Page 1

volume 2 | issue 2 | winter 2012 | FREE


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

northern canada collective society for writers

contents

president Suzanne McGladdery

1

editorial

Suzanne McGladdery

treasurer Cathy Yard

2

community report

Kiran Malik-Kahn

secretary Kevin Thornton

3

lucifer

Nathan Berube

media director Kiran Malik-Khan

4

back

Jennifer Quist

e-mail northword@hushmail.com

7

dragonfly

Amanda Nielsen

7

consumed

Theresa Wells

8

fireworks

Grady Zielke

11

my ice berg

Michael Beamish

12

prayer to know the sun

Andrea Collis

design & layout Rachel White

13

the phoenix

Meghan Casey

issue editor Suzanne McGladdery

18

sleeping setting

Jody Pratt

managing editor Jane Jacques

18

through the fire

Cathy Yard

19

you said...

Cathy Yard

20

would you want to live forever?

Tessa Sheppard

25

marginalia: a column

Douglas Abel

27

contributors

This Issue: Volume 2, Number 2 Winter 2012 ISSN 1920-6313 cover & art Bill Martin

president emiritus Jennifer Hemstock

Proudly published in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada 56°44’N | 111°07’W


volume 2 Winter 2012

editorial a few years ago, I moved into a house that is heated in the winter with a wood-burning stove. It sounded very romantic and cozy, and I looked forward to sitting by the flames, basking in its heat as the wind and snow

pounded the windows and froze over the landscape. It is amazing to me how

quickly a wood fire was transformed from a luxury to a dirty, back-breaking, tedious chore. The fire required stoking. The wood needed to be chopped and stacked, and then stacked again, and brought inside to thaw and be handy for midnight re-stoking. The fire smouldered out if it wasn’t tended to. We

tracked dirt, woodchips, pieces of bark and trails of ash everywhere. In the spring, there was a fine coating of soot on every surface.

When I chose Fire as the theme for this issue, I wasn’t thinking about the mess and bother. I was thinking about winter, and how cold and depressing

I find it. The dark smothers me, and the cold makes my bones ache. I thought

that some poetry and prose about warmth and light would uplift my slide into winter blues.

Fire isn’t just about warmth and light, though, and it’s not just about the accompanying drudgery to keep it alive and yet controlled. It’s about trans-

formation, devastation, rebirth, and renewal. It represents life and death, hope and fear, light and, oddly, darkness.

Fire inspires so many contradictory emotions in people, and I was pleasantly overwhelmed with the blaze of creativity the concept inspired in our con-

tributors this issue. We had more submissions for this issue than for any of our past issues, which left me with a huge challenge in selecting which ones

to publish. Every negative decision hurt my feelings. And yet, what a delight-

ful dilemma to find oneself in, to be forced to read some wonderful essays, poems, and stories.

My next challenge was to find a cover image that evokes fire. NorthWord’s

firm policy is that our cover art must be produced by a local artist. Searching up a bunch of images on the Internet, while quick and easy, is not the best way to find art that is meaningful to, or produced in, our region. Off to the local shops and galleries I ventured, and ended my search at Frames and More.

The blazing swirl of light that Bill Martin was able to capture struck me as The Big Bang, the cosmic fire of creation, and I’m grateful to be permitted to use the image on the cover for this issue.

I hope you enjoy the work presented in our eighth issue of NorthWord.

Suzanne McGladdery |

eighth issue editor 1


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

community report by kiran malik-khan media director Issue #7 launched with Harmony and Words on Fire It’s heartening to learn that Wood Buffalo loves poetry! North-

Word’s issue #7 launch event, and Words on Fire poetry contest held on September 28, 2012 was a testament to this statement. The event

was the official “spoken word” portion of Alberta Culture Days fes-

Uzma Nadeem, cover artist with Reinalie Jorolan

tivities and was held at Holy Trinity High School. We thank Reinalie

Jorolan for thinking of and inviting us, and for going out of her to

Congratulations to the winners of our contest:

fundraise for the prize money. She is a true friend to the journal.

Over 60 people enjoyed the poetic atmosphere which saw chil-

dren, youth and adults compete for Coles gift cards.  First place was awarded $100, second place received $75 and third place saw $50 distributed in all three categories.

children’s category: [grades 3-6]

1 place: Tarana Sharma, Fire in the Sky st

2nd place: Vanja Radmanovic, The Mighty Fire 3rd place: Lindsay Rowe, The Frog

We were delighted with the turnout and it was great to see MLA Don Scott in attendance. We want to send another special thank you to

David Whitelock from Events Wood Buffalo as well as Holy Trinity High School’s Loraine Humphrey for their invaluable assistance.

Issue #7 had a theme of Harmony, and writers from the issue read

youth category: [grades 7-12]

1 place: Anam Rizvi, Consuming Desires st

2nd place: Kaitlyn Merchenton, Sparks

3rd place: Ana Radmanovic, The Fire of Life

adult category

their works for the open microphone portion. Uzma Nadeem—a local visual artist and our cover artist was appreciated for the beautiful Harmony cover, and was touched by the response.

1st place: Nathan Berube, Lucifer

2nd place: Patricia Budd, On Marguerite

The Words on Fire poetry contest had a theme of Fire, which is the

subject of issue #8 you now hold. So thank you again Wood Buffalo for being poetic, for being a part of the NorthWord circle. We will

keep you updated on all our events regularly via every issue. We

Gachot in the Garden

(inspired by a Van Gogh painting) 3rd place: Gerald Skowrowski,  John the Revelayor

cherish your support.

MLA Don Scott, Associate Minister of Accountability, transparency and transformation appreciated the event and NorthWord's impact on the community. Jane Jacques, Managing Editor and judge for the poetry contest enjoys some magnetic poetry

2

Suzanne McGladdery, Issue #8 Guest Editor with Nathan Berube who won first place in the adult category


volume 2 Winter 2012

lucifer nathan berube

The light of the world’s darkness. the soul of pain. the untitled and unnamed. Boy in a closet, striking matches Old Scratch, and loose, sulphurian hiss. a brief, bright, flicker that reminds the darkness is deep, and consuming. what? this stench? bear it. You ain’t nothing, little man Hairless boy, hidden in secret striking, striking. what will you know? the smell of ash? the feel of heat? Touching with wetted, sheltered, tongue the rose-red tip, and tasting salt puffing the useless smoke and giggling. matchless boy, who’s overrun his own supply be grateful. be well. be at peace. for some just want to watch the world burn.

3


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

back

jennifer quist

people die here, okay. It usually happens out on Highway 63—ice and wheels, moose hair and whiskey, asphalt and impatience at one hundred and forty clicks an hour.

Sure, there are the freak accidents too—rolling the heavy machinery into a tailings pond, dying of the heat up in a tower, using a blow torch to de-ice the lock on the cabinet where the O2 canisters are kept—it could be anything. You never know, right? I guess dying’s one way to get out of town. That’s the bright side of the whole thing.  And I don’t just mean a way out of town in the sense of flying up to heaven—or down

to wherever. I mean you can’t just be left here once you’re dead. You have to go back— in a box, in an ashtray, in whatever. You have to go back to the civilization you were a

part of before you came up here. Even that guy who got knifed and then torched in a bonfire at the campground—even the bits they found of him must have got wrapped up and sent back in the end. No one dead stays here for long.

That’s what I thought, anyways, before I went to help a buddy move into one of the

little houses up on the Abasand ridge. There’s a cemetery up at the top of the hill—like, a real one with factory polished headstones and green grass cut short and everything. Honestly, it took me by surprise. I actually said something about it the third time we drove past. Everyone in the truck looked at me like I was crazy, right.

“You can’t send a dead body back somewhere when it never came from anywhere else

in the first place,” they said. “And some people just don’t come from nowhere but here.” I guess I must have known that—but still. “That’s not the only graveyard in town neither,” they said. “There’s another one downtown, at the end of Charles Avenue, right by the highway.”

I must be weird or whatever but I went out to look for the other graveyard on my next set of days off. I went into the Superstore, bought some supplies. And then, instead of

driving away, I threw the groceries into the truck and set off on foot—walking like I was

a kid or a homeless guy or like the cops had taken away my driver’s license, or whatever. I went on back through the trees where those kids mugged that guy. There’s a trail beaten

down between the spruce trees and everything. And when I came out on the other side, I was standing right by the fence that hems in the graveyard. It must have been there for

ages but there are houses and apartment buildings and parked cars all around it by now. I went inside and walked around, all by myself, looking at the stones and the names. My mum always used to tell me it’s disrespectful to step on the ground where it sinks

down into the shape of a coffin right below a headstone. We don’t have to get all the

4


volume 2 Winter 2012

way to disrespectful to convince me. Creepy’s what it is—and that’s way more than enough to keep me from doing it, right?

So I’m in the graveyard, looking at all the people who were left here—the ones who didn’t get sent back. Some of them are little kids and everything. And I feel weird—

like, sad or whatever. But getting sad is what hanging

they never sent him back, eh?” He looks right at me. “Sure they did. He’s back. He’s right

here.” And he waves his hand at the headstone like it explains everything.

And maybe it does. The death date for the uncle—it’s in 1943.

out in the graveyard is all about, I guess.

“He’s a soldier?”

I used to go with my mum on Fathers’ Days, back east,

“Yeah. Died invading Sicily. You know Canada invaded

dad’s grave every year. I can’t remember if I was sad

are Fascists and an amphibious invasion is an amphibi-

to put a five dollar bunch of carnations on my grand-

about it back then. It would have always been in June

and raining like crazy. But even so, it wasn’t this—what am I trying to say? It wasn’t this forsaken. Granddad’s

grave—it was just a part of the earth, right. The grave wasn’t so much him—the old guy who used to reek like

hand-rolled smokes, sitting watching the hockey game in a bad armchair. In his grave, he was just the earth, the

land we lived on, the dust we were made from right from the beginning -- or whatever.

There’s someone else in the downtown graveyard with

me. And I don’t want to offend him with my gawking so I start to leave, heading back through the fence and

the trees, back where the parking lot ravens are probably strutting around on the hood of my truck, scratching the

Sicily, right? It’s not as sexy as Normandy but Fascists ous invasion.”

“And then they sent him back—here.” “Right back under our feet.” I step a little further away, scooting sideways, as I take another look at the guy. He’s got an Alberta accent, a double-chin, gray in his hair, and lines coming out of the

corners of his eyes. He’s a Baby Boomer, from the looks of

it. He’s almost at the age where some kind of Pied Piper should be coming by to lead him out of town, right at retirement.

“Hey,” I say. “Are there any old people in this town—like, seriously old?”

hell out of the paint.

He snorts. “Hardly any. A few.”

But then the graveyard guy is talking to me. “So who’re

“Yeah? So where are they?”

you here to see?”

“No one. Just lookin.’” “Yeah? Well, did you look at this one?” He’s waving me over to the grave he’s standing at. I don’t know who he is and he’s weird and everything but he’s small. I know I could take him so I put up with it. I

walk over to where he’s standing right on a rectangle of sunken lawn that’s mostly moss by now.

“This is my uncle,” he tells me, right proud. And I don’t know what gets into me. I say to the guy, “So

“I don’t know.” I wave my arm at the grave. “Well, this guy should be old

by now, right? Where would he be—if he was up walking around?”

“Uh—at the Legion, maybe?” I didn’t even know there was a chapter of the Royal Canadian Legion in town. But Graveyard Guy (I don’t stop to wonder what he’s calling me inside his head) tells me

where to find it—draws a map in the air with his fingers and everything. He tells me as if the next thing I’m going

5


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

to do is get in my truck and head over there to wait for an old guy to appear.

So I’m feeling pretty strange when I do drive out to

amphibious eyes like he’s lying just barely underwater, at the beach, mouth open and full of saltwater.   

Waterways and pull up to the Legion, stopping in the

It freaks me out and I sit up, cranking on the ignition,

a big Cadillac parked there—an old guy’s car. He’s got to

say—something. But the old guy’s gone. It’s like he dis-

space right beside the handicapped parking spot. There’s be inside the building so I just sit in my truck, watching the doors. After a while, I feel like I’m one of those desperate weirdos hunkered down in the woods, trying to

get a picture of the Sasquatch, or whatever. That thing’s

jabbing at the switch to lower the window so I can appeared as soon as I took my eyes off him.

I step out on the pavement. I don’t know what to do so I yell out.

supposed to be living somewhere out west too.

“Hey!” I say.

And I’m sitting back, tipping my driver’s seat into a

There’s nobody here. My voice hits the ridge on the far

recliner, trying to keep my eyelids from closing. But it’s been a long, twelve-day week. I guess I fall asleep. 

I guess I miss the old guy when he comes out of the Legion and gets into his Cadillac and drives away. I

open my eyes in the orange dark of the streetlights and look east, out through the dust and glass of my closed

window. And there’s the old guy, with his face right up

6

to the glass, looking back at me—looking up at me with

side of the river and comes ringing back at me.

I get back in the truck, slamming the door, rolling the

window up. I glance out through the glass one more

time before I throw the truck into reverse. And that’s when I see it again. The face—the old guy—I’m not seeing him in the window. I’m seeing him in the side

mirror. I’m seeing him every time I look now—that face.  And there’s nowhere for me to send it back.


volume 2 Winter 2012

dragon fly amanda nielsen Blazing body,

of fire and gentle dew drops,

Perched lightly upon the emblazoned leaf. Fuzzy eyes,

of large saucer-shape and cross-hatched screen,

Informed of all movement and touch. Glistening wings,

of movement and blood-tipped spots,

Readied for action and hunt. Autumn Meadowhawk, paused, rested, Upon the emergent vegetation, Making love in a moment

of fleeting copulation.

The brilliance

of their brief fire,

The wheel only broken to ensure safe passage

of the cycle repeated.

consumed theresa wells A spark.

At the beginning Just a spark.

A word, a glance, a touch

Nothing more than a spark

A tiny bright light in the dark. A flame.

Soft glowing amber. Fragile,

so tender a whisper could blow it out.

Likely too fragile to survive, and yet‌ The spark

That became a flame Grows.

Suddenly it is nothing less than An inferno. Raging.

Burning.

Engulfing.

Hearts, minds, lips, and souls Torched by emotion. An inferno

That cannot be hidden.

A fire burning out of control. A passion, a wildfire,

An all-consuming desire. There is no such thing As just a spark.

7


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

fireworks grady zielke

there is a man who lives on top of the mountain in disneyland. I went to visit him once. Here is our conversation: “Hello.” The man said nothing. His eyes were glued to the sky, watching the fireworks. He was sitting cross-legged and swaying gently. “Hello,” I repeated. No response. The man was skinny and unkempt. He wore some kind of rag around his

waist as clothing; presumably that was enough to keep warm for most of

the year in California. He was bearded and his hair was wild, his visage reminiscent of a lion’s. His eyes were dark and reflected the fabulous display of fireworks tearing apart the sky.

The man still said nothing. I kept trying to catch his attention at intervals. I had a few hours until I had to leave, and I intended to use them. The fireworks continued unabated their manic, euphoric festival, the shockwave of

each explosion running through my body. The finale was a bombardment with enough force to almost knock me over.

As soon as the display had finished, the man got up and began to move quickly away.

“Wait!” I cried out. He was surprisingly swift and spry despite his dishevelled appearance, and I no longer doubted the reports I had heard of search parties of crack Disneyland commandos turning back after trying to chase this man

through the mountain. I knew I had to convince him to speak to me, and that trying to follow him would be useless.

“Wait! I came all this way to speak to you! I need to know about you!” The

man had almost disappeared into the shadows. At my plea, I saw him slowly turn towards me. In a time too short for any man to cover the distance, he stood before me.

His voice was a hissing, sizzling thing. “What do you want to know?” A million questions whizzed through my head. I looked at my watch. Only a

half hour left until I had to make good my escape. I had time for most of the important questions.

“Why are you here?” I asked. “I live here,” came the flat reply. “Yes, but why?”

8


volume 2 Winter 2012

“What is it that you love?” asked the man, in a very serious tone of voice.

“My family; my wife and son.” “Do you live with them?” the man asked, again, his dark eyes boring into my own.

“Yes, when I’m not away chasing stories. Wait, do you mean to say that you love someone? Here? Who?”

“Her,” said the man, looking away from me and towards the night sky, still thick with smoke from the firework display.

“Who? The sky?” “My sky. Did you see the fireworks?” “Yes.” “Were they not spectacular?” “Yes, but…” “Were they possibly the most spectacular you had ever seen?”

“I don’t know if I remember…” “Try.” So I tried. I remembered last Canada Day, and the firework show I had taken my son to. I remembered a smattering of Roman candles, a few fizzled failures, and

a bunch of firecrackers thrown by miscreants in the park. I tried harder. I remembered New Years, 1999, huddled in my bachelor pad with a few friends with a full complement of camping equipment, drinking beer, waiting

for the world to end. I remember the televised fireworks, quotes on how many millions of dollars were spent, and

the jealousy I felt looking out my window and seeing my small town’s feeble imitation.

I tried even harder. I remembered lighting off fountain fireworks as a teenager. Or a young man. Or somewhere

in between. I remembered aiming them at each other

and having a “wizard’s duel”. I remembered fleeing into the night when someone came out to stop us, then

going back to their house later and lighting off a cherry

bomb on their front step. And I remember the dog, and the pain, and the sadness, and the scar on my heart. I tried again, and finally I remembered. I was young. No older than three, surely. Young enough for my father to carry me around piggyback. It was New Years, I’m sure, but I don’t remember any snow, so maybe

it wasn’t. My dad took me outside, to our backyard. I

distinctly remember my mother shaking her head and

smiling through the kitchen window. The bright house beckoned me as I was carried out into the night on my dad’s shoulders.

“Daddy, I’m cold,” I said. “Wait, son, this is worth it.” So I sat down on the grass. Or maybe the snow. And I

waited. My dad was doing something with a cardboard tube, sticking it in the ground, and I thought Gee, what’s he doing that for? and then my dad got out a pack of matches, and asked if I was ready. “Guess so,” I said. He struck the first match. It broke. “Fucking-” he said before he could catch himself. Turning to me, he said, “Don’t tell your mom I said that, ok?”

“ ‘Kay,” I said, delighted my dad had entrusted me with a secret. My dad smiled at me and said one of my favourite phrases,

“ ‘Atta boy!” he said, ruffling my hair. Suddenly, I felt a drop of rain on my cheek. Or a flake of snow. Thunder sounded in the distance.

“For the love of-” said my dad, catching himself before he

said it this time. “Come on, Champ, let’s go in.” My dad

and I walked home, hand in hand. He, my mother and I watched the thunder storm from our warm kitchen

window, the KRAKKA-BOOM! of the lightning scaring me so much that I hid in my mom’s arms. But I always

poked my head out again to keep looking at the light-

9


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

ning, and my dad called me “tough guy” because of it. When I had finished remembering this, I looked back to

the man, and told him, “No.” Then I told him my story.

dad had taken me when I was young, and got him to sit down on the ground.

When I finished, the man looked me up and down.

“What is it, Daddy?”

“You’re luckier than I.”

“Just wait, you’ll love it,”

The alarm on my watch went off. I had to go.

I took out my lighter and lit the fuse. The thing took right

“Wait!” I cried out to the man as he walked away, “One more question!”

“Shoot,” he said over his shoulder. “What do you eat here?”

••• A few months later, I was at my mother’s house with my wife and son. We were cleaning out my father’s basement workshop. I had been meaning to ever since he passed away, but somehow I never got around to it. As

I was sorting through a container of junk, a cardboard tube caught my eye.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” I brought it up to the main floor, and called to my son, “Hey, Buddy, get over here! I have something to show you.”

“It’s nearly bedtime!” my wife yelled back. “It won’t take long, I promise.” My sleepy-eyed little son toddled out of the house in

his Transformers pyjamas. I caught sight of my wife in the doorway, rolling her eyes at us. “Boys…” I heard her mutter.

away, and it hissed and sizzled as it burnt down to ignition. I walked over to my son and sat down beside him. “Ready?” I asked. “Uh-huh,” he said, his drowsy eyes suddenly excited and curious.

“Leftover Churros.”

10

I took my son over to the same spot in the backyard my

I myself was getting more and more excited as the fuse

burnt down. I would finally see it! The firework my dad had wanted to show me all those years ago! And, gift of gifts, I would be able to share it with my son. I held my breath as the fuse burnt all the way down to the base of the firework.

Nothing happened. I stared uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then: “God damn it!” I swore, before realizing who I sat beside. My son was looking at me, now fully awake. He didn’t know what to make of me. We looked at each other for

a moment, each waiting for the other to make a move. Then I knew what to say.

“Promise you won’t tell mom I said that, bud?” His eyes lit up. “Promise.” We walked back to the house, hand in hand.


volume 2 Winter 2012

my ice berg michael beamish

I lost equilibrium somewhere between the fifth and sixth beer… Or maybe it was that joint that followed?

Slipping into a playful state of vociferous self confidence Easy bravado with a hard on for life I sail the party like the Titanic Unsinkable

Maybe it was that third glass of wine

or that second scotch with what’s his name but you have never looked so good in red. Legs like ice bergs

I sputter, “Let me melt your thighs” You crack a smile.

The ice breaks!

Is this my night?

How I’ve wished to travel your icy channels Your frozen pathways Is this my night?

Liquid courage in harmony with smoky visions Words fall from my mouth haphazardly …Is this my night?

Maybe it was that glass of gin That sip of Grand Marnier That second puff-

Sea sickness sets in

Where’s the captain? Asleep on the deck!

My boat is sinking fast and there’s not enough life rafts! Radio home

I need to be rescued…

Sorry about your shoes…

You slip from my hands as I sink into the sea Forever damned by my drunken stupidity.

11


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

prayer to know the sun andrea collis

I need you like the ground. I need you like a wall around an orchestra – to relay the sound.

I need you like a kingdom needs its crown – without you chaos looms,

the castle drowns.

But most of all I need you to need me too.

If I can’t water your bare roots If my soil can’t fill your soul from root to tooth

If your leaves can’t gather my sun then love, I’ll leave And pray for you to find

the one. I love you like a child loves the moon

looking to your light with hope from a darkened room.

I love you as a mother loves her babe

the two entwined as one until the grave.

So bless this earth that

fire will soon come –

to crackle frosted soil

release my seeds to know the sun.

Fire cast these clay feet free with wings to fly

The ground is lost but now I have the

sky.

12


volume 2 Winter 2012

the phoenix meghan casey

i don’t remember when i first heard about the phoenix. Mom used to read me stories out of musty-smelling books she lugged down from the attic, so maybe it was in there. I listened when she read to me, listened even

when I squirmed and crawled away and tried to ignore

her, even when I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. Things stuck. I’m old enough now to be glad of that.

The phoenix has been on my mind for a long time, ever

since the first fire. There are moments when I shut my eyes and find its image, a red-orange haze, scorched on

the insides of my eyelids. It’s a heat that spears through my skull and coats my throat like molten gold. It keeps

burning inside of me. It will never stop. Some days, that comforts me more than you’d think.

When I was eight, Mom passed away. For most people, that’s just a euphemism, but it’s honestly how it felt, like

she was slipping through my fingers the way water does

of thistles. Meanwhile, I was a clumsy kid, a plodder, big and blocky like a boy built out of Lego. Small things

made me nervous because they were easy to break, but they were always the first things I wanted to hold and to keep.

Our nearest neighbour was more than a kilometre away, so I usually ended up playing alone in a fort I built for myself under a few scraggly trees. That’s where I kept the

metal box where I hid my binoculars and a growing col-

lection of birding books, pilfered from the school library, garage sales, the second-hand bookstore down the street

that smelled sour like mothballs and cat piss. I wasn’t

good at meeting new people or making new people want to meet me and so, during those first months, I was alone, except for the well-intentioned fussing of my grandmother, who probably made me into a prime candidate to become either a priest or a serial killer.

when you try to cup it in your hands. We said goodbye a

When I finally managed to make a few friends at school, I

meaning. The last goodbye came without us even know-

lists of the birds I’d seen or that I’d memorized the calls

lot during that time, so many times that it almost lost its

ing it and after that, nothing we’d ever said felt good enough.

I never knew my father (Mom called him ‘the sperm donor’), so I moved to my grandmother’s rickety old place

just outside Thornton. We didn’t have Internet, so when

was smart enough not to mention how I kept exhaustive and migratory patterns of nearly a hundred different species. I didn’t want them to laugh at me. It was easier to talk about video games or cars or hockey, interests I purposely took up to be less of an obvious candidate for loserdom. Among animals, we’d call this camouflage.

I wasn’t playing with the rabbit ears on the museum-

When I learned to drive, I started taking the old Buick

back, where you could spot goldfinches, red-winged

birds stirring in the trees at dawn. Usually I’d be alone,

piece of a TV, I roamed around the abandoned fields out blackbirds, meadowlarks, even orioles and juncos.

I liked birds - their small bones, their bead-bright eyes, their plumage – but most of all, I liked to watch them fly away, skimming through the air like stones skipped over

a flat pond, but instead of sinking, they rose into a wide, blank sky. The birds built their houses wherever they

wanted and lived on whatever the world dropped for

them. They could glide on a breeze or perch on the heads

out to a quiet spot by the lake, so that I could watch the which was how I liked it, but every so often, there’d be

other cars inexplicably idling there. Sometimes there were shadowy bodies grappling in those backseats, a reminder of what most teenagers did in the park - what

I would’ve liked to do there too, if I could’ve found a girl nice enough to wait while I scanned the bushes for cedar waxwings.

There were a couple of shifty-looking old guys who hung

13


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

around the park too, smoking and listening to their car

I took up smoking just so I’d have an excuse to talk to

looked like they were waiting for somebody, but no one

tons, but Nora was worth the risk of lung cancer, heart

radios, scratching the stubble on their chins. They always

ever showed up, not with drugs or guns or money, not

with coffee and a shoulder to cry on. They were probably just pervs, scared that the cops were going to catch them

jacking off in the front seat. I used to wonder if I’d end up like that. I already understood that shameful, secret feeling, that solitary strangeness, all too well.

It was when I met Nora that my strangeness stopped

being so solitary. She arrived in Thornton during the summer before Grade 11, moving into one of the squat

little wartime houses downtown with her mom and her

partner. A couple of days after they arrived, somebody toilet-papered their place and spray-painted a bunch of dirty words on their garage.

On Nora’s first day at school, Ronnie Nelson, this scrawny rat-faced kid who wanted to be class clown so hard it

hurt, sauntered up to her before Art class. From where I was sitting, I could only see the back of his head, but from the way he leaned against her desk, it was obvious he was doing his best to make her uncomfortable.

“New girl, right? Hear your mom likes the taste of pussy.” Nora didn’t answer right away. She just sat there, with

her hair hanging in her face, assessing him at her leisure, a smirk working its way across her lips.

“Yup. And looking at you, I can see why.” It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that I was hopelessly, utterly in love with Nora HertzJacobs, but this was definitely a crucial juncture.

Of course, there were other contributing factors, things I picked up from watching her in her native habitat -

the stretch of gravel at the corner of parking lot where

the smokers hung out. I liked the silvery streaks in her blonde hair and the absent-minded way she kicked at rocks with her boots, as if they’d done something to piss

her off, something personal. She had this bronze lighter

with a cap on it and when she lit her cigarettes, she’d lift it up, concentrating on the flame as if she could stare into it and see the future. 14

her. I’d read the health warnings on the cigarette car-

attack, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, low birth weight, prematurity and spontaneous abortion. I tried to keep a spare pack on me at all times, in case she ever needed to bum a smoke.

And then one morning I got lucky and we were alone in the smoking pit. She looked at me, scuffing the toe of her

boot in the dirt, and gave a smile that seemed tentative and almost wistful.

“So what do you people do for fun around here?” “Other than get drunk? Not too much.” This was a lie. I never got drunk. When I tried to smoke

weed, I coughed and looked stupid. I was everybody’s favourite designated driver.

“There’s got to be something,” she persisted. “Well, there’re bush parties and sometimes we go swimming at Mill Lake, but it’s too cold for that.”

Nora shrugged, the fabric of her windbreaker making a sound like a sigh. “Lake sounds good.” “What?” “I’m not up for Science right now. Let’s go.” My fingers went numb and I almost dropped my cigarette. “Okay. Sure. Sounds good.”

We got in the Buick and I drove us up the side-road to

the lake, gravel crunching under the tires. Along the way, Nora talked about Hamilton, where she was from. She

said that all the factories there made the air feel hot and stale and smoky, like hanging out at the back of a bar

and that coming to Thornton was weird because everything smelled different. I’d lived in Thornton so long that

I didn’t really notice how it smelled or if it smelled like anything at all.

When we arrived, there was a cold breeze coming off

the lake. The beach was littered with twigs and crushed

beer cans and forked with patches of crabgrass. One look


volume 2 Winter 2012

at this mess was enough to tell me that my chances of

grasping a branch. The pale grey down of the bird’s chest

slim to absolute zero. We ended up pacing around and

tered, maybe in a breakneck plummet from the treetops.

convincing Nora to make out on the sand had gone from chucking stones off the end of the creaky old dock for a while, until Nora suggested we go for a walk in the woods.

I was all for this. The privacy of the forest offered better

was scruffy and its long, dark tail feathers had been tat-

Nora crouched down, examining the body. “It’s dead. Poor thing.”

“A grey jay,” I said. “Not many of them around here.”

opportunities for seduction. Through most of the walk,

She petted the bird’s feathers as if trying to smooth

move on her and if so, how I should do it without seem-

realize there were grey ones. You know a lot about birds,

I was mulling over whether she expected me to make a

ing like a jerk who just wanted to get into her pants. This question was necessarily complicated by the fact that I did want to get into her pants and the possibility that

I might be a jerk without realizing it – something that Nora definitely wouldn’t tolerate.

It wasn’t really much of a forest, to be honest, although it might’ve impressed a city girl. It was just a huddle of

pine trees and a couple of mossy rocks where you might

see chipmunks, maybe even a snake or two coiled in the sun.

When we fell under the shadow of the trees, Nora

touched the sleeve of my jacket and I reached for her

hand. Her fingers were small and cold against my palm. The first time we kissed, I stumbled back a step and

banged against a tree trunk so that I wasn’t sure if it was pain or pleasure zinging up my spine. She ran her tongue across my teeth, a weird sandpapery feeling, soft flesh against hard enamel.

Suddenly, her lips retreated from mine and she gripped my shoulders, holding me in place. “Don’t move.” “What?” My first panicked thought was that she was telling me

to back off, that I’d done something to screw it up, but then she pointed at the ground. “Bird,” she said. I looked at the carpet of dead pine needles. I saw the legs first, sad and crumpled, the clawed feet still tensed as if

them back into shape. “Heard of blue jays before. I didn’t don’t you?”

“Some things.” “More than that, I think.” “They’re kind of interesting.” “Interesting how?” “Well, grey jays are trusting with people. You can feed them raisins and they’ll perch on your hand.”

Nora let these facts bounce off her like tennis balls off a

brick wall. They didn’t bug her – at least, I don’t think they did. She just had other things in mind. Later, I thought I understood them, but it could be that I never did. “We shouldn’t just leave it here like this.” “It’s natural.” “Screw natural. Sometimes nature is wrong.” Instead of arguing this point, I went for the practical objection.

“We can’t bury it. No shovel.” Nora took out her lighter. “You’re right. We can’t bury it. It’ll have to be a cremation.”

“I don’t know. That doesn’t seem...” I was going to say “safe”, but that sounded wussy, so I just trailed off, let her fill in the blank.

“It’ll be fine. I promise. We can control it. You can do

the honours.” Nora smiled, drawing back the cap of the

15


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

lighter. She placed it in my hand. “Uh, it’s okay. I’m good.” “No, seriously, give it a go. It’ll make you feel better.” She

didn’t feel the need to specify what my problem was, just that she had already sensed the solution and it was

within my grasp. “Poor thing deserves a beautiful end, don’t you think? Shouldn’t just leave it to rot.”

I stooped down, carefully clearing away the pine nee-

dles and slender, knobby twigs from around the bird’s body. My thumb pressed against the ridged wheel of the lighter, unsheathing a blue point of flame that flickered into orange, yellow, even hints of ghostly green. I lit

the tail feathers first and the fire plumed out, moulting sparks.

Firebird. Phoenix rising. We stood back and watched. We were solemn in the ritual, entranced and lulled by a sense of rightness, of inevitability.

It was good, yes, but, as Nora would later point out, it

wasn’t perfect. It couldn’t be, not when the ingredients weren’t right, when the wind was blowing in the wrong direction.

The smoke unfolded in its black wings as if to rise, but

dissipated before it could climb the peaks of the pines. The flames starved and guttered, gnashing their teeth

and that being together made it special. I wanted to believe that.

There are some people, the uninitiated, who will think

that we did it just for cheap thrills, to get off, but our mission was bigger than that. It was nobler. We were

searching for glimmers of life in condemned buildings, trying to give wings to a stone-heavy world. We burned

down a neighbour’s old shed, lit up tires at the garbage dump, torched old clothes and papers ripped from textbooks. When I took Nora out to watch hawks circle the

cornfields, we discovered the joys of burning haystacks. In a vengeful mood, we incinerated the contents of Ronnie Nelson’s locker but most of the time, it wasn’t about being pissed off, no matter what the newspapers and the shrinks will tell you. It was about the transformation. We were watching for the phoenix.

I liked being with Nora – we never put a title on it, although I wanted to call myself her boyfriend - but

there were some days when she’d turn moody. She’d

brood and if I asked what was wrong, she’d snap at me to

mind my own damn business. I think she felt let-down.

She’d been working at the science of fire for a long time, years before I came along and she’d stopped being able

to snatch up the little successes. The charred defeats depressed her. Even when the flames danced, she started to see it as mockery, something weak and babyish.

against the charred bones. The ashes were a disappoint-

Nora was looking for a bigger project, something more

result, a crazy kind of alchemy.

along with her, that I was still too small-time. Maybe

ment. It was as if we’d both been expecting another

Nora squeezed my hand. “Feels real, doesn’t it? Only kind of magic I know.”

I didn’t say anything, just looked into Nora’s grey eyes. The breeze tangled her hair and sent strands fluttering

over her face. I stroked her cheek, brushing them away and she didn’t flinch at my fingers brushing across her small, pert mouth.

That was my first fire. Nora had been doing it longer, experimenting with location, materials, duration. She

16

told me that I was the first one she’d ever shared it with

fulfilling. Maybe she didn’t think I was ready to come

she just wanted to savour a triumph that was all hers. Maybe she just didn’t love me enough. I don’t know why

she did it, why she went on her own, why she never told me, didn’t even drop a hint.

I didn’t hear the firetrucks screaming across town, didn’t

witness the old place crumbling, the rafters giving out, even as the volunteer firefighters doused it with water. I

only heard about it when Mrs. Berg, the guidance counsellor, called me into her office on Monday morning and made me sit down in her plush blue chair, the one where


volume 2 Winter 2012

everybody did their crying. There were still a couple of

the wrong place, on a section of wood that had decayed

cushion.

her weight. She fell through.

mascara-streaked tissues balled up in the sides of the “Do you want to talk about Nora?” I was smug and I was stupid. I figured she was going to give me the whole spiel about safe sex and the differ-

ence between love and infatuation, a re-run of Grade 7 Sex Ed minus the anatomically-correct colouring sheets. I crossed my arms over my chest. “What? No.” “Nora -” Mrs. Berg’s face sagged, her frosted pink lips

turning down at the corners. “You didn’t hear. I’m sorry. I thought that her mother would’ve....informed you.”

Having reviewed the facts of the case, I think Nora prob-

ably would’ve made it out if it hadn’t been for the stairs.

and weakened. The staircase splintered, breaking under

What I’ll never understand is why she chose to start the

fire on the second floor. Probably best not to over-think it. Sometimes nature is wrong. Nature and everything else.

I want to believe that it was easy, that the smoke lulled

Nora to sleep and that when the fire took her, it held her

as gently as I always tried to and burnished her to gold. There could be something kind and holy in that. Maybe

she found the consummation we sought so hopelessly in flints, lighters and matchsticks, in trembling halos around the frail wicks of candles. I want to believe she rose up a phoenix.

She was rushing down the steps when her foot landed in

17


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

sleeping setting jody pratt

Every time the sun rises I see a ripple in the

ocean. It comes up in the distance, right out of the water.

Imagine how the whales think or what the sea

horse sees,when a flaming ball of something

fire burns down beneath.A giant glowing orb, bigger than the sky.Contained by the ocean; even within an eye.

through the fire cathy yard

During the fire years I dyed my hair vermillion to cover the flames as the incandescent brilliance of my anger blistered the land, searing those who came in contact. I no longer knew how to control the heat and wasn’t sure I wanted to.

The curious would wonder how the ocean stands the stress,when the mighty yellow goddess floats upon her chest.Sinking ever

upwards blowing mighty, blazing breaths.Disturbing all the creatures of the sea from their peaceful rest

The calming tides rock the goddess dusk til

dawn,and all the time between we think her done and gone.Each morning she awakes to

float, proving us all wrong.Her rays are like the

Time stepped aside then passed—a fury cooled. Numbed, I wandered, followed scorched footprints, charred ebony trees, elegant in their starkness. The purity of white ash covered the land. No longer flame-red, but silvered steel,

chords to a heart warming song.

I was tempered by the fire

And when the tide turned to bleeding

I walked through.

hearts,she stood upon the shore with unbro-

ken pride.The goddess must rest too and so departs,to sink into an blanket, of which she doesn't fit inside.

I saw a man today and the set of his shoulders reminded me of you.

18


volume 2 Winter 2012

you said… cathy yard

This poem is dedicated to Jay R. for sharing your love of words and your kindness in not using a red pen.

I didn’t have to like it.

That gave me pause, and

it was with great relief I heard

I didn’t even have to understand every line. But I did have to write,

with purpose and intent.

Clarity was foremost, beware of abstraction, as if I understood what I meant.

I sat back against the hardness of my chair and thought, uhhhhh… huh…yeah… It occurred to me then,

I quite possibly could be in the wrong classroom. You said watch for layout,

right alignment, left or justify.

I would have to choose, after hours of deliberation, and only then having substantiated reason. Blank space was equally important,

and punctuation could only be misused once fully understood.

And don’t get me started on rhythm and rhyme. I stayed awhile longer; doodles bloomed on the edge of my text book, as I listened from the safety of my tightly woven box

constructed from fifty years of collected preconceptions. You see, I only came for your bag of tricks. You said distill the phrase, strengthen it,

stronger than white lightening searing the back of your throat. Fire with images until they burn soot-black against the whiteness of the page. Above all have faith,

believe in the images you paint and

in the space between the words. Do not re-tell it, you re-emphasized. You said…

And now it’s two in the morning, the fire’s long gone out,

darkness presses around me as I push pen to paper

amassing except ion ally bad poetry. 19


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

would you want to live forever? tessa sheppard

it began with the great plague of 2108. A wasting sickness that engulfed whole cities and transformed entire communities into ghost towns. A cure was found and suddenly the struggle to survive was over, or so they all had believed. The Cure was something else entirely.

The Cure was forced on everyone in a effort to protect the masses from infection. It was a cure for

every disease and every illness, a dream come true. But all dreams come with a price. It changed

some into raging monsters, capable of unspeakable acts of savagery and bloodshed, while others were weakened against the plague’s lethal effects. A group was formed from a special few, an

elite force of super-humans gifted with near immortality. They were charged with hunting down these human monstrosities and anyone else who opposed them.

She joined the Resistance in an effort to save herself from the chaotic new world that was form-

ing. Her husband agreed to join the fight with her to protect their family and their freedom to

choose. Anyone could become a monster and those in the Resistance simply wanted a life on their own terms, despite the risk of infection. The Elite were ordered to destroy them. There could be no middle ground in the fight for the human race. ••• Margery cradled the ceramic cup in bony fingers and enjoyed the familiar fragrance of steeped

wildflowers. The rugged landscape which had once provided a welcome solace from the outside world was no longer comforting. Her lifelong friends and companions fell one by one to disease

and the ravages of time, leaving her to stand alone with the ageless sentinels and others who had never stopped looking for her.

She took a sip and felt the heat radiate down to her belly. It was always cold now, even in the

summer. She shivered under layers of clothing and furs. It was not just the cold. Memories of another life had also returned to haunt her and she no longer had the strength to fight the guilt

that accompanied them. She cried those tears long ago. The world had changed, and for better or worse, she played her part until the end.

She looked at the shack that had been her home for nearly three decades and watched the flames

that consumed it. She would not be returning. Turning away, she began her journey back to civilization, to see once more the horrible wonders it had created. ••• Margery braced herself against the cold wind and continued the steady march down the mountain. She thought often about him now. Despite the long years that had separated them, she knew

he would recognize her. Like his father, her son would be strong and too clever for his own good. She smiled, remembering his dark brown eyes filled with wonder. Her beautiful boy. Together with John, whose laugh could warm the hardest souls, they had made the family she always wanted.

20


volume 2 Winter 2012

Her smile faded. Then the Cure came and ruined everything.

She remembered his anger, her boy all grown up. He had

never understood the sacrifices they had made for him.

was a relic from another time and a danger to the estab-

lished world order. She would be brought before the

Council for her crimes as a member of the Resistance. Her son would be among those present.

He vowed to leave her. She couldn’t let that happen, not

She felt the ache in her bones return and shifted in the

could not lose him too. She regretted what she said to

Buildings of intricate shapes and heights towered over

after everything they had fought for. With John lost she him that day, her words spoken in anger. She forbade him to leave and in the end he left without her.

She straightened her shoulders as the lights of the outpost town appeared. She was not afraid, not ever. Not

when they threatened her with death or life without

narrow seat. The train slowed as the capitol approached. the city, bathed in the glow of a hundred thousand lights. But after living in the mountains and seeing the cosmos spread across the sky, this dazzling view of the city did not impress her. She looked over at the two guards and smiled all the same.

death. She would always walk her own path. After thirty

The train stopped and the two armed men finally

was time to mend what had been broken or die in the

removed the handcuffs from the bar and replaced it onto

years of fighting and another thirty spent in hiding, it

attempt. He would not miss the opportunity to see her one last time.

She walked toward a handsome young officer dressed in

a steel grey uniform. The sun was setting and the street lights cast a warm glow along the abandoned street.

“You are out after curfew, Citizen,” the officer said in a flat tone. “Present your identification.” “Excuse me?”

emerged from their protected space. One of the guards her wrist.

“Come with us,” he said more loudly than necessary. His short cropped brown hair didn’t move as he quickly looked around for their escort. “They are coming, right?”

“They’re just late,” the other man piped in. His light

blonde hair was plastered with sweat to his forehead. The pulse gun was already in his hands, his finger on the trigger.

“I’m not going anywhere, boys,” Margery said in a tired

“Your wrist.” She held out both wrists. There was no bar code to scan, only a faded blue tattoo.

The officer narrowed his eyes, as if seeing her for the first

time. He abruptly stepped back and pulled out a pulse gun. “What do you want?” he said, aiming the weapon at her head.

She smiled and raised her hands in submission. “I’m turning myself in.”

••• Margery sat alone in the bullet train compartment, handcuffed to a metal bar, and watched the countryside

pass in a dark blur. A pair of guards watched her from behind sealed reinforced glass. They were afraid. She

voice. She grasped the metal bar and pulled herself up. “I’m sure they’re on their way.”

The two men looked over at each other and said noth-

ing. It wasn’t long before the doors opened and half a dozen armed men dressed in black and wearing shaded combat helmets appeared on the other side.

“We’ll take it from here,” said a soldier in a deep voice. He gestured for the two guards to get out and they scurried away without a backward glance. When they were

alone he pressed a button on his helmet and the visor

became clear. It was someone she recognized from long ago, from another time, but his name had faded from her memory.

“Hello, Margery,” he said. He gently took off her hand-

21


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

cuffs and pocketed them. “It’s been a long time.” “Too long,” she echoed. He offered his arm and she took it with gratitude. They

walked in silence as the other members of the escort fol-

lowed them and they made their way through the Council grounds. She saw exotic flowers and trees, and marvelled at their beauty. Soon they approached a pair of grey doors that towered nearly two stories high. They had arrived at

the main gates to the Council’s inner sanctum. The man removed his arm and lingered for a moment. “He’s here, you know.” Margery felt a pang of uneasiness in the pit of her stomach. She laced her bony fingers together to keep them

from shaking and stared at the door. “Do you think he will forgive me?”

It was said quietly, an intimate secret between friends. The man was silent a moment before touching her

shoulder. “Perhaps he has forgotten after all these years.” She shivered, suddenly cold once more. “No. He would never forget and neither could I.”

The doors opened and a man dressed in grey and white robes approached them from the shadowed interior. Her heart beat furiously. “It’s you,” she breathed.

The young man smiled politely at the officer. “Thank you. That will be all.” The soldier saluted and returned with the rest from where they came. The young man looked at her and frowned. “Not many make it as old as you, Mother.”

She didn’t trust herself to speak. He stood before her with the same youthful face and dark features as the day he left her. It was as if the last sixty years never happened.

“Nothing to say?” he said. “That’s too bad. The Council members want to see you in the morning. It’ll be a long

day for you, I’m afraid, but necessary.” He smiled but his gaze was full of malice. “Everyone must be held accountable for their actions or else we’re all just a bunch of mindless animals.”

He began walking down the hall, forcing her to follow 22

him at a quick pace. Only the muffled sounds of their

footsteps were heard as they made their way to a small room furnished with a single bed and toilet. He gestured

her inside and waved his hand along the wall. Immediately cell bars came down from the ceiling in front of him and sealed the room. Through the bars she could see his dark eyes staring down at her.

“Someone will come by and get you in the morning. I

hope these temporary quarters will be suitable until then. I’ll enjoy hearing what you have to say tomorrow during the council meeting. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He smiled, showing his teeth.

“I came here to see you, Michael,” she said, finding her voice. “I’ve missed you.”

“I wish I could say the same.” “It’s been so long. If John could see you now…” “Don’t!” he thundered. “Don’t you dare speak his name.” His rage startled her and she fell silent. He leaned in

close to the bars and curled his fingers through the gaps. “Keep in mind who is in control now, Mother,” he growled. “The Resistance is dead.”

He stormed off, leaving her alone in the bare cell. She laid

down on the bed shivering. Oblivious to its softness, she waited for morning to come.

••• The meeting was brief, no more than an opportunity for

the Council to view the remnants of another age. She

didn’t care. She had come out of hiding to see her son. She wanted to mend his broken heart before it was too late, to be a family once more.

Margery reached for his hand but he twisted out of her

grasp and fixed her with a cool stare. He walked beside her with the same youthful grace as the day she left

him, his face smooth and unmarked from the passage of time. She gripped the arms of the automated wheelchair

he had insisted she use and shifted her weight to ease the pain in her hip. He made no move to help her.


volume 2 Winter 2012

“I need to talk to you,” she said and watched his hands curl into fists. “Michael, please.”

The silence stretched on and she resigned, lying back in the wheelchair as it followed her son across the gar-

He brought out two bottles of pale liquid from a cabinet

beside the table. His lip curled. “You should see your face. What did you think was going to happen? We don’t bury people anymore.”

dens. Tall purple blossoms swayed gently in the breeze.

Her eyes were drawn to the flames. The fire writhed like

Great Plague it reminded her only of death. They passed

liant white. Flames hot enough to reduce a body to ash.

She had always loved the smell of lavender but since the others dressed like her son in same steel grey and white robes, identifying them as the Elite. They were once her

sworn enemies but now they did not give her a passing glance. They were part of the new age and she had no place with them.

Margery rubbed the faded tattoo on her wrist. It had

been a lifetime ago since she fought in the Resistance, when everything had made sense. Now the world was filled with monsters and seekers of immortality. It was a world she didn’t recognize anymore.

They stopped at a door etched with a biohazard symbol

and she held her breath. She knew this place and it filled her with dread.

“We have never seen eye to eye,” she said carefully, as her son waved his hand over a sensor. “It’s been hard

on both of us since your father died.” He laughed, a soft

dry sound. The door opened and he lead her deeper into the darkness. “Why are you here, Michael?” she continued, “They could have sent anyone.” She folded her thin

hands over one another and tried to smile. “It’s because you chose to come, isn’t it? Because after everything we’ve been through we are still family.”

He looked over at her and shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said, “I thought it was fitting since

you were the one who gave me life, I should be the one to take it.”

His words chilled her. They continued into the building, and the lights along the floor came alive as they passed, casting a dull glow around them. They entered a small room with a table pressed against the wall. A small glass

door lay at the end of the table. It was the great furnace used only for one purpose. Cremation.

a living thing, changing from orange and yellow to bril“You didn’t think I was bringing you here to give you the Cure? You made that choice long ago and so did I.”

Margery cleared her throat and tore her gaze away from the flames. “No, not the Cure,” she said. “I thought my

son had matured and forgiven his poor mother. You had grown into a man. To take the Cure or not, it was not my decision to make.”

“How could I forget?” he said, filling a syringe. “You dis-

inherited me as your son when I stood up to you. Said I was a selfish bastard for leaving you alone.” He grabbed her arm and drove the needle into her flesh. Its contents disappeared and a cold began to seep into her body. She

shuddered as he withdrew the needle, leaving a drop of bright red blood against her pale skin.

“I’m doing you a favour,” he added, “Despite everything

you’ve done against the Elite and against me, I don’t hate you.” He took another syringe, a smaller one, and filled it from the other bottle. He held it up as if admiring the

iridescent swirls then turned to her, his eyes gleaming like polished black stones. “You are my mother after all.”

Margery felt a twist of pain in her belly. She suddenly

knew there could be no forgiveness. It was only the foolish dreams of an old woman. The numbness travelled

to her chest. It was so cold. He came over and stuck her

with the smaller needle and this time she did not flinch. He opened the furnace door and they were bathed in

heat. He picked her up with ease and laid her feet first onto the metal table. It was surprisingly warm. She sighed. She felt more comfortable than she had been in a long time.

“Michael, come here,” she said, “I need you to listen.” He

came and stood over her. His dark brown hair had grown 23


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

nearly to his shoulders but his eyes had not changed. She smiled. The stubborn fool. He was more like his father

than he would ever know. “Everyone dies. Life is made

all the more precious because of it. I know that now.” She licked her thin, wrinkled lips. “Your father fought for what he believed in. He loved you. He died for you.”

“He threw his life away and would have made me do the same.” He shook his head. “The Resistance was doomed

She saw the brilliant dance of the flames reflected in

his unshed tears. “I’m sorry, Michael. I should have been here for you. I’m sorry for leaving you like this, for leaving you alone in this place.”

He nodded in understanding but it did not ease her heartbreak. There was no way to undo the past.

from the start. Why couldn’t you see that? The Cure

“Good bye, Mother,” he said and pushed her into the fur-

She heard the bitterness in his voice and longed to

She hardly felt the flames; only the smell of charred flesh

saved me. It could have saved both of you.”

embrace him but her arms would no longer obey. “We

did what we thought was right,” she said. “I couldn’t take the Cure after what happened. I couldn’t live another lifetime without him… your father.”

24

“So you chose him over me.”

nace.

gave her any indication that she was burning.


volume 2 Winter 2012

marginalia

because this issue’s theme is fire, I have decided to explore the metaphori-

A column by douglas abel

I find haikus uniquely fascinating with respect to where they “come from,”

Seeing The Flame

cal fire of inspiration. I’m going to be looking at a very specific poetic form: the haiku.

at least for me. With much writing, the bulk of the inspiration seems to live and grow inside the writer. The original spark can be external or internal; it can be triggered by an outside event or observation, or by a thought

that pops suddenly into the writer’s head from some other, unknown place inside. But then that original inspiration sits inside the writer—much as this article did!—taking shape and form until it’s ready to come out and be expressed.

Once the idea has grown inside the writer and then come out, it can be

“worked on” extensively, subjected to revisions, rethinkings, reshapings—

the sometimes tedious but ultimately fruitful process of producing various “drafts.” Here, the real challenge for the writer is to know when to stop the

process. A work will never be perfect. Writers have to learn when they have come as close as possible, given the initial inspiration, and the internal and

external development process, to excellence. They have to acquire the courage to say, “This is as good as the work will get. Further revision will only make it worse. I have to stop. Now!”

Haikus simply do not work this way. They come from and live outside the writer. They appear in that outside with almost all of their form attached. Once perceived and recorded, they resist revision.

For me, the most magical thing about haikus is their seemingly concrete existence independent of me, in the real world out there. They live apart

from me, waiting to be noticed and acknowledged, perceived through sight

(usually, for me), sound, smell, taste, or touch. The haiku writer has to be

open to the moments in and the events of external reality—nothing more, and nothing less.

I am constantly amazed by my changing relationship to that haiku-filled

world of external reality. There are haiku days, and non-haiku days. On the non-haiku days, nothing is noticed. Reality is there, but it seems to make no

demands for acknowledgement and formulation. Huxley’s “doors of perception” seem to be barred.

But ah, the wonderful haiku days! Then the perceptual doors are open, sight, sound, smell, touch, taste fully

charged, and then the haikus are there, floating or swirling in the insubstantial substance of reality. First one becomes clear, then another, then

25


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

another. Sometimes several appear at once, demanding

instant, and there is no “food” for thought. A haiku is

many living moments there are, right here, right now,

gone out, that moment of enlightenment has vanished

recognition. It can be almost frightening to feel how worthy of recording. Haikus-to-be can be like a flock of

beautiful but insistent birds, vying to be fed with recognition.

But only for a moment, and for that moment only. That is the most wonderfully sad thing about haikus. Transience. Absolute impermanence. They have to be captured and formed almost at the instant that they

swoop from outside into consciousness. Miss them,

delay, even through preoccupation with another haiku, lose sight or sound of them for only an instant, and they swoop away, and are gone. Forever. Leaving only one incomplete phrase, even one lonely syllable of a possible, lost seventeen—like the small, fallen feather of a bird, long flown.

Like the moments they distill, haikus are essentially momentary. Almost in the time it takes to see and seize them, things have changed, the instant is a different

instant, and the uncaptured haiku dissolves into the flow of seconds.

But when that haiku-moment is captured, something

happens that does not seem to cling to any other kind of writing. The inspiration of the event comes with an intuition of form.

When a haiku comes, it comes with almost all of its form attached. The perceived moment expresses itself—

comes expressed as—an initial five syllables. The haiku writer may then struggle with the remaining twelve units, picking a longer word, a shorter, finding the exact

place where the lines must break, where the essential

transitions—essential for this particular little poem, the distilled essence of this exact moment—must

happen. But the struggle is brief, and the haiku is there. If the struggle is not brief, the haiku dies. It can only

be worked on in the energy of the instant. Change the

26

like the flame of a match, fierce but fleeting. Once it has with it.

The writer can only wait for another flame to appear. If it’s a good haiku day.

If it is a good haiku day, and the poem is seen, seized and shaped, it is done. Completely. For a writer who works in other forms, this fact can be disturbing. Surely, like

any other piece of putting words together, the haiku can be revised, improved. It cannot. Perhaps one word

can be changed. Nothing more. Attempt to reshape it, and it disintegrates. It was the essence of an instant. It

was forged in the fire of the momentary inspiration. It simply cannot be reshaped without that flame.

So the haiku writer, reviewing his work, will find good

haikus, and bad ones. He must accept that. Bad ones can rarely be made good. Good ones can almost never be made better.

The haiku experience is humbling. The writer learns

how much he is dependent upon the external flames, sparks of inspiration and insight that will appear, or will not. The reality of experience may be captured. It cannot be subjected.

And if the haiku is good? Then the writer looks, almost in awe, into a moment, long gone, an event that remains and lives in a very few words.

It is as if the basic, quantum packages of perceived real-

ity were always the same: five, then seven, then five. Done.

The haiku. A small jewel, reflecting reality’s light: Just in the moment.

Nothing else is happening— Also, everything.


volume 2 Winter 2012

contributors douglas abel is an actor, director, drama instructor and writer.

jody pratt is passionate about poetry and has been writing for six-

Since his “retirement” to Vancouver in October, 2009, he has written

teen years. He currently resides in Fort McMurray and works as a

681 haikus—and the day is still young!

Realtor with 3% Realty. Jody plans to publish a book of his poetry

michael beamish is a local theatre artist and writer. When not play-

in 2013.

ing on the stage he is busy as a Student Advisor at Keyano College.

jennifer quist writes, “I'm a former Fort McMurray resident now

Michael is a former VPA Drama student and holds a Bachelor of Fine

displaced to central Alberta. I've kept writing about the town since

Arts from the University of Lethbridge.

leaving. Earlier this year, my "Fish Story" was nominated for the

nathan berube says, “Thirty-four years ago, I was born. A short time later, I discovered the absolute joy of telling stories. So, that is what I do. If you enjoy my stories, then I am happy.” meghan casey is a graduate student, writer and librarian-intraining. She worked for Fort McMurray Public Library during the summer as a co-op student, where she organized the Adult & Teen Summer Reading Program. Unlike some of her characters, she isn't a pyromaniac…yet. andrea collis stumbled upon writing poetry while teaching creative writing to children in Victoria, BC, in 2008. Other creative pursuits include music composition and vocal jazz, which she hopes to have time to rekindle in the new year. She is a writer and editor

Writers' Guild of Alberta's Howard O'Hagan award for short fiction and appears as online content in "The Prairie Journal." I performed a monologue on tarsand beetles on CBC Radio One's "Definitely Not the Opera" in 2010. And NorthWord itself has been generous enough to publish my poetry and short fiction in recent years.” A busy mother of young twins, tessa sheppard has been calling Fort McMurray her home for over 28 years. She is an aspiring novelist who enjoys reading thrillers and historical fiction. theresa wells is a writer, blogger, wife, and mother. She is a passionate advocate for her community and a lover of great shoes, and finds herself often writing about both in her McMurray Musings online blog.

at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and teaches evening

Raised in a squatter’s shack perched on pilings above the chilled

classes at Keyano College.

waters of Burrard Inlet, cathy yard learned early to forage in the

bill martin is a landscape photographer based in Fort McMurray Alberta. Completely self-taught, he aims to capture the unique and contrasting faces of Mother Nature: a purpose he isdriven by every time he gets behind the lens. His open and limited edition works are availablethrough Frames and More Art Gallery in Fort McMurray. His work can also be viewed on his website at www.billmartinphoto.com. Contact Info: bill@billmartinphoto.com www.facebook.com/billmartinphoto amanda (mandy) nielsen is the owner and lead instructor of The Yoga Shop Fort McMurray: Profound Yoga for Body, Mind and Spirit, the only Hot Yoga Studio in Fort McMurray. She is the mother of two young daughters, and her husband, Clayton, is a Kinesiology

forests and can be spotted chewing questionable leaves and bark even today. She fled Vancouver at age of 17, swallowed by the remoteness of the Cariboo where she continued to live rough on the land. Migrating northward to Fort St. John and various points in between forty years later she settled in the temperate Cowichan Valley on Southern Vancouver Island, only to be uprooted and once again on an adventure to northern Alberta where she currently resides. Cathy’s stories can be found in several literary magazines and anthologies including Canadian Stories, Island Writer, Verse and Vision and Portal. grady zielke is a native-born Fort McMurrayite and is currently

finishing up a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Alberta. He loves all kinds of writing and hopes to one day make his living as an author.

instructor at Keyano College. She is currently working on her Master of Arts Degree with a focus on Cultural and Community Studies. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys writing, yoga and meditation.

27


Fort McMurray Public Library The Fort McMurray Public Library provides access to information for knowledge and pleasure for our community through diversity of resources and excellence in service.

FREE MEMBERSHIP and PROGRAMS  Printed collection of hardcover and paperback books in fiction and non-fiction  Books on CD  World Language Collection  DVDs and CDs  Downloadable audio books and eBooks  Online Language Learning  Downloadable MP3 collection  eReader and Tablet loan  Online databases providing a wide range of resources  Free WiFi  Free Public Access Computers

        

Self Check Out stations Free educational game stations for children Interlibrary loan Year round programs for children, teens and adults Information Services including one on one help with Book a Librarian service Tours for new patrons and community groups Special events Individual study rooms and quiet study areas Separate Teen Library Library Hours

Information Services Information Services are available during all regular library hours. Adult Help Desk 780-743-7073

Children’s Help Desk 780-743-7804

Customer Service Desk 780-743-7800

Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday

9:00 am to 9:00 pm 9:00 am to 5:00 pm 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm

For your convenience, Book Returns are located at Thickwood Safeway and Extra Foods in Timberlea

Fort McMurray Public Library Follow us!

151 MacDonald Drive Fort McMurray, AB T9H 5C5 Phone: 780-743-7800 Fax: 780-743-5952

www.fmpl.ca


TO YO U R C A R E E R

APPLY TODAY! www.keyano.ca OFFERING PROGRAMS IN: • Business Programs • Childhood Studies • Environmental Programs • General Interest Courses • Health Sciences • Trades & Heavy Industrial • University Studies • Upgrading Programs


northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

northern canada

collective society for writers statement of purpose: To publish and support the work of writers in northern Canada.

call for submissions NorthWord Volume 2, Issue 3 will be published in Spring 2013. deadline October 15, 2012 theme “Fire” please submit to The Editors,

northword@hushmail.com subscribing to northword To inquire about subscriptions,

contact northword@hushmail.com

NorthWord Literary Magazine vol 02 no 02  

Guest Editor: Suzanne McGladdery Cover Art: Bill Martin

Advertisement