Boundaries Mnerva Literary Journal Volume 1 2021
Inside this issue... 5 Letters from the Editors 6 20 Talismans by T Williams 10 Chalk by Tannaaz Zaraineh 12 Keep by Molly Dunn 18 Lacerated Heart by Tiffany Leung 19 Day and Night and Three Masks by Katharina Davoudian 20 What I Cooked Using Eggshells This Week: A Report by Alexa DiFrancesco 23 March and April by Jiaqi Fan 26 I Will Not Ask Permission to Marry My Future Wife by Sarah Hilton 28 Purple by Kayleigh Birch 34 A Crisis Visual by Sophia Kostanski 36 Instructions on Killing Tradition by Sarah Hilton 38 Home Can Be a Stranger Too by Maria Kotob 40 The Wall by Mathuri Sivanesan 41 Duel by Ruiming Gu 42 My View from the Cheap Seats by Frida Mar 45 Girl Crushed by Sheilah Madonna M. Salvador 48 The House in the Middle of the Street by Mitchell Casado 50 Kin by Trinity Synard* 51 new pattern by William Gibson 52 Contributors * Winner of the William Gibson Poetry Award
Editors-in-Chief Isabel Armiento Sana Mohsin Editorial Team Isabela Quito Villanoy Marissa Lee Athena Bucci Illustrator Isabela Quito Villanoy Layout Design Isabel Armiento Cover Artist Ana Karen
Letters from the Editors When we decided on the theme for our print issue, long before even a whisper of the pandemic, we weren’t aware of the kinds of implications “boundaries” would draw. With international travel restricted, we’re now hyperaware of just how much power these imaginary lines on world maps hold, how much we as human beings allow ourselves to be defined by them. Despite our situation, despite everything, our contributors have exemplified that art prevails even in the face of disaster. Whether it is the physical borders that separate identity, as seen in Maria’s “Home can be a Stranger too,” or the barriers that people draw between themselves as in Mitchell’s “The House in the Middle of the Street,” we are moved by the range of interpretations of this issue’s theme and by the way art can both draw from and transcend this global moment. Despite the relevance of this issue’s theme, “boundaries,” we only published two pieces about the pandemic: “March” and “April,” a brilliant duet of poems that capture the urgency and desolation of the pandemic’s early stages. Poetry about Covid-19 may hit too close to home right now, but we found it useful to feel this discomfort, to press against the elasticity of our ever-changing boundaries. Perhaps the trickiest part of writing through this moment is learning to communicate from within our solitudes. We are grateful to all our contributors for sharing with us their strength and creativity this past year. Isabel and Sana, Editors-in-Chief 5
20 Talismans T Williams
1. A Wooden Cigar Box Dad savoured each one. The box only came out on special occasions, when your grades were good or the peach tree you planted bore fruit for the first time. He’d strike a match, inhale, put his hand on your shoulder. Now you use the box to store stationery. 2. A Pocket Knife This was used to carve your initials all over picnic tables and public park signage. The blade’s been in better shape, yes, but the illusion of safety still holds firm in the hilt when you grasp it. 3. A Dried Petal Years spent crushed between the pages of a dictionary have made it brittle, but not broken. You could crush it, almost powder it, and scatter the dust like a prayer. You put the book back on the shelf. 4. One Earing Where did the other one go? The orphan has been sitting in the jewelry box awhile. Let me think… You wore the pair a lot in the summer. Maybe somebody you slept with then took it off your night stand. Perhaps you left it on theirs. 5. A Tape Measure You never needed to take a measure in imperial units. Stretch the yellow tongue out just over 211 times and you’ll have a mile. 6
6. A Notebook Your old email, old phone number, and old name are sketched on the first page. There was never any chance it would get lost. It stayed inside, but you forgot about it anyways. On the third page: a drawing of a water pitcher, a note that reads ‘Keep Focused.’ 7. A Salt Shaker Moving day went by slow. Someone bailed on you, the promise of free lunch was not exciting enough. A box was misplaced, perhaps forever. You pour the new salt in the shaker and throw a pinch of it over your shoulder. Hopefully, tomorrow will be luckier. 8. A Light Bulb This wouldn’t ignite in a modern socket. The filament is delicate, shaped like a flower. You don’t expect it to give off much light or burn very long. 9. A Key Without a Lock Your best friend found it on a dusty unfinished road. The teeth are all scratched. As a joke, you clicked it onto your keychain. As a joke, you try it in every unfamiliar lock. You miss your friend each time you do. 10. A Pencil A year has passed since you cleaned out your pencil case. Grimy sticky notes, empty pens, nubs of erasers get flushed out onto the desk together. You spy your pencil. Each bite mark recalls a stressful exam. You broke it in half out of frustration one winter. The lead is still good though. 7
11. Marmalade The back of the fridge is an archaeological site, basically. Auntie picked the acidic Seville oranges for you and all your siblings. Beyond that, the process of making marmalade is unknown to you. 12. A Railway Spike The tracks used to run through the low hills and lakes. Everyone has a spike lying around, cottagers love them. But when you look at the one on the dining room table and at the old style oil lamp, you imagine what hand might have driven the metal tooth. 13. A Game of Monopoly It’s rude to leave a gift unused. Whatever. You stopped playing board games when you were 12. 14. A Coconut You never found a use for it, but it was fun to find the husk on such an untropical beach. If only the climate was warmer it might have sprouted, settled. The only palm trees native here are plastic. 15. Nail Polish Can a bottle of nail polish ever run out? Maybe after years you could deplete the whole reservoir, scraping out the last drops of luster like peanut butter from the bottom of the jar. The colour, pearl, is too rare to ever let it deplete completely. 16. A Number To have received not just a string of digits, but to have gotten somebody’s number should make you proud. It did, yes, but the 8
feeling mellowed and rotted out of you. 17. A Recipe Splashes of oil, rains of flour, the ambient factors that give all paper left in the kitchen a delicious yellow tint eventually. Do you really need the reminder when you’ve made this dish so many times? 18. A Boxcutter A summer spent tetris-ing boxes together and un-tetris-ing cardboard apart, fitting the wreckage into more cardboard boxes, and calling it a day. Besides that, the tool hasn’t seen much use since. 19. A Pair of Shoes Whenever you walked through a puddle, your socks got wet. Rain always soaked through the laces, gumming them up. The heel has worn down and the thin soles are patchy with gashes and holes. These shoes have taken you through six cities, about five towns, and a few hamlets. 20. A Cobblestone You like to entertain the idea that it was embedded in the street for centuries before you pried it out. This is obviously a romantic lie. Roadcrews tear up the cobbles and put them back together, replacing the pieces, again and again.
Tannaaz Zaraineh We go on long drives in the summer heat, An arm around my shoulder. While we’re Watching the sun set, alone, you ask questions, nudging me to give answers that never escaped my mouth. When you’re tired of toying with the discomfort, you grab the water and pour. Droplets turn to waterfalls washing away my chalky lines. Greed. It helps you open your eyes every day. How to know you’ve done enough? I look down to your feet, and see you’re drawing your lines with my chalk. 10
Isabela Quito Villanoy
Molly Dunn When I think of my grandmother, I think of smoke. She always had a Parliament dangling from her mouth like an ornament. Her house was perpetually filled with smoke, a constant film noir in the middle of Timmins. When I was a teenager, I would visit her house and collect the smell on my clothes to better fit in with the older boys who hung around in the church parking lot at night. It followed her wherever she went; some drew a wide berth around her, covering their noses with their sleeves to convey their displeasure. It didn’t help that she was already difficult to understand and consequently, to get along with. Her voice, ragged and raw from the constant assault of tobacco, turned even the simplest remarks into an attack, though she never let this deter her from speaking. In church, she sang the loudest and ‘Amened’ the loudest while ignoring the sighs and hmphs from her fellow godly Christians. She told me once, when I asked her if she noticed their stares, “Boy, people stared at Jesus too.” For the only thing my grandmother praised more than nicotine was God. When I was a boy, before I understood why my parents were absent, before I understood the prison the bottle put them in, I was dragged along behind her to church on Sundays while I waited for my parents to rise from their stupor. My grandmother was like a strange, Catholic dragon to me back then. I watched her with curious, focused eyes as she sang the hymns and recited the Apostle’s Creed with the fervour of a fanatic. She never failed to shake 12
Father Malins’ hand after mass and always gave her two cents about the scripture selection and homily. Unlike the other parishioners he never seemed to mind the cloud of smoke that trailed my grandmother or her proclivity for profanities. Perhaps it was his faith that gave him the strength to overlook her sins. Father Malins was also the only one who seemed to notice me, my grandmother’s quiet shadow. I was nine years old, the year my grandmother had to kick my father out of his own house, when he invited me to be an altar boy, though I wasn’t particularly keen. Church was never about religion to me. It was always about my grandmother. But when she heard Father Malins’ offer, she agreed on my behalf. “Randall,” she told me, throwing her cigarette down on the ground in the church parking lot as she knelt to face me, “say what you will about these modern mothers, but a boy needs a Father.” I furrowed my brow in confusion. “But – but,” I stuttered, “I have a father.” I remember only her sigh and the feeling of her cool, ashen hand against my cheek. From then on, I arrived at church an hour early each Sunday to lay out the hymn books and play cards with Father Malins while my grandmother ran her errands. Even then, standing at the front of the Church during mass rather than in my grandmother’s cloud, I never took my eyes off her. In fact, I had a better view of her from the altar than I’d ever had standing next to her. I could see the glint in her eyes as she bellowed “Glory to God in the Highest” and “Water of Life.” I 13
watched, mesmerized, as she scribbled furiously in her notepad during Father Malins’ homily, preparing her corrections to hand him after the service. I indulged myself occasionally, breaking my stare to observe the hateful looks she received from those around her. She offended in so many ways: her smell, her voice, her devoutness that thinly veiled her condescension. It was impossible for me to understand how they couldn’t see what I saw, how they weren’t in awe of her commitment. It was a depth of commitment I had never given and certainly never received, except from her. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and found her bible that I realized her commitment was more selective than the word implies. She was taking her afternoon nap, a recent addition to her daily schedule that revealed to me, for the first time, her mortality. I took advantage of this time to look for one of the packs of cigarettes she had stashed throughout the house that I could steal and sell to the kids at school. It was a lucrative business, but one that had to be approached with caution. I feared the wrath of my grandmother the way she feared the wrath of God. I came across her bible during one of my searches through her sitting room drawers. It was the one she carried with her to Sunday service and spread in front of her during her nightly rosary in her prayer room, which was once my mother’s bedroom. Its brown leather was worn from her grasp, its spine broken, proof to all who saw it that my grandmother was a devout woman. I had never read from it before; maybe once when I was younger, but not that I could remember. I opened it with curiosity and the sense that I was intruding. Peering into her bible was like peering into my grandmother herself. It was her most prized 14
and personal possession, the pages no one’s business but hers and God’s. It was highlighted and marked up more ferociously than my chemistry textbook. Passages were highlighted and underscored, the pages dog-eared and bookmarked. It was clear she had read every word of the book, over and over again. I wasn’t sure why she even kept it; she could recite any passage verbatim when asked. She whispered along with Father Malins as he read the Liturgy of the Word. If he made a mistake while reading, she made sure to correct him. I perused the book, page by page, observing which passages she highlighted and annotated and which she ignored. Some of the boys at school had given each other tattoos with ink and a needle and these words reminded me of those tattoos, inseparable from the person who chose them. I flipped through the thin pages, licking my finger for traction the way I had seen my grandmother do countless times. The words blurred together, more a feeling than a language, and I began to glimpse the faith that fueled my grandmother. The momentum of the feeling stopped as I observed her bold highlighting and underscoring of Leviticus 20:13. It stood out on the page the same way my grandmother stood out in church. The letters rose from the page in thick black ink – If a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. I didn’t allow myself to pause too long on this page. I stuffed down whatever feelings were arising within me and closed its brown leather walls. I picked up the pack of cigarettes that was laying in the drawer and placed the bible back down with a thud. 15
*** The bible lay in my hands, even more worn than it had been the last time I had seen it, twelve years before during my search for cigarettes. Two pieces of duct tape held the spine together and the leather had more wrinkles than my grandmother had had. It seemed her faith was the only thing that kept it together all those years. Now that she was gone, pages fell to the carpet and seemed to disintegrate between my fingertips. It all felt so different without her. So empty. The apartment was still littered with boxes, stuffed with her things, marked “Donation” or “Storage.” Her smoke still filled the room, dimming the sunlight that entered through the windows, releasing puffs of dust from the carpet whenever I took a step. Only now, the smell hit me differently. It was no longer fond and familiar, synonymous with my grandmother herself. Now, it was a sinister reminder of chemotherapy and hospitals, of catching her sneaking out of palliative care for a smoke. It had taken me a long time, too long, to realize my grandmother was an addict, too. Not only to nicotine, but to God. They served a purpose, and she couldn’t live without them. But cigarettes killed her and her faith killed us. I felt Will enter the room behind me, ready to carry another tower of boxes to the car. I watched the smile dim from his eyes as they landed on the bible and the flicker of recognition. He knew the story, the one I had told him all those years ago when we first met. When I was hesitant, ashamed. Wordlessly, he crossed the room with brisk, assured strides, wrapped his strong arms around me, and rested his chin on my shoulder. 16
“You know I never told her,” I said, breaking the silence that seemed to suffocate me. I felt my body tense, bracing itself. I worried he would be angry. I worried he would think I was ashamed of him. He was always so proud. In a strange way, he reminded me of her. I was shocked when he held my hand as we walked down Bloor West, seemingly unaware of the stares. I couldn’t help but remember watching my grandmother from the altar, ignoring the looks from the other parishioners as she all but shouted the Lord’s Prayer. I was attracted to proud people, it seemed, though I couldn’t seem to capture that pride myself. Even when I knew it was my last chance, knew she would only have to live with the truth for a few more hours, I couldn’t bring myself to face her judgement. Their blood shall be upon them. Though the bible said it was God who would do the punishing, I felt she would take it upon herself. I braced myself to feel him recoil, to feel his anger at being kept secret. But it never came. He turned his face and planted a kiss on my cheek, firm, reassuring, as he always was. “What do you want to do with it?” he asked. It was a question I had asked myself for days. It wasn’t a question of what to do with God’s book. It was a question of what to do with her. I wished I could extract her from the poisonous smoke and poisonous faith, hold her in my hand, just her. But like the tumour on my grandmother’s lungs, my memory of her was inoperable. I could not black out the parts I didn’t like. I could not be selectively committed to her memory. I removed myself from his strong arms and crossed the room, grabbing an empty box. I placed her book in it and grabbed a black marker from the table. I labelled it “Keep.” 17
Lacerated Heart Tiffany Leung
at gunpoint, pAndeMoNium ensues; stopper chimes, flames explode a sickening crack and stained bones rattle. a siren s h r i e k s, and a hand at throat. [ soundless ] lips. trut-(LIES), you say. melodious voice, shiny projectile deeper cracked disj oin ted twisted gunpowder leeches suck lungs-mangled breath why? one ho le, two ho le s scarlet (liquid) pools the hands punctured more and more until spider-lilies bloom, petals of blood and nothing left, but a lacerated heart. 18
“Day and Night” and “Three Masks” Katharina Davoudian
What I Cooked Using Eggshells This Week: A Report Alexa DiFrancesco
“I will clean up,” your father announces, tearing a roll of paper towel with a steady force. He wants to save your mother the trouble. She’d broken a plate after cooking. From the other room, your sister places damp hands onto her waist and questions, Is it safe to come in? You have an egg allergy, she was eating scrambled egg and she – she didn’t mean to – she hurled greasy fingers into the dough because you were kneading too slowly for your mother’s liking. Your mother snaps at her instantly. Because, although she won’t admit it, you are her favourite child. You have come to understand it’s because you come to understand too slowly. Your sister immediately understood the backhanded remarks about her inability to cook. She needs to marry a man who can cook. She asserts that she doesn’t need a man for anything. She feeds herself every day, while your mother is at work, and afterwards, she hears accusations of not finishing a bagel and 20
cup of yogurt hours before. Your dad tosses them in the garbage disposal, offering to clean up. I apologize for the shift in tenses. My English teacher reminds me repeatedly of how important it is to start an essay with an opening hook. He also stresses that I be consistent in pronouns, but this isn’t English class; this is Food and Nutrition. I understand that the assignment guidelines stated that I could have followed any recipe. “….so why not a pizza, with anchovies?” suggests my dad. If you didn’t already know, he’s Italian, so dough is the sole thing my Pakistani mother knows how to knead. She burns all she puts in the oven. It reminds me of my father comparing my leg’s tone to his – Isn’t this how you teachers tell us to show what we know? Text to self. Text to text. Text to the world. I thought so. Anyways, it also reminds me of when my father asked whether or not I prefer to eat tomatoes topped on pizza. He’d read it stunts growth. He measures I’ll be an inch shorter than him when I’m fully grown. “As long as I carry fewer pounds,” I’d joked, and my mother instantly apologized for scolding my sister. She asked for a photo to be taken of the meal I made. My sister’s photography has always been a talent which my mother 21
took pride in. She watched in awe as my sister moves the camera to the sun, (so the cheese would look lighter) and tilts it to the side (so the crust would appear thinner). In short, the attached photo is why my father couldn’t clean this mess up. My sister’s tears blurred the lenses because she didn’t want me to have memory of a chaotic family, let alone to submit it as a paper to be graded and given worth. But you should know that, usually, my family weeps in bathrooms and cleans in kitchens. This precautionary measure makes me prouder than anyone I know. Prouder than my friends, whose parents threaten divorce and organize counselling for their sisters’ eating disorders. We simply remind ourselves of the importance of washing hands upon entering a kitchen, the importance of owning a broom, the importance of cleaning our plates either after or before eating. Next week, my mother says to assign a recipe I’m not allergic to, or she’ll speak to the principal.
Jiaqi Fan 樊佳奇 Take away, take away. Take away the Spring feasts on Days. Feasts on plagues, Feasts on virus, Feasts on human Decay. Your bosom is filled with blood, with tears, with absurdity. Your name will be remembered by a number, numbers. 1 number to life, 2 numbers to death, 3 numbers caught In-between lives and deaths. White uniform! People’s praise hangs you up to a place, where there’s no retreat, but only march— 23
March to despair, March to hope, March to human desire (to live)
April April is the isolat-est month, social distancing keeps people apart with only the breeze of spring wandering in empty streets, Crowds curl like a sleeping seed, staying in their small, empty atrium, waiting the sun, the wind, the dew to wake them up from the long, frightening dream. Too many to be awakened, too many to be fixed, too many to take to make you close to me again. Not a mask, not a hand sanitizer, but a heart, a smile, and the many loves 24
that connect us together from the roots deep down the earth: we are apart but united, we are a Part of the universe, we are A part of one tree, we are a part of the grass, Waiting for the rebirth, the restarting, the refreshing air to fill our weakened lungs again; waiting for the showering rain, to sing the old song again. Do you hear it? The ballad of bluebird, the sprouting sound of lilac from the sand tomb; aparting souls longing to be together, to gather petals for a flower, cobbles for a river, seeds for a land.
I Will Not Ask Permission to Marry My Future Wife Sarah Hilton
After James Lord Parker I get that it’s hard to process that I am going to marry your daughter. But if I could explain my case, what I’d want to say is: I am bringing to her this handful of birdseed. Or if that isn’t enough, then there’s also this spoon, this wooden spoon from my Yiayia’s kitchen to place on our lowest shelf. And I know, you must be thinking this is silliness to be bringing her these things—this pile of food that’ll sooner be turned into bird shit and this piece of oak carved into an instrument for cooking. But let me just say that when I give your daughter these things, I’m giving everything I’ve ever known. Love only came to me in handfuls growing up, so small like on Family Day weekends or over the holidays when my own dad took me down in the Rouge Valley. Gave me just enough feed to fill one palm, and then so quickly scattered over the ground, my palm suddenly turned into the size of a valley. When I stood with my hands cupped like that with his hands around my hands, it felt like nothing; nothing until the cast off into the brush into the trees of jays and sparrows where suddenly everything he’d given me this pile of nothing in my hands became 26
a scatter of wings and wind fingers spread his smile wide open. I think about that motion how he showed me to feed the birds and I know now that he was teaching me then how to love. And I realize I’ve talked more about my dad than myself, and I’ve completely abandoned the spoon in this spiralling disaster of an explanation, but seeing you here on your porch in the dead of night I can’t help but think of how you would’ve walked my love up these steps so many times. Maybe she was half asleep, so small, a fraction of who she is now carried up in your arms and maybe that dove in your oak tree—yes that big plump one at the top—maybe it was here all these years watching over you. And I just want you to see maybe love comes in more places than one. Maybe love is more than just man and woman. Maybe it comes from the stir of your grandmother’s spoon resting in her arthritis-ridden hand as she insists that you’re hungry. I guess when you really get down to it what I want to say is…my heart is pinned back like a frog: exposed and bursting, with nothing left to lose because right here along the incision your daughter has my heart extracted. And when I come to tell you that I am marrying your daughter with this seed in one hand and a spoon in the other what I really want to say is: here are my upturned hands, they are giving my life.
I was born on August 5th and that’s some kind of confessional to knives stuck in peaches and other ways I can bring in the sun I’ve never met any of my heroes and they would never want to meet me because no one like reprints of things they have done some days I’m called “Mango” by the people who love me most days I’m waiting in the abstract of what I’m becoming these days a quarter of the time I’ve been alive has slipped me like the third track of a D-side that never stops skipping I was raised in Venice Beach where everyone’s a Leo and when I turned five I learned that I could talk to seagulls and I couldn’t tell you when I stopped believing that the fairies left dewdrops in the garden overnight secretly and swiftly watching ivy grow from start to never-quite-finished And I have always known that I’ll never be a mother or a wife or anything that keeps me useful to another I’m better as the girl who works best in some forlorn teenage dream 28
Isabela Quito Villanoy
with the faith to keep believing who crosses her legs and watches the world move by and stains all her clothing with fuchsia hair dye and still climbs small-town hills to watch the summer sky dip into polluted night I’ll grow up sometime if you don’t get tired of it but my shadow never liked the grown-up gimmicks of impossible chess games and forgetting last names and other things that real people do I am a person who is good at explaining herself Who waits to trade geese for butterflies Who is embarrassd of everything she has ever written Who is a 5’11 stepping stone to something better Who is a fucked-over roadmap to where real love is hidden like the clothes pooled in the backseat of someone’s parent’s car Built from enemies to friends to lovers to nothing I swear in that dream that I never stopped running I am a person who breaks her own heart to see what color it bleeds this time overexposed and ripe from a blue-blooded creature in a red-handed crime I am a person whose favorite color is purple until something better comes along but nothing ever does I am a collection of all of my childhood friends’ homes 30
with sweet tea and trampolines and ice-cold swimming pools and strawberries coated in sugar and Surfin’ USA playing past-life pirates and watching our shadows chase butterflies in the imagination of children-no-longer who never had to change I am where Via Marina meets Tahiti Way and the skatepark concrete gets sand under your trucks I am the skin pressed in the self-induced palmistry of breaking a fall on the rocks (can you read between the lines?) and the deep part in the ocean where your head begins to pop and you swear you see a dolphin underwater but no one ever believes you like when you know the house is haunted but you creak the floor yourself In the space between blue nights and blue days the ghosts come and go but your shadow always stays I am the first and last person to say “I love you” to people who are better at saying “you always look so cool” like a fifth-favorite one-way mirror who will twist her own knife just to see someone clearer scattered and jumbled and ripe for someone’s brutal taking like an alchemist who secretly turns gold from all the breaking but I think I am tired most of all 31
I was born in ’99 and I still find it frightening that I am older than computers and cars and weddings and babies and I am older than my father’s mother when she had her first child and I am older than small rocks and cheap wine and the two screws housed in my knee and I have no greater flesh to show for it except where I marked my nose to cut in the mirror and lift up my eyelids to see myself clearer but everyone spites their face and everything I’ll ever make of my words and hands and cheeks has been done by someone with a more graceful tongue all poetry is bad and mine is no exception I am a person who used to be afraid of everything that could fill me who sits at the brim and waits in the light under blue skies from time to different time and just when everything makes sense it changes to pink right before my eyes and only when my fingers press too deep do I see how my skin never thickened It’s me the reigning queen of self-mythos in the form of gold rings and remnants of other people that never go back to summer hungry for seconds 32
sick from the hours I don’t believe we’ve met before but I’ll count the time on my tongue so we both can share it since when I was a kid I thought I’d never grow older but I kept getting taller and my hair grew past my shoulders and I’m here and it’s all coming apart in the water like stitches meshed in my new scars so if no one is really listening it’s okay if I keep going I’m here and I rub my eyes to remember how fireworks look and do laundry with old lovers’ dryer sheets and dream of algae growing from my spine to my soles and it’s okay that I cut off my sleeves for the heart I tore apart from the seams and the soil and the stars it was foraging in to see all the tree park and pixie dust I’ve been melting through for twenty years and change I’m here and every time I become something new I realized I always already who I needed to be I’m here and I haven’t chased a butterfly since I was a child but I’ve been seeing them more than usual
A Crisis Visual Sophia Kostanski
Fire paints Pollock lines ’til traces of little life run out. Red does not hold back instead it takes after cranberry juice, gushes from a fallen glass, it
bloody nose, invades frames, crossing limits, they say. It’s gone too far down the Artist’s plane, they say still in stance. Citrus lights sizzle plum shaped fur bellies dry & other slices of pain beyond the bubble transparent window. Said goodbye to forms who belonged to us to protect. You whisper redo, 34
redo, re: do something. I paint, Van Gogh-like, until red is cast off. Room for new sketches will stay. Endless the hours to draw this fragile life.
Instructions on Killling Tradition Sarah Hilton
First I want a room a big room a big white room because she raised me to think that if anything has colour a painted wall or a brown carpet then there’s a little bit of death hiding in it somewhere like the time there was a mouse in the house that blended into the carpet or the time I stepped on the floor and she had a panic attack it was the Black Plague come home everywhere she looks there’s rats running under the carpet waiting ‘til dark to gnaw holes in our feet Then I want all the people in with me the ones I see on Christmas actually it’s just Christmas because I can feel how cornered it all is and how much the space shrinks with how big they make themselves feeling like the Christmas I was seated in the corner of the dining room at a TV dinner table watching everyone because I didn’t fit next to them But then put a glass window down the middle a soundproof glass and now they can talk and it doesn’t hurt you what you hear can’t hurt you it’s like Christmas without the trauma without the tradition your Dad your own Dad can talk about how women’s bodies don’t belong to them without it hitting you like the door on your way out they can talk about the fags they saw kissing at the gas station without you excusing yourself from the table
And somehow I can move these walls it’s an episode of Jane the Virgin or a story by Isabelle Allende and the glass pane becomes a small room in this big room closed down becomes a smaller room and I can’t decide if it’s a moment of magical realism where they shrink with the room or they just move in on each other their bones eventually breaking their bodies contorting tying knots around each other until I am alone with myself but still knowing it’s all happening somewhere they’re still together they’re still family they still look at me like I’m under the knife like I’m blended in with the white on the walls like I’m no more an extension of them than the dog they buy over and over to fill a void to never meet death in the face and admit they called it love
Home Can Be A Stranger Too Maria Kotob
Mama and Baba have a place to call home, where jasmines bloom at the sight of the sun, and cedar trees built mountains. Cigarette smoke filled our lungs, but we never complained. My roots are in this home. Deep under the layers of laughter and cries, under the cups of Turkish coffee at sunset, my roots remain. I never stayed in this home for long. I was a guest, a visiting heart and a set of eyes. I wasn’t like Mama and Baba, not with this. Ashamed, I would hear stories, breaking borders in my mind, I was naive to think I was like them. I would wish upon the stars of this home, like they were mine to claim. Selfishly, I would return to other skies, and wish for more.
Homelessly, my children will come to visit a city that is familiar with their brown eyes, but a stranger to their heart. How I wish it could be my home too.
Mathuri Sivanesan I close my eyes and wander aimlessly, Wondrously unbalanced. I let myself take me wherever I feel, Wherever I’m set to go. I do not wait for a whistle, A light, A signal, For it is I who directs my direction. I follow myself. But soon I’ll start hearing whispers, And open my eyes. Rigidly positioned, I stand up straight — Spinal cord lining up the North to South. My arms become a compass That is mastered by the master. These tendrils no longer belong to me. I am bound by an invisible thread To a master I cannot see, Hearing his voice following me. I try to escape, Climbing up and up. I reach out for grass, But find a fifty foot wall at the top.
Isabela Quito Villanoy
My View From the Cheap Seats Frida Mar
A collection of everything that I’ve collected over the year, every little thing I’ve observed from my expensive seat in the streetcar to the tastes that I’ve experienced with my body. Part 1: Everyday Magic in Toronto Today I was rushing to class and I felt still when the subway ran underneath my feet at Queen’s Park. It felt like the beating heart of Toronto and I promised it, I’ll protect you, I’ll always take care of you. The empty subway car stopped in front me, a silver skeleton of a giant creature. Its wide gaping entries opened as the rib cages of a beast long expired. The streetcar came around the corner, a great red and black snake slithering its way through the streets of Toronto. The Moon was so tiny from here. You could almost peel it off the sky with your fingers, like the stickers on fruit. There were burst grapeskins at the bottom of the sink when I was done. I remember cracking pomegranate seeds with bloody teeth but not much else. 42
Part 2: A Meditation on Infatuation One time, he brought back bags full of mint, grown in his aunt’s garden. He gave me one bag and I ate a handful of mint leaves every day for one week. I chewed them carefully between my braces, mulling over him. When I went to Tobermory, I bought him a souvenir gift out of the caritas I had for him. Cariño, I used to call him, the Spanish word for “sweetheart.” My souvenir gift for him was a wooden fish that he could hang from his walls, because I knew how much he liked decorating the space his parents bought for him. He collected every single odd thing there was, from his sci-fi posters to the metal toolbox on his headboard to the poster of periodic elements that were translated into music genres (Me was for Metal). He liked listening to heavy metal in the mornings. The morning we both returned from our trips, I wrapped my souvenir fish in mint and gave it to him in the midday. He never said a word about it and I never saw it on his walls again. Perhaps he had expected something different. I miss you. I miss you, I miss us back when we sat in King’s College Circle, when you ate the stupid grass because you were trying to whistle through it. When you couldn’t breathe because of the hot air and I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I miss it when you laid your big dumb head on my lap and you held my pinky. When we ate Chinese pastries at Grange Park in front of the giant yellow 43
slides and I was worried about coming home late to my grandma. But hanging out with you felt so sweet, sweeter than the red bean buns disappearing in our mouths. I miss you riding your bike in the amber light at Grange Park when we left the Remo Drive concert, one hand outstretched perfectly to capture the air and to signal to me that we were turning. I miss holding your hand at the concert, guiding you into the mosh pit and looking back at us, smiling and thrashing our heads together to the tunes of trauma.
Sheilah Madonna M. Salvador She asked me to stop throwing rocks at her window because I would never get back the green wingback, the one we found on the sidewalk, the summer we stayed at my grandmother’s place near Elliot Lake. We drank cherry cola and ate wild strawberries all day, slept until the sun crept through the blinds that gave us cover when we’d had enough of staring at stars, of watching trucks go by on the highway. She said that I seduced her with lies and Moscato, that I did not mean it when I said that I liked how heavy she felt, that the pills I gave her were diet pills not sleeping pills. But they were, 45
so she can sleep, dream, so I could watch her breathe, play with her lips, smell her skin. She seduced me with her thick thighs and big eyes. I still remember how her tears tasted, how soft her hair felt. She was untouched, unloved territory. Terra nullius. I wanted to own her. I liked it when she pulled my hair, scratched my face, when she slapped me the way her mother did. I wished she hit me harder. She moved like gentle waters on a peaceful day, when she sighed my body trembled. 46
I would drink all of her if she let me. She quenched me like fresh cut watermelons on a hot blistering day. She told me she didn’t want to see me anymore because I liked watching her cry too much, to stop calling because it’s been two years, and that I will never get back the green wingback we found on the sidewalk that summer we stayed at Elliot Lake when I choked her too much.
The House in the Middle of the Street Mitchell Casado
For the first week or so, two fire trucks and an ambulance, and sometimes even a police cruiser, would arrive at a man’s house. One by one they would file in and form a semi-circle around where he sat crying uncontrollably at the kitchen table, next to a glass case where he kept military medals. After the first week they stopped coming, but he continued to cry, invariably ending up wailing and convulsing in a ball on his front steps each day, until, eventually, one of the neighbours came by and hugged him until he went quiet. The neighbours knew what it was like to feel as the man did and were instantly embarrassed that when they did feel as he did, too many people, too quickly, were there to hide them. Because of this, they didn’t want the man to stop, and were glad when he didn’t.
Isabela Quito Villanoy
Trinity Synard Winner of Mnerva’s William Gibson Poetry Award 2020 A descent A herd of cattle knobbing knees in the field lumbering down into the valley, hooves clashing, sifting the red sands of words related / An arrangement of burning leaves Generative ember took charge and came to being / Red, as if sun did soak through like rain / could imbue the cliff face, fill the sea-wood swimming the strait / cutting the clouds on the water’s thin face / Cutting timber to bear the shades of each date meshed in the body we inhabit / became we are strange we all are strange so thoroughly turned and wonderous things 50
William Gibson Originally published in A Thin Coat and other poems there are no bread crumbs which is perfectly OK since I am not interested in going backwards. Patience has always been short in my supply. Like a resting smile, a hint of peace, a fit of contentment. The result of delay and contemplation and A little elbow grease, polishing my soul for the deep shine. A new pattern is needed and from that a new direction and more news both good and bad than I can safely ignore. Having spent too much time distracted from the real deals in front of my nose, I need to place my feet flat on the slippery ground, the dew covered grass of September and slowly start to dance
Contributors T Williams is a fourth year English, Philosophy, and Finnish Studies student at the University of Toronto. They write poetry, prose, and tabletop role playing games. Tannaaz Zaraineh is currently a second-year student at the University of Toronto. She’s published poetry and flash fiction for Young Writers of Canada, and has written for The Mike and Mnerva Literary Journal. You can find some of her work on her blog (IG: @themouththatwrites). Molly Dunn is a writer and actor at the University of Toronto. Her other work is set to appear in Meat For Tea: The Valley Review. Tiffany Leung is a law student at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law. Prior to law school, she specialized in English at the University of Toronto. Her work has been published in Young Voices and The Bluestocking.
Katharina Davoudian is a Toronto-based artist and writer. Currently, she is completing her undergraduate degree in Chemistry and English. Alexa DiFrancesco is a second year undergraduate at The University of Toronto Scarborough, where she’s pursuing an HBA in French (Co-op) and Creative Writing. Alexa is a featured writer for 52
both Her Campus U Toronto and The Varsity and is the Executive Editor of UTSC’s Margins Magazine. Jiaqi Fan is newly graduated from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Psychology. She has been writing both English and Chinese poems for five years. Her published works can be found in Mnerva Literary Journal and The Poetry Periodical (China’s most prestigious poetry publication). Sarah Hilton is a queer poet from Scarborough, whose work is currently featured or forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2, Hart House Review, FEEL WAYS: A Scarborough Anthology, Cypress Poetry Journal, Ithaca Lit, and elsewhere. She is a Master of Information student at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, and she is currently compiling a collection of poetry. Kayleigh Birch, from Los Angeles, is in her final semester of her degree, graduating from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Cinema Studies. This fall, she will begin her Screenwriting MFA at UCLA (’22). She has been writing poetry, scripts, fiction (novels and prose), and songs her whole life, and her other published works can be found in The Los Angeles Times, The Strand Magazine, and The Louisville Review. Her debut poetry novel, Love Letters Only, can be purchased on Amazon. Sophia Kostanski is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, specializing in English. She loves to draw, play guitar, and watch the sunset. 53
Maria Kotob’s roots are in Syria and Lebanon, and yet she has managed to grow up all over the world. Having never lived in her home countries, she has found herself torn by the question of “home,” after living in Canada, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. She is a Rotman Commerce student pursuing a degree in Management but has always been interested in poetry and photography, compiling her work over the last four years. You will see her eating chocolate with every dessert, taking videos of her friends, and admiring sunsets. Mathuri Sivanesan is a South Asian female born and raised in Scarborough, ON who uses storytelling to explore topics of equality and free will. Ruiming Gu, who goes by “Ray” for short, is an emerging Calgarian Chinese immigrant Photoshop enthusiast. He primarily works with often contrasting images found on Google image search and combines them all into a singular piece. Frida Mar is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto, with an Honors Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Psychology and English. In her spare time, she enjoys throwing kisses to the crescent moon, as well as using Twitter as her public diary and personal mythology. Sheilah Madonna M. Salvador is a mature student who is in her fourth year at the University of Toronto. She writes casually for the The Puritan-Town Crier, was shortlisted for the Eden Mills Writers 54
Festival poetry contest in 2018, and will be featured in the Scarborough anthology Feel Ways, which will be released in 2021. Her writing and photography is inspired and influenced by her experiences as a Pilipino immigrant and settler, guided by the wisdom and worldview that she continues to learn as an Indigenous Studies Major. Mitchell Casado is a fourth year English and Art History student at University of Toronto. Prior to coming to U of T, he had careers as a combat soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces and as a civilian commercial airplane pilot. Trinity Synard is a fourth-year student of English and environmental studies. She is fond of walking, taking photos of plants she doesn’t recognize, and chewy ginger candy. She won the first annual William Gibson Poetry Award at St. Michael’s College (2020). William Gibson was a noted Canadian poet and alumnus of St. Michael’s College at U of T. Mnerva has republished his poem “new pattern” in honour of the first annual William Gibson Poetry Award, which was funded by a generous group of St. Michael’s College alumni.