STEPS Magazine Fall 2009 The Purple Issue Editor-in-Chief Claire Caldwell Fiction Editor Rosa Aiello Poetry Editors Sam Woodworth Matthew Donne Non-Fiction Editor Caitlin Manicom Editor Max Karpinski Art People Sally Lin Aquil Virani Contributors Eric Andrew-Gee, Annik Babinski, Charlotte Bhaskar, Klara Du Plessis, Elie Gill, Toby Houle, Matt James, Whitney Mallett, Luke Neima, Jamie Peters, Stefan Rinas and Ariel Yehoshua. STEPS is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University. Special thanks to Stephen Davis and the McGill Daily for the use of their fine production facilities.
Table of Contents
Letter from the editor
Red: aka a catalogue Klara Du Plessis
A Purple Patch Rosa Aiello
Circe Annik Babinski
Purple Passage Luke Neima
Untitled Whitney Mallett
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife Anonymous
Portrait of a Young Rider Ariel Yehoshua
Oblique is when I touched a tender spot Matt James
Benoît Matt James
Private Lives of Public People Toby Houle
Luck turns Ten Stefan Rinas
East Racla, Yukon territory Jamie Peters
A Boy and his Moustache Max Karpinski
Citizen Eric Andrew Gee
Anushka and the White Feather Charlotte Bhaskar
El Capitan Matthew Donne
Finders, Keepers Claire Caldwell
Oh, hey there. Welcome to Steps’ first official issue of 2009/10, put together lovingly by this year’s edboard. You may be asking, “could this little purple bundle really be the Steps Magazine I know and love?” The answer is yes – and no. If you picked up our Montreal Issue in the past couple of weeks, the contrast will seem striking, but the following pages contain the same quality and variety of writing and art they always have. In fact, our real reason for giving Steps such a drastic facelift – with no disrespect to Steps designers past – was to better showcase our contributors’ work. And this issue is packed with pieces that we’re proud to flaunt: Ariel Yehoshua’s “Portrait of A Young Rider” will make you want to hop the next freight train that barrels through town; Annik Babinski subtly and hauntingly reimagines the myth of Circe and Odysseus in a snowy landscape; and Stefan Rinas successfully uses the word “iPod” in a poem. Besides the aesthetic changes, we’re trying something new with the theme this issue: instead of devoting the entire magazine to purple-related things, we’ve created a special section from pages 2-11, in the hopes that the themed pieces will speak to each other, and that the non-purple pieces will have room to breathe on their own. In case you’re looking for a study break in the next couple weeks, we’ll be throwing a launch party before the end of the semester. We promise the readings, music, and dancing will be worth it. We’d love to know what you think about Steps’ new look, or about the work in this issue. Send us comments, questions, rants or love letters, to email@example.com. If you’re interested in contributing, keep an eye out for the next submissions call in January. With love, Claire Caldwell, Editor-in-Chief
welcome to The Purple Issue
o be honest, when this whole thing got started, we – probably like you – had a bit of trouble expanding our purple horizons beyond eggplants and Prince. So, like the editors of any respectable publication would do, we hopped on the world wide web to see what we could come up with. Turns out there’s a lot more to purple than the artist formerly known as. If you don’t believe us (or the internet), read on for our contributors’ takes on the royal colour.
fun facts about purple: [ The Minoans are believed to have been the first culture to use purple dye. [ Tyrian purple dye was originally derived from a mollusc. In Classical antiquity, this dye was so expensive only the rich could afford to use it in their fabrics; thus, purple became a symbol for royalty. [ A 1989 anti-apartheid demonstration in South Africa became known as the Purple Rain Protest after a police cannon doused the protestors in purple dye. [ Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. received the Purple Heart medal from the U.S. Military in 1945. [ Barney and Friends is rated #50 on TV Guide’s list of the 50 worst television programs of all time. [ When your mood ring turns purple, you’re feeling happy, romantic, or passionate. [ Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater,” a novelty song about a one-eyed, one-horned, flying monster, topped the Billboard charts in 1958. [ The purple berries on pokeweed plants are poisonous and often fatal to humans and other mammals. [ Cleopatra’s favourite colour was purple. [ Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, The Colour Purple, confronts racial and gender prejudice in the American South during the 1930s. It has frequently appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most banned or challenged books. 2
Klara Du Plessis
Almost red: aka a catalogue 1. Imagine begetters banging the heads of already conceived fetuses with their continued intercourse. 2. At 00:00 magic things happen. You grow an inch if you dream youâ€™re falling or someone secretly leaves you a melted chocolate heart in a foil wrapper. 3. Mature lovers donâ€™t kiss. Instead you think Iâ€™m interesting because I cover my books in protective plastic. 4. Once upon a time this might have been a love poem.
A Purple Patch
was walking down to the train, and the two ticket-takers dressed in blue and red uniforms were having an argument, but a friendly one; there was no animosity about the way one was getting on the other’s case. As I passed, the one said about the other, “This man is a champion, you know? A real boxing champion,” and the other man, the man who the first man was referring to, looked very shy about the other man discussing his boxing career. He had a nose that was all flattened and bunged up like he had been punched really hard and repeatedly in the face. “No no,” he said, “Not me,” though you could tell he didn’t mean “No” exactly, and the other one said,“He’s humble about it, but believe me, he really was a boxing champion.” “Wow” I said, “is that how you got a nose like that?” “No,” he said, apologetically serious, “I was in a bad car accident.” “Oh, sorry sir.” And then I continued on because things were not meant to get so serious between us, and I had a train to catch, so it was not unkind nor discourteous nor abrupt of me to continue on and to leave them to pursue their conversation - though it was impossible now for them to begin again from where they had left off when I met them. On the train ride home from Quebec along the edge of the wet meadows to Minnesota, I watched fields and fields of loosestrife pass away. * * *
I took that train in mid-June, and for the next two months, it seemed that I couldn’t make a misstep if I tried, couldn’t speak a wrong word, or find myself not coming out on top. Success fell at my feet, though I almost did not enjoy it, since I almost did not believe it. The morning I returned from my trip, I discovered that the female of the two grenadier fish whose progeny I had been attempting to research, and who had been refusing to mate for so long, had only the night before laid fertile eggs. Sometimes these fish looked to me like skeletons of fish, save for the flip of the grey-pink ends of their long, ugly fish tails. I looked into the stare of their big black marble eyes, and I could have kissed for joy their wide jawing fish-mouths. Not two weeks later I came into $ 300,000 upon the death of a little-known relative that had spent a solitary life as a Cardinal, running a small diocese in St. Paul. The next Saturday while dining at an Asian-fusion restaurant I unintentionally ate laver seaweed, only to find that I did not react, that my seaweed allergy, too, had gone away. My colleagues and friends laughed at every joke I made, listened intently to every story I told; I inadvertently lost five pounds; my mother’s Alzheimer’s went into remission; I found a total of $37; I had sex with two handsome, intelligent and good men, one of whom has since become my husband. * * * It was August. In the mid-afternoon, I sat idly and alone in the sun of the semi-enclosed park adjacent to
the apartment building where I lived. In the unsheltered heat of the sun, I felt bleary-eyed and the world steamed and burned and blurred. I looked up and saw a gallinule – a tropical bird, in no way indigenous to Minnesota – fly across my field of vision. I thought it was perhaps a mirage, or some effect of the intense heat, but what I saw in the blinding sunlight was no bird: it was a man. He wore blue swimming trunks and sunglasses, and had tied a t-shirt around his head and face. He took his penis out of his shorts to show me, and it was erect and quite red on its top, perhaps from rubbing and gyrating it so vigourously, as he was doing now. He held it by the end and rotated it as if he were using a salad spinner. “My luck has turned,” I thought to myself. The presence and actions of the man were jarring and terrible, and I felt the red heat of potential threat rising up my back and over my shoulders. I tried to contort my face to communicate to him my extreme disgust and ghastly awe and perhaps to let him know that I was not interested. He persisted, however, and I could hardly believe it, and all of the blood vessels of my extremities began dilating and pulsing with the nerve to fly off or to fight, and my arms and legs stung trying to decide which to do. So I stood up slowly, and began walking inside, while he hissed “sshhhh” and “No, no,” as if to tell me to keep it to myself. And I did keep the events to myself, though not without thinking with self-reproach of all the poor children in the neighbourhood: little Simone living innocently next door who came, sometimes,
down to this square to play; or Andalusa, the girl whose bedroom window looked out from delicate curtains onto this very public private space. If I am ever asked to recognize the man in a police line-up, however, I have made careful note of an unmistakably identifying feature that marked his inner thigh approximately four inches down from his testicles: a crimson birthmark shaped like a boxing glove, or like some retracting mollusc. * * * A few days later, my uncle – a hero of war who had been wounded in the seventies while cleaning out a communist sanctuary in Cambodia – came to spend some time and see the sights of Minneapolis. In the middle of the first night of his stay, my car was smashed to pieces while it sat parked on the street directly in front of my apartment. My sleep had muffled the intensity of the sound, and I awoke thinking that a raccoon or large rat had found its way into the pile of metal garbage bins in front of the building. I heard a woman wail and a second woman scream, and saw my uncle run past my bedroom door. Outside, I found a woman holding her stomach and breathing rapidly, standing beside a pile of vomit. The second woman was still wailing and whimpering, her leg surrounded by puddle of liquid that, in this light, looked to be a Tyrian purple. Neither the motorist nor his automobile were anywhere to be seen. My uncle, as if instinctually, tied a tourniquet above the woman’s knee with a shoelace and masking tape, softly repeating, “Can you believe people sometimes?” 5
Circe “She imagines herself and Odysseus walking through a field in November, licking melted snow from each other’s mouths, stopping to examine the still unfrozen track of a deer” From Margaret Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems Circe is secretly a child of winter. She has always preferred its clarity to the death rasp of her humid island. Each afternoon sleeping by her pigs’ muddy bath, she sweats and tosses in dreams. Eyes sealed shut against the gnats, she lets herself think of snowforts and siege. Drifting out of range of so much sadness and dust, she imagines herself and Odysseus. He is teaching her to tie knots but she keeps climbing to the eagle’s nest because the salt air reminds her, is cold and bitter frosted grass, footprints melting Feet coming away patterned white from cattails and thistle barbs. But mostly she recalls the shock of breathing
and his body beside her. It can be difficult to remember walking through a field in November Low clouds caught in the treetops and Odysseus’ breath was lavender, cooling her skin and giving her goosebumps. His hands too, like dry icicles so smooth and cold she couldn’t concentrate on anything— not standing or speaking, all her heat finally released in shapes that spelled his name. Without realizing it, they turn south licking melted snow from each other’s mouths. When Circe has all but burned away the field they move on. So this is what love must be like, the other’s voice floating over the prairie like a moon, you have only to turn your face to the sky to realize that he is calling you. “Circe, over here.” He has fallen back and calls her near, stopping to examine the still unfrozen track of a deer.
purple passage along Gibraltar, off Catela bay: “No women?!” gluttonous laughter from the sloppy moustache & fat Castillian face, sweating its large drops wriggling as he rocks with hairy and ringed fingers upon his corpulent belly, fitted with a vest large as a blanket, its vermillion scarlet matching the bulging cheeks laughing. “Sam... what should I say, my son; no cabrone my UNCLE!!” and tearing at the eyes his polyglot cries coughing between another sudden, and to Sam inexplicable, paroxysm of laughter. The man hammers the table repeatedly with his sweaty fist and then he continues to choke down large mouthfuls of bread and purple stew and speaks, “ok, Ok. I’ll tell you – I have a bigshot friend who has wonderful coops of chickens and a virgin daughter, and,” he steadies himself on the table with the palm of a large and dirty hand, “and then we’ll Steal his Daughter! AHHAH” bits of peppers and golden raisins, flying out from around his thick tongue, parsley in his teeth and his laughter and on the checkered tablecloth. In sticky air hung the noise of the other tables and their roaring, the waves on the rocks below, joking, and the motorcars running along the cliffs, swerving velvet syrup of the jug of wine in the large man’s hand, pouring into cups. Scraps of osso bucco chew in his throat and the young thin man across from him nods drunkenly in his seat “yes yes, yes” nodding his heads “yes, a woman my, love yes the women, where” glaring suspiciously at this other large man “where are the women on your island!” and the Castilian “ah you’ll see – ” he points to his friend’s greasy & shaven neck, then hits the table. “You’ll see we’ll STEAL you a bride!” with a smile! hitting the table and the couple cups rocking the silver scattering amidst empty & emptying plates = and his nodding “yes yes” napkins in dishes of paella
and bits of hyacinth and wax in the bowls of cream, saucers of Madeira and veal “yes, yes yes” and rich scorching brown dripping grain-fed chicken, purple russet potatoes and the fat man shudders with gasping squeals of pleasure “and leave him the filthy sow his fat gaucho wife!” the wine now spilling freely with laughter over the tablecloth rivulets on wood and custard, the younger man rocking still in his seat stiff and drunk as sleep “a wife yes... to be my,” “HEY Guapo!” slurp slurring sharp in the not noiseless night, already he is pissing on the door “now ok you go in the window and Take her” slobbering barking crickets and stumbling through the dirt humid hot moon goes dear Samson and sweat wrenching his thin wrists crinkle UP cracking the pane; flecks of speckling old dirt of turquoise paint around the throbbing pane of glass. At the side of his eye the well-dressed and large and filthy man pissing always on the door, the tall blonde boy crawls into the window spilling on a Persian rug and breaks a mission table. Here to steal the girl and nail his letter to the door: “Herman Fernando, we have taken your daughter. Consider as dowry the silver plates and guitar taken from your foyer. Your mother is a cow and your sister a tubercular whore. Vaya con dios: Eduardo Ferrer & Samson R. Amerigo.” The younger man fumbles for his matches in the yard and narrows his bleary blue eyes at the stolen woman and then at his friend, “hey you Gordo you, sure this is the right girl?” she looks tussled & askance and then spits in his face and Gordo roaring, laughing “what do you want there’s no other daughter ! you tell me you wanted a woman?” Samson wipes the spittle from his small face with his small hands and smiles, “you said you uhm” pauses to light a cigarette ”uh but I thought you said this madonna tower of virgin china, legs to make
a fire in me, to bathe within the smoke of my love, uhm and her seventeen years” and the women smiles deeply at him and Sam is overcome again “yes... uh she’s...” his face souring as Gordo passes him a bottle. The woman frowns and spits again but into the dirt “you are a Pig” she says “and YOU” pointing to the fat Castillian “are another pig!” Gordo laughs and throws his arms into the air like a beautiful ballet dancer “and You are a sow. And your father - “ “MY father” she interrupts “is a sallow worm” and Gordo bursts with his laughing and stumbles back towards the house to find more dowry. The young sailor has finished drinking from the bottle and rocks as he stands. The woman leans towards him on chubby stumped legs - “and who are You” and the man looks at her straight and deep in the eyes, “do you know, of the great, American, hero; Babe Ruth?” she nods slowly “I . . . am Babe Ruth” she looks searchingly at his nodding knowingly “and do you know who is, John Wayne?” she comes somewhere closer “he is my brother. When we go to the corral... uh” he hiccups bile into the dirt. She says “and you will take me, where do you live guapo?” and he puckers up his lips like Elvis “baby I can go to America baby one day i’m going to become as fat as ...uhh... and my home runs will shake Cleveland stadium and I swear to Jesus... I could go maybe to Granada” and she comes sometime closer towards him and takes his limp lump into her gnarled hands and he says “your eyes... are...” she screwing her small black eyes into him she says “your eyes are beautiful” and he says “yes, my eyes are... I am... do you who is Sylvester Stallone?” and he falls over she grinning woman falling with him her fingers sticking to the knots in his hair tearing them a bit her wide lips already all over. As dawn cracks open dear Samson’s dry throat, the cackle of chickens are upon him and something
cuts into his thighs and down the path is this same fat furious Castillian man already telling him “AH he will not give us the chickens he says keep his filthy daughter” and, though somewhat confused about his whereabouts, Samson notices beside him --. “Hey Gordo who is this succubus?” and she was already snarling “I am your wife!” He shakes his heavy head for a while. “No, uh, Gordo can you take her away?” and she spits and the fat man tells him “no my Guapo I have a wife already! Where can I take her what are you thinking?” and her forked toenails are in his thighs and her crooked teeth are for him and him alone and Guapo thinks about a violent ferret he caught and killed once in the woods behind his house, hunting with his father. She clutches roughly his cajones “we were married enough last night take me in your ship” he groans a little his swollen misused – “I don’t, you know, I don’t own a ship. What is this stuff” and his hands are caked in this strange substance like mud and something else they smell terrible. Everything smells terrible and he is covered in a dark beige stable mud and his clothes beside him are caked with violet bruises of wine. “I don’t want, who is this -” she gets up quickly to yell at the fatter man “AND he has stolen my flowers!” and now the large man turns his enormous plate of a face upon the younger man, “HEY you Samson what do you think you are doing we don’t do this here you are not yet wed!” “what I – uhm I’m –” “MIO DIO Fernando will not let you alive unless the monsignor will sanctify this, your gross profanity, she is but a child a virgin still with only two dozen years I cannot allow such a blasphemy we may be a simple people but this is no simple sin your perversions are” (and on and on like this for a while). Samson turns his blue eyes towards the bay. 9
Untitled She is a 12-year-old new to black eyeliner. The other is post-menopausal, from a town in Alberta who cares what it’s called: Now you strengthen an organ when you pass over it focusing on giving it energy use your more sensitive hand left if you’re right-handed right if you’re left-handed when you pass over the liver here think about drawing out the toxins. She breathes out through her nose, sharp. Twice a week, her mother drives her to these classes. She always notes the purple mailboxes on the duplex 233/235 Richmond Road 8 minutes into the drive 5 or 6 if they hit mostly greens.
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife Red yellow bright blue dust smeared against a hard blue carpet under the table where she and her brother are waiting outside a glassed-in room, drawing pictures with dusty pastels to mock the mother and father screaming. The throat becomes a muddy rut and tires spin, the father hydroplanes and the brakes stop and the old black car is destroyed in the glassed-in room. The children giggle under the table and the little girl cries at the dust sifting off the sheet and the counselors counseling and pens writing ownership off and out and her hand disowns the top, hits tape of Elvis, slams the beer bottle against the table and breaks it, flings the dinner against the wall – the day is still to come when cartoon clouds of red and yellow and dark blue enfold the family, the police come into the house, the mother has a black eye and the mother has been throwing a child’s toy against the leg of the man and screaming in that old rut but the car has already been totalled and angular, it’s a cubist interpretation of those gorgeous deep colours that overtake the white of her eye and when the girl asks, when the brother asks, when the red wood door is closed and the day is coming, when the officers have done asking questions, after four become three, she says he was drunk and he’ll never drink again – and I catch grey dust settling under the dining-room table where my parents announced their divorce.
Portrait of a Rider
t’s noisy alright, almost too noisy to think, but my heart’s beating too damn fast for me to catch any winks tonight, beating at the pace of the tracks – chik-chik-chik-chik-chik – at the pace of a day that felt like it might never end. Jon’s asleep at the far end of the box, and I can’t for the life of me understand how, with the rumbling and whistling, the ruckus of this car plunging through the starless night. I can’t sleep, never can when the ride gets like this, when the rumbling gets this loud. But writing has always been for me, the space between dreaming and waking, a place just on the edge of
peaceful, where the echoes of weeping mothers and drunken, singing soldiers can still be heard in the not so far off distance. I awoke at sunrise this morning in the old hobo-jungle outside the Roseville arrival yard. It was hot already: hot like the sun making a bet with the earth, the stakes, coarse and salty, bitter and inevitable. I watched, for the sixth morning in a row, a day squeeze its way in through a tiny slit in the grey-dawn sky, and I drank some wine and read a day-old newspaper. I thought about Katya for a long time, and it
made me happy and lonesome all at once. And I wondered if she had seen the sun rise any time in the recent past, and if we might get to watch it together sometime soon. A rail worker in Martinez told me that there’s a hot-shot that runs east from Portland to New York three days a week. I slapped him five and let him share some whiskey. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable catch, but I’d ride it twice over and back again to see that sweet, coaxing smile. Me and the boys spent the day at the river, horsing around, drinking and swimming. Freedom was at our fingertips and it felt good like it always does, like an open window letting in a cool breeze. And the water was just cold enough for us to laugh at the beating sun and sing: Song for the Sun Been ridin so long, feels like no time, Feet dangling out a boxcar, Clothes smell like tobacco and wine, And I call out to the burnin’ hot sun, Somewhere down there along the line, Sayin: “Hey cool it fella.” He says: “Well hey man I think I’m doin just fine. When evening rolled around we hoofed it back into town and bought tall cans and cigars at the market. The owner there knows we’re riders; he knows from the soot on our shirts and the smiles on our dirty, tired faces. He gave us free doughnuts and jerky and we sat behind the store and ate our fill, drank and smoked, and watched the trains get built until it was too dark to see. “Look out for them empty lumber cars, them open boxes is a sure bet, and them Canadian grainers too,” Jon told me. The man’s ridden thirty thousand miles on these rails, so when he talks, I listen. “And if you hop on something going east,” he said smiling, “chances are you won’t know bout it till morning.” Ain’t the worst thing in the world, I thought… But we caught a double-open box tonight,
and I can tell by the smell of the pine and the sound of the Sacramento, we’re headin’ North for damn sure. Portland’s just a few days away and I’m certain we’ll be able to see Shasta by sunrise. There’s an art to this you know – a language that everyday becomes more conquerable. It ain’t a life like most; this is a life of unpredictability and simple pleasures, of hot sun, cold rivers and the whistling of the wind through a double-open box on a night like tonight. It’s the total and perfect contrast between the most industrial concept ever thought up, and the absolute freedom of this here human spirit. Been ridin’ so long, feels like no time, feet dangling out a boxcar, clothes smell like tobacco and wine… This art is also a war I think, an attack against the central ethic of capitalist life; this life has no definable limits – shows no measurable profits, only hot sun and cold rivers, whistling wind, and the occasional charm of a cigar. I start my day when that sun starts rising, and when that muggy-hot air tickles my eyes open. I lay down to sleep when my body can’t move no more, when the whiskey’s run out, and there ain’t no more shit to shoot, no more stories to be told. I ain’t got a boss in the world ‘cept my own set a wits and I wouldn’t have it any other way. “You’ve got to be invisible,” Jon told me, our first day in the Oakland yard. “You’ve got to be a ghost, cause if you ain’t, you’re a problem, a threat to the system set in place, this great industrial work monster.” “Stay invisible,” he said, “and stay anonymous.” And I have, in these weeks that passed liked years, remained invisible, a silent stranger in a perpetual shadow, dressed in black and gray, dark green, tweed cap, toothpick and brown canvas shoes. They call me Charlie Marx down here and I just smile through crooked teeth and keep on riding. Even a real noisy ride like tonight’s ain’t a bad ride for a young rambler like me. 13
Oblique is when I touched a tender spot Oblique is when I touched a tender spot and felt no weight against my finger, when my thumb did who-knows-what beside a gas station in Gascony that led me to a castle I have never visited, but only imagined as I stretched my legs. I must’ve smelt horrible to the girls from Brittany who spent their holidays bandaging the elderly and leading them to silken toilets in the night. Though now I come to think of it they didn’t seem to mind at all: one was asleep the other driving and the last one talking to me with a mouth so French it might have been the only real souvenir in the world. If she had asked about my Plans I’d have said “I think I’ll go to Rennes to save the elderly from heat waves and daytime television and whatever else it is that pinches too hard in the engine place that keeps them going but God, I wouldn’t want to see my grandmother” and I wondered if the girl would ever eat that thickened water or the pale sandwiches that keep our Amy on the brink. I wonder if at eighty-seven she’ll still know the mouth she lent to me is lying somewhere in a dusty corner of myself.
Benoit, the Carpenter Everything was analog, the sunflowers lying pink beside the road we rode down while the others were waking from their halfzware shags hash and box wine-induced reveries to eat a slice of Real Pie: they had three days to turn all that acreage into Woodstock for the second time in two years! and the four of us were gone on bikes three-hundred meters up the dirt trail across the wooden bridge through the fields that rolled down open-palmed to the water, just begging for some old-time religion. We gave it our half naked bodies G.I. Joe jumping in first, Big Ben then me then Geoffroy, stepping off the ridge with white-boy legs and all. Ben sat down where the water rolled off a pile of rocks, freshly blown glass breaking over his Norman frame resonating with the laughter of a five year old whose penis has just felt river water for the first time. We smoked one of G.I. Joeâ€™s cigarettes four ways and later that night, Ben told me he was going to burn my house down kill my parents, my brother, our pets and gleefully drain our maple syrup in the yard if I didnâ€™t come and visit all of them in Rouen the following summer. 15
Private Lives of Public People
Or: Intro to the best adult film ever! Or even: arguing seduction as elemental human activity
[Author’s ante-script: The blocking of the scenes is minimal, letting the dialogue shine through, and preparing the audience for later, more energetic, activity. First camera position: behind her back in the kitchen. The camera follows but sometimes shoots ahead of the lead female, reflecting that it is her decision to admit the lead woodsman, the Anycock, into her home. The interior is tastefully decorated; it is that of a family gracefully weathering the 80s.]
he was washing dishes by hand when a battery of knocking rapped on the front door.Who might be calling at this hour? She wondered. On her way to answer, from sheer habit she checked her appearance in the hall mirror. With both hands she crunched life into her curls, finally satisfied with the fresh-faced woman who stared back. Things were barely slipping, and she thought she looked very fit, for a mother of two. No one would notice she was gracefully sliding into late-early-middle age. Another battery of knocking. When she opened the door, the surprise of her life greeted her. “How’d’you do, miss?” “Pet-Peter O’Toole!” she exclaimed to the acclaimed actor, who stood silently for the moment, 16
appraising. “What are you doing here?” “You borrowed something of mine,” Peter proclaimed. “And I shall be very cross with you until I get it back. I’m prepared to tear this house apart piece by piece until I find it, and if your blouse should happen to get in the way...so be it!” This forwardness threw the housewife completely off guard. He was at once everything and nothing like in the movies: where was that ruffled elegance? In quick fits her eyes spanned his rangy figure, mercurial eyes, and those quick hands. His essence was impossible to pin down, too much man to take in all at once. But, wait, what had he said abo“Now, if you’d invite me in, I’d be delighted to watch you fix me a drink.” “But my husband, and my kids, will be home in a few hours,” she refused weakly. “Well, if we are not done visiting by then, perhaps there is some work in the yard that needs doing.” She looked over his shoulder for the spying eyes of neighbours and dog-walkers and saw only a taxi parked in the driveway. “I really don’t see why I would,” she decided out loud, before shutting the door. She returned to her dishes, scrubbing, rinsing, posing them still bubbly on the rack. The doorbell rang.
“What do you want now?” she begged, after brusquely opening the door and surprising Peter, who stood calmly in a pizza deliveryman’s outfit. “Look to where I must descend for your affections,” Peter said as he held out a large box. “Perhaps I could come in and since you haven’t any change on hand you would wonder how to repay me and I would tell you it was nothing and we would forget that I ever brought this pizza pie.” “What kind of woman do you take me for, Peter?” “The kind who didn’t live enough when she had the chance.” “Pardon? You don’t know me. I’ve always handled myself with dignity. I hate to admit it, but my sorority house led the way during the sexual revolution” “Oh, dear, well I WAS the sexual revolution,” Peter returned, “now, this grows tiresome, though I do appreciate your form. No one has ever resisted this way. It’s very exciting, and suggests that you would be quite memorable.” “Peter, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this. Besides that, my husband will be home sooner than you believe.” It was now or never. She slammed the door. She wandered in a daze to the living room and poured a sherry. She sat forward anxiously on the
sofa, tapping her fingers, looking left and right, taking furtive sips, smoothing wrinkles in her skirt. She wondered if perhaps she should regret her decision. Peter was a man of genuine class, but also a cheeky bastard. Was she awakening to a true, but buried, taste for excess? Finally she could no longer ignore her overbrimming curiosity. She tiptoed to the door and peered through the eye-hole. He was gone! She opened the door, and wandered out in her stocking feet to see if the taxi had taken him away. It was nowhere to be seen. She shuffled back dejectedly to the living room. Peter O’Toole sat on her recently vacated and still mildly warm cushion, drinking from her sherry! He rose and slowly stepped towards her, saying, “kind of you to fix me that drink,” and hearing no response sealed the deal. “I would accept your calling me presumptuous if I hadn’t been correct all along.” “Oh, Peter...” she breathed and leaned into his arms. [Author’s postscript: everything I picture after that embrace is so transfixing my writing cannot begin to match my imagination. I apologize, and pledge further efforts to bring it forth.]
Luck turns Ten in a skirt) thereâ€™s a woman with her legs wide enough to register some pattern on her underwear from which a young boy canâ€™t take his eyes away as his mother brushes some of his curls into his eyes and limply lays her wrist across his forehead her fingers now thicker eyelashes, ivy hanging over the terraces of Babylon; she medicates slowly inside subway windows with the now melting A-line tunnel while her son sees his first pubic hair along a violet edge belonging to a young woman fingering her ipod
East Racla, Yukon territory From ‘Ghosts, and other invisible things’ We were alone by the water, our glassy shadows bundled up in deep moss and stringy trees; our ration: cheese, onions, and dry goods; three cigarettes a day – just small ones stuffed and crumbling, made for seasailors, not us, we fight the river; we went intrepid into the spinning sun that circled our wandering eyes, and polished rugged teeth as they swallowed up the valley. Sometimes we talked about why they don’t have basements in Texas, or what to do about Grizzly bears.
There was no music except for my stiff fingers trembling strings, and a few cracked voices humming muffled words, but each new morning dewdrops shimmered out a fragile web, and we felt together, even without a song to join us.
A Boy and his Moustache
ou look…different. Taller and skinnier.” This was Agatha Podgorski’s lukewarm greeting as I stepped over the landing and into the Podgorski’s living room where my family (Karpinskis) would join two others (Podgorskis, Wasniewskis) for Thanksgiving dinner. Before I explicate this searching salutation, I think it pertinent to describe for the reader my outfit. Starting from the bottom and making our way up, I was wearing excessively pointed Italian shoes, the kind that wouldn’t look out of place on Aladdin or a stylish leprechaun; some slim-fitting black pants; a positively glowing fuchsia dress shirt; and a moustache. I can explain her impression of my being “taller and skinnier:” wearing things that fit does wonders for a person’s physical aspect, though it hasn’t been a tactic I’ve subscribed to in the past. In any case, I definitely don’t think I’m getting any taller, seeing as for the past 3-4 years my drinking habits have resembled those of a 50-year-old Moscovite. As for skinnier; I think the most accurate analogue of Max Karpinski’s thighs has been, for a while now, slightly malleable telephone poles. Agatha’s perplexity, however, was exactly what I was hoping for. This outfit, especially the distinctly disturbing duster, was entirely planned, and intended to push buttons at a dinner table which, over the years and the various Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings, has come to represent right-wing talk and red wine binge-drinking. But before we get to the scintillating dinner details, I would like to take a moment to detail the hallowed origins of my moustache. Famous moustaches include, but are cer20
tainly not limited to: Friedrich Nietzsche, Ming the Merciless, Frank Zappa, walruses and their patron saint Sam Elliott, John Waters, and George Snepsts. While I would like to say that my facial hair is an attempt to take up the legacy of these proud moustached forefathers, the origins of my moustache are much more whimsical. After arriving in Toronto at approximately 10:53 p.m. on Thanksgiving Friday, I lugged my bags of laundry and books to Stefan’s birthday party. There, between gulps from the tequila bottle, and over the infectious chorus of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA,” Pogo turned to me and shook his head. “Max, what the fuck is going on with your beard. Are you trying to join System of a Down?” It must be understood, before we continue any further, that I am cursed with facial hair that refuses to grow anywhere but my goatee region. I have tried everything, from shaving fuzz daily, to rubbing Rogaine on my cheeks and jawline. This disturbing feature of my anatomy, combined with my utter laziness, led to a mass of chin hairs which could have formed a formidable french braid. As expected, everybody laughed, and I knew it was time to seriously reconsider my facial hair game. It was then that the idea of a moustache came into my head. Pogo, who lived with me last year, advocated for the moustache on multiple occasions (most likely because of his sheer inability to grow anything worthwhile on his face). Once, to placate him, I had shaved everything but my upper lip, shown it to him, then promptly eliminated it. Now, however, I began to seriously consider the upkeep of a soup strainer. I thought of Andy, who
has one, and how cool he is (he’s in a band, my favourite band); of Chrys, who has begun to seriously maintain his own lip tickler, and has completely turned his love life around. It was decided: Saturday morning, Max Karpinski would have a moustache. Carving into my chin hairs was no easy task, but after 20 minutes of scissoring and multiple used razor blades, the Gerard Butler à la “300” beard totem had vanished, leaving clean, smooth chin, and a glorious growth beneath my nose. The new look was well received at our potluck dinner that Saturday night (most warmly by Pogo, I am happy to report). The warmth and love that emanated from my friends’ faces at the sight of my moustached visage convinced me: the moustache is here to stay. Sunday was a busy day as well; Thanksgiving Dinner was on the agenda for the evening, and I had already begun to plan as offensive an outfit as possible (as has been detailed above). During the day, however, I had a lunch date with my ex-girlfriend (of two years, no less). Was I tempted to re-
kindle lost love? Perhaps. My heart almost melted when, near the end of our rendezvous, after some typically self-deprecating remark made by yours truly, she said: “I don’t know…it’s growing on me. Well, no, it’s growing on you.” In my mind, wedding bells were clanging; but alas, she had forged a new relationship, and just yesterday, she said. Being the gentleman that I am, my moustache and I happily wished her the best, and bid her adieu. The heavily awaited conclusion to the tale is, unfortunately, anti-climactic. Probably the worst part of my Thanksgiving is not the fact that I blacked out at about 10 p.m. (my mother revealed a week later that I smoked pot in front of my thirteen-year -old sister) but that nobody said anything about the ‘stache. I like to think that I pull it off too well. Either way, the family friends now think of me as a ridiculously hairy, slightly skinnier, maybe taller, bizarrely clothed young man. The challenge now is not to shower for a semester, and arrive at Christmas with dreadlocks and a weed leaf tattooed on my neck. Oh, and a moustache. 21
Eric Andrew Gee
Citizen Filled to the lips with his cremated ashes A clay urn fired by his wife at a neighbourhood Workshop on pottery and painted with vines An ode to dawning culture, Etruscan-style, Held in her shaking hands, for the evening closed in once again Closed in without the forgiving light A sickle of moon or a figure of stars grants the earth. He goes softly now, or is gone, far beyond The tune that a fountain softly plays on a pond Drop by drop and the harrowing storms: He has sailed to Libyan shores in the night Scaling waves in his path as high as city walls. He founded his city and saw it rise like morning mist Till in luxury it rained on the soil like a fountain. Lingering on corners, half-watched by the crowd Half-watching, smelling in smoke from yellow tobacco, Stepping to the side and doffing his hat, he has been Passed over by the lingering questions of the day And has twittered back and forth with a close place In his heart, somewhere between morning-gray And magenta. Looked out for his loves, Designed what his tastes were, the boldness of tripe Plus refinements of proseco and thoughts of Verona, Of Viterbo and Venice, how they were in the spring And that boat rides were lovely with the wind about your ears, Picnics and the scent of summer welling up from the grass, The perfect shot of coffee, bitter and rich, Like the gnawing expectation of sex in mid-day. He pays service to the icons, he splashes a palm-full Of sacramental water over his eyes. Though with the sun nodding off over the hill to the west
And the sweet pre-words of swallows urging him to rest He may in the closeness of his heart just despise The very idea, he opens a paperback copy of Yeats And is incanted to Greece and is reflectively happy. Lying in his bed with ample room for many Nursing dreams of only one, the cruelty of waking Grasping at his bones. Dreams of his grandfather Walking through a field, blood in his soldier’s socks And the sniper’s gaze poised. His own light being swallowed By the darkness of generations to which he didn’t answer— The heroic age of cares, the brutal days of dictators. Morning is another matter, he kisses his wife awake. Sun is gouging through a cloud, the sky bleeds awful light. O it’s hard to begin anew, but again we do, we always Will, we soldier on in our modern fashion; Thus he thinks, his socks around his toes, His silken stylish socks. I will live at least To see these socks rolled on, he laughs. Maisonneuve and the briny stones beneath his feet He blows dense and whirling air from his mouth Trudging to the gilded polls that are The culmination of all the work and all the pleasure He has accrued. It is a right, and rightly so. He goes in his sheepskin through the happy winter’s dark: With this vote, I affirm the grandeur of the one. She will bury the urn of ashes beneath A simple plaque with her name inscribed Next to his name. The dash beside Her year of birth extending to unknown fields. The modesty of the marble slab a ghost of Rome’s republic The grandeur born of humility, the good sense to know That a life is just a life, and is best when best is governed.
Anushka and the White Feather
nushka crunches her way through the icy leaves, following the trail of feathers and blood, violently red against the snow. Everything else is white, Anushka thinks, smoothing a feather absently over her lips. The feather is as soft as the fur on the gentle old cat who’s waiting, curled up and purring, by her fireside at home. That’s where she’ll make a bed for whoever’s injured, Anushka decides. She’ll pile the trundle bed full of down quilts and knitted blankets, and add another onion (they’re good for blood loss) to the goose stew. Puss will jump creakily to the bed, and
she and the person she’ll rescue will eat up their bowls of good goose stew, warmed by the fire. Maybe the person who needs help is a soldier, thinks Anushka, and she ducks her head with a shiver of pleased embarrassment. He’ll be warm and strong under my arm as I help him back to the house, and perhaps when I’ve nursed him back to health he’ll even want to stay. For Anushka lives only with the cat in her cottage by the edge of the woods, her brother having left two summers ago to seek his fortune, and her mother having died not long after that. And
though she is a resourceful girl, and brave, she is still a girl for all that, and the winters are long and lonely here. Anushka advances into the thicket of thorns surrounding the forest. Here, all is thrown into shadow by the tall, snow-covered pines and broadtrunked oaks, but Anushka’s gaze does not falter from the trail of blood over the icy ground. In the very depths of the forest, Anushka finds a young pale-haired woman, crouching naked in a fall of brambles and grey sticks. Her feet and palms are raw and red, and as Anushka bends closer to examine her, she yelps like a struck dog and cringes away into the thorns. The white feathers are bloodstained here, and scattered in heaps around the naked woman, whose lips are stained red as well. All Anushka’s sentimental dreams of soldiers fly out of her head as she stares at the woman, whose eyes are wide and expressionless, though her whimperings are fearful. “Come here,” Anushka says, unclasping her thick fur coat from about her neck. “Come.” The woman slowly picks her way out of the thorns and sidles, four-legged up to Anushka. Her strange, rolling gait, using both hands and feet to walk against the earth, strikes a note of fear in Anushka, who tugs on the woman’s arm with her heavy mittens. “Up!” Anushka says. After carefully standing upright, the woman allows herself to be swathed with Anushka’s fur coat, and Anushka wonders at how warm the woman’s bare shoulders feel, despite the ice-sharp air and her exposure. Then Anushka leads the woman home through the ice, her feet stepping sure over the path she made as she passed through the forest. At home, Anushka finds that the woman is not really hurt at all, except for sores on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands, and so she does not make up a special bed for her by the fire. Instead, they sit together at Anushka’s wooden
bench and each drink three bowls of the hot goose stew. Anushka is wary of the woman she’s taken into her home; the way the woman moves and her silent, unblinking gaze remind Anushka of a wild animal. But the woman seems grateful for the stew and the warmth, and after they finish eating, the woman curls up by the fire next to Puss, and the pair fall asleep together. As Anushka watches the flickering flames, she decides that she’ll show the girl how to act properly, how to walk and dress and talk properly, until the woman can make her own way in the world, and then Anushka slowly slips into sleep as well. The next day Anushka boils a pot of porridge, beats the rugs outside, and draws two buckets of water from the well before the woman wakes. She steps gingerly outside, still wrapped in the fur coat, and watches Anushka as she finishes the last of the chores. “Come inside, silly,” Anushka tells her, “or you’ll catch your death of cold.” There, Anushka heats one of the buckets and uses its water to wipe down the woman’s dirty face and body. Then she dresses the woman in thick woolen stockings, a petticoat, and an old cotton frock of her mother’s. “You look lovely now,” Anushka tells her, running a comb through her tangled hair. “I wish we had a mirror so you could see yourself.” Puss leaps on the woman’s lap and purrs. Days pass and the winter lengthens. Anushka teaches the woman to wash and dress herself, to comb her hair and to help with small things like sweeping and feeding the chickens. She names her Snegya and talks to her in the evenings, by the fireplace. Snegya, though at first silent, begins to respond haltingly to Anushka’s stories, and it’s not long before they’re able to carry on a conversation easily enough. One day, Anushka decides to bring her large pot to the village tinker. continued on page 26 25
continued from page 25 Its bottom is worn from age, and she needs it more often now that she’s cooking for two. “You can stay here, Snegya,” says Anushka. “I’ve left you bread and a hunk of cheese for supper, and there’s ale in the cellar. I’ll be back before night falls.” Snegya bends down and picks up the cat, running her hands through his thick fur. “Yes, Anushka,” she says. It takes Anushka some time to reach the village, though she walks as fast as she can, and when she arrives the tinker tells her it will take him two hours to mend her pot. So she leaves it with him, and goes down the road to visit her mother’s sister. They sit and talk three hours away quicker than a blink, and then Aunt Sofya gives Anushka a bundle of sweet rolls and tells her to go fetch her pot and go home, before it grows too dark to find the way. Anushka kisses her Aunt Sofya goodbye, pays the tinker and collects the pot, and makes her way back home, the sweet rolls warm in her coat pocket. She wonders if Snegya has ever eaten a sweet roll before. They have never talked of Snegya’s life before their meeting in the forest, except when Anushka asked her what to call her. Snegya had shrugged, her dark eyes blank, when Anushka had gestured first to herself, saying loudly and carefully “A-N-U-S-HK-A,” and then pointed questioningly at Snegya. So Anushka, perplexed, had finally smiled and said, “I’ll call you Snegya for the time being.” She’d pointed at herself and said “Anushka” and then at Snegya, saying “Snegya.” And Snegya, her brow furrowed, had slowly repeated, “Snegya” over and over until it came with ease. = Anushka wonders about the family that Snegya must have, somewhere. Perhaps they’re from even further North, she thinks. Anushka tries to imagine a younger, ruddy-cheeked Snegya, play26
ing by some strange Northern hearth while an older, pale-haired woman bakes bread nearby. But the memory of Snegya, crouched naked in the thorns interrupts her, and soon Anushka stops thinking of anything except how fast she’ll have to walk to get home by dusk. It’s dark by the time Anushka reaches home, with the wind blowing so hard her face is freezing despite her fur hood. From the path, she looks at her little cottage, its windows reflecting the flicker of firelight. Behind it stands the beginning of the forest, the larch and fir trees tall and dark against the grey sky. Above the trees hangs the moon, ripe and silver. Anushka pats her sweet rolls absently, her face tilted to the sky. The wind whips past her and rushes into the woods, owls crying out in unison as the glimmer of the moon deepens. She does not think then of Snegya and Puss, waiting for her inside the house, but only of the cold chill of wind and the moonlight silver on the icy trail to the forest. Suddenly a great white bird sweeps over Anushka’s head, its shadow long in the light of the moon. She watches it pass silently into the silvered treetops ahead. Around her, the wind rises. Slowly, Anushka pulls off her shoes and stockings, her cap and scarf, her dress and fur coat, letting everything fall in a heap at the gate. Then she runs naked over the ice and into the forest beyond. In the morning, Snegya goes to draw water from the well. She spies Anushka’s clothing and pot, gathers it all up and brings everything back to the house. After hanging up the dress and coat, Snegya puts a handful of oats in the newly repaired pot and sets it on the fire to make porridge. As she works, she howls a mournful howl.
El Capitan Physically on the couch mentally a year ahead in the dead woods of yesteryear looking back on now Warren passes out un-stoned in a Yosemite of waterbongs The train trails around itself and back to the station holding shipments of Ha-Haâ€™s and pictures of my companions rocking that pop shit I am asked and answer in a form I knowâ€”commonspeak There is a battle underway in the gravel under the road that leads to actual un-bonged Yosemite and sliding back and forth between my hands is a kind of greeting card This is the way under The way I listen to my favorite record in a swatch of pumpkin lamplight I could make a sketch of this but everyone already does that and I prefer losing the dye I cast in the dazzleglass
aul thought it had fallen from the sky. Georgia scoffed, her hands swirling sarcastically as if to say, what planes ever fly over these fields? Ben said we should get the grown-ups, but picked up a stick first. I had no opinion. The eyes looked like the robin’s from last August, sort of slimy, not at all dull like we’d heard they’d be. “C’mon,” Ben whined. “Let’s go. Let’s leave it.” Still holding the stick, jamming it into the wet soil. Saul took a step closer. I heard Georgia’s breath snag, then something on the exhale, like a cat. “Don’t you dare, Saul.” (exasperated, fresh from our last dictation, flashed behind my eyes.) Saul took another step. “Saul, just you wait till we get home.” Georgia turned to me, my muddy shins and pocketed hands. Smug. A blonde wisp clung to the corner of her almost-smile. “He always has to stick his big nose in other people’s business,” she said, pursing her lips. She kept brushing hair from her forehead. I noticed a missing shoe, then. The sock clean, shocking white against the mulched ground. Ben was over to its left, poking around in the tall weeds. “Found something,” he called. Saul ran over. The boys bent over in the grass, and Georgia and I were alone. Usually when this happened I’d be pedaling hard in my head, trying to figure out something smart to say, something impressive. Right now I kind of just wished Georgia was gone. Not fidgeting with her hair, not snapping her 28
head every time one of the boys yelped or giggled. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it, off its bare sock. I wanted to touch it, or what was underneath. “Hey look!” Saul and Ben were beside us again, Saul with a wet, swollen paperback and Ben still carrying his stick. “The H-hand—handsomest d–” Saul began in a dramatic voice, the pages drooping over his fingers. “Give me that!” Georgia cut in. She tried to snatch the book, but Saul clung on tight. He took a fistful of her hair with his free hand, and she scratched him. The wet book thumped softly to the ground. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” I said, and they quieted. They knew I was the best reader in our class. The book lay heavy and warm in my hands, almost breathing. This was a good weight, like blankets, one you wouldn’t want to be rid of but could. Most of the words I knew or could sound out. Everyone was still. The story didn’t really make sense to us, but after, Georgia grabbed Saul’s hand and took him running toward the dirt road. Ben jabbed at the ground some more with his stick, then he shrugged at me and left, too. I waited a little, not wanting to roll out of that book’s safe snugness but already starting to shiver. Not wanting to have to ask where it had come from. Not wanting to know about that sock or its whiteness, but knowing about it, anyway.
Steps: Fall 2009