Art, notes on Pessimism and Salvation, yet I felt
unprepared for Schopenhauer himself as I stepped rather gingerly into the first chapter, “The World As Idea,” and I was beginning to fret about the cellphone guy. Half an hour went by, five minutes more, ten minutes; the pages turned slowly; then I felt a movement nearby and looked up: it was the cellphone guy, at last, entering the shop. I followed him in and laid the book face down on the counter. He switched on my cellphone, which he called a smartphone (a term that I cannot bring myself to use, even now, when I know so much more), and when failure to connect flashed on he took the phone into the back for a closer look, but to no avail; he told me that only the Provider could replace the SIM card, and only if that didn’t work could more steps be taken. The nearest Provider was some distance away in the so-called downtown
core: I waited at the bus stop, unable to text the transit auto-reply to see how late the next bus would be; after several more pages of the Schopenhauer, the usual cluster of three buses—latest, later and late—arrived together; I boarded one of them and resumed my reading in a window seat. I could feel trouble coming in the principle of sufficient reason, a phrase that Schopenhauer had used for the title of the book that his mother thought was for druggists, and an understanding of which he was now saying, in Chapter 1, was required of anyone wishing to understand The World As Will and Idea. The downtown Provider, after a wearying and insistently friendly half hour or more, failed to get a new SIM card to work in my cellphone, which he too called a smartphone. By now it was too late to get back to my cellphone guy to see what the further steps that might be taken were likely to be.
hat night I worked my way into Chapter 2 of the Schopenhauer and had to put the book down in despair at ever restoring contact with the world. I had been without a phone for nearly twenty-four hours. By midnight I was scrolling through listings of old movies on the computer looking for some suitable distraction when the phrase “phantom ride” appeared in a YouTube listing of old movies—very old movies from the silent era, in fact, as I discovered when I clicked on the link and my screen opened onto a downtown street divided in two by a track extending into the distance in black and white, and along which moved streams of pedestrians and vehicles, drays, wagons, vans pulled by horses, pedestrians and bicyclists, receding, approaching, crossing and vanishing,
reappearing on sidewalks. The scene continued to open up; there was no beginning, no ending, as the invisible camera advanced along the street and into the scene, which replenished itself continuously from the centre as it vanished from the edges; children waving their hands appeared singly and in groups; boys held up their caps; men in bowler hats and vests strode in and out of view, and men in straw boaters and men in cloth caps; women in long dresses, shirtwaists, collars, ribbons and large flat hats; girls in pinafores, boys in short pants; among the bicycles weaving through the scene were tricycles and tiny horse carts; the men were smoking cigars or pipes. The vista continued to open up as a world swept by at a comfortable walking pace, a world unfolding before me in another dimension, in silence, along a street in Bradford, England, in 1902, a street in Dublin in 1901; “a trip down Market Street in San Francisco 1906” continued for several minutes in an intricate dance of steps and strides and swooping vehicles moving in and out of the frame. Here was the Past in some purified form, a reality inhabited by ghosts. Among the YouTube commenters were several who described breaking into tears as they watched.
took the Schopenhauer with me for two more visits to the cellphone guy and left it open on my desk at Chapter 2 during the intervening period of suspended animation: the prospects for my cellphone were now dire. I continued in short bursts to grapple with the principle of sufficient reason, but returned more often to the Phantom Rides, which drew me repeatedly Notes & Dispatches 9
into a state of easeful melancholy. A Google search revealed several Phantom Ride facts: they were filmed from the fronts of streetcars or locomotives, where the cameraman on his perch turned the crank by hand. All that survives of Phantom Ride footage seems to be the few sequences on YouTube, including a twelve-minute passage through Vancouver in 1907 made by William Harbeck, who is described in his obituary in 1912 as “one of the ablest moving picture men in the world.”
given on the passenger list. She and William Harbeck were observed by Lawrence Beesley, a second-class passenger who escaped in lifeboat No. 13, and who aboard the rescue ship Carpathia began writing his memoir of the disaster as soon as pen and paper could be supplied. In his memories of the voyage he remembered them as “an American kinematograph
hantom Rides were distributed by Hales World Tours, a chain of exhibition parlours named for the fire chief of Kansas City, Missouri, who invented a simulated streetcar that rocked up and down as the film was projected onto the front “window” and a fan blew wind into the faces of the “passengers.” By 1911, Hales World Tours were operating in five hundred cities in North America and Europe. William Harbeck, whose Vancouver footage was discovered in a vault in Australia in 2007, was chief cinematographer of the CPR Department of Colonialism; he filmed several celebrated Phantom Rides through the Rocky Mountains and the Fraser Canyon; in 1912 he drowned in the Atlantic Ocean on his last commission, which was to record the maiden voyage of the Titanic; he was accompanied by his lover, a young woman named Henriette Yvois; their names have been preserved on the Titanic passenger list by aficionados of the Titanic, who record as well that their second-class tickets bore sequential numbers, and that Harbeck’s body was found “clutching” Henriette’s purse. Henriette’s body was never recovered; her address in Paris, near the Tuileries and the Louvre, is 10 Geist 92 Spring 2014
photographer and his young French wife” playing cards in the lounge, and operating the kinematograph from the observation deck. “I never saw them again,” he wrote. The publication of Beesley’s The Loss of the SS Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons, six weeks after the sinking, launched a Titanic publishing industry that has flourished for a century. The first Titanic movie opened exactly thirty days after the disaster; it starred Dorothy Gibson, a young American actress who escaped from the Titanic with her mother in lifeboat No. 7, wearing the evening gown that she later wore in the movie, described by a reviewer as a “heart-stirring tale of the sea’s greatest tragedy.” (A search for Titanic books on Amazon in February yielded 4,545 results; for Titanic movies: 1,143.)
he proprietor of Hales World Tours in Vancouver was J.D. Williams, a Virginian and a promoter of nickel movies and sideshows who moved on
to Australia with “a collection of old films and junk pictures,” among them footage of William Harbeck’s Phantom Ride through Vancouver, and a supply of kewpie dolls; he became the leading showman and movie distributor in the country. In Melbourne in 1911 he took over Luna Park, the grand entrance of which stands as an emblem of Entertainment devouring the world and became known as “the Napoleon of Amusements.” A week after William Harbeck and Henriette Yvois and 1,520 fellow passengers were lost with the Titanic, J.D. Williams was advertising “Moving Pictures of Scenes” on board the rescue ship Carpathia, survivors landing in New York and “the battered Titanic lifeboats.” In 1913 Williams founded the American movie company that became Warner Brothers. He made movies with Charlie Chaplin, Dorothy Gish, Rudolph Valentino and Alfred Hitchcock, among others. In 1930 he took on a Canadian production of The Viking, a romantic adventure story of the Newfoundland sealers filmed at Quidi Vidi and at sea aboard the real-life SS Viking, with live sound. The director, Varick Frissell, went back to sea with his crew to shoot additional footage; an explosion in the hold destroyed the ship, and twenty-seven men, including Frissell and his movie crew, disappeared into the Atlantic.
early a week had gone by when I boarded another late bus and returned to the downtown Provider, where a so-called Solution to my cellphone problem was offered me in the form of a new smartphone and contract in exchange for a signature and a sum of money; the conversation was friendly and again incessant; my good fortune photograph: william kass
was its theme; the undying friendship of the Provider was its message. I went into the street with no idea of who to phone or who to text. I was still unconnected to the world. I returned to the Schopenhauer and skipped ahead to Chapter 3, which the author specified in a subtitle as “independent of the principle of sufficient reason.” In the days following these events my memory of Phantom Rides, gliding forward seamlessly, eternally, in some other dimension, overshadowed the mundane tale of a broken cellphone. I felt that I had seen the Past stripped
of some essential: itself, perhaps. In a word, I had glimpsed the past without the past.
n 1957, Lawrence Beesley, survivor of the Titanic and author of The Loss of the SS Titanic, now seventy-one years old, slipped onto the set of A Night to Remember, one of the great Titanic movies, as the sinking was being filmed, and asked to be included in the scene: to be allowed, this time, to go down with the ship. The director refused. “When we are more than
ordinarily disturbed by some want,” Schopenhauer writes in Chapter 3, “the remembrance of past and distant scenes suddenly flits across our minds like a lost paradise.”
Stephen Osborne is publisher and editorin-chief of Geist. He is also the awardwinning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works—most recently “Secrets of the City” (Geist 91)—many of which can be read at geist.com.
Read more Osborne online The lost art of waving; the strongest man in the world; the eviction of Malcolm Lowry; the lynching of Louie Sam; occupy movements; predicting the future; the coincidence problem; saving the day Glenn Gould-style in a Pathfinder Deluxe; illicit fascinations with feckless bureaucrats and many more at geist.com.
Read Geist at
Notes & Dispatches 11
F R U I T S
L A B O U R
Lemon from Sheikh Jarrah K A R E N C O N N E L LY
The security person ran her hands over the lemon. It was smooth; it had not been filled with explosives
ear Amal al Qasem, you gave me a lemon from the trees that have gone wild in your garden. Thank you. You were apologetic as you pulled the fruit off the tree, and explained that you have been too busy to prune the branches or even collect the fruit. There was a broad scattering, like polished gold coins in the grass and weeds, dozens of bright lemons fallen to the ground. “It’s so much work,” you said, “taking care of a garden, watering it, loving the trees, and my parents used to do it before. Now I have so much work to do myself and, of course, my husband is not here to help me. I also have the children to take care of. I am so busy.” You showed me how busy you are. “This is just one stack of papers, to show you, I cannot bring them all out, there are many boxes.” The boxes are 12 Geist 92 Spring 2014
filled with files on the house, copies of bills going back for years, copies of your children’s school records to prove your residency, copies of everything to show your legal entitlement to this house, the house that was built by your father and his brothers, whose terrace was bombed in 1967. The authorities dispute your ownership of this house. And the work of your life, now, is to wage a legal fight against them. My time with you and your colleagues, in the little carport outside your house that has been converted into a meeting place, a carpet on the floor and posters on the wall, was the longest sustained conversation I had with Palestinian women. I talked with others, too, but I spent hours in your house, learning, listening, asking questions.
When I arrived in Jerusalem, an administrator for the American university that sponsored my trip gave me my itinerary for the week. It annoyed me immediately, though I wasn’t surprised. I would barely have a chance to talk to Palestinian women. There would be a moment to chat with some dancers after a recital and there would be my longer meeting with you in Sheikh Jarrah. But by and large, the meetings were with men: filmmakers, writers, musicians, politicians. I could only shake my head. To all of the men I met, I put the same questions: Where were the women? Did they think to invite any woman to this soiree or that, a female writer, a filmmaker, a musician? Some of them would give excuses or explanations, but often they looked at me blankly. It’s something I’ve observed often. I talk about it with Canadian women all the time. Men’s names are predominant in the mastheads and lists of contributors in newspapers and big magazines. The heads of this university department or that are men. The same is true of our parliament and major political organizations. When it comes to the public arena, men still do a lot of the talking. “That is what I am trying to do with my friends here,” you said. “I am trying to teach them that they can speak. God gave them a voice, and it is their responsibility to use it.” So you run small seminars in public speaking, you help other women learn how to navigate the legal system, the banks. The women you were referring to sat in a row, smiling shyly and sipping their bright orange drinks. You were the only woman among your colleagues who spoke English, but clearly they wanted to talk, too. I asked a few questions; you translated for us, back and forth. Your elevenyear-old daughter came in and said hello, offering more to drink. She was not the least bit shy; she tried out her English on us, showed us a poster she
had drawn and put up on the wall: Palestine. We will never leave our home. You have already been served notice of eviction. Your great fear, you say, is that your daughter will be alone in the house when the soldiers come. The security forces could arrive at any time. Your meticulous records, the electricity and water bills, receipts for decades of paid taxes, the children’s papers, your proofs of residence and belonging, none of this will be enough to fend off the men who come armed with their orders. And their weapons. The house is marked. You and your family are marked. Your brother died in prison, a leader in the Palestinian cause. Your husband lives on the West Bank. Two children and twenty years later, you and your husband have never lived together because he is not allowed to come into the Holy City. He cannot visit Jerusalem. Every weekend, you go to the West Bank with your kids to see your husband, their father. The soldiers could arrive while you are out. They will come whenever they want, at a decreed moment to which you are not privy, and they will say, “We are moving the furniture right now, you must leave now.” They will walk into the house and put their hands on your possessions, your clothes, the accumulation of your family’s lives, your daughter’s clothes and toys, your son’s computer. They will come in and carry it out until everything you and your family own is in the street.
he Occupied Territories are everywhere, not just on the west bank of the Jordan River, not just in Gaza and Ramallah. The family homes are occupied, the gardens, too. The site of the war is your kitchen, the earth where your lemon tree grows. Your neighbours across the street have been kicked out of their house; a yeshiva full of teenage boys is there now. The Arab family, in protest, are
P I L G R I M A G E
Canadian in Paris MICHAEL PRIOR
Texas, that is; where I hung up my hat, bought two sweating sodas from the “howdy pardner” at the counter, and retreated to my room. Bullwhips and bullshit in every bar. The West is a long way from being won, but nobody’s in any hurry to get there. I prefer Paris, Ontario, which looks a little like the Paris I was thinking of when I stepped out this morning for a cigarette which I never had, because I don’t smoke, but sometimes you still have to step out for one. Texas looks steeped in sepia today; the city is a game of pick-up sticks played over a poster for John Wayne’s last film—the one where he could barely ride. I grew up with a poster of John Wayne in my father’s shop, but even then I knew his swagger was just a revolver shooting blanks. One day I’ll bring my father to Paris, Texas, let him know even John Wayne had to use a cane after his fall in The Undefeated. No shame in that. Joan Crawford said it best after Reunion in France flopped, one tepid mise-en-scène after another: “Get John out of the saddle and you’ve got trouble.” Michael Prior’s poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Carousel, CV2, Malahat Review, Moth Magazine and Prism International. He was the winner of Vallum’s 2013 Poetry Prize and Magma’s 2013 Editors’ Prize. He is from Vancouver and currently lives in Toronto.
living in their former garden. Their large tent stands beside the Jewish school for boys that was once their home. Your description of the Israeli government’s obsession with identification, documentation, race and origin begins to sound eerily familiar. Who is your mother, your father, where
were you born, what do you own, how did you come to own it, why do you think you have a right to move, to get through this gate, to send your child to school, to come into this neighbourhood, even if you were born here? We went for a short walk. From the hill at the end of your street, the Israeli West Bank barrier, “the wall,” Notes & Dispatches 13
was visible. You said, “Oh, yes, that. It is visible at any high point in Jerusalem.” You waved your arm around at the houses, the hills. “But here is also the wall. I live with the wall on top of me. They want us to leave and I will just keep fighting to stay.” “Why do the Israeli authorities want you to leave?” “Because they say this site is close to a Jewish holy site. A cave. For years there is nothing in this cave but dogs and garbage and teenage boys having adventures, but now it is a Jewish holy site and all the Arabs have to go. Of course it has nothing to do with the cave. It is for the settlers to move in. Look, they are already here.” The house beside your house is inhabited by Jews from Eastern Europe who do not speak any language you speak: neither Hebrew, nor Arabic, nor English. Communication is almost impossible. They have put a giant menorah on the roof; it lights up every night.
ear Amal al Qasem, when I left Israel, the security people at Ben Gurion Airport took my bags apart. They said their sensors had detected something suspicious. I was carrying nothing untoward with me, nothing dangerous. I watched as the young women pulled everything out of my three pieces of luggage. All scattered on the tables, clattering, sliding, exposed. The security people huddled and conferred. They probed my toothpaste with a metal skewer, opened pill bottles, face cream, shook out my dirty laundry, asked me about the missing button on my keyboard. “Who took this button off your computer?” It fell off; it broke. “When?” Several years ago. It kept falling off. I just threw it away. “But not here, not while you were in Israel.” No. I was here for just over a week. “Are you sure?” That I was here only for just over a week? “No, that this button 14 Geist 92 Spring 2014
came off before you arrived.” Yes, it was broken. They huddled, conferred some more. A different young woman looked through my things. She picked up the lemon. “Where did you get this lemon?” I thought: that lemon is a Palestinian lemon from the house of an Arab Jerusalemite who is justifiably angry at the Israeli administration. It is a
seditious lemon. It is full of the sun of Jerusalem. I said, “I bought that lemon from a street vendor in Old Jerusalem.” The security person ran her hands over the lemon; she looked at it closely. It was smooth; it had not been filled with explosives. She left it in the pile of my underwear. I asked, “What is it like, this job?” She looked up to see if I was joking or making fun of her, but I was just asking a question. “It’s a job. But, you know, it gets into everything. Into the rest of your life. It’s stressful.” This answer both satisfied and dissatisfied me; it was an honest answer, but it made me more impatient than I already was. I wanted to say to her: Try being Amal al Qasem. Try that level of stress for the rest of your life. Try being evicted from the house you grew up in. I looked at my watch. Would I miss my plane and my connecting flight to north Africa? I have missed a lot of planes in my life. Though never for this reason. I was in a small room now, with a different woman, not so pretty,
more gruff. She had more experience, more years. Her hands were under my armpits. My trousers were on a hook on the wall. I was standing in my underwear. She put her hands on my breasts. Around. Lifting. Against my will? I had no choice, obviously. No one said, “If you refuse,” and offered me an alternative to the strip search. I am a practical person. This was, for me, a minor outrage in my blessed life. I was still hoping to catch my plane. I thought of the hours of your life, Amal, the hours you have spent being searched. The checkpoint and your husband waiting for hours on the other side. Stopped, held up. Questioned about the cheese, the bag of almonds, the olives. The car taken apart. The soldiers are often rude, brutish, emptying out the back seat, the trunk. They confiscate your son’s homework and rip out a few pages for no reason. He cries. Sometimes you see other people, often young men, being harassed, or beaten. But it is best to say nothing, best not to defend them, because when others intrude, the situation often worsens for everyone. There are thousands of young Palestinian men in Israeli jails because of checkpoint skirmishes, arguments, unproven crimes. The stern woman put her hands into my thin hair, scratched around. She asked me to bend over, touch my knees. I thought of you, Amal. Your daughter. Your neighbours. The search as a way of life, part of life’s daily possibilities. And I thought of that lemon. If they don’t take it, I will carry it with me and I will eat that whole lemon in the next country, swallow all the sour juice of Jerusalem. The agent told me to stand up straight. Her face was unreadable. But I tried to read it. As she searched my body, I searched her face. I looked at her nose, her eyelashes (no mascara). Her full mouth was held in, the lips photograph: karen connelly
tight. Her eyebrows and forehead were wrinkled up, twisted. She would not meet my eyes.
P E R E G R I N A T I O N S
Les Joyeux Lémuriens
nly days later, in north Africa, did I realize that a few things were missing from my bags. The security people had taken my business cards and the case I carried them in. They had also confiscated the notes I took during our conversation. Your name, Amal al Qasem, your story, your witty asides, your email address. Your husband’s name, and your daughter’s. The notes from our visit are the only ones that were missing. That is why I am writing you now, to remind myself of what we talked about, to remind myself that I met you and the women you work with, who are learning how to raise their voices in a world that prefers them to shut up. You told us that they kept a file on you already, they keep one on every Arab Israeli. It angers me that my handwriting has been added to that paperwork. Dear Amal, I don’t know how you and the other women we met in your courtyard do it. I don’t know how you manage, day after day, year after year, fighting to stay where they do not want you to stay. I remember our last exchange, before saying goodbye. “Do you ever think of just...” I hesitated to ask, for fear of insulting you, but asked anyway, “leaving?” A bitter laugh came from your mouth. “Why would I leave Jerusalem? This is the Holy City, the city you have come across the world to visit. Millions of people come here to pray, to touch this earth. I was born here, in Jerusalem. Why would I leave this place that I love? Why would I abandon my home?” Karen Connelly is the author of awardwinning poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including, most recently, Come Cold River. She lives in Toronto and at karenconnelly.ca. Read more of her work at geist.com. photograph: rhonda waterfall
R H O N DA WAT E R FA L L
“Thank Christ,” says Dieter when I finally wake up. “I thought you were dead.”
t Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg I’m waiting to board a flight to Madagascar, known for its unique wildlife, when I am approached by a lanky guy with spiked blond hair who asks if I’m a botanist. No, I say. I tell him that I am travelling alone and hope that he catches in my tone that I would like to keep it that way. He brandishes a map of our destination that he has pulled from his backpack and with great enthusiasm shows me his planned route. He says his name is Dieter and he’s from Austria. On the plane I am relieved to find we are seated well apart. Outside arrivals at Ivato International I’m swarmed by tour guides and taxi drivers shouting in French and German, neither of which I know with any proficiency. Dieter appears at my side and, in French, negotiates our safe and fairly priced transport into Antananarivo. We pass miles of rice paddies before we reach the city and the Hôtel Lambert, near the top of the Analakely Steps, where street children pick lice out of each other’s matted hair and beg for food. I accept that I have an unexpected travel partner and we spend the day
exploring Antananarivo. We go to the zoo, where a self-appointed guide leads us around the grounds. He offers to lean into the crocodile compound and hit one of the large crocs with a stick in order to give us more exciting pictures. We decline and ask him to put the stick down. We tour the Palais de la Reine and try to avoid the large orb spiders and their webs that coat every surface. Over dinner we decide to strike out for Rahohira, about 680 kilometres away, and hike into Isalo National Park. We drive for two days in a dodgy Peugeot that repeatedly breaks down, and finally arrive at a scattering of tumble-down buildings on an arid stretch of dirt road. My Lonely Planet guide suggests the pleasant and homely Hôtel Les Joyeux Lémuriens: “There is no electricity or running water but the friendly owners will do everything in their power to keep one comfortable. Toilets are primitive but spotless; bucket baths are available on request… The only demerit is for the dejected captive ring-tailed lemur tethered on a very short lead near the toilets.” The proprietor is excited to see us and hurries us into the shade of Notes & Dispatches 15
the reception area, where Dieter barters for our accommodations. We are guided to an airy room with two beds dressed in bleached linens. I toss my backpack on a bed and pull out clothes that have hardened with a combination of sweat and red Malagasy earth. On the verandah we drink orange Fanta and I sort through a stack of magazines, most of them in French and more than twenty years old. I flip through them anyway, desperate for anything to read other than my Lonely Planet. After a blazing red sunset fades into night we turn in for the evening. We head out early the next morning across the still sleepy town to a trailhead marked by a post with a wooden board nailed to it. The trail takes us across farmers’ fields and past a stream with lush mango trees growing along its banks. Dieter shakes a tree and mangoes plummet into the water, disturbing the still surface. We take a few mangoes for the journey. By late morning we are wading
through rice paddies. I try to balance on the thin ridges of earth that have been built above the waterline, but they crumble under my weight and I slide into the water. All I can think about is parasites. I’m relieved when we hit dry ground. We arrive at a rock face, the entrance to the Canyon des Singes. Our packs rub against the rock walls as we make our way through the narrow passageway. The path eventually widens and we come to a place with a pool of water and a few trees. We set out a picnic and eat crackers with cheese and mango. There are voices up ahead and soon we are joined by a German man and two tall blonde women wearing short shorts. Behind them are two Malagasy guides loaded down with backpacks. The German man greets us with a loud hello and slips into a boisterous conversation with Dieter. The women continue on, their laughter bouncing off the canyon walls. Dieter tells me they camped
overnight in the park and that the end of the trail is not far away. When we walk out of the canyon, the view opens up over the Kelihorombe Plateau. We take pictures of each other on the rock ledge and beside giant aloe like mighty explorers. After examining colourful patches of lichen on the rocks we decide to head back. Thirsty and tired, we arrive back in Ranohira and go straight to the verandah of a café and order CocaCola, which we guzzle without taking a breath. Two children, a boy and a girl, call out madame, madame, and poke yellow and white frangipani flowers through the wood latticework for us. The scent is delicious. I take the flowers and order them each a glass bottle of Coca-Cola, and they slurp it through white straws. Dieter and the proprietor of the café start to argue in French. When she walks away I ask him what was going on. He tells me that she is angry I gave the children the bottles, because they will
GEIST Fa c t + Fi c t i o n • N o r t h o f A m e r i c a
photo by David Campion in Geist 53
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steal them and she will not get the deposit back. We leave an ample tip. The German and his female friends are also staying at the Hôtel Les Joyeux Lémuriens. They invite Dieter and me to join them at their table for dinner. They drink Three Horses beer and feast on prawns. Exhausted from the day and not feeling well, I excuse myself and go to my room. From bed I can hear the barking laughter of the German. I am glad I cannot understand the language and fall asleep. In the morning, I buy a bucket of cold water and head out across the yard. Everything in my vision turns bright like an overexposed photograph and I stop until my surroundings come back into focus. I set the bucket down where wood-slat dividers have been arranged for privacy. My knees buckle and I reach out for something to hold onto. When I regain consciousness I’m in bed, wrapped in sheets and surrounded by people. Commands are being
called out in French and Malagasy. An elderly woman wipes my face with a cool, wet cloth. Another woman with a long braid of black hair gets everyone to step aside. She holds up a syringe. No needles, I try to say but my tongue and lips won’t obey. My arms are useless. Dieter jumps in and there is an argument with the woman and then everything goes black again. I dream I am a child at home and my mom brings me cubes of watermelon. I wake alone and in complete darkness, my mouth dry. All I want is watermelon. I try to move but it’s too exhausting and I slip back into sleep. At times I open my eyes and people are in the room. Other times I am by myself. I wake again and the room is filled with daylight. A dish of cubed watermelon sits on the bedside table. I am so happy I want to cry. I try to sit up and Dieter walks in. “Thank Christ,” he says. “I thought you were dead.” He tells me the owner has been
tending to me and that I have been unconscious for two days. I ask if they gave me needles and Dieter tells me that the village nurse came to give me a shot but he refused to let her. “I’m allergic to penicillin,” I tell him. He sits on the edge of the bed, picks up the dish of watermelon, stabs a cube with the fork and holds it up for me to eat. I take a few small bites and then rest. A few days later Dieter and I part ways. He’s going back to Antananarivo to catch a flight for the Seychelles Islands. I am continuing south. He tells me he will send me some of the photographs he has been taking, but I never hear from him again.
Rhonda Waterfall is the author of The Only Thing I Have, a collection of short stories published by Arsenal Pulp Press. She lives in Vancouver.
Paper Hound Bookshop 344 West Pender St. Vancouver, BC 604 428 1344 paperhound.tumblr.com A browser’s delight, just up from Victory Square, opposite Finch’s. That place you keep meaning to check out.
Notes & Dispatches 17
L E X I C O N
Enduring Freedom MOEZ SURANI
Selections from عمليةOperación Operation Opération 作业 Oперация (“operation” in each official United Nations language), a poem by Moez Surani consisting of the names of military operations carried out by UN member states. The poem spans 193 countries and 69 years, and in March 2014 contained the names of more than 2,300 operations. Surani intends to engrave the poem onto a monument to be donated to the UN, with room left for future entries. The operations listed here took place between 2000 and 2009.
New Horizons Essential Harvest Noble Eagle Kratos Infinite Justice Enduring Freedom Green Quest Sirius Crescent Wind Veritas Parakram/Valor Teyvat Noah/Noah’s Ark Derekh Nehosha/Determined Path Safe Commerce Bastille Antica Babilonia/Ancient Babylon Tapeworm All American Tiger Red Dawn Santa Strike Clothes for Kids Wolverine Feast Secure Tomorrow Wolfpack Crunch Arrrowhead Strike 10 Student to Student Diyala Border Police Audit Phantom Linebacker Tombstone Piledriver Flashman Mayfield III Cobra Sweep
Tiger Care Vanguard Thunder Cajun Mousetrap III Iron Fury Showdown Wolverine Grizzly Forced Entry Black Typhoon Yimy Tshovh/Days of Penitence Iolaus Wolfhound Fury Bulldog Centaur Strike II Centaur Strike III Mandarin Squeeze Mustang Socko Tiger Club Crayon Tiger Fury Duke Fury Al Fajr/New Dawn Phantom Fury Wolfhound Power Wolfhound Jab Rock Bottom Falcon Freedom Soprano Sunset Iraqi Children Backbreaker Lion Cub Unified Assistance Madad/Help Therapist Checkmate
Centaur Showdown Unforgiven Swashbuckle Yad l’Achim/Giving Brothers a Hand Murambatsvina/Drive Out Rubbish/Restore Order Scrimmage Vigilance Clear Decision Block Party II Mongoose Dragons Breath Squeeze Play Souk/New Market Moon River Dragon San Juan Romhe/Spear White Shield Khanjar/Dagger al Azil al Sitrateegi/Strategic Separation Red Wings Diablo Reach Back Shadyville Site Down Jolly Roger Demon Digger Firework Fanfare Warrior’s Rage Whalers Quick Strike Able Warrior Restoring Rights
Moez Surani has won numerous writing awards, including a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, the Kingston Literary Award and a poetry prize from the Antigonish Review. He is the author of the poetry collections Reticent Bodies and Floating Life. He lives in Toronto. 18 Geist 92 Spring 2014
A T H A N A S I A
How to Evade Death V I N C E N T C O L I S T RO
Trying in my own way to become immortal, I searched “Death” on Wikipedia, and found that the only species able to evade it is the jellyfish. As the jellyfish deteriorates, its old cells revert to a polyp state of infancy, through trans-differentiation. Isn’t this like the idea, too? The idea, in our literature, that a single word is defined by a series of words, each of them defining themselves by a series of words—one large fuse box of screwy wires firing themselves alive to make each other alive. The incest that goes on inside a grammar dements it, evolves it inward. The inner flux of a Shakespeare crashes wildly to us, like squalls on a movie set, so real they’re real. Would that we were the word made flesh, the Logos made Logical, so even in the moment of death, even when our eyes roll back like an alligator’s to evaluate the inside parts, even when our muscles lack the definition that one time helped them pick up this rascal pen and write this idea, which now rolls back like the moon in wane, night doubling, we could refigure ourselves for an inverse function, the stuff that defines another body’s life.1
1 Would that we were the waning ones, our screwy wires might guarantee us time to pick up this pen and write this idea somewhere: it’s it because it exists. In our rascal literature, the likelihood of a deteriorating Logos, the idea that one word is defined by another word’s infancy, the idea of a grammar showing up at my door at night like, say, an alligator, to evaluate the inside parts of it, would be equivalent to the jellyfish expressing its own Shakespeare. I searched “Immortal” on Wikipedia, trying in my own way to become death, but found only a demented movie set, with fuse-box polyps and an inner squall. I found that through transdifferentiation, the word made flux, even our muscles, doubling themselves in incest, can refigure themselves. Even in the moment of death, even when our eyes roll back like the earth rolling back like the moon in wane, this set of equivalents, evading its flesh, firing itself alive, reverts to another value—the stuff, maybe, that a life defines.
Vincent Colistro’s poetry has been published in Walrus, Grain, CV2, Malahat Review and Arc. He lives in Toronto.
Notes & Dispatches 19
A F T E R L I F E
C U L T U R E
Fighting Words STEPHEN HENIGHAN
A look back at World War I as the first great twentieth-century pollution of language
ruth, the British politician Philip Snowden wrote in 1916, is the first casualty of war. This line is often attributed by mistake to the classical Greek playwright Aeschylus, or to an obscure US senator, Hiram Johnson, who may have used the phrase in a speech two years after Snowden published it in his introduction to a book called Truth and the War by E.D. Morel. Foreign intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has revived this theme, yet the insight’s resonance runs deeper than a mere critique of politicians who inveigle young people into sacrificing their lives, or persuade us that our side is winning when we are losing or stuck in a quagmire. The corruption of language caused by wartime propaganda infects every realm of society. In this centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, as we seek to remember a conflagration that created the modern world yet is now beyond living memory, one way to look back on the war is as the first great twentieth-century pollution of language. Recollections of war shade from the personal to the official. When a war is far in the past, the official realm has free rein to tailor historical events to present-day political ambitions. This was evident in the Harper government’s presentation of the War of 1812 on its bicentenary as the first flexing of a warrior nation’s muscle. Aside from historians, no one alive was in a position to refute the 20 Geist 92 Spring 2014
government’s depiction of this contradictory conflict as an event that unified Canadians around an ideology of military service. Propaganda about Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, by con-
trast, can be rebutted by those who suffered from, fought in or reported on these wars; even the Second World War remains in living memory, in the childhood experiences of people now in their seventies or older. The First World War is more problematic. It is the nearest major historical event that we can no longer remember. Canada was not exempt from the war’s debasement of language. Prime Minister Robert Borden’s jingoistic rhetoric divided the country, alienating Quebec and causing the most serious national unity crisis since Confederation. More than 60,000 Canadians died in the 1914−18 conflict, a staggering figure if one considers that the country’s population at the time was 7.9 million people. To have experienced an equivalent impact in Vietnam, for example, the United States,
with a population that was then about 215 million, would have had to lose more than 1.6 million soldiers. (In fact, the US casualty toll was 58,000.) For Canada, the traumatic 1914−18 war was not a coming of age, but a prolongation of surly adolescence. By the end of the war, a generation of young men had died, a divisive election and chauvinistic policies had cleansed government and the officer corps of Frenchspeaking Canadians, and Canadians born in “enemy countries” had lost the right to vote (Canadian women gained the vote, but only if they were related to a serving soldier). Yet collective definitions of an event’s importance lose their potency unless we can also make a personal connection. In my own case, I am reduced to trying to remember anecdotes told to me in childhood by my grandparents’ generation. My biological grand fathers were too young to serve in this war; my step-grandfather, though, did serve. He survived because he was not sent into the trenches in France. A lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he learned to ride at a military base in Colchester and was dispatched to the Middle East, where the mortality rate was lower than in Europe. My step-grandfather spoke of joining the cavalry in Syria, of being a patient in a military hospital where he was fed “weevil biscuits,” and later working in the boiler room of a vessel on the Suez Canal. In a similar vein, family
history recounts that my maternal grandfather’s older brother Norman, a youth of nineteen, flew a Sopwith Pup in France in 1918. Recalled to England for advanced pilot’s training, he went into a spin during an exercise, crashed and died in hospital. My great-uncle was a casualty of the First World War, if not one who died on the battlefield. Tantalizing though they may be, these morsels don’t tell me what I need to know about the war’s impact on those who survived it. I’ve gained a fuller understanding in literary responses to wartime language. Bombastic propaganda flowed from all sides in 1914. Writers who survived the war tried to resuscitate its first casualty by employing a language capable of defying the wartime culture of distortion. One of the most revealing examples of this effort is Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s magnificent novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932). Céline, whose
disenchantment later crossed the line into anti-Semitism and support for fascism, makes his narrator, Bardamu, speak with uncompromising directness. Imbued in the natural world of the countryside, Bardamu is incapable of linguistic subterfuge; his frankness demolishes France’s patriotic pretensions. In one scene he addresses his commanding officer in a parody of official jargon; he later tells the reader that a soldier must choose between lies and death. The stain on Céline’s later life does not detract from the enduring value of this novel’s spirited demolition of a public sphere debased by propaganda. Where Céline repels lies with sardonic verbosity, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) retreats from slogans by reducing language to hard-won essentials. Rereading this novel two years ago, I found the shadow of the First World War hanging over its pages even more ominously than I remembered. When
Hemingway’s novel is approached in this light, the central characters’ flight to Spain becomes a pilgrimage to a country that had remained untouched by the war and its linguistic decadence. The pared-down descriptions of fishing and bullfighting, like the characters’ suppression of their physical and emotional scars, act out a refusal to perpetuate bloated wartime diction. By the end of both of these novels, the First World War’s residue of propaganda gives birth to fresh uses of language which, in their hostility to cant, prove to be the conflict’s truest legacy. Stephen Henighan’s most recent books are Sandino’s Nation: Ernesto Cardenal and Sergio Ramírez Writing Nicaragua, 1940−2012 (McGill-Queen’s, 2014) and his translation of the Angolan writer Ondjaki’s novel Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret (Biblioasis, 2014). Read more of his work at geist.com and stephenhenighan.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHenighan.
Afterlife of Culture 21
Battle of Wasaga Beach was exhibited as part of 1812–2012: A Contemporary Perspective at Harbourfront Centre from April to July 2012. Mark Kasumovic is a photo and video artist. He lives in Toronto.
Death in the Afternoon WA N DA C A M P B E L L
From Hat Girl. Published by Signature Editions in 2013. Wanda Campbell’s work has appeared in Antigonish Review, New Quarterly, Room, Fiddlehead and many others. She lives in Wolfville, NS. The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after. —Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
22 Geist 92 Spring 2014
am no stranger to death. After all, I am a Hemingway aficionado. I have taken courses on books he wrote, wars he fought, languages he spoke, art he admired, and I chose to be a journalist like he was. In the old days, you could get a job at the Toronto Star by sitting on a rusty radiator and telling exaggerated war stories in which you were the hero until someone took notice. It didn’t hurt either if the
head of the Canadian chain of Woolworth’s department stores, who spent lots of money on newspaper advertising and whose crippled son you had been hired to turn into a man, put in a good word for you. At least that’s how Hemingway did it. Then he proceeded to write articles about ether, war, canoeing, and how the pollution in Toronto was bad enough to kill trees. That was 1923. Nowadays, of course, to be a journalist it helps to have education and experience, so I completed my degree in journalism from Ryerson while keeping body and soul together working as a cook at a restaurant called Carnivores that specializes in
steaks, burgers, and wings. Experience is harder to come by. I did cover a Brownie Fly-Up for the Ingersoll Times one summer. “Get lots of pictures,” the editor told me, repeating the golden rule of small-town reporting. “People like to see themselves.” The Brownie leader said, “This is the last Fly-Up we’ll have. Now it’s not considered fair that the girls who earned badges get to fly up while the others have to walk up. Now everybody goes up to Guides together.” I arranged the Brownies for a group photo, asking them to flap their arms as if they were flying. The picture appeared in the Saturday paper under the headline “Winging into History.”
I can also say that, technically, I have written for the Globe and Mail. One of my salad dressing recipes appeared under “Creature Comforts” and I wrote a piece in defence of Hemingway that appeared in the “Facts and Arguments” section. In it I quoted Hemingway’s bit about what newspapermen keep in their pockets. A cub reporter’s pockets, he wrote, contain letters from his best girl, a street directory, stamps, receipts, a cigarette case he thought was silver, and, of course, clippings of articles he himself has written. When the police find a dead body with a pocket full of clippings, they know it is either a cub reporter or an actor. As reporters never die, it is always an actor.
I chose to study in Toronto in the first place because it was the only Canadian city where Hemingway spent any time. Throughout my four years at Ryerson, I took comfort in visiting the places Hemingway had lived. There was the Connable mansion at 153 Lyndhurst that had been at the northern edge of the city in 1920, but was now in the heart of it. It is still a graceful structure with its balconies, and arched windows and dormers, though it has been turned into upscale condominiums. I suspect the music room, the wine cellar, the skating rink, and the stables have all disappeared. Gone the glory. And then there were the far less glamorous lodgings on Findings 23
Shelburne and Bathurst Streets where Hemingway lived with his first wife Hadley. The Bathurst Street apartment was so tiny it didn’t hold much more than a Murphy bed, but had a view that redeemed it for Hemingway. Beyond the ravine you can see the open country. Now there is no open country left in Toronto, as far as I can tell. At some point the city started to worry me. I felt like I was inside a human body, the kind you see in old
biology textbooks or encyclopaedias with the clear overlays showing the various systems moving over and under one another. The vascular system is transportation carrying a flow of life, a surging plasma of subways below and traffic above, red tramcars hurtling along like platelets. The nervous system is all the voices and digital information zipping through wires and cables and the air itself. Everywhere this intense buzz of process
Blah blah blah… S E A N J O H N S TO N
From Listen All You Bullets. Published by Gaspereau Press in 2013. Sean Johnston is the author of The Ditch Was Lit Like This (Thistledown, 2011), and his book A Day Does Not Go By won the 2003 ReLit Award for short fiction. He co-edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations and lives in Kelowna, BC.
hen he was six she never vacuumed the boy thought the boy thought a lot of things when he was a boy. And knew that some of them were wrong. The boy was over a century old now. The boy was not getting any larger. His height this height forever. If she had vacuumed once or twice when she was younger. If she had kept the house clean. If he could have thought the right things during the noise of the vacuum... he would still be sitting here, working his tiny fingers to the bone, as they say, smoking his father’s best tobacco while the bookseller looked in that pile of books, looked for the names of plants, of legislation, of heroes, etc. This killing bored him. He wanted to come unstuck, grow an inch or two. Instead he pushed his glasses up closer to his face and went to gas up the wood chipper.
GEIST ALERT Google Alert results for “ Geist.”
24 Geist 92 Spring 2014
—You stay there, Dave, and look for a book about this abandoned boy stuck in his own awful book. Look up the theory there in 2010, figure something out. I want out. There is something else I noticed that is true. By this part of the story, they should likely be closer to me, now, Billy said. What if you’re not the hero? Yes, he said, yes. What if I’m not? And he stared at me like I was an idiot. Someone else could be, I said. Listen: and I read from a book. Blah blah blah, hero, blah blah blah, horse... but Billy didn’t listen. ‘The hero sauntered over to the coolest, driest part of the barn,’ Billy said, ‘sauntering over to the coolest, driest part of the barn.’ He sauntered over to the coolest, driest part of the barn. ‘Hang on,’ I told him. ‘Let’s start again from somewhere else.’
and mitosis. The CN Tower is like a giant needle penetrating the skin of the city and injecting it full of adrenaline, or some drug that speeds everything up, making the heart of the city beat faster and harder, fierce fluids rushing at a fever pace. I had to walk through the U of T campus to get to Ryerson and had discovered a few quiet places like the campus chapels, or the cloisters at University College where the monastic stone arches echo with quiet, a soothing balm against the singe and hum of the traffic. But even there, more often than not, someone would be in the quadrangle doing performance art or tai chi or just talking. I also liked to wander in the Allan Gardens, especially through the old style conservatories where great green fronds press against a glass ceiling that keeps them from the sky. Everywhere in Toronto the green is contained. Even the trees in Queen’s Park wear asphalt leg irons. There is a man in a kilt who plays the bagpipes in the park sometimes in the evening, but the plaintive sound of the pipes cannot compete with the roar of the city. When I walked there, I noticed how the pigeons defecate on the bronze shoulders of famous men, and found myself looking carefully at the bushes, as if one of them might be burning. Hoping for guidance, I kept Hemingway’s book on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, on my bedside table like a bible. I wrote down his descriptions of various bullfighting manoeuvres from the glossary on recipe cards and posted them around my apartment for inspiration. By the door: Ver llegar: to watch them come; the ability to watch the bull come as he charges, with no thought except to calmly see what he is doing and make the moves necessary to the manoeuvre you have in mind. To calmly watch the bull come is
am i crazy or did geist have nudity?: Well I was already going to play my copy of Geist later this year. Now I got more to look forward (under) to. striking images: The 27 matchboxes photographed in Margot
the most necessary and primarily difficult thing in bullfighting. Next to the bathroom mirror: Natural: pass made with the muleta held low in the left hand, the man citing the bull from in front… It is the fundamental pass of bullfighting, the simplest, capable of greatest purity of line and the most dangerous to make. Ernest Hemingway is like Elvis Presley. Even people who have never owned a single album of his can sing a bar or two, have some notion of his life and how it ended. The same with Hemingway. People who have never read one of his books know about his safaris, his suicide, his old man and the sea. They have probably seen that famous Karsh photo. They are full of questions. And I respond, “Yes, he really did survive innumerable woundings, five wars, four marriages, three safaris, two plane crashes, and one revolution.” No wonder Hemingway talked a lot about death. Death in the morning. Death in the afternoon. How “amazing” it was that the human body does not explode along anatomical lines, or how the unburied dead change from white to yellow, to yellow-green, to black growing slowly larger like a balloon, and how a man’s head could be broken like a flower pot. Hemingway claimed there were very few people who could look at death without blinking. All through high school I saved up to head off to Europe to see the places Hemingway loved: Paris and Madrid, Pamplona and Milan. I didn’t stick around for prom or graduation, heading off the moment I was done exams. I actually made it as far as Pearson Airport. I had gone through security and was ready to walk down one of those passageways that reach out from the terminal toward the waiting plane like octopus tentacles when I heard my name on the intercom. I
set down my backpack with the maple leaf sewn on it, and took the phone they handed to me at the boarding gate. It was my mother, June, calling from Ingersoll to say that my father had died suddenly. He had been at work as usual in the library under the hum of the fluorescent lights. When he wasn’t upstairs putting books back on shelves, he was downstairs in the library basement, archiving, filing newspaper clippings and other stuff related to local history into categories and boxes. That’s where he was when he died. There was no visible sign that his heart stopped except this. When he slumped forward on his desk, the weight of his head warped the wings of his glasses. Suddenly, the elaborate
house of postcards I planned to send from exotic places came tumbling down. I wanted so badly to just keep going, onto the plane, across the sea, and into the arms of Paris, but I knew I would have to stay in Canada, go back home to Ingersoll, attend the funeral, comfort my mother, sort things out. There was no one else. At my father’s funeral, I overheard people saying how natural he looked because they had fixed his glasses and placed them over his closed eyes. But to me he looked as grey as the ashes he would become. I had seen him looking this grey only once before. In an attempt at father-daughter bonding the previous summer we’d rented a canoe, which Hemingway called that frail, tippy, treacherous and
Anatomical Whizgiggle S TA N D R AG L A N D
Stan Dragland was founder of Brick Magazine and Brick Books, and is still active with the latter. He is the author of books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. He is originally from Alberta and now lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. From: “Lawrence R. Thompson” To: “Curtis L. Garcia” Sent: Monday, September 10, 2007 6:08 AM Womens always whizgiggled at me and even youths did in the civil comfort station! Well, now I smil at them, because I took Me-ga-Dik for 7 months and now my pecker is extremely greater than national. From: “Bonnie L. Villanueva” To: “Isaiah P. Deleon” Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2007 10:57 AM
Dolls always whooped at me and even chaps did in the municipal WC! Well, now I hee-haw at them, because I took ME_G_a_D_IK for 6 months and now my cock is badly largest than average. From: “Matilda Y. Christie” To: “Joseph T. Clinton” Sent: Monday, September 10, 2007 6:18 PM Ladies always srieked at me and even gentlemens did in the urban toilet! Well, now I whizgiggle at them because I took Me-ga-Di k for 4 months and now my member is hugely preponderant than federal.
Geist’s new show, “Discovering Fire: A Matchbox Series,” feature layers of meaning and surprising transformations. where is willie geist when we need him?: Oh, wait. bow chicka eww eww: ‘Today’ show co-host Willie Geist’s ‘porn stache’ horrifies. holy do-gooders, batman! rise of the real-life superheroes:
altogether delightful craft. There is only one photograph of me on that trip, taken by my mother before we paddled away from shore. It is out of focus and from the back. I am stretching, arms held up like the Y of a slingshot, red curls falling down the back of my green shirt.
The first day of paddling went well and we slept soundly in our tent with the rush of water all around, but then my father got sick, as he often did when he was away from work. There was no need to panic really. This was southern Ontario. A long walk in any direction would lead to a road, and we
weren’t far from where my mother planned to pick us up. It was up to me to navigate the final head pond, while my father half-lay, half-sat in the bottom of the canoe, too sick to paddle. I wasn’t used to being in the stern and it was hard keeping the canoe straight by myself. Deadheads
National Wardrobe S T E P H E N B RO C K W E L L
Stephen Brockwell is the author of The Wire in Fences, Cometology and Fruitfly Geographic, which won the Archibald Lampman award for best book of poetry. He lives in Ottawa.
nellie mcclung’s boater hat
pierre trudeau’s deerskin jacket
stephen harper’s shoes
Nellie set me on her head with absolute precision, fastened me with bobby pins to salt-and-pepper curls,
They say the spirit of a doe dwells in the tanned hide.
Long days holding up the country, short nights breathing fresh air. Each morning, a minion polishes away
festooned me with wild asters, vetch and gaillardia. In Alberta, the tilt of a hat cannot be left to chance; there’s too much prairie wind to blow it off. But you, person, persona privileged by the Y with that highball of rye at your lips and eyes that never saw the colour of these wild flowers, how have you earned the right to tell my story?
When he canoed on the Lièvre, small drops of water refreshed me. Adorning his shoulders was exotic, a privilege: cumin, cinnamon, musk; Barbra and Liona will tell you the man smelled like a god— and then he’d speak. I carry a few of his cells: the shed hair and skin of a man who had the arrogance to wear a jacket made by a people he failed to assimilate, into a country that has yet to exist.
a day’s accumulated scuffs with matte-black petroleum paste. My burnished upper reflects the blurred image of the face above but does not shine. My heel grinds even the iridescent beetle—silent, powerless, beautiful— into the Langevin asphalt. My steel shank would never pass security if the face did not control it personally. The feet have no particular smell, like winter air or snow. I complain of the unguents, salves and balms reeking of sulphur that, despite all evidence to the contrary will not relieve the cracked and callused heels.
The man who calls himself Geist—German for ghost—is often asked why he’s lurking around at night dressed like a cross between a ninja warrior and an Old West gunslinger. geist’s doodles and sketches gallery: Well, step up and don’t be shy. I’ll be taking requests, just had to plant some space carrots first. collectors
26 Geist 92 Spring 2014
from old log booms lurked treacherously just under the surface. The wind pushed at us like a bully. I did something I had not done since I was small. I prayed. I prayed the wind would go away and paddled like hell. And the wind did go away. It died, suddenly and completely, whitecaps dropping out of sight like stones. The water became still enough to show the trees their own reflections. As I dragged the canoe ashore, the keel scraping the stones, I told my father what had happened. “The wind usually dies down this time of evening,” he said. He was probably right, but it made me angry all the same. He had a way of blowing out your candles before you had a chance to make a wish. Looking down at his grey face against the white silk lining the casket, I realized I had never forgiven him for that moment. And when you don’t forgive one moment, you don’t forgive those that follow. That morning on my way to work, I grabbed my mail to read on the subway like I always do, and merged into the flow of people rushing along the sidewalk, some armed with coffee cups and cell phones, others with briefcases and assorted bags and packages. Halfway between my apartment building and the subway station, an empty plastic bag suddenly billowed upward from the sidewalk on a gust of wind. When I looked up to follow its progress, I saw a man fall out of a fourth-storey window. One moment he was seated on the ledge of the window facing inward. The next he was tipping backwards like a scuba diver off the side of a boat. Even before I could cry out or move toward him, he stopped falling. He never reached the sidewalk because the flat overhang above the front door of the building intercepted his fall. I could see the back of his head where it had struck
Forging the Past
This fragment of a relief depicting the head of a pharaoh is a twentiethcentury forgery. It appears in Fakes and Forgeries Yesterday and Today, a collection held by the Royal Ontario Museum.
the metal edge of the overhang, and before I would have thought possible, blood was dripping down on the sidewalk, probably making no sound at all, but in my mind, exploding. A child stooped down and stuck his fingers in the blood before his horrified mother could yank him away. I wondered for a moment if the man had been pushed, if a crime had been committed and I had been a witness. But there appeared to have been a deliberate motion on the part of the man, a clear willingness to descend. It had been there in the thrust and heave of his shoulders. I looked and then I looked away. I once saw a photograph from LIFE magazine of a woman who had leapt to her death from the Empire State Building. The
photographer had caught her cradled by the crumpled steel of the car she had landed on, looking serene, even beautiful, in her white gloves and dark lipstick. Only her nylons were torn. But this was different, because of the blood and the impossible angle of his head and the way I had seen it begin four storeys up. Soon there would be sirens and people would rush to the scene, though it would be too late. The police would arrive, and possibly reporters. But there was nothing I could do. Like everyone else in the city, I had other places to be, and so I moved away from the spot I had been standing when the bag billowed up and the man tumbled down. I thought that perhaps I would read something about it in the paper
shows of nature’s treasures at gem and mineral show: “What we have here is a display of roughly 60 teeth from the dinosaur age up to the time of a wooly mammoth,” said Rich Geist. cowgirls defeat tigers: “She is hard to stop,” coach Janelle Geist said of Barbieri. “She is real smooth, real athletic and just
the next day, but no words would be spoken about the spilling of a stranger’s blood onto the ordinary sidewalk of an ordinary day. I had answered “yes” to the questions on the “Is Journalism for You?” website. (Do you regularly read at least one newspaper or consult an online equivalent? Do you regularly watch or listen to television or radio newscasts? Is it important to you to keep up with current events?) I knew newspapers don’t generally cover suicides. If you kill someone else, that’s news. If you kill yourself, that’s your business, unless, of course, you were famous to begin with, like Hemingway. Usually on the subway, I read my mail, but that day I just sat there wondering about the man who had chosen to fall. I was beginning to think I am not one of those few people who can look at death without blinking. I watched the other passengers who never look up, faces buried in hefty novels, or in the cleft between the ample breasts of the Toronto Sun’s “Sunshine Girl,” or in official-looking folders filled with numbers and graphs. Some people were sleeping sitting up, swaying slightly with their hands clasped in their laps, their eyes closed, or hidden behind sunglasses. Only a man with a ponytail and a woman with lots of silver rings on her gesturing hands were looking at each other and talking. “How does the camera obscura work?” she asked. “How does a darkened room with a tiny opening to the outside world manage to bring in an image of that world and project it upside down on the wall?” “I don’t know,” he said. “What do you mean, you don’t know? What kind of physics is that?” “It took me years to be able to say, ‘I don’t know.’ These are three valuable words.”
Hey, Soldier Boy C H A R L E S YA L E H A R R I S O N
From Generals Die in Bed. Originally published in 1930 by William Morrow. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.
ur train is to leave Bonaventure Station at eight. At four the officers try to get the men in shape. More than half the battalion is drunk. Pails of black coffee are brought around. Some of the bad ones have buckets of cold water sluiced over them. It takes an hour to line the men up for parade outside the barracks. Men are hauled out of their bunks and strapped into their equipment. They stare vacantly into the faces of those who jostle them. Outside in the streets we hear the sounds of celebration. Fireworks are being exploded in our honour. The drunks are shoved into position. The officers take their places. The band strikes up and we march and stagger from the parade square into the street. Outside a mob cheers and roars. Women wave their handkerchiefs. When we come to the corner of St. Catherine and Windsor streets a salvo of fireworks bursts over the marching column. It letters the night in red, white, and blue characters. The pale faces of the swaying men shine under the sputtering lights. Those of us who are sober steady our drunken comrades. Flowers are tossed into the marching ranks. Sleek men standing on the broad wide steps of the Windsor Hotel throw packages of cigarettes at us. Drunken, spiked heels crush roses and cigarettes underfoot. The city has been celebrating the departure of the battalion. All day
long the military police had been rounding up our men in saloons, in brothels. We are heroes, and the women are hysterical now that we are leaving. They scream at us: “Goodbye and good luck, boy-y-y-ys.” They break our ranks and kiss the heavily laden boys. A befurred young woman puts her soft arm around my neck and kisses me. She smells of perfume. After the tense excitement of the day it is delightful. She turns her face to me and laughs. Her eyes are soft. She has been drinking a little. Her fair hair shines from under a black fur toque. I feel lonely. I do not want to go to war. She marches along by my side. The battalion is no longer marching. It straggles, disorganised, down the street leading to the station. I am only eighteen and I have not had any experiences with women like this. I like this girl’s brazenness. “Kiss me, honey,” she commands. I obey. I like all this confusion now. War—heroes—music—the fireworks—this girl’s kiss. Nobody notices us. I hang on to her soft furry arm. I cling to it as the station looms at the bottom of the street. She is the last link between what I am leaving and the war. In a few minutes she will be gone. I am afraid now. I forget all my fine heroic phrases. I do not want to wear these dreadfully heavy boots, nor carry this leaden pack. I want to fling them away and stay with this fair girl who smells faintly of perfume. I grip her arm tightly. I think I could slip away unseen with her. We could run
real smooth with the ball.” faro tabbed interim head men’s soccer coach: Geist pointed out that the mission of the men’s soccer program will not change and emphasized the following points: We are committed to continue using soccer as an instrument to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. collection pieces up for
28 Geist 92 Spring 2014
through the crowd, far away somewhere. I remember the taunting song, “Oh, my, I’m too young to die.” I am hanging on to her arm. “Hey, soldier boy, you’re hurting my arm.” We are at the station. We are hustled inside. We stagger into the trains. We drop into seats. We wait, for hours, it seems. The train does not move. The singing and cheering
outside dies down. In a little while the station is deserted. Only a few lonely baggage men and porters move here and there. At last the train slowly begins to move… The boys lie like sacks of potatoes in the red plush-covered seats. Some of us are green under the gills. Whitefaced, we reel to the toilets. The floor is slimy and wet.
Wedding Night Jargon RO S E M A R Y N I XO N
From Are You Ready to Be Lucky? Published by Freehand Books in 2013. Rosemary Nixon is a short story writer, novelist and freelance writer. She lives in Calgary.
ye bread. Pork belly. Roasted garlic. Jadwiga’s stomach rumbles as she waits on the waiting room chair. She pictures Mr. Bloxham preparing a feast: pork feet, potatoes, and shredded beets. But this would require Mr. Bloxham to be somebody else entirely. She runs a tube of lotion around her ears. The air in Canada frightfully dry. The night they married, on his best behavior, Mr. Bloxham asked, “How does one say ‘have sex’ in Polish?” Wherever would Jadwiga begin? There is a Polish expression for “copulation.” There is a Polish expression for “intercourse.” Each pair of lovers creates their own language. Would never share those words with another. Jadwiga, straight-backed beside Mr. Bloxham, buffing his nails on the waiting room chair—Mr. Bloxham suffers from vanity—thinks of Aloizy, her late husband. Across the room, a woman is knitting something large and limegreen. Aloizy kissed her hand after every dance. How to explain such love to Mr. Bloxham? Jadwiga imagines
Mr. Bloxham dancing. In her mind he dances irritably. Mr. Bloxham bought her a Polish-English-English-Polish dictionary for a wedding present—it is very large—and a bar of soap, as if encouraging her to wash. The dictionary has a section named “Slang.” After considerable consultation, Mr. Bloxham laid the book on the bedside chair, and said politely in very bad Polish: “Lie down and spread them.” Jadwiga did. Her new husband thinks she’s a kurcze. Jadwiga sighs, squeezes the container. “What’s wrong?” Mr. Bloxham snaps, dropping his nail buffer into his pocket. Sighing in Canada is disallowed. The problem is Aloizy’s dead. Sailed right off the earth, and now she’s here in this foreign country that smells of lettuce and is blue with cold. She attempts, under Mr. Bloxham’s stare, to button Aloizy into a body bag so she can stop mourning, be a wife to this husband, but Aloizy’s eyes and nose and a flap of wavy hair stick out when she tries to stuff him
in. Dead almost two years. Jadwiga believed she too would die of a heart condition, left on earth while Aloizy’s ghost mournfully moon-walked her darkened rooms. “You must leave the country. He will stay in Poland,” her mother and sister, so bossy, promised, but Aloizy rode baggage to Canada. A woman enters with a little square girl resembling a stump. Jadwiga sucks back air so she doesn’t sigh at the sight of the child, who closes her eyes and begins a dance, as if shot repeatedly with a stun gun. Aloizy, a sweet and handsome labourer from the neighbouring village came to work for her father, and she was smitten. When the boys in her village got the news that Jadwiga—whose dark beauty turned men into animals—and Aloizy were about to marry, they beat Aloizy. They broke his knees. Work was difficult after but he never complained. With Aloizy, Jadwiga savoured lovemaking. She stifles a hiccup, shoots a glance at this husband. The problem: she doesn’t burn for Mr. Bloxham. To make up for her terrible shortcoming, she cleans and cleans. Yesterday she found a pan in the cupboard, black as soot. It said Teflon on it. All day she scrubbed at the blackened coating, at last scraping down to the silver beneath. Whatever had Mr. Bloxham burned within it?! The child slouches back into her seat, her long feet sticking out in bright red trainers. Jadwiga grew up with fourteen siblings. Her parents had a hut, a garden, a goat. She got her first pair of shoes when the Soviets came. Now at sixty-two she’s landed a foreigner. This country isn’t his country either. But Mr. Bloxham acts like it is.
auction in faulkton: Dolly Geist has accumulated more salt and pepper shakers. sea geist boundless scarf: Black Bird Sea Geist Boundless Scarf reaches 5 feet in length and can be wrapped and tucked in multiple ways forming many different shapes. an interactive geek horror: We’ve made the main animated
Gould, Monk and the Iceberg Theory S U S A N P E R LY
From The Stories That Are Great Within Us. Published in 2013 by Exile Editions. Susan Perly is a writer and broadcaster. She lives in Toronto.
he lake was clear and bottomless. It had not died yet. He came back to be with it, as he always came back. In the dark he thought about Goldberg, and he went out into the night and conducted him to the waves. The lake breathed cold clouds out of itself. His hands were cold. Ten
single icicles absorbing the loon and giving back the night canons. He has been to New York. He has made his recording of Goldberg. It will be the best selling classical record of 1956. Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations. He is new. He is sure. He is unlike anything they have ever
Glenn Gould, St. Louis, Missouri, 1957, gelatin silver print. Reproduction from the Black Star Collection. BS.2005.159012/95-321. Photographer unknown
seen south of the 49th. Seen?—forget seen. He is unlike anything they have ever heard, that is the thing. This creature can bend angels into notes, he can bend angels into angles no one has ever imagined before. Sacroiliacs asplendour, neck crooks, curvatures of cords, twists into you name it, and they all fit. Twists which call in a chaste and delicacy pings already in the air shaped to sound where he puts his icicles down. It’s not Petula Clark, but then— what is? Now, you take Monk. Thelonious Sphere Monk on the keys. His hands flatten out, they are two flippers. They get in there. They slip on silence, silence is the gloves they wear. Evidence is considered, notes are taken, chords are suggested. He plays the piano. They called Monk weird, they looked at his hats. Like with Glenn Gould, they went bananas over all the outerwear: scarves, sweaters, gloves, coats, caps, toques, skullcaps, grunts, groans. They called him eccentric as their riff in response to a mysterium tremendum’s call at the keyboard. Monk’s mumble, telling him he has some things to go see about… But consider the iceberg theory of life. Consider the music heard as the tip of the iceberg, above water. Consider that Monk in a twirl away from the keys has gone to play for a while with the fishes in the water, consider that he is diving and biting off chunks of the iceberg under there, holding them in his hands and examining them for clues as to how he can tell in the tip of an iceberg the shape of what lies below and is invisible and is music in his hands… Still busy checking out that iceberg. Still busy torqueing down on the ancient homage to the dance. He’s working silence. How discrete
Geist microbadge one of the easiest to obtain in the game. 30-45 minutes of play should do it. hot air balloon makes emergency landing: Hamilton County dispatch confirms that a hot air balloon had to make an emergency landing near Geist. four owls are victorious at usmma invitational: Geist finished first
30 Geist 92 Spring 2014
it is. It’s light. It’s physics. What it plays at the part which has no need of notes. How it smiles: well, you needn’t. And drives it back into time. Monk dances in the general direction of the piano. He sees a Monk already seated there, never gone. He moves towards his shape to make it true. He reinhabits his own outline, blood mumbles out of his mouth and crawls along the bones of his skeleton, his right foot dances to the time he has set himself, his flippers slip back into their gloves of quiet, and he knows he needn’t but he does. He was a Waldorf salad, as Cole Porter would say; he was a Berlin ballad; he was the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire; he was an O’Neill drama; he was Whistler’s mama; he was Canajun fare. A square so hip they turned Gotham green. Our boy Glenn Gould. He played with his wrists below the keyboard; below or at—no higher. He sat on a special homebuilt seat built low to get those wrists right. Add a scarf add a mountain of sweaters add no circulation in your jambes, add an extra overcoat and momma!—they’re gone ga-ga. This c/o the Beaches, Anglican Hogtown magic, this genie caught inside an inn at the corner of Don Mills and suburbia, this c/o T.O.’s north of the Lawrence Plaza Brasilia poured-concrete stretch genius who might of a night bomb his car past concrete things flashing past instead of trees, listening to Streisand, pleased with the concrete which does not enter into the civilized discussion he is conducting with Goldberg the way lovely trees can and take you away from the point you are making inside a speeding vehicle which steams up nicely as you finish the point pulling into a donut shop for a coffee; as when over arborite in a booth used
cars through a window are something to cast your eyes over, but never mind; as when a harvest of ’56 Chevy Impalas don’t enter your blood the way the sun coming up behind one of them could. C/o that. C/o phones; c/o edits; c/o a voice on a track talking to another voice on a track commented on by a third voice on a third track, though they have never met; c/o a night ride with Downtown. The sky you enter driving is large and violet. The orange light blurs to a shimmer above the violet. Around the orange on the violet comes a yellow all the way around, shimmering with white… —Hey, wait a minute! What happened to the piano? Where’s Monk?
Where the hell did the piano go? Where did Monk go this time? Below the surface of the water the iceberg is a hexagon. Monk is doing some geometry. He breaks off a piece of ice. He holds it in his left palm. He strokes it with his right. Out flows the beautiful uncut hair of graves. Monk winds it ’round his head. Voilà!—a fez of hisself c/o Walt Whitman, Esq. Monk surfaces with a splash. He cats with his hat. He giggles a twostep or two. He gives an angel a smile. The future is jealous. It sidles up to the bar and stands him a round. He takes notice; oh, he is aware; he dips delicious rubies, my dear, in the drink. He winks at the angels, he blows Walt a kiss, the future goes crazy and moves in close.
Love and Translation G O L D I E M O R G E N TA L E R
From The Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers. Published in 2013 by Exile Editions. Goldie Morgentaler teaches British and American literature and is the translator of the works of Michel Tremblay, I. L. Peretz, and Chava Rosenfarb. She lives in Alberta.
y mother and I used to fight about translation. These were not genteel disagreements but passionate, intemperate shouting matches. She would say: “That’s not what I meant! You twisted my words. Why can’t you just translate what I wrote?” I would say: “Because its not English; you can’t say that in English!” Or: “It’s too sentimental, too much mush, too many adjectives.” She would say: “What a cold language English is!” My mother was the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb; she died in January 2011, at the age of eighty-seven. I tell you about our quarrels not to suggest that my mother and I had a
quarrelsome relationship. On the contrary we seldom fought about anything non-literary. Nor do I tell you this because I want to demonstrate that she and I were a team, a translating team, although that is exactly what we were. I tell you this because I want to emphasize how important writing was to my mother’s life and how much emotion, passion, and energy she devoted to it. The first thing journalists and reviewers usually say when they refer to my mother is that she was a Holocaust survivor, as if this one event defined her for all time. Well, she was a Holocaust survivor, but it was not the essence of her life. When asked
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what she did, she always replied, “I am a writer. ” And she bristled if anyone implied that because she did not leave her house and go to work every day she had no job. Writing was her job; more than that, writing was her life. She was never more miserable than when she had a writer’s block, and never happier than when she had a great idea for a story. When she was elderly and could not write much anymore, she would shake her head and say with regret, “I was happiest when I was writing.” But writing is a lonely business, and it was especially lonely for someone writing in Yiddish. When her great work, The Tree of Life, was first published in Yiddish in 1972, she received letters from readers from all over the world and glowing reviews in the Yiddish press, which acclaimed it as one of the superior literary depictions of the Holocaust. But she could not convince an English-language publisher to take a chance on the novel until 2000. In the wider world—that is, the English-speaking world—she was unknown, merely another obscure housewife who thought she could write. As she put it in her essay “Confessions of a Yiddish Writer”: “If writing is a lonely profession, then the Yiddish writer’s loneliness has an added dimension. Her readership has perished. Her language has gone up with the smoke of the crematoria. She creates in a vacuum, almost without a readership, out of fidelity to a vanished language; as if to prove that Nazism did not extinguish its last breath, that it is still alive.” She felt, she said, “like an anachronism, wandering across a page of history. ” Like most Yiddish writers, she required a translator, and so she gave birth to one—she gave birth to me. We began collaborating on translations of her works when I was thirteen
The Man Who Sleeps in Cemeteries R U S S E L L T H O R N TO N
From Birds, Metal, Stones and Rain. Published by Harbour Publishing in 2013 and shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2013. Russell Thornton lives in North Vancouver. Refuse recyclable paper yard-bags. Refuse gloves. Collect yard trimmings the way you know how— I’ll do likewise. My friend, don’t hurt your head. Afternoons, slide down the avenue. At every intersection, karate kick crosswalk buttons. Show up mornings a very macho character, a little threatening. Show up fawning, a little flirtatious. Talking religion, bitches. Going on about your lady—in the mirror, lipsticked. Gang boy in Colombia. Gang man. You left that life. Yes, they found you in Miami. They killed your wife, your two kids, they threw you off a balcony. Now lay down your head. With strands of yourself off in the trees, running quiet and clear in the quick creek water.
years old, and we never really stopped. Sometimes, she did most of the translating and I was merely an editor, as with her novels Bociany and Of Lodz and Love, for which she won the John Glassco Prize for Literary Translation. Sometimes, I did most of the work. This was especially true of the short story collection Survivors, and of Letters to Abrasha, her last novel, on which I am still at work. But mostly we worked together and fought about words and meanings and transmutations of sentences. In a sense, the tragedy of Yiddish— the fact that it went so quickly from being the lingua franca of the majority of the world’s Jews to being a language
spoken by the very few—brought us together. We became more than simply mother and daughter; we became partners and collaborators in a great literary enterprise. Literature was the all-in-all for my mother. When she was not writing it, she was reading it. She read novels and books of poetry. She read in Yiddish, in English, in French, in Polish. Her favourite non-fiction books were the biographies of other writers. My mother loved her children; she loved her garden; she loved my dogs. She loved flowers and magnificent landscapes like the open skies of the Canadian Prairies, where she spent her last years. But it was in the
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With your arms wrapped around surgical scars. With your collection of scars. Miami to Vancouver? I think I walked. Lay down your English. Por favor! Scowl and explain to me in Spanish that you don’t speak Spanish anymore. Or Portuguese. Or the Quebec French that jumps out of you. Explain to me that North Vancouver has the most beautiful cemetery you’ve ever slept in. No landlords, no need to pull a knife. With the different parts of your brain in the right places, explain it. With your jumble of words, lay down your head. With your jumble of words. With your single joint per day and the pain gone out of your skull. Let the sections of your head click into a proper machined fit. Yes, killed so many times, scattered in so many places, you can’t say—say a loud Fuck you! in the direction of your every past boss. Say it at your every Refugee Board hearing, at your every income assistance interview. Consult the cemetery’s visiting bear, coyote and deer. Consult the community of the dead flowing in unison beneath your head. Then make your many decisions and rule the parts of your head. My friend, my co-worker, here’s a coffee, a set of garden tools and plastic yard-bag. Come do your expert work. Whistle all day the songs that came to you in the night through the cold clean dirt.
literary world that she found her true joy, her sense of purpose, her redemption from suffering and terrible memories. It was only while writing about the Holocaust that she could come to terms with it—and the same was true for the tragedy of her failed marriage. My mother was sensitive to a fault, but she had the warmest heart and the sharpest mind. She believed in the value of the everyday, in the holiness of mundane things, because she had lived too much in interesting times. She had desperately wanted a happy sedate family life without tension or betrayal or cruelty. She did not get it. As you may imagine, I have many memories of my mother; some of the
sweetest are very ordinary, such as shopping trips we made together, or going for walks with the dog, or of her wonderful chicken soup, which was the only thing she ever cooked that conformed to the stereotype of the Jewish mother. But my favourite memory is of the sight of my mother, sitting at her desk, so immersed in what she was writing that she did not hear what was said to her. When I saw her there, with her beautiful hazel eyes fixed dreamily on the distance—or, more accurately fixed on the inner landscape of her imagination—I knew that all was well with the world and that life was good.
Milk Spills and One-Log Loads FRANK WHITE
From Milk Spills and One-Log Loads. Published by Harbour Publishing in 2013. Frank White is a former truck driver, logger, gas station operator, excavationist and waterworks technician. He lives with his wife, the writer Edith Iglauer, in Garden Bay, BC.
y parents always carefully declared any groceries or other goods they might be bringing back from visits across the border but they failed to declare me. The only record of my birth remained the hospital registry in the State of Washington. This would create a very interesting foulup later in my life. I would spend the next sixty-five years developing quite a grudge against Americans over one thing and another only to have the Canada Pension office tell me that in the Canadian government’s view I was myself an American and had been one since I first drew breath in that Sumas hospital. If you think that was easy to straighten out, you’ve got another thing coming. It would have been alright if I was able to prove either of my parents was Canadian, but my mother was born at home in Kenora, now part of Ontario but then called Rat Portage and part of Manitoba. There was no record of my father’s birth in Ottawa, Upper Canada as it was then, since neither Canada nor Ontario had been created yet. To try and get some proof my father was Canadian I went to interview another old relative who was something of an authority on family history. This gruff old gal was the daughter of my Aunt Mattie, my father’s sister (or half-sister?) who had
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married into one of the prominent families of New Westminster, the Gilleys. Gilley Avenue is a big important street in New Westminster. She insisted that I had it all wrong and my father wasn’t born in Ottawa in 1865 but at sea in 1862 and quite possibly out of wedlock as my grandparents had eloped to the New World. This was a revelation to me but I couldn’t dismiss it out of hand because it triggered a distant memory. I had barged in upon my father in the middle of a bull session with one of his cronies back when I was a boy in Abbotsford, when he’d been talking about some fellow who had been working on a farm in Ireland and had run off with the boss’s daughter. There was something about the hushed tones and the way he clammed up that caused me to make special note of it, and it would now appear that he was talking about
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his own parents. According to this old Gilley woman they had landed in the US and lived in Duluth, Minnesota, for a time, which only made my immigration problem worse, so I decided to ignore everything she said. I was on quite good terms with our Member of Parliament, Ray Skelly, so he went to bat for me and took my case to the highest levels of Ottawa officialdom but still couldn’t get anywhere. At one point one of the bureaucrats told me I should go to the US government and apply to get my old age pension from them. I didn’t know what to do. One day when I was driving through Whalley I noticed a small office with a big flag in front and an immigration department sign in the window. On a whim I went in and found a solitary young woman in charge, obviously very junior to the mandarins who had been bouncing
my application all around Ottawa and telling me I should go peddle my papers to America. She listened to my story and said, “My goodness, if you are not a Canadian, I don’t know who is. We’ll settle this right now.” Bang! She stamped everything and told me I was now officially a Canadian. I couldn’t quite believe it and confessed to her I had already been turned down at the highest levels in Ottawa. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. “Anyway, you shouldn’t have any more trouble now. If you do, come back and see me.” I was a little dubious at first, but she was as good as her word. Before long I started getting my pension, I got a Canadian passport and I never heard another word about not being a proper Canadian. Sometimes you don’t have to take on the whole system, you just have to find one person with a bit of sense.
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Photo: Christopher Grabowski, Geist 80
GEIST Fa c t + Fi c t i o n â€˘ N o r t h o f A m e r i c a
P O E T R Y
Morphing GREGORY BETTS
Let us go then you and I let us bleed then you and I shall we go then you and I shall we move then you and I they do not move they do not leave they do not run they do not scream then shall we run then shall we spread ourselves out against the television sky where the evening lifts like a ski soft caress of a hill like a saint spread out against the summer sky shall I compare thee to a summer chaos spread out against the teaming lands and the thorned fields with the old sublime prophets wringing lilies from the acorn will you lift your head in wonder at the naked generations at the sick men making magic with their humble tools and their chance at the yellow smoke at the window panes at the weak men making magic out of something underneath the self-same sky, for I am sick of love will you run after me your love better than wine embrace me, your hand under my head shall I say shall I shake the darling buds of may shall I by chance or nature’s changing course unaffected by the Muses’ diadem shall we dance like the classics in paraphrase? I am a worthless boat my ancestors bequeathed me no wide estates to which I shall go no rich blessed keys no sense of no no derangement that could outlast the blessed little moment when I consider everything a perfection held in a little moment hollow made yet reverberating like stars in secret blood pacts against this sullied night I engraft for you something new for here and for there and for which we do not move
Gregory Betts has written five books of poetry, including The Obvious Flap. He is the editor of five books of experimental Canadian writing, and is the author of Avant-Garde Canadian Literature: The Early Manifestations (University of Toronto Press). He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.
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Top of the World. Andre Petterson
C E P H A L O M E T R Y
Physical Attraction K AT I E H U I S M A N
ver a three-year period Katie Huisman made portraits of fifty couples who had been together for between two months and sixty-one years. The partners were photographed separately, under identical lighting conditions and at the same distance from the camera. Huisman kept a chart drawn on the studio floor to ensure that each subject took up the same position for each shot. She then superimposed the digital images of each couple by matching their eyes on the horizontal plane of a cephalometric (head measurement) grid.
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She did not alter the scale or dimensions of any of the images. The result is a merging of two individuals into a single person. In 90 percent of couples photographed, the distance between the eyes of each person matched that of the partner to within 2 millimetres; in most cases the two partnersâ€™ profiles were almost identical. â€”AnnMarie MacKinnon Physical Attraction opened at Initial Gallery in Vancouver, in February 2014. Katie Huisman lives in Vancouver.
M A R G I N
E R R O R
Getting It Wrong EVE CORBEL
Apparently it is human nature to jump to erroneous conclusions, then deny, defend, reinterpret, confabulate—whatever it takes to hang on to them
ne afternoon when I went to the daycare to pick up my three-year-old granddaughter, I discovered that she had been telling the kids and staff that “My grandma threw my mummy in the bushes.” In fact, one day in 1979 I had been walking with her mother, then age six, on the sidewalk along a thoroughfare used by trucks, when I had a premonition that a truck would crash right beside us. I grabbed her up and ran away from the road into a grassy area lined with shrubbery, and we fell together into a clump of beaked hazel. A moment later a semi trailer went over on its side and screamed down the road for a good fifty yards, throwing off sparks and debris all the way. No one was hurt, including us, and the incident entered family legend. At a recent Sunday dinner, someone had brought it up and “My grandma threw my mummy in the bushes” is what the three-year-old went away with. As I explained the story to the daycare workers, I wondered how much my own version might have changed in the thirty-five years since the incident. At this point I had read about half of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz, a wonderful meditation on getting stuff wrong as a cornerstone of human intelligence, imagination and creativity. She starts with the errors of our senses, such as the superior mirage (a trick of arctic light), the inferior mirage (the
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shimmering pool of water we “see” on the sun-baked highway ahead) and inattentional blindness, referring to the fact that we see with our brain, not with our eyes. When we know we are being tricked, we enjoy it—in apprehending art, jokes, optical illusions and magic tricks, for example—but otherwise we don’t. Then she considers other errors, mainly our propensity to respond intuitively and instantly to what’s going on around us and, based on this hastily gathered evidence, to jump to conclusions that are often mistaken. To compound matters, we cling to these errors with astonishing tenacity. There is even a word for an erroneous but unshakable belief: mumpsimus, said to have been coined inadvertently by a medieval monk known for reciting the phrase “quod in ore mumpsimus” instead of the proper “quod in ore sumpsimus” (“which we have taken into the mouth”). Sumpsimus translates as “we have taken” in English; mumpsimus translates as nonsense in any language. When someone finally challenged the monk, he snapped back that he had been saying it that way for forty years and would not throw out “my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.” In 1545, Henry VIII referred to both words in a speech, giving mumpsimus royal approval. It seems to us that we remember things as though they happened yesterday, but we get the details wrong, more and more of them
over time, in such a systematic way that the attrition, as Schulz puts it, “can be plotted on a graph, in what is known, evocatively, as the ‘Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting’.” That is consistent with what scientists believe now, that a memory is not stashed holus-bolus in the brain but is reassembled by various bodily bits and functions when we send for it.
iven what else we know about the nature of memory, perhaps the breadth of the human margin of error shouldn’t surprise us. In researching plagiarism as part of my teaching on editorial ethics, I came across “Speak, Memory,” an article by Oliver Sacks about his own distortions of memory. The experience, for instance, of describing a vivid memory only to have a sibling declare that it didn’t happen, or happened to someone else; or of confidently composing an essay and later being taken aback to discover that one has already written that essay—much of it verbatim, in an act of innocent self-plagiarism. Should we be reassured by the fact that even a top-notch neurologist is susceptible to these errors, or should we be alarmed? Brain imaging, he says, shows that a vivid memory brings on “widespread activation in the brain” in a pattern that is the same whether the memory is real or false. He mentions the work of Elizabeth Loftus, who has implanted fake memories in people’s brains with “disquieting success.” In a ScienceDaily post that I read on the bus two days later (“Your memory is no video camera”), a neuroscientist named Donna Jo Bridge says that the human memory “is built to change, not regurgitate facts.” To cope with the continuous fast changes around us, our memory constantly rearranges bits, supplanting the old with the new, and creating “a story to fit [our] current world.” Thanks to MRI technology, we can pinpoint the exact moment when new information pops in and colonizes an older memory. What the—? No wonder we get stuff wrong! And the human memory is suggestible in even more ways. Politicians have more extramarital affairs than other people, right? No, but they get more publicity, so the information is more available, so that’s what we think. If we see the words bananas and vomit together, we
hook them up as cause and effect. If we have heard the word eat recently, we are more likely to complete “SO_P” as soup than soap. And if you want us to vote for higher school funding, put the polling station in a school. Bold type, high contrast, rhyming slogans, prominent blue or red in the copy—these, not careful research and thought, are the elements of messages that we find most convincing. These last humiliating tidbits come from another wonderful book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a remaindered copy of which literally fell into my hands from the sale shelf in a crowded bookstore. The author, the economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, offers another sort of entrance to questions about why we get things wrong, and why we won’t let go of erroneous beliefs. It has to do with the human cognitive process, he says, and its two main informants: System 1, which is intuitive, emotional and lightning-fast in interpreting input; and System 2, the cooler head, which works slowly to compare things, weigh the options, follow the rules. System 2 also keeps us civil when we feel the urge to act on an extreme feeling. Both systems live everywhere, not lodged in the left or right brain, and there’s some overlap. But generally, System 1 has its antennae out all the time, picking up data like a Twitter addict; then it trolls through the memory, stashing bits wherever they will strengthen associations already in place, and discarding the bits that don’t. System 2 is the careful, analytical, sober second thought, but with limited resources, like a fact checker with no access to a library or the internet. Both of these systems are good and magical and necessary, Kahneman writes, and both are a bit lazy. They put together the best story from what comes to hand, in a process he calls WYSIATI: What You See Is All There Is. System 1 infers much from little and reduces unfamiliar material to heuristics and bias. For example, the question “How much would you contribute to save an endangered species?” is easily replaced in our minds by the simpler question “How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?” and we don’t even notice it. System 2, which doesn’t get out much and usually fails to notice when System 1 is introducing error by elision, “casually endorses” a
Margin of Error 41
lot of erroneous associations. In other words, our minds manage the data load by maintaining associative order: “everything reinforcing everything else.” One can’t help thinking of the guy who searches for his lost keys under a streetlamp, rather than where he thinks he lost them, because the light is better there. We suppress ambiguity, and therefore we see a world that is probably more coherent and user-friendly than if we tried to absorb and process all the random sensory input available. That is a healthy impulse, but it requires intellectual shortcuts. And some stubbornness. We feel very sure of our perceptions and beliefs, and we go to some trouble to stay that way. We deny, deploy defences, confabulate, refuse or reinterpret evidence—anything to maintain our moorings. “Certainty is lethal to two of our most redeeming and humane qualities, imagination and empathy,” Kathryn Schulz writes. Our instincts serve us well. We need them to think, to live, to enjoy living.
t that point I set down Being Wrong for a couple of days, during which I happened to hear a Radiolab podcast called “Are You Sure?” It included the story of Penny Beerntsen, an American woman who was raped by a stranger. Even as the man attacked her, she had the presence of mind to get a good look at him and try to scratch him to leave marks (this was 1985, before DNA testing was considered reliable). Shortly afterward, Beerntsen identified the man from mug shots. She also picked him out of an eight-man police lineup: not only did she recognize him immediately, but the sight of him set her to trembling and raised the hair on the back of her neck. The attacker was convicted and sent to prison. Some years later he persuaded the court to run DNA tests on the evidence, and it turned out that he was not the man who had attacked her. Talk about being wrong! How could that happen? Beerntsen did everything right. She fought back, then tried to focus on gathering
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evidence, then listened to her own body at the police lineup. Can anyone be sure of anything, ever? I plunged into Being Wrong, Part III, The Experience of Error, about our epic struggle to prove to ourselves that we are not wrong. Sometimes we do change our beliefs, but even then, as Daniel Kahneman reports, we tend to move seamlessly, or blindly, through the points between “thinking that we are right and knowing that we were wrong,” either too quickly or too gradually to notice the shift. And thanks to the endless updates to our memory—also not noticed by us—we remember our former beliefs as being much closer to our current ones than they actually were, expunging the memory of having changed our minds. When we do fall into the “terrain of pure wrongness,” as Penny Beerntsen did, or anyone who loses a wad in a market downturn, or gets betrayed by a lover, we’re lost. Our ability to incorporate error can also be affected by our mood at the moment, our place of residence, our time of life. Teenagers are adored and loathed for being obdurate, for example, and the wisdom of our elders owes a lot to their growing certainty that one cannot be sure of anything. (What we know now about the act of remembering—to gather wisps and to wait for the processes to line up— is exactly how it feels, physically, to me and my sixty-something friends.) Things move more quickly and effortlessly for younger folks, so it is no wonder they are more taken aback when they find out they erred, and no wonder they are more given to reconstructions: the time-frame defence (my timing was off), the near-miss defence (I was almost right), the out-of-left-field defence (I got messed up by the unforeseeable) and so on. When I turned the page to chapter 11, Denial and Acceptance, what should I find but the story of Penny Beerntsen, the woman who misidentified her attacker. Schulz points out that although eyewitness accounts are the most convincing evidence in courtrooms, they are appallingly faulty: the most careful and observant witnesses get about 25 percent of the details wrong. (The rest of them get 26 to 80 percent wrong.) Yet we cling to our memories and beliefs, most of which are formed
from crude, tiny data, and we tend to deny evidence to the contrary, or bend it to fit. Reading this I was reminded of a workshop for magazine publishers a few months earlier, led by Craig Silverman, a journalist with a special interest in media errors, corrections, accuracy and verification—very useful in these days of fabricated stories, doctored images, robot social media feeds and general dreck. Among other things, he spoke of our reluctance to let go of wrong information once we have accepted it as truth. He mentioned a study subtitled “The Persistence of Political Misperceptions,” which showed that after people read and accepted false and unsubstantiated data— about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, for example—and then were given corrected information, few of them changed their minds. For a good number of subjects there was even a backfire effect: the factual, substantiated information only strengthened their original (erroneous) conviction. Our refusal to live in doubt is largely a healthy instinct, Schulz writes—invoking Plato, Augustine, Freud, Kübler-Ross and others—when it is “sincere and subconscious.” It protects us from the anxiety and horror of feeling wrong all the time, or (shudder) constantly second-guessing and dithering, and living among others who do the same. But the price we pay is high. What about Holocaust denial, to bring up a painful example? Or climate change resistance? Or the “death panels” freakout of 2009, when Sarah Palin raised the spectre of bureaucrat-driven euthanasia when the US government broached the subject of socialized medicine? The day after I read the Penny Beerntsen chapter in Being Wrong, I tuned in to another Radiolab podcast, “The Man Behind the Maneuver,” put together by a journalist who as a child had been saved from choking to death by a school nurse who applied the Heimlich Maneuver. This journalist found Henry Heimlich (now in his nineties) living in Cincinnati and went to talk to him. It is surprising and wonderful to hear the story of the Maneuver from Heimlich himself, whose work is so legendary that I was amazed to hear he was still alive. And there’s more. Not long after his rise to fame and celebrity (such as appearances on
TV to teach Johnny Carson and David Letterman how to do the Maneuver), Heimlich declared that the use of the Maneuver would relieve asthma, and later he proposed it as a treatment for drowning victims. On a roll, he then offered cures for cancer and AIDS that were, to spin it as kindly as possible, eccentric. Heimlich’s colleagues and his own family finally managed to get these claims discredited, but it took years because of Heimlich’s absolute certainty, backed up by his authority, reinforced by his show-biz fame. In 2005, the Red Cross declared that back-slapping—still our instinct when someone is choking—is just as effective as the Heimlich Maneuver. Five back thumps between the shoulder blades, to be exact, then the “abdominal thrusts,” as the Maneuver is now officially known. In the Radiolab interview with Heimlich years later, though, he still sounds certain about all of it. We all strive to be certain. Certainty is a good feeling, even a necessary one if your wellbeing depends on it—if you’re an elected official, say, or a witness to a crime, or a mother of teenagers. That’s because not only do we feel more confident when we are certain, but also we are easily seduced by apparent certainty and confidence in others. Studies have shown that we much prefer the decisive, assured political candidate (or teacher, or boss) to the less certain one, regardless of other qualities: statistically we are more likely to vote for the confident liar than the good guy who voices doubts. At a teacher training workshop I once attended, the instructors were unequivocal on what to do if one had so much as the shadow of a doubt in the classroom: “Act as if.” We also prefer doctors who are certain—even if they turn out to be mistaken, even if we have read the UK study that found clinicians to be “completely wrong” about diagnoses 40 percent of the time. We invest the confident one with even more credibility and authority if she is taller, has a certain kind of face and, especially, if she is a celebrity. Heimlich’s fame as a lifesaver and TV personality was rock solid when
Margin of Error 43
he recommended the Maneuver for people who were drowning; otherwise he would have been ridden out of town on a rail. And one dynamic, attractive, confident celebrity like Jenny McCarthy, the actor and TV host who argues a causal connection between childhood vaccines and autism, can convince a lot more people a lot more quickly than a thousand practitioners of the plodding, painstaking, incremental work of medical science.
y the time I was about three-quarters of the way through Being Wrong, I was half-convinced that Grandma had probably never fallen into any bushes with Mummy, or thrown her in, or anything else. Meanwhile, bits of apparently related material had begun to come in from all directions and all media, à la Night of the Living Dead. Articles on paper and online, blog posts, novels, radio podcasts, tenyear-old books in the endcaps at the library, conversations overheard on the train, meaningless TV shows suggested by my partner’s Netflix account—everything interrogated or answered everything else. Was this a magical instance of interdependent co-arising? Or had I become a walking example of the tendency to strive for “cognitive ease,” as Daniel Kahneman calls it, cherry-picking incoming data so that everything reinforces everything else? Only a few days after tucking into the Kahneman, I pulled my New Yorker out of the mailbox and found “The Gift of Doubt,” a piece about the late Albert O. Hirschman, an economist. It starts with the story of a nineteenth-century railway megaproject in the northeastern United States: a tale of extensive planning, testing and predicting, and of colossal underestimating of time, trouble and expense. Hirschman was also a planner of megaprojects, and he was particularly interested in “unintended consequences and perverse outcomes,” having observed that when everything goes wrong with a large project, people find solutions that they had never dreamed of, solutions much more elegant
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and useful and long-lasting than the original objectives, forged from the heat of terrific unexpected stress. He wondered if “the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task”—to plan it and undertake it as if it were “routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity.” Well, I have never had responsibility for an infrastructure project, but I can name a number of stories and articles and books and magazines that would never have been written, designed, produced or marketed, had their authors and publishers known what they were getting into. My heart goes out to the proprietors of the 35 percent of small businesses that don’t make it to the five-year mark because of optimism bias, but isn’t it better, existentially, to have loved and lost? And speaking of failing, I’ve seen more published eurekas, op-eds and how-to’s about failure in the last six months than in my whole life before that. Failing is good. Failing is natural. It’s all right to fail. Embrace failure. Make your children embrace failure. Failing makes you smart. Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery. Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe. You Are Not So Smart (subtitle ends with “and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself”). Some of this writing—maybe all of it—is illuminating and bracing: for example, Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed, showing that success is born of curiosity, perseverance and resourcefulness, rather than high test scores; and To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, by Henry Petroski, who has been writing for thirty years about buildings that fall down, bridges that collapse, dams that break and other failures that alert us to “weaknesses in reasoning, knowledge, and performance that all the successful designs may not even hint at.” But wait. Error and failure are different, aren’t they? If a bridge gives way fifty years after it was designed and constructed, having supported many more vehicles weighing many more tons than the engineers could have
predicted, is that a design error? Well, sometimes it is. In at least one case, in Quebec, an investigation showed that some small components of a failed bridge, called eyebars, could wear down but could not be inspected. In fact, there is so much failure writing that a body of pushback lit is also accumulating. In an online post, Sam McNerney pinpoints the typical agenda: that it is admirable (and fashionable) to fail, but only if we eventually achieve success, which is measured in terms of fame and/or fortune. No one writes a story about their permanent failure, and no one wants to read such a story. Liza Mundy, in her article “Losing Is the New Winning,” mentions eight new books on the subject. She notes that the failure fad opens the door for the Eliot Spitzers of the world to exhibit their pain, absolve themselves, be admired and then get back in the race. It’s important to forgive people for doing bad things, but as Mundy writes, “When is a public figure’s failure a sign of abiding character flaws, and when is it a harbinger of growth?” The same can be said of civilians. There are interesting connections to be explored between cognitive error and failure, and the McNerney and Mundy articles and others like them raise good points. But both Being Wrong and Thinking, Fast and Slow are mentioned, and I can’t help thinking that in landing the evidence, the authors got some bycatch. Both Kathryn Schulz and Daniel Kahneman are clear on why they went to the trouble of writing it all down for us. Both writers are enchanted by the elegant, sophisticated workings of our minds, and both speak of public conversation rather than private redemption. Kahneman, who describes human intuition as “marvelous,” says that his purpose is to give readers the skills to “identify and understand errors of judgment and choice,” in ourselves and others, “by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them.” Schulz ends her book with accounts of people and institutions who have acknowledged error, apologized for it, gathered data on what went wrong, and changed policies and practices to fix it. Her examples include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the US commercial
aviation industry, whose errors can be devastating. The emphasis is on striving for consistent quality, measuring and analyzing results, making decisions based on real data rather than assumptions and guesswork, apologizing for error and changing whatever caused that error. Being right brings out the worst in us, Schulz says, but when we do accommodate fallibility and acknowledge wrongness, we become more compassionate. For starters, we can learn to listen— even in the noisy, egocentric, brand-crazy society that swirls around us. Listening is also the example offered by Albert O. Hirschman, the megaproject planner who was interested in unexpected endings, and who avoided conventional criteria for measuring success. In surveying large World Banksponsored projects on four continents, ranging from irrigation to power transmission, he recommended that a project not be evaluated just by measuring benefits, but also by asking how many “conflicts… it brought in its wake,” and “crises… it occasioned and passed through.” He welcomed adversity, and he welcomed doubt. Kathryn Schulz, too, says that we could do worse than to remember Socrates, who tried to fill his students with uncertainty—not fearfulness but aporia, “active, investigative doubt.” At this point, part of me wants to go back into my journals and read my immediate account of the day in 1979 when I picked up my daughter and ran until we fell into the bushes. Having read about human error over the last year, I’m pretty sure I know what I will find, or not find, in the journals. Another part of me wants to leave it alone and wait to see how the story continues to evolve—by elision, or embellishment, or just plain error.
Eve Corbel is a writer, illustrator, cartoonist, mom and grandma. Her writing and artwork have been published in numerous anthologies and periodicals, including Geist. For a list of works consulted in writing this essay, see geist.com.
Margin of Error 45
S H O R T
S T O R Y
A Noise in the World M . A . C . FA R R A N T
Despite the distracting jewellery, the cleavage and the exercised bodies, we look in the mirror and say, What happened?
eing October the dinner party theme was dead leaves and orange candles. I was sitting across the table from Scott, my handsome neighbour and host. Beneath the table, and out of sight, Scott was massaging my right foot, which I’d placed in his lap as a party gift. And while he was massaging my foot, and paying particular attention to the base of my big toe, which was causing waves of pleasure to flood my brain, his wife, Lori— she’s an artist in wool—was showing off the latest sweater she had knit. It was off-white in colour and had a design of off-white leaves that were raised and nubbly. “The sweater,” she said, “is like bas-relief sculpture only the medium was wool not stone. My work is a noise in the world.” And everyone admired her noise. I was thinking, while still enjoying the foot massage and registering that Scott had moved on to my instep, which he was kneading like a slab of bread dough, I was thinking that we all go through the same dramas, we look in the mirror and say, What happened?
46 Geist 92 Spring 2014
Once we had muscles and slowly they deteriorate, which meant that I was actually observing how we were all pretty old at the party despite the distracting jewellery and the cleavage and the exercised bodies everyone had. Then, as if to counter my unexpressed thought and to keep the world afloat a little longer, Lori asked me to retell an amusing story I had told on a previous visit and everyone looked at me thirstily. But because of the foot massage that was still in progress my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember how the story went. It was something about Mother feeding me moods in her kitchen, or maybe it was Scotch and cigarettes. I was puzzling over this when Scott, with his significant great qualities, indicated by a squeeze of my heel that I would soon be delivered of mental struggle. So I said, “Perhaps if I went home for a copy of the story I could read it to you,” knowing full well that squirrels and possibly wild rabbits would be prowling the suburban streets that lead to my house and that Scott might offer to protect me on the walk, which is exactly what he did.
Needless to say blood rushed everywhere then, especially when I was putting on my shoes and coat and watching Scott grab his highpowered flashlight. Anticipation, you could say, lit up the mud room as if someone had stuck a finger in my eye and I was seeing, not the faces of my friends, but fairy lights. And then it occurred to me as we were saying goodbye and telling everyone we wouldn’t be long, that the universe wanted to be tough for Scott and me. It was a special kind of exhilarating toughness, and there was no better feeling. A feeling so emotional and stark it left me believing I could even seduce a mirror. A feeling like I was a fifty-nine-year-old woman newly returned from studying with Sigmund Freud and now I knew everything.
M.A.C. Farrant is the author of over a dozen works of fiction, non-fiction and memoir, as well as the play “My Turquoise Years.” The World Afloat, a collection of miniatures, was published by Talonbooks in April 2014.
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GEIST Fa c t + Fi c t i o n • N o r t h o f A m e r i c a
F U T U R O L O G Y
Post-Apocalympic What happens to all those larger-than-life structures built for a few weeks of sporting events?
or a few days at the end of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the internet was flooded with galleries of abandoned Olympic sites, images of sports complexes and arenas and swimming pools and other sports venues, all disused and grown over and falling apart—in Beijing, Athens, Sarajevo, Munich, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Berlin and other cities. The images of collapsing purpose-built structures that circulated online this past February offered a glimpse of what might lie ahead for Sochi, a seaside resort town of about 350,000 inhabitants known for its subtropical climate and for sandy beaches, and now for hosting the most expensive Olympics ever. The photograph above shows Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground in Beijing, built for the 2012 Olympic Games, now abandoned. —Michał Kozłowski
Photo Short 49
P O E T R Y
Elegy for T Photographs Not Taken SINA QUEYRAS
Love set you going like a fat gold watch. —Sylvia Plath
Sina Queyras is the author of the Lambda Award–winning Lemon Hound, Expressway (shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award), and the novel Autobiography of Childhood (shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award). She lives in Montreal.
50 Geist 92 Spring 2014
he way the snowball flies, high, silent, the sound of it hitting a fence post, a stop sign, a car window: one glove, two gloves, hand over hand, padding small umbels of snow, packed, stacked, imperfect missiles hurled across a crepe sky, oblique scents of spring, stratified snowbanks, icicles like the cold reeds of an organ line the white wood, a base note of trout, spruce needles, mud, leaves, the smell of sap warming, or peanut butter pulled out of a crinkled brown bag (number 5) stuffed in a parka lying over a radiator, crayons, well chewed, hang nail of a wrapper, traces of a man in Detroit or Windsor standing at a stamping machine, or train men huddled in a wind tunnel smoking as the freight trains roll, a woman in Winnipeg sorting nuts into cellophane bags, the only pink acrylic scarf in a line of white-smocked women, a desire for a cigarette, ticking the minutes, no, no, no, her quick hands, her well-supported breasts, thinking of the prize ham, her winning numbers, a game and a glass of beer later in a low-ceilinged room lined with green tinsel, a sliding-glass trophy case on one wall, jukebox on the other, seven women holding hands under red pennants, blackand-white photographs of men in uniform, poppies pinned on their lapels, long glossy folding wooden tables, yes, the round tin ashtrays, a bingo chip, an empty cigarette package with a sailor in one corner, hair stiff with spray, a heavy silver lighter, crackling speakers, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, a cash-register bell, pickled eggs, a jar of pennies, a scarf on the table, a pair of leather gloves so hard and crusted from use and salt they resemble concrete busts of themselves, a brown vinyl purse filled with butterscotch Life Savers and Juicy Fruit gum, a park riveted by columns of light, a taxi cab waiting, a lost mutt, its angelic tail, its bitten ear, a street light bursting through spruce, the bus on Grant Avenue, the smack of a puck, again, again, poplars parting the wind like a man coming in from deep pools of kelp, columns of elm straight as buildings nattering across the lane, children swimming in puddles of rain along the crevices of old curbs calving after winter’s harsh retreat, laughter like bugs snapping at a bulb, houses like small islands floating in yellowed lawns, men with shovels scooping up the long season’s turds, the first dandelion, robin, the creak
of lawn chairs being pulled out of storage, a woman thin as a swizzle stick, circling hot coals in her yellow-check shift, a jam of anger, orange tufts of Labatts, a glass of cherries, of beer and tomato juice over breakfast, eggs on toast, the round television screen and mixed nuts, another cigarette lit, feet on the boot scraper, the clink of milk bottles, a late season sprinkle of snow, the milk man retreating down the walk, silent, babies lined up in cribs, the toilet full of diapers, a phone call, a paper snapped open, a belief in headlines, a cup sinking through soapy water, down, down with a thud to bottom of the ceramic sink, would we be any happier not remembering the ripe tomatored gift wrap, the pearl-blue plates, the jug of sugar, the brown light fixtures, the Life Saver candy book, the stiffness of clothing, the red plastic radio with its gold dial, the little placards flicking down the minutes, a robin nesting the morning, the expanse of half-empty houses, lined up along lone highways and mines, or in the city with its stacked lights, rooms dark so early in the winter night, how the night lights penetrate, cars everywhere accelerating, braking, dining tables laid with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, sage-green tablecloths, lemon-yellow napkins, the back ends of dogs walking away, the curl of a cat tail, half-empty cups of cherry KoolAid, fathers with plaid short-sleeve shirts soft as kittens rubbing their feet like Boy Scouts and sparking small fires, this one having served for a year in the war, this one having flown a fighter jet, this one with his dreams of football glory, this one having done time in Headingley, they lean against the large white block of stove, the sauce is on the boil, babies displayed in small, moulded plastic seats with thin bands of adjustable wire lined up on the coffee table like the special edition Rockwell plates they dream of collecting, the knees of women in the living room on the scratchy burgundy couch with thin spindle legs, the oldest boy spins with a tray of cookies on his head, the baby is paraded in her white ribbons, the youngest girl is dreaming of a dress made of abalone and shoes big as the cat, she is thinking of cutting the curtains into shapes, what is that red, like innermost folds of a rose, the red reserved for drunk bumblebees, or lantern-gold walls in tiki lounges, the olive green of the suburbs, three boys,
your age, with their palms open, plastic so thick and curved it feels like shale, mushroom lamps like slabs of onyx, young couples with their fondue pots and Eames-inspired chairs, the colonialthemed rancher where you spent Easter mornings riding a sugar high, the blond hair of an aunt in her cashmere sweater as an uncle dishes out chili, the boys are skating still, warm air drifts into the house, a buried doll, a burned snake, the desire to be seen so hard it has become an erratic in a suburban shopping mall parking lot, a young tamarack, a mock orange wonky along the path, an elusive garter snake, slugs, iris and carnations, Kennedy pink, an empty colonial chair, a woman with black hair and French nails, forest like florist foam, green as a woman with soft Rs, sad as a woman with a laugh like a catâ€™s tongue, a game of bridge, ongoing since 1959, maple vilas table thick as a skating rink, the edible poses, the sweet plaid skirt of summer, Tang by the above-ground pool, raspberry afternoons flat as the tides at White Rock, a saltwater bath, a kiss beneath the pylons, the barnacles, the greasy fish and chips, America across the water: cheap gas and chocolate, parasailing over the bay, oh, filing off to the portable with our Hilroys, pink and green, pencils in a plaid sleeve, hoisting up to the roof where the soccer balls gather like litter, in the north a rim of snow on the peaks, the sky like crinoline, oh pumpkin how you make children stand upright, high up with the yellow-eyed black kites, the boy with the freckles and puka-shell necklace lacerates home plate, his knees slide like butter into you, random, unadorned diamond, he smells like speckled hens, you are erect as waste grasses, you hack back the forest and lay out the turf, let the geese tamp it down, the gulls tug at the seams, heaven is other children, their patches of sugar, their sweet breath rolling into the future, small units of time, arenâ€™t you there still with your posse of girlfriends, hair black and straight across the bangs, standing on the balcony over the cedars, mountains like razors in the sky, I have loved you more than myself all these years, your coal eyes filled with strange couplings, your hands, how they pawed at the moon that night we were so cold the wind lifted us, twisting so that our eyes peered into the ceiling where Beckett lives, his soft, soft shoes playing the floor like a mandolin.
C I T Y
W O R D S
Stroke of Luck A L B E R TO M A N G U E L
In the hospital, finding it impossible to say “my thinking function is fine, but I find speaking difficult,” I managed to say “I think words”
week before Christmas, morning, I found that I was on the 17th to be exact, in able to write and read easily, the early evening, I sat down but when I tried to speak, in my office to answer a letthe stammer persisted. Now ter that I had received that it is gradually disappearing. morning, but as I was about The experience, while to write, I noticed that the terrifying, made me reflect words escaped me, as if vanon the relationship between ishing into air before reachthought and language. If ing the paper. I decided that thought, as I believe, forms I was very tired, and promitself by means of words, ised myself to stop work then in the first instance, after writing the note, and when the thought is sparked, tried to form in my mind the the words that cluster around sentence I was supposed to it, like barnacles, are not write. And yet, while I knew clearly distinguishable to the the gist of what I wanted to mind’s eye: they constitute say, the sentence would not the thought only in potentia. take shape in my mind. The Their verbal cluster allows words rebelled, refused to do the mind to perceive the as I asked them, and unlike presence of a shape underHumpty Dumpty, I felt too water, as it were, but not in weak to show them “which is detail. Caused to emerge by to be the master.” the language of its speaker fMRI: Bill’s Brain (2009). Rug hooked from wool fabric strips, 5'x6'. Marjorie Taylor After much mental strain, (and each language produces I managed, painfully, to string particular thoughts that can a few words together and set them To prove to myself that I had not only be imperfectly translated into down on the page. It was as if I were lost the capacity to remember words, another language), the mind selects the groping in an alphabet soup for the only that of expressing them out most adequate words in that specific words I needed, but as soon as I put loud, I began to recite in my head language to allow thought to become my hand in to grab one, it would disbits of literature that I knew by heart. intelligible, as if the words were metal solve into irretrievable fragments. I found that it was not a problem: shavings gathering around the magneI went back into the house, tried to poems by St. John of the Cross and tized thought. Immediately after the tell my partner that something was Edgar Allan Poe, chunks of Dante stroke, in which a neural passageway in wrong, and realized that I was unable (Dante is always useful) and Victor the brain was blocked by a blood clot, to mouth the words, except in a long, Hugo, doggerel by the bad Argentine the selecting of words became as I have protracted stutter. He called for an poet Arturo Capdevila and the forgotdescribed it: a groping in water for ambulance and an hour later I was in ten German writer Gustav Schwab something that dissolves at the touch, emergency in Poitiers, being treated learned in my childhood—all echoed preventing the thought from formfor a stroke. clearly in my hospital room. The next ing itself in a sentence, as if its shape 52 Geist 92 Spring 2014
had been demagnetized and were no longer capable of attracting the words supposed to define it. This left me with a question: what is this thought that has not yet achieved its verbal state of maturity? That, I suppose, is what Dante meant when he wrote at the end of the Commedia that “my mind was struck/ by lightning, bringing me what it wished”: the desired thought not yet expressed in words. Under normal circumstances, the progress from the conception of the thought in the specific linguistic field of the thinker to its verbal constellation, and on to its expression in speech or in writing, is almost instantaneous. We don’t perceive the passage, except in halfdreams and in hallucinatory states (I experienced this when, in my twenties, I experimented with LSD). Faced with the inability to put my thoughts into words, I consciously tried to find synonyms for what I
knew I was trying to say. It was as if, travelling down a stream, I had come to a dam that blocked my way and I sought to find a side canal to allow my passage. In the hospital, for instance, finding it impossible to say “my thinking function is fine, but I find speaking difficult,” I managed to say “I think words.” I experienced the expression of negatives as especially difficult. In my slowed-down mental process, if I wanted to say, responding to the nurse’s question, “I don’t feel pain,” I found myself thinking “I feel pain” and adding “no” to the words, so that, following my normal rhythm of speech, I would try to answer immediately and the words would come out as “of course” or “yes” before I had time to frame my thought in the negative. Perhaps, I said to myself afterwards, this is how style works: selectively finding the right waterway for the words, not because of any
blockage to the verbal expression but because of a particular aesthetic sense that chooses not to take the common main road (“the cat is on the mat”) but a personal side one (“the cat slumbers on the mat”). Lying in the hospital, allowing my brain to be scanned, I reflected on the fact that our century has allowed us what the medieval theologians believed was impossible except for God: the observation of our observing, a thought chart of our own thinking, the possibility to be both audience and performer. I knew then that I had been granted a magical moment.
Alberto Manguel is the award-winning author of hundreds of works, most recently All Men Are Liars, A History of Reading and The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm: The Reader as Metaphor. He lives in France. Read more of his work at alberto.manguel.com and geist.com.
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GEIST Fa c t + Fi c t i o n • N o r t h o f A m e r i c a
City of Words 53
N A T I O N A L
D R E A M S
Victims of the State DA N I E L F R A N C I S
The indigenous people of the Prairie West have always had to endure the dire results of disease and climate change, but nothing equalled the disastrous impact of the arrival of the Canadian government
s the federal government of Canada ramps up celebrations for the looming sesquicentennial of Confederation in 2017, we do well to remind ourselves that not everyone thinks there is all that much to celebrate. Take the First Nations of the Prairie West, for example. The transition to Canadian rule in their neck of the woods was accompanied by incredible hardship. Famine and disease swept the plains, wiping out whole communities. These natural disasters were made worse by penny-pinching government policies aimed at subjugating the local people. For them, Confederation was an unmitigated disaster. I cannot imagine that many First Nations will be joining the federal government’s call to use the occasion of the sesquicentennial to “celebrate our history, heritage, values and future” (the phrase belongs to the minister of Canadian heritage, Shelly Glover). James Daschuk is a historian of disease. In his new book, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (University of Regina Press), he sets out to explain why the First Nations of western Canada got so little out of Confederation, epidemiologically speaking. He begins well before the cultural encounter between indigenous North Americans and Europeans, back when 54 Geist 92 Spring 2014
the ancestors of the First Nations had the continent to themselves. It was by no means a paradise. We know that tuberculosis was endemic, as were other diseases that cannot be blamed on the Europeans. As well, the period of sudden climate change known as the Little Ice Age (roughly 1280 to the mid-nineteenth century) brought food shortages, social dislocation, violence and starvation. Still, it was contact between Old and New Worlds that deepened and accelerated all these phenomena. It is hard to exaggerate the disruptive impact
on indigenous people. “The equivalent exchange of goods, flora, fauna, people, and microbes,” Daschuk writes, “could only be repeated if there was an exchange of life forms between planets.” The impact of disease during the fur trade period is familiar enough, but Daschuk sets out the details of the virgin soil epidemics with grim detail and thoroughness. Wave after wave of smallpox, measles, whooping cough and other contagions broke over the indigenous population. Remarkably, though, the Plains people stood up to this onslaught. Sustained nutritionally by their reliance on the buffalo, Daschuk writes, they were in the middle of the nineteenth century “the tallest and best-nourished population in the world.” Yet thirty years later they were starving and riddled with disease. What happened? First of all, the bison disappeared. Herds that had once covered the grasslands as far as the eye could see dwindled away to nothing because of overhunting and disease. The result was famine and a dramatic decline in the health of the First Nations. Weakened by hunger, the people were susceptible to an explosion of tuberculosis that carried off whole villages. Tuberculosis had been present on the continent pre-contact, but it did not become epidemic until the First
Nations were forced into living a sedentary life. The disappearance of the bison was, Daschuk claims, “the single greatest environmental catastrophe to strike human populations on the plains.” Which brings us to part two of the scenario (and the real importance of Clearing the Plains), the role of government in exploiting and exacerbating the dire situation of the Plains people. The new Dominion of Canada got hold of the Prairie West (or Rupert’s Land, as it was then called) at about the same time that the buffalo disappeared. Seeing that the local inhabitants were suffering mightily from famine and disease, the government took the opportunity to pressure them into accepting treaties, surrendering control of their traditional lands and relocating their homes. Daschuk documents how in the face of widespread misery and privation, government agents withdrew medical services and denied food rations as a matter of public policy. It was not that federal officials did not know what was happening, or about to happen. Daschuk reports that the deputy minister of the interior in Ottawa warned that “to the Indians extermination of the buffalo means starvation and death.” According to another official, the government was “sleeping on a volcano.” Yet John A. Macdonald’s administration, in the name of economy, routinely failed to fulfill promises that it had made to provide food relief and health care. In 1885 the volcano erupted when desperate First Nations groups joined dissident Metis, led by Louis Riel, in armed resistance against the Canadian government. Daschuk suggests that much of the violence on the part of Cree and Assiniboine warriors was aimed at settling scores with government officials, who had been abusing First Nations women and were most zealous in denying food to hungry families. In the end Ottawa prevailed in the fighting and, along with Riel,
eight First Nations men were hanged for treason—an example, said Macdonald, “to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.” The Canadian Pacific Railway played its role in pacifying the indigenous population. Hailed as a “national dream” by some historians for its role in uniting the young nation, the CPR was a nightmare for the First Nations, facilitating, as it did, a variety of new infections. Measles, influenza, whooping cough and tuberculosis combined with famine to create a medical crisis that had never been seen in the region before. In the Cypress Hills area of Saskatchewan, the government forcibly removed First Nations to stop them from disrupting construction of the railway and to clear the land for settlement by outsiders. “In doing so,” Daschuk says, “the Canadian government accomplished the ethnic cleansing of southwestern Saskatchewan of its indigenous population.” Earlier disease outbreaks, while devastating, had been organic events brought about by contact with people who had no natural immunity. The subjugation of the Plains people in the 1880s and after was the result of planned government policy. The North-West Mounted Police were drawn into this conspiracy against the First Nations people. Initially the Mounties were the protectors of the indigenous population from exploitation by whiskey peddlers. Indeed, this is why the force was created. But in 1884 the NWMP came under the control of the Department of Indian Affairs, and its mission became not protection but the enforcement of oppressive government policy. According to Daschuk, this was a turning point in relations with the Aboriginals. “Once regarded as the saviours of the indigenous population of the west,” he concludes, “the police became the ambivalent agents of their subjugation.” Not surprisingly, officials took advantage of the situation to enrich
themselves. One senior official in charge of implementing the government policies was Edgar Dewdney, Indian commissioner of the NorthWest Territories and later lieutenant governor there. Dewdney routinely withheld rations from recalcitrant First Nations, using hunger as a weapon to bring them into line. At the same time he was accepting financial payments from the I.G. Baker Company, based in Montana, the largest supplier in the West of foodstuffs and other supplies to the Canadian government. Daschuk recounts other Indian agents trading food for sex with Native girls and women. Macdonald was under constant pressure from the Liberal opposition to cut costs any way he could. It was easier to doom the Plains people to what was considered to be their inevitable fate than it was to do something about it. Instead it became conventional wisdom that the indigenous people were inherently vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis, that they were doomed to die out because of their own weakness—regrettable, perhaps, but a fact about which nothing could be done. Daschuk draws a direct line between the past and the inequalities of the present. “In the collective experience of subjugation, hunger, sickness, and death is the origin of the chasm that exists even today between health conditions of mainstream Canadians and western Canada’s First Nations populations,” he concludes. “The effects of the state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities that began in the 1880s haunt us as a nation still.”
Daniel Francis is a writer and historian who lives in North Vancouver. He is the author of two dozen books, among them Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918– 1919, Canada’s First War on Terror (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). Read more of his work at geist.com and danielfrancis.ca. National Dreams 55
GEIST tablet edition
ENDNOTES Reviews, comments, curiosa
poetry of place
In The Perimeter Dog (Libros Libertad), Julie Vandervoort describes how, at sixteen, she persuaded her tired, overworked mother to help her buy a cherry red Kawasaki motor cycle, and when that ended badly, how she got her mother to sign the papers for a student exchange to Argentina where she was “idiotically happy,” gobbling up the language and cavorting (under the careful surveillance of her host family) with members of the sociedad, some of whom turned out to be gangsters, or at least related to gangsters. In another story Vandervoort survives law school—a fog of overwork, anxiety, pressure and petty power trips—by visualizing herself as a massive and impenetrable buffalo; later in the book, she serves as a human rights observer during the Burnt Church fishing crisis. She is given a high-visibility vest and told to remain impartial, but people talk to her and she listens, and then she worries that one of them will get killed in the dispute. In another story she sits in her dying mother’s apartment (with “four emergency pull-cords and ten percent of her things”) and thinks about how time is “like a button accordion, with ends that stretch farther apart than you thought possible, then everything suddenly folding, bunching up”—a description that works well for Vandervoort’s writing. Her stories jump from here to there, and then they loop around and back and make unexpected connections. Readers who pay attention will not be disappointed. —Patty Osborne
What Poets Are Like (Sasquatch Books) is a collection of sixty short prose pieces by Gary Soto, a California poet and children’s author: “moments of a writer’s inner and public life, close moments with friends and strangers, occasional reminders of a poet’s generally low place in the cultural hierarchy, time spent with cats, and the curious work of writing.” Young poets reading this book while considering their future might well decide to bail before getting in too deep. Sure, they’d miss the excitement, the racing pulse, that comes from practising the highest of the literary arts, but to judge from Soto’s acerbic observations, poets in their later years are likely to express a mix of regret, envy and bitterness, at the undeserved success of others (Soto on Danielle Steel: “while Ms Steel goes first class, champagne in her jeweled hand, I, a poet, will go economy, peanuts spilling from the bag I tear open with my teeth”); at the repeated rejections (“the poem begins with me in a gloomy mood after having received a form rejection from a literary magazine in the Midwest that no one has ever heard of”); at the heartlessness of teachers who might photocopy an entire 146-page book for use in class (“If the school had done the honorable thing—bought a classroom set of this book—I would have earned $12.60. Was that asking too much?”). But What Poets Are Like also recalls moments of pure joy, such as might come when a poem has been accepted: “I did a jig around the oak dining table,
the place where I wrote at all hours, the crumbs of my meals jigging, too, as I pounded my fist against the surface.” Poetry: there’s no life like it. Co-edited by Trevor Carolan and Frank Stewart, Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (University of Hawai’i Press) is a collection of pieces—the table of contents groups them into Essay, Fiction, Oratory, Poetry and Memoir—that “help us to address the bio-cultural region called Cascadia,” a region described on the cover as “stretching in a great arc from Southeast Alaska to Cape Mendocino, California.” Cascadia is filled with evidence of the heightened awareness of “place” that can come to those who follow Gary Snyder’s injunction to “Find your place on the planet and dig in”; reading Cascadia confirms the arbitrary nature of political boundaries: those who share a watershed are connected in ways that transcend politics. There are some wonderful pieces here: a poem by Susan Musgrave titled “The Sex Life of Sand”; “In the Great Bend of the Souris River,” a short story from Barry Lopez; Theresa Kishkan’s essay “Marine Air: Thinking About Fish, Weather, and Coastal Stories,” which begins with a visit to the cabin on Oyster Bay on the Sechelt Peninsula where Elizabeth Smart wrote her modernist masterpiece By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, then segues into a meditation on the salmon that spawn in the stream feeding that estuary. My one complaint about the anthology—and it’s a minor one—is that it would have been nice Endnotes 57
to have a detailed list of the original sources; many—most?—of the pieces collected here have been published before. Still, I’m pleased to have them all gathered between the same covers. —Michael Hayward
don’t look back Franco Moretti describes himself as a “literary historian,” and his aim in The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature, he writes, is to study “the ‘fit’ between cultural forms and the new class of the bourgeoisie,” more fuzzily known today as the middle class or the middle classes: “how a word like ‘comfort’ outlines the contours of legitimate bourgeois consumption, for instance; or how the tempo of story-telling adjusts itself to
the new regularity of existence.” In an entertaining excursus on the emerging culture of “usefulness,” he parses typical sentences in Robinson Crusoe to reveal literary parallels. Main clauses stating an action—“I went,” “I found,” “I came,” “I set up”—are followed by consequences that lead to more action: “to cut down,” “to carry,” “to place,” “to supply”; everything and everyone becomes in some way useful in a chain of usefulness pointing to the future, just as the entrepreneur points to future reward: “having mastered this difficulty, I bestirred myself to see, if possible, how to supply… ” Sentences consisting of the past tense followed by the infinitive—“I did this in order to do something else”—are sentences that carry one forward with no looking back: “for in a culture of the useful, the future is always close to hand, little more than a continuation of the present: ‘the next day’; ‘the next season’.” Such sentences, with
their consequentialist drive, provide the energy and the charm for which Robinson Crusoe is still read today: they are the grammatical equivalent of the capitalist spirit, which turns things and people into instruments directed toward outcomes. Moretti goes much further, of course; his subjects range across the works of Defoe, Austen, Balzac, Machado and Ibsen. This is a wonderful book. A chapter called “Victorian Adjectives” is especially recommended. Several illustrations germane to the text are reproduced execrably: the publisher, Verso, should be ashamed. —Stephen Osborne
frenetic, instructive, bossy And tree-obsessed. Of these four new books from Mansfield Press, at least one may give you whiplash. Each of the fast-paced poems in Our Days in Vaudeville was written by two people, one of whom was always Stuart Ross, so, as the cover blurb tells us, they are “two-headed”; but readers may wish for even more heads than that as they try to keep up with the rapidly changing and often unrelated images that flash out from every line. It may be possible to get whiplash from reading this book. The less frenetic poems in Monkey Soap were made with words, phrases and sentences that Glen Downie pulled from, among other things, a treatise on gourmandism, a penmanship manual, a handyman’s guide, a couple of fashion advice books and dialogue from film noir. There’s something about the poetic arrangement of otherwise mundane instructions, dialogue or advice that, for a fleeting 58 Geist 92 Spring 2014
moment opens our minds to the possibility that we may have discovered a guiding principle that we didn’t know we had been seeking. Then we smile and chuckle and move on. The bossy poems in What the World Said by Jason Camlot instruct us more emphatically as they tell us to “Be jubilant!” “Count!” “Fight!” “Study!” “Don’t guess,” “Never ride the bus” and “Divide the sadness period into time.” Death and hell come along too, as does some more cheerful wordplay. You’ll need to get over your first rebellious reaction to being told what to do (and there, I’m telling you what to do!) so that, with repeated readings, you’ll come to appreciate the depth of the writing. Dear Leaves, I Miss You All, a book of short stories by Sara Heinonen, starts out with the two weakest stories in the collection, but since I was reading it during an unexpected two-hour wait in a doctor’s office, I kept going and discovered good, solid writing about flawed but hopeful people, many of whom are affected by or even obsessed with trees. In a few of the stories, introductory sections get in the way of a proper jump into the story but just skim by them—it’ll be worth it. —Patty Osborne
source of the four rivers found in Scripture, which, according to Columbus, flow downhill into the ocean—thereby rendering Paradise unapproachable by sail. No mapmaker took up the Columbian finding, with the result that we have no maps locating the Paradise that he was certain was there, perhaps because, as Alessandro Scafi points out in Maps of Paradise (University of Chicago Press), by the end of the fifteenth century, locating Paradise on earth was no longer seen to be part of the cartographer’s task. (Two hundred and fifty years later the Northwest Passage suffered a similar fate.) The central paradox of mapmaking had for centuries been a requirement that Paradise be located somewhere but remain unapproachable; the Hereford Mappa Mundi, circa 1300, shows a
walled Eden at the beginning of time separated from the earth by sea; Fra Mauro’s map of 1450 locates Paradise in vignette outside the frame. Nevertheless, belief in the Garden of Eden persists: General “Chinese Gordon,” hero and martyr of the British Empire, claimed in 1881 to have found it on an island in the Indian Ocean, where he identified the double coconut as the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, and the breadfruit palm tree as the tree of life. In July 2013, the Iraqi government announced that it had saved the Garden of Eden and turned it into a national park. Alessandro Scafi has written a fascinating history of the mapping of Paradise that can perhaps be seen as a quest not as much to locate heaven on earth as to invoke it. And he reminds us of Oscar Wilde’s observation that “a map of the world that does not include utopia is not even worth glancing at.” A copy of
finding paradise In 1498, in a letter to the king and queen of Spain written from the New World, Christopher Columbus revealed that the earth was not spherical, but “pear-shaped, like a round ball on one part of which is placed something like a woman’s breast”—at the summit, or nipple, of which lay Paradise, site of the tree of life and Endnotes 59
Scafi’s major work on the subject, Mapping Paradise, from which Maps of Paradise is condensed, is “richly illustrated” and “worth every penny and more,” according to Amazon readers, and available on Amazon for $485. —Mandelbrot
girls in gangs Anatomy of a Girl Gang by Ashley Little (Arsenal Pulp Press) is shocking—but in the best possible way. Most books set in contemporary Vancouver are familiar to those who live here, but this novel is set only blocks away from where I work and go to school, and it makes my city seem foreign and dangerous. Written in the voices of the five young girls in the Black Roses—a newly formed all-girl
gang in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver—the story follows each girl through her life after joining the gang. Mac is smart as a whip, the gang’s leader and mastermind. Mercy, her best friend, is a beautiful Punjabi girl with a knack for theft. Kayos lives in Shaughnessy with her parents and the daughter she had when she was thirteen. Sly Girl left her life on a First Nations reserve for one she thought would be better. Z is the city’s best graffiti artist—and, secretly, Mac’s new girlfriend. For a novel that deals with such disturbing content, this book is heartfelt and tremendously moving. It reads like a diary, as if the girls are real and writing, and don’t particularly care whether or not you read their story. My first thought after I read it (almost in one sitting) was that it should be required reading in high schools, especially in the Vancouver area—not only as a cautionary tale but as a reminder that kids are growing up in harrowing
circumstances. Anatomy of a Girl Gang is triumphant, beautiful, startling, sad and gritty—a powerful feminist coming-of-age novel. —Roni Simunovic
not quite home Austin Clarke, an immigrant from Barbados, has spent his life considering the Canadian identity from his perspective as a journalist, novelist, poet, professor, politician—and outsider. In his latest collection of short fiction, They Never Told Me and Other Stories (Exile Editions), Clarke presents a vision of Canada as a country more preoccupied with the appearance of multicultural enlightenment than with its actual practice. His stories are about culture shock on the part of immigrants from the West Indies and their bleak encounters with Canadian civility: fresh-off-the-plane Calvin is in blind pursuit of material North American identity in the form of a Ford Galaxie; Enid has barricaded herself in her house, praying for the postie to bring her something more promising than another eviction notice; a tenured professor searches in vain for authentic black culture amongst the elitist university crowd. One by one, Clarke’s characters realize that they are in “a home that is not quite home,” a country that does not live up to the ideal they were told about. The book ends with a short story about Clarke himself, written by his friend Barry Callaghan, who perfectly sums up the author’s conflicted feelings toward a country that welcomes you in while muttering “get out” under its breath. —Dylan Gyles
60 Geist 92 Spring 2014
arctic roots The greatest and least known of Arctic journeys was undertaken in 1860 by a shaman named Qidtlarssuaq, who in a vision had flown over the ocean
to a distant shore, where he found more Inuit; he was accompanied by his extended family of twenty-five or so; they travelled for several years, across Baffin Island and north along the coast of Melville Sound, and then northeast across Baffin again and over the ice to Devon Island and eventually Greenland, where they met the people known as the Polar Eskimos. (On one or two occasions they met British sailors searching for the lost Franklin expedition.) The Polar Eskimos were a vestigial community who had been cut off by weather and ice from the Greenlanders to the south and by this time were reduced to about a hundred persons. They had lost their elders and much of their technology; the Baffin Islanders restored to them the technology of komatik, kayak, the arctic bow and arrow, and techniques of hunting—almost all of which had been lost to the Polar Eskimos. The story of Qidtlarssuaq is told in Vanishing Point, a terrific documentary made by Stephen A. Smith and Julia Szucs, and narrated by Navarana K’avigak’ Sørensen, a Polar Eskimo and a descendant of Qidtlarssuaq, who, according to the tradition that Navarana received as a child, had
said to the people of southern Baffin Island: “Have you ever wanted to travel to new lands; have you ever wanted to meet new people?” The Polar Eskimos, the most remote people in the world, have retained the Baffin Islanders’ technology, and still use dogs and komatiks, and hunt the narwhal from kayaks. The documentary follows Navarana on a journey to south Baffin Island, where she meets her Canadian relatives for the first time, and goes onto the land and the sea with them. The Baffin Islanders are a different people, we can see, but they are also the “same” people as the Polar Eskimos. As Navarana observes during the narwhal hunt, “the Canadians shoot first and then throw the harpoon; we do it the other way around.” Land and sea are revealed by masterful and unobtrusive cinematography that serves beautifully to render the story that Navarana and her families share with each other. Navarana is herself a charismatic figure and a compelling narrator. And we see the Arctic facing the twenty-first century: “As the world melts under our feet,” she says, “we must find the best way for our journey.” Produced by the NFB, now available on Netflix. —Mandelbrot
talking ducks My love of reading has its roots in comic books; I could (and did) spend many delinquent hours at our neighbourhood drugstore, dazzled by Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and equally absorbed in the world of talking ducks. Scrooge McDuck—the
Read more Endnotes online Geist reviewers review: novels, films, obituaries from The Economist, Rick Mercer’s rants, Rush documentaries, Trailer Park Boys, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, 500,000 pages of The New Yorker, the new Canadian ten-dollar bill, a book on the making of Blade Runner, desk encyclopedias, online search results for the word “Geist” and the index of Brian Mulroney’s memoirs.
world’s richest duck, with a net worth that Time magazine once estimated at “one multiplujillion, nine obsquatumatillion, six hundred twenty-three dollars and sixty-two cents”—was a particular favourite. Scrooge loved to plunge into his colossal money bin, “to dive around in it like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit me on the head!” It was decades before I learned that it was Carl Barks who had written the best of the talking duck adventures. Barks was an anonymous Disney artist for decades, but late in life was able to emerge from relative obscurity and enjoy the appreciation of his many fans. Fantagraphics Books began publishing The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library in 2011, starting with the most familiar stories; The Old Castle’s Secret— volume 6 in that undertaking—features stories that first appeared in the Disney magazines in 1948. In the title story, Scrooge travels to Scotland with his nephew Donald and his three nephews, the intrepid Huey, Dewey and Louie, in an attempt to find treasure hidden somewhere within the walls of “the huge old castle of Dismal Downs.” There they encounter an X-ray machine that can see through stone walls, a walking skeleton wielding a sword, a subterranean passage that ends in a graveyard, a loyal retainer who isn’t what he seems, and an invisibility spray stolen “from a foreign spy during the war.” Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
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OFF THE SHELF
democracy; David Starkey weighs in on
Previously Feared Darkness (ECW Press),
Like all troubled Americans, Christopher
the competition for ugliest Jesus in the his-
Robert Priest promises we can have noth-
Kruse has been invited to burn down the
tory of western art in Circus Maximus (Bib-
ing if we wait long enough; couples have to
rustic countryside of southern France in
lioasis). Kit Dobson reminds us that writing
scream their “I do’s” above the wail of police
Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians (Harper-
is not typing, blogging, waiting, directing,
sirens, EKG monitors and crashing ocean
Collins); in John Brooke’s Walls of a Mind
googling, posing, bullying, art, Tourette
waves in Jani Krulc’s The Jesus Year (Insom-
(Signature Editions), Chief Inspector Aliette
Syndrome, vandalism or just a knife he’s
niac Press); Paul Carlucci can prove that E
Nouvelle learns that blood is thicker than
using to eat pie with in Please, No More
equals something, something, something in
wine and in the small town of Saint-Brin
Poetry (Wilfrid Laurier University Press);
The Secret Life of Fission (Oberon Press).
it flows just as freely; John Alford is a just
Ed Kavanagh counts armoured cars, days in
man praying for a just war in The Chaplain
Toronto, dead cats and dad’s business trips in
To John Wall Barger, whose poetry col-
by Paul Almond (Sulby Hall Publishers);
Strays (Killick Press); the new curator at the
lection Hummingbird was shortlisted for the
Alberto does his best not to play detective
Nauk finds her predecessor’s life bleeding
2013 Raymond Souster Award; to Marilyn
at his father’s funeral in Mauricio Segu-
into her own in Rachel Pastan’s Alena (Riv-
Bowering, Lorna Crozier, Evelyn Lau
ra’s Eucalyptus (Biblioasis). Ashwin hides his
erhead Books); A.L. Kennedy demonstrates
and Rachel Rose for being shortlisted for
own loss by wading through the grief of
the difference between being flogged and
the 2013 Pat Lowther Memorial Award; to
others in Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever
being knocked, between shagging and mak-
Brad Cran, whose latest book of poetry, Ink
After of Ashwin Rao (Random House Can-
ing love, between the stink of nothing and
on Paper, was nominated for the 2013 Van-
ada); in The Long White Sickness by Cece-
the taste of contempt in All the Rage (House
couver Book Award; and to Missy Marston,
lia Frey (Inanna), Constance writes herself
of Anansi); Naomi Fontaine badly wants to
who won the 2013 Ottawa Book Award for
into a fatal alpine descent; the sole survivor
write her silence in the painful memories
her debut novel The Love Monster.
of a suicide pact lives to see the end of the
and haunted visions of Kuessipan (Arsenal
world in Liz Worth’s PostApoc (Now Or
Pulp Press); pretend teachers, small crabs
Quill and Quire says Blood, Marriage, Wine
Never Publishing); Anne takes refuge from
and dead brains get lost in translation in
& Glitter by S. Bear Bergman (Arsenal
a violent man in the arms of the murder-
Ron Schafrick’s Interpreters (Oberon Press);
Pulp Press) “speaks to the shared truths of
ous ocean in Joyce Grant-Smith’s Oatcakes
Richard Norman ponders the biological
intimacy in broad human connections”; the
and Courage (Quattro Books); the puritans
patterns and cosmological minutiae at either
Globe and Mail likens it to “having a long
are dead set against Anne’s king, mother,
end of the universe in Zero Kelvin (Biblioa-
talk with an overeducated, sometimes sen-
friends, books and sanity in The Hedge by
sis); Shane Rhodes claims that his X: Poems
timental smartass.” The Winnipeg Review
Anne McPherson (Inanna). H.P. Love-
and Anti-Poems (Nightwood Editions) is a
calls Douglas Glover’s Savage Love (Goose
craft with a stick of charcoal and a broken
terrible book with interracial terror written
Lane Editions) “nothing so much as paro-
heart couldn’t say it better than Darryl Joel
on an interrogated territory of error. Alec
dies of stories assembled through postmod-
Berger does in Dark All Day (John Gos-
Dempster channels the fandango of son
ern pastiche”; Quill and Quire says “Glover
slee Books); something from the bottom of
jarocho with the illustrations and stories of
is a smart writer of precisely measured
Eric Greinke’s dreamscapes is reaching up
Loteria Jarocha (Porcupine’s Quill); Chris-
effects, but it never seems like he’s show-
to touch you in For the Living Dead (Presa
tie Harris invokes the traditional Haida
ing off”; the Globe and Mail declares that
Press); a legacy of grit, blood, smoke, piss,
legends of the shape-shifter Mouse Woman
“his stories leave a genuine emotional scar.”
ash, slavery, disease and rot is sewn into the
in Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses
The Vancouver Sun calls Lucky by Kathryn
cotton trade in Rachel Lebowitz’s Cotton-
(Raincoast Books); Michael Lowe tumbles
Para (Mother Tongue Publishing) an expe-
opolis (Pedlar Press); serial killings, break-ins,
through Newfoundland’s sordid history
rience “like stepping through the screen of
armed robberies and kidnappings plague
and legendary resonance in The Stranger’s
a TV newscast about the Middle East”; BC
the Pleasant country inn in Judith Alguire’s
Gallery by Paul Bowdring (Vagrant). Ste-
BookWorld says it “asks a lot of questions
Peril at the Pleasant (Signature Editions).
ven Galloway proves you don’t know jack
and answers none.” According to Publishers
Lawrence Hill assures us that censorship
about Harry Houdini, in his phantasmago-
Weekly, Shelagh Plunkett’s The Water Here
is still alive and well in Dear Sir, I Intend to
rical yarn The Confabulist (Knopf Canada);
Is Never Blue (Viking Canda) is “a damn-
Burn Your Book (University of Alberta Press);
volcanoes lead to kittens, funeral hymns
ing condemnation of how First Worlders
in Tragedy in the Commons by Alison Loat
to erections in Canary by Nancy Jo Cul-
have related to the developing world in the
and Michael MacMillan (Random House
len (Biblioasis); Carmelita McGrath con-
personal realm”; James Grainger calls it a
Canada), eight former MPs spill their guts
siders the difficulty of remaining buried in
complex puzzle, which Plunkett “refuses to
about the inner workings of Canadian
Escape Velocity (Goose Lane Editions); in
62 Geist 92 Spring 2014
The GEIST Cryptic Crossword
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The winner will be selected at random from correct solutions received and will be awarded a one-year subscription to Geist or—if already a subscriber—a Geist tote bag. Good luck! ACROSS 1 Even though they knocked me unconscious, they found no jewels behind the curtains 6 Would it be stupid to land that lover with the speech impairment? 9 What in God’s Lake is that? An airport? 10 Way up there, Rod gets around so quickly that lately he’s been dipping down and causing a dreadful chill (2) 13 Do you have some apples? I don’t 14 China’s biggest airport employs hockey players from the prairies? 15 Cecil, I like my water with ice but that looks dangerous! 16 In Toronto, the army found that most rice got blown around while it was frozen and then glazed (2) 20 Currently, the volume increases unless cut off by war 21 What’s the point of not using Adam’s power up here at 22.5 degrees? (abbrev) 22 A growling lamb is a good indication of changes coming to a friendlier world (2) 27 Hey, Pierre, wait one and it’ll be dry 28 In China, Glenn’s juice had a lot of flavour 29 Do me a favour and look on the other side of that leaf (abbrev) 30 When my sister came on the scene I gave the girls to her 31 It’s crazy when rowboats can hold more than seven people 34 Both Evy and Ivy went there 36 Well shiver me timbers, that cool breeze is the worst in decades 40 Who covered the owl in flakes? 41 Before Christians had phones, Alexander’s company took calls (abbrev) 43 Not related to country bumpkins 46 The lesser Orr could play a perfect game 50 It’s so cool the way that brief display of nudity slicked up and preserved our maritime roadways (2) 51 In Paris, she went to school for a few seconds 52 There was certainly a large amount to clean up 53 What a doll he was to wipe off all the skates for the boy scouts DOWN 1 I can see the bins glow now, but the blizzard is over 8 feet tall (2) 2 Push the cocaine cart in a circle going north, then let’s jump into the water (2) 3 We put up a sun screen but we can still get gas and fall into a hole in the zero area 4 Things didn’t look pretty when Betty had no alibi
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5 Beforehand, I’m grateful for the little golf move that blocked my play (abbrev) 6 Sounds like the tax on my Chevy will leave me high and dry 7 She cried real tears when she heard the machine gun fire and the rain come down out of the cloud 8 Sometimes the royals had big heads, short arms and sharp teeth and were known for their tea 10 She needs to examine my buddy’s head 11 But do you remember when it went between our toes, not between our cheeks? 12 To get recognition it’s important to start by being sincere 16 That’s a good representation but why is she spitting? 17 Up here and on the coast the train used to save lives (abbrev) 18 Was Mike hammered when he was working on that sequence? 19 This winter, why did smallest money man keep falling rapidly? 20 His beard began to provide shelter from grass 23 Most important circular money signal in Hawaii? 24 The sixths started off by taking a chance in the desert 25 Somewhere in America, Davis is still performing well on the highway 26 It must be under my watch or my dime (2) 32 Don’t bring that up to the well or Red Bill will not say grace 33 Edward built a snow den and then got stuck there for the summer (abbrev) 35 He heard that his woolly girls might end up in the pie 37 He spoke coldly of Van Winkle, but he did have rhythm
38 Sounds like you need to cash out all the cookies in your storage locker 39 The room I rent never goes anywhere 40 Sounds like if you brown those steaks the veggies will dry out 42 Does that toque keep your tea warm? 43 Members of that group get a bigger kick out of it when there’s three down (abbrev) 44 The soldiers said that, of late, Julian may have had trysts in his northern office (abbrev) 45 After it became like the national external hospital they sometimes gave it a z 47 Where could Darwin remake all his gear? (abbrev) 48 Oh dear, are you wandering around Banff again? 49 Every day, Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver get enlightened The winners for Puzzle 91 were Jim Lowe and Brian Goth. Congrats! R A B B L E
Q U E L L E D
E D C H A M N P A E B C E O N A R D W O O E L B A L A N C I U E S T I O S A B A C A R S K A O W E R H O I L A N P R E B T
B E R U R C E L M A R M E D B I N P E
A B L B A R X
L O O T I N U D G
E C L A M B I V N E E E T
R I O D A C U T K B E N C H E R A R T S L Y I U S E S E N O R O G U I N G
C A U G H T
M A P P I N G
Touchy Feely The Tactile Map of Canada by Cassia Streb
File River Satin Lake
modified Geistonic projection
Jagged Ridge Cleft Island
CratĂ¨re des Pingualuit
Burlap Creek Muck Lake
Coarse Gold Pup
Itchy Fish Pond
Notched Mountain Spiked Peak
Fleece Cove Velvet Horn Pond
Lisse des rapides
Pulperie de Chicoutin
Powder Creek Sting Lake
Sticky Brook Softwood Island
Furry Creek Ripples
Cragg Creek Glue Lake
Glossy Mountain Whisker Creek
Dusty Lake Lumpy Butte Scabby Butte Brush Flats
Twill Lake Roughbark Creek Ridgedale Polishak Lake
Sandy Bottom Brook Scratch All Point Feely Creek
Fluid Point Rocky Bed Rapids
Sludge Bay Thornyhurst
Snake Skin Creek
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64 Geist 92 Spring 2014
Touchy-Feely Map of Canada
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In Review: Maps of Paradise Anatomy of a Girl Gang What Poets Are Like Monkey Soap The Perimeter Dog Immigrant stories Scrooge McDuck stories Franco Moretti Collaborative poetry Instructional poetry