Humber Literary Review: vol. 8, issue 1

Page 1

VOLUME 8 ISSUE 1 spring + summer 2020


// our biennial emerging writers fiction contest winners // PAMEL A DILLON, CHIDO MUCHEMWA , NINA DUNIC NANCY JO CULLEN // interview JAMES POLLOCK & JENNIFER LOVEGROVE // poetry MARK ANTHONY JARMAN & BRIT TANI BIRCH // essays JOAN BUT TERFIELD // art ALËNA SK ARINA // comic


Featuring a third semester, industry-connected internship

VOLUME 8 ISSUE 1 spring + summer 2020











4 10 18 26 22 30

Harvest Who Will Bury You? Bodies Cipayak Memento Mori North Portal, SK

9 Love Poem with Potholes ZOE IMANI SHARPE 15 Excerpt from [The Pool] JENNIFER LOVEGROVE 21 Citrus grandis, Lycopene flush, grapefruit diet: a sonnet JAMES POLLOCK 29 [Three Poems] GEORGE ZANCOLA 42 [Two Poems]









38 What Would Jesus’s Robot Do? BRITTANI BIRCH 44 Defeated by Jenelle Tayler

34 Kidney Beans




57 60 [Featured Artist]


PUBLISHERS John Stilla and Humber Press EDITORS Eufemia Fantetti D.D. Miller FICTION EDITORS Sarah Feldbloom Matthew Harris

The Humber Literary Review, Volume 8 Issue 1 Copyright © June 2020 The Humber Literary Review All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission. All copyright for the material included in The Humber Literary Review remains with the contributors, and any requests for permission to reprint their work should be referred to them.


The Humber Literary Review c/o The Department of English Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning 205 Humber College Blvd. Toronto, ON M9W 5L7


Literary Magazine. ISSN 2292-7271


ART/ILLUSTRATIONS EDITOR Christian Leveille INTERVIEWS EDITOR Meaghan Strimas COPY EDITORS Tanya d’Anger Laura Billett Rebecca Mangra Jorge Toro Kristin Valois Suzanne Zelazo PROOFREADERS Kathy Friedman Stuart Ross

Layout and Design by Kilby Smith-McGregor Cover Image and Portfolio by Joan Butterfield In Partnership with Humber Press The Humber Literary Review is a product of the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning’s Department of English Printed and bound in Canada by Paper Sparrow Printing on FSC-certified paper Opinions and statements in the publication attributed to named authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning or its Department of English.


ADVISORY Vera Beletzan Senior Dean, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Innovative Learning, Humber College Bronwyn Drainie Former Editor-in-Chief of the Literary Review of Canada; author Alison Jones Publisher, Quill & Quire Joe Kertes Dean Emeritus, Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts; author Antanas Sileika Former Director, Humber School for Writers; author Nathan Whitlock Program Coordinator, Creative Book Publishing Program; author


FROM THE EDITORS THIS ISSUE OF THE HUMBER LITERARY REVIEW IS BEING PRODUCED AND PUBLISHED DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC; an unprecedented moment in all of our lives. In times like these, it can seem as if we live in one long alarming present. To combat this malaise, we must look to the future for solace. For a guarantee that there are better days ahead. This issue celebrates the bright future of writing in our community, featuring the winners and honourable mentions in our third biennial Emerging Writers Fiction Contest. We were thrilled to work with Waubgeshig Rice on this year’s contest, and the selected stories present a thrilling, diverse range of voices. In Waub’s words, “Harvest,” the winning story submitted by Pamela Dillon, “is an alluring coming-of-age journey set against a vibrant prairie backdrop.” He describes how what starts as a typical story about “the exploits of a group of boys delicately evolves into a story of self-realization, hope, and heartbreak. Here,” he continues, “the unpredictability of human ambition and desire is expertly married with a volatile, yet stubborn natural prairie landscape.” Waub describes Chido Muchemwa’s second-placewinning “Who Will Bury You?” as “a touching account of a mother’s wish to understand her daughter, studying faraway on another continent. As she yearns for her child’s happiness, the mother naively misses revealing signs about who she really is.” He concludes his description by pointing out that “the incredulous affection emerges through a compelling first-person narrative.” Of Nina Dunic’s “Bodies,” Rice notes that the disparate “creepy and compassionate elements make this a gripping story.” In this third-place-winning piece, “a

dark discovery quickly plunges [the story] into a realm of mystery and intrigue. The death of a familiar figure haunts a young protagonist and unveils a strange family dynamic shrouded in secrets.” Along with the winners and three engaging honourable mentions of our contest, this issue is loaded with incredible art and writing. Our new poetry editor Bardia Sinaee presents his first selections and they represent a stunning group of poets, including the return of Eva H.D. to the pages of the HLR, the exciting emerging voice of Zoe Imani Sharpe alongside the established, award-winning (and Griffin and Giller prize nominated) James Pollock and Jennifer LoveGrove. Similarly, our creative non-fiction in this issue features the emerging voice of Brittani Birch, whose poignant essay describes a difficult coming-of-age moment with humour and insight, alongside the established and distinct voice of Mark Anthony Jarman. And as usual, the visuals in this issue are stunning. There is a dreamy, surreal comic from Alëna Skarina, and we are truly honoured to feature the innovative work of the legendary Joan Butterfield. Finally, we’re also excited to announce two new collaborations. First, we’re thrilled to work with a community partner, our good friends at InkWell Workshops, to feature another emerging poet in George Zancola. And Micaela Powers, a student in Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications program, interviews the multi-talented Nancy Jo Cullen about the writing life and her new novel, The Western Alienation Merit Badge. We hope that within this issue you are able to find solace for these uncertain times. Best wishes, The HLR Collective




he five boys walked the gravel road to the Co-op Gas Bar, and then turned left and walked another four kilometres to the edge of town; the road lead east to Alvena and west to Liscomb. Yellow fields coloured every vista; the endless prairie sky took in the rest. It was a late August afternoon and the boys were bored. They hopped the wood fence by Penner’s then traipsed through the wheat field making tracks through the high rows of grain. “Bet I can make it to the tree line before you.” Larch smacked Milton and Ronnie on the back of their heads as he slithered between them. He turned around and yelled, “Can’t catch me, ya losers!” They all took off, running together like a pack of wild dogs set upon a rabbit. Soon, Milton fell behind, then he slowed to a walk, stopped, and bent over. Ronnie turned back and jogged the short distance between them. He leaned down and slapped his hand between Milton’s shoulders. “Got a stitch?” Milton nodded and grunted a few breaths. Ronnie said, “Don’t matter. No point trying to catch up now. Larch always has to win, even if he cheats.” Milton pushed his hair off his face. “He better hope ole Pig Face Penner doesn’t see him in those rows.” They stood side-by-side and watched the brothers run. Whoops of laughter carried across the field, and before long the three brothers were out of sight. Ronnie pulled a rough strand of wheat from the ground, slipped it from its sheath and stuck the slim end into his mouth. Milton did the same. Ronnie cupped his hand around the end and pretended to light it. He tossed a non-existent match over his shoulder, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em.” Milton mimed a dramatic inhale. Ronnie laughed. Milton liked the sound of Ronnie’s laugh, it was unusual like an inside joke.





hey walked alongside the fence separating the fields. Ronnie eyed Milton as he pulled up another handful of wheat, shook the dirt from the roots, and twisted the stalks together into a rough imitation of a sword. Milton did the same. “I challenge you to a duel.” Ronnie held his wheat aloft. Milton called, “En garde.” Thrusting the sheaves of wheat out in front. With his left hand at his waist he rushed forward and slashed at Ronnie’s torso. “How dare you!” Ronnie said, in a fey British accent pirated from television. They sliced each other mercilessly. Every time Ronnie hit Milton’s freckled arm he yelled, “Point.” They advanced and retreated in a vicious dance, until Ronnie slapped Milton hard across the neck, small beads of blood rose to the surface of the jagged wound. Milton yelped, “Wait!” He pulled a pale blue handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his neck; he held it up, smudges of red marred the fabric. “I’m bleeding.”

...the soft wetness of his tongue juxtaposed with the hard edges of his teeth sent a shiver through Milton’s body.

“Oh no! I’m bleeding!” Ronnie mocked. He tore the cloth from Milton’s hand and shoved it down the front of his jeans. “Gimme that!” Milton lunged at his waist. Ronnie jumped back, his muscled arms held up triumphantly. Parroting Wyatt Earp, he said, “You gonna do somethin’? Or are you just gonna stand there and bleed?” He grinned and hitched his thumbs into his pants pockets and swiveled his hips in Milton’s direction. Milton leapt at the boy. They whipped each other in a frenzy of long thrashes until the makeshift sword fell apart in Milton’s hand; he dropped the broken stems on the ground, turned, and ran as fast as he could through the rows. He glanced over his shoulder, hopeful. Ronnie followed, his knees pumped up and down as he closed in. Then he tackled Milton and they fell together; their breathing came fast and ragged as they pushed and pulled at one another. They rolled together as one. The tall wheat snapped beneath them as it was flattened to the ground.

Milton grabbed the back of Ronnie’s T-shirt and tried to pull it up over the boy’s head, but Ronnie used his wrestling moves and slipped out of the fabric with ease. Ronnie slapped his chest. “This what you want, boy?” Milton rushed him. Ronnie flipped him effortlessly and with his whole weight he pressed Milton hard into the dirt. Milton could feel Ronnie’s heart pound; the beats matched his own. Their breath came in ragged gasps. Ronnie said, “I got you now.” “What are you going to do?” Milton taunted. He arched his back; he tried to break free but he collapsed to the ground with his right arm trapped underneath him. Ronnie sat on top of him. His face flushed. Sweat dripped from his chin onto his chest. “I’m gonna make you my filly.” He snickered as he bounced up and down over Milton’s behind. “I’ll ride you into the sunset!” Milton turned his face. “Get—off—of—me.” Each bounce an exaggerated breath. Ronnie stopped, he grabbed a handful of Milton’s hair, and pulled his head back exposing the boy’s neck. He drew a slow finger along the cut on Milton’s neck. He showed Milton his finger smeared with blood then he put it in his mouth and sucked it clean. “Now, we’re blood brothers for life.” “Ha! You’re more like a vampire.” Milton bared his teeth menacingly. “Yeah?” Ronnie pressed his body against Milton; “Then I could take you right here—make you dead.” Milton struggled to rise, but Ronnie grabbed his hands and held them to the ground in his fists, his arms stretched over Milton’s, their legs entwined. “Now you’re mine.” Ronnie growled into Milton’s ear. “I will devour you.” He opened his mouth wide and pressed his teeth against the welts on Milton’s neck. Milton gasped, eyes wide. The sun lit the tops of the wheat and turned it into a golden sea; thousands of seed heads swayed lazily in the breeze. Everything came at once: the glinting light, the rustle of the wind in the trees, the singing of the grasshoppers, and Ronnie’s warm breath against his skin. Ronnie’s breath—the weight of him; the soft wetness of his tongue juxtaposed with the hard edges of his teeth sent a shiver through Milton’s body. He closed his eyes. A strange heat rose in his belly that seemed a demand. “Do it. I want you to. Bite me.” He lifted his body and pushed his backside into Ronnie’s thighs. “Damn!” Ronnie let go. He shoved Milton’s shoulders hard, pressing him toward the ground as he leaned back. “You’re just like a girl, got no fight in you.”



o the north, at the top of the hill, a farmer plowed the field; a dozen evenly spaced lines patterned the soil. Seagulls flew behind the tractor and then dipped toward the ground to land on the newly turned earth, they followed closely; a milky white flock that lifted and fell in cohesive formation. Milton watched Ronnie run the length of the split fence until he disappeared from view. Still, he stayed put. The old mill’s whistle sounded at exactly five p.m. It was almost suppertime, soon Milton’s father would be leaving work for home. He spied his bloodstained handkerchief on the ground, snatched it up, and shoved it into his pocket. He traipsed through the wheat field until he reached the fence, jumped over the rails and into the ditch and then to the roadside. His foot pained him and he kicked off one his shoes, shook it out freeing a stone, then slipped it back on just as an old Chevy pickup barreled up the road toward him. The driver slowed, then stopped. It was Pig Face Penner. He gave Milton a once over. “Everything all right, boy?”

Milton nodded. “Yes, sir. I was just setting a rabbit snare is all.” He turned and pointed over his shoulder toward the ditch, the lie colouring his cheeks pink. Milton wouldn’t kill a living thing. Spears of light pierced the canopy of the trees. The old man squinted and cleared his throat. “You catching them or fighten them?” He pointed to the scratches on Milton’s neck and arms. “Seems to me you been wrestling somethin’.” Milton touched the cut on his neck. Had the old man seen Ronnie? Had he seen them together? He looked down at his rumpled shirt and wiped the dirtiest mark. He feigned a smile, tilted his chin toward the silvered fence. “I fell into the ditch is all.” Milton had worked to steady his voice, all while his heart was thumping against his ribs like a wild thing caught in a trap. Milton rubbed his forearms, then shoved his hands deep into his pants pockets. The old man flicked ash from his cigarette. “I’d keep to the road if I were you. You’re not doing too well in the ditches.” Milton nodded, relieved. The truck sped off, leaving a dust cloud in its wake. ///


he sun tipped gently toward the horizon in a mélange of orange and red. Milton fingered the handkerchief in his pocket as he walked. His thoughts churned: first of Ronnie above him, the weight of

Milton had worked to steady his voice, all while his heart was thumping against his ribs like a wild thing caught in a trap. him over his hips, then of the feel of his teeth against his neck, Milton quivered in remembrance. He daydreamed he’d rolled onto his back, his arms up in surrender, then dared to imagine he’d pulled Ronnie down to his mouth. Milton stopped in the middle of the road until the high, sharp calls of a starling broke his reverie.


his road had a long history. Milton’s father, Leonard, once told him an ornithology research team from


Milton lay motionless while his pulse reverberated in his ears. It was as if the wind had changed. Ronnie stood. He spat on the ground, retrieved his crumpled shirt, and jerked it on over his head, thrusting his arms through the sleeves. “Shit. I’m not going to bite you. You might have rabies or somethin’.” He pulled the damp handkerchief from his pants as if by magic. He tossed it at Milton and it floated to the ground, landing inches from his face. Ronnie tapped Milton’s behind with the toe of his runner. “Guess you’re last.” “Wait—” Milton struggled to his feet. “I’m coming with you!” Ronnie laughed. “Forget it, I think I already won.” He turned and sprinted away. “Ronnie!” Milton yelled, but the boy kept running. Milton roughly scrubbed the wheat chaff from his hair. His clothes were soiled; his underarms damp, something poked at his ribs so he took off his shirt and shook it, pale pieces of straw fell to the ground. His torso was crisscrossed with red marks and scratches, and he ran his palm over each one making it sting. He splayed the fingers of his right hand over his soft belly and felt a familiar ache, but now there was a hum inside—a frisson of excitement—as if every nerve was lit at once, and whatever it was it pulled him toward the boy racing across the field.


the University came down this same road more than a decade ago, and they’d placed wooden posts in regular intervals along the edge of the field. To each post they’d attached a small angled box, and painted three numbers in dark green paint on the side. Each one was alike in height and dimension: a nesting box with one small circular opening in the front. “They were looking for bluebirds,” Leonard said, “likely checking the populations.” For a while someone must have come to record the information, then they stopped. Seemed one day the bluebirds just up and flew away. Starlings used the nest boxes instead; summer after summer they built nests in the numbered boxes, laid five or six small turquoise eggs, and hatched chicks that no one gave a damn about counting.


ilton waded through the long grass in the ditch and stopped at the first post. He tapped the top of the nesting box—numbered 113. He cocked his ear close to the opening, waited, then whistled softly. He lifted the wood top and peeked inside, the bottom was lined with dried grasses and mud and there were downy bits of fluff, but the nest was empty. Milton pressed the damp handkerchief against his nose and inhaled deeply. It smelled of Ronnie, like something raw and broken open; it was intoxicating, organic. He carefully set the wadded cloth on the hollow nest then he shut the top slowly, thinking next time he’d show Ronnie his secret. The wind picked up. The wheat stirred wildly, hypnotically, making a pleasant clicking sound. Milton climbed up the ditch, turned around, and searched for the place where they’d lain. He could just make out the dark, flattened space that interrupted the perfect rows. Reassured, he memorized the spot, their spot. He took off running for home carrying a bright hopefulness, a buoyant lightness in his steps that wasn’t there in the morning.

The following day Milton rose early. He ran all the way to school so he wouldn’t have to see Ronnie and Emily talking and holding hands. At end-of-day, he burst through the door and sprinted through the yard carrying his textbooks like a shield. Milton marched home alone, stroking his hurt feelings, haunted by the thought of Emily taking his place; his heart as weakened as Ronnie’s attentions. Milton supposed that most people believed bad things happened in the dark, but he knew the most painful things happened in the bright light of day, when you felt safest—often right in front of your eyes with nothing to obscure the truth—this was how it was with love. Weeks passed like this. ///


n Sunday mornings the Missionary Alliance Church on Colony Street rang its bell at nine o’clock as Milton slow-walked down the long farm road; until he turned away from the village. He stopped at the bottom of the hill. This was the way he made his remembrance: standing silently on the road, watching the wind rustle the amber-coloured field until it died away and the seed heads bowed toward the ground as if in prayer.


ater, a storm would blow in and smash the wheat down in large whirling circles, as though a giant hand had pressed itself upon the earth in blessing. During the harvest, the spot where they’d lain vanished beneath the thresher. ///




wo weeks later school started. When the bell rang at the end of day, Ronnie didn’t wait for Milton as he always had. He’d started walking home with the oldest Barnes girl, Emily. She was one grade below them in 9-C. A pretty blonde-haired girl that the other boys admired. When Milton finally caught up with them, Ronnie stared through him and directed his smiles toward Emily’s eager face. Milton fell back. He walked in step with their shadows, his gaze caressed the back of Ronnie’s head as he eavesdropped on their conversation, waiting for an opening that never came.


the Humber Literary Review’s







Judged by: Waubgeshig Rice


1. Lonely people like to pour their full hearts into q & a sessions. 2. You are my favourite season. 3.

I loved it when you said It’s not that I care about averages. It’s just that everyone is much taller than I am these days. Kids in middle schools. Kids in spelling bees. Horses.

4. Your laugh like a grain of wheat. 5. The beautiful Ethiopian coffee lady wears backless shirts. 6. A bank of melting snow, a lone crocus, etc. Your wounded pawprints in the thaw. 7. Your mouth, the mouths of other attractive people. 8. Pablo Picasso. 9. (Your smile when I said I don’t care if he was an asshole made me want to live inside your mouth.) 10. Everything else was perfect without me, and so are you.

EVA H.D // 9







ome in, come in, Mai Mfundisi. I’m so happy you could make it. It’s not every day that the Reverend’s wife comes to visit. Please, sit. And I’ll get the tea. Yes, it’s just me here. Been that way since my Tino left for Canada last year. My only child gone to the other side of the world. I’m still not sure why she left so abruptly. For so many years, she’d been watching her age-mates board planes to try their luck else-


where, and she was content to remain with her mother in Zimbabwe. But one day, she decided that she had to go. She said to me, ‘This place is suffocating me.’ What does that mean? I have never been able to understand how home can suddenly no longer be enough. But you can’t tell these young girls anything these days. So, all I could do was put an extra bottle of Mazoe in her suitcase and tell her not to forget to come back home. “Those first days after she left were so lonely, Mai Mfundisi. I would lie in bed at night, staring at the ceiling. The house was so silent I could hear the ticking clock at the opposite end of the house. I would lie there and wonder what my Tino was up to. She dutifully called every other Sunday evening, but I felt like I was just an item on her to-do list. And she didn’t like to tell me what she was up to. She always redirected conversation to what I was doing in Zimbabwe, what the neighbours were up to, who was pregnant, who was getting divorced, that sort of thing. And when she did speak about Toronto, all she spoke about were her classes, the weather, and how busy the subway got. There was no mention of life beyond school. How could I bring these kinds of tales to the women at church? They were telling me about planning for their daughters’ weddings, about the cars their sons had bought and about their grandchildren’s antics. And what did I have but tales of hours spent alone in my house and a child who didn’t seem to care about anything except her books? And it was after such an unsatisfactory conversation at church, after listening to stories about other people’s daughters becoming wives and mothers, that I went home and when Tino called on Sunday, I found myself asking, ‘Aren’t you tired of being alone, Tino? If you never marry, who will bury you?’ “Tino suddenly being on the other side of the world really highlighted to me how much of an introvert my child has always been. You know, Mai Mfundisi, she used to spend so much time alone at home as a teenager that I had to force her, yes, force her to go out with people her age. While other parents were crying about their daughters being out all night, I was worried about a child who never seemed to want to go anywhere or to meet anyone. If I left her to it, she would forever be behind her bedroom door with her books, only emerging from time to time for meals. And she’s never changed. I don’t think she’s ever even had a boyfriend. And now this child is out there fending for herself. Who will greet her when she comes home? The question worried me so much that I started to wonder


how I could help her. But I didn’t know anything about her life in Canada. How could I know anything when she gave me so little? “Then one of the women at church mentioned she was impressed by Tino’s photos on Instagram. I pretended to know what she was talking about, but it was news to me that Tino was on Instagram. Why had she never told me? I knew what Instagram was, but I didn’t think it was for an old lady like me. But if that was where my child’s life was, then I would try it. I downloaded the app and searched my child’s name and there she was, ‘Just Tino.’ But the account was locked so I hit follow, then sent a message to my Tino asking if she could let me follow her on Instagram. And at two in the morning, her reply arrived, a simple “Okay.” One word I had lain awake hoping for. So I opened the app and went to her profile. “And there it was, her life. Photos of her many firsts in Toronto: her first farmer’s market surrounded by mountains of colourful fruit, her first plate of poutine with

This Nicole, she’s also almost thirty and still unmarried. I wonder if her mother also worries her child will never marry?

overflowing gravy, her first pair of winter boots with a fur trim. Photos of Chinese, Thai, and Ethiopian restaurants, of New-Age art exhibits, and of pastéis de nata in Little Portugal. Videos every time she walked into her favourite Nando’s and they were playing Oliver Mtukudzi. And selfies, so many selfies, all these images of her staring into the camera with an excitement in her eyes I had not seen since she was a child. “Now when I came to church, I had something to say. When the other women at church asked me what Tino was up to, I could tell them. ‘She’s settling in well. She’s learning how to ice skate. You should see the Indigenous art she’s collecting. So beautiful. She says it reminds her of Zimbabwean art.’ But Mai Mfundisi, you know the things the women at church say. Now that my child was living the First-World life, those with children still in Zimbabwe knew they could not compete on that front, so they changed the competition. Each week they would ask me, ‘Is she still not married?’ as if one week could be enough time for her to meet a man and marry. Their questions got under

my skin. I carried them home after church and when my Tino called on Sunday afternoon, I heard myself say, ‘Don’t you think it’s time you started thinking about marriage, Tino? If you wait too long, who will bury you?’ “But then three months ago, another girl began to show up in the photos, a Zimbabwean named Nicole, skinny thing with a big smile and mischievous eyes. You know the ones I’m talking about, Mai Mfundisi? The kind that signal a person who sees rules as challenges. But I didn’t say anything. I was just so glad my Tino finally had a friend. And the two of them were always smiling, eyes gleaming with delight. But when I asked Tino who this other woman was, she was evasive. ‘Just a friend, Ma. Don’t worry about her.’ Yet this girl showed up in every other photo, her hand always entwined in my Tino’s hand. This Nicole, she’s also almost thirty and still unmarried. I wonder if her mother also worries her child will never marry? “Anyway, it was encouraging to see that Tino at least had one friend. As I looked at the photos Tino posted, I realized that in my mind’s eye, Tino always appeared alone, but now, finally, there was someone beside her. I loved seeing her being silly with Nicole. One of my favourite photos was of the two of them standing by this big red heart-shaped sculpture. They stood at either side of the heart, peering around the walls at each other the way newlyweds do around a tree when they take their wedding photographs at Harare Gardens. And there was even a video of the two of them singing to each other at karaoke. It was this song called ‘Nights with You’ and Google says it’s a song about best friends. Oh Mai Mfundisi, I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see Tino laughing with this girl as she belted out ‘I just wanna spend my nights with y—’ “— are you ok, Mai Mfundisi? Tea go down the wrong way? Have a sip of water. No, no need to apologize. Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. Seeing how happy Tino was with Nicole really made my heart warm. Anyway, about a month ago, Tino posted a photo of what she called ‘her happy place.’ It was a library of all places. I mean really, Mai Mfundisi, a library? I will admit it was a beautiful library. It had glass walls, so when you looked up you could just see row after row on floor after floor of all these magnificent books. But the picture is unimportant. What I cared about was what she said underneath. Mai Mfundisi, she was celebrating six months in Toronto and you could feel the happiness in her words. I haven’t heard such happiness in her words since her father passed. Let me show you so you can see for yourself what she said. ‘I didn’t know it was possible to be this happy.’ Mai Mfundisi, I know this happiness. It’s the kind of joy that comes

I would be fine, but my body began to wear my resolve down and the sight of my friends holding babies began to make me feel envy instead of joy. Does my Tino ever feel like that? Does she ever lie awake at night like I do, staring at the ceiling, wondering who will be there at the end? Does she ever ask herself who will bury her? ///


from meeting the person who makes your heart sing. I wanted to ask if she had met a man, if she had a boyfriend. I wanted to ask if it was serious. But when she called on Sunday, my words tangled up with my fear of saying the wrong things and what came out was, ‘Don’t you dream of walking down the aisle in a flowing white dress to greet your husband? If you have no husband, who will bury you?’ “I sound like my mother-in-law when I say that. These are her words, words she said to my husband after ten years of marriage had produced just the one daughter. ‘My son,’ she would say, ‘who will bury you if you have no sons?’ She told him to marry another woman who could give him a son, but a drunk driver smashed into my husband’s Corolla before that happened. And now these are the words I say to my daughter? “Sometimes I wonder why my Tino tolerates this question. The Tino I knew in Zimbabwe would have swiftly told me that this was an unproductive conversation to have. But she’s different now. Something in Toronto has changed her. And when she calls, I can hear it in her voice, a joy, but also an anxiety, almost as if she’s afraid to tell me she’s happier since she left me, happier without me. “Last week, Nicole disappeared from the photos. In fact, there haven’t been that many photos, just all these Bible verses about enduring all things. And then on Thursday, Tino called unexpectedly, ‘Just to check on you, Mama.’ I tried to say the right things. I tried to keep the conversation light. But my tongue these days has a mind of its own. I regretted the words even as they slipped out of my mouth. ‘Tino, if you don’t find someone, who will bury you?’ And my child, my strong, unflappable child, began to cry. “I don’t know, Mai Mfundisi, why I’m like this. I don’t want to be this woman. Why do I keep saying it? Sometimes I think that maybe when I ask who will bury you what I’m really saying is who will be there at the end. When her father died, I had my Tino to live for. Who will she have when I’m gone? I know that my questions won’t make her marry any faster, yet I have this overwhelming sense of time running out. And this is why I really brought you here, Mai Mfundisi. In your position, you’ve probably spoken to other women like me, perfectly reasonable women who are suddenly unreasonable over the question of babies. So I wanted to ask, I need to know. Do you think there’s such a thing as a ticking grandmother clock? You know, like a ticking biological clock. I remember when I approached thirty, how I felt like my body was betraying me. I had spent my twenties completely fine with being unattached, but as thirty approached I was suddenly worried that I would always be alone. My head and my heart knew

I entered the program in search of structure and rigour. That mission accomplished, I also found my voice, sense of self, and purpose as I questioned who I am as a writer and what I’m driven to explore.


RBC TAYLOR PRIZE EMERGING AUTHOR AWARD WINNER Visit for more on faculty, grads, and our program.





Continuing past ports


As reinforcements cause you

Tipping over into commotion On approaching land from sea, there is a scent, like hot rock

A woman, outside of a car, yelling something harsh into a cellphone

As you approach

To realize she is you, inferring threat

You wake again, with your history fears

Furious sieving Once ongoing, ongoing

Then your father lived in a church, a motel

Conscription, several

several times

Substrate of common minerals, the Romans used

Crushed coral

The kind found in highway pools




Made to suck wood ash as calcium deposit

In one century



“A solid roof over one’s head is one of the prime requirements of a civilized existence”

Six trips through snow, heave into place

Your neighbour greets a plump tomato, grown from seed

Then all the pitch-black kissing

(gold chain on Marcus)


Malt barbeque, locker-room-tang

Not at all the first instance of power

Plaza walled off from the lake

When the cops grabbed your father by the neck, pulling him down to the ground, as if wanted

A case of mistaken identity, a black

Plastic bag, same as the subject in question


(discount Air Jordans)

Two blocks from home, the pool

Interstices, portals, afternoons, directions

Occur as leisure memory

Shale beach, wetted

Thong flip-flop, spongy

Heel snapping tile

Tongue depressor

Free Swim, Rec Swim, Lane Swim

It’s a drugstore swimsuit, it doesn’t fit, stretch

It over your vagina

Now go jump in the pool

Fumbling, continuous

Dolomite, until

(temporary casing)

(vexed proximity) Smell of french fries

Shift on one leg



Silt lens widens beyond the eye

Say nothing of the rays, bending

You have become a thing that moves in its own time





li’s father woke him up early. “I need your help getting bags from the car, I forgot them,” he said. Ali put on his track pants and a hoodie and zipped it up close to his neck, and then pulled the hood over his head. He was sleepy and annoyed but not showing it to his father, or trying not to. It took him a few tries to get his shoes on. His father was already dressed for work and wearing a parka, holding the keys and waiting by the door. It was bitterly cold outside. It bit through Ali’s body and woke him up quickly. “What did you forget?” he asked his father, feeling that talking would keep him warm, and he kicked up his step a little as well. “The rice,” his father said. “I bought a lot of bags.” “It’s frozen now,” Ali said. “I think we can still cook it and eat it. Anyway, I can’t let it sit there all day again.”

In the mist, it was about the length of a person. Or a lot of crumpled clothes laid out in the shape of a person. “Okay.” Ali didn’t know how else to keep the conversation going. They had a red Nissan that was older than most cars you see around and had rust along the bottom of the passenger side. It was far away, beside the park, as they didn’t have a paid space in the building—his father found street parking each night. They approached the red car and, behind it, could see the park. There was a cold mist, thick, above the frozen white-tipped grass. A long, black object

lay in the field, not too far from the road. It was just past dawn and the light was still very blue. Ali’s father popped the trunk and started handing several cold, sagging sacks of rice to him. They were heavy and Ali took two in each hand. Ali’s father closed the trunk with a few bags to himself, but they both paused and looked again into the park. In the mist, it was about the length of a person. Or a lot of crumpled clothes laid out in the shape of a person. They started walking back to the building. “Was that a man in the park?” Ali asked. “I don’t think so,” his father said. “It’s too cold for that.” ///


li found it difficult to fall back asleep. He was still painfully cold under the blanket, though he curled his legs up closer to his body. After a while, he could sense that it was close to the time he would be getting up anyway. He got out of bed and took a shower. They lived in one of those older buildings that had small windows in the bathrooms. It seemed odd from the outside—all these tiny windows going up along the edge of the building where the bathrooms were—but in fact he loved it. Early in the morning, the bright blue air, or lazy and late in the summer, the golden light. It made him take long showers, longer than he needed to. He left the lights off and used only the early daylight in the small bathroom. He went to the kitchen where his mother was making a tea for herself. He didn’t know what to say to her about getting the rice and seeing something in the park. He stood next to her and started frying up some bread while she was stirring her tea and putting away things in the cupboard. She sat at the table and Ali followed her. It was quiet for a few moments—his mother was not a woman who spoke often—and then Ali cleared



pparently no one called the police. And she was right, it probably was alcohol or drugs. It looked like an overdose. Ali walked up to the body on his way to school, with both Kofi and Pete from the building, and of course Pete was very eager about it, as Ali knew he would be. The grass was crisp and made a sharp sound as the three of them walked. It wasn’t as bitter cold as it had been earlier that morning, and the mist had risen. They all stopped a few feet away from the body, looking down. Pete swore under his breath—a dead body, flat out. Pete took a lot of photos, including up close to the man’s face, which was a cold grey colour. The skin around the eyes was darker, bluer. Ali did not get closer and his heart was beating quickly. Ali stood, mostly facing Kofi, who was not looking at the body either. But from where he stood, and what he saw of the face, the eyes seemed to be slightly open. Ali thought he could see white between the eyelashes. “Let’s go,” Pete said, and the three of them turned and walked away. Pete was on his phone for the rest of the walk to school—Ali guessed most of the school would know before anyone even thought to call the police. And he was right. A lot of kids talked about it that day, including several who actually came up to him and said, “You saw it first?” Ali said that he had, and explained being woken up by his father just after dawn to get bags of rice from the car, which later he thought was an unnecessary detail. Still, the fact he was asked about something a couple of times was a new experience for him. By the

third time answering, he was more comfortable and talked longer. It wore off late in the afternoon. The photos were shared, people made jokes, and the body had been removed from the park by the police. People were talking about it less. Even as it faded, it left a vague feeling with Ali—like he was older, but also restless, as if he was waiting to be left alone. He wanted to think about it by himself. He could still see the park under the heavy white fog in the blue light, and the black object lying in the grass. ///


he truth was—which he told no one at school— he knew the guy. He had seen him before, many times—it was the guy with the dreadlocks. The guy with the dreadlocks hung around the strip mall that was east of their building, out of the way of

The truth was—which he told no one at school—he knew the guy. He had seen him before, many times... school, but not too far. The guy was very thin and tall, lighter skinned, and had teardrop tattoos under each eye. He sometimes asked people for spare change, depending on the person and what kind of car they were getting out of, and whether or not he could see in their eyes that they were afraid of him or pitied him. But many people visiting the strip mall were regulars, and he chatted with them. He also had tattoos covering both arms and occasionally seemed drunk or high, or both. The guy with the dreadlocks would recognize Ali, too. At first it was just a nod, then later he would say, Hey man. His dreads weren’t very long; they brushed the tops of his shoulders and danced around his head when he talked or gestured. He often wore baggy pants and thick skater shoes. For a long time, Ali was scared of the guy with dreadlocks, from when he was nine or ten years old and first going to the corner store by himself. As a boy, he was fascinated by the dreads but felt fearful of the tattoos on his face and arms. But later, as the man


his throat and said, “I think there was a body, a man, lying in the park this morning.” She looked at him sharply. “In the park? How do you know?” “I was helping Dad get bags from the car, he woke me up. Maybe an hour ago.” She blinked a few times, trying to put it together. Then her eyes and mouth became hard and angry, which Ali did not understand. She had many emotions, although she was quiet, but she was not usually quick to anger. “Don’t walk past there to school,” she said briskly. “He’s probably just sleeping it off.” Then she drank from her tea. “It’s drugs, you know,” she said, with anger in her voice. She was almost accusing him. “Drugs.”


started acknowledging him with Hey man and it was clear he would not say anything else to him, Ali felt more comfortable. And a few times, the man looked messed up, sitting outside the corner store and slumping over—and Ali understood that he was sick, sad, or troubled; why else would he drink or take stuff to do that to himself. When he pitied him, the fear more or less went away. And then a year ago, he heard an older man in the convenience store talk about the guy with dreadlocks—being a foster kid and then homeless for a while. No family. Now he was in housing but he couldn’t drink there. He was still thinking about it at dinner but not planning on saying anything. But his little sister did. “I heard they found a body in the park today,” Naya said. “I heard at school.” Ali’s mother said quickly, as if she was expecting it, “I heard too.” She was quiet for a few moments and then started to look angry again. “These people do drugs in the parks, and they pass out—” Ali’s father made a murmur, short of actual words—a sound that said don’t—to his wife. “—overdosing or whatever they call it,” she said. She looked at her husband and still had anger, hurt in her eyes. “And then children walk by and see it,” she said. “Well, he’s dead,” Ali said. “So it’s over.” There was an abrupt silence. He hoped this would end the conversation. He was thinking the eyes might have been slightly open all night, and the hard whiteblue lips—he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. His sister would not respond to what he had said, but he did not know about his mother. It was quiet for a few minutes as they ate together. His father looked pensive and calm, chewing his food with a loose jaw, relaxed. His mother was eating less, but briskly. She wanted to say more to her children, help them understand. “They do it for fun, they get addicted,” she said. “It’s nobody’s fault but their own.” Naya was nodding and looking at her plate. Ali looked at his mother. He knew so much about her, things she didn’t realize he knew. He knew, for instance, how she spent the last months with their dying dog—a creature she had no use for during its entire life, and in fact appeared to occasionally despise, particularly for the mess. She hated cleaning up after it, hated the fur. And it was often noisy. But the dog was for the children, and so it was cared for and stayed alive for a long time—until it was dying, and one day was refusing to eat. Normally they would put the bowl on the floor

and the dog would eat. But now they would put the bowl down and the dog would not get up—looked at the bowl and looked away. It seemed the dog was giving up. But his mother, one night, sat down in frustration on the floor after she had scraped out the old food and put out fresh food—the third time in a row—and still the dog did not approach. So she sat down on the floor. Frustrated, and sad to see the dog was dying. Sad to know the children would cry. But when she was on the floor next to the bowl, the dog got up and walked over and, standing next to her, he slowly started to eat. And although it took him a long time, he finished the meal. And so, for months after that, while the dog was dying but now deciding to try not to, she would put the bowl down and sit quietly on the ground next to it. And Ali remembered the mornings walking into the kitchen and his mother sitting on the floor. And she was very quiet and still. She sat on the floor with her legs out comfortably, as sometimes it would be fifteen minutes or more. It was such a jarring sight for him. Not only her on the kitchen floor, which otherwise would have been inconceivable, but how still she was—the years of disliking the dog, and now this. The dog would finish the meal, slowly, and then she would stand up and take the bowl to the sink. Her seriousness about everything. Her resolute heart. Ali didn’t understand why his mother was so angry about the body, and about drugs. Why she hated them. Ali knew the guy with the dreadlocks, and the other guys in the neighbourhood who got messed up—they were all dying dogs before the drugs ever came. They were often shit poor and always forgotten, drunk parents, no parents, sisters that ran away, disappeared— abandoned, abused, ignored, drugs weren’t for fun, it was for the turning over of another day, for a moment of not being there. At last. Their whole lives—they were dying and no one would sit with them. Ali expected his mother would know that, but she didn’t. And he did not know how to tell her. ///


li took another shower before bed, which usually he did not do. He stood facing the stream and felt the hot water lighting up the surface of his skin—eyes closed, he imagined himself glowing gold with heat. His memory was vivid, crisp—the field, the fog, the body—everything cut with dark blue lines. ///


M— would tell me what to do on other dates. Requested photos. Evidence. First in a clanging chain of doms. The only child of citrus sinensis and citrus maxima. If I obeyed, he would do whatever. Broadview rooftop Palomas. June walls dissolve all jaune, no wait—so jeune. Mercaptan, Captain Shaddock, serrated spoon. A decade since I’d fucked anyone new. Black dress, Lou Reed, lilac heels—so cliché! Weeks of texts before we met: covenant. M—’s Belgian mother, real life Scrabble champ. Listen, sometimes the anti-depressants mean I can’t get hard. It’s not you. Okay?

SECOND VARIANT His hand sure on my thigh on the way home. M— made rules like Let him come on your tits. Women appear younger when they smell like whatever, Broadview rooftop, Palomas. Listen sometimes. The anti-depressants, dates requested photos. Evidence. First a decade since I’d fucked. Anyone new? No. Not a pomelo, more like daddy in a clanging chain of doms. The Only. June walls dissolve. All jaune. No wait. So jeune. I’ve never craved to crassly sugar one. Failure meant I’d open the door naked. Silent. Then kneel. I’m a perfectionist, maxima. If I obeyed, he would do.

THIRD VARIANT No, not a pomelo. More like daddy, tart. Paradisi, pith and playlist. More vanilla than not. Bergamottin inhibits enzymes that metabolize our drugs, the monoterpenoid that takes credit for the aroma, bitter and wet. No, sour. We tried then failed to schedule another date between breakdowns. The world’s largest weighed seven pounds. I sent pictures. I know about rules, about sequencing. Stunt double selfie with a well-placed squirt of grapefruit body wash. Lycopene flush. Women appear younger when they smell like grapefruit. Can be used for stain removal.






hen Lea described what happened, she said the sound of the bird striking the window was like a clap of thunder, and she leaped off the couch in alarm. She didn’t say the sound was like gunshot because she’d never heard real gunshot and couldn’t be sure how it sounded. She had heard shots on TV, but there were many things on TV that couldn’t be trusted, and she was trying to be honest. By then, she’d concluded honesty was something she should cling to. And because she was trying to be honest, she explained why she’d been lying on the sofa when the bird struck. She’d just returned from the hospital where she’d expected to pick up her mother, whose infection had healed. Instead, she’d found her mom curled into a tight comma, unable to speak or move her limbs. “Yeah, I think she had a stroke,” said the nurse Lea found down the hall when she went searching for help. Despite Lea’s plea that the nurse call a doctor immediately, the nurse appeared in no hurry.



t wasn’t the first bird to hit the window, which was high up in the room near the cathedral ceiling, too high to reach even by ladder. Each time a bird smacked into it, Lea planned to attach stickers shaped like owls or raptors meant to deter birds from flying into the glass. But then she forgot about the stickers until the next time she heard a crash. She dreaded stepping outside, knowing she would find the bird in the driveway either dead already or worse—stunned, broken, and in the throes of death. She waited an hour, knowing that she didn’t have it in her to put the creature out of its misery, hoping that an hour was enough for it to either gather itself and fly away or expire. She was imaginative enough that in that hour she contemplated how someone with more compassion or fortitude might end the bird’s life mercifully, but the thought of holding it under water in a bucket or braining it with a loose brick made bile rise in her throat. This was the reason she’d never owned a cat or dog. Inevitably, it would come to the point where

the animal would have to be euthanized; euthanizing a creature in pain was what responsible pet owners did.



doctor performed a cursory examination of Lea’s mother after pulling her body straight: scratching the soles of her feet, raising her arms and letting them fall back on the bed, peering into her eyes with a penlight. He ordered a scan, checked his phone, and said he’d know more later. Twice he asked Lea to confirm her relationship to the patient, and once he asked whether Lea’s mother had prepared any advance directives or signed a DNR order. Lea said her mom had assigned her as legal representative for health and that the documents were safe at home in her office. She did not tell the doctor her mom’s clear wish never to be a burden to Lea, or that she did not want to be institutionalized for her personal care, or have any tube inserted down her throat to keep her alive. This was information Lea had filed away mentally, hoping she would not have to act on it. Instead, she told the doctor she would sit at the bedside until the test results were ready. Throughout this interaction, Lea smoothed her mom’s flyaway hair, trying to make her look wellgroomed, as if she had plans for the day. The permed hairs were dyed chestnut, and although Lea couldn’t remember their real colour, she planned to cut off a curl using the pair of scissors on the bedside table as soon as the doctor was gone. She’d tuck the curl in her purse in the spare envelope she always kept there. Her mom’s dark eyes stayed fixed on the ceiling, and Lea was tempted to poke her into showing some sign of life so that the doctor would stop speaking in grievous tones about the likelihood the damage was extensive and a full recovery improbable, even if her mother survived the next few days. When the nurse flicked the curtain closed around the bed, Lea winced at the rattle of the hangers on the metal rod. Her mom’s face seemed so hairless and youthful compared to her own. She ran a finger along the cheekbones and murmured, “I’m so sorry, Mom. I know this is not what



either of us wanted for you.” The only thing she could think to do was swipe one of her own lipsticks across her mom’s dry, parted lips. But the colour was wrong; mother and daughter did not share the same skin tones.




he bird wasn’t dead. It lay on its back, its wings tight to its body, blinking eyes glistening like hematite. It was a large bird, a northern flicker, with black dots on sandy breast feathers, a smooth, grey nape, black bib, and bright orange underwings and tail feathers. This was the closest Lea had ever been to a flicker, although she’d heard them often. A nuisance bird, wily and destructive, with a strong beak for pecking. She’d never appreciated that flickers had such glorious decoration, so vibrantly pumpkin that it seemed unnatural for a bird. It gave it nobility—a value it hadn’t had before. The creature shuddered as Lea leaned in, alive but clearly dying. Blood flowed in a thin line between the rough nubbins of cement where it lay. Lea wanted her feelings for the bird to be unambiguous. A flicker— probably this flicker—had been damaging her house’s woodwork for some weeks, damage that would be costly to repair. It would be easy to be indignant. She wanted to feel as if this bird had got what it deserved. Instead, she couldn’t take her eyes from its spotted breast and colourful plumage. Observed so closely she could see the pen-sketch precision of the vanes’ alignment in each feather, its life seemed worthy of preserving.



he results of the scan were relayed to Lea before she left the hospital. The stroke was massive, the brain damage considerable. There was no point trying to attempt surgery, said the doctor. The window for such efforts had closed and the bleeding continued. Lea sat with this news wondering whether the nurse who had not called for the doctor earlier had made her decision knowingly. She’d been a young nurse, and eighty-five years might have seemed a full life to her, the effort to extend it futile. “Go home,” a different doctor said to Lea, his eyes on the chart he held in front of his body like armour. “Get some rest. There may be some difficult decisions to make in the days ahead.”



he gathered sheets of newspaper in which to wrap the bird and rubber gloves to cover her hands. Handsome as it was, the thought of touching the dead bird repelled her. Her thigh muscles ached from squatting low to the ground, and her eyes had a dry, gritty feel as if she’d stopped blinking. Every now and then, there was a weak

flutter of wings, which were now relaxed away from the bird’s body, exposing more fully the brilliant orange. “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die,” Lea whispered, even as her fingers hovered over those striking feathers. She wanted to pluck one. No, what she wanted was to have one without having to make contact with the bird or cause it more pain. She wanted something she could remember it by after she’d placed its newsprint-wrapped body in the green bin with all the other debris destined to decompose. She knew that by the next day she would not be certain if the colour of its tail feathers was closer to that of an orange or a carrot. The memory of their magnificence would fade.



he bird stiffened; a film clouded its eyes. She’d done nothing to ease its suffering. She had not placed it somewhere warm or dark to give it a chance, however hopeless, and she had not put it out of its misery. “I failed that bird,” she said to the woman she now paid to listen to her. “Lea,” the woman said, smoothing her tweed skirt over her knees. “Are you sure you’re not using the bird to avoid talking about your mother?”



ea’s father was also dead, had died weeks after an ischemic stroke the year before. Day after day, Lea and her mother had filled the hours with a conversation that went back and forth between wild hope and resignation. “The doctor says your dad can’t swallow effectively. He can’t eat.” “They can put a tube down his nose. His swallowing might come back.” “I’m not sure this is what your father would want.” “We should ask about the other tube, the one that’s inserted surgically.” “They’ve already put in a catheter. He’d find that so undignified. He’d hate it, if he knew.” “It’s temporary, Mom. Why aren’t they getting him up out of bed? He should have physio for mobility. He doesn’t even have any facial droop.” “I want to talk to the doctor about what exactly he means when he says ‘comfort care.’ I’m confused about how that’s different from palliative care. He’s had a good life, your dad.” “Mom, he’s fighting to live, I know he is. He raised his eyebrows when I talked to him. He tried to lift the blanket when I said I wanted to take him outside in a wheelchair. We can’t give up on him.” “I hear you, dear. I know you love him, and it’s hard to let go. But the doctor is asking us to consider what your father would want, and he most definitely



ea’s next-door neighbour stood at the end of her drive ready to haul in her garbage bin. “Everything all right?” she called out. “Yes, thanks,” Lea called back, although everything was not all right. “I’m just disposing of a dead flicker that hit the window.” The woman sauntered over to look down on Lea and the bird. “Oh, too bad. I was able to save a Steller’s jay once.” Lea thought she caught an undertone of judgment. The newspaper she’d laid out to wrap the bird in seemed crass. She wished she’d chosen something different—colourful tissue or a sheet of gift wrap from the supply she kept in the basement. She crumpled the rubber gloves and stuffed them under her thigh. The woman reached out to stroke the bird with an ease that made Lea flush. “I hope the poor thing didn’t suffer.”



ea, are you ready to talk to me about your mother now?” It was hard to speak. She held the brown paper bag in her lap, expecting to hyperventilate. All she could manage was, “My mom was so beautiful, so vital.”



his doctor was the fourth Lea had met at the hospital. “Did you and your mother discuss what she wanted before this event? Did she have any advance directives?” he asked. Lea knew her duties and responsibilities: to comply with her mother’s expressed wishes if it was reasonable to do so, to act in her mother’s best interest, and to act honestly and in good faith. The first lie felt like a rip through her chest. “No,” she said. “Mom wasn’t clear on a situation like this.” “Well, we can keep her comfortable, of course. There’s a very good palliative care unit here in the hospital that you should consider.”

“My father also had a stroke. My mom wanted to give him every chance to live, every chance. We were prepared to give him full-time care.” Lea held her breath as she lied again, her gaze fixed on the flooring—institutional speckle to hide the dirt. The consultation room was a mere hallway away from her mother’s ward. Already, she couldn’t remember the shape of her mom’s nails or the pattern of freckles on her nose. “You should be doing more for her,” she said, surprised at her accusatory tone.



he next doctor was kind. Unrushed. He went over every test, explaining its purpose and result. He offered up chances in low percentages. He inquired about Lea’s family, whether she had other siblings, whether her mother had siblings. He asked how Lea’s dad had died and about the quality of his death. “What did your mother and father value in their life? What did they enjoy on a day-to-day basis?” he asked.



he therapist said, “Let’s try approaching this differently. Just outline the facts. Don’t use words that judge your actions. Just give me the honest facts.” “I lied to the doctors. I was selfish.” “The first may be true, but that’s also a judgment. Try again.” “I told the doctors Mom would want every opportunity to live. So they put in tubes—an NG, a catheter, an IV. She didn’t look like she was in pain, but I never asked if she might be.” “How long was it before she died?” “A few weeks. I let them torture her for weeks. She could have had a better death.” “Lea, I’m going to help you reframe that.”



eeks later, the therapist said, “I sense there’s still something you’re holding back.” Lea nodded. Slowly, she pulled an envelope and a single orange feather from her purse. “I went back into the green bin, unwrapped the newspaper and pulled out a tail feather.” It had taken some strength. Her stomach still burned in disgust. “The creature was dead, Lea. It couldn’t feel anything. Why are you showing me this?” Lea handed a white envelope across the table. “Open it.” The therapist pressed on the envelope’s ends so that it flapped wide. “It’s empty.” “Yes, it’s empty,” Lea said. No metaphor seemed adequate for her feelings—not gaping hole, not black void. “All that time I made her suffer, and I still forgot to cut a lock of her hair.”


would not want to rely on a stranger to clean his privates. And neither would I, mind you. I don’t want to be kept alive if there’s no chance I can return to the life I have now. These conversations are hard, but I want you to be clear about my wishes.” Lea’s mother swiped a cloth across the table between them with a hand that was firm and rosy. Fully dressed, fully made up and looking twenty years younger than her age, Lea believed her mother would die as determinedly and without fuss as she’d lived. She grabbed her mother’s hand to stop her wiping. “I would clean your privates, Mom,” she said. “To keep you with me, I’d do it.”




grew up quickly in the isolated village of Pouce Coupe; Mom had been gone for weeks drinking with her buddies. To make things interesting, all but one of my six siblings had scattered to the wind. It was just me and my eldest sister Deb at home. It was a good time to arrange a sleepover with my buddies Jacob and Eric. I cleared it with Deb and made a couple phone calls on the village party line to my friends, whose parents didn’t like me and weren’t about to let their kids sleep the night with a family like mine. So, Eric and Jacob fudged it. They lied about where they were sleeping while I arranged accommodations in my basement. Then, we met at the general store to buy as much junk food as we could afford with what money we had between us. In 1979 you could get a lot for five bucks. We loaded up with a big bag of chips, chocolate bars, soda pop, and a shitload of penny candies. We raced back to my place to stash the sodas, chips, and candy bars, then divided the penny candies three ways. Fueled by bitesized sweets, we rode our bikes from one end of town to the other, practising our wheelies and perfecting our powerslides. We took breaks, wrestling like maniacs, and playing Buck Rodgers. By dinnertime we were starving. We headed home and locked our bikes in the backyard shed; in our village they’d be stolen if they weren’t secured. The three of us wrestled through the back door trying to remove our shoes on the porch. I led the way toward the kitchen and the smell of hot dogs. Deb was there, she pointed to the washroom and ordered us to clean up. We raced to the bathroom sink, and Deb hollered, “You can eat downstairs if you promise not make a mess, and clean up after dinner.” We agreed to her conditions, and from the kitchen to the basement, balanced a plate of hot dogs in one hand and a glass of Kool-Aid in the other. We arranged furniture in front of the TV, ate dinner, and took our plates upstairs like we’d promised; I washed, Eric and Jacob dried. Deb sat at the dining-room table, one eye on her game of solitaire, and the other on us. “You boys can play in the basement as late as you like as long as

you’re quiet. Now go wash up for bed.” It was no use resisting, we tried. “Boys!” yelled Deb from upstairs. “I’m going to bed, watch a movie or something and keep the volume down.” One good thing about living so far north was, as part of the Northern Living Allowance, every home received the HBO channel. So, we settled in with our junk food to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We tried to sleep, but our minds swam with extraterrestrial and paranormal what-ifs. “Okay guys,” I said, “Who wants to go stargazin’?” Faces lit, I grabbed my knapsack from the storage room and quietly led the way upstairs; Jacob and Eric fetched our shoes from the porch, I stole my way into the kitchen, prepared a thermos for tea and made three peanut-butter-and-jam bannock sandwiches while waiting for the water to boil. I wrapped the sandwiches in a tea towel and grabbed three tin mugs from the cupboard, a flashlight from the kitchen utility drawer, and some moose-meat jerky from the pantry. After loading the tea with sugar and cream, I tightened the thermos lid and packed it all into my knapsack. Deb did not stir. I crept back downstairs and stuffed in a small blanket and a pack of smokes I’d stolen from Mom’s nightie drawer the week before. Using a creaky wooden chair to reach the ceiling rafters, we slipped through a small window in the cold storage room. Jacob went first, he stretched over his head and hauled himself up, then aimed his feet toward the windowsill and shimmied out, then I handed the pack to him. Eric went next, but was not the most agile. He struggled to get his feet up to the window; so, Jacob grasped one of his legs and pulled him by the feet while I pushed from underneath. From Eric’s efforts, he farted. I was hit by the smell of sour purple flavour crystals and burned hot dogs. Eric barely squeezed through the window. I shimmied out last, emerging from the dark storage room to a sky filled with bright stars veiled by the pale Northern Lights; greens and yellows pulsed and

with his Winchester. He cherished every bullet like it was food and clothing for the year. Jacob whispered, “My dad told me when Johnny’s parents died of the drink, he was brought up by his grandparents in a teepee. Some say he buried his musham and kookum out here.” Deeper into the forest, the smell of a campfire grew stronger, and we knew we were on the right trail. Soon we ran into Johnny’s camp. He was whistling a low tune and looking up at the Northern Lights. Coyote was resting at his side. In a thick accent, Johnny said softly, “Come sit by the fire boys. Warm yourselves.” Tin cups rattled as I took off the pack and sat on a stump about the fire. I said, “Hey, Mr. Muskrat, thanks for keeping Coyote.” He nodded, “What you got in the bag?” Jacob said, “Hot tea, sweet with cream…” I asked, “Would you like some?” Johnny nodded. Pulling out the tea I filled his Mason jar, then Jacob’s, Eric’s, and mine. I returned the thermos to my pack, grabbed another moose jerky for Coyote, then offered Johnny a sandwich. Hypnotized by the fire, we ate silently while sparks burst; smoke and ash twirled, twisted, then faded into the night sky. The veil of bright Northern Lights seemed to crack, hum, and snap back at the fire. I opened the cigarette pack and handed them out, Johnny first. I placed the pack beside him like my uncle taught me. Johnny reached for a long thin stick at his side and lit it from the fire. He put the flame to my cigarette, then Jacob’s and Eric’s,

She gave a low base growl— sensed something we didn’t. Suddenly she stood and pointed her nose toward the forest. then he lit his. We smoked, and for long moments, no one said a word. Then, Johnny spoke, “I walk in the path of the medicine wheel. Starting in the east I moved clockwise around the wheel through the stages: childhood, young adult, to adult, and then elder. For many generations my people have moved with the medicine wheel.” Johnny told us that when his grandfather was a boy, his great-grandfather told him a story. It was about a man and his son on their hunting trip. He continued,


streaked across the sky. I could hear and feel them pop and crackle with powerful energy. I left the window ajar so we could get back into the house, then we climbed the backyard fence and made our way toward the schoolyard. I whispered to the boys something my mom often warned me about—making loud noises and whistling makes the lights angry. She’d say, “Make ’em angry enough! They’ll carry you away to the other side…” Jacob said, “My mum ’n dad told me it’s the great ancestors communicating to us from the other side.” Bursts of red streaked across the sky so bright the stars disappeared. Eric squeaked, “Wha! What does red mean?” “Anger, now ssh.” We rolled our eyes at Eric; none of us dared whistle as we walked across the school playground to an open field where my neighbour’s dog, Coyote, ran about. We called her that because she looked like a stout coyote; her favourite pastime was chasing cars. I told Jacob and Eric, “Last week, Albert Moostoose’s stepdad clocked Coyote at forty miles an hour.” She jumped and ran, zigzagging all over the field. Jacob asked, “Probably chasing mice, eh?” Coyote made a giant loop, our heads followed as she suddenly changed direction, moments later whipping past. “Man, she’s fast!” said Eric. We spread the blanket out for midnight tea under a starlit night, Coyote settled in with us, and I gave her jerky to chew while we scanned through the Northern Lights for flying saucers or maybe a falling Russian satellite. We pondered the possibilities of it all; well, as much as one could for a ten-year-old. Then Coyote’s ears perked, she lifted her head and sniffed the cool air. She gave a low base growl—sensed something we didn’t. Suddenly she stood and pointed her nose toward the forest. Jacob pointed, “What’s that?” We all saw a faint green glow move toward the treeline. Coyote gave chase; her barking yelp stirred up all the dogs fenced in backyards across town. The sky surged energetically. We tried following Coyote but quickly lost her in the bush; she even stopped barking, then our flashlight died, but with the bright glow above we found a familiar trail. Made over many years by Johnny Muskrat, an old Cree man who lived in the forest, it was the trail to his camp just outside of town. In this part of the world Johnny was the closest living example of a real Native; he knew roots, mushrooms, medicine, too; was a trapper and hunted in the old ways. He knew where to find the sweetest meat and fished with a net made of sinew; the small game he took with a bow and arrow, big game


“They stretched the hunt out as they were having no luck. They hunted late into the day but still nothing. They became lost in the dark. The father pulled out his woodpecker drum, lit a smudge, and offered tobacco. Then Cipayak came out so bright it lit the way to a trail. The son, still angry over the bad hunt, swore loudly as they walked. The father asked his boy to stop making Cipayak angry or risk being taken to the other side.” Eric asked, “Cipayak?” Jacob and I shushed him; our arms reached up, fingers pointed to the sky, we whispered, “The Northern Lights.” Johnny explained, “Cipayak turned red and angry, but the son continued to curse Creator for a poor hunt. The father got as low as he could, lying in the fetal position covered by his moose-hide cloak. Pulling more smudge from his medicine pouch, smoking his pipe, cleansing himself, praying, and beating the small woodpecker drum. Holding up his medicine pouch, he continued to pray for some time. Finally, the boy stopped cursing and eventually Cipayak’s colour turned to greens and blues, and the old man stood from under his blanket. Cipayak showed the two men back to their camp.” “What happened next?” Eric asked. Through tired eyes Johnny explained, “Cipayak took the boy three months after that hunting trip. The father’s anger with Creator over his loss was great, but became weather-beaten, forgiven by time before he met his ancestors.” Johnny finished, “Sometimes you hear Cipayak, that crackle-pop-hum, that’s the ancestors talking to the fire. It’s been a long time since I’ve told that story. I miss my grandfather; he told a good tale.” He wiped tears from his face, took big sips of his tea. We said nothing for some time. Then Eric asked, “So, Cipayak took your grandfather?” “No, Musham passed away in his teepee when I was a boy.” He looked up, “But Cipayak reminds us we’ll see our ancestors again. I take comfort in that, little warriors, seeing the other side where I know my ancestors are.” Jacob said, “I would be angry with Cipayak.” “I know I’d be angry,” added Eric. Johnny looked at us with dark eyes, “Yes, maybe me too, but anger will make you sick, like it did my mother and father. Before my grandparents passed away, they asked me to imagine spitting out all my hate, my anger, my sadness and jealousy. That way I won’t get sick. So, when anger and sickness took my father and then my mother, I spat out anger for a long time, being careful not to let it make me sick with the sorrow.”

Jacob asked, “You spit?” “The Cree call themselves Nêhiyawak, it means to be balanced in the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of life. When Nêhiyawak is unbalanced or angry we spit it out, we rid the bad, harbour no jealousy, respect the will of the Creator, and share equally with our brothers and sisters. That’s the Indian way. That’s what Grandfather said.” We sat for a while, the fire warmed our skin, and the tea heated our bellies. We watched him pray; the smoke from his smudge smelled so good. Cipayak and the stars danced the whole time as Johnny told us of the Indian way. He said, “When the Indian prays, smoke from the tobacco and smudge carry our words up to Creator. And when Nêhiyawak worships Creator,” Johnny stood and said, “Nêhiyawak stands, arms open wide, palms up to the heavens because the Native man has no shame. We did not cut a sacred tree and fashion it into a cross and crucify our messiah. We do not require that forgiveness.” For several silent moments he stood and prayed in Cree, then sat and said, “Rest. For even the youngest, strongest, bravest, most honourable warriors, rest is best. Soon the sun will be up and the window will close, and I must finish praying.” Johnny was right, the hour leaned toward daylight, and we needed to make our way back. I left the food and tobacco, but Coyote would not be coaxed from Johnny’s side. “She’ll find her way home, guys.” Eric waved. Johnny smiled and hugged Coyote, “She’s already found her way home.” We quietly walked away. Johnny’s camp at our backs, the smell of his fire quickly faded. The imminent dawn glowed from behind Bear Mountain fading the night sky. We snuck back through the basement window then crept to our beds and fell fast asleep.



everal days later I checked the post and grabbed the local paper, the front page read: Johnny Muskrat found dead at camp by hunters. It went on to report he had not been seen in town for his monthly supply run. The coroner’s initial report said he had been dead for almost a month and confirmed natural causes. I collapsed on the cold post office floor until I had legs enough to walk home. I called my friends to tell them the news and they rushed over. Their eyes bulged and their mouths were agape as they read the news at the kitchen table. Then an anxious knock at the door, Deb answered it, and it turned out to be our neighbour Carrol. She asked, “Have you seen Coyote, she’s been missing for about a month.”



COFFEE GRINDER Like a power tool, or an artisan, it does one perfect thing. You rattle your half cup of beans into the epicurean hopper and turn it on. It starts to roar and grind, harsh as a tree chipper, and when most of that modicum has been ground up, the pitch rises like a tornado siren and one last hard seed begins to reel and twitch around the inverted cone, trying not to get crushed in the whirling burrs. Turn it off and there’s a disappointed whine, sad thought of loss ending in a gravelly cough. Reach down and snap out the fragrant chamber full to the brim of what we’ll soon be drinking, and measure out some coarse grains of burnt umber mixed with brown madder grounds that smell like thinking.



This poet will convey the subtlest grades of feeling, from iciness to scalding or steamy fervency and all the shades of warmth and lukewarmth in between, blending

Only the precise truth in every part? Look again: words are spelled backward, and letters reversed; right and left have changed places; art, or let us say realism, fetters

intensity from the slow drip of tears, from joyous gushing, from the spluttering and gasping when the water disappears. The truest poem is the most pretending.

itself to reality in vain. No gate to some otherworld; a perfect lie, not least because it frames what we can know and seems to tell the truth. The thing is, why?




aime tried not to blame the woman. The mistake had been his. He got sloppy when he crossed into what felt like a less menacing country. Or, after everything, he was still too trusting. Or simply he was tired from living like a rabbit so long. The town to which this remote house belonged was called North Portal. Jaime had hitched his way to its twin on the North Dakota side, walked in the borderless darkness until he thought he counted enough steps that he must be across. Then he walked another two hundred steps. When he’d been forced to walk through the fields before, near Sioux Falls, a brittle snow crust covered

the ground. Now it was swampy, blotted with ponds where the earth underneath had not thawed. The night in this season was so still that as he listened for any whir of drones overhead, the smoosh of his own feet in the mud was the loudest and only sound. He’d rationed what food he’d managed to slip into his knapsack at the Walmart in Minot. He looked for shelter. The absolute cold had yet to settle. He’d heard stories of people freezing to death as they walked. A night could turn murderous, and no jacket they sold south of here could prepare a body for it, even in spring. The only lights were the gibbous moon and the single yellow pixels of distant windows. Between this


Still she caught him in the light. She was obviously frightened. She had, he thought, a soft look like a mother of young children. Like the mother of his children. No, she was older than Mathilde. Then he remembered. He put his hand out, signalling a halt. Would she let him be in charge of the moment? She flinched when he reached into a pocket. He’d been saving the battery but now he turned the phone on and waited the tense minute for it to work. Doubtless she had her own phone. Would Jaime pulling out his remind her—prompt her to call for the police? “Please,” he croaked. The driver from Minot spoke no Spanish and Jaime hadn’t used his vocal cords all that day. She said something to him but must have sensed he didn’t comprehend. He selected what he wanted and trusted her to hold the phone. Mathilde, their daughters, Jeovani. “Please,” he implored. She handed him back the phone. He had to be disciplined to have made it so far, and he shut it off before tucking it way. He took the gesture to mean “stay.” She shut the door. In the stillness Jaime heard the sink of her boots, a truck motor. So that’s how it went. All he had to go on was this one gesture that he kept replaying in his mind. And he had to trust the woman because he needed to rest. He had to trust her because he had to lie down and let the bad humours of the stress pour out of him, the bile


field and the one adjacent, leafless trees reached up like the hands of buried giants. The next field looked like it had been left fallow. He passed by three great heaps of dead brush: they would be burned there and the ash spread over the field. The row of little outbuildings was scarved with stands of aspens, the land around them sculpted by many years of wide-turning tractor wheels. Workers slept here in season, he guessed; the cabins would be deserted now. He tried two doors before one was unlatched. The light switch did nothing but this made him feel safer. For maybe an hour he slumped in the entrance, before searching out a soft place to rest. There was a couch, sunken in the middle. Away in its own tiny room, an unsheeted bed. The little window didn’t look like it opened wide enough for a man. He let himself fall into the couch. He had set out across the fields as soon as the sun went down, so it would not be very late now, but he had been on the move so long that stillness was a distant memory. In Fargo, he had planned to go straight north and cross near Emerson, Manitoba, a route that was well known. A truck driver who spoke Spanish told him this route was only for those seeking to be apprehended, to claim asylum in Canada. Jaime couldn’t afford to be caught this time, so he set out with the driver west to Minot. Luis, who was working these days in Alberta, told Jaime there was work there, more money to be made there than elsewhere. Luis was from Guatemala but couldn’t go back. Before Jaime was caught the first time, he and Luis worked a ranch together in Texas, cowboying in heat that was visible rising from the dirt. Luis was older, but his face wore no marks of the life that had been thrown to him. Only his eyes revealed it—so that he looked like a boy who had experienced many past lives. Luis was kind, and soft, and afraid of the cows. However many ranches he drifted between, he couldn’t keep in his head that horses kicked if you surprised them from behind and cows kicked if you came at them from the side, or if they were just irritable. Jaime’s shoulders and his calves felt like he’d only just lain down, but he must have slept, for the woman when she burst through the door of the cabin woke him up. There was the banging of her boots and then there was a tiny light flicking around, like one of those fish from sunless undersea trenches. He couldn’t think what to do. Should he bolt? Find a road into a settlement and run until he came upon a church? He didn’t know whether churches here followed the same rules, acted on the same sympathies. He lay still, breath cupped in his ribs. The swish of his quilted jacket might give him up.

The row of little outbuildings was scarved with stands of aspens, the land around them sculpted by many years of wide-turning tractor wheels. that chewed his esophagus like a dog, the poison blood that eroded his strength. He had to trust her because he needed to wait out the daylight to walk to Estevan. The highway from there would take him into Alberta. Luis joked that he could be a cowboy in Alberta if he wanted. He’d do what paid; he’d be happy to be with Luis again. If he trusted the woman, he could feel safe for the first time since leaving home. He discovered that he was weeping. It was a thing he had not done all this time, not since Texas, when the first plan failed. All the way through deportation


and transit and even when he was home with Mathilde and the children, he still couldn’t relax enough to cry. He never talked to Mathilde about it, about how he had failed. She knew what they owed on the land; his family’s land was collateral on the loan for Jaime’s passage. It didn’t produce reliably anymore. There had been a substantial change in the climate, and it was never right since. He’d known from the time he could walk what to do on the farm, the blood and bone and shit that went into the soil, but nothing he could do could make up for the change. Some hours later he pulled back the old orange curtain to look out on the day. The bleached stems of last year’s wheat stuck up from the ground like fish bones. Against the blue towered a white grain elevator. The painted logo was a giant eye that seemed to surveil him. Jaime shut the curtain. Mathilde worked in a factory, stitching clothes. Her bus left while the light was still blue and dim and it took an hour and a half. The plan that failed had been for Jaime to find stable work and then send for the family. This could be difficult, too—he knew of a woman who’d travelled up with her husband and found work at a burger franchise in Salt Lake City. On her way home from work a car struck her. They didn’t know she was undocumented, the franchise owner said. Probably she should go back to her own country to recover from the broken pelvis. When Mathilde saw him walking up to the house (upon which they now owed ten thousand American

The second journey was inevitable. As soon as he was arrested he’d known he would be coming up along these same routes again. for his botched plan) he spied the dismay on her face immediately. But what could she do? She told the whole community her dear husband was back. They threw a party, which sang and groaned and sweated long into the night and overran the morning, the rum endless. Jeovani was born nine months after. There weren’t choices. Women had been jailed even for miscarrying. This is how it had been the first time as well, when they’d had to marry.

He woke again and went to look out the other side of the little house to see any obstacles on the path ahead. Some of the ground ahead looked black but and he thought it was burned or blighted, but then the light shifted and he saw it was under the shadow of a cloud. There was just no other distinction in the landscape. It must have been late in the afternoon. The sun looked like it was moving faster through the sky than it had when he looked out earlier. The iris of that big searching “eye” on the grain elevator was actually a P, for Paterson. Jaime lay down again. The second journey was inevitable. As soon as he was arrested he’d known he would be coming up along these same routes again. There was nothing else for it: they would lose the land if he didn’t send money back fast. America seemed a more hostile place on the second trip, but it was a tribulation he had to pass through. He would not be bringing Mathilde and the children. Jaime would work up north and send them all the money he could. It was a more efficient way out of their trouble, he assured Mathilde. He could stay in the small apartment with Luis and pay hardly any rent, work a morning job and an evening one if he could get them. Night was coming on when he heard the vehicle approach. Jaime had felt the air change, like swimming off a shelf into deeper water. In the purple dusk the police lights kaleidoscoped over bare walls. Should he run now? Would there be enough light to see him slip over the fields? If she had called the police immediately, he could have forgiven her. To be afraid, Jaime understood. More so in such dark. A woman alone, no electricity. Jaime stood taller even than Luis. He remembered the way the man’s chin pestled his collarbone, their last rough embrace before Jaime was arrested. If she had called the police as soon as she shut him in the cabin, Jaime would have understood. He thought about her again; in his memory her body looked like a pile of sandbags. If she had acted merely out of fear… But she had gone home. She had waited all night and all day. This was her reasoned-out idea of what was moral. Jaime had waited too long and now he was caught for sure. The pickup was stopped. Jaime peered out. The cop looked like a child to him. He was doing whatever it was cops did before stepping out of their vehicles. Texting a mistress. Filling in paperwork. Clicking off the safety on his weapon.


Creative Writing– Fiction, Creative Non-fiction, Poetry Correspondence Program Looking for personalized feedback on your manuscript? Our 28-week online studio program is customized to address the needs of your booklength project. Work from the comfort of home under guidance of our exceptional faculty. Program starts every September and January apply now! There is a story to be told here.



He heard the door open and then clunk shut. The bootsteps moved away, toward the other cabin. This cop was here on faulty information, anyway. Jaime might still get out. He checked the zippers on the knapsack, threw his coat on. There was only the front door or a window if there was one wide enough. He’d do best to go while the cop searched one of the adjacent cabins. Yet as he went for the door he heard the young cop again outside. He was circling the other cabin or coming this way, it was hard to tell. Even on a still night, a man still had to pause a step or two to light a smoke. Jaime heard the gap in the rhythm of his steps, the flick of the lighter. Through the space between the curtain and the edge of the window, Jaime could see the young cop praying into his hands. And then. Jaime would have laughed if he had not bitten his tongue. The smoke, when it slipped into his nostrils: marijuana. The police had sent some burnout stoner kid to deal with the threat. This kid was out here, thinking he was alone in this field, getting stoned on a call. Jaime watched the guy go and perch on the bumper of his pickup. The flint clicked and the flame sprang up again and he sucked a breath deep into his lungs and savoured it there. He was so long smoking this joint that the last light emptied from the sky. The guy didn’t turn when Jaime slipped out onto the little covered porch, though Jaime feared he hadn’t been stealthy enough. He wondered if the cop was trying to recall constellations. Again he feared he’d be caught when he disturbed an animal in the field. He thought it was a yellow dog but as it loped away he knew it was a coyote, and he was lucky. He picked his way through fields, only soaking one foot in a pond through it all. He skirted the few houses in Estevan while everyone still slept, was out on the highway for the dawn. The driver who slowed down for him looked South Asian. How did such a man end up out here, doing this? he wondered. The two men understood they had no ability to communicate with one another. It didn’t matter. Jaime was on his way west now to where Luis waited. How frivolous a thing among all these mortal concerns: to be so in love for the first time in his life.

// 34


// 35


// 36


// 37





ill’s landline had been severed by a section gang digging by the CN tracks, so at night he’d call me long distance from his truck, Bill’s cell getting better reception out in the yard under the meteor showers and spooky northern lights and magpies shifting in the poplars. Then one day, a stroke zaps Bill’s head inside his farmhouse. He struggles, but can’t move, can’t get to his phone, held to the floor for two days and his cellphone sitting out in his damn pickup truck. Bill’s legs and arms won’t function, and Bill can’t crawl to the cell in his truck. His old landline phone right in front of him, made useless by a railroad gang. I hate the idea, my friend Bill trapped two days while I wander freely and bike by the river with no clue. Does his dog, Jagger, wonder? His bomb-proof horse, his cattle puzzled and hungry, no sign of Bill, no water, no food. In the cabin, Bill tries to haul himself up, he is tough (cowboy up), but he keeps falling and hitting his head, making things worse. He crashes over a wooden chair, tries to crawl into bed and loses his balance and hits his head on his homemade bed built of big peeled logs.


ill shoes horses for a living. Over the eons, my friend Bill has been hit on the head so many times: a concussion from falling on ice, kicked by ornery horses, the occasional drunken punch. And the metal rasp that flew from another horseshoer’s hand. Two farriers working horses side by side: Buddy whacks a rangytang mare, the iron rasp comes free of its wooden handle, rises up above them, then dives to gouge Bill’s head as if a guided missile. Bill’s hard head covered in blood at emergency. Near Stony Plain he was bucked off a big horse, thrown down onto cement and knocked out cold, falling from a horse into emergency. How many contusions and concussions? So many times in and out of

emerg, but now Bill is staying put in the hospital for long-term therapy, a bleed in his brain, his left side crippled by the stroke, and he is left-handed. So, friend, learn to button your shirt, learn to walk, learn to use your phone without dropping it on the hospital floor. His cracked phone repaired over and over. Now his boot-cut jeans and rodeo belt-buckles are too complicated. His younger sister Kathleen says, “I feel so sorry for Billy, a cowboy forced to wear sweatpants.” I suppose a robot would not have such malfunctions. Bill the cowboy says, “I’m going crazy here. I hate being bathed by the staff as if I’m an old derelict, which I guess I am.” Bill has Irish ancestors, but he has a Spanish look, olive skin, brown eyes, dark eyebrows; in another world maybe a bullfighter or unruly vaquero. In the hospital his pay TV keeps cutting out without warning. On TV a wide receiver runs a ghost motion and the quarterback throws a rope. The sports announcer says, “But I diverse,” which makes me laugh. The nurses discover his secret stash of painkillers that he is taking on top of the pills they dispense. He has a history of pain from working with heavy horses; feels the nurses don’t give him enough meds. They are mad at his secret stash and he is mad that they take away his collection. Bill hates the hospital the way he hated our high school, hated being cooped up. His father Mickey, a no-nonsense electrician, mad at Bill skipping classes, drove him right to the school door, but Bill would walk inside the brick building and leave by another xit. Bill’s siblings excelled at school; Bill was the black sheep, the puzzle. You’re killing your father, said Bill’s mother. You’re killing your mother, said Bill’s father. Bill’s older brother, a prosperous, handsome doctor, crashed his mountain bike hurtling down a steep trail and knew he had broken his neck. Paralyzed from

out of the hospital in time for the Wild Rose Rodeo in Mayerthorpe. Sorry, not going to happen. Bill’s face and legs are swollen, circulation and kidney problems, fluids refusing to drain from his body. Maybe a care home in Mayerthorpe, but not the rodeo. What would Jesus have to say about robot jobs and AI and dicey ethics? A Robot Rodeo—now there is a hell of an idea waiting for some Alberta venture capital! Bill keeps dropping his phone so often we can’t contact him. He loses his wallet, not sure if it fell from his wheelchair or has been stolen. Then his cracked phone is stolen in the hospital. Bill’s buddy Bronc shoes horses at the racetrack and since the stroke, Bronc has been helping Bill with his horses and his dog, Jagger. His buddy Bronc had years of therapy after his own head injury. His girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend crept in at night and raised a good hammer to Bronc’s skull as he slept. Cave in a skull for love. Bronc had to learn to walk, learn to tie his shoes; he did it and got back to shoeing horses, but a fucking hard slog. Anyway, Bronc calls Bill’s missing phone and some weasel answers. I found the phone, Mr. Weasel says, I’ll hand it over for a reward. One hundred dollars, says Mr. Weasel. Sure thing, says Bronc, really need it, man, all my numbers are in it. They meet at a mall where Bronc punches the guy and takes the phone. I envy such direct approaches to life, Bronc not a hesitant Prufrock like me. Mall security let Bronc walk free, but they haul away the shitrat

Butter up the nurses, I advise him, Jesus, try to get along, you need them. And do your rehab.

who thought the phone his meal ticket. It’s a strange male world. Bronc heads out to celebrate St Paddy’s. At The Roundhouse on St. Paddy’s, businessmen meet for drinks and clichés. Bottom line, are there assets if we buy this? Well, they took it right to the edge at the end, but it’s still on the positive side, still a bit of meat on the bone. Joe, Joe, we need to find out what’s real, not what we hope.


the neck down, hoisted in and out of bed with a small crane, hoisted in and out of a custom van. No use of his hands, just a head sitting there, curly hair and keen eyes. Operating a laptop by blowing a straw to move his bed up and down, to arrange letters, words, thoughts. His charming wife grew less charming, grew weary and left. In and out of hospitals for years, Bill’s older brother grew sick of that grind and his brother arranged to pull the plug. I know this recent assisted-suicide weighed on Bill’s mind; my friend the tough cowboy fell into tears any time he talked of his big brother’s long struggle with paralysis and his extended, exhausted death. Bill fears being stuck in rehab, trapped in the same rut. One afternoon, Bill sneaks out of the hospital to hit a bar, barely able to use his fingers on his cell, but manages to call a taxi, asks for a van big enough to fit a wheelchair. Bill wants to bring along his new buddy in the ward, a Native man from Saddle Lake who lost both legs to amputation. Bill and his legless buddy escape to a watering hole for guacamole and tortilla chips and Irish stout with sports on the big screen. The waitress is kind to her hobbled outcasts. What do the Italians say? At the table you never grow old. The two stay late at the bar talking and laughing, hours passing gladly, but the nurses are furious when the boys finally return to the hospital. Bill the rounder in trouble again. Bathed by people who don’t like him. He swears at them, angry at being trapped, wants out of the machine. Butter up the nurses, I advise him, Jesus, try to get along, you need them. And do your rehab. His sister Kathleen tells him the same, but hardheaded Bill has never been good at listening. Bill and I once drove to Batoche to see that haunted Métis battle site; two days crossing Alberta and Saskatchewan and I never got to finish a single sentence. Never. We met in Grade Four. I was a new kid at St. Vincent’s. We fought in the schoolyard and then best friends for five decades. Now we watch TV, there is a President’s Day Mattress Sale, we wait for the newest version of Zyklon B, we wait for the robots to take over from us. We miss railroad jobs at union wages, we miss the gandy dancers and doomed cabooses and the rock-crusher in the quarry, before Nestle bought the aquifers, before Greenland caught fire. We simply remember our favourite things and I feel badly for my sons, what they inherit. Over the years, Bill has gone out with a few “pretty little cowgirls,” but they do not seem to visit. Bill wants


A business lesson for us: hope against real. Do we dare hope that Bill will rise and walk and start hammering horseshoes and nails once more out on the Range Roads? Two days on the floor: is that considered real? When Bill was around twenty, he thumbed to Banff with his good friend Quigley and had a bad acid trip in the mountains. In a rustic tourist restaurant, Bill climbed the pine walls to tear down decorative snowshoes, tear down cross-country skis and mounted deer heads. Like Holden Caulfield, he thought it was phony. His parents got a call; Mickey and Irene had to drive hours in the middle of the night to bail him out and pay the phony restaurant for damages. Quigley slugged Bill one night, gave him a black eye. Bill fed me a BS story that his horse threw its head back, caught him smack in the face. I think our relationship was less volatile. One night, Bill and Quigley had a few and lost a truck. They mired it in a ditch, stuck. They flagged a ride out, but the next day couldn’t remember exactly where they’d gone off the straight and narrow. They combed miles of back roads, zigzagging past glacial erratics, those big rocks where buffalo rubbed their big buffalo itches. Bill and Quigley stopped at farms to ask strangers if they’d seen a truck. How do you lose a truck?


ill was a good drummer, adored Ginger Baker of Cream, and Quigley played harmonica in the stygian depths of Banff’s Cascade Tavern, soaked the harp in beer to make it louder. Quigley read Dispatches and knew he had to be a war correspondent. He landed a job with The Sun, wrote reams of copy, dated a Sunshine Girl, but never found his smoky warzone-landing zone. Decades later in the hospital, Bill, with little to do, tries to track down old friends. He finds Quigley’s sister. Where is that rascal now? Oh, I’m sorry to say my brother took his own life two years ago. Bill’s big brother pulled the plug and now an old pal exiting early through the turnstiles. My friend Don tells me that Bill found out about yet another suicide: a rancher shot himself in a field by his cattle where seldom is heard a discouraging word. His wife found him and his truck. Stuck in his hated hospital ward, Bill took these suicide litanies really hard, some dreaded weight in these missives from the winter fields, something ominous in all these pickup trucks slouching toward Bethlehem.


t some point the railroad crew returns to the ditch to fix Bill’s severed landline.

In Alberta’s badlands we know a sandy road above the malpaís that curves and sinks into a canyon by the buffalo jump where we used to camp. Wordless chickens convey disapproval of us driving past in Bill’s truck. How many wings have we ingested at Mr. Ed’s? Bill’s molecular makeup fed by thousands of skewered chickens and salty fried egg yolks and cases of Club beer stashed in his barns and sheds and trucks so a bottle was never out of reach. I wish we were purer, our body a temple, but this is not so, we are not temples, we have used our throats. I will order anything and everything in hospitals and iron restaurants in China and France and Zagreb and India, no more restraints or doubt, no more worries of tomorrow. I pledge allegiance to the shiniest ham sliding down my throat like a nervous oyster. The house special is Pablo Escargot. I’ll take it. We must try that new place, Casa Chagrin. We swear our throats will live on like souls, we will live and travel and feed our private festivals of defecation. Move around a world and move our bowels in each country. They need more of our shit. That outhouse with pigs lurking below to eat our waste: where the hell was that? Bill’s diet was black cowboy coffee and cigarettes, painkillers and booze; kale kombucha or soy lattes do not exist for my friend Bill. You live hard, then your sister and brothers sprinkle your ashes in a corral. Bill did make it back home for a while, but a care worker checking his place found him, Bill again on his damn floor. Cowboy down, no more rodeos, no more barns and dancehalls. I feel he pulled the plug, like his brother, exited early, and in that situation I might want the same. At the table you never grow old, but Bill and Quigley and the rancher drop their cutlery, leave their seats at the table, blurred ghost motions into ghost nations.


fly across our blurred nation to a memorial service in Coyote Hall at a country crossroads north of Cherhill, fly from my east coast home to the west of my childhood. Don meets me at the airport. Trucks park on the grass all around Coyote Hall, a good turnout for Bill. My friend Don and I are the only males not wearing big oval cowboy hats. Every hat shaped individually, the hats are light or dark, but really, every man wears an identical theatrical prop, as if it might rain inside Coyote Hall. No berets or boaters or hipster fedoras amble in the door in Lac Ste. Anne County; cowboys may be sold as rugged individuals, but they exist with a dress code narrower than those in a nunnery.

Bill’s land and cattle sold to a neighbor, but a stray cow watches us, looking lost and lonely in the poplars. Whose animal is it? Toward the end, Bill’s finances were bad. He couldn’t work hammering horseshoes, so no money coming in for truck payments or power bills; on the phone he told me he ran out of cash for groceries or extra pills from his crooked pharmacist; Bill was using two-dollar bills that he had saved as collectables, clerks puzzled seeing strange two-dollar bills, the Queen looking so young. Bill was kicking himself, “Why didn’t I put a steer in the freezer before I sold all the damn cattle?” Yet here is one white-faced Hereford in the lank trees. Is it his? In the high corral, we play the Stones and Neil and Gram Parsons and Emmylou and Gene Clark, seriously scratchy vinyl spinning on a Luddite stereo that Bill has kept in a caboose in the field so the riders had music while roping in his corral. I’m amazed that the ancient turntable works after sitting out hard winter after hard winter. “Paint It Black,” “Fair and Tender Ladies,” “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes,” “The Streets of Baltimore,” “No Expectations,” “Lost Highway,” “Albuquerque.” Ben Keith’s haunting pedal steel in GBX speakers the size of phone booths as Bill’s vinyl records unfold strange tunings and tonal voices in a boreal field a million miles from any California recording studio redolent of Milagro tequila and nose candy. Tunes spin, country blues and murder ballads. Brothers sprinkle ashes, and Bill’s blue heeler grins nervously, waits for ghost calves to spring from a metal gate, a dog wanting mad life from a machine rusting in a field, a dog trembling with hope for wild-eyed calves to be released from a fondly remembered world. Bill always had beautiful dogs around him. Horses vanished, roping calves vanished, snare drum and high-hat cymbals sailing away. Months later Kathleen lets me know that Bill’s blue heeler wandered to the distant highway and was hit and killed. In their pretty tuxedoes, magpies danced around the dog’s small body. “What got into him,” Kathleen asks me. “Jagger never went that way.” “I’m pretty sad,” she says. Kathleen thinks the dog was looking for Bill, still hoping for his truck on fortythree, hoping to meet Bill on his way home from shoeing mares out past Sylvan Lake. ///


Nervous with these strangers, Don and I play Neil Young tunes for Bill. “Borrowed Tune,” “See the Sky about to Rain,” Don’s Fender Strat with a bit of tremolo and my plaintive harp. Bill’s sister Kathleen said she felt Bill there during our set. Though a serious skeptic about such matters, I too felt a pulse or chill during our minor-key music. Kathleen lets me know that Bill left me his drum kit, the one he’d played since we jammed in his basement in junior high. In Coyote Hall I say hello to Bill’s mother Irene; she has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know me, but she does know that she lost two sons in fast succession. I remember that her late husband Mickey crooned “Goodnight, Irene” when courting her and that Mickey’s little brother died in a field, run over by horses pulling harrow blades that cut open the child. I remember Irene was mad and amused when as a teen I ate an entire tub of ice cream from their basement freezer. We had hotknifed some hash and Irene wondered, What on earth happened to my knives? Alcohol affected Bill more than most; his eyes looking both wild and absent. Bill got drunk with me at a dance, vodka poured into bottles of orange pop on the dark golf course, and his parents were called to pick him up. Fuming, Irene locked the car doors. Bill began vomiting in his parents’ car, but he couldn’t open the locked door to lean outside. I was beside him on the backseat as he puked onto his feet and Irene yelled, “Puke like the dirty dog you are!” I still get a giant kick out of Irene’s line. At their house, I walked away from the puke car and thumbed Groat Road back to the dance, back to the dim cave of dogs. As a teen in his basement, Bill put the barrel of a .22 in his mouth, but didn’t pull the trigger. Am I the only one who knows that? We all had .22s. It’s strange to recall so much about Irene, yet she doesn’t know me from Adam. The same genetic gift awaits many of us. Inside Bill’s house, I think of two days stuck on that floor. After the service, some of us walk from Bill’s house up through pale poplars to his roping corral: a ring of rails and solid metal posts set in an overgrown grassy field above the farmhouse. In the corral, Bill’s brothers Kevin and Patrick scatter ashes while Bill’s dog Jagger waits on edge for calves to fly out of the chute, a dog’s wild-eyed dreaming at the metal chute. To this blue heeler, a crowd at this corral means calf-roping. Why else gather in the field?



TWO POEMS IN OBSERVANCE OF MY LONELINESS I’m writing because the TED Talks didn’t help, and it’s late, and there is no cable, and I’m tired. And there is no window to the outside world, and I’m thinking the starry scenes above must be screaming like a silence, or some other sheer mad poetry ripping within me. And like bravado in solitude, the voices persist in my monotone mania. By scientific jargon, the confinement is given title with a hell-bound twist on words like darkness, and terms like schizophrenic are brokered by inappropriate pronouns, and the poet in me is the lover in me, and both entities are in disconnect. No one could see me, and I could not shine in that light, And I sought the improbable as wonder fractured into many eyes, with no escape from the glare. To the watchman I cried loud enough to be heard, but he stared dead ahead into his own life. He would allow no one access to my room, except the nurse with a needle to stick in my arm. She had memorized a manual of efficiency. She was always on time. I couldn’t help but ask if hourly injections would redeem me from an inability to see light. And if they didn’t work, she said, there was shock treatment. I remember again the dance of the watchman, and the nurse. I recall the power moving through them, so hidden, obscene, and they witnessed the power that moved in me. I was frightened by the path they made into my solitude, and they were frightened, too.

FATHER From the empty motive in his throat to the fright he bore in the shadow of death, my father ruled the earth.

His redemption resided inside silk purses filled with his peculiar visions of heaven. His freedom came in gold and silver. His being moved like a fat dancer in the thunder and light of the howl of love he found inside trenches of pain. The old man was a trawler who fished with a net of spines, eyes of wire dragging his charges further into the sea of drowning. He found his ideas in a deck of cards he shuffled in triumph and rage, his poverty clutched in his fist, his open hand holding only colour and wind. The man’s kingdom thrived in sight, in sound, in air. His voice was a scream in the cave of loneliness. His love and kindness brokered his abysmal will. In the genius of hatred, with a hammer of deceit, his dark countenance boasted of trespass, with laughter mad as torture. Greed defined his holiness, and largesse the miracle of his faith. He stood at the front entrance of the world wanting peace, and from his place of bones, from the emptiness of denied truth, with words thin and cruel, and his thought a distillation of fact into fancy, he was the end of all things, and the harsh and horrid beginning of everything.


An island stood in the middle of his heart, and long boats moved through his veins, each boat a shout, each shout a spear.




o, where you from bee?” This was North York Toronto slang. It can be translated into English as, “Where in Toronto are you from exactly?” From kid to kid, this was a formal “gangsta” check to see if you were a threat at my middle school. Apparently, my answer was never good enough in terms of Pierre Laporte Middle School’s language and lingo. Like a naïve, unsprouted nerd, in my first year at the school, I would typically reply, preppy and bug-eyed, with, “My parents have a house at Jane and Sheppard, not far from here!” Over the summer, I had gone to camp because my mom and dad did not want me home. Like the hero he was, my dad found the grungiest camp you could ever send your child to. It looked like a deserted warehouse on a street about fifteen minutes away from the main

From kid to kid, this was a formal “gangsta” check to see if you were a threat at my middle school.

road. All I was thinking was that this would be the perfect place to get away with murdering a twelve-year-old child. My dad blatantly let me know that he was not going to drive me to camp and that I needed to find my own way there every day, or else there would be major consequences. My dad was this scary, husky black dude with a Jamaican accent, who regularly listened to Cher and Shania Twain. I will give you a minute to picture this horrifying image. He could “Dad stare” anyone

into an early grave. I loved him, but he was a low-key brute. I mean, who sends their child to a camp that has no children? I was one of three kids at this creepy camp. And second, what type of dad gives their child no money to get to camp and threatens them with punishment if they don’t show up? Oh, and third, I could have died! That place was so far away from any type of life forms. Well, I did see a rat once. Anyways, I had to be resourceful, so I hopped on my old pink-and-white bike to get to camp. With each peddle, my knees hit the bars. I remember riding on Oakdale right where the 84 turns and hitting those two steep hills over Highway 400 every day. I also remember the day I got to the top of the hill without stopping. My point is that this was how I lost most of my weight going into middle school. I was a new person. No more “fat Brettani, you could roll down the street,” as my Uncle Noel used to say. Nope, no way! I was now slightly chubby Brettani with the little belly. This black girl had curves, muscle, and tone in places she had never seen before. I mean, I was still a little chunky, but there was progress. No more Mom combing my thick, nappy black hair into these ridiculous ponytails ending in plastic bowtie clips, resembling Loonette the Clown or Pippi Longstocking. I was growing up. This little black girl watched some YouTube videos. Yes, honey child! This black girl got a perm and a weave. Slicked back with Eco styling gel and tied down with a stocking, dried, and loosened to reveal a perfectly laid ponytail and baby hairs. I was going to be a new person at a new school. It was 2003. Justin Timberlake had just come out with “Cry Me a River,” and my parents had been arguing for weeks about the money they did not have to pay bills. So, me being a noble, bumbling idiot, I told my parents I wanted out of private school. Well, they




listened to my business model, tracked our spending habits, and agreed that this would be the best financial move. Lo and behold, we will soon see that I was nowhere ready for the dangers and freight of callous public-school kids. My dad, my heroic, Jamaican superman, decided to send me to Pierre Laporte: “the-best-school-in-Torontobecause-your-sister-went-there-in-the-’80s-and-if-it-waswas-good-back-then-it’s-good-now.” Well, my first few weeks were more like “if-you-could-just-take-me-backto-that-sketchy-looking-warehouse-camp-on-OakdaleRoad-I-think-I-would-be-safer-there-with-the-one-ratand-the-two-kids.” But before I continue my tale, I must say that this story is not meant to reinforce any stigma or stereotype about kids from low-income neighbourhoods or middle-school students in general. This is an authentic experience that I am choosing to share with you about a middle-school defeat with a somewhat twisted ending. Now, back to our regular programming: how I tried to survive middle school in the ’hood.

A rush of cold ran down to my fingertips. My body felt numb, but I kept walking toward the office.

Pierre Laporte is located right across from what is now known as the Humber River Hospital. It’s a small school surrounded by Roding Park. When the sun rose behind the school in the summer and fall, it was majestic. I remember hearing the faint sounds of the sparrows flying past me each morning. The caretaker was Italian, and he would always take extra special care of the tulips planted at the front. My school had busty, tall trees and a large green field for soccer, all located on a slight hill surrounded by this lovely Italian neighbourhood. And I say “lovely” because Italians always have the most beautiful lawns. I had to give it up to my dad. My first impression of the school was not what I had expected. But, unfortunately, what was waiting for me inside was not so pleasant. My first months of Grade Six were really tough. They were a reality check for me. Very similar to a never-ending segment on Beyond Scared Straight,

where you send your kid to jail to show them the potential reality of their poor choices. This school felt like a punishment I did not deserve. I was a great kid! I listened, I was helpful most of the time, and I got straight A’s. A lot of these kids were nothing like me. I witnessed kids selling crack cocaine and weed, and I heard rumours of children making sex tapes, which sounds ridiculous, but turned out to be true. There were kids I met who were contemplating suicide and showed signs of it on their bodies. There were kids at my school who were affiliated with gangs. This was Crip territory, and if you wore red instead of the blue and black Crip colours, it was a general rule that the kid wearing the wrong colour had to spill blood the colour they were wearing. This kind of thing was normal and terrifying. These were little kids who were going to grow up into adults. I was constantly wondering what it looked like when these kids went home and what caused them to be this way. Coming from a small Christian private school, I had no clue Pierre Laporte would be this petrifying. My goal for Grade Six was to keep myself off the radar. But I was black, and that alone makes you stick out. I remember hearing this line once from the movie Shrek, where the king orders his men to kill the ogre and says something like, “The knight who murders Shrek will be a hero. Go get him!” This motto definitely applied at my school. I truly believe that if I was your average Joe, a white kid, maybe I could have blended in better, maybe I could have hidden better. But I was black. Since I stood out, according to the unspoken rule of any institution I needed to be placed somewhere so I would be easier to understand and identify. I soon met my classifier, my first bully: Jenelle Tayler. Jenelle was in Grade Eight and about to graduate middle school when I started in Grade Six. The most messed up part about this bully is that even though she was a bit older, Jenelle looked similar to me. We were the only two black females at the school, with the same skin tone and the same hairstyle. Yes, honey, the one with the slicked-back ponytail and Eco styling gel. (I guess this style wasn’t so unique.) I mean, the only main differences were that she had beady eyes and the personality of an ogre. But even with that mean face, I still thought Jenelle was beautiful. Jenelle was a top dog, which was the problem. It’s like my dad always said, “Too mucha one ting is neva good.” He would say this whenever I poured sugar all over my fruit, but the expression is relevant to the dynamics of my school. At Pierre Laporte, there could be only one Jenelle.

me basically hugging the wall like she was a disease. Then she got close enough to me so I could hear her whisper, “You ugly fat bitch.” I instantly pulled away. A rush of cold ran down to my fingertips. My body felt numb, but I kept walking toward the office. I felt lifeless as I handed off the attendance sheet and walked out of the office and back up the stairs to my class. I was there, but I felt as if I had just left my body. I didn’t cry, but I did start to think. I started to remember the Indian lady who babysat me and told me I was too dark and fat, how she used to lock me in a room and starve me when I was five years old. I started to remember the man in his car who passed me near my old school at Bathurst and Finch, yelling “fatty” out his window as I drank my slushy on that hot summer day. I started to think about the way my family thought it was okay to make those types of comments. Everything became ugly the day Jenelle whispered to me. That was the day that triggered the start of my anorexia, my hair falling out, the blackouts at school from malnutrition. This was the beginning of my own selfhate. This was the day you defeated me, Jenelle Tayler. ///

“A place where I can be heard.” —Geoffrey Chang,

ink well participant

Our voices are vital. Free, weekly creative writing workshops. Visit us online to check out our digital programming! InkWell Workshops instructors are accomplished writers who have lived experience of mental illness. Anyone over 18 with a mental health or addiction issue is welcome to attend.

w w wellworkshops .com


As the weeks passed, our hallway encounters became more routine. Like a scene from a movie where the nerdy kid is walking down the hall, gets his books slapped out of his hands, and then the big bully catches him in a corner to peer down and scoff at him. Jenelle would constantly stalk me and try to break me down psychologically by cornering me, then glaring down at me with her friends. I mean, the only positive thing was that after this one year, she would be gone, and I would be free. Since Jenelle was about to graduate, she had to steer clear of any major issues within the school. All she could really do was taunt me. One day, however, Jenelle really decided to get at me. It was winter, and the whole soccer field was covered in snow. It was that real Canadian winter with tall heaps of snow reaching almost as high as the streetlights. I mean, it was cold, but still absolutely beautiful. I had just come down the stairs onto the main floor of the school. I had to go to the end of the hall to hand in the attendance sheet at the office. At the opposite end of the hall, I saw Jenelle making her way towards me. I was nervous, but kept walking down the hall as close to the wall as I could get. I repeated under my breath, “Don’t make eye contact, do-not-make-any-eye-contact.” Jenelle noticed









HLR: What are you reading right now? Is there are particular author who you have turned to for comfort during this uneasy time?

HLR: You are a multitalented writer who works in many genres. What draws you to write in new forms? Did anything about writing a novel surprise you? NJC: Well, I guess I write in forms that I like to read. And, honestly, when I started writing fiction I believed I was done with poetry, and I really didn’t write any poetry for nearly ten years. I’d lost my connection with it. So I started writing short fiction and then a novel. To be honest, I think I started the novel because that’s what I thought I should do after I wrote a short story. Everything about writing a novel surprised me. Good Lord, it takes so long! I was so sick of myself and I hated the book and I had no idea what I was doing. At the end of the five-year project when I was working with my editor, Paul Vermeersch, I began to feel a bit better about it, although on my bad days I thought, what is wrong with Paul that he likes this book?! And then the beautiful cover came in and then we started to promote the book and I came around to believing in the project again. It was very uncomfortable to not know what I was doing for much of the novel. I know there are lots of people who

HLR: How do you stay motivated/interested in a story over such a long-term process? How long did it take you, from conception to completion, to write The Western Alienation Merit Badge? NJC: The Western Alienation Merit Badge took about six years from beginning to publication date. I don’t know that I can articulately say how to stay motivated/interested. It’s more about sitting down and doing the work and sticking to it. It’s also accepting that you’re going to have to redo that work and probably redo it again. As vague as it sounds, I think finishing a project comes down to making the decision to finish a project. It’s not always going to feel good but that’s what you have to do. I’ve recently finished a poetry manuscript and I was surprised by all the bad feelings I had at the end of the manuscript. That’s only because I’d romanticized writing poetry after the slog of a novel. Finishing a book is always (for me) a battle against my own self (dis)belief.

…after a visit to the Girl Guides archives, I realized that the badges had great potential to structure sections around.

HLR: What led you to the decision to structure the themes of the chapters around merit badges? NJC: I began writing the novel with the final section of the book and Girl Guides were a big part of that. (An initial working title was Semaphore Alphabet but the semaphore quickly got nixed from the novel.) After I finished that first (ultimately last) section I wanted the book to have structure to hold it to the girls, and after a visit to the Girl Guides archives, I realized that the badges had great potential to structure sections around.


NJC: Right this moment I’m reading Grown-Up Pose by Sonya Lalli and Amber Dawn’s new collection, My Art is Killing Me. And I’m listening to A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott. I really love hearing this book read to me by the author herself. In terms of comfort reads, I find all three of these books soothing in one way or another. I’m very much enjoying breezy novels at the moment. I find it hard to concentrate on TV so a novel that is entertaining and has a happy ending is really hitting the spot for me. Amber Dawn’s book is serious but funny, so also soothing, and Alicia Elliott’s book offers a deeply personal perspective on the issues and history that settlers need to come to terms with if we want a better country, and I’m grateful for the author’s willingness to share that with readers/listeners. I’m having a really hard time watching TV these days so, for the most part, it’s all books for me right now.

work from outlines but I resisted it, perhaps in part because I didn’t know what I was doing until the first draft was completed. (And then there was still so much more to do!)


HLR: From a chronological standpoint, the novel ends at the beginning, and the last chapter even focuses on a Bernadette who seems hopeful about her future. Given that the novel has already shown how this future played out, why was it important for this scene to close the story? NJC: Bernadette is a harsh person, but there are reasons for her harshness. I wanted the reader to see her as more than just an angry woman. She didn’t begin with that harshness but it protected her and propelled her forward in her life so she clung to it. I wanted to create a little empathy for her. HLR: I found Jimmy’s search for connection to Doris and discovery of creative expression first through crochet and then quilting very moving and the girls’ lack of understanding of it was truly heartbreaking. How can we work to better understand each other, especially in times of struggle and grief? NJC: This book was largely about how a family can fall apart. Originally I’d conceived a happier ending, I mean, I don’t think it’s an entirely sad book but I thought it was going to have a really conclusive happy ending. But it just didn’t feel right given the era that the novel is set in. I think the way we can work to better understand one another is to try to let go of fear and to certainly try to recognize that whatever is considered “normal” is constructed. All three family members are harmed in some way by what is considered normal for their gender, by what is “manly” or “womanly.”

NJC: Many families rise above difficulties and pull together and so I’m not sure that the era needed to end for each character to grow up and into themselves. But the Murrays suffered multiple losses that they didn’t have the ability to pull themselves out of. The fire was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Because they had no empathy for themselves and each other, because they worried more about external, outside approval than caring for one another, they lost one another. I don’t know that it was necessary but it began to feel inevitable as I moved through drafts of the novel. HLR: Do you have one important piece of advice you’d like to offer to an emerging writer? NJC: I think it’s really important for a writer to find and build community. I’m not referring to connections that might bring you opportunities, although arguably that is part of the work, I’m speaking of meaningful friendships with other writers. It’s life-enhancing to have writer friends who will read your work critically, friends who you can bounce ideas off of. These same friends can help you to celebrate your wins and help you process your rejections/losses and they’ll relish in your saltiness. And vice-versa, of course. My friendships with the writers I am close to help me to keep an even keel in an industry where so much is dependent on outside approval. I’m not sure I would have been able to stick with it without these enduring friendships. ///

HLR: The Murrays seem to be a family doomed to not understand each other. Does the invitation to come to the B&B signify hope for the sisters? NJC: In my mind it does. Will the sisters work it out? Maybe they’ll find an uneasy peace but Frances and Phoenix will find the family they both long for. HLR: During the fire, Jimmy thinks back on his time with Doris as an era, but it seems like the fire is the true end to the era for all of the characters. Was this era’s ending necessary for the characters to rise up out of their respective downward spirals?

NANCY JO CULLEN is the author of The Western Alienation Merit Badge and a recipient of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph-Humber and her short story collection, Canary, was the winner of the 2012 Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. She lived in Calgary for over two decades and still returns regularly to connect with family and friends. She now lives in Kingston, Canada. ///


An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading is a collection of five essays by Dionne Brand, who turns her critical and uncompromising gaze on herself to understand the afterlives of colonization and the intricate matrix of double consciousness that it creates. In the first essay, Brand remembers posing for a photograph with her sisters and cousin, a photograph to be sent to England, where her mother and aunt are training to be nurses. Brand admits that England “is referred to with reverence as ‘away’ or ‘abroad.’ England is as much the spectator, and for England, standing behind my mother and my aunt, we must make a good appearance.” She goes on to admit that she does not recognize the girl in the photograph, even though she remembers the occasion and actions. Brand hones in on this absence of herself to interrogate events “marked at every step with colonial imperatives,” from the photographer Mr. Wong’s probable historical connection with Chinese indentured labour to her own British education, during which she read novels such as Vanity Fair by William Thackeray and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Brand turns her attention to these novels among others, focusing on her own adolescent identifications with characters and admitting her unconscious dismissal of Black characters, such as that of Miss Swartz in Vanity Fair, described by Thackeray as “the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt’s.” Instead, Brand identified with characters who were white and normatively feminine: “good, kind, gentle.” She says that the “geopolitics of empire had already prepared [her] for this identification […] coloniality constructs outsides and insides—worlds to be chosen, disturbed,

interpreted, and navigated—in order to live something like a real self.” Brand’s invigorating close reading unlocks the sites in which Black life is made inanimate and silenced. In so doing, Brand enacts a radical strategy of decentring and undoing coloniality. By inhabiting these absences in her life and in the texts of her education, she insists on “the difficult work of narrativizing the life of Black people.” She offers counternarratives, which insist on unstitching the self from the colonial gaze, speaking the multiplicity of the “I,” changing forms of address, and storying lives that do not revolve around Empire. An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading is exemplary and eye-opening. It reckons with coloniality and the narrative demands it makes in our lives and in our stories, examining canonical texts through close-reading strategies and reflexive thinking that are unparalleled in their clarity and rigour. In a mere fifty pages, Brand undoes the crux of colonial academic pedagogy by insisting on the autobiographical specificity of Black lives and of those who cannot see themselves in literature. This is the education we have been waiting for.

THE DYZGRAPHXST Canisia Lubrin (McClelland & Stewart) Reviewed by Nehal El-Hadi The dedication feels prescient: For the impossible citizens of the ill world. This marks Lubrin as a soothsayer, for how else was she to know that her book’s release would occur during what M. NourbeSe Philip has referred to as “these catastrophic Covidian times”? As we shelter in place, I read The Dyzgraphxst as both a truth-speaking work of prophesy and as testimony for what has come before. Lubrin’s follow-up to the alchemical Voodoo Hypothesis (Buckrider Books, 2017) is a book-length poem


AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF READING Dionne Brand (University of Alberta Press) Reviewed by Shazia Hafiz Ramji


organized like a script for a play. Patwa, French, and English reverberate together in the text sonically, geographically, and essentially—and showcase Lubrin’s multi-linguistic dexterity. The weaving together of these particular three languages functions as a reflection of Lubrin’s movements through space over time. Lubrin’s manipulation of the languages creates dynamic cleaving of assumed meanings: What does poetry look like when “to belong” is conjugated in different ways? The word dysgraphia comes from Ancient Greek, and means “difficult writing”; here, Lubrin applies dysgraphia as referenced by Black studies scholar Christina Sharpe. In her book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Sharpe applies dysgraphia to “the rapid, deliberate, repetitive, and wide circulation on television and social media of Black social, material, and psychic death.” In The Dysgraphxst, Lubrin invites her reader into what theorist Fred Moten describes as the ensemble that comprises the encounters between art and audience, reducing the singular and implicating us. This is set up through the Dramatis Personæ on p.1: “i: First person singular. / I: Second person singular. / I: Third person plural.” The effect of this—once one has gotten through the initial confoundment—is unexpected revolutions in the relationships between text and reader. This unprecedented generosity on Lubrin’s behalf toward I, the reader, proffers unbounded interpretations and understood possibilities of the poem. The book-length poem comprises a prologue, seven acts interrupted by a monologue, and an epilogue. The title of each act is a proclamation ending with a question mark: Ain’t I the Gate?/ Ain’t I Nickname for Home? Ain’t I Épistémè? Ain’t I the Ode? Ain’t I Too Late? Ain’t I a Madness? Ain’t I Again? The character

of Jejune provides a focal point, an addressee that we the reader is positioned in relation to. Jejune is the dysgrphxst, Lubrin’s insertion of the x is to not only represent the unknown but also to assertively reject—or absolve—I. “Act III: Ain’t I Épistémè? … elsewhere called the transaction of dream and return” feels the most urgent, setting up a conversation between odd-numbered dreams and even-numbered returns. In return #2, Lubrin asks: “What am I to make / / Of two or three small sons / / Of anger with its talent for mixtures” (p. 55) and dream #7 begins: “an amateur is in the streets./ to the amateur we are lost/ and startled” (p.60). In return #18, a footnote is indicated in the text as word—this intertextuality reappears in Act V: Ain’t I Too Late? where most of the section occurs in the footnotes. In the epilogue, Lubrin writes “a city is time for me, so I cut the road” (p. 158) and this re-purposing of space and time throughout The Dysgraphxst can be considered a fractal approach to the Black experience. Much like the Haitian Spiralist movement, The Dysgraphxst “invite(s) analysis of the various boundaries—geographical, social, and political—that determine individual and collective experiences of space and time, illustrating the consequences and the joys of becoming unbound” (Glover, 2010, 104-5). And even when sites of significance are named—from Toronto to Gabon, Finland, Yemen, and Uronarti in my homeland of Sudan—mapping them does not permit the text to ground. Lubrin deftly splays open the relations to places, people, events that define I, and while this may not be what we want in these disorienting times, it is what we need if we are to ever make the world anew.

REFERENCES Glover, K. L. (2010). Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon. Oxford University Press. Philip, M. NourbeSe. (9 April 2020). Covidian Catastrophes, Canadian Art. Retrieved from Sharpe, C. (2016). In the wake: On blackness and being. Duke University Press.

Becky Blake’s debut novel Proof I Was Here tells the story of a Canadian expat, Niki, whose world is suddenly upended when her fiancé calls off their wedding weeks before their planned nuptials. Confused and gutted by this reversal, Niki heads out into the busy streets of Barcelona, a city laden with immense beauty, simmering turmoil, and beguiling characters of every sort and origin. Moving freely through alluring and kinetic streetscapes, Nikki has no real destination or set plans other than to get away from heartache. Blake structures the book’s first-person narrative across three parts. In the first section, we meet Manu, a wily pickpocket who engages Niki in the ancient sleight-of-hand art of street theft. Manu and Niki make easy company as two people on the run: Manu from the constant threat of arrest and deportation; Niki from a relationship in tatters, recurring memories of a difficult childhood, and an assault charge that she must answer to at some point back home in Toronto. Through a series of risky thefts and a deepening appreciation for Manu’s predicament, Nikki starts to understand how life’s chain of broken events shape how we see ourselves and the spaces we move within, how as one character puts it, the world consists of “unstitched and broken things finding their way to each other.” In part two, Niki spends time with a group of squatters who live off the detritus of the bustling city. The group shares their scavenged spoils and makeshift tenement with Niki and other ragtag members of an eclectic band of activists, drifters, and immigrants who style themselves as “freegans.” Eventually, the authorities displace the camp, but not before Niki suffers a vicious beating from a late-night

assailant that leaves her with a scar on her cheek, a symbolic reminder that pain rather than happiness often finds permanence. The book’s final section sees Niki explore newfound freedom through her dormant artistic ability. She comes under the influence of Xavi, a graffiti artist caught up in the Catalonian struggle for independence. In making art, Niki wants to “make something outside” of who she is. With a growing sense of equilibrium and purpose, she tags Barcelona’s buildings and urban facades, rendering things both visible and indelible while summoning the courage to start life anew. Proof I Was Here explores themes of ephemerality, loss, and renewal. In sparse, steady prose, Blake reminds us of how layered, complex, and pain-filled our lives can be. Streets are often inhospitable and dangerous places to seek inner peace. Even so, they have an enduring capacity to reinvigorate when we turn to them when problems call. While Blake’s overreliance on plot and the underdevelopment of Niki’s interior voice leave the narrative somewhat stilted, the emerging novelist manages to create an arresting story that vividly assembles the disparate and unpredictable shards that cut through everyday life.

A GOOD WIFE: ESCAPING THE LIFE I NEVER CHOSE Samra Zafar with Meg Master (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.) Reviewed by Sohini Bhattacharya Samra Zafar was sixteen when she had to marry a man a decade older than she was. In her debut memoir, A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose, the reader is plunged into the claustrophobic depths of what life looks like within a forced marriage. The book opens with Zafar waking up next to her toddler daughter on a quiet morning to a “frayed, rippling tension, a


PROOF I WAS HERE Becky Blake (Wolsak & Wynn/Buckrider Books) Reviewed by Neil Price


growing brittleness: anticipation and fear,” and to the feeling of sore ribs. From here the reader is hooked into a page-turner as Zafar chronicles her life, punctuated by harrowing abuse and violence from childhood. Growing up as a girl in a patriarchal culture in Ruwais, Abu Dhabi, Zafar and her sisters quietly suffered through their parents’ unstable marriage. We get sporadic glimpses of violent arguments between them: her cash-strapped, unambitious father would throw crockery across the room in the direction of her educated but unhappy homemaker mother. Zafar never thought of her father as abusive. She thought it was normal for him to vent his frustrations at her mother. After all, she was a “daddy’s girl.” A picture of her father lovingly tossing an infant Zafar into the air are at odds with the violence she’d grow up witnessing at home. Tucked into the middle of Zafar’s memoir is a photo montage of her life. Juxtaposed next to a picture of her teenaged self laughing without makeup, a year before her marriage, is a picture of her wedding photo. In it, she sits like a stoic yogi, legs tucked beneath her. A

tendril of her black hair falls carelessly over her sad but piercing eyes. She stares into the wedding photographer’s camera as if silently crying out, “Help me.” The two pictures bookend Zafar’s life—one led in fear, silence, isolation, and misery before finally culminating in freedom. Readers move from chapter to chapter seeing how, from her point of view, she grows within her marriage from a betrayed and naïve teenager into a resilient and determined adult. A Good Wife is a seminal survivor’s story in the fight against gender-based violence, not only within the South Asian immigrant community, but the larger Canadian one, too. Zafar addresses issues of intimate partner violence and child marriage in a bold yet intimate way, where it’s hard to look away. Since the book’s launch, Zafar has received countless threats to her life and regular hate mail. She has broken with tradition in revealing all the gory details of her forced child marriage and abusive relationship with her ex-husband and in-laws. In doing so, she draws us to conclude that violence against women is universal, with culture only colouring the experience of it.

Your local bookseller knows—







BRITTANI BIRCH braves the cold winters in Toronto, Ontario, along with her partner Anthony and two fearless daughters. On a trajectory to finishing her bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber, she decided to pursue her passion in writing non-fiction. As a writer by day and mommy ninja by night, Brittani hopes to highlight pertinent issues like bullying through narrative. FRASER CALDERWOOD is from Calgary and writes about the space and the light and the strange folks out there. His writing has appeared in FreeFall Magazine, subTerrain, and The New Quarterly. He is living in Toronto and working on his first novel. PAMELA DILLON is a writer and poet. A graduate of creative writing at the University of Toronto, Pamela’s short story “We Come and We Go” and her novel excerpt “As Good as Any Other” won top ten placements in the 2013 and 2015 Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction, through UofT School of Continuing Studies. Pamela’s publications can be found in CBC Books – Canada Writes, the Tin Roof Press, the William Henry Drummond / Spring Pulse Poetry Anthology, Allyson Latta’s Memories into Story, The Globe and Mail‘s Facts & Arguments and Travel sections, Oasis, and the online literary journal Don’t Talk to Me about Love where her poem “She Went to Dance” was a finalist in the magazine’s inaugural poetry contest in 2016. Pamela made the poetry long list with the same journal in 2017 and published two additional poems: “The Winter Morning (with apologies to Mary Oliver)”, and “The Practice of Love.” In 2019

her short story “Murmuration” was long-listed for the Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction Contest. Pamela is currently at work on a collection of short stories. NINA DUNIC is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, writing for local and national news organizations. She completed the Humber School for Writers correspondence course for fiction in 2018 and her short stories have since been published in various journals. NEHAL EL-HADI is a writer, researcher, and editor whose work explores the relationships between the body (racialized, gendered), place (urban, virtual), and technology (internet, health). JANN EVERARD’s short fiction has been published in Canada, the USA, and New Zealand in journals including The Fiddlehead, Grain, Geometry, Whitefish Review, The New Quarterly, and Room. Jann was the winner of The Malahat Review’s 2018 Open Season award for fiction. A former health administrator, she divides her time between Toronto and Vancouver Island. EVA H.D. works in a bar. She is the author of the poetry collections Rotten Perfect Mouth and Shiner. MARK ANTHONY JARMAN is an Iowa grad and has published in The Barcelona Review, Brick, The Georgia Review, Queen’s Quarterly, The Group of Seven Reimagined, and The Short Story Advent Calendar 2019. His most recent book is Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, and he is a fiction editor with The Fiddlehead literary journal in Canada. JENNIFER LOVEGROVE is the author of, most recently, the poetry collection Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes (Book*hug, 2017). Her novel Watch How We Walk was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and she also wrote the poetry collections I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel and The Dagger Between Her Teeth. She is


SOHINI BHATTACHARYA is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and writer. Her writing has appeared in This Magazine, Broadview Magazine (formerly, United Church Observer), University Affairs, M Magazine, and LiisBeth. She also writes regularly for Real Estate Magazine.


currently at work on another novel and a poetry manuscript currently nicknamed The Tinder Sonnets. She works at the University of Toronto and divides her time between downtown Toronto and rural Ontario, Canada. JOSEPH KAKWINOKANASUM is of Cree and Austrian ancestry and is a member of James Smith Cree Nation. He moved to Vancouver, B.C. in 1989 and studied general sciences at Douglas College and Vancouver Community College. He is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s prestigious 2018 writing program, The Writer’s Studio, and the 2019 Writer’s Studio Graduate Class. Joseph wrote several book reviews for the Coquitlam Public Library and Coquitlam Now and published his short story “The Bicycle” in the 2018 Writer’s Studio Anthology, Emerge. For his manuscript, Woodland Creetures, he was awarded the 2014 Canada Council for the Arts: Creation Grant for Aboriginal Peoples, Writers, and Storytellers. For more of his writing please visit his website, CHIDO MUCHEMWA is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has previously appeared in Tincture Journal, Apogee Journal, and in the Bacopa Literary Review. Her short story “Finding Mermaids” was shortlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize in 2015 and published in the anthology Water: New Short Fiction from Africa. Her short story “The Snore Monitor” was shortlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize in 2018 and published in the anthology Hotel Africa: New Short Fiction from Africa. Chido Muchemwa is a PhD Student at the University of Toronto and has an MFA from the University of Wyoming. JAMES POLLOCK is the author of Sailing to Babylon, which was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry, runner-up for the Posner Poetry Book Award, and winner

of an Outstanding Achievement Award in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association; and You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award for a collection of essays. He is also editor of The Essential Daryl Hine, which made The Partisan’s list of the best books of 2015. James’s poems have been published in the Paris Review, AGNI, Poetry Daily, The Walrus, The Fiddlehead, the National Post, and other journals in the U.S. and Canada; they have also been broadcast on CBC radio, listed in Best Canadian Poetry, and reprinted in anthologies in Canada, the USA, and the UK, including The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry. MICAELA POWERS is a student in Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications program. During her undergrad she won the First Place Standing Award in the Department of English for the Class of 2019 from Laurentian University and Penguin Random House. She is currently completing an internship with Culture Magazine. NEIL PRICE is a writer and educator. His writing has appeared in NOW Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Hazlitt, Canadian Art, and This Magazine. SHAZIA HAFIZ RAMJI is the author of Port of Being (Invisible Publishing), a finalist for the 2019 BC Book Prizes (Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize). It was named by CBC as a best Canadian poetry book of 2018 and received the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Shazia’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Best Canadian Poetry 2019, carte blanche, and Quill & Quire. She is at work on a novel. ZOE IMANI SHARPE is a poet and editor based in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Sang Bleu

ALËNA SKARINA was born in Siberia, Russia in 1986. She works in illustration and fine art in Toronto, Canada. Alëna is represented by Reactor Art+Design agency. Her style is known for its hyper-precise linework, hand-done typography, and unique graphic sensibility. Find more at

GEORGE ZANCOLA is a writer of short stories and poems and is forever trying to write a novel. He is a member of InkWell Workshops and has published his work in Open Minds Quarterly (where he won third prize in the 2018 Brainstorm Poetry Contest), the anthology Not Without Us, the Friendly Voice, the Hearing Voices Cafe Newspaper, and two InkWell anthologies. In 2018, he was nominated by InkWell Books for the Journey Prize for his short story “The Experiment.”


Where Things Touch A





Bahar Orang

“A powerfully unsettling work from a brilliant artist” —Madeleine Thien

“A provocative, stimulating novel” —Quill and Quire

“An unforgettable journey through life’s wilderness” —Sofia Banzhaf

“Orang guides us with heart-centred intelligence” —Shazia Hafiz Ramji

“An astounding examination of love and its discontents” —Billy-Ray Belcourt

“Unforgettable poetry of the highest order” —Kaveh Akbar

“Joosten composes a phenomenology of care” —Lisa Robertson

“Elegant, thirsty and visionary poems, echoing with song” —Tamara Faith Berger




MAGAZINE, Main Street, Lemonhound, The Puritan, and The Unpublished City – Volume II. Her chapbook, Sullied, was published by Trapshot Archives in 2011.



JOAN BUTTERFIELD ARTIST, ART INNOVATOR, ART CURATOR, ART COLLECTOR, AUTHOR. Born and raised on the island of Bermuda, Joan Butterfield studied in New York, Boston and Toronto. A practicing artist for over 40 years, she has produced and sold over 8000 works that can now be found in private and corporate collections, museums, universities, hospitals, libraries and city halls, throughout the world. She has participated in more then 400 group and solo exhibits in Canada, USA and Bermuda. Joan is regularly commissioned by organizations to produce works of art for guest speakers and award presentations. In 1995 The Canadian Human Rights Commission chose Joan to develop and curate their Black History Month “Human Rights Through Art” exhibits. Author of “The Starving Artist Guide to Riches” and hundreds of articles that assist and encourage artists. She is the founder and Art Director of the Association of African-Canadian Artists and producer and curator of their annual travelling COLOURblind exhibits. Joan has developed and guest curated exhibits for the Royal Ontario Museum, numerous fortune 500 companies, and educational institutions throughout Canada and the USA. As a five-year member of the board of directors for the Scotiabank Caribana Festival, Joan produced and curated their critically acclaimed annual art exhibits held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. /// PHOTO CREDIT: BERT PIERRE



You can watch many of our 5th Anniversary Festival sessions free online!


Hu m ber L iter a ryR ev i

Articles inside

FEATURED ARTIST article cover image


page 62
Kidney Beans article cover image

Kidney Beans

pages 36-39
Excerpt from [The Pool] article cover image

Excerpt from [The Pool]

pages 16-19
Love Poem with Potholes article cover image

Love Poem with Potholes

page 11
FROM THE EDITORS article cover image


page 5
CONTRIBUTORS article cover image


pages 59-61
If We Don't Come Together, We'll Fall Apart article cover image

If We Don't Come Together, We'll Fall Apart

pages 53-54
REVIEWS article cover image


pages 55-58
Defeated By Jenelle Tayler article cover image

Defeated By Jenelle Tayler

pages 46-52
Two Poems article cover image

Two Poems

pages 44-45
What Would Jesus's Robot Do? article cover image

What Would Jesus's Robot Do?

pages 40-43
Citrus grandis, Lycopene flush, grapefruit diet: a sonnet article cover image

Citrus grandis, Lycopene flush, grapefruit diet: a sonnet

page 23
Cipayak article cover image


pages 28-30
Bodies article cover image


pages 20-22
Three Poems article cover image

Three Poems

page 31
North Portal, SK article cover image

North Portal, SK

pages 32-35
Memento Mori article cover image

Memento Mori

pages 24-27
Harvest article cover image


pages 6-10
Who Will Bury You? article cover image

Who Will Bury You?

pages 12-16
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.