Nasreen Pejvack President of RCLAS
I was looking on the internet for Earth Day information to see how they are addressing and educating people about Earth Day and our responsibilities to our only home. The more I surfed, the more disappointed I became as I could not find one site addressing the effects of war on the environment; the huge craters constantly created by bombs, the effects of chemical weapons and depleted uranium in war zone areas that are not much talked about. Does anyone see how much wars are affecting the air and living spaces of people; and what are they suggesting we should do in regard to war’s toxicity. I really wanted to see if anyone was writing anything about this important phenomenon. Well, it seems we love to dedicate a name to every disaster we have imposed on our planet. A Remembrance Day for our falling soldiers, but we are not able to stop wars, and so have our children safe at home, not out killing others. An Earth Day, which we celebrate in many countries; yet the next day millions of cars reemerge onto the streets, and poisons continue to flow from factories. We have many other celebrations on many different issues, but not a cure. And until we cure war, we cannot have a meaningful Earth Day. – 1992 Rio Declaration: “Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.” Nothing happened then, and nothing will happen in the near future if we do not talk and challenge the warmongers.
I dedicate this poem to all the Earth Lovers.
Howling For Life The moon facing me, gazing at me, dazzling me, The moon and I were part of a mass, Within a huge ring of multitudes, Birthings from the mass began to shape and engage us in reactions, Movements of dust and rocks weaved about the gloom, I was born in my cradle, in a horde of entities, The life I had was darkness, cold, Surrounded with matters I didnâ€™t know, That was all out there, still is Collisions here and there, We expanded, shifted and moved about, That was all out there, I desired to be what I am today, Different from that mayhem, Longing to produce life, grow and transform, Darkness and cold was out there, still is Eventually, clusters of us alienated from Mother Bedlam, Fell into this magnificent order, We initiated our own loop of events, Force of our Sun shaped us, lined up and started a new harmonization. Magnum opus, the Sun, pulled and pushed us into order, We lined up to form, and danced riotously ever since, commenced a new order, Tossed into the warmth of magnificent Sun, Giving me the heat I needed, Hot and boiling to the core, I spat out blood for years, and years, Torrential downpour for thousands more,
Only to cool it down for new life to begin, Time was so slow, Yet, I was so full of hope I desired entities that would help it grow, They would make it more beautiful. It took me millions of years to cultivate water, Forest, and air to breathe, vast blue ocean nurtured the first life, hosted all kinds of beings in its heart, forests gave more breathing room, became home to even more lives. With shaking, trembling and quaking on my surface, I developed splendid mountains My rivers flowed from mountains and joined oceans Life thrived all over my skin And all manner of creatures helped it grow The birds flew about and spread seeds, Then grew vast diverse animals, Learning and evolving, Then came along my evolved humanoid, It took me a long time to enliven this ball of lava, My resplendent chest became an absolute loveliness, Yet In such a short time, my human ruined it all, My sapiens grew to be the smartest of my children, Yet To have the most destructive natures Some of my children became the thinkers, Learners, creators and builders, Though most of them grew to be: Selfish, arrogant, and careless, It took me billions of years to change and re-arrange, Give them a taste of beauty,
The breeze through singing forests, The depth of blue sea and its vast life, The peaks of mountains, and the running rivers, So they have stories to tell, and poems to write, Except, Ever since my children grew smarter, They created all kinds of killing kits, My face, my chest, my bellyâ€Ś Became a battle ground Dominance fell into the hands of greed, And now my belt is heavy and feeling out of place Billions of feet stamping on me, Thousands of drills piercing me, Craters in my chest, As bombs are tossed about, Destroying everything I built, Kills so many of my children, Destroys my vegetation, Contaminates the air I have created to help it grow, They began a chain of destruction of all, Greeneries, life in my oceans Extracting any treasures in my belly Anything to feed their egos And I thought they are the smartest of all my beings, My little humanoid, the sapiens, Think they know everything, Big and powerful, think so shallowly, nothing but the embodiment of ignorance, Question yourself my children, Listen to the voice within you, Do you think you are blameless? Some of you err by deliberate choices, Some are weak or ignorant or cynical,
Some only value their own ideas, Some are the idols of greed in the temples, Some thrive with adventurous souls, for change, Except, Bullies never let the greed rest, Smart ones, the thinkers, challenge them, Except, My children are not united, all across my surface They have segmented me with many borders Borders created wars and hatreds Fighting for a bigger piece of me Killing for land to increase wealth As treasures found in my heart, My surface, my other creations Plunged into the abyss of suffering More greed, thereafter, more wars Even wars about who is better. If I am the mother of all, I remember well, Amongst my creatures, those who roam my forests, Climb my mountains and pass through my oceans, Fly all across and around me, I only sprouted one human race Except, Some think they are different and superior, Arenâ€™t they oblivious to their own ignorance? Though, I believe in some of my humans, The ones that know the mistakes made, The ones who want change, and know how to change, But The struggle is too hard and they are not untied all across me, Remember my children: I have given you life, I rained-down on my bare hot surface,
Flourished life, made it possible to grow, I gave you all you needed, But All is evaporating in madness, darkness, Hunger and wars you have created, Pain and suffering you brought upon each other, Yet, None see their own fault, None see they are the cause of such problems, Well my children: The moon still faces me, gazing at me, dazzling me I am still part of the same mass I was a lava rock, I will survive I will surely grow life again and flourish my bare chest once more, But the question is will you be there?
Previously published April 2014 https://www.inanna.ca/blog-and-media/blog/howling-life/
RCLAS WRITER OF THE MONTH
Lavana La Brey
Lavana La Brey is passionate about her many creative hobbies which include poetry, songwriting and singing. Lavana is a multidisciplinary artist with a flair for mixed media, collage, watercolour, acrylic and “trying new things”. A member of both New West Artists and Royal City Literary Arts Society, she gets her inspiration through social interaction, books, nature and especially through her camera lens. An artist needs to be ready when inspiration kicks in, she recommends having a notebook or visual instrument handy. Her favourite poet/singer/songwriter is Leonard Cohen, she loves singing his beautifully crafted lyrics. Of course there are many talented creative people out there, and she is always challenged to be the best she can be. John Preston and Lavana have a used bookstore called Renaissance Books in New Westminster. They have been in business for 20 years, and still have a love for books. They consider books to be great assets to society — these wonderful authors bring so much comfort, entertainment and knowledge to all. Lavana and John both thoroughly enjoy being a part of the amazing New Westminster community!
Please visit them at their shop located at 712B – 12th Street. http://www.renaissancebookstore.com/
Lavana La Brey, Two Totems In Landscape, Acrylic, 16” x 20”
*Pouf: a round or square piece of padded furniture with an upholstered cover, used as a seat or footrest. N. American term: hassock
Artwork by Lavana La Brey
Thank you to everyone who submitted to our 2017 contest. Winners will be announced April 30, 2017.
Save the Date: RCLAS presents “The Write on! Contest Winners” Date: Saturday JUNE 3, 2017. 3 to 5PM Location : Old Crow Coffee Co., 655 Front Street, New West More info coming soon at www.rclas.com
meet our judges
2017 RCLAS Write On! Poetry Judge
Chelsea Comeau is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Claremont Review, Quills, CV2, Piffle and BUST Magazine. In 2011, Amber Tamblyn chose her poem as the winning entry in the BUST Magazine poetry contest. In 2014, she attended the Banff Centre's Writing With Style programme with Lorna Crozier. In 2015, she was the Canadian winner of the Leaf Press chapbook competition. She attends poetry retreats twice a year with Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier.
Second Coming Let him come on the wings of the killdeer, so at first we are fooled. Let him come to the breakwater, the line of stones that holds the city in, where darkness is the sound of wave, foam. Let the first thing he sees be plastic toys beach pails turned over, bubble wands in the shape of damselflies bright things abandoned for supper. And let it be tonight, when we are perched on a bench at the breakwaterâ€™s end, pocked with salt, beneath the moonâ€™s yellow wax. Our faces upturned, perfect.
Chelsea Comeau RCLAS Write On! Contest 2016 Poetry, First Place
When I lie the night beside Pitt River I go back to my own wildness. In tall grass the frogs fill their throats with longing. I roll my coat beneath my head, unfold your motherâ€™s plaid blanket. There is so little. I know of wild dogs here, of owls with faces like hearts. Perseids and I, we are both burning.
First Kiss I cried, when it was over, in the bathroom, above the sink, the music a heartbeat on the other side of the wall. Paper Valentines taped to the mirror so that my face was framed by love so unsure I could tear it in half. It felt as though Iâ€™d squandered something, as if some important moment was leaving me. Not all at once, but in pieces. And I hated the song that played, the way the lights moved, fell on the parts of me where he put his hands. How I so easily gave, how he so easily took.
2017 RCLAS Write On! Fiction Judge Alvin Ens
Alvin Ens writes prose and poetry for both the Christian and secular media. He comes to us with a wealth of experience in writing, editing and teaching writing skills. He was a high school English teacher and edited the creative writing magazine, advised the annual yearbook, chaired the English Department and organized the school and district public speaking. He has been the editor of the last six Fraser Valley Poets anthologies. He has written eleven books of family history, poetry, a novella and has written widely for magazines and contests. He belongs to two local writing clubs.
PUMPKINS © Alvin Ens
“Checkers,” Grandpa advises, “Checkers will teach you all the really important facts of life. When to be cautious, when to move in for the kill, when to retreat, how to plan ahead. Really requires thinking, Boy. Sure, I wanna teach you.” It is my mother’s idea. Visit my dying grandfather, talk to him, give him someone to talk to. Play checkers with him. Grandpa has come home to die—in his own house, he says. Surrounded by family and familiarity—with enough care givers to administer the pain killers. And I am co-opted to be a part of the care group. Don ‘t get me wrong, I like my grandpa. But sitting with a dying man is not my idea of fun. I find the checker board and set it up beside him. “You play only on one colour. Let’s choose the black. Ignore the red; half the world can be ignored. “You win by being smarter than your opponent. Find a checker that got ahead of the pack. Pounce on it. You know, I took a pumpkin once from Old Florence like that. It grew on my side of the fence. I told her to keep her vines at home. But she couldn’t be bothered. In midseason she discovered it among all the greenery I’ve got around my compost box. But she couldn’t rescue it through the page wire fence; would’ve meant cutting it from the vine early. So she left it. About a week before the harvest festival I cut it and hid it. Was she ever mad that I stole her pumpkin. Stole— nothing. I took what was growing on my side of the fence. And that, after warning her. She hasn’t talked to me since. Florence, that’s like the red squares. That’s half the world you can ignore. Play on the black squares.” It becomes my favourite time each day—come home from school and head out to Grandpa’s. I learn to give up one to take two, to trade one for one and await my chance. “Patience,” Grandpa advises, “Patience is what wins games.” “Grandpa,” I ask one fine spring day when I have seen Florence in her garden, “How about I make your garden for you this year?” “Nah, better not. Might get in Old Flo’s hair. She’s already got a bee in her bonnet.”
“Aw, Grandpa,” I declare, “She plays on the red squares; I’ll just play on the black ones. Town’s having a pumpkin contest at the harvest festival, you know.” “Florence’ll enter. You think you can beat her?” he offers. “Mighty big pumpkin I took from her. Time to dig up the soil and turn in the compost. Use a spade, not a garden fork, like Old Florence.” I find the spade in his garden shed and begin my work. True to form, Florence comes to her side with a fork and begins loosening her soil. I say, “Hi there. How are you doing?” “The old buzzard sent you to spy on me? How come he’s not out here?” I tell her my grandpa has cancer and I’m filling in for him. “Your granddaddy grows a mighty fine garden every year. Cancer of what? ” “Stomach,” I answer. “How come you’re using a fork, not a spade?” “Oh, that’s curable. Isn’t it? Lost my spade two, three years ago.” I volunteer, “I’ll let you use Grandpa’s. Turns the compost under, you know.” “I don’t need nothin’” She retorts. “I’ll just set it by the fence here then.” I offer. “How much is the old coot paying you?” Florence asks. “We’re doing it together,” I reveal to her. “He provides the brains; I supply the muscles.” “Ought to be the other way around,” she retorts. “His brain ain’t too good.” “Sometimes you give up one to take two.” Grandpa advises me. “Make two hills for the pumpkins,” he instructs. “Then on each hill, place the black sheathing of the planter buckets. Face them away from Florence’s view. Makes her wonder what you’re up to. She thinks I’ve been planting seeds, and I’m protecting ‘em. Then nip down to Early’s Nursery and buy bedding stock... Lazy Susan or Golden Boy or some such variety... plant ‘em when she’s not lookin’ ... and store the sheathing for another year. Voila, you’ve grown plants, she thinks.” “What kind you going with? How’s your granddaddy doing?” Florence fires. “Them fences make any difference?” “I stutter, “He’s dying . Just seeds. Warms the soil.” One day she asks, “Your seeds up yet?” “No.” I attest, “I’ve been wondering if it’s time.” “Mine all came up. Got a few extra. Care to have em? Got a second prize with em last year. Red Delilahs,“ she volunteers.
I take two and crown each hill. From his bed, Grandpa asks, “What kind of pumpkins we going with this year?” I scurry to the end zone to crown my king. “Red Delilahs,” I answer. “Never heard of ‘em,” he states, “They grow big?” “Yep. They’re prize winners.” “Well, don’t let the old biddy know,” he rejoins. “How’s her pumpkins doing?” “About as big as ours,” I answer. “Lots of time yet,” he advises. “Just watch who gets the first blossom.” One fine June day I announce, “Gramps, our pumpkins are blooming. Got one huge orange blossom and several big knots ready to open.” “At a boy, Julian. Bet Old Flo is jealous. Tell her it’s Red Delilahs. That you’ll give her a couple of seeds come fall.” One day I ask Florence, “What’re you doing?” “Weed wacking,” she says. “This is a grass whip. You ought to whip around your compost box. I can lend you my whip.” “I don’t need nothin,” I say, trying desperately to pull the thick growth of grass and weeds. “I’ll just set it by the fence here then.” She answers. “What you been doing, Boy?” Grandpa asks. “Oh, cleaning up the weeds along the compost box. Why do they call it compost anyway?” “Never thought about it. Weeds decomposes, turn back to soil. Decompose equals compost. Makes something good of the weeds. That’s your job, Boy. Keep weeding the garden. Florences’s vines sticking through the fence? Tell her it’s okay to let her vines grow.” One summer’s day finds me composting mopishly. “What’s the matter, Boy?” inquires Florence. “Look at the size of my pumpkins. You tell Old Grumps you can’t possibly win the harvest festival. Look at this fella, must be four inches in diameter.” “I was just thinking I never did show Gramps the blossoms and now they ‘re all gone. And he won’t live to see ‘em next year.”
The blossom in the drinking glass that you see on his night-table—it came from Florence’s garden. She thought it wouldn’t likely win a prize. He might as well see it. I am to say it is a Red Delilah. That I picked it myself. When I’m a grandpa, I’ll teach my grandchildren to grow pumpkins. You learn all the important facts of life from pumpkins, to play on the blacks and the reds.
Alvin Ens RCLAS Write On! Contest 2016 Fiction, First Place
OF NIGHTS AND CASTLES © Alvin Ens
I held the door for Miss Feldsam. She flashed her contagious smile and told me I was becoming a night in shining armour. I tried to imagine the shining armour but my thoughts got lost in the confusing warmth I felt whenever I was in her presence, which was five days a week because she was my new grade seven teacher. I even looked up “night” in the dictionary to get a better feel for what a night might be in context of human relations. There was mostly darkness in the definition with even some allusions to sin, sorrow, old age and death. But nothing about what my mother taught me gentlemen did, such as holding doors for ladies. I couldn’t talk to my mother about my brush with a new concept because I might blush with the very thought that I was flirting with nighthood. Miss Feldsam taught a multi-grade rural classroom and I had lots of time, in between her attention to our grade and doing my assignments, to read. I loved the reader, an anthology of poetry and prose in the Gateway to Reading Series, entitled poetically Worlds Beyond. I began reading it cover to cover, long before the pieces were assigned. There were indeed worlds beyond me. In fact, if I held up my reader vertically, rested the bottom on my desktop and slouched a bit, my world beyond was a glimpse of Miss Feldsam over the top of my book. One day I read Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” It was musical, it was magical, it was majestic, it was momentous. I learned that every lady desires a knight. It is the bane of womanhood to be knightless. The silent isle embowered the Lady of Shalott. Tennyson allowed me a small view of the world of the elusive female. If I watched the tower windows long enough, I could catch a glimpse of her. Who has seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand? Or is she known in all the land, the Lady of Shalott? I watched, I imagined, I saw. Every movement highlighted her femininity, every standing at the casement her silhouette. The silent isle held the complexities of the adult world. Mine not to understand, though perhaps occasionally to wonder. Or perhaps to emulate, like I did Elvis Presley with my ducktail hair style. Why was the lady in the tower? Was it a retreat or a prison? I had my own towers of isolation and desolation. Insular, like the isle of Shalott in the river. Who has seen me wave my hand or at the casement seen me stand? Or is my secret known in all the land? I feared discovery of my surreptitious gazing at the lady in the tower over top of my book, feared observation of some subverted secret signal of a wave to her or from her.
I was the farmer’s son, reaping in among the bearded barley, unfamiliar with the ways of lords and ladies. Terrified and enthralled, especially by the ladies. My mother was a woman; Miss Feldsam, I was sure, was a lady. She wore high heels and her nylons with the dark back line ran straight and true as far as any bend had ever revealed. The girls in class didn’t rate; they were simply red-cloaked market girls of my part of the commonwealth. Miss Feldsam was the Lady of Shalott, a lady from polite society, well-bred, well dressed, well educated. And I, not yet a knight in shining armour, perhaps never... ever destined to be only becoming a knight. Each reading session I began with “The Lady of Shalott” as surely as if Miss Feldsam had announced, “Please turn to page 256.” But I soon digressed to a viewing of the lady clothed in fact and fiction. She wove her magic web of colours bright as she flitted from group to group, inspiring, challenging, goading into learning. And there she weaves by night and day. What do you weave at night, Miss Feldsam? I weave elaborate tapestry, a young knight in shining armour, with an Elvis Presley ducktail rising to a cowboy hat with a plume in the band, rescuing a lady in distress, a knightless lady. A knight on horseback, a cowboy in the saddle--both were paragons of virtue, of manners, of bravery, rescuing damsels in distress. I was more familiar with cowboys like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and even the enigmatic Lone Ranger, so I clothed them all in shining armour. Behind my book, I could hear the lilt of her voice as iambic as Tennyson, her rhyme as repetitious as the flow of the river. My gaze could capture her every movement back to her desk as cyclical as the path to the loom at Shalott, her form as precise as a nine line stanza, her smile as climactic as her gaze in the mirror of my dreams. She hath no loyal knight and true, the Lady of Shalott. And I will be -- nay... am becoming -- her knight in shining armour. Lancelot, that profligate, sang tirra lirra while the lady waited expectantly. I would do better. But picture her perfection beside my waning self-confidence and I may, in my rumination, be only another Lancelot. Having spent great pains to shine his armour, groom his horse and comb his ducktail, he retreated to riding into the sunset of Worlds Beyond. Here he read and reread until huge portions of the poem flowed from memory. There he languished in the shadows of his secret web of magic colours until he heard her lament that she was half-sick of shadows. She looked beyond the four grey walls to find a Lancelot. With immediate regret she wailed, “The curse is come upon me.” I understood the curse. Many times I had sallied forth to slay dragons, fight holy wars and always to rescue damsels in distress, more particularly the Lady of Shalott. And each time after such a rescue and its consequent reward I had been left strangely disquieted as I looked down to Camelot. It left me not a completed tapestry but a broken mirror in which to see but splinters of my abject self. The curse! But each day I returned to watch and wait for another glimpse of the lady at the casement, waited for a wave of her hand. And then one day I imagined, or thought I heard Miss Feldsam say, “Grade seven, turn in your readers to page 256. We’ll take turns reading two stanzas each.” I was already on page 256, ready and waiting. Miriam, Wendell, Sally ... six readers rushed to rescue the lady, with thrust and parry vying
with the words and rhythms until The Lady of Shalott, awaiting her deliverance, wailed, “Read like you mean it; feel the poem! Eddie, you’re next.” I was just castigating Lancelot for callous disregard, singing tirra lirra while the lady was half-sick. I startled back to the text but couldn’t find the place on the page. But I knew my lines and began as tenuously as the lady in deep pain, “She left the web... she left the loom...” and then recited, full of the staccato of resolve that propelled her forward, “She made three paces through the room...” building to the climax I knew so well, “The curse is come upon me cried the Lady of Shalott.” I found my lines and became the melancholy narrator, “... Down she came and found a boat...” Miss Feldsam interposed quietly, “Wonderful, Edgar. Next...” But I was in my reverie, in the boat with the lady, “And down the river’s dim expanse- like some bold seer in a trance...” Uninterrupted, I read with tears in my eyes and lamentation in my voice the five remaining stanzas to muse and petition, “She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott.” There was a moment of reverent silence, as there should be after hearing an obituary, and then Miss Feldsam clapped in enthusiastic response while the class politely echoed. “Edgar, that was wonderful! It sounded like you understand the poem.” I beamed. Such adulation from Miss Feldsam put new life in my becoming a knight in shining armour. I had saved her. I slew the dragon standing between me and my rescue of her. I had grown, I had aged, I had matured. Miss Feldsam now wanted to discuss what Tennyson meant with the poem. “So Edgar, what do you think the poem means?” I was momentarily tongue-tied. How could I say it was about a boy dreaming of rescuing a lady? I mumbled, “Maybe Lancelot didn’t get a good look at what she was weaving. Maybe he doesn’t understand her. Maybe he doesn’t appreciate her. I think the Lady of Shalott needed a knight in shining armour and he wasn’t it.” I was surprised at the belligerence in my voice. And now Miss Feldsam rescued me, “Good start, Edgar. And what do you suppose she was weaving? Have you ever done any weaving? I think Tennyson believes that many of us are weavers.” “I think she was weaving a world in which there was a knight in shining armour for her,” I added. “Very true,” she said and continued, “You know, I read once that Tennyson believed that poets or artists were the weavers whose world could crash like... like the Lady of Shalott’s mirror, if their work is not accepted. So they often don’t show it in public and stay imprisoned in their castle. Another interpretation is that it is a mind trying to free itself from some fantasy.” Next day I was back on page 256. I was neither a poet nor an artist. How could I be a weaver? It was time to look in the dictionary, this time for “fantasy.” The word was about imagining, about fiction,
about daydreaming, about dreaming of exploits with the opposite sex, about creating a world that existed only in your mind. I watched Miss Feldsam over top of my Worlds Beyond as I pondered this new insight. But Miss Feldsam was real, I was real, watching her was real. What was not real? Rescuing damsels in distress was not real. My rescuing Miss Feldsam from her tower was most unreal. Being a knight in shining armour was unreal. Even my Elvis Presley ducktail was unreal. It was me attempting to be what I was not. A curse had come upon me. A terrible thought occurred to me. And now that I know the curse upon me, I must kill myself, like the Lady of Shalott did. How did she die in that boat? Why was she singing? Would poison allow a slow death with singing along the way? I contemplated, I daydreamed, I fantasized. I had not dwelt on the ending to the story; I was sure I could rescue the lady before she needed to resort to suicide. Then Miss Feldsam made a momentous announcement. She looked quite pleased to tell us that she was getting married and would not be back in fall. I poisoned her with my thoughts right there, though she went singing to her death. But not without a whole host of grieving on my part, not until I could forgive her and eulogize, “She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace.” That night, after slaying the damsel instead of the dragon, I asked my dad to give me a haircut. He clipped away all of Elvis. And singing in my song I attempted my own death. But who would pay the tribute? Next morning, as I held the door for Miriam, she stopped suddenly, just before me. “Edgar, is that really you? Nice haircut. By the way, you read that poem really well.” As I sat down at my desk and got out my Other Worlds, I calculated that if I shifted position a bit in my desk and glanced to the right of my book, I should be able to see Miriam.
*received third place award at Eden Mills Writers’ Festival Literary Contest, 2008, Eden Mills, Ontario
**received a second place award in the Alice Munro short story contest, Markham Ontario, August 2009
2017 RCLAS Write On! Non-Fiction Judge Bryant Ross
Bryant Ross is the host of Vancouver Story Slam, Vancouverâ€™s longest-running monthly storytelling event. Bryant was the Vancouver Story Slam champion in both 2009 and 2014, and has featured at numerous literary events including the Under the Volcano Festival of Art and Social Change, the Vancouver International Storytelling Festival, and the Main Street Car Free Day. He is a father, an artist, a thirty-five-year veteran of the Township of Langley Fire Department, and a damn fine baker of pies.
LOST IN THE FOREST © Bryant Ross
At nine years old, sometimes a boy senses his manhood like the first light scent of smoke, the smoke that he smells before the discovery that his house is ablaze. In the fall, when I was nine years old, my father and I, as we often did, went out into the forest to cut firewood. I lived in the lower mainland, hardly the wilderness, but still there were areas, half an hour’s drive away, where, when you were nine years old, you could believe no human had ever set foot. In the rain, at the base of a mountain shrouded in low-hanging clouds, my father parked his old pickup at the side of a logging road. I remember the creak and slam of the doors and the cold wetness of the day. I remember trudging off into the dripping scrub alder, knee-deep in wet salal, tripping over windfall branches, carrying the jerry-can of gas, and a jug of chain oil. My father carried the chainsaw and the axe. We didn’t go far off the road, after all, we’d have to pack the wood out in trip after trip till the truck was full. My father found a nice big spruce windfall. It had come down the year before and had spent the summer lying on the ground, drying over the summer. At that age it was all I could do to swing the axe, but swing it I could, and if I could, it became my job, and I was expected to. The summer-dried branches snapped off under the slap of that heavy steel. Even in the cold rain I sweated. I moved up the trunk clearing the branches, as behind me, my father pulled at the starting cord of the chainsaw. There was grunting, mild cursing, some flatulent misfires, and then the high-pitched snarl of the little engine. He cut as I cleared. My father dismembered the trunk behind me, the sawdust flying out and laying in wet heaps, regular, evenly spaced, coating the front of his mackinaw, sticking sometimes to his wet face. The scream of the saw encompassed us, rising and falling. The exhaust hung in the wet air like a halo, and steam rose from us and from our breath. Even though I was only nine, I had spent many weekends doing this with my father. In our lives there was always work to be done, there was always something needed doing. There were no “Days off”
And through it all, like sad background music, was the fall rain, not pounding, like it can sometimes, but hissing down, enough to make things miserable. It got down the back of your neck, inside your jacket, making you wet and cold from the inside out. You’d try hard to forget about it, because you were already cold, and the day wasn’t even half over yet, and there was no use complaining. The work had to get done. Before long, that first tree lay in pieces, big disks of wood. Over and over, we carried those heavy sections of tree trunk back to the truck, loaded it, stacked it carefully, went back for more. There was still plenty of room in the truck bed, and still plenty of daylight to work. My father sat down, opened his thermos, poured a cup of coffee, and said “Go look for another tree” I wandering off into the bush, into that grey-dripping wilderness. The rain hissed and drummed on my head, I walked, wandering, looking about, deeper and deeper. Nine years old, and not paying much attention to where I was going, not paying much attention to where I’d been. Nine years old and never thinking about what came next. After a while, I knew I had come too far. I sure as hell didn’t want to pack chunks of wood all the way back. I turned to walk back to the truck, back to my father. Back. But as I looked around, everything looked the same, everything looked confusingly similar. Identical. Grey and wet, and…identical. And no direction seemed the right one to get back to the truck Back to my father No. Direction. Back. At first, the fear was slow to rise. “I can’t be lost” I told myself, as I looked around. “Why not?” a quiet voice whispered in my head. I started to move a bit faster, a bit more erratically, nervous now. “I can’t…be… lost…?” “Why not?” it said, a bit louder now. I spun around, looking frantically. Tree trunks, nothing but tree trunks, salal, blackberry, and darkness in the distance.
Darkness in the grey distance In every direction I looked. I felt the panic rising inside my chest, I wanted to yell, but it was strangling me. “Dad?” It was a croak, not even a whisper, my mouth desert-dry. I tried again… “Dad?” Barely speaking now, and then, the terror like an avalanche thundered down on me “DAAAAAAAADDDDDD!!!!” Nothing. The quiet hissing of the rain on the branches was all the answer I got, The distant silence, horrifyingly loud. “DAAAAADDDD!!!” I ran then, crashing through the fallen branches, tripping, falling, terrified, running one way, then another, nothing looking right, nothing looking familiar, my gumboots sliding and tripping in that goddamned wet salal. Screaming for him, over and over. Hearing only the rain, the smashing of the underbrush under my feet. And the faint echo of my screams coming back off the mountain. Finally, panting, shrieking, my chest bursting, I fell on the ground, and lay there sobbing and gasping, my eyes closed, wishing myself somewhere else, praying, hoping it was all a nightmare. I sat up, trying to catch my breath, and saw, a few yards away Sawdust on the ground. Sawdust… I ran over and there were the piles of sawdust, there were the branches I had cut, it seemed like days before. I knew where the truck was now, and stumbled my way to it, through more deadfall branches, stumbling, blubbering. To find my father sitting on the tailgate of the truck, thermos cup still in his hand, a disgusted look on his face.
“Where were you?” he said. “I was lost” I wailed, still sobbing. “You weren’t lost” he said “You were never more than a hundred yards away” “Didn’t you hear me calling?” I asked, the fear still sitting inside me like a cold piece of brick. “Sure I did, but I thought it would teach you a lesson if I let you find your own way back. Besides, we have work to do and I don’t have time to run around the woods looking for some idiot kid who doesn’t have the sense not to get lost in a grove of trees.” I’m sure if he were alive today, my father would tell you that day taught me to rely on myself, and not panic in crisis. I’m sure he’d tell you that it helped make me a man. I’m sure he would tell you it served to toughen me up. And in some ways he’d be right. I learned a lesson that day. Standing there in the cold rain, wet through, my heart still pounding, still gasping, snot and tears smeared on my face, I learned a lesson that I never forgot. I learned, that when I became lost again, as I grew into a man, not to bother calling him for help. Because my father would not answer.
Bryant Ross RCLAS Write On! Contest 2016 Non-Fiction, First Place
GUNTOWER © Bryant Ross That day in the tower I’ll never forget. It was a miserably cold, desolate day. The wind howled down from the mountains that stood to the North of the prison. They stood there like yet another wall, as if that place needed any more walls. Clouds covered most of the slopes that afternoon. They made the mountain just a grayer part of the background. They didn’t stop that wind though, nor even slow it down much. The guntower stood at the Southwest corner of the prison yard. A ramrod straight pile of bricks and steel that lorded itself over the exercise area. A steel catwalk ran outside of it, it rang under my boots as I walked around, keeping watch for my shift. My rifle hung over my shoulder, a heavy reminder of what my job really was. I leaned on the rail that ringed the catwalk and stared, stared at the convicts down there, every day, day in and day out. “K3” it was called, and I was doing K3 duty that frigid Thursday afternoon. *** A hundred years before. I had been a nervous corrections department recruit, trying to find a steady job that my family could rely on to feed and clothe them, looking for something interesting and challenging, but steady and reliable. A job to trust in until retirement. Something with a pension afterward. I didn’t care what it was really, just so I could buy the groceries and pay the rent. We’d walk onto the firing range out there in Abbotsford and shoulder our rifles every day for a couple of weeks. The range master would shout commands and we’d blaze away at the targets in that sweltering sun with the echoes racketing off the mountains around us. Ba-BAM! Ba-BAM! Two shots, centre of mass. Standing, kneeling, prone, standing supported, kneeling supported and gunport. Instructors staring through spotting scopes. Calling scores, calling corrections. Sweat running into our eyes. Shockwaves running through us as our fingers twitched on the trigger. Ba-BAM! Ba-BAM! 100 yards out in the sunlight, paper targets would shiver and flick as the rounds struck. Dust would kick up on the hill behind them as our bullets hammered into the dirt and stone. Some of my classmates were youngsters, barely out of college. Fresh criminology and psych degrees in their fists. Looking forward to careers in the prisons that were challenging. Looking at the basic
guard jobs as short stepping stones upward, into the cleaner, kinder jobs where policy is made. Firing the rifles was play to them, fun, something new and exciting. I was a thirty-something family man, cast off by a factory job I had held since high school. Terrified of the abyss in front of me. I was barely qualified for the job and lucky as hell to be selected for training. All I wanted to do was complete it and get in there making money with some security. I had been around the block a few times, had seen a lot of life, both good and bad, both right and wrong. I knew what I was getting into, they didn’t. We didn’t have much to say to each other. I knew what these rounds would do to a man. I had seen a fair bit over the years. We were training to pass another test, though most of the students didn’t realize it. Our instructors made no secret of it, they kept reminding us. We were training to shoot people. Shoot them in the back when they were running away. Training to shoot them before they could hurt someone again, training to make the decision and fire before a threat turned into a tragedy or an attempt became an escape. The idea of using those gleaming brass objects to do more than poke supersonic holes in paper never entered their clean-cut empty heads. It never left mine. Those hollow-point rounds would hit with enough force to turn their target into pink mist. Hell, the bone shards that flew out would be lethal in themselves to anyone close. Such was the power we held in our hands. See the need. Charge the weapon. Shout the warning, fire a warning shot (If time permits) Shoulder the weapon Aim, tip sight viewed through the rear aperture, dot on his chest. Safety off. Finger on the trigger. Fire. Two shots, centre of mass. Not to wound, not in the legs like they always do in the movies. “Shoot to immobilize” they said. Two shots from an AR-15 in the centre of your body will immobilize you really well. Two shots, centre of mass. Ba-BAM! Ba-BAM! What I never forgot was the cheery tinkle of brass on the concrete afterward. Like wind chimes, musical, so alien in that place, and the thunder that rolled back from the mountains. *** That Thursday afternoon was like so many before, some were colder, some warmer. They were all the same though. Walking on that echoing steel catwalk, staring out at the inmates who walked
around and around that field. Watching for the sudden movement of a knife, watching for a transfer of drugs, watching for anything out of place or suspicious. Watching everything, trusting nothing. The yard was a huge expanse of grass. It was an athletic field, running track, and park all in one. No trees, just a big open space. There was nothing to hide behind, no cover of any kind. Inmates used it for whatever they could, finding what small freedom there was in its space, so rare in that grey, cramped place. Every inch inside stank of male armpits and cigarettes. Not that field, the wind whipped fresh from the mountains and the sun shone there sometimes, sometimes it rained. All of those things were welcomed after the cramped, still, fetid air of the cellblocks. That field served other purposes as well. It was the only place they could gather, they were separated in the cellblocks, kept apart from each other. That field and the mess hall were the only places to make deals, hold meetings, and take revenge. The reason the gun tower was there wasn’t to prevent escape, though it served that purpose as well, it was to provide a clear shot when inmates tried to kill one another or other guards there on that field. I had walked in that field many times while the inmates were about, it always reminded me of walking among vicious dogs. They wandered and stalked around you restlessly, growling just quietly enough that you couldn’t hear them clearly, looking at you from the corner of their eyes. You knew when you were out there that if you showed a second of weakness, or gave them a reason, they would be on you in a pack, and you’d never have a chance. The only thing that kept them at bay was the gun tower. They weren’t stupid, they knew there was a guy up there no more than eighty yards away with a rifle whose job it was to kill them. Doing yard duty was important for a tower man, after walking among a hundred or more of those bastards, you really understood how much you relied on the guy up there with the rifle. That Thursday I watched them walk in groups around and around the perimeter. Like always, like normal. “Normal” in a prison is dangerous. Bad things happen when guards think everything is ‘normal’ An inmate caught my eye, he was sitting against a fence in the infield. I’ll never know what made me look closer, maybe because it was so cold and he was sitting on the ground, maybe something else. I picked up my binoculars, their frigid metal biting at my fingertips, their cold steel eyepieces stabbing my eyes. The image of his bearded face leapt into focus, brought startlingly near by the lenses, every detail right in front of me. He was digging beside himself in the dirt, a spoon stolen from the kitchen clutched tightly in his fingers. He looked around, feigning interest everywhere else. His arm lay beside him, but his wrist and hand worked furiously with the spoon, digging frantically. While I watched, interested, wondering what he was up to, he reached into the small hole and worked his fingers around, the tendons popping out, white knuckled in the freezing air. I thought then he might be hiding
something. Drugs, contraband or something else, maybe he was digging something up, maybe this was a pickup, maybe a delivery. Either way it shouldn’t have been happening. Time to call the yard crew over to see what was up. “K3 to K20” The radio hissed in my hand, waiting, time passed slowly. I took my eyes away from the binoculars long enough to scan the yard again. Everyone moving as before, walking, talking, gesturing, hunched in their parkas, walking around the wire, each in their own little world. Their solitude jealously hoarded for the particle of time they had it. “Go ahead K3” The voice of the yard boss, a fellow who had been a guard for years, experienced, steady, smart. “I’ve got a guy sitting, digging in the dirt beside him on the West fence. I dunno what he’s up to, can you come check it out?” “On the way” I saw the guards come out of the yard office then, buttoned up against the cold wind. They walked around the yard some, not coming directly to the seated fellow, not wanting to alert him. I didn’t know what was going on, but it wasn’t normal, so I slipped the sling off my shoulder, took off my gloves, and held my rifle at my side. I looked again through my binoculars just in time to see the inmate finally work a large rock, about the size of a fist, out of the frigid earth. There is only one reason an inmate would want a rock like that. The guards were too close now, and hadn’t seen it come out of the ground. I didn’t have time to radio. They were too far away and the wind was too strong for them to hear a shouted warning. With a life of their own my arms went through the drill. Rifle up to port arms, take the charging handle between the crooked right index and forefingers. Pull hard and let it fly back forward, chambering a round. The sound, a terrible metallic “SNACK!” chilling my blood, making it harder to breathe. In the same motion bring the stock up to the shoulder. Left arm threading through the sling, tightening it, steadying the rifle. Right hand on the pistol grip, trigger finger on the trigger guard, thumb on the safety. Butt pulled tightly to the shoulder, cheek laid along the stock. The guards were still moving toward him. He stood up, his hand held down beside him. I didn’t have my binoculars anymore, I was looking at him through the rear sight. “KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER RECRUIT!, THE ONLY TIME THAT FINGER TOUCHES THAT TRIGGER IS WHEN YOU’RE READY TO SHOOT!” My thumb moved up, then down, a soft click, more felt than heard told me that the safety was off.
Finger drops down to the trigger. Breathe in, let half out. BaBAM! It startled me. On the range I always had ear protectors on. Out there in the open air the noise was shattering. A patch of grass the size of a dinner plate exploded beside the inmate’s left foot. The sound rolled back from the mountain now, like thunder, after the flash. Warning shot. As much a warning to the guards as to the inmate. They froze, then stepped back suddenly, He spun around and looked at me. My left hand fumbled for my radio, keyed the mike. “ROCK, RIGHT HAND!” I shouted, then dropped the radio. It clanged loud and hollow on the steel catwalk. I snatched the rifle back up to my shoulder, brought my cheek back to the stock, dropped the sight on the inmate’s chest Time came screeching to a halt right there. The world compressed to the circle of the rear sight, to the black foresight that wandered around on his chest. Telling me where the bullet would hit. It crept across him, I saw every detail through that tiny hole. The green institutional parka, his grubby blue jeans, the beard that was smeared on his face and his eyes darting back and forth between the guards he was facing, and my rifle barrel, pointing at him like an accusing finger. That black dot of the foresight sat there on his heaving chest, he froze in place, the rock clutched frantically in his hand. How do you decide when it’s time to kill a man? What criteria do you use to end a life? When do you decide? It could be too late in the blink of an eye. The guards are unarmed there in the yard. The yard boss and the inmate stood there facing each other. They were much too close. That inmate would dash the brains out of him quicker than an eye could blink. He held the stone there beside him, brown and blunt and ugly in his hand, low at his side. My feet shuffled on the cold metal deck, my hands gripped and re-gripped that cold plastic stock and foregrip. I never got over just how much heavier that AR-15 felt with a magazine full of live cartridges snapped in place. I had heard of how people’s mouths turn dry at times like that and part of my mind was surprised at just how dry mine was. I had to decide when I was going to pull the trigger again, and I had to decide right away, right now, immediately.
The rock was at his side, he couldn’t do much harm with it there… Okay, if it comes up above his waist, I pull the trigger. Pretty simple rules to live and die by. They were still standing there, the wind pulling at their parkas, tense, in the field. At the sound of my warning shot everyone there stopped to watch the drama unfold. Everyone stood welded to the ground in the attitudes they had when the sound hit them. The inmate looked at me, then back at the guard. He was whipping his head back and forth, desperation and fear filling him, confusion crowded in, removing all reason. His feet shuffled on the ground, undecided, flustered, terrified. We were all standing there in that cutting wind, feeling its knives running over us. Each of us scared of his own demon, each wondering what was going to happen next, each of us fearing it for different reasons. The rock, clotted with pimples of dirt, hung there heavy in his hand, ugly, menacing, brutish. The inmate’s head swung back to the yard boss, forgetting about me, perhaps no longer caring about me there. Perhaps he was going to strike, to plant that bludgeon in the yard boss’s skull or perhaps he was going to surrender. No matter how much time stretched and expanded, no matter how many heartbeats or thoughts raced, the next second would tell that part of the story. Years later, lying in bed with my face a couple of inches away from my wife’s, I found I could tell the story. I told her I'd never forget the cheery tinkle of spent brass as it landed at my feet. Like wind chimes, musical, so alien in that place, and the thunder that rolled back from the mountains.
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Poetic Justice Date: Sunday, April 16, 2017. 11:30am – 1:30pm. Location: Boston Pizza at Columbia Square, 1045 Columbia St, New Westminster Host: James Felton Feature Poets: Penn Kemp and Sharon Thesen Open Mic Sign Up with Linda Holmes Happy National Poetry Month! More info www.poeticjusticenewwest.org RCLAS, in partnership with NWPL, presents “Opening Up To Character with Cathy Stonehouse” Date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017. 6:30pm – 8:30pm, Free admission. Location: New Westminster Public Library, 716 6th Ave, New Westminster Facilitator: Cathy Stonehouse To pre-register email email@example.com or call 604-527-4660 Inquiries can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org Description In this workshop participants will be invited to consider what makes a successful fictional character, and to practice writing prompts and techniques designed to support the discovery and development of fictional characters whose struggles, in turn, may give rise to dynamic and meaningful narrative. The workshop will consist of both reading and writing, as memorable characters from a wide range of literary sources, and the techniques used by their inventors to render these characters on the page, will also inform our explorations. Cathy Stonehouse is the author of two collections of poetry and one collection of short stories, and is just completing her first novel. Currently a regularized instructor in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s creative writing program, she has also taught courses and workshops in creative writing for many other Lower Mainland educational institutions such as SFU, UBC, Langara College, Douglas College and Capilano University. This summer she also facilitated a residential memoir-writing workshop for Island Mountain Art’s summer arts programming in Wells, BC. A graduate of Oxford University and UBC’s Creative Writing MFA Program, she also holds a certificate in Expressive Arts Therapy from Langara College. RCLAS presents “Children’s Chronicles” Date: Saturday April 22, 2017. 3:30pm – 5pm, Free admission. Location: River Market, 810 Quayside Dr, New Westminster Feature Author: Jacquie Pearce Description: For children 8-12 years of age. Story time, writing and discussion. More info https://rclas.com/recurring/childrens-chronicles/
RCLAS presents “Tellers of Short Tales” Date: Tuesday May 2, 2017. 6:30pm – 8:30pm, Free admission. Location : Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St, New Westminster, BC Host: Nasreen Pejvack Featured Reader: Sapha Burnell Open Mic Sign Up More info www.rclas.com Description: A program of monthly readings designed to engage fans of the short story genre with emerging and published short story writers. Also, an open microphone will be available for writers who would like to share their stories. RCLAS presents “Songwriters Open Mic Night” Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2017. 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Free admission. Location: The Heritage Grill, Backstage Room, 447 Columbia St, New Westminster, BC Hosts: Enrico Renz, Lawren Nemeth and Poul Bech More info https://www.facebook.com/groups/150810881784465/ Description: Original music only, performed by the songwriters! Great venue: good sound, food, beverages and a friendly, supportive audience that actually listens RCLAS presents “Wordplay” with Alan Girling Date: Thursday, May 4, 2017. 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Free admission. Location: Buy-Low Foods Community Room, 555 – 6th Street, New Westminster Host: Alan Girling More info https://rclas.com/recurring/wordplay/ Description: Wordplay is our monthly idea-generating drop-in series for writers of all kinds. Find new approaches to your writing; unlock that treasure chest in your head! This group generates some fabulous first drafts; all you need to bring is writing tools, paper, and a ready mind. This is not a critique group; let’s have some fun! RCLAS presents “Writing and Healing”, A Workshop with Sherry Duggal Date: Saturday May 13, 2017. 2:00pm to 4:00pm Location : Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St, New Westminster Workshop Fees: RCLAS Members $15/ Non-members $25 Register by email email@example.com More info and PAYPAL payment option coming soon at www.rclas.com RCLAS presents “Children’s Chronicles” Date: Saturday May 20, 2017. 3:30pm – 5pm, Free admission. Location: Centennial Community Centre, 65 E Sixth Avenue, New Westminster Feature Author: Jami Gigot Description: For children 8-12 years of age. Story time, writing and discussion. More info https://rclas.com/recurring/childrens-chronicles/
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RCLAS Members Open Call for Submissions No theme required to submit. Themes: Mothers/ Blue/ Ekphrastic Deadline April 22, 2017 Issue 45 Ongoing Submissions for upcoming “New Westminster” Special Feature Poetry, Short Stories, Book excerpts, articles & lyrics are all welcome for submission to future issues of Wordplay at work. Submit Word documents (Please include your name on document title) to firstname.lastname@example.org
LitFest New West: Jan Bannister, Stephen O’Shea, Nasreen Pejvack, Janet Kvammen
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April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. The Waste Land T. S. Eliot, 1888 - 1965
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April 2017 Wordplay at work ISSN 2291- 4269 Contact: email@example.com RCLAS Vice-President/ E-zine
Architects Of Liberty ©Candice James, Poet Laureate Emerita New Westminster, BC CANADA (Commissioned by the Vimy Oaks Foundation for the 100th anniversary of The Battle Of Vimy Ridge April 9, 2017)
The spirits of the fallen soldiers,* Ghostly sentinels of the Vimy Oaks, still stand on guard; They witness the return of the acorns And know they are remembered and held in high regard. They live on in our memory Those architects of liberty, Who gave their lives at Vimy Ridge; Victims of war’s sacrilege. They set their boots on foreign land; Canada’s sons on command. Gunfire echoed overhead. Men fell wounded; men fell dead. Reverberating through the years: The emptiness and the tears; The stain of anguish and bloodshed; The silent bodies of the dead. They gave their lives to keep us free, Those architects of liberty. We wear the blood red poppy... Lest We Forget.
Three thousand five hundred and ninety-eight (3,598) Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917) but the result was an impressive victory over German forces. Leslie Miller, a Canadian Soldier, who fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge salvaged a handful of acorns from a dying oak tree in the aftermath of the battle in 1917. These acorns were transplanted in Canada and they will be repatriated back to Vimy, France in time for the battle’s centennial April 9, 2017 The “return of the acorns” acts as a reminder that their bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten. Patricia Sinclair, head of the Canadian Branch of the Vimy Foundation in France commissioned me to write a poem to be displayed on the Vimy Foundation website and read at the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017 in France. The poem has also been translated into French and is posted online at /www.vimyfoundation.ca/
Published on Apr 7, 2017
ISSUE 44 ISSN 2291- 4269, 76 pages. April 2017 Writer of the Month: Lavana La Brey. News and Events. 2017 Write On! Contest “Meet our Judges...