steps magazine fall 2011
STEPS Magazine Fall 2011 Editors-in-Chief Ryan Healey Sally Lin Fiction Editors Ian Becker Gavin Thomson Poetry Editors Eric Andrew-Gee Tim Beeler General Editors Emma Benayoun Zoe Robertson Cover Photo Sally Lin Contributors Sophia Jaworski, Joseph Henry, Julie Mannell, Ian Murphy, Eric Kilpatrick, Noah Tavlin, Klara du Plessis, Dawn Cheung, Gavin Thomson, Kirya Marchand, Spencer Mackoff, Francesca Bianco, Roxana Parsa, Dominique Bernier-Cormier. STEPS is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University.
CONTENTS Off Exit 37
How to Love Vermont More than California
Her Anxiety to Marry Had Sealed Her Fate
A Burial Fit for a Prime Minister
I & III
In the Rideau’s Water
And Maybe Some Sauerkraut
Klara du Plessis
A Review of “Here Homeless”
The cutting trade
Death of a Bookseller by Accident
Dominique Bernier-Cormier 1
Off Exit 37 comfort in chaos they begged for the bones of the bonus substance of promise just past that sign off exit 37 is where they hid on a fluffy slope counting snails throwing berries at the rusty train bailing out on the cowboys plans nailing crosses to the tail of the prowling tragedy youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll have ten more stares from me tomorrow when the sun lasts longer and there is more light for me to look at you the shadows run to the white bush here they met 2
drawn to cheap perfume swearing they’ll save it dried flowers crumble down their backs the cities chasing them where phases of the moon get locked in concrete lines and stars are smudged by pickled amber bulb haze through the jar the world’s in he promised her he’d do chin exercises when he was old and she promised after ninety five she’d glue his photo to her arm with an easy to read sign just off an exit where they left it 3
How to Love Vermont More than California
so good but so sad Yes for coffee does anyone else find this really hard to believe????? Yes for coffee Yes for coffee You’re welcome to be part of the energy. .If anyone was wondering, this is why I think women’s rights were a mistake. Summer weather, GO AWAY! bleak night alone There’s opportunity in Calgary to start a business bleak night alone hopefully I’ll be able to watch some laker games, fingers very crossed. Guys’ Getaways & Bachelor Parties get great deals when you create them You’re welcome to be part of the energy. bleak night alone !!!!! but it would be worth buying to save the effort. come to cagibi?! bleak night alone/ LOVING my new NeilMed full stream nasal irrigator! Saying goodbye SUCKS ugh If you’re going to be at UCLA tomorrow, stop by the Farmer’s Market in the De Neve plaza! so good but so sad so good but so sad
Great Tips and ideas for you and your Dog You’re welcome to be part of the energy. The SoWa Open Market ® offers a shopping experience like no other in Boston not understand anything I am saying, and hang up on me out of frustration haha not understand anything I am saying, and hang up on me out of frustration haha not understand anything I am saying, and hang up on me out of frustration haha I need an email please! Just to keep track. not understand anything I am saying, and hang up on me out of frustration haha not understand anything I am saying, and hang up on me out of frustration haha ? you’re eligible to take my survey and enter for a chance to tell me you took my survey bleak night alone is there no end to your passive aggression? YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYYY!!! does anyone else find this really hard to believe????? GLEE GIVES $1 MILLION! Your vote can help deserving schools win up to 50K. You’re welcome to be part of the energy.
Her Anxiety To Marry Had Sealed Her Fate: (certainly she seems to have attracted a number of wealthy young men) I’ve been to Laodicea; the women there sometimes carry other people’s children. No speaking. They’re words bound in twine and anthropodermic paper—more expensive—now he is something that you can kiss. William Corder. 1828. Maria Marten, daughter of the mole catcher, in her husband’s underwear, heads out for a great adventure! Maria Marten anatomizes her lovers—no she does not, she has other people do it for her, “Open Book Wedding”. Red barns rise and repaint themselves red, and a million other things. All for Maria. All for Maria.
A Burial Fit For a Prime Minister: With Sympathies To The Late Pierre Trudeau
he News Article read: “With regard to the child borne by Maria, of whom Corder was the father, there is connected another circumstance of mystery. The infant gradually sickened and died a short time after the murder of its ill-fated mother, and it is proper to state that those who witnessed its daily decline, consider that its death arose from natural causes. The clandestine manner in which the infant corpse was conveyed away from Marten’s cottage has given rise to numerous conjectures, and as many will have it, well-founded suspicions, that foul play had been used toward the babe.” Some said the infant was psychic. He was born out of Maria’s side and walked four steps an hour later, then delivered a sermon. The villagers said he could heal with his tears. They said that he held the future in the palm of his hand. They said he could see through walls and change the weather with his eyes and recite every single prime number in perfect order. That’s what they said. Laodicea is a small village that sits atop a small mountain north of the City of Montreal. It is 6
the kind of two dollar town that revolves around a Giant Tiger. Most of the men work in a Steel Factory. Many of the women function as cashiers, but some stayed home to watch over their multiple offspring, wipe down ovens, polish banisters, and wash every window nearly every day except Sundays, that is the Lord’s Day. There are strange laws in Montreal. You cannot turn right on a red light. You cannot have websites that are not in French. You cannot ask bus drivers for directions unless it is in the official language. This is why it came as no surprise when, in the aftermath of Maria’s murder, and the unfortunate passing of her son shortly thereafter, they executed her lover William Corder. They sent his body to a laboratory and dissected it like a dried up butterfly. After this they lay the remains in the town hall where everyone gathered to stare at his innards, marvel at his humanity, take multiple cell phone pictures. The trial records were bound in a book made entirely of his skin. Perhaps this is strange to you, it is even strange to me, yet it was entirely in line with the old
Laodicean tradition, and thus, not strange to them. At three in the morn, my brother Lewy and I went to stare at William for a good spook. We got a good spook alright. Everyone had gathered around the body, everyone was crying, the optometrists, the electricians and the technical support workers. They cried because he had murdered their savior, I didn’t know if he was really a savior, he was definitely a smart baby who was good at math, sometimes I thought he might be autistic, the villagers believed in discipline, not autism. That night, in Laodicea, they covered the remains of William Corder with official papers, with the birth certificates of those who had died, with outdated passports, and with the stubs of old work cheques. They set fire to his body. Then the sun rose. The sun rose at 3 am, sending all of the villagers into a deep and dark terror. They could see the trees around them, the green of the grass, the blue of the sky. They had angered the child, they thought, babies bawled into their mother’s bosom, the technical support workers smashed computers, the
same for the optometrist and his glasses, the same for the electrician and his lightbulbs. The sun did not stay up, it went down after two seconds, as if God had taken a dimmer switch and flicked it up accidentally, and in turn flicked it down so that he could go to sleep. Yet this had been so jarring to the townspeople. They took William Corder’s body and wrapped it in gold curtains from the Giant Tiger, they put the anthropodermic bound book in a St Hubert’s take out container, they each held in their hands a fleur-de-lis and pilgrimaged, late into the night, setting the body down in the St. Lawrence river (by Verdun metro). The next morning the newspaper read: “Roller Coaster collision at La Ronde, deadly explosion in Montreal theme park lights up night sky and kills fifty Longueuil residents.” There had been no miracle, except for William Corder, who had finagled a burial fit for a prime minister. At the bottom of the river is where his body swims, mad eyes and buck toothed smile laughing still. 7
The Monument By the dry-dock it stood and proudly stooping cut the light of early morning. The sheets of Cold War metal welded to its bones chattered against a breeze. children gazed and wondered what it was but passed it on. It loomed like a forgotten god or a creature pulled from the sea. By design or perhaps not its workings were revealed â&#x20AC;&#x201C; grim systems of metal set against and scored by Montreal winters. Everlasting still like a ruined Jericho it stooped over the dry-dock and whispered in tongues.
In the Rideauâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Water When I see all this water at night beneath me and above, I think of jack pine seeds that open with the heat. Everything is ridiculous when imagined but I imagine a rising flood on land and an inferno beneath. When I say I believe in jack pine seeds donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look within me for the fire but look into the Rideau Canal at night and see the lights that taper in the deep. There is a rising flood on land of smoke like titans being born or released but when you see the wood crackle donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look within the fire for gods search under water lilies for the trees.
And Maybe Some Sauerkraut
y first memory is one of loss. I remember my parents taking me to the local watering hole (in this case a burger joint), and being presented with a balloon on a string. However, it was not long into my walk home that I heard the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck, and in a fit of excitement, I released my death grip on the piece of string and let my balloon float away. My perfect piece of rubber – up into the stratosphere in seconds. I was crushed, and began to weep. I begged for another balloon. That balloon had been a part of me. And it needed to be replaced. My parents agreed to take me back to the restaurant (begrudgingly I’m sure, since we already walked several miles from it), but on the condition that I be the one to ask for a new balloon. Me? Ask? I was blubbering like a walrus, and forming the word “balloon” had already been a snotty ordeal that I did not want to endure again, much less in front of a professional balloon inflator. I did not know this at the time, but it turns out that when a child is crying and not holding a balloon, he is always granted a balloon. Without exception. It is one of the most consistent laws we have. However, I was not a child, but an awkward and overly-emotional 16 year old who suffered from both 12
short- and long-term memory lapses. Needless to say, I was not granted a balloon. It was a tremendous emotional ordeal, but as I threw my temper-tantrum, I couldn’t help but notice that I remembered why I was crying; my memory lapses had been cured! It was at that moment that my life truly began. I could remember my name. I had an identity. I had to become someone. But who? I decided to do some research into my mysterious past to find my true calling. What I found did not inspire me. I had lived a life riddled with diapers, tantrums, and battery assault. My terrible memory prevented me from ever learning a lesson from my experiences. I realized that I had no past to base my future life on. This was very exciting for me (sexually). I had a wide open field to plow. Sure, there were some rocks scattered throughout, and sure, there were spiders under them and ultimately it was an awful lot of work to do, considering a heat wave or a plague could kill my entire pumpkin patch. My arousal was quickly replaced by deep, spiraling depression. I would sit at home for days without sleeping, followed by days of catching up on sleep. My schedule prevented me from finding work. Before I knew it, I was 40 years old, and in more debt than
you can type into a calculator and spell “80085” with. Finally, a job fell into my lap – literally! I was sitting at home, doing my thing (tall glass of milk and Kung-Fu Panda 2 on BluRay), when someone threw a rock through my window, into my lap. Taped to this geological oddity was a note, and tied to this note was a Frankfurter Würstchen. Yes, that’s right, a hotdog. The note read, “You need a job and we need a man of your qualifications. Meet us in the parking garage on Jane Street at Midnight.” I felt like a secret agent. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before (as far as I could remember). So I ate the Wurst and stole off into the night, cloak and tuxedo in hand. I stood there for at least two hours. Then a light turned on behind me, and I heard a voice. “Sweetie, what are you doing here so late?” It was the voice of my mother. It was also the face of my mother. It was indeed my mother. “Mother!” I exclaimed. “If you wanted to give me a job, you didn’t have to throw a hotdog tied to a rock through my window! I live in your home. A simple call through the tin-can phone would have done just as well.”
“Honey, what are you talking about? What are you doing standing in the driveway in your father’s tuxedo?” It was then that I remembered – not only did I not live on Jane Street (rather, 65th street), but a driveway is not the same thing as a parking garage! Also, it’s not normal for two men to share joint custody of a tuxedo. Without saying another word to my mother, I swooshed my cloak, straightened my bow tie, squirted the water out of my fake boutonnière, refilled it with mace, and ran as fast as I could to the garage on Jane Street. I was met by two men in trench. “Why did you dig a trench in this parking garage?” I asked. “To keep this as secretive as possible,” said the first man in trench. “The top of our hats camouflage against the pavement. You didn’t tell anyone about this meeting, did you?” “Only my mommy,” I replied. “Whatever,” said the other man. “We thought you wouldn’t show.” “It doesn’t matter what it was you didn’t think I would show you,” I said. “You probably think a lot of things about me. Let’s cut to the chase – why am 13
I here?” “We’re from the hotdog union. We need a new hotdog water inspector. Plain and simple. Are you up for the job?” “Obviously. But can I ask one question?” “You just asked one question.” “OK fine. Can I ask two questions?” “No. You only get one question.” “You can dock one hundred percent of my first month’s pay as union dues.” “You drive a tough bargain. Deal. What’s your question?” “Why me? Why not any other qualified person in the city?” “Have you ever worked with hotdog water? No one wants this job. You need to smell, taste, and swim in the stuff. We need someone who’s unemployed, desperate, and incapable of remembering a disgusting day of work after it’s finished.” “Well I’ve got to be honest doc, that memory stuff is a thing of the past. I’ve had my memory since… well… hm…” Uh oh! My middle aged brain was playing tricks on me. “I don’t know what gave you the impression that I’m a doctor,” said the second trenchman, “but I’ll see you first thing Monday morning.” The two men walked away. I had overestimated their heights due to the trench. They were both roughly 3-and-a-half feet tall. “Wait!” I shouted. “Where do I work?” “Oh. Right. Almost forgot. There’s another garage on Forest Drive. The office is in the trench we dug there.” 14
“Hotdogs are made in trenches?” I asked. “A lot of things are made in trenches, kid. This is just the tip of the umbrella of the hotdog cart.” I shuddered at the possibilities. But I was a hotdog man now. No time for shuddering. Hotdog water was my priority, and God was my authority. The hotdog business is a lot like a hotdog. Its origins are mysterious and the bread makes it bearable. By bread of course, I mean money, of which I was making very little. But that’s beside the point. I was not in this business for the money. I was in it for the pride. For the love of the game. To prove everyone wrong from the old neighborhood. However, what I realized on my first day was that I wasn’t really in the hotdog business at all. Nor was I in the NBA (I had indeed confused hotdogs
with the national pastime of Lithuania – again!) I was working for the union. The union is nothing like a hotdog. It’s massive, corrupt, and its origins are well-known, because they’re part of public record. My job was to inspect the hotdog water every day for any potential threat to the well-being of the unionized workers. I did this by drinking it, bathing in it, dropping it into my eyeballs, pouring it into open wounds – anything that would be grounds for a lawsuit against the hotdog corporations, alleging that they were endangering their unionized workers. I began to investigate how high this conspiracy against the big hotdog corporations went. I began sorting through union documents. They were intentionally disorganized to prevent a super sleuth such as myself from finding the truth. Every document was rolled up into a hot dog bun. Every secret was ready to be digested. All I needed was ketchup. And maybe some sauerkraut. And that sauerkraut was under my nose the entire time – literally! After months of slaving away in the hotdog water laboratories, one morning, when I was getting ready for what always seemed like my first day on the job, I noticed something on my upper lip. It was a few strands of putrid sauerkraut. The smell triggered my memory. I suddenly remembered it being there the entire time I had been working for the union. I thought I had grown a white, soggy mustache, when in reality, some must have slipped through the sauerkraut filter into the hotdog water tank and gotten stuck to my face while I was going for my morning swim. With a graceful swoop of my hand, I peeled
the stylish condiment off my precious visage and gasped when… I still smelled it! The sauerkraut had been under my nose for so long that it had permanently changed my sense of smell. I could not remember what not-sauerkraut smelled like. I was forever doomed to wander the earth, smelling that vile witch’s brew. How ironic that while hiring me to find a way to sue the hotdog corporations, I, in fact, found a way to sue the union. And not just sue them, but sue their pants off. It was the union’s fault my schnoz was on the fritz. I won the case without a lawyer, by quoting Faust: “A man who cannot smell, is bound to rot in hell.” Now I’m not one to brag, so I won’t get into the details regarding how much money I made in the lawsuit, but let’s just say I’m fucking loaded. You must be asking yourself, “Why write a book, then? You don’t need the money.” That is absolutely true, and believe me, I wouldn’t write one if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. But as I wither away into senility my memory will become comparable to that of a crayon. I have no children. My story must be told. My memory must live on. Forever. So although my tale began as one of loss, it ends as one of blissful ignorance and fiscal gain, followed by fiscal irresponsibility. Living the rest of my life in fear of the shadowy figures who run the union is a small price to pay compared to the price I paid for several well-equipped, well-trained, very large body guards. You see, I never wanted to find an adventure. This adventure, as all adventures do, found me. And who am I to turn down the opportunity to live? 15
Klara du Plessis
Character Studies – When a droplet of blood signed his name through his shirt, he realized the paper had cut him deeply. He realized just how small the human heart is. There was no space for all the authors he would have liked to love. For like some Sartrean Autodidact he had aspired to throw himself at the alphabet of books, but to find himself repulsed at the gaping sores he found when opening too many legs.
Or like some old film noir said (already quoting a misremembered poet): “The heart has a single mouth.” – I associate those pink and ivory cheeks with fin de siècle girls, not quite spoiled, but no longer the subject of rose-rimmed porcelain plates either. The Victoriana of the female body. Like those lips with the double meaning: they’re fine as a lace collar; the sweet smell of pouring tea. The air of future intimacy. Chastity is a lock.
If I were a maiden, I’d protect my hair from the rain, my skin with a veil. I bruise like a peach. 16
A Review of “Here Homeless”
ere Homeless” is not, as its title suggests, about homeless people. Nor is it, as its trailer suggests, shot in black and white. The film is actually a psychedelic coming-of-age story. Producer and director Stephen Hesse renders a young man’s search for home into a colourful dream in which giant snails roam deserts and staircases are upside-down. The sky continually swells and changes texture. The sun is blue, the ocean iridescent. A la Kubrick, “Here Homeless” is a quiet piece of visual mastery which slips inside the unconscious and lays its most fertile eggs there. From the start the film is uncanny. In the first scene we watch a snail inch across a burning desert, and the proportions are off. The horizon is dotted with impressionistic blue houses. Yet a stone house in the foreground is identical in size. Is it a mirage, or an optic error? No, the snail is actually giant, and the stone house tiny. The micro is macro, and vice versa. From a cloud of desert sand the young protagonist appears riding the back of the snail. He casually whips the tiny stone house into dust, turns toward the horizon, and coughs. If it were not for his aristocratic features, he’d look like a cowboy in search of an evangelical god. The unnamed protagonist (Alexander Jones) looks remarkably
like Beethoven with a whip. His wavy brown hair and dilated eyes show an artistic frustration not only with this world, but all worlds, and all possible worlds, too. Hesse is fond of such characters. In “The Wolf Who Ate Water,” he implemented Schubert into mirrors and dreams. In “Why Not Why,” to the dismay of many critics (including this one), he irreverently crammed a sleeping Van Gogh into the final scene. “Here Homeless” takes a further step by forfeiting adherence to physical law. Upon dismounting the snail, Beethoven boards an upsidedown train and drinks Coke from a plastic cup. This young protagonist is on some kind of quest. His intentions are vague, and Hesse provides little context. But to be sure, they have something to do with finding a home. Hesse has said that he strives for existential objectivity in his films, and to his credit, reticent Beethoven does a fine job of representing the Everyman’s search for a home as a leprechaunic search for a rainbow’s end. Beethoven is far more concerned with the question, “Where is home?” than, “Who am I?” And indeed, “here” is not where he wants to be. Hesse remains true to traditional film techniques: Beethoven most often moves from the left to the right side of the screen. But this movement is misleading. He never makes
it to the blue houses on the horizon. He never really makes it anywhere. On the train, Beethoven meets a tall, bespectacled man who looks exactly like him, just older. Old Beethoven (Alexander Jones again, but with lots of makeup) offers Young Beethoven a stick of gum, and the latter speaks for the first time in the film: “Oh, thanks.” The old man, whose dilated eyes suggest both a refined sensitivity (a Wordsworthian sensibility) and Weltschmerz (why haven’t directors used this eye-trick before?) tells Young Beethoven that he recognizes a woman on the train but doesn’t know why. He then offers Young Beethoven another stick of gum. Young Beethoven asks Old Beethoven where he is going, but the two are interrupted by a loud, whale-like moan. The train is metamorphosing into a whale! Old Beethoven orders a beer. The two speak desultorily about the line ups at IKEA while the whaletrain dives into the sea, and schools of yellow fish latch themselves onto the windows for the ride. The abrupt change in the background is one of many in the film. Unlike “Children of Men,” which stuffs its essence into crowds and landscapes, “Here Homeless” treats the background like mere visual candy. Old Beethoven eventually realizes that the
woman he recognizes was once, for a short time, his lover; and Young Beethoven pursues her. “Coke?” he asks. “Sure,” she says. (That is how the dialogue goes.) Then, in an echo of The Myth of Aristophanes, Young Beethoven and his lover try on roller-skates and attempt to merge into one complete being. “Every limit presupposes something beyond it,” wrote Nabokov. Old and Young Beethoven are pulled blindly by the magnetic mirage of a home just past the horizon. So blindly that they fail to notice the irony: the horizon (like cleverness) only pulls them away from themselves. Old and Young Beethoven become increasingly perturbed by each other. But the last scene provides no closure, only the sense that the film has exhausted its potential. Spoiler alert! Hesse mocks the very idea of a cliff-hanger by literally ending the film on a cliff. Unfortunately, though, despite Hesse’s visual mastery of his content, the film is ultimately one-sided. Hesse’s error is that he never films in darkness. He blatantly ignores the fact that in the darkness of, say, a movie theatre, the human is entombed within the warmth and safety of a womb. And what could be more of a home than that?
The cutting trade I. she uses cleavers to cut herself down leaves splinters leaves little things unsaid on the ground where do the woods go now? trees clear cut across North Quebec.
the editor goes from there to rest his tools, and the breeze cheats whisperless across the rock.
II. it has a catalogue of cuts: the breast cut; the neck; the fingers; the liver and the leg but the wet band says nothing: it is quiet on the killing ground
the red penned editor is there: the lambs will risk no bleating.
III. he cuts the hair from the women for violin strings. to whom does his music belong? the balding, breastless Amazon!
he takes her to the editor, and they play her fiddle armed.
Firecatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Trilogy I. Giorgiou So spoke the Teaser, calling me Ruby and telling me come. The sound was pickled. Out of place. It had been spoken four decades before Ruby was born. Those faded grooves: in there was You on the listening machine. You, spinning. Your obstetric sound in the press. I was my acquiescent self: the mockingbird and a murmuring Yes. Like this we went Westward together. Me in the circuitous compony you laid, the used and what? Faded grooves, calling me by my new name. You went from the horio, and I, later, from my shtetl. Farther from thy father ye came to settle in the name of Wallace, before you. I like Wallace too.
lright guys, you do you. Peace,” said GZA as he shook my hand. He left with one arm draped over the most depressingly club looking Swede I had ever seen. My friend Dante and I now stood alone in the VIP backstage lounge of Münchenbryggeriet. Looking out through a wall of windows, we had a perfect view of nocturnal Stockholm and the dark water of Riddarfjärden bay. I turned around to see most of Wu-Tang, sans RZA, Raekwon and the recently departed GZA, lounging amidst fridges of cold beer and wine, champagne on ice, carts on carts of food, and groups of girls that seemed to pack every inch of the room. Method Man was passed out with seven towels over his head. Ghost was putting back a large bottle of Hennessey with a girl in each arm. Cappa was smoking a long, fat blunt all to himself. U-God, Masta Killa, and Inspectah Deck were all somewhere within this teeming mass of MCs, bottles, girls, smoke, and cameras. Sweden is a mysterious place. Beyond their rhythmically idiosyncratic language, beautiful women and extreme seasons, there’s a certain, mystifying absence of common knowledge surrounding the country. I had a hard time creating a mental picture of Sweden more developed than a collage of dark cinematic images, functional furniture and obnoxious electro music. I knew nothing when I indulged in feverish hourly Google searches that led to my studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden. I arrived in Uppsala in January, and I can’t begin to describe how fucking dark and cold it was – when you are roughly 6 degrees outside of the Arctic Circle it produces a kind of neo-nocturnal/pseudo-arctic
setting that makes Montreal’s winter seem like the Palm Springs. Both the humid cold and everlasting darkness depressed me heavily. I had just broken up with my girlfriend in Vancouver and was having a hard time getting over her. The 20 dollar/9 minute phone calls I inevitably found myself making only made things worse. The school was tedious and the social scene not what I had hoped for. I kept telling myself that everything could only get better. One of my few individual pleasures was smoking the absurdly scarce, expensive and shitty weed that I had somehow acquired, while listening to my expansive Wu-Tang library alone in my room. Then, not even a month into my exchange, when I was taking the bus into “town” with some “friends” to get some fresh air because I had entirely missed that day’s daylight due to a crippling nation-induced hangover and an inability to leave my room– I stepped off the bus onto a layer of sheet-ice and broke my ankle. I couldn’t easily make food and it was almost impossible to navigate through the pervasive snow and ice to get to class. It would take me six weeks to recover. I had to fly back to Vancouver. All pitiful prospects of girls and style were foiled. Why had I come here? I was first introduced to Beowulf in a first year literature class. English students probably know this, but, it’s an epic Old English poem set in Scandinavia sometime between the 8th and 11th century. It has all earthly Anglo-Saxon pleasures: monsters, warriors, dragons, battles, copious amounts of beer, swords, Vikings, raids, treasure and more. It’s a masterpiece of machismo and heroics. It was passed down orally between nomadic clans, and over time it accreted more fantastical elements. There’s the hideous monster Grendel, of ENGL 202 renown, descendent
from Cain, who fights the Swedish-Geat Beowulf in a pagan-on-Christian allegorical bloodbath. Once written down in a final, fixed form, it became difficult to distinguish between these actual historical events and fictional embellishments. The real is clouded by the fictive, where men of actual sinew and consciousness brush against dragons and trolls. This is what I loved, and what made me come to Sweden. I too can speak of things fantastic but real, a story I’ve only told to select family and friends. It’s now committed to paper— as I type— fixed and fact-checkable, and the blurry vocal pitch of fantasy is lost in order to be scrutinized for logic and ethos. In the retelling of the fantastic, there is a fulcrum on belief/disbelief, and it’s less attentive to immediate narrative delight and instead rapt in the did this actually happen. Even once given all evidence, visual and verbal, it’s still not certain that you’ll believe all this in an age of Frey and Photoshop, and that’s troubling. It’s June 4th and I sat in Kungsträdgården – a beautiful urban park in downtown Stockholm with my friend Dante, who had come to visit me in Uppsala from Amsterdam, where he’d been studying
on exchange. I knew that Dante had genuinely wanted to see what Sweden was like, and I think he was relieved and a bit surprised when he found out that I had actually been able to leave Vancouver after six recuperative weeks and return to the place that I had described over Skype as “an artic hellhole” only 4 months before. We were waiting for the one and only true Swedish friend that I had made. About 6-foot-4, with long goofy hair, dressed entirely in denim, Ludde waved us over to begin the day’s tour. There was high art at Moderna Museet and shopping in Drottninggatan. There were the narrow streets, sparkling summer water and the colorful, skinny houses of old Stockholm. Under one of the many stone bridges in Gamla stan, we stopped to watch two guys doing parkour. While examining a guy monkeying-up a tall pole, Dante saw a poster and said, “Yo, Wu is playing here eh?” Ludde let out a typical Swedish “Yahhaaw” (the Swedish equivalent to “Oh Wow”) and in his thick accent asked, “The Wooo-Tang Clahan?” Ludde translated the poster for us: Wu was playing here that very night, in a club in the chic district of Stockholm, Södermalm, Lykke Li’s 23
neighborhood, a kind of Stockholm equivalent to SoHo. Perfect. Dante and I are huge Wu-Tang fans. It’s worth noting that the two of us are skinny white university students from Vancouver, who do such things as follow stocks, read philosophy, play tennis and croquet at country clubs, and of course, listen to rap. One could say we’re part of their diverse cult following. I had seen six of their solo concerts along with a collective ensemble in New York that past summer. The prospect of adding a European edition was truly enticing. But wait, the tickets were selling for 600SEK, which converts to roughly 95 Canadian dollars– something I couldn’t spend on one concert, given that the next month of my life was already budgeted for traveling. A bit dejected, we proceeded to Ludde’s gorgeous house to meet his wonderful parents, eat a great home cooked dinner, relax at the lake across the street and drink enough Pribst (cheap Swedish beer) to forget about Wu-Tang and enjoy the rest of our night. All was well. After many beers and many “Mintu” shots, Ludde and a gang of archetypal Swedish guys – dressed in red chinos and white oxfords with their hair perfectly swept to the side – trained into town where we would hopefully find somewhere shitty and cheap enough to accommodate six unruly dudes late on a Saturday night. Not knowing where we really were, we left the train and started to walk towards the centre of town. Ludde said the Clan was actually playing very close by, just a block or two away. We walked a couple blocks towards the water, just to see if it was cheaper at the door. The building looked more like a fortress than a club. The tickets were more now: 700SEK. We began walking away with our sights now set on long lines, expensive covers and a 10-dollar beer or two elsewhere. 24
But then I realized that Dante wasn’t with us anymore. As I looked back he called me over to “at least try to sneak in.” It didn’t look possible to break into this compound-of-a-club, but then there was the thumping bass of an 8 Diagrams track and its grimy, sonic allure…I had to try. I told Ludde that I would text him later and that we’d meet up somewhere downtown, not that I knew where I was. Circling the building, we sized up all of its dimensions for a way in. Two girls seemed to be mirroring our curious movements. They told us that their friend had just climbed up one of the support beams that led up to the balcony and snuck into the concert. We checked out the beam, which from the bottom, and drunk, looked like the heavily armored neck of a dragon, ascending into the sky to meet an unseen, fire-breathing head. By channeling both the parkour I had seen earlier and the last 2 tequila shots taken just before leaving, I pulled myself up the 2-story pole. The sounds of the Wu seemed to energize me. I moved hand over hand, until I pulled myself to the top. I swung myself over the banister and glanced down nervously at the girls and Dante, and quickly immersed myself in the horde of smoking Swedes on the balcony. Soon Dante was up, and we were in. We were elated and bought four 10-dollar beers. We did just get into a 100-dollar Wu-Tang concert in Sweden gratis. GZA was spitting rhyme after rhyme with precision, while Meth sliced his towels through the air like a ninja blade, throwing his body into the crowd. In the moshing, one of my beers collided with one of my front teeth and chipped off a good little chunk. This was my Grendel, and I was hurt but proud. I continued on…dancing. After roughly an hour and a half, they closed with “Protect Ya
Neck” and in true Champagnegaloppen style, Ghost cracked open bottles of champagne and sprayed the roaring crowd like we were all celebrating a victory. The lights came on. Dante and I were still on a bit of high, so we decided to search for a way into the backstage. A line of security guards patrolled the necessary pathway, a multi-headed beast guarding its wealth, and as a result, there was no opening. I have little recollection of the following. Dante tells me that I went outside to bum a cigarette off some guy, and then quickly ducked under the security tape and walked towards GZA. “Yo GZA, you killed it”, I said. “True God, what’s your name?” he replied. I introduced myself and told him Liquid Swords was my favorite album of all time. Clearly impressed by both my knowledge of the Wu and fluency in the English language, he talked music with me for a few more minutes. He invited me backstage and turned to head inside. I piped up, “Yo GZA, think you could get my homeboy wearing the supreme hat behind the rope?” “That’s your homeboy?” questioned the GZA. I nodded. GZA walked over to the shouting crowd behind the tape, exchanged a few words with Dante, shook his hand and pulled the tape up, while waving off the security like a King to his attendants. We followed GZA into the backstage area. GZA went on without us. Now in the King’s great mead-hall, we were overwhelmed and not exactly sure what to do. We stood there without talking. Dante and I went to the men’s room to calm down and maybe take a piss. With newfound strength and a false sense of purpose, we walked over to a corner of the VIP lounge where we’d be removed from the attention swarming the Clan like killer bees. We took some
glasses of champagne and approached two girls. I introduced myself as a filmmaker, while Dante had the title of “#1 businessman in Canada”, whatever that was supposed to mean. After thirty minutes or so we gathered up some liquid courage and approached the Clan. Meth was passed out on a couch next to us and I really wanted one of his towels. So, just before sitting down between Cappa and Ghost, I grabbed one of those plain white pieces covering Meth and draped it around my neck. It was wet, warm and gross, but an incredible find—my dragon, my gold. In a That 70’s Show–style-circle sat Ghostface, Cappadonna, Dante and I. We talked about rap and New York while Ghost would intermittently pound back large helpings of the bottle he had been drinking and passing around. We sat there for at least an hour, just dazed by the physical proximity of two men we had listened to only distantly. I wish I could remember more of what we talked about, but I was really drunk, partly thanks to Ghost’s bottle. Around 3 am, I got a phone call from Ludde, whom I had been texting the whole time. “Spencer, can I come chill with The Wooo-Tang Clahan? I think I am going to go back now if not.” It was time to go, because I was wasted and the room was starting to spin, and if we didn’t meet up with Ludde, we would end up sleeping on a bench in some park in downtown Stockholm. We asked Ghost and Cappa for their signatures on Meth’s towel and said our farewells (“Peace”). In Scandinavia it doesn’t really get dark in June. We left the club with the golden-red sun hovering just above the horizon, drinking ice-cold Coronas as we overlooked the inter-island water.
Death of a Bookkeeper by Accident The bookkeeper’s life was a bead of curiosity. His mind a place I dared not explore, his forehead a broad landscape surveyed in the store of stationary and old titles where I’d go for my mother at Christmas. He would know the right one. That fall he took his kayak, a clumsy yellow shell, headed for a southern lake near Fraser Canyon. It would be a cornucopia, a lake of liquid mercury, swollen with trout. That water, glacial. Pink and yellow granite, crystal flecks sharpening and someone said he had a heart attack but how can you be sure. The ropes of current knotting and that kayak upside down, him underneath it. Hung under museum glass. His heart a blind eye, dilated contracting. He was a farmer too. What about his cows scattered black and white across the field on a harvest day, on a flood day. Their paling colour. His wife on a horse in the corral. The grey blur of pigeons in the aviary. The sight of the farm and its red silo stable, unchanging. He remembers all of this under the kayak, its black skirt a tight fist around his waist. All of this from the outside but cannot get in. Do fish think of water like we think of air? The barn at home is warm and blue and beyond that tree line, something beautiful. The procession of cars past his property. Did they find him people wondered, are wondering. The village paper swam over it. His mind a book under an endless inland sea suspended in a goldfish bowl. The pages slow dancing dissolving curled kelp. The print slipping off. Wet black letters rising, minnows moving to a quiet surface. 26
Where did he go? A distant silo– the treeline. A horizon just out of reach. In spring, in what is left of his shop, I thumb through the pages pick one with an easy title, an alabaster cover. Did they find his kayak the water heavy lung? His shell body loon body. I look for him between the wooden shelves, a slender oar there leaning smell the salty breath of those collapsed sails, flexing the joints of those drowned words.
margot/margaux margot, margot, was it the shaking light of idaho? or you on your horse steady, battling epilepsy? or the fame, or the marlin blood that rushed rushed rushed down the famous oak tree? (you broke your thumbs, jack and puck opened all your pill bottles...) margaux, margaux, under the bronco clouds of idaho, at only seventeen you switched electricities. when did you realize that a thunderstorm fits in a martini glass? margaux, margaux, in your dress of light you got gored too many times: you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t dodge a bull let alone phenobarbital.