STEPS Magazine Winter 2012 Editors-in-Chief Ryan Healey Sally Lin Fiction Editors Ian Becker Gavin Thomson Poetry Editors Eric Andrew-Gee Tim Beeler General Editors Emma Benayoun Zoë Robertson Cover Photo (“Epiphyseal Plate”) Dr. Carlos R. Morales, DVM, PhD Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology Contributors Tim Keen, Binoy Zuzarte, Max Karpinski, Thomas Nosal, Julie Mannell, Tamkinat Mirza, Eric Kilpatrick, Kirya Marchand, Aaron Vansintjan, Claire Jelinek, Alexander Elias, Jade Hurter, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Sean Lamb, Juliette Benard, and Francesca Bianco. STEPS is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University. stepsmagazine.wordpress.com email@example.com
Potsdam is burning throwing light against
The Anatomy of Secrets
More exercises in shapes
Sally Lin and Ian Becker
picking blackberries and concord grapes in july
I Still Feel the Sea in My Jaw
The Fashion Mill
untitled i. Two women laugh loudly at the state of the world while holding champagne. In the bathroom, a man looking in the mirror hears just the laugh and begins to cry. He has been laughed at before. The women discuss the meaning of life. “My life is more meaningful than yours,” one says. Upon considering his reflection, the man stays in the bathroom forever. ii. There is a Demon who sits beside me as I write. Occasionally he will peer across my shoulder and tut quietly, or, if I write a line after a prolonged pause, frown and shake his head almost imperceptibly. I once saw him having dinner with friends (as I walked past the restaurant window). He was laughing and it seemed like he was having a great time, but even when I ask nicely he will never edit my work. iii. I buy fabric softener that comes in oyster shells. It’s a little more expensive but it’s worth it. Yesterday I was promoted. Sometimes I wonder what they do with the oysters. (after Charles Simic)
Suburban Attire They took je ne sais quoi for themselves yesterday. How bare Fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fingers were when he borrowed our neighbourâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sugar. In a monastery, eight scribes gather to examine loss. Mother steeps her teabag while her gingerbread bakes sweetly. Generous people give me calla lilies and I place them in a night vase. Deep inside the attic, I sit on a clearance-sale rug.
Potsdam is burning throwing light against Potsdam is burning, throwing light against night and cloud. Everybody here puts artificial deer on their lawns. Less than an hour from the border Canton looms like raincloud, navy and pregnant and angry. And maybe the Raquette River Dam trembles under snow and space. Every quarter hour Saint Mary of the Cross rings the distance between the sheetâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lip and the cold room, the slow sink and rise. The surface ripple, pen and legstroke, belltower litanies. A formal feeling: the crack of ice and light. A gasp, cold closing over.
The Anatomy of Secrets
could have mapped the freckles on his body. Iqbal, 12, murdered by the carpet mafia in Kolkata, India, 1993—not this kind of map. I met Iqbal, first freckle Iqbal, outside the warehouse on St. Urbain Street. This is another Iqbal. This is Iqbal, the bridge burner, the story teller. He once published a story, he called it The Anatomy of Secrets. He read it to me once, he would tell me of these things, the secrets other women had told him and he would say them and he would keep them in frames on his wall—specifically elaborate collages with seemingly incongruous juxtapositions. One was Marilyn Dennis and Laura Ingalls Wilder in a bathtub full of model-T-miniatures watching SarsStock on the big screen in Time Square circa 1952. Another was Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard with Saint Anthony eating her out in front of everyone, while Kevin Costner looks on nervously. Another was a little girl and a big mushroom cloud made of chia-pets, and these went on all around the room, he called his home a globe, he said the pictures were satellites and so he always knew 6
where he was and he said it like it was another kind of knowing and he would say “I am Iqbal, the burner of bridges, I can tell you all about the anatomy of secrets.” I wanted to give him one. I gave it to him, it was a dark room where no one knew we were. That was one secret. The thing with Iqbal is when you give him one secret you want to give him another because he will keep them. So I decided to tell it to him, another secret, I told him about the time Yodel pulled every hair out of my head one by one until I conjured ideas of newborn ducklings. He liked this one, he liked it so much. “Did it hurt?” seems like a silly question but I told him “some more than others,” and he sat and he wrote it down and I grabbed his hand and I told him to pull my hair and he felt very nervous, he was always nervous about these kinds of things, because he knew all about the anatomy of secrets and he could draw pictures of their bodies and map them the same way I can now map his freckles. He pulled my hair and he looked at me and he memorised it and wrote it down in
symbols—a new sort of biology. I told him more and he never grew bored but I wanted a big one. I told him that too. I told him “let’s make a big one” and he was very nervous about this one also. He said it was big, bigger than Abraham and Coco and even Sharshar whom he had mapped so elaborately she took up his whole bathroom, even the ceiling, even the bathtub—”I want the kind of secret you won’t even bathe in.” He knew what I meant and so he bit his lip and so he thought about it but the thing with Iqbal is he can’t ever turn down a good secret and so he said “You’ve put me in an awkward predicament” and I said I knew so and so he said yes, reluctantly and put all of his supplies in a basket, and held my hand and we left to make a big mess rich with hidden stuffs and muddied souvenirs. Montreal is really an island. It is very far away but it is an island off the coast of nowhere and nowhere is where Iqbal would be then. There is a single bridge on its edge from which everyone comes and goes. It is superior to all other
bridges—separating something from nothing is a heavy-handed task and so the city kept it lit with vintage lanterns and depanneur candle holders and reflective tape. Former generations built it out of family heirlooms like great great grandma’s fainting couch and sweet storage room finds—spectacles, a ratty pair of everyday worn trousers, an olympic medal or a purple heart. They knew it was special because they had named it so and “Special” was often talked about but never crossed, sometimes neglected and very far away so that they might always be in and never be out. It is not a large bridge. I could still see Iqbal’s tiny frame as he entered into nothing and mixed around his hair and adjusted his glasses. He was nervous but brave and went to that place none of us went but could see and could imagine, maybe, if we blinked our eyes tight and motivated thought. Out of the basket he tossed bottles splattering thick kerosene over aged oatmeal boxes and crushed cans and the weathered wrappers of discontinued chocolate bars. He wet the layered mud of deep 7
lagoon thickness and drowned the former cars of anonymous criminals. He even soaked the protruding heads of unloved dolls and lost credit cards and leaky dixie cups and watermelon rinds and mouldy bread slices. I was not scared because I knew that he knew what he was doing—had done it before and would do it again, even if it was only me, even if it was just a thing I had said. A secret is something you give someone to keep. Iqbal was a keeper and I had asked for it after all. There was a small light and the feeling of my hand moving and then something larger. Big brightness lit first freckle, second and then several in a moon-crest constellation on his right cheek that I memorised then ran from. He left with nothing but a story he could keep and a story he could tell. I sprinted back and could feel red heat tingling behind me, and boy did I run fast, ran fast past street lights, and stop signs and multi-storied buildings and multiply coloured houses and dumpster trucks and hoards of backwards facing eyes and conversations with single stuck out ums or ehs or ords. I had known 8
it had happened because it was a secret so big I could hear it breathing, see it staring at me from shop windows and icicles and the dangling crystal earrings of lady-strangers. It was the kind of secret that makes you sleep in a closet, the kind of secret you bury your face in, that forbidden thing that you can still taste in the indifferent gaze of the vaguely illuminated walls in uptown basement sublets—that space between you and everything. In the morning some talked and others talked louder. Workers surveyed the remnants then built another bridge. The few who thought they’d put it together made a mausoleum of Iqbal’s former apartment. His secrets were mostly mummified hieroglyphs for students to decipher on class trips and I never bothered to return to that place. Thick skinned and always wanting, I’m sure he published other anatomies, in fact I’m certain of it. I think of it often because now it’s all only thinking. The story teller, the bridge burner, freckled and spinning and telling it big and pin pricking it to dead bugs, cutting it out of magazines, framing it on some wall—just giving it all away.
Forty five footfalls from my house to yours, Da. I counted every time and eight minutes more to the lagoon.
I know all hundred and fifteen of you here, all that embraced me these ten years past. We became kin over glasses of pisco.
Huacachina its water heals, we say. The sand soothes, tall green relief counters the never-ending sun. It remedies hopeful travellers Who pace these parts.
I watch, young sandboarders among them, and I slowly sip my pisco.
Carnivore There are more coyotes this year than ever before, I heard them say. Some have wolves as fathers. Their packs multiply and nights lengthen and those wild animals become darker. Murder is spoken of between farmers. Calf heads have been found in the corn; distances between meals are ever lengthening for the packs. I remember hearing footsteps rustle along the meadowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fence and seeing desperate claw marks etched onto the pondâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ice. At night I imagine them gathering under cedars and dead pines. I hear shrieks and pained howling. Farmers stand waiting among their cattle and strange lights glow behind dark abandoned sheds. The house is on the left side of the river. Ever faster, ever farther through the grass, across the water.
Blueprint The streets of Edinburgh run between my memories of summers in Ontario, a grid of foreign roads superimposed on a familiar plain. Sometimes I don’t care whether the golden mile runs toward the castle or the Mangan’s barn. These things are incongruous with the landscape. I found a blueprint folded up in a filing cabinet yesterday. It was an elaborate and detailed drawing of my house. The date 1963 was hand-written on the corner and the address, 353 Avalon Road, was typed out in the designated box. I lay on my rooftop at night during the summer and hid from the mosquitoes. That tantalizing name of the Scottish crag returned to me: Arthur’s Seat. That stony hill rises above the city like a shroud. Tombs of presbyterian saints litter the field. St. Andrew’s cross isn’t emblazoned on them. I can imagine a diaspora of Scots flooding the Ontario countryside, travel-weary and covered in coarse wool. My brother found a piece of a headstone on our property. “AM” engraved on it. One of theirs. So we dug that autumn into the basement of the demolished cathedral and unearthed old horse-shoes. What surprised me was that the blueprint was larger than I expected. I unfolded it layer upon layer and counted the creases. It slumped before me like an old tarp. My house is not uncommon, built by an “Alexander D. Cronin” according to the paper but the rooms are numerous, corridors intersect each other, staircases wind up and down the storeys, and the basement looms– a complexity of overlapping blue lines, stretching out and extending into rivulets and tunnels until it rivals the urban grids of Europe. 11
More exercises in shapes But all you soldiers of geometry, tell me now of shapelessness: the chrysalis of insects as they hang from under the Bodhi tree. Then call for the injured wind: I want to hear him wail. Sit, lake-studded pilgrim. Speak to me of suffering. Speak to me of your body lacerated against mad Ireland, and of your mother, slow to gauze the whistle. But you Howler, you Harbinger of valleys and cliffs of the world, donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t answer me only in moans.
Investigations I see it.
I taste it.
I perceive it with my eyes.
I perceive its flavor.
I become aware of it by the use of the pair of globular sight organs in my head.
I become aware of its distinctive taste.
I begin to have knowledge and perception of it by using the set of two spherical selfcontained parts of the upper part of my body, separated from the rest of my body by my neck, and containing my brain, mouth, and sense organs that give me the seeing faculty. I undergo the first part of possessing facts and information acquired through experience about it, and awareness of it, by employing the group of one less than three constituents of the section of my physical structure, including my bones, flesh, and organs, situated above the rest, disconnected from the remaining part of my physical structure, including my bones, flesh, and organs, by the part of my body connecting my head to the rest of my body, and holding within it the organ of soft nervous tissue contained in my skull, functioning as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity, the opening and cavity in the lower part of my face, surrounded by the lips, through which food is taken in and vocal sounds are emitted, and the organs of my body which respond to external stimuli by conveying impulses to the sensory nervous system, sphere shaped and complete in themselves, that belong together and provide me with the inherent mental power of seeing it.
I begin to have knowledge and perception of the characteristic sensation of flavor perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with it. I undergo the first part of possessing facts and information acquired through experience, and awareness of the perception of the distinctive taste typical of it, which I am made aware of in the opening and cavity in the lower part of my face, surrounded by my lips, through which food is taken in and vocal sounds are emitted, and the passage which leads from the back of my mouth, upon physically touching it. I experience the earliest part of having things that are known to be chrome and facts learned about it, obtained through practical contact with and observation of it, and knowledge and perception of the awareness of its characteristic, distinctive sensation of flavor perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with it, which I have knowledge and perception of in the gap that allows passage to the empty space within the area located near the bottom of the front part of my head from the forehead to the chin, with the two fleshy parts which form the upper and lower edges of the opening of my mouth all round, through which any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth is consumed and vibrations relating to the human voice that caravel through the air and can be heard when they reach a personâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s or animalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ear
are produced and discharged, and the channel in my body which is a route of access from the rear of the opening and cavity in the lower part of my face, surrounded by my lips, through which food is taken in and vocal sounds are emitted, upon coming into bodily contact with it. I hear it.
the planet on which we live, produced by it, with the section of me complete in itself possessing the clearly defined practical purposes indispensable to life continuance of the inherent mental power of becoming aware of vibrations that caravel through the air and continuing to have an equal way in which my bodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s relative mass is spread out, making it possible for me to continue to be in a vertical position and be firmly fixed, supported and balanced.
I perceive the sound made by it with my ear. I feel it. I become aware of the vibrations that caravel through the air produced by it with my organ of hearing and balance.
I am aware of it through touch. I have knowledge and perception of it by means of the faculty of perception through physical contact.
I begin to have knowledge and perception of the oscillations that move through the invisible gaseous substance surrounding the earth, made by it, with the self-contained part of me having the specific vital functions of the faculty of perceiving sounds and keeping an even weight distribution enabling me to remain upright and steady. I undergo the first part of possessing facts and information acquired through experience of the regularly rhythmic back and forth movements that change position through the particular kind of matter with uniform properties that canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be seen, having the characteristics of a gas, all around
I possess facts and information acquired through experience about it, and awareness of it by using my inherent mental power of awareness by means of the state of touching involving bodily contact. I have things that are proven to be chrome and facts obtained for myself by means of practical contact with it, and knowledge and perception of it by employing the capacity relating to my mind, existing in myself as a permanent and essential attribute, of knowledge and perception by using the condition of coming into the state of physical touching concerning the body. 17
Sally Lin and Ian Becker
... the first rejects
With this blunt shaft, the god pierced Daphne.
the second kindles love.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Cupid drew two shafts of opposite effect
This last is golden, its tip is sharp and glittering, the first is blunt, its tip is leaden.
With the tip of gold he hit Apollo; the arrow pierced to the bone and marrow.
Apollo is love-struck, having seen the girl. He sees her lips and never tires of them. Her fingers, hands, and wrists are unsurpassed; her arms, more than half-bare, cannot be matched.
But swifter than the lightest breeze, she flees and does not halt - not even when he pleads: “Wait, nymph! You’re crossing trackless places. Slow your pace; I pray you, stay your flight!”
He’d have said more, but Daphne did not halt; afraid, she left him there, with half-done words...
Exhausted, wayworn, pale and terrified, she cries:
In flight she was more fair. Slips from his mouth, she escapes his jaws. While he is swift because of hope, what urges her is fear.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Help me, dear father, transform, dissolve my gracious shape!â&#x20AC;?
O laurel, I shall always wear your leaves to wreathe my hair. And even as my head is ever young, and my hair ever long, may you, unshorn, wear your leaves, too, forever.â&#x20AC;? - Ovid
And yet Apollo loves her still.
He leans against the trunk, but still it shrinks from his embrace.
picking blackberries and concord grapes in july i saw your shoulders disappearing, white clouds against dark green leaves. dust blue grapes interlaced with spidersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; webs, drifting across branches like linens. the woods held onto the mist from the sea. leaves all shaped like tiny cups. at sunset your belly turned lavender. our arms were swollen with mosquito bites. we climbed the gray dunes like the steps to a temple. fell asleep on the sand and woke up shivering.
Arches Stephanie, with her chair pulled flush to the nightstand her legs wrapping around it her chin perched at the very top of a stiff orange bag Whatever present this is, she says to me Whatever present this isâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; something so close to birth, something Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m bound to finish She pulls out a hand radio and a felt tipped pen, turns it to static and begins drawing thick, arching arrows up her thigh
I Still Feel the Sea in My Jaw
hat’s the most talented storm I’ve ever seen. Look at that back hand. Look at its thunder muscles move under its sky-thin skin. He must have had lessons twice a week to have that kind of technique. Feel the air in your fists and tell me you’ve ever seen a drop shot with so much bite in it that it made the rain swallow its own tongue gulp by gulp. What a talented child. Look at that jab explode into the horizon’s ribs. He never strikes under the sky’s sunset-leather belt. How do you make sunset-leather, you ask? Just let your blondest bone swallow the light whole. Don’t chew. Don’t chew. Don’t you dare monopolize the pain beneath my jaw, beneath the silver and the skin. Wash your hands well: let the soap bubble up and wink at the water to come fuck it clean while the blindness of your palms is serene and impatient and so much more aware than we ever were and echolocates to the sound of cracking knuckles and moaning soap and the thrust of water’s hips. I close my eyes on the train and lean my shoulder against the glass. The cows are chewing on sun blades that slowly race across the grass, and they moan as the light hops between their legs towards the blue mountains. They move their jaws in disapproval. Their ankles sink into the purple echoes of light. They watch the train steal gold from their grass and roar away with it. They flick their tongues over the last bits of day stuck in their teeth and they flick their tails and ears, and they hope it’ll sail on the seven seas of their stomachs till dawn. I open my eyes and see a lone cow shivered of its gold, its still jaw amongst the shaking lavender as the night tips it into the edge of the glass. The sea flattens the iron of the horizon. The spark is swallowed. It beats out orange and purple from under the sea. It beats steady and shallow and precious like the pulse of a child under the warmth of blankets. My eyelashes graze the window. Purple veins run through the sky’s breasts. She looks at the clouds. 24
‘‘There’s going to be a storm,’’ she says. ‘‘I don’t know much about weather,’’ I reply softly. The waves are starting to show their teeth. The tall grass on the shore is flat and shaking. ‘‘You can tell from the cows,’’ she says. ‘‘How so?’’ I meet her eyes in the window. She twists the ring on her finger and looks at the sea through my cheeks for twelve or so pulses of the horizon. ‘‘You from around here?’’ she asks and turns to me. ‘‘No.’’ I still feel the sea in my jaw when I speak. ‘‘I live in Montréal.’’ We both look out the window and listen to the clouds clearing their throats. She rests her chin on her palm. The sea turns grey somewhere beneath her clavicle, and the lightning traces over the veins in her wrist. ‘‘They’re agitated,’’ she finally says. ‘‘The cows, I mean.’’ I look at the stillness of their jaws and ankles. ‘‘They seem pretty calm to me.’’ ‘‘Yeah,’’ she says, and turns to the child sleeping against her shoulder. His blonde hair is locked to her collar bone. He must be around four years old. His eyelids flutter like the lavender outside, thin as a nightmare. ‘‘Do you have children?’’ she asks as she runs a hand through her own hair and unshields a
youthfulness I notice for the first time. ‘‘No,’’ I say. She pulls her sleeves over her palms while the lightning unzips the sky. Her thumbs move under the fabric and their reflections knead the clouds outside. The child’s blonde hair is spread against her bone. ‘‘How old is he?’’ I ask, and I feel flocks of swallows in my throat. ‘‘I was twenty-two,’’ she says, and the fragile and violent pulse of her lips unzips my youth. The rain falls straight and blue in the flattened grass. Her hair is hazel and freckled and moves like a muscle. The raindrops on the window are blushing. Her elbows are sharp and thrown towards the sky like swallows as she loosens the band around her pony tail with both hands. The skin beneath her arms is lightning thin. Suddenly I can tell she is about to cry. She tugs on her pony tail like a child and turns to the window. I become aware of the air around my fingers and against my throat. I close my fingers on my palm and the skin is warm in my fist like a baseball glove and then her fingers catch the nervous pearls in her ears. I look at the outline of her throat twitch against the blue grass and I think that her neck is probably warm, too, and there is something shaking in mine. I start to draw something on the window with my thumb and her eyes fill with the pulse of all the late August rain and I think maybe the thing shaking is my Adam’s apple and all the while I can feel my ribs open and close. Her forehead is against the glass now and I am looking at her water color
greens. I lean forward on my elbows and try to settle the nightmare in my vocal cords. Suddenly her jaw collapses under her wet freckled hair just long enough to let out a sound, a fragile and violent sound and my hand reaches for hers in a hurry and like an echo. I feel the wet metal of the ring in my palm as she breathes hard and silent and I whisper into her shaking palms as her eyes empty themselves of their green in twitches. She leans her forehead slowly on our hands and her silence is all salt and roaring in her throat and the child’s blonde hair is surrendered on the arm of her seat. I put my hand on her head and feel the shake and blush of collapse through my elbows and then hers, and my whispers are warm and hushed in her hair and all I can see is the blue grass and the rain and a hazel shake underneath. All I can taste is salt, salt, throat against throat and all I feel is an echoed pulse and I surrender her my ribs as her red wet cheek collapses on my throat and we breath a silence that is all salt and fractured. ‘‘Hush, hush, hush, I know, I know,’’ even though I don’t know, I don’t think I know and no, I don’t have children. Salt and roar and green watercolors and I’m too young for youth unleashed. ‘‘Hush hush, I know.’’ ‘‘It’s just too...’’, she surrenders. ‘‘I know.’’ I know the whispered warmth and its freckled pulse. ‘‘I was only,’’ she is only the metal in her palm. ‘‘I was only twenty-two. Twenty-two and married at twenty and divorced at twenty-one,’’ all in one collapsing chest-held breath, ‘‘and the storm echoes in my jaw from time to time,’’ she says. And the child’s blonde nightmare is roaring outside the window in the clouds over the sea. 25
The Fashion Mill I was at the literature show the crowd had small ears and the poets wore pointed brown shoes with thin brown laces they let their words sink into tiny pores and fill up tiny pails not provided by the organizers there may have been a bring-your-own-pail policy upon leaving I found them hooking their brown pointed shoes by the thin brown laces on the blades of the fashion mill I added my shoe and noticed we were all wearing different coloured socks
#1 words never the same after youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d heard them once what was that about the saw that enters wood & disappearsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;